Gender: Authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:11-15)


Part 5 on Christianity and gender. Nate and Tim begin to tackle 1 Timothy 2:12 and the line “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” by considering the context of the letter, the significance of the goddess Artemis, and the Greek word translated as “exercise authority”. Once again we see that paying close attention to the gender passages in light of their original context opens up whole new avenues of interpretation.


Tim: Welcome back to Almost Heretical. This is part 5 in our series on gender and Christianity, Paul, the epistles, the New Testament, all of it, kind of what is all this saying about gender. And a lot of this is deconstructing the idea of gender roles, hierarchical order in male/female relationships, all that stuff. This week, I called it a double whopper last time, we’re getting into 1 Timothy 2.

Nate: 1 Timothy 2. I feel like we need that, “Dun-dun-dun!” music.

Tim: Oh yeah. You should do it.

Nate: 1 Timothy 2

[dramatic sound effect]

Tim: Monique laughed at me last week when she listened to the podcast and said, “Tim, I think you meant to say double whammy instead of double whopper.”

Nate: [laughing] You’re just hungry, probably.

Tim: Which might be true, but I’ve realized it actually is a really good metaphor for 1 Timothy 2, because I feel like this passage as much as any other passage in the New Testament basically represents and has functioned as an incredibly unhealthy source of information and theology for the church that is slowly killing us, but we all think we need more of it. Or at least a lot of us tell us we need more of it. And—

Nate: It sounds like you’re talking about a famous cheeseburger.

Tim: [laughing] Yes. And additionally, stretching the analogy even further, I basic feel like interpretations of 1 Timothy 2 are like the hermeneutical theological equivalent of fast food, where basically no one takes the time to actually think about what the heck they’re doing or what they’re eating. We just all accept that this is what food tastes like.

Nate: Did you see the advertisements at the World Cup on the side of the pitch? It’s not a field, it’s a pitch! Anyways, did you see the advertisements on the side for McDelivery?

Tim: Oh, yup.

Nate: That’s like the epitome of not thinking about what you’re doing. If going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s is not bad enough, just picking up the phone, like, “Ah, I just ordered it! It’s just coming. I don’t know. It’s going to be here in five minutes. I don’t know, I just did it.”

Tim: Yeah. I’m certain, though, that millions of people ordered McDonald’s during the World Cup.

Nate: Okay, double whopper—wait, the Whopper’s not McDonald’s, is it? That’s Wendy’s.

Tim: That’s Burger King. BK Lounge. Come on, dude.

Nate: Oh, yeah, BK Lounge. Sorry. What does Wendy’s have?

Tim: Uh, the best fast food out there?

Nate: The square patties?

Tim: [laughing] Square! Square burgers, yep. And a little girl as their icon. Okay, so here’s the deal. The reason I originally called this the double whopper is from our perspective, there’s just so much in this in terms of interpretation. So in a second I want you to read, I’ll just have you read all of 1 Timothy 2. Basically, it’s the last few verses of this section that relate to this debate, the complementarian/egalitarian debate over gender, gender roles. And this passage in 1 Timothy has been the passage used the most to perpetuate the most pieces of this complementarian idea that men are supposed to be in positions of power and women are supposed to be subservient, especially in roles in the church. So there’s a lot to unpack how this text has been interpreted and used in problematic and toxic and unfair ways, and then there’s just so much, even though it’s such a small passage, there’s so much to consider to actually begin to interpret this passage well that there’s a ton to get into. So I’ve got a massive list of notes, and I think the best thing we should do is charge through it, and Nate, you just interrupt me anytime you want, anytime you’ve got a question or pushback or even like—

Nate: I love doing that.

Tim: Yeah. And you’re good at it. So every time I’ve asked you, “Hey, what’s your background or what do you sense from this passage?” Rather than do that with the passage as a whole, I think we’ll do it with each piece as we go along. Because what we’ll see is literally, every few words of this passage has been extrapolated to create some sort of ideology around submission of women.

Nate: Okay. I like it. Let’s do it.

Tim: [singing] Ba-da-bam-bow-bowm!

Nate: [singing] Ba-bawm! That was very Seinfeld-esque.

Tim: I immediately wanted the Seinfeld theme song. Can we just have it?

Nate: [singing] Bom-bu-bum-bum-bum!

Tim: Okay. 1 Timothy 2, Nate.

Nate: 1 Timothy 2. Instructions on Worship, that’s the heading in the NIV.

Tim: Oh—wait, Nate, let me share too. I think there’s a good chance this conversation’s going to be a two-parter since there’s so much, but let’s just tackle it as one conversation and see how long it goes, and maybe split it in half, maybe keep it in one, but we’ll figure that part out later.

Nate: Okay. 1 Timothy 2, Instructions on Worship. I’m going to read the whole thing, and it’s only, what 15 verses?

Tim: Okay, but don’t read the part that says Instructions on Worship, because that’s not supposed to be in.

Nate: Okay, I just took it off. I just took it out.

Tim: We’ll talk about that soon.

Nate: [laughing] Okay, okay, not instructions on worship.

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. 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. 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.

