Questions of Women in Ministry, 1 Timothy 2

There is a passage in 1 Timothy that draws a fair bit of attention and controversy. As Paul gives instructions to Timothy in how to safeguard the church, he also includes descriptions as to how men and women ought to conduct themselves.

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

1 Timothy 2:11-15 ESV

Much of the controversy hinges on whether these specific instructions are specific to this church and its contexts, or whether they are universal in scope. Should the women (or woman) in Ephesus set their sights on learning humbly and restrain themselves from inappropriately teaching and seizing authority because they have been deceived, and were especially prone to deception given that women in that culture were not often allowed the same access to education? Or should women not teach nor speak by mere fact that they are women?

I’ve been reading more on this text in the last few days, looking for resources on this issue to help present the arguments eloquently. I’ll include a link to a short essay found on Biblegateway that I think does a good job of presenting the different views, and does so without a quarrelsome, arrogant, or dismissive tone. Many articles on this issue can be aggressive, and especially given the way in which the whole of 1 Timothy speaks to that problem in the church, I wanted to find something respectful.

Personally, as I’ve said before, we need to read Scripture in light of Scripture. There are examples throughout the Bible of women of influence and authority. In the Gospels women play a very prominent role, even more so when taken in light of the prevailing customs of that culture. We see in books like Romans and Acts that women already had prominent positions in the early church. Given that fact, and other theological assertions of Paul himself in letters like Galatians, I believe when we come upon Paul’s writing here, we are warranted to spend more time on the passage that may seem to more easily lean one way, and read it in light of other passages and understand it to mean something else. Again, if we note the culture to which he writes, the mere assertion that the women ought to learn (v11) already pushes the boundaries of the roles of women.

That being said, I’d encourage you to read this article. It is from the IVP New Testament Commentaries, provided “generously by InterVarsity Press.” Isn’t great what you can access for free on the internet?

Men and Women in Worship, 1 Timothy 2

A Word About 1 Timothy and Paul

You may live your whole life and never once hear about the issues of authorship that arise in the discussion of the pastoral letters of Paul. And that life would be just fine. But questions do come up as to whether or not Paul wrote the New Testament book we’re reading this week for Year in the Bible, 1 Timothy.

As I said, you could live a full life without spending great time and energy on this question. But I bring it up because the authors of these books are important and I don’t want to make it seem like this issue is hidden. When churches never touch on controversial issues there can be a feeling that it is because if the controversy is true and some new idea becomes the norm, everything will fall apart. If Paul, by his own hand with his favorite quill, did not write 1 Timothy, do we then throw away the Bible and quit church? I do not think so.

One thing we shouldn’t do is use these questions as an excuse to dismiss parts of Scripture that we find difficult. Just recently at a conference at Princeton Seminary a professor, instead of tackling an issue that is raised in 1 Timothy, just dismissed whichever parts she was unsatisfied with saying something like, “Well, Paul probably didn’t write that book.”

1 Timothy is still part of the Bible. Clear on that? If Moses didn’t write all five books of the Pentateuch, does that mean we can then say, “Well, that’s in Genesis, and Moses probably didn’t write it.” The Bible is God’s book and he has worked upon many people throughout generations so that we may know his story.

That introduction aside, here is a very brief rundown of some thoughts about 1 Timothy. First, the issue of who wrote it is brought up because of different styles in grammar and form between a book like 1 Timothy and Paul’s epistles. I am no great expert, but in hearing these objections while in school I couldn’t help think to my own writing and how different it must have been my first year in college compared to my final year, my first year in seminary to my final year, and compare that to my writing today. Take that into consideration along with different causes for writing and different audiences and I thought that could account for a good deal of change. Perhaps that is far too simple an explanation. But I do know Paul was not perfect, and even though he was a teacher to many, he certainly had lessons to learn as well, and as he matured he may have had a better sense of what to say, how to say it, and to whom to say it.

Without further ado, here are three views quickly summarized with the help of New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall (397-398).

  • Paul is aided by a colleague in ministry who had a certain degree of freedom in composing the message.
  • The letter was written by someone else who wanted to bolster the authority of the letter by associating Paul’s name with it.
  • This letter contains Paul’s materials that were appropriate for the needs Ephesus and were formatted into a letter so as to be better received by the church.

