I think after nine parts to this series a little recap is in order. I’ll try to make it quick. If you’re one of those “SKIP RECAP” people on Netflix, feel free to scroll down a bit. But if you haven’t read parts 1, 2, and 3 yet – do that now before continuing. Those posts will be referenced quite a bit.
In the beginning God created male and female in his image as equals. They were partners in bearing his image to the rest of creation. The relationship between man and woman was to reflect the divine, loving community within God’s own being. In Genesis 2, it was not good for the man to be alone, so woman was created as the man’s “helper,” a word which was nearly exclusively used for God himself. In other words, man was incomplete without the woman as Israel was incomplete without YHWH. This partnership of equals was completely derailed in Genesis 3 after the man and woman broke God’s command. The power imbalance and oppression of women was totally a result of the Fall. The rest of the Bible is an attempt to get “back to the Garden,” including restored relationships between men and women.
Throughout the Old Testament we see women given special honor by God. A woman was the first to give God a name. Women were prophets and worship leaders and commander-in-chief of Israel’s armies. Women broke all sorts of social and religious taboos – and were rewarded for it. They governed, they sparked religious reformation, and they stepped out in faith to save their entire nation. Other Old Testament prophets foresaw a day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on men and women alike, and all would prophesy through the power of the Spirit.
In the New Testament we find female disciples, apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, preachers, deacons, church planters, house church leaders, and missionaries. Women sat at the feet of Jesus. Women traveled and taught alongside Paul. Women were praying and preaching in the gathered assembly of believers. The church was the beginning of “new creation” inaugurated by Christ. That new creation included a return to full equality as it was in the Garden – “neither is there ‘male and female, for you are all one in Christ.”
We took an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 14, the first of two (that’s right – TWO) passages in Paul’s letters that have been used to silence women and prohibit female leadership in the church for hundreds of years. Again…. TWO paragraphs with a total of seven verses as we have divided them. That’s it.
**STOP SCROLLING NOW**
So let’s look at the second passage today. In order to do it justice, we really need to look at all of 1 Timothy 2 along with a few other verses in the letter. So please, read through this passage carefully.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Paul is writing to Timothy, a young preacher and Paul’s protege. Timothy is pastoring a church in Ephesus where Paul himself spent about three years in full-time ministry. Paul caused quite a stir in Ephesus (Acts 19). You see, Ephesus was home to one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” — the impressively large Temple of Artemis. To understand the religious world in which Timothy was doing ministry, you must understand something of Artemis and her worshipers.
Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo (the sun god whose temple was in Corinth). She was revered as the goddess of the hunt, and also childbirth and midwifery. According to the Greek myths, Artemis remained a perpetual virgin, and so did her closest female followers. Male hunters would often abstain from sex before their days hunting in order to invoke her blessing. Interestingly, there are conflicting accounts as to whether Artemis or Apollo was born first. Most accounts have Artemis born first, and she then became her mother’s midwife for the birth of Apollo.
I found this really interesting bit of information concerning Artemis’ virginity: “The ancient cultural context in which Artemis’ worship emerged … held that virginity was a prerequisite to marriage, and that a married woman became subservient to her husband. In this light, Artemis’ virginity is also related to her power and independence. Rather than a form of asexuality, it is an attribute that signals Artemis as her own master, with power equal to that of male gods.”
And if you’re really attentive, you can probably pick up on some pertinent information concerning our understanding of 1 Timothy 2.
Now to the text itself.
Note the use of the word “quiet” in this chapter. It is often translated as “silent” in verse 12 but as “quiet” elsewhere. What’s the difference? Silence is a state of suppression. No noise, no talking, no sound. If someone gives you “the silent treatment,” you know something is wrong. They are suppressing their inner feelings rather than expressing them. Or if a journalist or activist is “silenced,” you know their insights are bring suppressed by someone in power.
Quietness, on the other hand, is more of an attitude of humility, meekness, and submission. In a crisis situation, the one who is calm and quiet is usually the one in charge. Quietness is a mindset, a way of being that doesn’t demand attention for oneself. And it’s not just women who are urged to be “quiet.” All of us are to live “quiet lives.” 1 Timothy 2 is not a chapter about who can and can’t do what in church. It’s about all of us living peaceful and quiet lives. It’s about living in such a way as to not draw attention to ourselves — either through angry outbursts and public debates or through the way we dress.