Tim: Do you need to get any initial reactions off your chest?

Nate: Well, it feels like there’s so much here. I think that the main thing that comes to my head when I think about this is obviously verse 12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” There once was a prominent pastor in the Northwest region of the country—of the United States, sorry. We have lots of listeners from around the world, and so I don’t want to just talk about the U.S. here—but anyways, there was this pastor in the Northwest region of the United States, and he would teach this specific verse like this. He would say, “There’s two ways to interpret verse 12. You can either interpret it as, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man,’ or you can interpret it as, ‘I do permit a woman to teach and to assume authority over a man.’” So he’s basically saying there’s only one way to interpret this, and if you’re not interpreting it that way, you’re literally changing what the Bible says, so we have to interpret it as, “Women can’t teach or have authority over men.” So yeah, if you know who that was, you’re probably familiar with that teaching. But even if you don’t, you’ve probably seen that in the church, that there’s just no other way to get around this. So I’m really curious to talk about this today and see what else is going on here. And then there’s lots of others with the hairstyles and the jewelry and that kind of stuff that we should probably talk about.

Tim: Okay, gotcha. Yeah, I think I was going to say something like this at the end, but I should probably just say it now. I’m pretty critical, and I believe we all need to be more critical, of men who have religious authority in the church who stand up and espouse complementarian ideology. So people like the person you just mentioned I think warrant a whole bunch of critique and pushback. But I also know that whole bunches of people that don’t fall into that category, and lots of them women, who are just trying their best to understand what the heck the Bible says, also feel like that’s the only choice here.

Nate: Yep.

Tim: It can be really difficult to understand how that isn’t what Paul’s saying. So we’ve even got some pushback of like, “You guys are just twisting the Bible to suit your agenda. You’re doing exactly what you criticize the other side for doing.” I can totally get how it feels like that, but I just want to say that’s because there are so many assumptions that we have when we come to these texts, and that the English translators had when they came to these texts and translated them for us in English that make it so that it feels like the only possible way to read this that simply aren’t the case if we were there in the original context or close to the original context in the Greco-Roman world of Paul and the early church. And if we were reading this in Greek rather than in a translated English by modern western interpreters. So all that to say, I totally empathize with all those out there who might be feeling similar to that person you just said, and at the same time, I think that interpretation is actually getting this passage, like many of the others we looked at, exactly backwards. And I don’t think at all it’s twisting the scriptures to try to show that. So let’s jump in.

[transitional music]

Tim: We’re going to take two episodes, actually, to talk about 1 Timothy 2. Like we said, it’s a double whopper. And in this episode, basically what we’re going to cover is two pieces. The first is the context of this letter and what the heck is going on in the church at Ephesus. Then the second piece is this idea of Paul prohibiting women from having “authority over a man.” We’re going to look at the Greek word authentein behind that. It’s a whole scholarly debate. So those two pieces we’ll get into on today’s show. And then the next episode, we’re going to talk about this whole, “Adam was formed first, then Eve,” thing, what Paul is doing in his references of Adam and Eve. And then lastly, we’ll get into this crazy, women being saved through childbearing, what the heck that means, and show how actually, that reveals the logic and context of this entire discussion. That’ll be next episode.

Nate: Can I just say, too, in case scholarly debate doesn’t sound crazy exciting? This is so crazy important! So crazy I just used the word crazy three times right there! But this is really, really important, because like we’ve said before, this is actually impacting people’s lives. So the last thing we want to do on this show is just talk about theology for theology’s sake and grab some beers and debate. That’s not what we want to do on this show at all. The reason we care about this is because this is actually impacting people’s lives, potentially half the church. We’re not hearing from half the church, like we’ve said before. So that’s why we care about this, and that’s why care enough, like we always do on the show, to dig into the text, to dig into the context, the history, all that stuff, to show that maybe we’ve had this all backwards. Maybe Paul’s saying something completely different. So that’s our heart; that’s what we care about; and that’s why we hope you’ll stick with this and do the hard work, because we can potentially see how this actually brings a lot of hope to those of us who want equality in the church and want to see that brought to people who don’t even agree with that right now. Okay, I just had to get that off my chest.

Tim: No, it’s good. I mean, literally right before I came and jumped into the shed to record, I was talking with my neighbor out front with Monique and Cam, and basically the conversation came up about jobs and work and church and whether or not I want to go work for another evangelical church. And I basically just shared, “No, it’s going to be a long time before I would even consider something like that. It didn’t end very well.” And she just shared, and this is an older woman, “Oh yeah, totally understand. I was in a baptist church for a long time and left because I was traumatized.” And the way she described it was it was one of those, “Just submit to everything, husband’s the ruler, women just have to submit no matter what’s going on.” So literally just out front in the yard ten minutes ago, I happened to meet a neighbor—it isn’t like a church relationship but my next door neighbor—who left the church because of theology that was drawn specifically from this passage, 1 Timothy 2, that was used to essentially support domestic abuse and spousal abuse in her life. Which is why she walked away from church.

Nate: Hmm. Yeah, that’s crazy, I think that’s such a common, common experience. Okay, so let’s get into this.

Tim: Cool. So first piece is context. I just mean that we need to back up, slow down, and think about what is the actual context of this text that we are reading in 1 Timothy, which is a letter from Paul to Timothy addressing a particular situation which Timothy has been sent to deal with in Ephesus. And the first piece we just need to recognize is this is basically like reading somebody else’s mail or jumping in on somebody’s email chain. We only have Paul’s side of the correspondence. We don’t know what Timothy was writing to Paul, or if he was. We don’t know the church in Ephesus or what exactly it was like. We don’t even know if these are the only two letters that Paul wrote to Timothy. We basically have a very partial selection. So the first piece is that there just needs to be a lot of humility on our part and everybody else’s in assuming we know exactly what Paul is saying to Timothy in this letter. Secondly, we need to be really slow to think that just because Paul says something to Timothy addressing the issues going on in Ephesus that that means he would also say that to every church throughout the history of the church, applying these ideas as a transcendent norm. And also, we mentioned this in previous podcasts, one of the basic hermeneutical principles in studying the Bible is that you use what is very clear or plain or simple to understand, if such passages exist, to help you interpret, kind of to create guardrails for the interpretation of the passages that are less clear, more ambiguous, more difficult to understand and more contextual. So Paul writes other letters that are to entire churches, or the book of Romans that we mentioned before, it reads like theological waxing eloquently. It reads like this magnum opus, as some people like to call it, in large part because Paul didn’t even know the church in Rome. He’s basically giving this broad brush overview from the little bit of information—

Nate: He has to fill in more of the details and stuff because they don’t know him.

Tim: And it’s more general, right? He’s not saying as much. He has an idea of what’s going on in Rome, but he’s not saying, “This is the exact issue. These people are doing and saying these things, therefore I’m going to say this to deal with those issues.” It’s more broad, more general. Whereas this letter, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy that follows, is as contextual and particular and context-specific as literally any text in the rest of the Bible. Which means, just basically as a hermeneutical principle, what we think we read in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and then Titus is the other one, where it’s just correspondence between an individual to another individual, just from the get-go, no matter whether we like what we’re reading or not, should be taken very lightly in terms of how broad-stroked we think the ideas in those letters are supposed to apply to the church in general. Then if it seems like the ideas in those letters might contradict with Paul’s ideas elsewhere in more broad, general letters to entire church communities, then we should take a position of naturally defaulting to the theology we see, for instance, in the book of Romans or in the letters to Corinthians. Does that make sense?

Nate: Yeah, it’s like, I feel like that’s pretty natural in any kind of relationship or with any other communication. If you and I talk all the time or you dig up a bunch of emails between us, you’re like, “Oh, okay, they’re best friends, I get this.” And then we have one text between us that’s a little bit heated or something, and you’re like, “Okay, they’re not best friends anymore.” No, just deal with the whole of the relationship, not just this one piece that you found and apply that to everything.

Tim: Yeah, totally. So what we’ll see is there are actually things that Paul says in 1 Timothy that are exactly the opposite of things he says in other places. But also I think what we’re going to try to do is make the point that what he’s saying here in 1 Timothy 2 to women is actually not what it sounds like he’s saying, that it isn’t him silencing women. But my first point is if it was, even if Paul here—and so some people have contested, some say Paul didn’t write this letter, some say Paul didn’t write this portion of the letter and this was added later, there are all sorts of arguments about whether we should even trust this part of this text—but my point is to say, even if we think Paul wrote this and we think what it means is he’s defending and perpetuating patriarchy, that is in direct contradiction to the entire rest of Paul’s theology, which is elevating the roles of women in the church, giving them full status and authority to operate in their giftings, calling them apostles, deacons.

Nate: And subverting power structures.

Tim: Exactly. And calling everyone to give up their status and power over other people. So even if we thought that’s what 1 Timothy 2 was saying, we shouldn’t take that as theology for today, not because we don’t think 1 Timothy is an authoritative text, per se, but because it has to be read in light of the other texts that are more clear, more broad, more general. So that’s the first piece. But again, that’s not where we’re going to hinge the argument because I don’t think that’s what Paul’s saying here. So the second part of context, and this is one we’re just going to have to summarize. You guys can go do some of your own study. I’m going to give you a bunch of passages within 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Basically what we want to do is ask what is the context of this letter to Timothy? Why is Paul writing to Timothy in the first place? What is Paul’s concern? What is Paul trying to do? Why is Timothy even in Ephesus? Why did Paul say, “Leave the rest of the ministry that we’ve been doing, stay in Ephesus because there are some really serious issues going on that’s worth you staying behind.”?

Nate: And it wasn’t, “Women are starting to talk.”

