I previously had promised to get these posts out a number of months ago. However, after doing some initial reading on the subject, I realized that these verses need adequate care and honest reflection that, at the time, I simply couldn’t give to it. That is not to say that previous Feminist Friday posts could afford to be written haphazardly. But 1st Timothy 2:9ff, along with its subsequent silencing of women, stands as the foundational justification for much patriarchal praxis found in many conservative congregations today. If deconstructing these verses is going to be done, then it ought to be done right. Thus, we are going to wade into 1 Timothy slow and easy, so that we can come to the right conclusions.
In order to interpret the epistolary genre correctly, the historical context must be taken into account with all seriousness. Though this absolutely includes the broad historical context (e.g. first century, Gentile colony, under Roman rule, lack of women’s education), it is the localized historical context that will occupy most of our time. What was happening within the church that prompted Paul to write this letter? If we fail to answer this question, then we may confuse local prescription with timeless instruction. Radiation therapy may be the best option for one diagnosed with cancer, but making it a general rule for everyone- healthy and unhealthy- would be disastrous.
The following sentence (indicating the central reason Paul has written this letter) is meant to be read aloud from your computer screen. PAUL IS WRITING TO STOP THE FALSE TEACHERS. That’s it. The overriding concern for Paul is the havoc created by those teaching a different gospel. The urgency is clear seeing that Paul doesn’t give a prayerful thanks for Timothy (which is customarily included in his greetings). Without time for formalities, Paul writes straight away: “I urged you… to remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies… Certain persons have wandered away into senseless babble, wishing to be teachers of the law even though they do not understand either what they are saying or concerning what things they are so dogmatically asserting” (1:3-7).
Of these false teachers, Paul says, some have “made shipwreck of their faith” and had to be “handed over to Satan” (1:19-20). Later on, he says these ones “will follow deceiving spirits of things taught by demons” and that they are “hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (4:1-2). Again, at the end of his letter, Paul sums up his entire point to his spiritual son: “O Timothy! Guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (6:20-21). As you can see, Paul’s concern for Timothy was the malicious teachers that were a cancerously spreading in his church.
What does this have to do with women? Well, according to I. Howard Marshall, there are “strong indications that women were involved in the heresy (and therefore teaching falsely).” Payne points out that the same language used to describe the false teachers are used to describe women’s activities within the church. Younger widows have “turned aside after Satan,” giving the adversary an “occasion to slander” (5:14-15). In the same way, Hymenaeus and Alexander were “delivered to Satan so that they might not blaspheme” (1:20). Again, younger widows “turned aside (ἐξετράπησαν) after Satan” just as the false teachers had “turned aside (ἐξετράπησαν) after meaningless talk” (1:6). The false teachers “promote controversy” (1:4) while the some women tend to be “malicious talkers” (3:11). Again, some women “talk nonsense, saying things they ought not” (5:13), and some teachers simply “do not know what they are talking about or what they dogmatically affirm” (1:7).In fact, out of 113 verses, 21 are dedicated specifically to problems regarding women (1 Tim 2:9-15; 4:7; 5:3-7, 9-16).
In conclusion, two things should be generally clear. First, Paul had significant problems with false teachers and is writing to Timothy to stop the nonsense. Second, Paul had similar problems with women within the church; these problems were also to be addressed by Timothy. But how do these two groups connect or overlap? Are the women the false teachers? And what’s the deal with the “silence and submission?” We will talk about all of these questions in the coming posts!