“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet…” I Timothy 2:8-12 (TNIV)
I’m about as much a literalist as any complementarian. The rule I learned, and largely use, is: “If the common sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense.”
Biblical interpretation is so much about context, context, context. So, when we read I Timothy 2 about female submission and silence, we need to see the context so we can see the common sense of this part of Paul's instructions.
Does the complementarian argue that men must raise their hands whenever they pray? Are women in the church never allowed to have stylish hair? What about those golden wedding rings? How about that really nice coat she got for Christmas last year?
They’re not doing all of this? Then why is the female submission and silence part taken so differently? The first part is obviously a localized command with a general lesson in it that we should always be praying humbly and thankfully and be more interested in living godly rather than being involved in just “looking good.” We understand the specifics of the injuctions are localized in time and place. Why should this one part be general to all times and all places? To me, the answer seems relatively simple to deduce. If everything but one part of a multi-part instruction is for a certain time and place, with those instructions having informative use elsewhere but are not binding elsewhere, then the one part is also specific to a certain time and place.
Mind you, there are more radical groups that require their women to not cut their hair, to wear head coverings, to not wear jewellery, men’s pants, etc. I’ve got to give them this: Their exegesis is more consistent than the less radical. This simply makes their errors greater, but they are more logical and more consistent.
John R. Rice was a major theologian for me in my youth. Try out his “Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers” sometime. Really radical.
I draw encouragement from the fact that mainline complementarian thought has reached the current, less logical stance. It’s a movement in the right direction. Now, we need to pray for our sisters and brothers to take the next step toward understanding the context of this part of Scripture.