Tim: Exactly. In one way it might have been. In another way it’s not that at all. So here’s the thing: we don’t have Timothy’s letters. We don’t have a historical account of the church in Ephesus. But what we do have is a whole bunch of clues, if you read carefully and train yourself to read in this way, a whole bunch of clues in 1 Timothy and the letter of 2 Timothy, which are very similar letters because they’re addressing the same problem. It’s just like an email chain. And we’ll see there’s even some in Acts 19 where it talks about Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus. And what we can do is piece together some clues that then when we add some further context of what the city of Ephesus was like at the time, based on some good scholarship, we can actually start to see how maybe there’s a completely coherent, logical strain in Paul’s thoughts. So let me just first give you guys the verses if you want to go do your homework, and then what you and I are going to do, Nate, is kind of a fly-by summary after having reflected on these verses for a long time. So in 1 Timothy, you can look up 1:3-6; 4:1-7; 5:10-15; 6:2-5, 20-21. And then in 2 Timothy, you can look at 2:14-23, 3:6. So all of those verses I just listed are pieces where Paul is explicitly or implicitly discussing what the issue is in Ephesus while he’s writing to Timothy in ways that if we read them all, collect them, and sit with them for a little bit, we can actually start to piece the puzzle together of what’s going on.

[transitional music]

Tim: Okay, so Nate, you and I have actually talked about this passage a bit before. Do you remember what we looked at in terms of what issue is happening in the church in Ephesus, why Paul is writing to Timothy, what’s being addressed here?

Nate: Okay, wasn’t there a lot of false teaching going around? Not like bad doctrine, but they were thinking they shouldn’t get married because—I don’t know. Wasn’t there a lot of bad stuff going on like that?

Tim: Yeah, so the way I would summarize it is the concerns are false teachings and false teachers. And so this theme runs all the way through both 1 & 2 Timothy. The reason Timothy’s been sent there is to deal with these false teachings. Which again, we don’t know what they are; we don’t have a book that’s like, “The False Teachings of Ephesus.” But there are multiple references. So one talks about myths and genealogies, which actually possibly involves or implies that there are alternative creation stories going on, and this is specifically said to be, there’s this term, “old wives tales,” that’s used, which is basically an English idiom to translate that these were teachings that were being circulated amongst the old women who would’ve been the matriarchal figures in female society who are perpetuating these ideas.

Nate: So not like, “Don’t go outside without a jacket because you’ll catch cold.”

Tim: No, not that kind of old wives’ tale. Like literally they are believing some, to our ears would have been strange and obscure myths about how the world came to be, about potentially how men and women came to be in the positions they’re in, and then it appears that that was getting blended with aspects of Christian theology, so there’s actually a line where Paul references that some people are teaching that the resurrection has already occurred. So there’s this issue of false teaching, and there’s actually one piece where he talks about men who are taking advantage of vulnerable women. He talks about them like worms, who worm their way into houses to take advantage of women.

Nate: Wait, did you mean resurrection?

Tim: What did I say?

Nate: You said resurrection. Is that what you meant?

Tim: Yeah.

Nate: But hasn’t the resurrection happened?

Tim: Oh. Sorry. The resurrection of all believers. So not Christ’s resurrection but the idea, the basic Jewish idea—I guess maybe we need to do a podcast on this idea in the future—the Christian worldview is that—

Nate: The end of death, basically, like everyone has been resurrected, not just Jesus.

Tim: Exactly. And if you remember, Paul teaches very explicitly in 1 Corinthians what is something Jesus teaches explicitly in the gospels, which is in this new age, after the resurrection of people happens and the new age starts and the kingdom of God comes to earth, there won’t be any more marriage. And what we’re going to see is marriage is a really important piece of this rumor mill going on in Ephesus. So there’s actually a very good chance that part of the reason people are talking about the second resurrection, the resurrection of believers, having already occurred is actually to justify the practice of banishing or prohibiting marriage, which we see elsewhere in 1 Timothy. Paul explicitly states that part of this teaching is that marriage has been prohibited, and then he actually addresses these widows in 1 Timothy 5 who have made pledges to not get married. So they were married, their husbands died, and they have essentially made vows to refuse to get married again. And it seems that there is very clearly some part of this rumor mill or this whole world of myths and ideas mixed in with Christianity that on the women’s side of things has to do with marriage, sexual relationships between men and women, and specifically looks like the desire for women to get away from those relationships and to get out of the sexual relationship with men, in large part by doing away with marriage.

Nate: Hmm. Okay.

Tim: And there are some other issues Paul’s constantly pointing out with the men. Those issues are leading to anger, the same kind of false teachings that are on the women affecting their ideas about relationships with men and all that sort of deal, with men it basically keeps being categorized as leading to anger and fighting amongst the men. Basically this violent quarreling going on with the men. So he basically says there are these women who are perpetuating these ideas, but there are also these men who are these religious authorities who are basically trying to use their religious power to gain positions of authority over women to take advantage of them and to gain money, to make money off it. And Paul refers to all this stuff in multiple places as nonsense and chatter and false teachings and errors, and he says it’s spreading like gangrene, specifically amongst the women. Okay, so that’s kind of like a snapshot overview of what’s going on here.

Nate: Gotcha.

Tim: But Nate, you and I have talked a bit about this before. This isn’t like nitpicky Bible doctrine.

Nate: Right.

Tim: These are very, again to our ears would be strange things. This is not like your view on predestination or something.

