Teaching series from 1 Timothy

Did Paul Want to Make Chauvinist Churches?

1 Timothy 2:11-15

Teaching t14016

Introduction

The context (2:1-10) is co-ed meetings which include corporate prayer.  Read 2:11-15.  Do Paul’s restrictions prevent women from contributing to their church’s spiritual health?  Can women even make a contribution at co-ed meetings like this meeting (or home churches)?  Was Paul a male chauvinist who imposed his chauvinism on his churches?  Let’s first overview the traditional interpretation of this passage, and then consider its problems interpretation.  Then we will consider a different (and better) interpretation.  Finally, we will apply this interpretation to how we can contribute to our church’s spiritual health.

The traditional interpretation: a normative restriction

Re-read 2:11,12.  These are Paul’s normative restrictions on women at co-ed church meetings (large or small).  Women must be silent in these meetings.  Women are not permitted to teach the Bible when men are present (they may teach other women or children).  Rather, in these co-ed meetings women must respectfully receive teaching from men.  Furthermore, women are not permitted to exercise any authority over men (they may lead other women or children).

Some of you may have grown up in churches that hold this view.  To their credit, such churches have a high view of Scripture and are trying to obey it.  But they usually run into problems on applying it consistently.  Sometimes they invent loopholes to get around this restriction.  In one overseas church in which I taught annually, women were allowed to “share” at their big meetings – but not teach.  It wasn’t clear to me what the distinction was.  Likewise, women were allowed to lead co-ed workshops, because somehow this was “different.” 

Re-read 2:13,14.  Now Paul gives his reasons for the normative restrictions of 2:11,12.  Two facts concerning the first couple have enduring implications for all men and women.  Adam was created before Eve, and from this fact Paul concludes that men rather than women should hold leading roles in the church.  Eve was deceived by the Serpent, and from this fact Paul concludes that women are more vulnerable to deception than men – which is another reason why men (rather than women) should teach and lead. 

Re-read 2:15.  Some who hold the traditional of 2:11-14 teach that Paul is reminding women that their main contribution to the church is in the home, having children.

You can see how people could understand this passage in this way.  You can also see how people could conclude from this passage that Paul was a male chauvinist, and that the New Testament justifies male chauvinism in the church and society.  On the other hand, if we hold a high view of Scripture, we have no freedom to simply delete or ignore prescriptive passages we don’t like (EXAMPLE), or to sweep it aside as “only for that culture” (this could make fallen cultures normative).  The real question is not: “Do I like this passage?” but rather: “Is this the proper interpretation?”  Let’s turn now to the problems with this interpretation . . .

Problems with the traditional interpretation

First of all, Paul does not normatively impose these restrictions on women in his churches.  This becomes clear by reading this letter (see 2:9) and his other letters.

Read 2:9 – women are assumed to pray aloud, so “quiet” must mean something other than “silent.”  Read 1 Cor. 11:5; 14:1.  Here we see that Paul assumes (and has no problem with the fact) that women both pray aloud and prophesy in co-ed meetings (11:15,16).  Prophecy is speaking God’s Word authoritatively to others.   

Read Rom. 16:1,2.  Here we see Paul commending Phoebe as a deaconess of the Cenchrean church.  A deacon or deaconess is someone who holds an office of leadership in the local church.  Paul goes on to say that Phoebe has been a manager/leader[1] of many people, including himself.  Read Rom. 16:3.  The fact that Paul and Luke both refer to “Priscilla and Aquila” (Acts 18:26; Rom. 16:3) indicates (without criticism) that she was the more prominent or outspoken spouse.  This same Priscilla took the lead in instructing Apollos (an evangelist/preacher) in the content of the gospel (read Acts 18:25,26).

Paul’s view of women was strikingly different from his male-dominated culture (read Gal. 3:28 and contrast it to Greek and Jewish prayers[2]).  Also, Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts (that they are not given according to gender) argues for women normally using their gifts (including teaching and leadership) for the benefit of all Christians, including men.

In view of the above (and other passages), it is safe to say that Paul normally allowed women in his churches great freedom to both teach and lead.  Therefore, unless we think that Paul was crazy or normally self-contradictory, we should look for a way to harmonize 2:11,12 with these other passages.

Its interpretation of 2:13,14 is problematic.  Why should Adam’s priority in creation mean that men should always lead and teach in co-ed meetings?  Why should Eve’s deception in the Garden of Eden mean that all women are more vulnerable to deception?  These conclusions don’t make logical sense, and they aren’t taught anywhere else in the Bible.

In view of the above problems, we should be willing to consider a different interpretation.

A better interpretation: an exceptional restriction because of an exceptional situation

One cardinal rule of accurate interpretation (biblical or otherwise) is that we must interpret statements in light of the original historical situation.  You may remember that this church had been damaged by false teaching through some of their elders.  Paul had removed these elders, but there is strong evidence that they were still trying to influence the church through certain women who they had deceived.

The false teachers gained control of some women by capitalizing on their weaknesses (2 Tim. 3:5,6).  Some women had already left the church to follow the false teachers (1 Tim. 5:15).  Some remained in the church, and were still spreading these false teachings (1 Tim. 4:6,7; 5:13).

