Women in the Heart of God (9)

Paul and Women

[updated Nov 12/2012--added material on 1 Cor 14 and 2 Tim 2]
In this section I intend to survey Paul's teachings and praxis about women.

I will organize this material under the following categories:

  1. Snapshot--Paul compared to the Praxis of Jesus

  2. A Recent feminist assessment of Paul

  3. Paul's working relationships with women in the Church

  4. Controversial Pauline Passages


  1. Snapshot--Paul compared to the Praxis of Jesus

    What I want to do here is to repeat the material we studied in In the life and ministry of Jesus, where we compared Jesus versus Rabbinical attitudes--and add a comment per topic to see if Paul was "more like a Jesus or more like a Rabbi"...

    Jesus vs. The Rabbi's--with a Glance at Paul

    1. Jesus disagreed with the Rabbi's that association with women led inevitably to lust. The logic that led to segregation within Rabbinix found no place in Jesus' teaching. Jesus does not warn his followers against looking at women, but rather against doing so in lust. Women's association and traveling with the apostolic band was NOT to be restricted due to the "natural desires of men"! (WS:WIB:45-46).

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul never segregated women at all. He actively sought them out and set up operations in their homes (Lydia, Acts 16). Women and men were supposed to worship together (I Cor 11-14), and women were to pray and prophesy in church (e.g. I Cor 11.4). He actually warns the young church against 'forced celibacy' in I Tim 4.3!]

    2. Jesus asserted that a woman could divorce her husband; the Rabbi's said only a MAN could initiate divorce (WS:JWGRP:143: "Thus far it should be clear that divorce was always the right and responsibility of the husband to initiate. Jewish law was asymmetrical in this respect, as opposed to Roman law, which grants the wife the right to divorce her husband.")

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul apparently asserts the same standard in I Cor 7.13: And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him..]

    3. Jesus touched "unclean women" (e.g. the woman with the flow of blood in Mt 9.18ff); Rabbi's would not do so.

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Actually, we don't have a similar situation in the historical narrative. We simply don't have any data on this one. Although, given Paul's general position and praxis toward the ritual of the Law, I would expect this to be a non-issue for him, as per Romans 14.1-18 and Galatians 2.11ff.]

    4. "Jesus not only spoke freely with women, healed them, allowed them to touch him and to bring their children to see him, he also allowed them to serve him. This was not, of course, unusual in a family situation, but it was unusual for a Rabbi, as the Rabbis strongly disapproved of women even serving them at tables." (WS:WIB:48)

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul consistently let women help him! He refers often to women as 'fellow-laborers' and helpers--cf. Phil 4.3; Rom 16.1-2, 6, 12, et.al. Phoebe in Rom 16.1-2 is specially called a "deaconess"--a server, and he obviously stayed at Lydia's home (Acts 16).]

    5. "Rabbinic parables pointedly avoided mentioning women, but Jesus often told stories relating to the life of women." (WS:WIB:48)

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Although Paul doesn't use a lot of stories, he doesn't shy away from stories or comparisons centered around women--cf. The comparison of Sarah and Hagar in Gal 4.21ff , or of HIMSELF and a mother--I Thess 2.7. He uses the same household 'yeast' metaphors as Jesus--I Cor 5; Gal 5. ]

    6. Jesus often spoke to women in public; Jewish men shunned this (Aboth 1:5)

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: This is fairly obvious, for Paul preaches to women in public consistently, speaks directly to them in cultic settings (Lydia), works with them in private homes (Priscilla), addresses them in his correspondence (Phil 4.2; Philemon 2). There seems to be no setting in which Paul does NOT address a woman!]

    7. Jesus conversed at length with the Samaritan woman (surprising even his disciples!); Rabbi's would not do so--Samaritan women were considered "perpetual menstuants"! (Niddah 4.1).

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Although Paul obviously traveled THROUGH Samaria (Acts 15.3), it does not give us any data one way or another on this matter.]

    8. Women were used as witnesses in the resurrection accounts; they were not allowed as witnesses (generally) under Rabbinic law [WS:JWGRP:163f].

