Often if you look on a church website you will find a section called leadership and in some cases the qualifications for leadership are told to be as outlined by 1 Timothy chapter 3.  This section of scripture obviously leaves out not only women, but if we were to go based on this passage alone single men, and men without children since it seems to assume in the passage that the leaders are husbands with children.

So what does this have to do with the section in 1 Timothy 2 about women learning in silence and submission?  Well when I put the two together it seems that the passages have more to do with the church respecting the household codes of the day, since the early church met in homes; rather than this being a case where Paul sets up a blueprint for worship for all people for all time.

 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair 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 have authority over a man; she must be silent.  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 2:9-15 NIV)

The arguments for the “egalitarian” and “complimentarian” views of this scripture have been going on for decades.  All based on what they believe the scripture to be saying, and if you read it in black and white plain English today, the passage does seem to say that women should be silent in the church.

Rather than add nothing new to the exegetical argument of this text, which I cannot it’s all already out there, I will highlight a few points that in my own searching have led me to become an egalitarian.

Firstly, the passage has been written for a specific people at a specific time, and nowhere in the text does the writer say that it is for all churches of that time, let alone for all churches of all time.  Yes of course we 2000 years later glean truth from these letters even though they are not written directly to us, but we have to remember context is everything and helps us to shape the heart of the letter.

Secondly, we are not today even literally following the entire directive in this passage.  Verse 9 seems to have fallen by the wayside, even in the most conservative male dominated churches where women compete to see who has the biggest hats.  We also don’t take verse 15 literally, when it says that women shall be saved by childbirth, in which case…I am doomed.

Thirdly, I believe that our English version doesn’t quite get it right.  I admit right of the hop here that I do not speak Greek, nor have I read the text in its original language, but I trust those on both sides of the coin who have and have done my research.  I have found myself agreeing obviously with the exegesis of egalitarians, specifically when it comes to the words silence and authority.

For us the word silence has a negative connotation, but in the ancient world it was a good thing, it meant that people had the opportunity to learn in a respectful environment without arguing and distracting questioning.  Some say the translation for the word silence should actually be something more along the lines of peaceably, thus promoting that atmosphere of respect.  In my opinion it also makes sense in the transition between the phrases let a woman learn…and I do not permit a woman to teach because women had not yet learned that they would be unable to teach.

The other word that gives us a bit of trouble in the text is the word authority.  In their book Women in the Church Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo, point out that the word Paul uses which is translated authority is not used in any other instance in the New Testament.  They also point out that there are several other words Paul could have used to mean authority, but Paul chose this one authenteo.  In other ancient use of the word it tends to mean to have full power over.  So some think that women were trying to assert they were created first and therefore should be in complete power over men.[1]  Which would make sense as Paul then moves in to the Genesis teaching of how the man was created first and woman was deceived.

There is much more to say on this passage alone and I could do so much more clearly, but those are some of the main things that I think of as I have wrestled with my own role and calling in the church.  These thoughts are not complete but they are a start.

It is enough for now to say that exegesis of this passage alone, has not convinced me that women should not be church leaders.

Next week I will take a look at how Jesus interacted with women, and how it shapes my view of women in leadership.


[1] Stanley Grenz, and Denise Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, (Downer’ Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1995).

Advertisements