Nate: Right, but this is where people go! This is one of the passages people go to to talk about like, “Paul really, really cares about good doctrine, and that’s why I care about good doctrine, and that’s why I will separate churches over the fact that you think this and I think—” You know what I mean? This is where people go.

Tim: Yeah, totally. And again, I think that’s because we miss the context. I actually, as I was reflecting on this passage this week, there’s a section on Acts 19, and I recommend you go read it if you’re wanting to do a study here. The whole chapter is about what happens when the early church with Paul goes into Ephesus and essentially preaches the gospel in the city of Ephesus. And what we’ll get to in a second is the third piece of the context is understanding the role of Artemis and the temple of Artemis in the city of Ephesus. If you remember the passage, the silversmiths who are making these little shrines that people buy of Artemis, these little idols, basically feel like the ministry of the church is impacting the economy of their little religious—it’s impacting their ability to sell their religious idols. And it actually ends up leading to an uproar and a riot in the city where they actually grab a couple of the Christians, and it looks like they’re going to kill them for a little bit. And it actually made me think. Nate, I know you’ve never been there, but some of our listeners may be familiar. There’s a town in southern France, I think it’s close to the Pyrenees, where Monique and I actually rode our bike through called Lourdes, and it’s honestly one of the strangest places I’ve ever been in my life. And basically the whole town is built around this massive cathedral, and the whole cathedral is built around this myth of this little girl Lourdes who had, basically a divine encounter that relates to the whole Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception. But then there’s basically this water that comes out of this spring that literally hundreds of thousands of people think can heal you. And so it was basically like being at Disneyland for religious tourism. So everywhere you walked there were stands selling thousands and thousands of plastic water bottles in the shape of this little woman, and people would buy them and then go and fill up their water bottles from the faucet. And literally, lines where people bring disabled people and blind people and have them wait in lines to touch this water. It really was one of the most uncomfortable settings I’ve ever been in my life. But it totally reminds me of this temple worship.

Nate: And Fiji water is just studying the business structure here.

Tim: [laughing] Yeah. Honestly, the reason I bring it up, and even if you just Google image search this town Lourdes, you can kind of get a feel for it. But it’s basically this city in Ephesus, the center of the city is the temple to Artemis, and in Acts 19 even some of the people who are rioting talk about how the whole world knows that Ephesus has a claim to being the home of Artemis and this is the center of Artemis worship in the known world. And there’s this entire religious economy based around making profit off of people who believe in this Artemis temple. So it seems to me that there’s obviously some element that the men that Paul’s talking about that are trying to take advantage of women and make money are somehow blending this Artemis cult with pieces of Christianity to gain basically cult religious power and financial wealth from it. But that leads to our last important point, Nate. What do you know about Artemis?

Nate: Um, so he was telling people not to get married.

Tim: Uh, so… something close to that. So Artemis—he was a she. Artemis was a goddess.

Nate: Oh! Oh, right, right. It says that in Acts. Okay, yeah.

Tim: Yeah. So Artemis was a goddess who especially in Ephesus, there’s some interesting scholarship you can look up on potentially that Artemis had a different specific connotation in Ephesus that was a little more subtle in other places where she was worshipped. But the whole focus of Artemis worship in Ephesus specifically was that she was considered the goddess of protecting women in childbirth, and that was borne of this idea that she actually helped deliver her brother Apollo when he was born, and so she had these powers to protect women in childbirth. And so literally the center of Artemis worship was women who were understandably terrified of trying to deliver a baby because for women dying in childbirth was the number one cause of death in most of world history until relatively modern medical history. Women would be terrified of facing giving birth to children. They would essentially worship Artemis and hope that she, Artemis, would protect them from dying during childbirth. So can you see how that element, that literally this city here is the center of the deity for protecting women from dying in childbirth, might have some connections to these false teachings around marriage and sex and that kind of deal?

Nate: Yeah, totally, because if you don’t have any of the power, and your husband can basically have sex with you and you have to, and then you’re basically pregnant whenever he wants to be, and you have a very legitimate or higher chance now of dying because of that, you would maybe go after something else, another teaching that gave you hope and a way out of that.

Tim: Yeah, totally. And we’ll get back to this in a little more detail when we get back to the passage on women being saved through childbirth, but it looks pretty clear, and especially when you get into some of the details in the scholarship, that whatever these false teachings were was somehow related to women trying to avoid the risks of childbirth, looking in some form to this whole world of Artemis cult worship as a part of that, but specifically looking to get out of marriage in relation to that. Because getting out of marriage would have been the only way to get out of sex. As you just said, women in ancient Greco-Roman world did not have control over whether or not they had sex with their husbands, and they didn’t have control over whether or not they got pregnant. That was entirely up for the husband to decide.

Nate: Which, unfortunately, some people still follow that.

Tim: Some people actually think the Bible’s teaching that, which is ironically, tragically backward. But basically, the main driving force behind this set of false teachings on the women’s side of things is to protect themselves. Rightfully understood. And what we’ll see next is Paul’s actually empathetic and understanding to that. And I think you can see this most clearly when in chapter 5 of 1 Timothy, he talks about the young widows that we mentioned who don’t want to get married because they’ve made this pledge. Do you remember, Paul tells them to get married? And I don’t how well you remember this, but in 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses widows and he specifically says, “You should not get married.” He says, “I think it’s better to be single. Don’t try to get married again; take advantage of being single.” So let’s just pause here for a second. In 1 Corinthians, Paul looks at widows and says, “Don’t get married.” In 1 Timothy Paul looks at widows and says, “You should get married.” Why would there be that contradiction?

