As I said when I started going through 1 Timothy on this blog: I resisted it for years.
And we’re now in the passage for why I’ve been avoiding it. And the reasons I’ve hesitated is because these are battleground issues where faithful Christians have lined up across from each other and made this a test of fellowship.
Some of this is fueled by feminism in America. Some of this is fueled by orthodox/liberal debates in theology. And still, some of it is fueled by guilt by association.
Let’s just cut to it and you’ll see why.
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.
1 Timothy 2:11-15
New International Version
In Western Christianity—especially American Evangelicalism—the entire subject of women in ministry is a hotbed of explosive and potentially congregation-dividing issues. You see why I’ve been avoiding it?!
But here we are and my whining is over. Let’s dig in and over the next two weeks, we’re going to look deeply into one of the most divisive issues for Christians.
Knowing the reasons for writing the New Testament letters helps us in interpretation. The Apostle Paul is writing to his young mentee, Timothy. It’s a training letter, a leadership manual. There are some very complex heresies afoot in the Ephesian churches and young Timothy appears to be over his head. As we’ve been moving through 1 Timothy, we’ve seen a few; we’ll see more as we continue.
Undoubtedly, there are some Ephesian-specific issues going on generating the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to the Apostle Paul to write verses 11 and 12. If we’re honest, some of these nuances and complexities are lost to nearly 2,000 years separating us and them. If we’re not honest…well, our minds are made up anyway and Scripture probably won’t change them.
But let’s keep these verses in context before breaking them down: back in verse 8, men are told to lift their hands in prayer without anger and division in their hearts. It’s safe to say it’s always right to remove anger and division from our hearts as disciples of Jesus.
However, does verse 8 mean it is a sin if men do not lift their hands while praying? For that matter, is it a sin if women lift their hands while praying—was Paul demanding the practice for men only and for all time? We know from Scripture already: the lifting of hands by all the people of God is one of many acceptable postures of worship. But Paul doesn’t express all of that in verse 8.
Timothy is already expected to know that. By the way, as “people of The Book”, so are we.
Now we must ask a very important question. Is it possible the Holy Spirit-inspired author is doing the same thing in verses 11-15? That is, based on the context, is it possible Paul is addressing some specific situations that are based in Timothy’s time and Timothy’s context in Ephesus only?
Is it also possible Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit to write prescriptive statements about women’s role in the church meant to be followed exactly as it is written for all time until Jesus calls His church home?
Adding to our considering of interpretation must be what Paul meant by “assume authority over a man”.
“Foul, Joel!” I can hear the heresy police now. “Authority is authority—to be in charge, a boss, etc. It’s clear! You’re trying to sell out!”
If Paul were writing this in English, we would all agree to a greater or lesser degree. But he wasn’t. He was writing in Greek.
In Greek, it’s just not as “cut and dried”; the statements are much more nuanced and a lot of information is not present.
The Apostle uses a Greek word so rare it is used only here in the entire New Testament. He wasn’t inspired to use the typical Greek word for our understanding of “authority”. Instead, he used an obscure Greek word with a very fluid meaning relating to authority.
The best current research instructs us this Greek word in the time Paul was writing (mid-first century) translated as “authority” means “to assume a stance of independent authority”. The essence of this word means to establish one’s authority independently of another source.
This is why the NIV translates this as “assume authority” (emphasis added). In an absolute sense, a Christian man can’t do this either: he would always be under the ultimate Lordship of Jesus. Nevertheless, when we see this usage of this word here in this context, our picture of what Paul could be meaning becomes a little clearer. Maybe.
For now, don’t give up on the search into Scripture. It is a well deeper than we can ever completely grasp. But the dive into it is an incredible journey of life change in Jesus. As a seminary professor of mine once prayed, “Lord, we seek not to be masters of the text but to be mastered by it.”
Next week, we’ll work through the applications of these verses then and now.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 150.
Interested in more like this? Consider my book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, I walk readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.