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: The closest data we have to this type of situation is two-fold: (1) that Paul entrusted the 'official' letter-carrying task to a women (Phoebe, Rom 16.1-2; cf. The 'official' status of this role in Acts 15.22f ); and (2) the fact that he admitted women prophets! (I Cor 11.4). They were also called his 'co-workers'-- WS:WIC:84:

      They assisted in composing letters (Rom 16:22; I Thess 1:1), carried apostolic messages to local churches (1 Cor 4.17; 16:10-11), sought to encourage the believers on Paul's behalf (1 Thess 3:2), reported to Paul the status of congregations under his care (1 Thess 3:6) and even occasionally hosted house churches (1 Cor 16:19)...In view of this wide range of ministry, it would be ludicrous to deny that Paul's coworkers possessed authority in the churches (1 Cor 16:17-18)...a role which included the task of admonition (1 Thess 5:12)...Paul spoke readily of women, as well as men, as his coworkers.]
    9. He allowed women to follow Him in His travels and ministry. "Jesus, too, knowingly overthrew custom when he allowed women to follow him." (Jeremias, cited in WS:ATW:138)

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: We don't know a lot about Paul's traveling companions, but we do know that Priscilla and Aquilla accompanied him on at least one journey, and that he recognized that he could have taken a wife along with him (I Cor 9.5). Obviously Phoebe was with Paul when he dispatched her to Rome (Rom 16.1-2).]

    10. Jesus taught women freely, and sometimes in standard Rabbinical "style" (e.g. Luke 10.38-42). Brown summarizes this contrast well:
      Jesus' attitude contrasts with the sentiments of the rabbis. In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer declared, 'There is no wisdom in a woman except with the distaff.' One version adds, 'It is better that the words of the Law should be burned, than that they should be given to a women.' In the Mishnah the same rabbi made a similarly strong statement when he said 'If a man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery.' Jesus broke with rabbinical tradition when he taught women and included them among his followers (WS:ATW:143)
      [GLANCE AT PAUL: It is clear that teaching women was NOT a problem to Paul. The account in Acts 16 shows that he publicly taught women and baptized them.]

    11. "He never used women as negative examples, as was so common in rabbinical teaching. He referred to women positively and used illustrations from their everyday lives to teach spiritual truths." (WS:ATW:150).

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: The women Paul uses as examples are his co-workers; all highly favorable! E.g. Euodia & Syntche --"fought by his side" (Phil 4.3); Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom 16.12). What negative examples he DOES have are exactly paired with men--Rom 1.]

    12. Jesus accepted and valued women highly; the famous prayer of Rabbi Judah would not have been found on His lips: "Blessed be Thou for not having made me a Gentile, a woman, or an ignoramus." (Tosephta Berakoth 7, 18.)

      [GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul shatters the Rabbinic distinction in Gal 3.28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.. "Paul's statement in Galatians 3.28 is extraordinary for an ex-rabbi; it is very radical. The sexes are equal in salvation. Women have the same spiritual status before God as men. They are one in Christ." (WS:ATW:161).]

    This quick overview sets up an expectation that we will still see the positive values of Jesus toward women, reflected in the actions and attitudes of Paul.

  2. A Recent feminist assessment of Paul

    Let me quote from Rosemary Reuther (a very outspoken feminist theologian) who is drawing upon Elizabeth Fiorenza (a very outspoken feminist theologian). Neither of these could REMOTELY be called 'apologetically inclined' toward Paul(!):

    "It is generally assumed that Paul is the author of a Christianity of female subordination. But more recent studies have shown that the historical Paul in fact continued most of the assumptions and practices of early charismatic, inclusive Christianity. Indeed, most of the New Testament evidence that women functioned as local leaders, as well as traveling evangelists, is to be found in the Pauline letters. Paul addresses almost an equal number of women along with men (sixteen women and eighteen men) in his greetings to Church leaders in Romans 16. He mentions two women, Euodia and Syntche, as having preached the gospel "with Barnabas and me" in Philippians 4:2-3. He addresses a woman name Junia by the title of "apostle," and constantly refers to the husband and wife team, Priscilla and Aquila, as "Church leaders," usually naming Priscilla first. He also speaks of the prominent woman Phoebe by the title of both "deacon" and "prostasis" or leader, of her community.

    Paul received from the early Church both a practice of thus including women in the ministries of catechesis, prophecy, local Church leadership, and traveling evangelism (the role Paul calls that of "apostle"), and also a baptismal theology of male-female equivalence in Christ as reflected in the Galatians 3:28 reference. This formula was not original with Paul; he cites it from early Christian tradition. The Galatians baptismal text expresses the early Christian vision of the new humanity in Christ. It was consciously moulded to contrast with the traditions of rabbinic piety, adapted from Hellenistic philosophy, in which the Jewish male thanks God for having been born male and not female, free and not slave, and Jew rather than Gentile. By declaring that in Christ these divisions had been overcome and all these groups made "one," the early Christian stated the essence of his or her new identity as one where the equivalence of all humans in the image of God had been restored." (WS:WWR:212-213)


  3. Paul's working relationships with women in the Church

    Now, we have already seen in the section on Women's roles in the NT that Paul consistently utilized women as leaders in the early church, and called them by 'authoritative names' such as apostle, deacon, co-laborer, patron, 'hard worker'.

