Sunday, February 10, 2013

1 Timothy 2:12 and Women in Ministry 1

Continuing some of my typical thoughts on women in ministry for a self-published booklet.
With 1 Corinthians 14:34 irrelevant to the topic of women in ministry, the case against it really comes down to a single obscure verse in the entire Bible: 1 Timothy 2:12: "I do not allow a wife to teach nor to domineer a husband but to be in quietness."  If this verse were not in the Bible, it is hard to see how those against women in ministry would be able to persuade any earnest Bible reader at all.

It's understandable that individuals would see 1 Timothy 2 in terms of a worship gathering. It pictures men praying for emperors and secular leaders (2:2), and public worship seems a likely place for such prayer to take place. Presumably the wives would not have adorned themselves at home (2:9), but they might have done so to gather in someone else's home for worship.  Presumably such adornment was not only a distraction to worship at the time, but implicitly demoralizing to the majority of wives there who did not have the means for such jewelry.

You can see how this train of thought would lead someone to put comments on wives learning in quiet subordination (2:11) into a public worship setting. This context would then apply also to 2:12, where the wives are not to teach or dominate their husbands.  Nevertheless, the supporting arguments Paul gives to this statement are general rather than worship specific, even if they would be especially true in public.

You'll notice I have consistently spoken of husbands and wives here. The supporting arguments Paul gives to his instruction in 2:12 make it clear that he is not thinking of women teaching men in general in these verses.  He is trying to protect the dynamics of the ancient household, as he was less strictly in 1 Corinthians 11.  Again, when the Greek word gynē is used in close proximity to the word anēr, the default assumption is that husbands and wives are the topic of discussion unless there are clear reasons to the contrary.

In the culture of the time, a woman was never a woman in isolation. At the time, a woman was always defined in connection to a man.  A young female was a woman-as-fathered.  A married female was a woman-as-wifed.  To the extent that someone thinks of these verses as being about women and men in general, one has already modernized them to some extent.

Paul's supporting arguments emphasize the fact that women-as-wives are in view.  Adam, the husband, was made first, then Eve, the wife (2:13).  It is a "birth order" argument that fit well in an ancient world where the oldest son clearly had the place of highest authority in the family.  God clearly made exceptions even in Old Testament times, such as when he chose Jacob over Esau.

Because Western society empowers all the individuals in a family, most Western Christians would implicitly act as if these structures were more cultural than a matter of eternal principle. Indeed, the kingdom of God presumably will not give more authority to those born earlier in history than those born later, making the birth order principle a matter of the "elementary principles of the world" (Gal. 4:3).  It is second best because it is not kingdom best.

The second supporting argument comes from the sin of Eve, the wife.  "And Adam was not deceived, but the wife, having been deceived, has come to be and remains in transgression, but she will be saved through childbearing if they remain in faith and love and holiness with self-control" (2:14-15)...

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