Remember, Christianity was a religion on the brink. Paul had already faced persecution and hardship in this very city. I think he’s urging Timothy and his congregants not to purposefully stir the pot, but to live peaceful and quiet lives devoted to prayer and unity.
MEN AND WOMEN
So here’s the thing that really bugs me about how we have misapplied the teachings of Paul in this chapter. We take literally the verses concerning women – dressing modestly and being “submissive.” But we tend to look down on any men who literally raise their hands in prayer during worship. Am I saying that all men MUST raise their hands in prayer every time? No. That’s not the point. —And that’s exactly the point.
The point of Paul’s instructions about lifting hands in prayer is not about literally lifting hands in prayer. It’s about our attitude. We men are to pray without anger or disputing. That’s the point. It’s about unity and quietness and submission. How do men show their masculinity? It’s often through displays of strength, anger, or aggression. Paul is trying to push us away from that. You can be fully masculine without letting your temper flare up. Just because you don’t want to “take it outside” all the time doesn’t mean you are any less of a man. In fact, that’s the very biblical definition of meekness – power under control.
So with women, is Paul making a universal, timeless ban on braided hair and fine jewelry? No! That’s not the point. The point is that you don’t need those things to be feminine. You don’t need to dress for attention all the time. Let your life speak for itself. Live a life of virtue and honor and good deeds.
The irony is that those who take this command literally (long hair, long skirts, no makeup or jewelry) are often the ones who stand out and draw attention to themselves.
I believe Paul is urging us away from the extremes of hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine. Our job is to determine what that looks like for our time and location.
EVE VS. ARTEMIS
Before tackling this last paragraph, we must remember Paul’s familiarity with Greek poets, playwrights, philosophers, and religion (Acts 17 for example). It’s quite reasonable to assume that Paul had the cult of Artemis in mind when writing to this young preacher in Ephesus.
I’m going to break this last paragraph down verse by verse because this is one of the more confusing passages in Scripture.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
Again, I think we miss the point with this, too. We tend to read this as “A woman should be quiet and submissive.” But Paul’s point is that a woman SHOULD LEARN. Women should have equal access to the study of Scriptures and should be able to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ just as the men do. Mary chose the most important thing by leaving the kitchen and sitting with the disciples at the feet of Jesus. She is our role model. She is our inspiration. Women should learn. But they should learn in quietness (as is the goal of ALL believers) and submission. Submission to what/whom? It doesn’t say. Most assume it to be submission to her male teachers. But it could just as easily be submission to Christ or submission to the Gospel. The point is that in order to learn, one (male or female) must be quiet and submissive. Otherwise, no learning will take place.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
Ok, here we go. I must remind you that all translation is an act of interpretation. In other words, we bring our own interpretation to Scripture when we choose which English words to use while translating Greek. For example: the word Paul uses for “permit” could also mean “command” or “instruct.” So, Paul might want to make it clear to his audience (in Ephesus, a city with a large Artemis following) that he’s not endorsing the proto-feminism of that city. Another way of wording that sentence in keeping with the Greek would be:
“I’m not saying that women should teach men or try to dictate to them; rather, they should be left undisturbed.” (N.T. Wright’s translation)
Timothy is ministering in a culture where “married women were subservient to their husbands.” But the cult of Artemis was all about female empowerment. It would be easy to take some of Paul’s statements and actually weaponize them in favor of female leadership and male submission. Paul is trying to toe the line. True equality is a delicate balancing act. Our sinful nature all too easily creeps up and shoves us one way or the other. The church was not intended to be a male-dominated organization. But neither was it meant to be run by the women. The head of the church is Christ. Men and women were to be co-equals, co-workers, co-ambassadors for the sake of Christ – just like in the Garden.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
Paul is appealing to creation for his argument here. Again, he is not making the case for male dominance. He is simply setting the record straight in a society whose dominant religion is making the claim that Artemis was born before Apollo. It’s quite possible that some Gentile converts were misrepresenting the biblical narrative and claiming that Eve was created first, just like Artemis. That simply wasn’t the case. But remember, Eve was created as Adam’s “helper,” a term associated most frequently with God himself.
