Read the first part of this story here: A Young Feminist Reads 1 Timothy.
I thought I had set the stage carefully. I’d explained the historical, cultural and religious background of Ephesus at the time 1 Timothy was written. I had her attention and interest. I thought she could just read through the second chapter, and accept that there were things she didn’t understand, and give Paul the benefit of the doubt. That’s what I had done as a young girl.
I was wrong. A few minutes later, this…
“I CAN’T STAND READING THIS. PAUL MUST REALLY HATE WOMEN. I THINK THIS IS CRAP.” She slapped the Bible closed.
And I absolutely agreed with her.
I would like to cut this portion of our sacred text out and silence it, as it has been used to silence God’s feminine image for thousands of years.
But if I did that, where would I stop? There are a lot of passages that have been used to harm. Should they all go? Am I the proper judge for God’s Word?
Nodding my head in agreement, I said to her, “I know. Its hard to read. That’s why I spent time giving you context. I wanted you to see the problem these words were addressing. You’ve done what so many other people have done, isolate this passage from the rest of the letter and the rest of the Bible. Do you believe God likes men better than women?”
“No. But this passage makes it seem like it!”
“Yes, it does. But Paul himself said that God does not show favoritism (Rom. 2:11). This is a hard passage to understand, and there are many explanations.”
Let me stop the conversation there.
Take a moment and read the words of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The Revised Standard Version reads:
9…also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire 10 but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
You have just done what many expositors, preachers and theologians have done since… well, forever. You have read these words in isolation.
When we segregate these instructions from Paul’s intent and passion for the truth, it offends. When we quarantine these instructions away from Jesus’s life and ministry, it confounds. When we disengage this passage from its surrounding context, we are kinda horrified. When we detach this passage from Paul’s support of women in Christian ministry elsewhere, we get this zinger of demands that has been used as justification for restricting women for millennia.
This was not its original intention. I can say that with absolute confidence. Because, this passage is nestled in a literary context that Paul explained. Paul was no misogynist. Nor was he worried about acquiescing to the patriarchal culture of his day. Paul saw no difference between Christian men and women in Christian ministry (Gal 3:28). Paul appreciated that women worked hard for the advancement of the gospel (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, 22:4; Rom. 16:12; 1 Cor. 1:11, 16:19; Col. 4:15). He affirmed their prayer and prophesy in the church gatherings (1 Cor. 11:4-5, 14:23-24). He confirmed that Christian women taught men elsewhere (Acts 18:24-26, Acts 21:9, 2 Tim. 1:5, 3:14-15), that women served as deacons (Rom. 16:1-2) and apostles (Rom. 16:7), and were co-laborers with men (Rom. 16:3, Phil. 4:2-3). The “extreme” limitations Paul placed on the women of Ephesus was contrary to his customary practice.
So, why does he limit women when writing to Timothy in Ephesus?
That’s where we’ll pick up our conversation next time.