Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy that women are to dress modestly, learn silently, and find salvation in childbearing shape Christian identities and activities, but are routinely misread and misapplied. To make sense and good use of the instructions, a reader must consider the design and provenance of Paul’s letter.
The battle over women leaders and the church continues to rage unabated in evangelical circles. At the center of the tempest sits 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Despite a broad spectrum of biblical and extra-biblical texts that highlight female leaders, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 continues to be perceived and treated as the great divide in the debate. Indeed for some, how one interprets this passage has become a litmus test for the label “evangelical” and even for salvation.
In this lecture, Dirkey traces the beginnings of patriarchy from the fall through the patriarchal years of the Old Testament. He argues that both Jesus and Paul were against patriarchy before ending by explaining that patriarchy will be abolished in the end times.
A woman must quietly receive instruction with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was first deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11–14 NASB)
Among theological conservatives, the 1 Timothy 2 passage is pivotal in determining the role of women in the church. For today’s “traditionalists,” this passage mandates the subordination of women to men in the church because the headship/submission principle is grounded in the created order, an order that Christianity redeems, but does not alter. Today’s traditionalists/male hierarchists also claim to be upholding the historic interpretation of this passage. New research on early Protestant beliefs concerning natural law and the spiritual and civil kingdoms, however, brings their claim into serious question.
Context matters. I heard it all the time in seminary. It’s no small thing to translate biblical passages from Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek into English. This requires getting into the minds of the biblical authors to figure out what they intended to say to specific people in certain situations at a specific time in history. Academics call the science of interpretation hermeneutics. The goal is to know what God is saying about faith and practice in a certain context.
What do we need to know about the Ephesians in order to better understand Paul's meaning in 1 Timothy 2:11? First, we need to know that the letter was written to address the influence of false teachers (vs. 1:3–4) and second, we must understand the cultural background of the Ephesians.
Some of us come from traditions where you don’t ask questions of the text. If you ask questions, that means you are questioning God, and that’s not allowed. I want to expose you to the two typical ways this passage has been understood.