The restrictions put on women’s functioning in the church by complementarians generally come down to a few key verses. As I’ve written before, most people read the entirety of the Scriptures through the complementarian filter of those few verses. Because they believe those verses must be true as they are literally read, they dismiss anything else that doesn’t fit. Nowhere is this more apparent than with 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
The Meaning of I Timothy 2:9-15
Last Friday Wade Burleson posted what may be the best layperson overview of the culture surrounding 1 Timothy 2:9-15 I have ever read anywhere.
If you don’t remember exactly what is says, here it is in the NIV.
9 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, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
We simply cannot understand what this passage means if we ignore the context and history connected to it.
Understanding I Timothy 2:9-15
Understanding the context and history is not looking for excuses to believe whatever we want. It is reading the passage in the way it was intended.
In Artemis and the End of Us: Evangelical Errors Regarding Women, Wade writes:
Until you understand the problem Timothy faced (the man to whom the words in I Timothy 2:9-15 are written), and until you are familiar with Ephesus (the place where Timothy lived), and until you have a working knowledge of the Amazons (the warrior women that the ancient Greeks believed founded Ephesus), and until you comprehend the influence of the cult of Artemis and the Temple of Artemis which was in Ephesus, the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s words will never be rightly understood. F. F. Bruce once wrote, “Subjugation of a woman is a system of man’s fallen nature. If the work of Christ involves… breaking the fall, then the implication of His work for the liberation of women is plain.” Jesus Christ came to liberate subjugated women. The cultism in evangelicalism regarding women’s behaviors will only be broken when people lay aside stupid, false obedience to I Timothy 2:9-14 and realize the meaning of Paul’s words to Timothy.
I challenge every person reading this to prayerfully read Wade’s entire post and thoughtfully consider what he wrote. It is not for the theologically squeamish. But you should investigate for yourself the truth behind his words. You should investigate the truth for those you influence through your writing, your blogging, your parenting, your volunteering, etc. If you are understanding these verses incorrectly, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want those you are influencing to know?
It breaks my heart to know that there are gifted women reading this today (and men married to gifted women) who are silenced to varying degrees because of a flat out wrong understanding of this passage.
It grieves me that women will one day stand before the Lord and realize they missed out on so many opportunities to serve Him and witness for Him through the power of the Holy Spirit because they were convinced by others that they must be silent. Christians in this country lament the lives lost tragically due to abortion and rightly so. Should we not also mourn the lost spiritual life in the church due to incorrect teachings of Scripture? I do daily as I think of the gifted women I know in my own life who have been silenced and stripped of the ability to use their gifts given by the Holy Spirit.
What’s with Paul and Women?God’s Word to WomenMan and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s LettersI Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence