In my previous post on 1 Timothy 2 and the created order, I questioned the view that Paul’s prohibition of women exercising authority in church is grounded in the created order. In this post, I’d like to examine an alternative view, one which I think makes more sense to me. I don’t pretend that this is an easy issue, and certainly I’m not claiming to have the “right” view. As William Mounce says in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, “If one position were truly clear or obvious, then there would not be significantly divergent positions held by respectable scholars.” Speaking of other literature, I at the end of this post I will provide a ‘recommended further reading’ section.
So, let’s get cracking. What was going on at Ephesus to provoke Paul to write what he did? (See the passage in question here).
Firstly, I think it’s important to note that the letter itself is corrective. Paul isn’t writing a letter to tell them what ought to be done per se (i.e. from a blank canvas), he is telling them what they’re doing wrong. Hence, his mention of false teaching several times in the letter – and several times mentioning things which have gone wrong with younger widows and wives (most of chapter 5, for example, as well as them being instructed not to marry in 4:3).
Secondly, there is a parallel between 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. Except that, in 1 Peter 3, Peter is talking unambiguously about husbands and wives. I wouldn’t go as far as saying 1 Peter 3 should be determinative for our understanding of 1 Timothy 2, but I think it’s a piece of evidence which points to the fact that the marriage relationship might be in view.
Thirdly, there is some evidence of – for want of a better word – ‘alpha females’ in the first-century Roman Empire, to the extent that Augustus had to legislate against it. These women “flouted traditional values governing adornment and dress and sexual propriety.” (Towner, p. 196).
Read against these three things, I think a possibility emerges: in Ephesus, these ‘alpha females’ were on the rise. Consequently, Paul’s letter is a direct rebuke for them: this movement should not be allowed to enter into the church. As such, what he says in 11-15 is a continuation of what he says in 9-10: he is simply talking about the same thing. What he is instructing is for marriage relationships to continue in a godly way, consistent with other Biblical teaching (such as the 1 Peter passage, also Ephesians 5). To my mind, this better explains his reference to childbearing in v15: men and women have roles within marriage, and it is right and proper if those are exercised properly.
This leaves the big question: how should we read Paul’s reference to the created order? Most of the ‘egalitarian’ reading I have done suggests that these ‘alpha females’ were actually using a heretical reading of the creation narrative in order to support themselves. As a corrective to that, Paul says “no, this is what happened in Genesis.” Personally I feel this fits better both with Paul’s other writings, as well as making sense of that particular reference. Hence, his emphasis on the woman sinning first, and his emphasis on man being created first (perhaps both of those things had been reversed by heretical ‘alpha females’ in order to assert their position).
As such, and particularly when combined with some of the other textual issues such as the meaning of authentein (to have / assume authority), I would not view this as a prohibition against women having authority roles in churches: instead, Paul is calling for men and women to have appropriate roles in the marriage relationship, as a corrective to a situation that was specifically Ephesian.
Now, I realise that this leaves a fair number of questions hanging, so at this point I’d like to hand over to the experts and provide a few links to further reading you may wish to do:
- The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Philip H. Towner; NICNT). This is an excellent commentary, Towner takes the egalitarian view – most of what I’ve said here you will find in much more detail in this commentary.
- The Pastoral Epistles (William D. Mounce; Word Biblical Commentary). This is another excellent commentary, Mounce takes the complementarian view.
- Evangelical Feminism (Wayne Grudem). In this volume Grudem analyses 118 questions and gives his (complementarian) answer to them. Essentially, read this is you want the counter to what I’ve said.
- Man and Woman: One in Christ (Philip Payne). I haven’t actually read this, but it came highly recommended by one of my lecturers at college. It sets out the egalitarian case, and apparently is excellent on the 1 Timothy 2 passage (not so much on Corinthians).
- Women in Church Office (Gordon Hugenberger – PDF). Hugenberger examines 1 Timothy 2 and concludes it should be viewed as talking about husbands and wives.
- Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul (Andrew Perriman). I found this a very helpful book, although I’m not sure I agree 100% with everything. Worth reading if you want a slightly different perspective on 1 Timothy 2.
- Discovering Biblical Equality (ed. Pierce and Groothuis). This is a collection of essays on various topics, including 1 Timothy 2. I found Linda Belleville’s essay on 1 Timothy helpful, although – as above – not sure I agreed with everything. Worth reading though.