[This is the fourth post in a series that started HERE.]
We have been exploring the ministry dynamics among the earliest churches in the New Testament era. Over the past three posts, we have begun to see a picture of ministry a bit different from what seems normal to many of us. It seems that local gatherings were not focused toward one person behind a pulpit but rather mutual ministry in the common room of a house rather than a special building. We see not highly structured denominations but rather a connected network of men and women as ministry ‘co-workers.’
The New Testament also includes examples of addressing when things go wrong. Today we will begin to look at one of those examples: the situation in Ephesus that we see addressed in the Letter 1 Timothy.
One core principle for good Bible study is to study Scripture in context. The Bible is not primarily a collection of various maxims of truth but rather a collection of books in different genres written at different times in the unfolding story of redemption by God-inspired authors. To read Scripture well, we have to discern as best we can what is going on in that place and time. This is known as context.
1 Timothy is notable for our discussion because of what it says about women: Chapter 2 includes instructions to ‘learn in silence and submission’ and includes an admonition against women teaching men.
Perhaps at this point in our ongoing study, these statements will feel a bit out of place. We have seen seen that both men and women would and did ‘prophesy’ (some form of God inspired instructive speech for the church). We have seen that a mature ministry couple (Priscilla and Aquila) together taught another disciple named Apollos, who would have a significant ministry of his own. We have seen that Paul entrusted a woman to be responsible to carry the Letter to the Romans.
Fortunately, 1 Timothy informs us of its context early:
“…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” 1 Timothy 1:3-4
Again, we see that Timothy is not ‘their pastor’ but one of Paul’s traveling ‘co-workers’ 1 Timothy is not first and foremost a manual for how to lead a healthy church. Rather, 1 Timothy is theological triage at the start. That’s the context.
Chapter 1 goes on to say a bit more about those who are teaching false doctrines:
“Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” 1 Timothy 1:6-7
There are several issues that come up here: These people have a longing to be teachers yet they are ignorant to the content of the truth. They are confident in their ignorance.
Let’s not lose this contextual information as we turn to chapter two. I will submit for your consideration that it’s clear enough that the big picture problem in Ephesus is not godly, humble people who know the truth well but just happen to be women. But there is significant study for us to do as we consider all that this text might have for us.
When we lose the context (general pastoral manual vs first addressing false teaching) and switch the setting (who gets to stand behind the pulpit that everyone is faced toward to hear a sermon vs. a ministering community), we can miss the point in our interpretation and application.
Here is the primary text that we are now considering:
“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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15
There is a lot going on in this text! Frankly, I am frustrated by the way it is often handled by people on both ‘sides’ of the discussion about how men and women serve in ministry. On the one hand, those who believe that women should not teach men in the church will sometimes simply state something like ‘the Bible says that women aren’t to teach men.’ This then becomes the key to interpreting the rest of the pattern in the New Testament. Yet, I feel that this view often fails to adequately take into account the stated context of the Letter and the challenges in this text itself. “Women will be saved through childbearing.” Is that a clear text with an obvious meaning?
On the other hand, those quick to affirm women in all areas of ministry often, in my view, too quickly dismiss this text as ‘cultural’ and cannot offer a compelling reading of the whole passage in a constructive sense. This is our Bible and we cannot skip over difficult texts.
Here is where we are going in the text couple posts: First we will explore the concepts of learning and teaching in the Bible and explore Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve. Then we will spend some time discussing the nature of ‘authority’ in the New Testament.
A couple questions to consider until then:
How have you read this passage in the past?
Are you open to thinking differently about it based on the teaching of Scripture itself?