Previously, I took a first pass at interpreting 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I want to reflect on a few more aspects of verses 11-15 in this passage.
Verses 9-10 talk about “women.” Starting at verses 11-12, the passage begins to talk about “a woman” in the singular. Verse 13-14 talk about a single woman, Eve. Verse 15 reverts back to “women.” What is going on here?
I think Andrew Perriman has the key (Speaking of Women, 159). If we remove verse 12 as a parenthetical, the following chiasmus emerges:
1 Tim 2:11, 13-14
A 11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. ...
B 13 For Adam was formed first,
C then Eve;
B’ 14 and Adam was not deceived,
A’ but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
A is the prescription for A’. B explains why B’ happened. Eve is the focal point of the analogy. Verse 12 is inserted to make explicit the occasion of this instruction. The shift to a singular woman in verse 11 is to make the grammatical comparison between a generic woman and the woman Eve in chiasmus.
I have also read that there may be significance to the verb plasso ("formed") in verse 13. If we are speaking purely of creation, kitzo would seem to be the likely expression for create.
1 Corithians 11:9
Neither was man created (kitzo) for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.
One use of plasso is to describe what happens as a teacher works with his student and "forms" his thinking.
When we see this chiasmus it moves verses 11, 13, and 14 to the foreground of the passage and verse 12 becomes commentary. Verses 11-14 are about making sure women have proper instruction.
Verse 12 Alternatives
Ben Witherington points out that verse 12 does not begin by saying, “I do not permit a woman to….” It says “I permit no women to…” Constructed in this way, the sentence does not have the connotation of “I will never permit…” In other words, it could be a temporary injunction and Paul later will permit the behavior (say, after receiving sound instruction.) What Witherington does not explain is how this interpretation would be meaningful in understanding authentein, which he identifies as a negative action. (Paul would later allow women to usurp authority?) I'm not enough of a linguist to parse this in various ways that might work. Of course, if authentein does simply mean authority then there is no problem. He might later allow teaching and authority after instruction.
Gnostic or Gnot
Okay, it is time for me to confess here. I wrote two posts earlier:
“It is impossible to put all the pieces together with certainty but it appears that there were women (young wealthy widows?) spreading false teaching and Gnosticism (or proto-Gnosticism) was a very significant problem.”
But is the "appearance" correct? I’m here to tell you with absolute certainty that I don’t know.
Scholars who I greatly respect, like the late Stanley Grenz, Linda Bellville, and Catherine Kroeger, would say yes. Whether or not they would call it full blown Gnosticism or the early stages of Gnostic development, they certainly seem to think it was present and that the cults of Artemis and Isis were at work in the false teachings. Both the NIV Study Bible and the Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible speak of Gnostic or Gnostic-like tendencies at Ephesus. Craig Keener does not seem to make a case for Gnosticism but he does think verse 15 was to counter prayers women offered to Isis and Artemis for protection in childbirth. Ben Witherington, on the other hand, rejects that Gnosticism has anything to do with this letter unless we believe 1 Timothy was a second century document. All the teachings supposedly attributed to Gnostics could be attributed to various Hebrew heretical teachings. He is not alone.
The “Gnostic influence” theory, most significantly championed by Catherine Kroeger, posits that both Isis and Artemis worship had elements that emphasized a primal feminine origin. Through mystic practices, women could gain access to secret knowledge unavailable to men. Women were the authorities in some of these cultic practices. There were role reversals in Gnostic literature. The good guy is made the bad guy and the bad guy the good guy. But there was no uniform text to look at and say “here is what Gnostics taught.” Kroeger identifies texts showing multiple versions of Eve as prior to Adam, including instances where Adam is deceived into believing he was created first. There were rituals where woman pursued men and exercised influence over them (including through the use of sexuality). So what does this have to do with the passage?
The theory is that women in the church were formerly worshipers at the local temples. They presumed to be able to teach others and saw themselves as the ones with greater mystical and spiritual knowledge. They usurped the authority of the men in leadership based on their Gnostic understanding. Therefore, Paul tells them to sit and learn quietly. They are not to teach nor are they to authentein men. Wealthy women were especially attracted to these cults. So in addition to the presumption of status, they presumed to be spiritually superior as well. This is the false teaching Paul is reacting to.
Some raise linguistic objections to this interpretations because it matches a positive verb “teach” with a negative verb authentein. But as Belleville demonstrated earlier, these verbs function grammatically as nouns. Others make the case that since the context is false teaching (verse 8 linking this passage to "fighting the good fight" against false teaching) that teaching should be presumed to have a negative connotation. And on it goes. I’m not even going to try to sort that out here. Suffice it to say that the Gnostic influence theory finds hints of Gnosticism in the prohibition against authentein.
But verses 13 and 14 are the central passages. Here it is held that Paul is correcting false teaching with sound doctrine. Adam was created first and it was Eve who deceived. If you read the passage in linear thought progression pattern it does appear to have a corrective tone to it “This and not that; This and not that.” But I think Perriman (above) gives a much better explanation of this peculiar phraseology.
