December 14, 2009

Gender and Number in 1 Tim 2 - Part 5

If Paul's prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 is only against one-on-one female/male mentoring, then what do we do with the following problems?


Objection #1: What about "she must be silent"? That's not a small problem. Forgive me, but I'm going to put this one off for the moment. What's below is far more than enough for today.


Objection #2: Why didn't Paul flip the script? Why didn't he also point out that a man should also not disciple a woman? We don't know. Maybe "certain men" in Ephesus had shared concerns about women like Priscilla and Junia (see below). Maybe it was simply a double-standard. So... does that mean Paul's saying a man can teach and direct a woman? I'd say no, not necessarily. Again, if we wanted to be literalists, we shouldn't invent sentences that aren't there.

On this objection, I reiterate - we don't know why Paul didn't balance his statement, but we can't invert the lack of a balance into an opposite, positive injunction favoring male domination. No matter how much traditional exegetes have inferred it, it's just not there. In the end, the lack of a script-flip may only be a cultural double standard that leaves certain things unstated as subtext (on which, see post #3 again).


Objection #3: If vv.12-15a is all individual, was Paul talking primarily about husbands and wives? I don't think so. Firstly, everything else that's domestic in this letter to Timothy is also corporately focused (ie: being unmarried should not produce shame in the community; the number of ones spouses only matters if one desires to become an elder; feeding widows is a job for the church; etc). In other words, it's precisely because these points are so peculiarly one-on-one that they're most likely not meant to focus on domestic couples.

Secondly, the domestic view of this passage ignores the reality of single people. Aside from those widows, at least, Paul and Timothy were also unmarried. In other words, declaring that v.12 must refer to a married couple rules out widows and Timothy. We simply can't declare for certain that such people are meant to be excluded from Paul's injunction.

Thirdly, the verb for teach ('didaskw') has a better than even chance of referring to some type of formal education or ecclesiastical training, both of which are teaching programs the average housewife in Ephesus would not likely attempt to perform. This third point on objection 2 deserves a quick sidebar. Education in general seems to have been something of a charged issue in Ephesus.


Acts and Paul's letters give us very good reasons to think that the church in Ephesus had been especially focused on teaching and discipling. Let's review some examples.

(Ex.A) The men and women of Ephesus had witnessed Paul teaching disciples in the school of Tyranus for two years. Even if Paul's most consistent pupils were only a handful of "junior apostles" in training, those two years still built a history among this particular church. We have no record of so much active discipleship in Paul's other churches.

(Ex.B) There's a larger concern in the letter to Timothy about who is or isn't authorized to teach others in the church. In fact, we get the distinct impression that "certain men" (who saw themselves as teachers) had been challenging Timothy's authority as Paul's proxy apostle.

(Ex.C) Priscilla explained the way of God to Apollos (with Aquilla's assistance), and such vocal initiative was probably characteristic for Priscilla, but at the time of 1st Timothy (we should be virtually certain) Priscilla was living in Rome.

(Ex.D) Many teachers, teaching apostles and apostles-in-training had lived in or visited Ephesus since the church's birth (Paul, Timothy, Apollos & Erastus, for certain; probably Titus; probably Peter & Silas, on their way from Corinth to Bithynia; less likely Barnabas; very likely all the men named in Acts 20:4; perhaps also Junia - on her way to Rome, if not as a resident for some time). Uncertainties acknowledged, Ephesus still seems likely to have had a significant amount of experience both observing and interacting with apostles and apostles-in-training.

Without further data, we can't outline any distinct patterns. We can, however, note that there were a variety of teaching arrangements in Ephesus' experience.

We have Paul teaching the church, Paul teaching disciples, Paul discipling apostles-to-be (Timothy & Erastus, at the absolute least), and Priscilla & Aquilla teaching Apollos. We have individuals teaching, individuals learning, and collections of individuals jockeying to obtain teaching positions.

At first glance, we do not seem to have examples of one-on-one discipling, at all. (!) After all, Paul himself made a point to say many things to Timothy "in the presence of others". However, it's probably Paul and Timothy must have spent some time alone, on occasion. For another example, we must expect Barnabas was still mentoring Paul to some degree as the two made their way up the Via Sebaste in Galatia. Since Paul had known Timothy longer than anyone else in Ephesus, it would be only natural if Timothy spent much time at Paul's home while they both lived in Ephesus. Given that, the church must have inherently recognized a one-on-one mentoring situation.

What we do not have, anywhere in Paul's writings, is explicit evidence of domestic teaching within a marriage or family. At the very least, 1.Cor.14:34-35 remains unclear. [It's hard to see how the infamous passage could be about speaking in "church" because there is no "Law" in Judaism which forbids women from speaking. The only other "ecclesia" which forbade women from speaking was the civic assembly, and while it is difficult to imagine why that would even be an issue - much less why Paul would address it so briefly within the context of 1.Cor 14 - it is even more impossible to invent a Law not already in the Pentateuch. But if this is not the case, then what other "Law" could Paul be referring to? .]


All things considered, the one-on-one language in 1.Tim.2:12 is - unfortunately - unique. As with the odd passage in 1.Cor, we can only speculate as to what circumstances moved Paul to make this odd statement in the first place. My own hunch is that someone started a rumor that Priscilla or Junia might take on a male disciple, like Paul did Timothy. A new friend just informed me of her theory that a particular wife was causing particular trouble. Either or neither of those may be correct. We just don't know.