    We did NOT examine I Tim 3.11, but, depending on how one understands the word there for women, Paul COULD be talking about female elders. If the term is understood as 'wives', then the passage is silent on the issue; if the term is understood as 'women', then Paul is indicating women elders. (Note: the 'husband of one wife' text is NOT an issue, since standard writing usage for brevity allows that to count for BOTH wife/husband cases...Similar to how we say "brothers" instead of "brothers and sisters" every time.)

    Likewise, Titus 2.2-3 is sometimes understood as the qualifications for male/female elders (so RSV).

    We also saw that congregations were told to "submit" to such as these (I Cor 16.16)--indicating positions with significant authority.

    We also saw that he used Priscilla to play a major role in discipling/teaching the gifted Apollos.

    In short, we have plenty of historical data that demonstrates his rather 'unrestricted' official usage of women as partners in the early church; we have NO narrative or historical data that even slightly suggests that he refused to 'allow' women to serve in ANY capacity.

    We will need to keep this in mind when we look at the controversial passages.

  4. Controversial Pauline Passages

    There are three main passages that we need to examine here: I Cor 11.3-16, I Cor 14.33-40, and I Tim 2.11-15. And, although many, many books have been written about each of these--and the subject--they still remain three of the most obscure and disputed passages in the Pauline corpus. I will not be able to resolve these passages, but I can at least give the evidence that leads me to believe that they do NOT constitute a contradiction between Paul's approval of women teachers/leaders in practice, and his teaching about women in such roles in these passages. (Due to the intense nature of the current debate about this subject, this section will simply NOT be able to deal with the manifold objections to my view.)

    [There is another string of passages that are sometimes used to support a view that Paul restricted women from church leadership--the 'submit to your husband' verses (Eph 5.22; Col 3.18; Tit 2.). This is not a strictly Pauline injunction, of course, since it is also repeated by Peter in I Peter 3.1-6. Since it is sometimes understood/appealed to in support of the broader view that women should not have authority over men IN ANY SPHERE, I want to make some summary observations about this issue, and why it cannot be applied to church leadership positions.

    First, it obviously applies ONLY to married women--not widows, not the unmarried, not divorcees, not celibate. And correspondingly, any authority it imputes to males is ONLY TO MARRIED MEN. We have no reason to believe that marriage (and the survival of the spouse!) were qualifications of teaching positions (!!!!). We DO have POSITIVE evidence that it was NOT required--Paul, Timothy, Lydia, etc.

    Second, the word for 'submission' in those passages is VERY different that the words used for slaves and children. They are told specifically to 'obey'--the wife is told to 'be submissive to'. This is a subtle but real difference. For example, when Paul says in Ephesians 5.22 "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" and then RE-STATES it in 5.33 as "the wife must respect her husband.", the meaning seems clear--the issue is respect and civility. [You must remember that the liberating effect of the Christian freedom in Christ--Gal 3.28--occasionally created 'hyper-liberated' women who showed public contempt and mistreatment of their husbands.]

    Third, the Ephesians and Col. Passages are in the literary form of a "household code", but with a twist (so BBC:in loc): "Paul borrows this form of discussion straight from Greco-Roman moral writing. But unlike most ancient writers, Paul undermines the basic premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male head of the house." And, at the summary verse .33, BBC adds "Although ancient moralists expected wives to respect their husbands (and Jewish teachers also expected the reverse), moralists usually also emphasized the wife's 'obedience'; Paul's exhortation to wives here would thus strike most ancient readers as quite weak."

    Fourth, the "household code" is turned on its head by the intro in verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." BBC notes: "But although it was customary to call on wives, children and slaves to submit in various ways, to call all members of a group (including the paterfamilias, the male head of the household) to submit to one another was unheard-of." Verse 2--the call to MUTUAL submission--(the verb is 'shared' between 21 and 22, so there is no difference in quality) radically changes the nature of the household code.

    Fifth, the submission of wives to husbands was not on the basis of some gender-based authority; rather, it was a covenant-based relationship. So Wood, in EBC: "'As to the Lord' differs slightly from 'as is fitting in the Lord' in Colossians 3.18. In obeying her husband, the Christian wife is obeying the Lord who has sanctioned the marriage contract...The subjection, moreover, is voluntary, not forced. The Christian wife who promises to obey does so because her vow is 'as to the Lord'." Most marriage contracts had 'obedience' or 'submission' clauses in them, so in the context of a Christian marriage it was contract-based authority (i.e. the Lord) rather than gender-based authority that mattered.

