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.