“I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach…She Must Be Quiet.” (Women in Ministry pt. 4)

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

1 Timothy 2:11-15 (ESV)

This blog post is the fourth of a few entries on the topic of women in ministry leadership.

I recommend that you read the first few entries before this one if you haven’t already done so. The first one can be found here: What about Junia?

Should We Really Allow Men to Lead?

Another event that really motivated me to begin seriously questioning my beliefs on the subject of women in ministry happened while I was pastoring at my first church.

Myself and a number of the members of my church were meeting with another local congregation’s board. We had shrunk in numbers and were struggling to keep the lights on in our building. So, we had begun to “interview” other local churches and ministry teams in order to prayerfully determine which of them might benefit from our building. We didn’t want to squander what we had, and we felt that giving our building and assets to another local congregation was what God was calling us to do.

Yet, and during this particular meeting, the pastor of another church made a strange off-hand remark. I believe he misinterpreted the members from my church who decided to join the conversation as our “official” leadership team. There were a few ladies from my church in attendance. This seemed to frustrate him. He then said this: “God made woman to be the weaker sex. Should we really allow women to be leaders in the church? If I were pastor here, I would not allow that to happen.”      

While what he said was harsh, I didn’t think too much of the comment as he made it. However, I did hear that his words offended one of the ladies from my congregation who was sitting in with us, so I gave her a call. After expressing her just frustration, she said this: “I don’t know. I think the better question is should we really allow men to be leaders in the church?

Of course, this statement was merely a sly reversal of what this local pastor said. But it really got me thinking: Why *do* some churches fully affirm women as leaders and pastors? Why *had* God gifted so many women with great teaching, preaching, and counseling skills only to then say that they were not allowed to exercise such gifts within the church?

Should We Really Allow Men to Lead in Ephesus?

It is interesting to note that while my friend asked her question rhetorically, there were individuals in the ancient city of Ephesus who were asking it sincerely.

Ephesus was where Timothy pastored. It was the location of a network of house churches. It was the location of the lecture hall of Tyrannus, the school in which Paul trained ministry leaders for two years (Acts 19:8-10). It was also the location of a great riot in which a few silversmiths grew upset at Paul’s teaching about the one true God. These silversmiths manufactured cultic icons of the goddess Artemis. Her temple was located in Ephesus and they were afraid that Paul’s teaching would not only chase away their customers but discredit their city’s patron goddess (Acts 19:21-41).

But who was Artemis? And what does she have to do with 1 Timothy 2?

Artemis was the Greek goddess of chastity, childbirth, and wild animals.  She was one of Zeus’ daughters with Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. Yet Artemis was born before Apollo, a birth order that was important to those in her cult.  And instead of seeking companionship among the other gods, it is said that Artemis married a human male king. Because she was a goddess, however, she was hierarchically superior to this male king. She then elevated the status of her female adherents so that women were superior to men in the court she presided over.[1]

It was also said that Artemis would come to the aid of Ephesian women who were struggling with childbirth. We read this in an ancient Ephesian hymn: “The cities of men I [Artemis] will visit only when women vexed by the sharp pangs of childbirth call me to their aid. Even in the hour when I was born, the Fates ordained that I should be their helper.[2] And in one ancient myth written about Artemis, the goddess even helped her own mother Leto deliver her twin brother Apollo by making sure that her mother and brother remained safe from harm.

The cult of Artemis, obviously, had a large influence over the city of Ephesus. Yet it also seems to have had some influence over the church network located there too.

The instructions in Paul’s first letter to Timothy have a lot to do with false teaching. Paul starts off his letter, after a formal greeting, with the line: “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people no to teach false doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies…” (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul then spends a significant chunk of this correspondence addressing some of his concerns regarding false teaching directly (see: 1:7-11, 1:18-20, 4:1-10, 6:3-10).