Finally, there are multiple interpretations as to what verse 15 might be getting at. Some suggest that there was Gnostic asceticism at work that frowned on bringing more material beings into the universe. Therefore, the Gnostic goddesses would need to be appeased when women had children. Other Gnostic expressions were connected with the fertility cults which no doubt resulted in pregnancies and verse 15 was assurance that God would see them through. I think Keener’s observation that verse 15 was a counter to the frequent prayers to the goddesses for safety in childbearing is the most likely explanation if verse 15 was indeed intended to counter concerns about worshiping other gods.
Richard and Catherine Kroeger’s I Suffer Not a Woman (1992) has to be the standard study from this perspective. Whether or not you agree with the thesis, there is some truly wonderful background on Ephesus and ancient religion in the book. One source I read (written in the late 1980s) remarked that no scholarly book or study had been written on Ephesus and its culture since 1908. We are still learning about these ancient cultures. Personally, I would find it remarkable that in a city so absorbed in Artemis worship (see Acts 19) the church would not be suffering from influences of the Artemis and Isis cults. I think some of the debate hinges on semantics in delineating precisely what constitutes Gnostic.
But we also know there were Jews in these congregations. There was the ascetic Essenes in Palestine who were known to have a sympathetic following among urban Jews. Asceticism had many expressions. Witherington and others may well be right.
Yet another wrinkle must be added to the mix. I have long suspected that verses 11-14 were directly connected to the wealthy women mentioned in verse 10. As we saw earlier in this series, the first century was a time of unprecedented freedom (by ancient standards) for women in parts of the Empire. Michael Bird posted a short review of The Letters of Timothy and Titus, by Philip Towner, in which he writes:
“…first, Towner is highly dependent on Bruce Winter’s study about the “new Roman women” who asserted their independence with great flare even to the point of making their sexual status ambiguous by their dress and apparel. Given that Christian worship in the atrium of a Graeco-Roman house in Ephesus was a “public” space, Paul does not want the well-to-do Christian women to bring Christians into disrepute by exhibiting this new liberated femininity in public worship. Second, Towner also maintains that the heresy circulating in Ephesus does influence Paul’s restriction here, but he carefully notes the study of S.M. Baugh that has debunked the often repeated scenario that the women were influenced by the hyper-feminist Artemis cult in Ephesus, and Towner adds that there is no definite evidence that the women were even teaching the heresy. Nonetheless, Towner thinks that Paul’s need to provide instructions about marriage (2 Tim 4:3), his statement about the value of childbearing (2 Tim 2:15), the misreading of OT stories (2 Tim 1:4; 2:13-15; 4:1-5), coupled with the attraction of some wealthy women and young widows to the “new women” paradigm does connect the women to the Ephesian heresy. Thus: “Paul prohibits a group of wealthy women from teaching men. The factors leading to his prohibition are: (1) public presentation – outer adornment and apparel and arrogant demeanour give their teaching a shameful and disrespectful coloration; (2) association with false teaching – they may actually have been conveying or supporting heretical teaching” (200). Third, Towner is convinced that elsewhere women did play a public role in Paul’s churches and he detects an equality principle within the Pauline gospel (e.g. Gal 3:28). …”
That is about the best characterization I think I've heard as to what was going on at Ephesus. Concerning, verse 15:
Fifth, concerning the “saved through child-birth” remark in v. 15, Towner thinks that Paul “urges these Christian wives to re-engage fully in the respectable role of the mother, in rejection of heretical and secular trends, through which she may ‘work out her salvation’
One the teachings we know was at work, whether Gnostic, ascetic, or “New Woman,” was that women should not marry (4:3). Leading normal lives as wives and mothers seems to once again take on a missional focus as we see in Paul’s instruction:
So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. (5:14)
I think verse 2:15 is about safety through childbirth but I by know means exclude the possibility that the peculiar wording that seems to indicate women having “the child” relates to Mary giving birth to Christ. I think it is entirely possible that both may be true; that Paul is using a double entendre. He lifts up childbearing as a wholesome and desirable activity while at the same time making a link to the Eve analogy (and Mary's reversal of the curse brought by Eve) he has just presented.
When we come down to essential things I see the following: A) This letter is about rampant false teaching and getting control over it. B) Verses 2:8-15 are directly linked as responses to the “fighting the good fight” against false teaching at the end of Chapter 1. C) The chiasmus of 2:11, 13-14 makes clear that some uninformed women were teaching falsehood and they needed to receive sound instruction in a receptive manner. (Much of the rest is varying degrees of speculation, although fascinating speculation to say the least.) D) The chiasmus, not verse 12, is focal point of this passage.
Finally, what all this shows is that 1 Timothy 2 actually has little to say about fictive family issues. It does not teach women’s subordination or that women cannot be pastors and leaders (and it does not teach that they can either.) It teaches that false teaching should be addressed and the best remedy is sound instruction. It affirms women as siblings with men in Christ who are to be instructed in the Word and be held accountable for their spiritual training and witness.