    Sixth, the general tone of 'submission' verses for women is geared toward practical matters (and not more fundamental theological-authority issues). So, Titus 2.5: to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. and I Peter 3.1: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,. In such a way, they appeal to more culturally-oriented values of the non-Christians around the church. So, just as Paul would suppress personal 'rights' out of desire to further the work of Christ (e.g. I Cor 9.1ff; I Cor 9.22f), so took we should 'subject ourselves' to each other, to move the Kingdom farther.

    You must remember that submission and servanthood go hand-in-hand. Christ said that He came "not to be served, but to serve." His submission to the needs of others was CERTAINLY not based on some 'superiority' or 'authority' they had over Him(!), but a submission based on love and other-centered behavior. The NT is replete with such passages that enjoin us to such mutual submission (e.g. Rom 12.10b; I Peter 5.5b; Phil 2.3; Gal 5.13).

    Seventh, there are a couple of passages in which wives are either charged with authority over themselves, or men are explicitly stated as being in some form of subjection to wives. So, in I Cor 11.10, the Greek says "the woman ought to have authority over her own head." (The English versions add 'a sign of' to this, without the slightest evidence!) and in I Cor 7.4f: The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time,. This is rather clear--the wife has 'authority' over the husband's body--mutually.

    Eighth, in I Cor 6.3, Paul states that the "saints" will judge the world AND the angels! He makes no distinction between male and female in a FUTURE situation of overt authority. (NB: the word sometimes rendered 'men of little account' in verse. 4 is simply a participle--not a clause with the word 'men' in it. As a participle it has to have linguistic "gender", and is "masculine" in accordance with standard praxis of the day. If an author wanted to draw attention to men, he would not 'hide it' in a humble participial ending, but rather he would use the deliberate words for "men", "husband", etc.)

    Finally, 'submission within marriage' CANNOT be relevant to matters of church leadership, simply because (1) we KNOW of a husband-wife pair in which the woman was the dominant teacher (Priscilla); and (2) entire congregations were told to 'submit' to women leaders in I Cor 16.16: "submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work (synergounti), and labors (kopionti) at it." We have already seen that Paul refers to numerous women by these titles. In this latter case we have men OBVIOUSLY 'submitting' to women (not necessarily their wives). So whatever "submission" means (and it DOES imply obedience-under-God in certain passages--Rom 13. 5), it is mutual enough to apply in several different directions.

    It must also be noted that Paul was very familiar with OT history, and accordingly he would have known that many of the main women leaders there were married (e.g. Deborah the Judge, Huldah the prophetess).

    So, I personally have to conclude that although submission is a very, very real command to a wife, it would be false to restrict it to her or to impute the 'traditional' notions of 'obedience' or 'obey your husband, right or wrong' to that word. The very mutuality and grounding of the notion in the person of Christ, indicates that it is concerned with respect, putting other's needs first (cf. I cor 10.24: Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.), and generally 'fitting in' ENOUGH within the cultural context as to not hinder the work of Christ.]

    Now, on to the controversial passages...

    Remember, we are examining these passages to see how they relate SPECIFICALLY to church roles--especially LEADERSHIP/TEACHING roles...

    First up is I Cor 11.3-13:

    Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head -- it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

    1. Women were obviously allowed to prophesy in church

    2. Women were obviously allowed to pray audibly in church

    3. "Prophet" was an official position and was "2nd in rank" in the church, behind apostles and before teachers (I cor 12.28-29)

    4. The issue in the passage is some obscure point about head-coverings--NOT about women speaking in the church--and about people being contentious about it (v.16).

    5. We have already noted above that v.10 says a women should have (exercise?) authority over her own head. ["Paul means that she should exercise wisely her right to decide whether to cover her head in a way that will honor her husband..." BBC:in loc.]

    Now, even though the passage SUPPORTS women's speaking roles and 'authoritative speaking' roles, some have seen in the reference to 'headship' a basic male-over-female hierarchical subordination structure, as being ordained of God. Let me be quick to point out that EVEN IF THIS WERE SO, it would IN NO WAY negate the obvious fact that women were allowed (indeed, encouraged, when done in proper fashion) to function in worship. That fact remains unchanged in our text.

    But what about the 'head' thing? Perhaps another digression is warranted, given the controversy surrounding it.

