A Woman? #3 (Silence Redo)

Jeniffer Dake

My last attempt at the “silence” passage (click here to see) created as many questions as answers, so allow me to try again with a few more details:

I believe the article efficiently handled the 1 Corinthians 14:34 verse, which is convincingly situational (since 11:5 allows a woman to prophesy, which would not allow her to remain silent).

It was the analysis of 1 Timothy, which caused people to stumble. So let us dive in again…

Moving into the passage we must first remember to read the Bible in context. I spoke with the youth about this at Plunge (click here to see) and used Philippians 4:13 as an example. Often people pull that verse out and declare Christ will give them strength to accomplish any goal. But this verse is not declaring I can become a MLB superstar (though sports players often use the verse) anymore than it declares I can fly. When you read the whole passage you find Paul can remain faithful, no matter the situation, through the power of God!

In 1Timothy we can not pull 2:12 out without first looking at the surrounding scripture (click here to read the surround passages). The first chapter concludes with a call for Timothy to take charge against heresy and the second chapter begins with a call to prayer. 1-7 asks all to pray to the mediator Christ and 8-10 demands men avoid anger and women reject physical adornment during prayer and worship.

This leads into the final paragraph of the chapter, concerning women in worship, which we will look at below. In chapter three the requirements for the position of overseer and deacon are outlined (3:1-13). Then the letter returns to the issue of combating heresy and encouraging Timothy to lead (3:14-4:16, this section acts as an explanation for why the instructions have been written).

As we turn to the issue of woman in worship, it is my assumption that the bookends of heresy inform the context for the current passage.

Take a look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

 11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15But women will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

This paragraph begins with three instructions and concludes with an explanation for the directives. We will look at both individually:

The three instructions are “learn” (11), “do not permit” (12), to teach or to have authority), and “must be silent” (12). In English the second two instructions appear more prominent or significant. Yet only the first instruction is in the imperative mood, which means it is a command.

An attempt at a simple explanation: the Greek language uses word endings to determine tense, voice, mood, person, and number. In Greek the mood declares whether the action is real or potential. One of these moods is the imperative, which expresses a command. The first instruction, “learn”, is a command. “A woman should learn” could be translated “A woman must learn” or “Let a woman learn!”. The second instruction, “do not permit”, is in the indicative (expressing a present reality, not a command). It could be translated “I am not permitting” to express the current reality. The third instruction, “must be”, is an infinitive (which is part verb and part noun – hence it does not have a mood). It could be translated, “to be” silent. Of course, as with any language, this describes the grammatically correct Greek. At times the indicative is used as a command. Still, I think it is significant that the text moves from imperative to indicative. 

The word for “authority” occurs only here in the New Testament and rarely in all of Greek literature. Hence a correct translation is difficult. The word can be used to describe domineering through coercion, but it can also be used for a neutral exercising of authority. But, if the letter intended neutral authority why use an obscure term over the typical word for authority? Perhaps the word was intended to hold the idea of domineering authority and leave open the door for women exercising neutral authority.

The words “quietness” and “silent” are derived from the same word and in my estimate reflect a meaning closer to quietness than silence.

In the second section (2:13-15) the letter gives reason to support the instructions. The argument uses the Garden of Eden as an illustration: man was created first and woman was deceived, and thus became a sinner. This draws from common Jewish thought on the superiority of man. Verse fifteen builds off verse fourteen to explain that there is still hope for the deceived woman.

Yet the hope verse fifteen is supposed to create is startlingly strange. The idea that woman could be “saved through childbearing” seems ridiculous if not heretical (the interpretation of childbearing as child rearing changes little – it still would appear ordinary works will save women). The issue arises out of the word for saved, which is the Greek word used to refer to salvation. The word could be translated “kept safe” in a physical sense. It is translated “healed” occasionally in the Gospels and Acts. In Paul’s writings it refers to spiritual salvation (a possible exception is Philippians 2:12 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”). More significantly the context, working from the fall, would suggest spiritual salvation. Why would it matter if deceived sinners are healed from the physical struggle of childbearing (More, no matter her faith, love, and holiness no woman has been healed from the physical pain and distress of child rearing – much less childbearing!)?

Interpretations of verse fifteen vary, one suggestion takes notice of the un-translated article before “childbearing” (meaning “the childbirth”). This creates the possibility that the verse refers to a certain childbirth, specifically the birth of Christ. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus overturned the deception in the Garden and created salvation. Hence the deceived will be saved if they remain in the faith, love, and holiness of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

The context of 1 Timothy is a church assaulted by heresy. To combat the lies the letter outlines practical steps. This begins with prayer and ends with the choosing of leadership. In the middle women are instructed to be quiet and they are commanded to “learn”. Why women are singled out, I propose, is because they were the center of the heresy. Which explains verse fourteen, where the woman was deceived, but man was not deceived. To give evidence of this we can see in 2 Timothy 3:6, “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women…” I assume the second letter refers to a continuing problem of heresy. This also explains the command for women to be educated and rationalizes the reference to the Garden. As long as women continue to walk in darkness they will be deceived, but if they embrace the light they will be saved through the coming of Christ. Women alive in the new birth of Jesus will eventually step into the roles of teacher. They will step into leadership, not to dominate, but to serve with the faith, love, and holiness of Christ.

I have given you a stable and accurate interpretation, but one which leads toward my conclusion. Studying the commentaries, I realized that there is a variety of opinion – too much to write. Others certainly think differently, but my interpretation is an attempt to reconcile this narrative to those narratives that clearly describe effective women in Biblical leadership. Here is an incomplete list of examples from Paul: Lydia, Phoebe, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Persis, Euodia, and Syntyche. In the coming future I will write in detail about multiple examples from the scripture.

As a blog article I did not feel it necessary to source all the references, but here is a list of the texts that informed my thinking (in no particular order and not in standard format – if you would like to research the topic just let me know!): Morgan Noyes The Interpreter’s Bible; William Mounce Word; Andreas Kostenberger Expositors; Walter Liefeld NIV Application; James Dunn The New Interpreter’s Bible; Thomas Oden Interpretation; and of course all the standard Greek helps (Bauer, TDNT).

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