A sketch of what Claire Smith says, without editorial comment: I’ve tried to be accurate and concise.
I’ll leave it up to you dear readers to do the commenting. I’ll sketch Howard Marshall as an example of an alternative take on this passage and then have some editorial to add to sort out this issue once and for all and forever 😉
– Paul writing to Timothy with the house churches of Ephesus in mind, but of universal relevance to the wider church ‘in every place’. The context is resisting false teaching
– Verses 11-12 are ‘relatively uncomplicated’ and unambiguous and should be read plainly. The following interpretation consists of this plain reading.
– men lifting holy hands in prayer is not so much a rule about lifting hands but a universally valid principle that male aggression and self-promotion are not to hinder prayer
– women are addressed: they are not to be vain or showy, but in dress and behaviour to show modesty and self-restraint and be proactive in doing good.
– women are to be part of the learning process (‘let a woman learn’). There are to learn quietly in all submissiveness. They are NOT ‘to challenge or dispute what is taught.’
– They are also not to teach or ‘exercise authority over a man’.
– Teaching in the church gathering is not their responsibility. They are commended elsewhere to teach in other circumstances.
And she unpacks this with a focus on a couple of key concepts:
Submissiveness is ‘a voluntary and willing acceptance of the leadership and responsibility of another.’
The key idea here is ‘learn’ is paired opposite to ‘teach’ and all submissiveness’ is paired opposite to ‘exercise authority over’.
Since not all men teach, Paul is not saying all women should submit to all men all the time, but ‘women should be submissive in church, when teaching is happening , to what is taught and those men who are teaching it.’
Such quiet and submissive learning is appropriate for women who are not to be authoritative teachers.
“They are to learn with quiet, willing and voluntary submissiveness, accepting what is taught and the authority of those teaching it …. conduct fitting for women who profess godliness.” (35)
2. Adam and Eve
There are two reasons why Paul refers to Adam and Eve.
- Adam being formed first indicates special responsibilities with being the firstborn. This is the way things are meant to be.
- Adam and Eve sinned in different ways. She was deceived, he disobeyed. He ‘abdicated his responsibility of leadership to his wife’. This establishes a pattern of male leadership and female submission. Paul roots in commands in Timothy to these timeless and ‘transcultural’ principles.
So Christian women today are not to ‘usurp male leadership’.
This is the way it is according to God’s ‘good design’. It is NOT that women are less able or gifted or more likely to be deceived – it is a ‘creation order’.
“This is not because women are less intelligent, less gifted, less useful, more gullible or somehow inferior. They are not – and these are not the reasons given for the commands. Paul here says nothing about women’s capabilities, and it is clear elsewhere that he recognizes the valuable and God-given gifting and contribution of women in the progress of the gospel and the life of the church.
Nevertheless, because of God’s creation purposes for men and women, and because of the events of the Fall, the participation and contribution of women in the Christian assembly is to be different from those of men …
The battle for women in our day is to accept God’s wisdom in this and be content in it, when our entire culture has taught us not to be. The battle for men, as in Genesis 3, is to step up to the sort of leadership Paul has in mind, when our entire culture insists that women are the real ‘go-to’ men, and that men and boys have little to contribute beyond being the butt of jokes.” (37)
3. Saved through childbirth
Claire Smith gives some options for interpreting verse 15.
The one she prefers is this: Childbirth is not a means of salvation, but is about “Christian women being spiritually preserved or saved from the temptations and fate of Eve and the dangers of false teaching, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control. And childbearing is part of that.” It’s a way of referring to the responsibilities that are the domain of women. In other words, “women are to be content with the roles and responsibilities that God has ordained for them.”
And whatever you decide about this verse does not alter the substance of the passage that women should not teach or exercise authority over men.
4. Reasons why the plain reading is not accepted. Smith calls these ‘It is God’s word but …’ objections.
She mentions those who reject 1 Timothy as God’s word or that Paul wrote it and was mistaken.
She also talks about those who reject it because it does not seem fair or it conflicts with a woman’s perceived call to ministry. To this she says that feelings are not to decide the matter,
“whatever we make of subjective ‘calls’, the objective written word of God must always be our guide no matter how strongly we feel in our hearts. If there is a conflict, even though we may not like it or even understand it, we must submit to the word of our heavenly Father … A personal conviction, however strong and however well intentioned, should never override the plain sense of Scripture.’
She also talks about “some who call themselves evangelicals” who say the text “does not apply today.”
– Galatians 3:28 does not cancel out 1 Timothy 2. The former is talking about unity in salvation, not roles in ministry
– She rejects the local problem with women in Ephesus argument. No, Paul lays down creation order principles from Genesis. This is more than correcting a local aberration. There are permanent principles here to be applied today.
– She talks of a “very dubious (and widely discredited) translation of the Greek word to exercise authority over (authenteō). (She does not give the details) that underpins the local problem view.
– She sees preaching and teaching here as NOT being under other people’s authority. This is true of prophecy in 1 Corinthians which is “under the authority of other people.”
– She rejects the idea that Paul wrote these commands to accommodate prevailing culture (patriarchy?) and that this is transcended now in light of Galatians 3:28. Back to creation order here to reject this view.
– She rejects the idea that since women did teach (Priscilla & Aquilla teaching Apollos etc) – but no examples are of women “teaching men in the authoritative instruction” of the church assembly.
– She rejects the idea that women prophesying means that women exercised authority in that context. Prophecy and teaching are distinct.
– She rejects the idea that the issue is to do with married women – it is men and women more generally that is in view since Adam and Eve were representative.
5. What about other contexts outside church?
Scripture shows women can teach “young and old, male and female” outside the restrictions of 1 Timothy 2. These do not “involve the ongoing, authoritative doctrinal instruction of the church gathering, through the exposition and proclamation of Scripture and the apostolic message.” They are private situations, family situations, instances of prophecy, prayer or singing, or the focused instruction of women.
Smith sees a place for women to contribute to academic discussion. The distinction here is her views are weighed and evaluated in the world of scholarship and not in the familial local gathering. So women can write books as Claire Smith has done, which are read by men and contain teaching, but the reader can weigh and evaluate her words and agree or disagree in a private way. This is different from teaching in the local church gathering.
6. To Conclude
The passage is “not that complicated, although admittedly it is rather confronting and countercultural.” (52)