by Kelly Oyer, Visiting Student
When you encounter a difficult question in life, how do you handle it? Do you quickly attack it, holding it down until you’re sure you’ve figured it out? Do you close your eyes and avoid it? Maybe you’re like me and you ask everyone you know what he or she thinks you should do/think/say/feel/wear?
These approaches may work for a dilemma at the office or deciding which movie to rent, but they are insufficient for important questions. They are insufficient for our questions about challenging Bible passages. My questions on these passages only get clearer over time as I study the text, ask for God’s illumination, research commentaries, and openly discuss my questions with other Christians.
I took this approach last summer to study 1 Timothy 2, a passage I’ve found perplexing for some time. I offer you my thoughts thus far, hoping they encourage you to think about God, his church, and the application of his Word.
I am assuming the following about 1 Timothy:
- 1 Timothy 2 was written by Paul to Timothy
- It should agree with the rest of Paul’s writings
- It was Pauls’s advice on organizing and guiding the Ephesian church in opposition and false teaching
- Paul and Timothy know each other well
- Paul is frank, straightforward, and clear with Timothy
That being said, most of us are comfortable interpreting the first ten verses of the chapter. We should pray for everyone. There is only one God. Men should worship without anger or dispute. Women should dress modestly and be rewarded more for their character and behavior than for their appearance.
And then come verses 11-15, along with difficult questions.
Let’s take verses 11-12 first. Verse 11 is not as confusing as it first appears. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” This fits nicely with the preceding verses concerning behavior at worship services. It is good for a woman (or a man!) to learn humbly and in a way that does not disturb others who are also trying to learn. Paul actually goes against many Jewish and cultural norms here in asserting that women should learn!
Verse 12 is trickier. The word usage and sentence structure are confusing. There are two verbs in the sentence: didaskein and authentein. Didaskein is accepted as a typical Pauline word choice for “to teach” or “to instruct within the church”. It has a positive connotation. Authentein, on the other hand, is used only once in the New Testament. Its range of meaning varies from “to murder” to “to exercise appropriate authority”. The earliest uses carry the former, negative connotation. Over time the meaning shifts toward the latter, positive connotation (Blomberg 168).
This complicates the grammatical structure of the verse. In English, it is translated “neither…nor”. In Greek it indicates one “coherent idea” (Belleveille 82). The key question becomes how do didaskein and authentein fit together? According to a widely cited study by Kostenberger, the two words should support the same connotation. Does it mean “I do not allow a woman to teach false doctrine or inappropriately take authority over men”? The problem is didaskein only means “to teach false doctrine” when specifically stated (Blomberg 168). Does the verse mean “I do not allow a woman to teach ever or have appropriate authority over a man”? This contradicts Paul’s other letters where he assumes women to be participating in the worship services (1 Corinthians 11:5, NRSV), and even teaching men (Acts 18:26, NRSV).
I found no wholly satisfying translation for this sentence. It has raised more questions than answers:
- Why does Paul restrict women from teaching here, but not elsewhere?
- If Paul really never allows a woman to teach or have authority, why did he have to tell Timothy? Wouldn’t Timothy already know?
- Why would God and/or Paul care whether good teaching was coming from a man or a woman if it furthered the gospel?
- What is actually going on in these worship services?
I often hear the phrase “Paul is quite clear that women should not teach men in church”. If this is the passage referenced, I disagree. It does not clearly say that women should not teach or that women should teach. It says something clearly to Timothy that is not yet clear to me. Yet I believe God is good and wise. I believe he wants us to understand and apply his Word. Perhaps we all need to be a little more patient, honest, and open to discern just what exactly that is. At least in this passage.
by Kelly Oyer, Visiting Student