What the Bible really says about men and women (3)

Howard Marshall: Exegesis of 1 TIMOTHY 2:8-15

As a contrast to Claire Smith’s ‘plain reading’ of the text, below is what Prof Howard Marshall of Aberdeen University and well known and highly regarded evangelical scholar makes of the same passage. This is taken from ‘Women in Ministry’ in Husbands and Larsen, Women, Ministry and the Gospel: Exploring New Paradigms. IVP Academic, 2007, 53-78. Again this is a summary without editorial comment.

1. Context of contentious prayer by (some) men; attitude of (some) women acting in a showy way, perhaps sexually enticing.  Rather than this behaviour, proper adornment is good deeds. The link here is made to Bruce Winter’s study of ‘New Roman Women’ which provides important background support to what is happening in Ephesus.

2. The response is for women to learn in a quiet and submissive manner. Three things could be happening here:

i. Some kind of vocal reaction to the teaching which was unacceptable to in mixed company at that time. See 1 Timothy 1:10-14; 3:9-11; 2 Tim 14-16 for other examples of curbs being put on opinions that were causing dissensions.

ii.  acceptance of these dubious teachings by the women (2 Tim 3:6-7), a point probably seen in 2 Tim 2:15.

iii. in Corinth, women were told to ask their husbands at home. Evidence suggests women by and large much less educated than men; a higher level of illiteracy leading to a unhelpful contribution to the discussion. So they are encouraged to learn, but in an appropriate spirit.

3. What does it then mean that a woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man? Rather than see this as some sort of law against women’s participation in “official, authoritiative” teaching, Marshall sees the issue here as unacceptable behaviour in that social context.

– Despite ‘complementarians’ saying authentein simply means ‘exercising authority over’, Marshall argues this unique NT word has strong suggestions of an improper use of authority, a particular kind of teaching that is unacceptable in mixed company.

– the context is of a patriarchal society where women were subordinate to husbands. Improper behaviour of women within the church would have been an obstacle to evangelism, being interpreted as Christians “rejecting both Jewish and Hellenistic ideals regarding married life and the place of women.”

– false teaching is the issue, accompanied by domineering and argumentative women. This is a “wrong kind of authority that is being condemned rather than a proper use of authority.” (59)

4. Eve and Adam. The creation story is brought in as an appropriate illustration perfectly fitting the context of the problem in Ephesus. It is possible the women were basing their behaviour on the Fall story. The priority of Adam reminds the women that they are not superior. Eve was deceived, and this reminds them that they should be beware of similarly being deceived and thinking of themselves as superior to men.

5. The ‘saved through childbirth’ verse refers to the physical act of childbirth and probably the nurture and bringing up of children. ‘Saved’ refers to the full attainment of salvation. The emphasis here is to correct local behaviour and attitudes. The ‘new women’ were pursuing authority and teaching, perhaps at the same time rejecting childbearing. This fits with the rejection of marriage by some teachers in the congregation, which may have included sexual abstinence within marriage (1 Tim 4:1-3). Propriety serves as the overarching theme here. They are to act in a way fitting with their culture and as women. They are to show Christian characteristics of faith, love, holiness and self-control.

“Putting all this together, we must envisage a complicated background situation involving various factors that combined to necessitate a ban on women behaving in unseemly ways (including ostentatious dress and inappropriate forms of teaching activity). The overriding factor seems to be the social situation in with the Jewish and Hellenistic understanding of the place of women in society and marriage was being threatened by the activities of some of the women who were acting in a disruptive manner in the congregational meeting and teaching in a domineering manner. This was probably connected with a rejection of marriage and childbearing by ‘emancipated’ women. This went against the expectations of the time and was bring the gospel into discredit, just as Titus 2:5 clearly indicates in a related piece of teaching. It was this situation that motivated the prohibition here. And it was necessary to refute the wrong ideas that appear to have been drawn from Genesis by offering a different understanding of the creation and Fall narrative.” (60-1)

Howard Marshall then has a substantial section discussing the question of whether this local prohibition should be understood as rule for all circumstances and all time.

Are restrictions intended for 1st century contexts intended to last for good? No.

Limited evidence for women leaders of groups that included men is unsurprising. And the evidence decisively points the other way with the apostle Junia (Roms 16:7)

The real message here is for humble godly service as against positions of power and authority.

The 1st century has changed dramatically from Paul’s day regarding the status, education and opportunities afforded women. There is no longer (in our culture) an issue of propriety that a woman should not lead.

The underlying concern for Paul is the advance and good name of the gospel. How ironic then that the gospel is hindered by unnecessary and artificial prohibition on women’s ministry within the church. From outside the church, such prohibition is a now a barrier to the gospel.

The creation account is used negatively to counter misunderstanding. It is not used positively to assert hierarchy. There is no command of dominance of men over women or husband over wife – Paul would have just as vigorously opposed such dominance. A significant thrust of the NT is towards equality (Gal 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7, Eph. 5:21).

The use of the creation narrative is focused on Eve as a warning of deception, a call to humility – she was deceived before her husband. It is a temporary issue being addressed. There is positive mention of women teaching in 2 Timothy and Titus suggesting that the issue was later resolved.

He concludes this section remarking that the issues are primarily exegetical. It is not a matter of ignoring or minimising the text or that it ‘does not apply’ (as Claire Smith claims), it is a question of how the text is understood. He lists 10 applications and I’m summarising tightly:

  1. All people in church to behave with decorum and to avoid sinful behaviour that prevents prayer from being effective.
  2. The avoidance of all secular displays of wealth, of position, of immodest sexuality
  3. The need for sound doctrinal teaching, the need for people to teach it and for people to live by it
  4. The need for godliness and good deeds and Christian character
  5. An ethic of humility and courtesy
  6. It tells women not to domineer and men not to engage in anger and disputation
  7. It warns of the danger of not being deceived
  8. It warns against denigrating marriage, rearing children, family life in favour of other priorities. This includes fathers evading their parental responsibilities
  9. It begins and ends with an emphasis on cultivating Christian character
  10. The overarching purpose is not to put obstacles in the way of the gospel

 Comments, as ever, welcome.

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2 thoughts on “What the Bible really says about men and women (3)

  1. Hi Patrick,
    sure to all of this–especially the “are we really to follow guidelines laid down in the context of a specific mix of first century cultures”. Do you agree that any and all scripture falls to this argument? Best case is killing for God–which is demanded in the old testament and those who don’t follow the command may be killed themselves. Obviously not appropriate later in the bible or today. Bans on male homosexuality fall to this logic–pretty much anything that is more accepted today is automatically more OK by the logic above. If you agree that this all follows–I’m with you.

    • Brian, not sure where that quote is from, it doesn’t capture what Marshall is saying and no orthodox Christian interpretation of Scripture would agree with it

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