False teaching and speculation is not only wrong, but a waste of time

The more letters of Paul you read the more you may notice patterns. He, along with other writers, often expresses a great concern for false teachers. There are warnings against their doctrines and the gospel is then described in stark contrast. 1 Timothy begins no differently as part of Timothy’s charge in watching over the church in Ephesus is to pay careful attention to what is being taught. Timothy needs to keep the teaching pure and put in end to false teachings.

I think most of us would rather stand for something rather than against it, but there are times, as we see in the Bible, when it isn’t either/or. There is a time for subtlety. There is also a time to call attention to false teaching and false teachers. And it is not only an issue about what is true and how should we protect that. Here in 1 Timothy we see one concern of Paul’s is that some in Ephesus have devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Are they the most threatening issues affecting the church? Perhaps not. But they result in speculation and vain discussions.

What Paul wants Timothy to promote is proper stewardship from God and to foster love from a pure heart. If we spent all day speculating on unimportant issues we would have spent the whole day on unimportant issues! We certainly may have discussions that border the core elements of our faith, but we ought not devote our whole selves to them. In Ephesus people do devote themselves in this way, desiring to be teachers, to be authorities, yet they have no idea what they’re even talking about (rough translation of 1:7).

If you ever listen to talk radio, be it sports or politics, it is amazing how many hosts can go on and on for hours filling up time without saying much at all. Try taking notes during the program and then at the end look back at just how much was said. I doubt it’ll be very much. That is not the model for Christianity. We aren’t to endlessly babble or speculate, whine or critique. There is a great place for discussion, teaching, and study. But these are to lead us in following Christ and being a people of action, acting out our faith in love.

Proper stewardship isn’t just an issue of money. Vain discussions and speculation are poor stewardship of one of our greatest possessions: time. God has given us each day to live and we need to be wise in how we manage such an wonderful gift.

More on hypocrisy, aided by Blue Like Jazz

As I wrote on Matthew 23, I was reminded of a favorite section of the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It doesn’t entirely fit the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, so it didn’t fit in with that post, but I wanted to share it.

His struggle with hypocrisy wasn’t a self-righteous boasting, but did have the flavor of not practicing what he preached, as seen in Matthew 23:3. He writes this as he was confronted with something like a crisis of faith:

“I don’t have any doubts about God or anything; it’s just me. I feel like I am constantly saying things I don’t mean. I tell people they should share their faith, but I don’t feel like sharing my faith. I tell people they should be in the Word, but I am only in the Word because I have to teach the Word. I said to a guy the other day, ‘God bless you.’ What does that mean? Then I started thinking about all the crap I say. All the clichés, all the parroted slogans. I have become an informercial for God, and I don’t even use the product.

As much as we can keep ourselves busy, busyness can hide time from honest, personal reflection. This is true within the church as well as it can provide plenty to occupy your time. These things can all be very good. But make sure that you slow down and make sure you are seeking out God himself, and not just the good things of God. Ritual and habit are not bad in and of themselves, but take time to think through our actions and the meaning behind them. As you approach the Bible, seek God in his Word for the joy of knowing him, not only to finish this reading plan.

I will say that there is a place for obedience, even when we “don’t feel like it.” God can use us regardless of our initial willingness (see Moses and all sorts of other characters from the Bible). That may be a critique of this book. Christianity is not always going to be some authentic expression of our deepest desires. Our deep desires are often sinful, and a life following Christ is hard as he warned us that we’ll have to pick up our cross to follow him.

But there is wisdom in this quote. We shouldn’t mistake learning about God with knowing God or giving instruction for others with personal discipleship.* For example, taking children to church is not the same thing as bringing them up in the faith. Writing a check for some ministry is not the same as serving people face-to-face. Researching the Bible for a class is not all that reading the Bible is about. These are not bad things, but we must make sure we do not let them become everything. We are invited not only to live a certain way or to know certain things, but to know God in Jesus Christ–to have a relationship.

Informercials can be really informative, but God wants disciples who follow him, and they can be transformative in this world.

*A problem it seemed the scribes and Pharisees had. Matthew 23

Woe to Hypocrisy

Jesus comes down hard on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. They are guilty of hypocrisy as “they preach, but do not practice.” They lay heavy burdens upon the people, yet they will hardly lift a finger. These leaders love to soak up all the attention that their positions bring, presenting themselves outwardly as righteous. But in their hearts they are sinful. As leaders they are blind guides who close the doors of the kingdom on people, and under their leadership people fall further from the truth.

