I worked on a long, heartfelt comment for maybe an hour this morning, that is pretty much everything I’ve been talking about here, in response to a blog post in a private group where people share their Church of Christ-related blog posts. For some reason, though, it’s being censored. But since it is as long as a blog entry, and in response to a public blog post (and not a private post on Facebook) I might as well make it into a blog post of my own!
Now, hopefully the brother who wrote the original post will take this in the spirit in which it’s intended: Honest, reasoned discourse for the purposes of greater understanding. I’m not trying to take him down, just answer a bit of scriptural interpretation and doctrinal practice I find . . . not as well thought-out as it should be by those who are exploring it. And since he invited response, well . . . How could I stay silent? 🙂
So here is the original blog post, which I did enjoy reading for the most part:
And here is my response:
Hey Tyler! I could agree with most of your post, and in fact really found the taking-Paul’s-coat-to-Troas to be a great example of occasional command.
But I have to humbly disagree with your conclusion. Please take the following in the loving spirit it is intended, even when it seems like I’m getting heated toward the end. I promise I’m only getting preachy– I mean, passionate. 😆
But seriously, here’s why I disagree:
- Notice that throughout the rest of both books of Timothy, “women” when being spoken of generally are plural, but in this particular passage it’s singular — as if he’s speaking about a certain person, a “she who shall not be named” — someone Paul and Timothy had perhaps been corresponding about.
Because Ephesus was an extremely pagan city, which harbored the huge cult of Artemis, they had a lot of ex-pagans and Christ-curious joining the ranks of the early church. This cult, and a few of its offspring, taught that women were created first as perfect beings, and men were created second by a lesser god. Fertility was a main concern, and these gods were the ones who protected it and saw women through childbirth. When these priestesses (some of them of the Gnostic traditions, which also taught similar things about Mary) muddled in baby churches, they could stir up some major misbeliefs, especially that the God of the Christians needed help in the realm of childbirth, and they should still rely on their goddess for that.
Remember, Paul was in Ephesus for three years striving daily with the people there and seeing few results. And some women were educated there, but educated in what? Not Judeo-Christian doctrine — not by a long-shot. But they knew religion, and they had authority in their religion (and they had violent views against men), so you can bet they were probably stirring up some drama before Paul said, “I don’t want this woman (or women like her) to sew their false doctrine until they fully understand that they are not made spiritually superior to men, and sinless, by order of creation and by virtue of being a woman, because this is the story of creation by the God of Israel. Women are flawed, just like men.” The women had to accept that it was the woman who was deceived, and they weren’t willing to do that, because women were unassailable in their cults.
- “Authentein” — perhaps poorly translated as “usurp” — is the word in question here, because it could mean a few things (and is not used elsewhere by Paul or anyone else to mean “leadership”, which means it is of special circumstance). It could mean that the woman or women in question believed themselves in authority over man due to their superior creation status in their cult beliefs they were conflating with Christian doctrine. It could mean that they thought man was created from and by a female source, therefore claiming “authorship” of mankind and a superior spiritual status. But usually it’s thought of as a violent word, akin to castration and murder — which some of the cults were into, so it should not be overlooked as a factor in Paul’s statement there.
Paul was looking out for the health of the church doctrine and indeed the spiritual health of any future women teachers in that church, to be untainted by the beliefs they’d held in the past — if they would just sit and learn it first. But if they couldn’t keep from conflating the two and turning people away from the truth, then they should not teach. He said the very same of men in the first chapter, likely Gnostic men, who were perhaps more aware of the gospel and should have known better, but were sewing untruth.
And perhaps that was the difference in Paul’s usage of “false teacher”. The men knew gospel truths and should have been able to teach them, but were twisting them to suit themselves and a false belief. But many women had to start from square one with the gospel, and had to give up their old cult practices. They were not teachers in the first place, just troublemakers due to their belligerent pagan views.
- But if Paul was not talking about the local cults’ influence, and was indeed saying that the reason women are not to teach or have any authority in the church because she was created second after man, I have to say that I heartily disagree, and in fact find it an unGodly approach, as a female Christian and alleged child of God.
