“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.” 1 Timothy 2:11-14
In the last post we introduced the context of 1 Timothy as a letter. I would strongly suggest that you read that post before this one.
In my estimation, it is vital that we keep the stated context in view as we seek to faithfully interpret this portion of the letter.
“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
Here’s a question: What should these people be doing instead?
They want to be teachers of the law but they…don’t know what they are talking about. They are ignorant to the truth.
What is the solution to ignorance? Learning. Anyone who will teach the truth must first learn the truth. There is no bypassing this reality.
One of the worst things – and we perhaps have experienced this in different settings – is a person who is both ignorant and over-confident. Authoritative ignorance.
Is this not what we see in the women mentioned here? *
The primary directive in this passage is that women should learn. We are reminded here of the posture that Mary takes at the feet of Jesus in Luke 10:38-42. This is the posture of a disciple of a rabbi and in that episode Jesus suggests that the posture of a disciple is a perfectly appropriate place for a women to be.
Jesus welcomed women as students and Paul encouraged Timothy in invite the women of Ephesus to the same posture. The potential difference between Mary and some of the women here is that she was hungry to learn truth and they thought they already had it, while actually being in ignorance and perhaps significant resistance to replacing old beliefs with Jesus-centered ones.
In perhaps another paradigm shift for us, I believe that we need to embrace the reality that in the kingdom, we are always learning in order to teach.
Our environments today are set up so that there is one teacher and many students. As I have already mentioned, we gather in large groups all listening to one teacher, whether it’s in a worship gathering or a classroom. In school, we often learn in order to pass tests. In church, we can think we learn only in order to feed our souls and navigate life as individuals.
But in the kingdom vision of Scripture, learning is always in order to teach others. Not necessarily in a classroom or behind a pulpit, but in the lives of those around us. This is discipleship. Consider this aspect of Jesus’ ‘great commission:
“…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:20
This principle is consistent with the Old Testament story and the way that the truth of God’s ways were passed on.
“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 11:19
Knowing God’s word and way always entailed living God’s word and way and teaching God’s word and way. This is discipleship.
The admonishment given by the author of the Letter of the Hebrews is worth our consideration:
“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” Hebrews 5:12
He is speaking here to the general audience of believers, lamenting immaturity in the truth. The implication of this text is that all those who are grounded in the truth should be teachers of that truth to others. But those who have not grasped foundational truth well should not be teachers.
Just like the women in Ephesus that are being addressed in 1 Timothy 2.
If we are not grounded in the truth, we should absolutely not be teaching others! Nor are we rejected. Rather, we are invited to become learners in order that we may be grounded in the foundational truth and then able to teach others.
Some use 1 Timothy 2 and the admonition ‘I do not permit a woman to teach….a man’ to draw the conclusion that this teachers that women are able to teach other women and children but not men.
I believe that there are fundamental problems with this view. The biggest problem is that it ignores the stated context of the Letter, namely the severity of the false teaching in Ephesus at that time.
Again, the Bible is not a collection of random truths thrown at us. This is a Letter from from one person to another person at a particular place and time and situation. Only by seeking to understand those dynamics can we learn how to apply Scriptures like this faithfully in our own contexts. This series of posts is my attempt to do just that.
If indeed, as I believe is the case, significant false teaching is in view here, what sense does it make to say that these particular women could potentially be okay to teach children and other women but not men? If children and women were perhaps often among the least already knowledgable and able to be established in certain beliefs, that would be an odd move.
It’s interesting that in the past, Priscilla and Aquila together taught Apollos in the same city of Ephesus. (Acts 18:18-28) They were not native to Ephesus nor did they stay there due to being among the traveling ministry ‘co-workers’
My thesis is this: Paul has no problem with anyone who knows and walks in the truth with Christ-like humility teaching anyone else.
Certain women in Ephesus at that time did not know nor walk in the truth adequately and given that situation at that time, they had no business teaching anybody.
We could also apply this situation to men in many contexts. Any man who does not know and walk in the truth should not be teaching anyone else false ideas.
Before we can fully make this claim about women and teaching in light of 1 Timothy 2, however, there are a couple more pieces that we need to explore: Adam and Eve and the nature of authority.
Stay with me!
*By the way, it’s possible that only one woman is in view here as the problem Paul is addressing but I think just as likely more given additional information we can learn about the dominance of the Artemis cult in Ephesus and women as the dominant leaders in that practice.
There is strong indication in the rest of this letter that women aren’t the only ones purveying and effected by false teaching, but some women certainly seem to be significantly caught in it.
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