One illustration Jesus uses works perfectly as an object lesson, one that I remember as a kid helping my mom get ready for a youth group session. Jesus says, “you clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of reed and self-indulgence.” To recreate this, I went out in my backyard and was tasked to play in the dirt. A great task for a young boy. One cup was to be dirtied on the outside, but clean inside. The other was to look spotless externally, but filthy on the inside.

The trouble with the pharisees is that they work hard on the external appearances and do nothing in regards to their hearts. But Jesus has already taught that it is what comes from within that makes us clean (Matt 15:11). What is within them is unclean. If attention was paid to cleaning the inside, then the outside could truly be clean, as well. An even more severe description is then applied to these leaders. Jesus says that on the outside they appear freshly painted with new coats of clean, white paint. But this paint is only a thin facade that hides the fact that within is a tomb, full of bones and uncleanness. They are full of death, yet are tasked with helping the people live!

Their hypocrisy is the double standards that they apply and the two-faced life they live. They look one way, but act another. They instruct people to live in ways completely different from how they live themselves. They are hypocrites as they boast in themselves, yet they truly have nothing worthy of such boasting.

Certainly it is possible for Christians to be guilty of hypocrisy in just the same way. But Christians should not make claims about having attained righteousness on our own, nor having made ourselves completely void of sin. In a way we ought to know better than others just how sinful we really are. We then can’t boast in the ways the scribes and Pharisees do. We can only boast in Christ. Only he can make us clean. Only he can bring us to life, as though he were opening those tombs and giving life to dead bones. That’s what we boast in. Therefore it makes no sense to seek celebrity and fame for ourselves, looking for places of greater honor.

These woes are still warnings for us today. We should be on guard against such sinful tendencies we all have. We ought to preach and practice, humbly doing so with a gospel that is firmly rooted in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, not our own. And as God does accomplish his transforming work within us, we can’t allow ourselves to be puffed up with pride. From start to finish it is God. Pride only interferes with that. Humility opens a person up to his work.

Humility also confronts hypocrisy as it is not afraid to let others see our weaknesses, since humility is not concerned with receiving praise. Rather in our weakness, humility knows that it is only God who is seen as strong.

As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

When I was on vacation after Christmas I went to church and heard a sermon that was on Matthew 23, with great focus on the image that comes at the end. Jesus laments for Jerusalem saying:

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

The preacher referenced a mosaic that depicts this, so I wanted to track it down to share it with you. It is found at a church called Dominus Flevit, which means ‘the Lord has wept.’ It is located on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and its architecture designed to resemble a tear drop.

It is humbling to think of the care Jesus has for us and how it extends even to those who reject him. He is brokenhearted over Jerusalem and only desires to protect and love its people.

Dominus Flevit Mosaic

A Reminder as to Why We Read the Bible

It’s been a while since I shared linked to an article here, but I thought I’d offer this short piece for your reading. It’s great to be reminded of the reasons behind what we do, and as much I try to encourage Bible readings, it is probably good to hear it coming from somewhere else.

So take a look at this article, Why We Read the Bible, from Desiring God.

Here’s a quick quote to sum up much of what it is about if you really don’t think you have five minutes to read today.

“Bible reading is meant to deepen our personal relationship with Christ.”

Let the Little Children Come to Me

There is a short section in Matthew 19 that deals with children who were being brought to Jesus. The disciple rebuke the people then Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

How many of you find this to be a surprising text? Surprising not for the way in which Jesus reacts, but for the way the disciples seek to prevent the children from coming?

I was thinking about my own reaction to the story, and I think it is a great credit to the church today that so many are shocked at the disciples. We read it and say to ourselves, “Where do they get off trying to stop children, of all people, from coming to Jesus?” But we only say that because so many in the church have worked in the intervening centuries to do as Jesus did and welcome children. Children are to have a place in the church and we celebrate them. So many places in our society leave no place for kids. They are a nuisance or inconvenient. But in a church that seeks to follow Jesus here, the very opposite is true.

If churches were not a place that embraces children as a legitimate part of the community, but rather saw them as not-yet-important part of it, we’d read this passage and be more surprised that Jesus welcomes them. What the disciples did was probably not unexpected to their audience, but thankfully when I read it I’m taken aback and say, “What were they thinking?”

Good thing Jesus set us straight.