First-century Corinth and its challenges were not so different from our own. Upwardly mobile Christians facing radically diverse ethnic, religious, economic and social conditions. The church divided over issues of leadership and authority, sexual morality, gender and worship, marriage and divorce. Sound familiar? Yet as Alan Johnson highlights in this excellent commentary, in the midst of this detailed, practical letter to a church in crisis Paul has penned one of the greatest paeans to love ever written.
While it is now generally agreed that 1 Tim 2:8–15 is directed against the heresy that had taken hold within the Ephesian church, the key question is whether the passage is directed against the content of the heresy or is concerned to establish a process that will eventually see the victims corrected and the heresy expunged. If concerned with the content of the heresy, the instructions may be directed at restoring a hierarchical framework. If the passage is concerned with process, however, Paul’s demands are shaped by the particular nature of the heresy and its form of transmission in Ephesus.
Despite his special pastoral relationship with the church in Corinth, Paul confronted numerous local and cultural problems needing to be addressed. Utilizing a range of ancient sources, Craig Keener explains these problems and how Paul's arguments would have been communicated to a first-century audience.
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.
Since the middle of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing, sometimes acrimonious debate over the meaning of “head” (Greek, kephalē) in Paul’s letters, especially 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23. This article is an attempt to review the most significant scholarly literature that has emerged in the debate and to summarize each without critique.
In the evangelical world, we stress the importance of context for understanding Scripture rightly. We warn against “taking a verse out of context,” because the meaning of a verse is shaped or influenced by the paragraph or chapter in which it appears. Context may not be everything in interpretation, but the literary context is undeniably important for interpreting a passage faithfully.