Nate: Well, it clearly isn’t some blanket thing he believes for all people. He’s talking to a specific people, and based on their situation, their circumstances, he has something to tell them that’s different.

Tim: Yeah, and it would seem pretty clearly that the circumstance here is that there is a set of teachings that says that the best way for women to protect themselves is to do away with marriage. And so that is what Timothy is sent there to deal with, and Paul is dealing with it when he addresses Timothy in how to address the women, and says, “Actually there’s a better way other than just bucking the whole system around marriage and believing this whole set of ideas related to Artemis. It’s actually good for you to get married,” and we’ll talk more about how that would be next time.

Nate: Okay. Wait, where does Paul say that all scripture is useful? Does that come into play here?

Tim: Yeah, actually, I think that’s a fascinating point. It’s in 2 Timothy, again addressing these same issues. Just think about this for a little while. What we talked about is there are men in Ephesus who are using Christianity and the church and some other form of ideas related to cult worship in Ephesus to gain power and wealth over people. They’re taking this blended, skewed version of Christianity and some ideas about the resurrection and other things for their own self gain, and that is the context where Paul says, “Hey, Timothy, all scripture, the Old Testament, it actually was inspired by God, breathed by the Spirit of God, and therefore it’s really useful for rebuking and correcting and training and teaching in the context where people are using those same scriptures to take advantage of people.” I just think the irony is we’ve built this elaborate set of ideas around inerrancy and what the Bible is and how you to have to read it, and if you question any of it, you’re falling from the faith based on that passage. But ironically, it’s literally people who are using scripture in a way that ends up oppressing women, marginalizing women, that Paul tells Timothy, “Hey, go use those same scriptures and rebuke that crap.” Basically, “Use those same scriptures to say that isn’t what those scriptures are pointing to.” It’s really very similar to what we’ve said, is we want to use the Bible as a tool to deweaponize the Bible in the way that other people are using it.

Nate: Hmm. Wow, that’s crazy. It’s like the opposite of how that stuff gets used. Wow. Okay, that’s weird.

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Tim: Okay, so one of the first pieces that has been a big argument in scholar world for a long time, and I would say a somewhat embarrassing argument if you get into the scholarship and you read through it, is what the word in Greek is authentein, but it’s the word translated in the NIV as “to assume authority.” So it says—

Nate: Oh, we’re back in chapter 2, yeah?

Tim: Yeah, verse 12 says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” That’s NIV. ESV, for instance, says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” So that word, translated as, “to assume authority,” or “exercise authority,” is a rare word in that it’s only used this one time in the entire Bible. There a whole specific term for this because it doesn’t happen very often and it makes it really difficult to know what a word means. And for a long time, in traditional interpretation, as you see in both of these translations, it’s essentially assumed as positive. So actually want to ask you for a sec. When you’ve encountered this verse or heard people teach on this verse, what was it said that it means here in terms of a woman having authority over a man?

Nate: Uh, I think just like, if she’s giving him direction. So if she’s standing up and teaching, like in a church or something like that, then she has authority over him. If she’s an elder of a church, then she has authority over men inside the church and potentially men on that elder board. If she is handling the finances in the house, then she’s having authority, exercising authority, over the man and taking away his ‘man-ness’ by doing that. So any kind of thing where she’s making decisions or she’s instructing would be authority, I think.

Tim: Right. So even in most of those examples you listed, basically the idea is that she, the woman, isn’t supposed to do what the man is supposed to do, right? And so this gets attached to ideas like being a pastor or being an elder. So the idea is, as it’s been interpreted, that women are being prohibited from doing what is presumed to be what a man is supposed to do, right?

Nate: Mmhmm. Here, direct from Piper, “God intended the man to bear a unique and special responsibility for leadership.” That’s a direct quote. John Piper, from 2015.