Because if woman was created for man in man’s image, and cannot have authority in the church because she was deceived (regardless of her level of education), and can only be saved through child-bearing, then . . . women have been relegated to a faith without mercy:
3a) We are forever in debt for our sin of being deceived (but man can get away with straight-up lying to God in the garden thanks to the saving power of Christ). God only lifted his curse from man, and women can only be saved through the good grace of men.
3b) We are forever tainted, relegated to teaching only other women and the children . . . except, how does that make sense? If we are easily deceived and have no authority, why would it be our domain to teach those who are also easily deceived and the easily impressionable? Think about it! Isn’t that what Paul was warning against?
3c) We have been barred from even reading scripture from the pulpit, as if reading is some sort of special domain of the man of God, but a woman doing it makes it sinful.
3d) Women who are barren, divorced against their wills, and widowed are just . . . dependent on the hope that God will still save them, without a man and children to make her worthy of His grace? Hopefully the church hasn’t turned its back on her, a man hasn’t blamed her for something she has no authority to deny, or her children haven’t died or turn their backs on her in their adulthood. If children are the embodiment of the grace of God for women, and the only voice she has in the church — and Paul said as much in the Bible — what hope does she have that God will show grace to her, too? Paul, himself, said that “women will be saved through childbearing”, so a barren woman’s salvation is worthless? My thought is that that passage needs better interpretation. Some have said that Paul might have meant the birth of The Child, meaning Christ, from a woman who was not Artemis or any other cult goddess — NOT that a woman’s fertility was what made her a spiritual woman!
3e) Or is it that only women who are married and have children can achieve authority in the church? While this has a little merit, it also doesn’t back up the “grace without works” aspect. A woman’s desires for the “greater gifts” Paul was telling everyone in the church to desire (not just the men) cannot be achieved until she fulfills some very arbitrary — and occasionally impossible — rules that men don’t have to?
3f) If women are just not authoritative, we cannot have access to the same holy priesthood referenced in Hebrews. None of this “equal in spirit but fulfilling different roles in the church” stuff can quite justify the whole “Christians are all saints, adopted by God, and priests in the order of Melchizadek — period,” not to mention the whole “in Christ there is no male or female” passage in Galations. Priests had authority. Melchizadek was not under the Law of Moses, and neither are we. I can (and did) spend my entire life studying the Bible, I went to a Christian college, and I dedicated myself to understanding what I was reading in every sense. I can speak about it — often without notes, and with passion. And yet, my body parts and my status in the order of creation make all that secondary to a man (or a boy) who has a light grasp on the Bible, who maybe has only been studying it for a few years, who is fully free to stand up and pray, read scripture, lead singing (something else I’m trained in, and is not a Biblical activity, just as passing communion plates is not a Biblical activity, but I’ll not get into that right now 😉 ), because he has authority by virtue that he is male? Is our God a god of fairness and justice, or does he play favorites? Did he create woman to be a human with the man, or as a secondary being subject to different rules and less freedom?
So that’s the lens I’ve been looking through in terms of this scripture, in order to suss out the reason Paul was writing this particular thing to Timothy.
I love Paul. I find his words, in every letter, to be the champion of women, bringing them up out of a world that enslaved them. I don’t find his writings to be offensive or chauvinistic (if that’s even a word in use anymore). I find the interpretations to be. 😉
So I hope that helps shed more light on the “circumstantial” aspect of this passage, and why it’s so contentious in our culture of relative gender equality.
One note, though: I DO NOT agree with the movement of women right now who seek to tear men down (dismantling a “patriarchy”) in order to grasp authority. I find that behavior exactly what Paul was warning against, and it’s frightening and annoying to me that women would do that and call it equality, or even remotely Godly. I want to be able to held to the same standard as my brothers, and have these kinds of conversations, because I have a good grasp of scripture and a love of speaking about it — not because I’m seizing any authority or deliberately treading on their ego.
It’s a lot to unpack, and I’ve been having to struggle with these kinds of things for a few years to make sure I’m only going against tradition and not against God’s will for His people. But it makes me less blind in my traditions, and more open to the fair and just expectations of a loving Father God. And so far I haven’t found a reason to give up the authority He has blessed me with. 🙂
Peace to you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!