    Some of the basic points first:

    1. "head" does NOT mean the same thing we mean by it in Western culture. From the standpoint of anatomical function, in Paul's day it was the 'heart' that made the decisions, guided life, etc. "Head" was much more the 'adornment department' of the body! In other words, when people wanted to make decisions, they used their heart; when they wanted to get all "gussied up" ["dressed up", for you colloquially-deprived readers ;>) ], they used their head (e.g. hair, makeup, jewelry). So, in the literature, the word translated 'head' here often shows up as 'crown' or 'excellence'. [Hence, its usefulness in the passage of I Cor 11.]

    2. The root notion was that of 'source', and from this usage it was applied to people--Zeus, Pharoah, the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes, Christ-with reference to the Church, man (Adam)--with reference to woman (Eve)....

    3. If an author wanted to make a point about AUTHORITY, he would use two specific words--exousia ("authority"; Matt 28.18, Rom 13.1-3) and/or archon ("ruler"; Rom 13.3). He only used 'head' when dealing with issues of origination, completion, consummation.

    4. In the passage under discussion, the only mention of the word 'authority' is in verse 10--and it is the women who possesses it!

    5. NONE of the SCORES of published lexicographers of ancient Greek even LIST "authority, ruler" as a meaning for this word (WS:WAB:97-110, 118-132). It only begins to show up with those minor usages after Constantine!

    6. Recent attempts to argue that the "source"-meanings PRESUPPOSE the "authority" meaning (a la Grundem) by restricting the locus of study to SPECIFIC persons, literally "exempt" this passage from the force of their arguments!

      For example, when it is argued that in thousands of cases in Greek literature, when 'head' is applied to a person (as opposed to river or something inanimate), it is only applied to a ruler; then I Cor 11 disappears from consideration--because the term in question is the generic noun 'man'--NOT a specific man! (And, if we agree that the man is Adam--agreeing for sake of argument that he had some authority over Eve--then the passage ONLY extends to the First Couple, and becomes only an illustration for Paul).

      A second problem is that, strictly speaking, it CANNOT mean 'authority' when applied to God and Christ in the passage--at the time Paul writes this. While that COULD have been a meaning during the Pre-Cross Incarnation, after the Exaltation Paul is clear that Christ has been given all authority, and that He will sometime in the future , 'give it back' to the Father (I Cor 15.24-28):

      Then the end will come, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
      [Also, it is not clear from the I Cor 11 passage that God the Father is in view--the more inclusive term 'God' may indicate that a source relationship is VERY intentional here. In other words, a 'source' motif--similar to adam-eve--would be more correct if it ran like this: "Godhead was the source of an enfleshed-Godperson".]

      Needless to say, the relationship between the Father's authority and the Son's authority is exceedingly complex(!), but we MUST proceed on the basis on the force of these passages.

    7. Additionally, it should be noted that, linguistically, one simply cannot move from an author's intention (e.g. using a word with a central meaning of 'source of origin, source of completion' AS OPPOSED TO a word with a central meaning of 'authority, ruler'), to some theoretical 'conclusion' that the author was consciously intending BOTH MEANINGS at the same time. This is certainly counter-intuitive (without an indication of a play on meanings--like physical-head and source-head in I Cor 11), and one that would require a large number of passages that made that linkage of concepts EXPLICIT and PART OF THE SEMANTIC substructure of the language. That the majority of cases in which a author used 'source' to describe a person who ALSO had 'authority' is oblique at best and irrelevant at worst, to the issue. What must be shown is that the preponderance of authors used the word 'head' without using the word 'authority, ruler' and DREW DIRECT IMPLICATIONS in the 'authority' sphere--NOT the spheres of honor, respect, similarity, continuity, homage, etc (spheres that would be implications of 'source or origin').

      And, when you have a semantic distance as great as between "source" and "authority" you MUST show how the literal meaning 'stretches' to the metaphorical meaning. "Fork in the road" can be derived from a physical fork, as can most other metaphorical extensions. In some cases, we know we can 'lose' the literal in favor of the metaphorical, but in this case BOTH USAGES co-exist in the literary data. It is incumbent, then, for someone to show how 'authority' can be an extension (in such a vast array of situations!) of "source" or "one who completes". It is not enough to cite statistical correlation.