Tim: Yeah. So the big scholarly debate is about what this word actually means. We’ve talked about how Paul talks about authority and power and rights everywhere, all throughout his epistles, and he almost always uses the word exousia, which means power. He never uses this word anywhere else. So first question pops up is, if that’s what Paul is saying, that men are supposed to have the authority, not women, why in the world does he use this word? Then the second question pops up when you go through other writings, specifically some in the church fathers a little bit later, where this word has some pretty dramatically negative meanings. For instance, there’s a famous passage where John Chrysostom, one of the church fathers, talks about being forcibly made to be bishop, and he uses this word to say that they forced him into doing something that he didn’t want to do. Other passages, this word actually has the connotation of to tyrannize or domineer or treat someone as a slave, essentially. And in a few places it’s actually used with the connotation of ‘to murder.’ So what basically a lot of complementarian scholars have done—and there’s one famous study, you can find if you’d like, it’s by a guy named… Scott Baldwin. Okay, so there’ve been a bunch of studies, and people like Schreiner, who we’ve referenced, will refer to Scott Baldwin’s study on the word authentein, where he basically categorizes I think 80-some uses in all of Greek text that he could find all the way up to the 15th century of this word authentein. And then categorizes the connotation of the word. And he admits that sometimes it can mean really horrible things and be completely negative; sometimes it could be somewhat negative. But then fascinatingly, he says oftentimes it could just mean the positive sense of assuming authority, or exercising authority over someone. And then basically, I would say obviously and explicitly, projects his assumption onto the text, and says basically you have to dismiss those other uses where it means to tyrannize or to domineer, and the way we should interpret this is it basically means a positive assessment of exercising authority. There’s a whole bunch of problems with that, whole bunch of problems in the scholarship. Westfall points them out, a bunch of other scholars have pointed them out. The biggest problem in my mind is that nowhere in Paul’s thinking is exercising any kind of authority a positive attribute of a Christian. So even if that’s what this word meant, that it’s a neutral exercise of authority, Paul thinks that intrinsically what it means to be a Christian is to stop exercising authority over people and to act as a servant, the submissive one who gives away their authority. That’s even if you grant that this is a neutral word. I think all of the evidence actually points to what Paul is doing here is he’s prohibiting women from doing the same thing he would prohibit anybody who’s a Christian in the church community from doing.

Nate: So why doesn’t he say, “And that also goes for men, too.”

Tim: Because that’s not his point. He’s addressing a specific situation that’s going on with the women. In verse 8, the specific thing that’s happening amongst the men is they’re getting angry and fighting, okay? So that’s what he address and he rebukes them.

Nate: And the women are… ?

Tim: And the women apparently are getting caught up in some sort of idea of how they should dress that has to do with clothes and hair and jewelry, and some sort of action, behavior, that is essentially trying to domineer a man. So okay, back up one more step. Another piece of Westfall’s scholarship that I think is important, and I’ll just summarize it here. If you don’t trust me or you want to do the research for yourself, go read her book or others, but all of the evidence suggests… When you read this passage in 1 Timothy 2 up front, I scoffed at you for reading the heading in the NIV, which says ‘Instructions for Worship,’ because I think we all know those headings aren’t in the Bible. They’re added by the people who made the Bible, the translators and the Bible committees. And I think this one is just dead wrong. I think Westfall’s right here. The assumption is that this is talking about what happens when the church gathers for a worship gathering, and similar to what we looked at in Ephesians 5. And I think the evidence points that’s just not the context that Paul’s addressing here. It’s actually about the household context, and specifically here, man and woman likely is implying husband and wife. Because amongst other bits of evidence, there’s simply no setting where women would have had authority over a singular man other than the household where it’s that woman’s own husband. If this was talking about a woman standing up in a church gathering and exercising authority over the room as a whole, which included men, it wouldn’t have been singular ‘man.’ It would have been plural ‘men.’ It would have been, “Women should not teach or assume authority over men.” Instead it’s singular, and again what we’ll see is the piece in verse 15 about women being saved through childbearing clearly is in the context of a marriage relationship, right? Sexual reproduction and having kids, and that actually is a conclusion to Paul’s statement here. It’s not this one off that we don’t know what to do with and that has nothing to do with the thing Paul’s talking about. So big picture, if you can just trust me on it for now: there are multiple pieces of evidence to suggest this isn’t, in Paul’s head, he’s not picturing as he does in Ephesians and parts of 1 Corinthians elsewhere, where he says, “When you guys gather [specifically uses that word] in all the churches [that’s usually how it translates], in all the assemblies, in all your gatherings when you come together, here are the concerns.” Rather, he’s actually addressing gendered concerns right here. So the concerns with the men—and all of those, all the concerns relate to the false teachings—so the consequence, the result of the false teachings, at least that Paul’s pointing out with men, are anger and fighting. And the consequence with women has something to do with them bucking the system in terms of gender expectations, marriage, potentially even relationships with men at all, and asserting some sort of domineering over a man. So there are multiple interpretive options for what authentein could mean here, like in Paul’s head. There are multiple studies. One even makes the case that this actually is in a sexualized erotic term for a woman basically trying to be sexually dominant over her husband. If you want to get into the research on that, you can. I don’t find it all that convincing, but I think it’s possible. The other option is basically, this is kind of like an ancient feminist movement, where what women are doing is just trying to reverse the power roles and seize the domineering, tyrannizing power that their husbands had over them by reciprocating it back to them.

Nate: And Paul is always going to say basically no one should fight for authority and power.

Tim: Exactly, yeah.

Nate: So he’s just saying not to do that. Okay.