What we do know is that teaching, discipling, and apostolic authority were ongoing issues that affected the church in Ephesus in significant ways, over time. In the end, we have one reference that may or may not refer to husbands teaching wives at home, but we have the precedent of apostolic mentoring as a possible impetus for consiering one-on-one situations.

This ends my thoughts on point 3. Those are all the reasons why I find it much less likely that 1 Tim 2:12 would be aimed against husbands and wives.


Objection #4: What's up with "saved by childbirth"? The last major problem I see is verse 15. We discussed v.15 in post #2, I floated some questions that bear further investigation, in the light of posts 3-5.

Unfortunately, this post is way too long already. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on v.15.


Bill said...

I'm reproducing a friend's comment on Facebook. It's worth considering...

Good article. I have a thought regarding objection #1 (forgive me if these things have been covered in previous articles—I haven't seen them yet).

At that time, in a Jewish household, ALL religious education and scriptural training was vested in the male child. Women were not offered training, did not memorize large sections of scripture, nor were they permitted to attend the discussions among the rabbis at the temple. In Jewish culture, an 8 year-old boy had more religious education than an 50 year-old woman.

So, it stands to reason that Paul's admonition for women to keep silent in the assembly stems from the probability that they were completely unequipped to maturely process the teachings of the apostles. In the context of the assembly, Paul seems to be urging this silence in an attempt to (for the sake of everyone) keep the meeting from devolving into an hours-long elementary Q & A. So he says if you have a question, ask your husband when you get home.

Today, women have complete and equal access to the same body of scriptural teaching and knowledge that men do. Theology is no longer exclusively a male pursuit. Women are quite capable of discussing the deep truths of Christ. Therefore, it seems reasonable to me to consider that Paul's imperative was not a grand statement of male dominance, but merely a 'housekeeping' item meant to contribute to the decency and order of the gatherings.

I think this line of thought also deepens the dynamic of the response to Objection #2.

end transcribed comment

Cheryl Schatz said...


I think that it is very good that you are exploring the singular vs the plural in these verses. This is something that I have been pushing for years to get people to pay attention to. The problem though with your theory that "she" is any woman teaching a single man would be that the only instances of this in the time that it was written would be a married woman teaching her husband for a man did not communicate with a woman unless she was his wife. When the disciples saw that Jesus had been talking to the woman at the well, they were very surprised that he would talk to a woman. This just wasn't done in those days and the Jews had rules against it for women were not seen as any kind of a valuable thing that a man would communicate with a woman not his wife.

So are wives supposed to be afraid of teaching their husband in the home? That just doesn't make any sense in that society and it doesn't answer the problems within the big picture with the conclusion of verse 15 since changing from "a woman" to Eve brings a lot of problems with the future tense of verse 15.

Bill said...

Cheryl, you may be right. If so, my only defense would be the possibility of rumors about Junia or Priscilla taking on disciples. Whatever Paul was writing against, it was probably very specific, and your guess may be as good as mine.

Thanks again for all the comments.

Cheryl Schatz said...


You said: " If so, my only defense would be the possibility of rumors about Junia or Priscilla taking on disciples. Whatever Paul was writing against, it was probably very specific, and your guess may be as good as mine."

The problem with this is that we could guess until the cows come home and the moon turns to blue cheese. Instead of guessing, I think the answer is to be found in the text itself and not in rumors that are not even hinted at in the text.

We know that Priscilla was an excellent Bible teacher (one able to correct Apollos) and her teaching pushed him towards Jesus and not herself. She was not one who was looking to make disciples after herself and any after-the-fact "rumors" cannot adequately answer the wording of the text.

You are doing well at considering the text. I would just encourage you to stay within the inspired words and the inspired grammar until the answer is found there. I don't think that God would give a text like this one for our edification that would require us to hazard a guess and that guess would be necessary to identify the key meaning of the text. There could be thousands or millions of guesses by Christians across the globe. How will that help with understanding the text?

I believe that God would have us stay with our noses in the text until we can understand the meaning. After all if Timothy could understand Paul's meaning, and he was able to submit to Paul's request, then we should be able to get out of the passage what God wants us to know because if it had no meaning at all other than to Timothy, I don't think the verses would have made it into this letter. I believe that the Holy Spirit would have made sure that Paul recorded these words in other personal letters that were not inspired if they were not meant to help us.

Bill said...

Cheryl, you tell me not to "guess" but your own comment is riddled with speculation and assumptions.

Sorry, but I'm going to let you work out which parts I think those are. ;-)

Cheryl Schatz said...


You said: "Cheryl, you tell me not to "guess" but your own comment is riddled with speculation and assumptions.

Sorry, but I'm going to let you work out which parts I think those are. ;-)"

I have heard that kind of backpedaling before ;) I am thinking that you may be afraid to list the "speculation" since you know I will show why it isn't speculation at all and I will use the text.

It is not too original. It is the spook effect. Never give the goods but make it seem like you have a secret knowledge hidden somewhere. Is that Biblical? Are you supposed to withhold correction? Not from my reading.

Alrighty then. I'll leave it back in your court.

Have a great Christmas and keep working at the text. You have done well to keep looking outside the box.

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget