Women and the Word, Part 3

One of the proof texts against women in ministry is found in the book of 1 Timothy.  This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to his friend and young pastor, Timothy.  In the second chapter, it has the following, according to the New International Version (NIV):

1 Timothy 2:11-15

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. NIV

On the surface, this text appears very clear.  Women, in general, seemed to be forbidden to have any teaching responsibility over men and in addition, she should not speak at all.  This is the understanding that has been perpetuated since the Apostolic era (era when people who actually knew the historic Jesus were still alive).
However, there are descrepancies that I will point out that suggests that this translation and interpretation has been manipulated.  As I stated in the first part of this series, scripture must be understood as a whole, and within a context and culture.  Making it plain: Scripture itself must be in harmony with itself.  Secondly, the Word of God was given through specific times and culture where the language and customs were fairly specific.
So here we go:
1. The word "silent" in verse 12 is the Greek word "hesuchia".  Hesuchia is used earlier in the same chapter by the Apostle Paul. Look at verse 2 in chapter 2.  In that verse, Paul is asking Timothy to encourage prayers for leaders so "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness".  The same word, in the same context, is translated "quiet" in verse 2.  The word does not mean silent or without sound at all.  The word means to be unassuming and respectful.  There is no command in this text that means women should not be able to make a sound in church. The command is that women be the same as men are asked to be, unassuming and respectful. This word is mistranslated.  I confirmed this with numerous Greek lexicons and Greek experts at Northeastern Seminary, here in Rochester. Master Translator Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase called "The Message", translates verse 12: "they should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else."  This is the true essence of verse 12.

2. Learning in "all submission" is not a specific command to women, despite the fact that he is addressing women here.  It is a command to all to learn in submission to their church leaders and to one another.  (Romans 13:1,5; I Corinthians 16:15-16; Ephesians 5:21; I Peter 5:5, and more).  In other words, we are all called to learn in submission.

3. Most importantly: The phrasing of verse 12 is misleading.  The word translated as "have authority (authentein)" is used once in the entire Bible.  Its use in extra-Biblical sources suggest more of a sense of manipulation rather than authority.  The Bible uses a different word when speaking about authority throughout the new testament (exousian).  The sentence structure is more in line with "I do not permit a women to teach and manipute men".  The prohibition is not from teaching in general, but not to manipulate men, which was common in the Ephesian pagan cults of the time.  Once again Eugene Peterson gets it right with his translation of verse 11: "I don't let women take over and tell the men what to do".  Again, the emphasis is not a prohibition against all women teaching, but prohibition of domineering and manipulation.

4. Paul elsewhere gives guidelines to women who speak in church (I Cor 11:5).  Paul specifically speaks about Priscilla as a teacher and a host of the church (Acts 18:19-26) and goes against culture by listing her name first, which suggests that she may have been the primary leader.

5. Verses 13-15 are not speaking of the weakness of women as much as it is talking about the failliability of women.  The Ephesian cult of Aphrodite was led by women priestesses.  There was a cultually assumption that women were spiritually superior in the pagan world.  This referral to Eve is letting the Ephesian congregation know that both men and women can be deceived and disobedient.  The primary emphasis on the childbearing phrase is that even though Eve was deceived (and brought death), that she was vindicated through childbirth (bring life). 

In conclusion, this verse is misunderstood and in some ways, mistranslated.  If I had more time and space, we could talk about whether this misinterpretation is purposeful or not.  The over all tone of this verse is best described by the Message Bible:

1 Timothy 2:11-15

11 I don't let women take over and tell the men what to do. 12 They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. 13 Adam was made first, then Eve; 14 woman was deceived first — our pioneer in sin! — with Adam right on her heels. 15 On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love, and holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this.

The Message

Next week, we look at I Corinthians 14:33-35.  Take time to read it over andreflect upon its meaning.

God bless you all,

Pastor M Traylor
Dr. M TraylorComment