The content of this false teaching is also relevant to our passage.  Almost all scholars agree that it included Gnostic elements (1 Tim. 6:20,21).  Gnosticism taught that the spiritual realm was inherently good, while the material realm was inherently evil (see Paul’s refutation in 1 Tim. 4:1-5).  Many forms of Gnosticism re-wrote the Garden of Eden story in various ways.  Some of these Gnostic versions cast Eve as the bringer of enlightenment and the teacher of Adam.[3]  There is evidence that the Gnosticism in Ephesus taught that Eve was created before Adam, and that she was the originator of true wisdom.[4]

In light of this context, 2:11,12 are best understood as a temporary injunction/gag-order because of the crisis described above: “I am not currently allowing . . .”[5]  Because the women are caught up in the false teaching, they need to learn – not teach.  And they should not usurp control of (authenteo) the co-ed meetings.[6]  As we have seen, this was not Paul’s normal position – but it makes sense as an exception restriction in this situation.  He would have undoubtedly imposed it on men if they were deceived.

In light of this context, 2:13,14 are best understood as a refutation of the content of the false teaching that the women were buying into.  Eve was not created first; Adam was.  Eve was not the originator of wisdom; she was deceived.  Adam was more responsible because God personally warned him not to disobey Him on this.  This may be why Paul (in Rom. 5) names Adam, not Eve, as the one primarily responsible for humanity’s fall.

In light of this context, 2:15 is probably a continuation of this refutation of their teaching.  It may mean that having children will not threaten women’s salvation (as these Gnostics may have taught – see 1 Tim. 4:3).  Rather, they will be saved (sozo) by God in spite of (dia) child-bearing, as long as they have faith in Christ and the true doctrine about Him.

So to summarize, 2:11-15 is best understood as an exceptional and temporary restriction on the women in the Ephesian church – not a normative restriction on all women in all churches.  There are other important issues related to women (eldership; headship in marriage), but they are not addressed in this passage.  We turn now to the application of the principles in this passage.

Application

First, false doctrine and unedifying behavior should be forbidden in church meetings.  All truth-assertions must be evaluated by God’s Word (1 Cor. 14:29), and that participation should be to build others up (1 Cor. 14:26).  When this form is violated (as in the case above), it is valid and important to forbid people to teach or hijack meetings.  We’ve had times when we’ve needed to apply this lesson (EXAMPLES). 

But this restriction assumes that church meetings should normally participative (read 1 Cor. 14:26a).  The idea that church meetings should be dominated by one person, or that they be totally scripted (e.g., liturgy) is foreign to the New Testament.  This freedom expresses the fact that all Christians can minister in significant ways.

So, do you normally come to meetings ready to contribute and build others up – or do you normally come as a passive spectator/consumer?  This robs the rest of us of your spiritual influence, and it will sooner or later make meetings boring for you.  What step of faith can you take here?

Women are gifted and called to play vital roles in the church!  The New Testament and much of church history (including our church’s history) bear this out.  Paul’s restriction here is not only protective for the church, but also restorative for the women (2:11 – “receive instruction”) – so they can play their vital roles, not so they can be permanently benched.  To deprive women of this privilege and responsibility is to disregard God’s Word and cripple the church in its mission!  Where would our church be if it wasn’t a key part of its ethos that women play vital ministry roles (e.g., teaching meetings and classes, leading and overseeing home churches and ministry teams, etc.)? 

The bigger current danger in this area in our church (with both women and men adults) is not unbiblical restrictions, but rather distraction by materialism, careerism, entertainmentism, etc. (Mk. 4:19).  Don’t trade your birthright for a pot of stew!  Do you aspire to expand God’s influence through you (as per Eph. 4:11,12)?  Are you learning God’s Word?  This is critical to all effective ministry.  Are you discovering and faithfully using your spiritual gifts?  Is your ministry in the church growing?  What step can you take in this direction (e.g., take a class; mentor or peer disciple; use your gift regularly in home church and/or a ministry team; etc.)?

Conclusion

NEXT WEEK: 1 Tim. 3:1-13 – “Leadership in the Local Church”

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS



[1] Prostasis is used in the New Testament only in this passage.  The verb (prohistemi) means to “stand over/before,” and is translated “manages” in 1 Tim. 3:4,5.

[2] Jewish rabbis prayed, “Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile; blessed be He that He did not make me a boor (slave); blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.”  Greeks thanked the gods “. . . that I was born a human being and not a beast, next, a man and not a woman, thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian.”  See Richard Longenecker, New Testament Social Ethics for Today for documentation of these prayers.

[3] “And (God) sent, through his beneficent Spirit and his great mercy, a helper to Adam . . . (the one) who is called ‘Life’ (Zoe or Eve). And she assists (him) by . . . restoring him to his fullness and by teaching him about the . . . way of ascent, (which is) the way he came down.”  The Apocryphon of John (120-180 AD).

[4] See Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992).  See also a summary of their findings in Dennis McCallum, “The Role of Women in the Church: New Material Leads to a New View” (https://www.xenos.org/essays/role-women-church-new-material-leads-new-view#sdfootnote13sym).

[5] The Greek present tense permits this translation.

[6] Authenteo (used only here in the New Testament) should be translated “take control of, usurp, dominate.”  It was used in extra-biblical literature to describe tyrants and child-murderers.