    8. And finally, from a methodological standpoint, we could see this from the 'headship' passage in Ephesians. In linguistic studies, when you have a word which you do NOT know the meaning of, you try to decide from the invariable redundancy clues in the passage. If we didn't know what 'head' meant in Ephesians 5, and tried to figure out from the clues, we would decide that it meant something like 'servant'--one who saves, grooms, cleans, dresses, completes, protects, etc. We would NEVER come up with 'authority' from the actions and attributes of Christ in THAT passage! (He obviously has authority over His Bride, but it is not remotely in view in that passage.) But the literal notion of "that which completes" or "a major source of change" (i.e. "head"!) makes quite a lot of sense here. Simple inductive Bible study--without starting with a loaded meaning of 'head'--would yield something much more akin to 'active change agent' than 'ordained authority'...

    Thus, I have to conclude that 'head' does NOT entail authority, but rather is used to focus on organic union (e.g. Christ/Church, Husband/Wife) and source/completion (e.g Christ/New Creation) motifs. The lexical data is simply too overwhelming at this point AGAINST the equation of the two.

    So, I may not know what I Cor 11 means--relative to women wearing headgear other than hair at church, but I can tell from the passage what it does NOT mean! Women were obviously allowed to pray and prophesy in church, and were not commanded to 'be silent' at all. There is absolutely no restriction on women's roles (in worship at least) in this passage.

    Now, let's consider I Cor 14.33-36:

    For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Did the word of God originate with you?
    On the surface this looks really, really clear--this is a 'sit down and shut up' passage if there ever was one! "Silent in the churches"--what could be clearer than that?

    But let's look at this at little closer...

    So, where does this net out?

    My personal conviction is that Paul is quoting/refuting a mistaken position. The language, tone, style, textual context, historical context, and known facts about Corinth and Paul's praxis indicates this to me.

    This is essentially the same position taken by Fitzmyer:

    But even if I am mistaken, the most likely OTHER alternative [assuming that verses 34-35 are part of the original text--see Textual Note below] is that of "we do not have a clue what he meant"...It CANNOT mean 'universal silence in the churches'--for that contradicts MOST of the rest of the passage and the rest of the epistle (not to mention, known Pauline and early church practice). To turn it into a restriction on women from making any audible, articulate sounds in church is so against EVERY SCRAP of data we have--with the "exception" of I Tim 2, which we look at next(!). Exegetically, I just cannot see a strong and textually-consistent case for 'universal silence' from this passage.

    Interestingly enough, if it is a Pauline REFUTATION of 'universal silence' (as my argument above attempts to show is the best understanding of the text), then it ALSO will function as strong data we can use in our analysis of I Tim 2(!)...In other words, our understanding of I Tim 2 will need to take into consideration that Paul probably DISAGREEs with the position of women's silence--even from teaching and prophesying (e.g 14.26 and 11.5)--in the church!

    [Textual Note, added Nov 2012: Since writing this article in 1995, I have come to discover that some modern scholars do not believe that these two verses were part of Paul's original, in the same manner that the Woman Caught in Adultery in the gospel of John is not. Several respected scholars hold this position, even though the manuscript evidence is not very supportive.

    Without going into the technical details of their arguments, let me just cite their conclusions.

    First, Gordon Fee in the NICNT commentary:

    Second, this trend is noticed by more commentators:


  5. Now, let's consider I Timothy 2.11-14:

    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 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.
    Again, when we encounter this in English and with 20th-century Western-civi eyes, this looks relatively clear--but surely we have learned by now to pay attention to the textual and contextual details...

    So, what facts to we have to note first?

    1. Verse 11 is a non-issue, and actually provides limited evidence for preparation for a teaching ministry.
      The women are to "learn in silence." Despite the negative connotations this phrase brings to our ears, in the first century "silence" (hesychia) was a positive attribute. It did not necessarily entail "not speaking," as is evident in Paul's use of the word earlier in the chapter (I Tim 2.2; compare 2 Thess 3.12). Rather, it implied respect or lack of disagreement (as in Acts 11.18; 21.14). As a result, the rabbis and the early church fathers deemed quietness appropriate for rabbinical students, wise persons and even leaders." (WS:WIC:128)
      The phrase "in submission" is closely related to this notion, and together the two images call up the memory of Mary, "sitting at the feet of Jesus" in rabbinical student style (cf. Luke 10.39).

      The interesting thing about this is that this was used of "future or current teachers"! Rabbincal students were generally preparing for a teaching ministry, 'wise men' and 'leaders' ALREADY were in teaching/authority roles. So, the very cast that this imperative is set in suggests a FUTURE teaching ministry for those women who learned in the proper fashion of students.

      The "learning/teach others" cycle is 'standard' in Paul: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who (nb: generic 'anthropos') will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim 2.2).

      This becomes a bit more obvious when we compare the 'life-style' teaching given women in more traditional roles (Titus 2.4-5: Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.). There seems to be a sort of 'teacher-track' in view in I Tim 2, and a 'lay person' track in the Titus passage.