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
This passage has been horribly weaponized against women. Paul is not calling all women sinners. He’s not making the case that women are more gullible than men. Remember – Adam was with her! Paul himself even holds up Adam as the one through whom sin originally entered the story (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15). But if we tie this sentence back into his point about women learning, then it all makes sense.
Something obviously went wrong in the Garden. The woman was deceived because she wasn’t taught properly. She misquotes God’s commands. The story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is set in obvious contrast to Eve’s temptation in the Garden. Whereas Eve misquotes God’s commands, Jesus quotes Scripture back to Satan to counter each of the trials. Even when Satan quotes Scripture himself, Jesus counters that and is not deceived.
Paul’s point, I think, is urging women to learn as much as they can and to study as deeply as they can so that they don’t follow in Eve’s footsteps. We don’t do women any favors by keeping them out of seminary or any serious study of Scripture. Women should learn. That’s the point.
But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Yikes….I kind of don’t even want to touch on this one, but here we go.
Paul obviously cannot mean that only women who become mothers can be saved. So what’s the point? There are a few options. First, it might be that Paul is addressing a very specific group of women in this letter to Timothy. In chapter 5 Paul gives Timothy some instructions concerning a group of young widows who are still very much eligible for marriage. Since they don’t have husbands or children, they find themselves becoming busybodies and stirring up all sorts of trouble. Paul is inclined to think that marrying and starting a family would be in their best interest.
Second, remember that Artemis was the goddess of childbearing and midwifery. Paul may be addressing the fact that we should rely on God, not some Greek goddess, for his providence through the childbearing process.
Third, and I think most applicable to our discussion and in line with some of Paul’s other writings, is that the curse is being overturned. God pronounced two “curses” (or consequences) on the woman for her actions in the garden. Her consequences would be pain in childbearing and a power imbalance with her husband (or between men and women in general). The curse of the power imbalance is being lifted in this new creation. There is no longer “male and female,” we are all one in Christ. I think Paul may be indicating that the first curse is also being lifted. Not that women are free from pain in childbearing – my wife could tell you that! N.T. Wright puts it this way:
“And what of the bit about childbirth? Paul doesn’t see it as a punishment. Rather, he offers assurance that, though childbirth is indeed difficult, painful, and dangerous, often the most testing moment in a woman’s life, this is not a curse to be taken as a sign of God’s displeasure. God’s salvation is promised to all, women and men who follow Jesus in faith, love, holiness, and prudence. And that salvation is promised to those who contribute to God’s creation through childbearing, just as it is to everyone else. Becoming a mother is hard enough, God knows, without pretending it’s somehow an evil thing.”
To sum up, I believe that whatever we read in Paul’s letters must be read through the lens of new creation. After all, that’s exactly what Jesus came to instate, and it’s the main crux of Paul’s ministry.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)
Under the New Creation, a.k.a. the Kingdom of Heaven, the curse of the Fall has been lifted. Sort of. We live in the “already-but-not-yet.” There is still not much we can do to make pregnancy and delivery any more bearable. And we still battle with the ground and the forces of nature in order to eek out a living. But just as Elisha lifted the curse on the rebuilt city of Jericho and Christ lifted the curse of sin and death, so we can work to lift the curse of the patriarchy.
Therefore, if Paul is appealing to the Creation story in 1 Timothy 2, then he must somehow also be looking forward toward New Creation. In this New Creation we are all descendants of the Second Adam (Romans 5) who brings the blessing, not the curse. This Second Adam invited women into his inner circle of students. All are welcome and encouraged to learn from him so that we will not fall into temptation like the first Adam and Eve. In this New Creation, women are encouraged to learn. Paul is not, therefore, issuing an everlasting universal decree prohibiting all women everywhere from ever teaching or having authority over a man. Rather, in this New Creation he is saying that uneducated women should learn before stepping into a role to which God may have called them.
**OR** Paul in one fell swoop is undoing everything Jesus worked for and contradicting himself in the worst way, essentially declaring the New Creation null and void.
Male dominated societal and religious structures are part of old, fallen creation. It is a shame to see followers of Christ still living in and advocating for broken and oppressive systems. The good news is that we get to choose which world we live in! Our citizenship is in heaven. We are members of the Kingdom of Heaven. New Creation is here, now, among us. Are we letting our old, sinful way of thinking keep us from embracing the new life of freedom Jesus came to give us? The old has gone – the new has come!