Another major theme of 1 Timothy is that of church order. Paul writes to Timothy about communal prayer, qualifications for elders and deacons, the way that Timothy should teach and lead, care for the elderly widows, and more. But I agree with many biblical scholars who say that a portion of Paul’s words on church order also have to do with false teaching. That is, false teaching, at least partially, was that which caused Paul to write to Timothy about order. We learn very little about what elders and deacons are supposed to do. We mostly learn about how to avoid choosing leaders who aren’t qualified for the position. There is even a bit about Ephesian teachers who have stumbled and have now been “given over to Satan (1:19-20). 

This, I think, is also the best way to understand Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 2:1-15.

They are about proper order in the church, but the church is disorganized because of the influence of the cult of Artemis.

Women in the cult of Artemis were exalted as superior to men.[3]So female Christian converts from the Artemis cult likely had difficulty assimilating to worship in a setting where both female and males were thought of as equal. They may have assumed that worship in the church was similar to worship in the cultic temple where both promiscuity and ornate clothing was encouraged. They may have been used to talking over the men, or dominating conversation within the cult. But such behavior was not accepted in the Ephesian church and was causing anger and outrage.  

Authority versus Domination

Let’s now look at the text of 1 Timothy 2 a little more closely.

Specifically, I’d like to examine the word “authority,” or authentein[4] in the Greek, as it appears in 1 Timothy 2:12.

This is an unusual word.[5] That’s because this Greek infinitive appears nowhere else in the Bible. It is a hapax legomenon. We do find two cognatesto this word, or words that contain the same linguistic root, yet both of these occurrences are in extrabiblical writings. In the Wisdom of Solomon 12:6, the noun authentas is used in relation to child sacrifice and is usually translated into English as “murderer.” And in 3 Maccabees 2:28-29, the noun authentia is used to describe a people group that were “authentically,” or originally, Egyptian slaves.

There was a similar word, authentes, used within non-religious Greek writings. This word is a combination of auto (self) and hentes (to work, to do). [6] Aeschylus and Euripides, poets in the 6th century B.C., use this word to express the act of suicide or of murder. During the Hellenistic period, Josephus and Diodorus use it to talk about crime or the masterminds behind criminal acts.[7]

So why then would Paul use authentein to express the idea of “authority”if the common usage of its semantic root had to do with murder and crime? And if Paul really did want to talk about authority in a general sense, why wouldn’t he have used a different word that didn’t hold such a negative connotation? There were lots of other options: exousia, kyrieuo, and so on.

I think that Paul likely chose this word exactly because he knew the negative connotations behind it. I also think that he wasn’t using it to express the idea of “authority” but of harsh domination.

And this, of course, would fit the historical context of the Ephesian church. There were women hoping to harshly dominate men, especially in religious contexts. So, reading authentein as “dominate” in 1 Timothy 2:12 makes a lot more sense.  

Creation Order Dictum

What about that section where Paul reminds Timothy about the importance of the created order?

Adam was born first then Eve (1 Timothy 2:13). Does this introduce a creation order dictum into the text? That is, is Paul attempting to claim that because Adam was created first but Eve second, God created men to lead? Is Eve’s susceptibility to the serpent’s lies to be understood as her overstepping the boundary of leadership? If she would have just submitted to Adam’s leadership instead of taking initiative in the conversation with the serpent, would the outcome have been different?

It is important to recognize that the Greek conjunction gar (for) that Paul uses typically introduces an explanation for what proceeds, not a cause.[8] Paul wasn’t saying that women aren’t allowed to teach men because Adam was created as Eve’s boss. Instead, he is saying that women should not teach in a domineering fashion, as is discussed in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, for Eve was created as Adam’s partner. Why would Paul even bring up the creation order in his argument then? I think that is has to with the Artemis cult in Ephesus. Artemis was born before Apollo, and this, among other things, justified the domineering behavior of women in that cult. Paul’s mention of Adam and Eve’s birth order, as well as Eve’s deception, might just be a sly rhetorical jab at those in the church who were still insisting upon operating like they once did in the cult of Artemis. Women were no wiser than men. Even Eve was deceived.

But more, we shouldn’t understand Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:14 as him claiming that Eve alone was deceived. Instead, this verse is a continuation of his rhetorical rebuke of those associated with the Artemis cult. Because, if Paul was making this claim, he would be in contradiction with his own words elsewhere. Romans 5:12 tells us that “…just as sin came into the world through one man” and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 states “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” It would be better to understand Paul’s words as in agreement with another statement about being led astray by false teaching he made in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Women Will Be Saved Through Childbearing?