    2. When we look at verse 12, we run into a MAJOR exegetical uncertainty:

      • The verb translated as "exercise authority over" (authenteo) is only used here in the NT, and its meaning is HOTLY contested.

        TWO things that ARE sure about its meaning--it is NOT the normal word for "authority" (exousia), "exercising authority" (exousiazo), or "power" (kyrieuo); and it is NOT a 'good' thing (suitable for ANYONE to do--even males!)...so Scholer in WS:WAB:204-205:

        Another factor basic to the interpretation of 2.11-12 concerns Paul's use of the unusual word authentein (translated "to have authority over" RSV) in the second injunction (2:12). This is the only occurrence of this word in Paul's writings and, indeed, in the entire New Testament. The word is not frequently used in ancient Greek literature. The precise meaning of authentein and its use in 2:12 cannot be completely resolved at this time; scholars are currently in an extended debate on the issue.

        Traditionally, authentein has been understood to connote a sense of "domineer" or "to usurp authority" and the term is even associated with murder. Although not all of the evidence and arguments have been fully assessed, two points seem relatively certain. First, the term is unusual. If Paul were referring to the normal exercise of authority, his otherwise constant exousia/exousiazo ("authority/to exercise authority") vocabulary would most likely have been used. The choice of such an unusual term itself indicates that Paul intended a different nuance or meaning. Second,...many uses of the term seem rather clearly to carry the negative sense of "domineer" or "usurp authority." Thus I see the injunctions of 2:11-12 as directed against women involved in false teaching who have abused proper exercise of authority in the church (not denied by Paul elsewhere to women) by usurpation and domination of the male leaders and teachers in the church at Ephesus.

        It is VERY important to point out here that it is PURE FOLLY to base an entire doctrine affecting half the human race (!)--"women should not have authority over men"--on the basis of ONE SINGLE VERSE, and even worse--a single verse where the most important verb is (1) unusual; (2) negative; and (3) not even understood clearly!

        Strictly speaking, given this cautionary note, we SHOULD BE able to rest the matter here, but I would like to at least probe a bit further to discover other dynamics in the passage that will either (1) illumine the argumentation somewhat or (2) circumscribe the application of the passage in keeping with the historical context.

      • The word 'teach' in the verse ("neither teach nor authentein a man") has a major issue associated with it, as well...

        The verb is TOO 'big" to NOT be radically restricted in scope by whatever authentein means.

        The situation is this. "Teach" takes an object in the accusative case and authentein takes an object in the genitive case. "Man" is in the genitive case, and is therefore the object of authentein. That means that 'teach' (unless it is 'connected' tightly to authentein) is UNRESTRICTED in scope. Paul would be prohibiting women from teaching anybody at any time--in direct contradiction to his plentiful commands for believers to teach/instruct/train each other (e.g. Tit 2.4; 1 Cor 14.26; Col 3.16). So the scope of the application must be limited somewhat in the context.

        We have two streams of data that indicate 'qualification' on this verb: (1) the "pairings" in I Timothy and (2) the conjunctions used.

        (1) The "pairings" data concerns the fact that the verb 'teach' is ALWAYS matched with another verb in I Timothy, which qualifies, hones, circumscribes its range. The cases are in 1.3-4; 4.11; 6.2b. This would mean that the 'teach' is somehow narrowed to 'revolutionary' or 'out-of-order' or 'disruptive' or 'destructive' teaching.

        (2) The "conjunction" data concerns the fact that there is a 'but' between verse 11 and 12. So, we have Paul saying something like "Let the women study/learn as proper students...BUT I am not (currently) letting them (the students, having been under the influence of the false teachers--cf. 1.4-7; 5.13; 2 Tim 3.6) teach nor letting them 'overthrow' their teachers (until they are ready--cf. 2 Tim 2.2)". [The fact that 'teach' is present, active, indicative is indecisive as to whether it is a short-term or long-term command--the data is very divided in the extant literature.]

        We also have the conjunction oude ("nor") connecting 'teach' and authentein. This conjunction often connects 'pairs' that mutually qualify one another. In this case, Kroeger (WS:ISNW:84) gives an illustration of how this would look: "I forbid a woman to teach or discuss differential calculus with a man"--the SUBJECT MATTER radically orients the range/scope of the 'teach' word.

        Now, if we are dependent on authentein to clarify the meaning/scope of 'teach', and if we do not know what authentein means, then we sort of 'stuck'. The historical context suggests some limits, and the disruptive/destructive nature of authentein suggests some limits, but we need to keep looking for clues.

