Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two paragraphs on 1 Timothy 2:12

From chapter 9 of my second Paul volume:
However, I also believe that the popular interpretation of this verse is also slightly mistaken. Its most popular use is to argue against women in ministry—at least women ministering to adult men or taking senior leadership in a church. But the words for “woman” (gynē) and “man” (anēr) here can also mean “wife” and “husband.” In fact, they usually do have this meaning when the two words are used in close proximity. Given the general assumption of 1 Timothy that women need to be married (because a single woman is prone to be a gossip and a busybody—5:13), this verse surely assumes that the woman in question is married. Also, the Adam/Eve relationship and the significance of childbearing are an intrinsic part of the argument that follows (2:13-15). So a much more accurate translation would be, “A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener” (CEB).

What we have in these verses is thus not an argument against women in ministry, but a reiteration of the need for the woman to submit to the authority of her husband, as in the household codes of Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. Since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul sees no contradiction whatsoever between husband headship and women participating fully in the prophetic life of the church, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not address the issue of women in ministry at all. It addresses the apparent need for social order within the early church in relation to husbands and wives, particularly in the worship setting. We can imagine that house churches created interesting social conflicts in the relationships between women and men, since women normally directed the private activities of the home. [1] But Christian worship made the private domain of the home a public domain of worship, and we can perceive Paul’s writings wrestling with the kinds of tensions this situation created.

[1] It is not exactly accurate to say that men were the head of the home in the ancient world. They were generally the head of the household, but in general, women directed the activities of the private home and men conducted public activities outside the home. Cf. the picture of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31.


::athada:: said...

Although it's not a direct comparison w/ the Biblical world, one need only to look at how people live in the majority world to get a closer glimpse (a post-WWII industrial mindset is a relatively new thing under the sun). In Africa, women do more of the farm work, child-raising, cooking, etc, and earn a fraction of the money. My Bolivian host mom explained to me that the death of a father is certainly sad for the family, but the death of a mother signifies a true passing of an era - children feel much more lost without their mum.

Historically, it seems men too often are leaders in squandering the family wealth on parties where men enjoy the alcohol and meat, while the women and kids eat the scraps from the table. Thank God for women - focused on the family since 4004 B.C.!

J. W. Watkins said...

Is it not also reasonable that a distinction needs to be made between 1) a woman who prophesizes (preaches) such as Philip's daughters, and Acts 2 allows; and 2) a woman who would serve administratively, in essence becoming the head?
The blurring of roles(function) between male and female seems to be of interest to God.
Such a distinction would give room for those passages that clearly give women the right to preach without turning the scriptures into a rubric cube in order to keep it from saying what it so obviously is saying regarding the role of men in the ministry and church.

Ken Schenck said...

As far as I can tell, the headship issue is strictly a matter of husbands and wives, not of all women with all men. Of course I also consider the husband-wife structure to be ancient-cultural, since there is no reason to absolutize this structure in terms of nature or the intrinsic abilities of women and men. It's a cultural thing.

JohnM said...

"No reason to absolutize this structure..". Could you be presenting somewhat of a faulty dilemma?

Tom 1st said...

Is the public/private dichotomy one that existed in first cent. Roman culture?

Ken Schenck said...

John, I was trying to kill two birds with one stone. One the one hand, if I'm not able to convince someone that we should follow the commonsense rule of collaborative leadership in the home (with the one with the greater wisdom/knowledge being listened to by the other, both cooperating with the goal of making the best decision for all involved and looking more to each other's interests than their own), I would at least like to convince that the Bible, as the ancient world, did not treat male leadership as absolute. In other words, when a Deborah comes along, they let her lead. If I can win this much, then whenever a woman clearly gifted to lead comes along, we will let her (e.g., Joanne Lyon in my denomination). If I can't win a person over on theory, I can accomplish almost as much if I win them over on exception. ;-)

Ken Schenck said...

Tom 1st, I'm not using those words in any technical sense. I basically mean, "within the confines of a house" and "in relations with those outside the house."