Those that claim to read the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 as literal, obvious prohibitions against women teaching and leading men often do not apply the same hermeneutic to 1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control”

Is Paul saying that women are saved not by the blood of Christ but by bearing children? Wouldn’t this be a works-based salvation? Is Paul claiming that Eve will be saved, and all women through her, though that which was initiated by the birth of Christ? This too is unlikely. The verb sothesetai (saved) is in the future tense, so how might something denoting future action refer to something that had already happened in the audience’s past? And secondly, the gerund teknogonias (childbearing) doesn’t naturally refer to the product of childbearing but the process itself.[9] So again, I think the best reading of this passage is to understand it as Paul’s comments on the Artemis cult. The Ephesian Artemis was the goddess of childbirth. She was said to bring aid to Ephesian women who were vexed by the sharp pains of delivery. Paul is riffing off of this knowledge. Just like Artemis supposedly saved women from painful childbearing, women who believe will one day experience a reality without pain in God’s coming kingdom.   

Is This A “Slippery Slope” Argument?

So far in this blog post, I have attempted to argue that the best way to understand Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are to read them in light of the influence of the cult of Artemis.

However, it would be unfair of me to not make mention that some would understand this position to be problematic.[10] Namely, why in the world would the Bible contain situational commands that aren’t to be universally applied? Isn’t scripture for all people everywhere? Shouldn’t we be able to read and apply God’s word anywhere without knowing ancient history?

I do understand the supposed danger of reading a passage of scripture as one that has merely a local application. In his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, John Stott warns: “the danger of declaring any passage of scripture to have only local (not universal) and only transient (not perpetual) validity is that it opens the door to a wholesale rejection of apostolic teaching, since virtually the whole of the New Testament was addressed to specific situations.”[11] I think that he is right to be wary of this. By declaring any passage we don’t like or agree with as having only local and transient application, we can do great harm to orthodoxy. We can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say.

Yet, at the same time, we do need to remember that scripture wasn’t written directly to us. It was written for us. The epistles in the New Testament all have original ancient audiences that must be taken into consideration before we can derive any modern application. It is sometimes even the case that passages in the New Testament cannot be cleanly applied to our modern times, i.e., Paul’s insistence on women wearing head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.

And more, even if a passage like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 isn’t directly applicable to us in its original sense, this does not mean that it isn’t still generally applicable.

No human should dominate another human. Women should not harshly dominate men. Men should not harshly dominate women. It would be good for all people to learn in quiet submission, both men and women. And it would be good for all people to accept the One who has promised to save us from this sin torn world, a world that’s plagued with division, disorder, and painful childbirth.

[1] Linda L. Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15: Evaluating the text with contextual, lexical, grammatical, and cultural information,” Pricilla Papers, Summer 2003 vol. 17, No. 3, 12-13.

[2] Callimachus, The Hymn to Artemis

[3] Linda L. Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 12.  

[4] αὐθεντέω

[5] I think that Nijay Gupta has a really good point about how unusual this word usage by Paul really is. This is what Nijay says in his blog: “It is hard for lay people to fully understand just how rare the usage of authenteo was at Paul’s time. So think about it this way: have you ever used a word that (1) you will never use again, (2) you will never hear from another person ever, (3) and will never read anywhere ever again? That is how unusual it would have been for Paul to use authenteo. So why would he not have chosen a more common word if he was giving a direct and clear universal command through a third party (Timothy)?” See: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/cruxsola/2019/06/why-i-believe-in-women-in-ministry-part-19-gupta/

[6] See: “autoentes” in Henry Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968).

[7] Linda L. Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 7-8.

[8] Linda L. Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 15.  

[9] Douglas Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” Trinity Journal no. 1 (1980) 62-83, 71-73.

[10] See: John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, The Bible Speaks Today, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 77-78 and Douglas Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” Trinity Journal no. 1 (1980) 62-83, 73-74.

[11] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, The Bible Speaks Today, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 77.

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