Tim: Or a third option is sort of a fuzzier middle ground, that there is some sort of trend amongst the women involving prohibiting marriage, making vows that they basically won’t have sex with men anymore, sort of bucking this whole sexual system, that is an effort for women to basically, similar to the second option but a little softer, an effort for women to seize social power over men. And Paul’s rebuking that. But what follows is the exact opposite of how traditional complementarians interpret, which is that if Paul doesn’t permit women to have authority over a man or to domineer a man, then he implicitly is saying that men should be domineering women That’s the exact opposite of the logical takeaway from this. What he’s saying is no one should be domineering another person, right? Women shouldn’t be doing that to men, and he says everywhere else in almost every one of his epistles that the person in a situation of power, social status over another, is supposed to imitate Christ by laying down that power and modeling Christ’s submission and servanthood. So in Ephesians 5, it’s that line that you’re supposed to mutually submit to one another. So I actually found that in going through the scholarship on this word authentein and how it relates here, I felt like I was just kind of watching the western traditional theology of power play itself out. Where what you’re seeing is the assumption that I’ve suggested and really truly believe, the assumption that is the biggest hermeneutical problem with the traditional approach to these passages on gender is that we assume Paul likes power and wants people to have power and is instituting a God-ordained hierarchy. That’s what we think Paul thinks about power.

Nate: So what you’re saying is, if we can go back and read all of Paul, read any bit of Paul, and change in our mind this perception that power is good, that Paul’s coming to the table thinking, “Power is good,” and instead shift to Paul is believing that power is not good and it’s something we shouldn’t pursue and we shouldn’t use and we shouldn’t leverage and we don’t want to have, we want to push away from ourselves; if we read it from that, a lot of things will just kind of click and maybe look a lot different than you thought they did.

Tim: Totally. I think that the hermeneutical move, which people like Schreiner and Piper and Grudem will state explicitly, but then many of the rest of us have just been led to assert this view subconsciously or more subtly, says if Paul tells a woman to submit—so we looked at other passages in Ephesians, right, where he tells wives to submit to their husbands, and here, even if you take the positive sense of the word authentein, and he says a woman should exercise authority over a man—that the complementarian hermeneutic says, “It therefore follows that what Paul truly believes is that men are to exercise that same authority over women.” And then we imply—

Nate: It’s like filling in the void or something.

Tim: It is! We’re imposing on the text a motive for Paul and a whole idea about power and hierarchy in relationships that for one is not here! Paul never in any of his epistles tells anyone to exercise authority! Not one time. But I bet if you went and polled Christians, not many people would think that’s true. Because we’re constantly taught that when he tells one person to submit, especially when it’s the slave or the woman, that he’s implicitly affirming the mastery, the exercise of authority of the other person. I think that hermeneutical move is a perfect encapsulation of, honestly, the massive theological problem that the western church has had for most of its history. It’s just revealing our assumption about power and how quickly and consistently we insert that assumption into the text in a way that then makes it so that we can’t read this line saying, “I don’t permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man,” we can’t read that—

Nate: Without filling in, “Men are supposed to have the authority and teach,” and that’s why a woman shouldn’t.

Tim: Exactly.

Nate: Yeah, that’s crazy. I feel like that’s—for a while, we were talking—and we gotta wrap this one up. We gotta go to part two next time because this is just going to be too long. But when you were talking, I was just thinking this seems like another time of us trying to wiggle out of what Paul was clearly saying, women aren’t supposed authority or teach or whatever, and I see the other stuff you’re talking about, and I’ll probably have to honestly listen to it again, because it was a lot, it was dense. But when you said that, when you said we feel, we feel like power is a good thing to use and to leverage, and then we read that into Paul when Paul never actually said that? That was huge! That changes the whole way I think about Paul. And honestly, it changes the whole way we read these passages, because if he doesn’t say the thing that would be so easy to say, then he probably didn’t mean that thing. You know what I mean? It would be so easy to lay out very clearly what he’s trying to say here, as far as that men are supposed to be the ones teaching in the church, women aren’t supposed to be doing that. That’s a really easy thing to say, and he doesn’t say that.

Tim: Totally!

Nate: So clearly he’s talking about something else.

Tim: Yeah, and we looked at in the conversation on Ephesians 5. He explicitly says both husbands and wives are supposed to submit, but why doesn’t anybody see that? Why is it when we read that passage, that part of it, which is the opening line which introduces the entire logic of the following thoughts, why is it that gets ignored? It’s not only that we insert something into the text, which is Paul’s endorsement of exercise of authority, but we insert it so thoroughly that it actually blinds us from what Paul actually says. So here, Paul just doesn’t tell men or husbands that they should exercise authority. Elsewhere, like in Ephesians 5, he actually explicitly says, “You’re not supposed to do that!” Yet we somehow walk away going, “Yep! Paul’s just reinforcing patriarchy, and the New Testament therefore just has this masculine, patriarchal feel.” Or as Tom Schreiner would put it, “It’s emphasizing the priority of men.”

Nate: Uh, John Piper, 2012: “For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”

Tim: [laughing] Yikes. Way to end it on a downer note, Nate.

Nate: Um, there’s obviously more we have to talk about here and push back on and come to a better understanding on, so that’s part two. Come on back next time. And also, check out the Junia Project, They have more articles and stuff on the word authentein and the meaning there, and we love all the work they’re doing, so go check them out! If you have any questions or anything like that, we’d love to hear from you. You can visit our website,, and get in touch with us there. Alright, we will see you next time.

Tim: Peace.

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