      • The word "man" in the authentein clause seems suggestive in context.

        This appears to be a very gender-specific word (andros), suggesting that authentein was ONLY DIRECTED (whatever it was) at MEN--not at WOMEN. And, since the passage is apparently ABOUT women, we have women authentein-ing MEN only. Since there had been or were godly women teachers already in Ephesus (e.g. Priscilla and the deaconesses of 3.11), this would make a case that the immodest (3.9), gaudy (3.9), self-righteous (3.10b), unlearned (3.11), and disruptive (3.11) women under discussion in 2.9-15 (no doubt a subset of the women in Ephesus, 3.11; 5.2-9) were SPECIFICALLY teaching something about MEN that led them to seek to authentein them.

    3. When we look at the passage in a bigger context, do we have anything in the text/context/historical setting that might give us a clue as to either WHAT the anti-male teaching was, or WHY there was anti-male teaching/activity?


      • textual clues:

        First, the identical phrase "in quietness" BRACKETS the section on learning/teaching/authentein. This creates a 'packet' that stands alone. This suggests that the following data in verses 13-15 is not a critical support for the argument inside the bracket, but might be illustrative. If authentein is an obviously negative term, and if disruptive or out-of-order learning is commonly disapproved of as well, then Paul NEEDS NO SUPPORT for the 'packet'--his readership does not NEED any evidence or argument--they would ALREADY agree with him.

        What they MIGHT need is some clarification of what SPECIFIC items of the teaching of these women would be objectionable to the Apostle Paul. And hence, perhaps 13-15 is an illustration of the false, anti-male teachings of these females who 'professed themselves to be godly'.

        Second, the conjunction connecting vs. 13 and vs. 12 is a 'weak' one--gar. This conjunction CAN mean 'because' (as the traditional interpretation of the verse understands it), but that is a less pervasive translation than the softer "for". (The 'normal' word for 'because'--in the sense of supporting argument--is hoti). Gar can easily be understood as illustrative or explanatory--cf. Rom 7.2, "for example"=gar.)

        In this case, it could either be an example of (1) the teaching and the authentein-ing; or (2) of the consequences of women NOT BEING TAUGHT, and therefore, vulnerable to the false teaching of evil men. And, since only the "middle" part--about the deception of Eve--makes sense relative to (2), I think (1) makes considerably more sense in the context.

        This would allow us to understand the contents of 13-15 as semi-rebuttals of the false teaching. Paul's points in verses 13-15 look something like this:

        • Adam was created before Eve
        • It was NOT Adam who was deceived, but Eve.
        • Childbearing is important and good

        IF, therefore, these are the rebuttals, what would the false teaching look like?

        • Eve was created before Adam (or at the same time?)
        • Adam was deceived; Eve was not.
        • Childbearing is 'bad'

        Another clue that Paul is only using the material in 13ff as ILLUSTRATIVE rather than DOCTRINALLY NORMATIVE comes from his use of the "Eve/Deception" motif.

        That Paul is selective in his use of Eve in 1 Timothy 2:14 seems clear from at least three other Pauline texts. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Eve's deception is a negative model, warning all Corinthian believers--men and women--against false teaching. This shows that Paul did not limit Eve's deceivability to women. In both Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, the apostle attributes sin and death to Adam, not Eve. (WS:WAB:210; cf. also BBC:in. loc.)
        What is curious about this text, however, is that Paul does not draw any implication/message from it--he doesn't issue a command. It is like he is only stating the proposition ITSELF (as if the content itself is the issue).

      • contextual clues:

        Our approach here is to find statements and descriptives about the false teaching that was apparently being taught by men, and held to/taught by certain women.

        1. "It seems certain from 2:9-15, 5:11-15, and 2 Timothy 3:6-7 that these [false teachers] have had considerable influence among some women, especially some younger widows, who according to 2 Timothy 3:6-7 have opened their homes to these teachings, and according to 1 Timothy 5:13 have themselves become propagators of the new teachings" (Fee, cited in WS:ISNW:62)

        2. it involved speaking nonsense or babbling (5.13) perhaps magic (translated as 'busybodies' in the text)

        3. I Tim 4.7 uses the phrases "myths" and "old women" as purveyors of them.

        4. I Tim 1.4 uses the phrase "myth" and "endless genealogies"

        5. I Tim 1.7 associates it with a strange view of the 'law'

        6. I Tim 4.3 show that they were anti-marriage and 4.4 that they were anti-creation.

        7. I Tim 5.14 suggests that the false teachers were both anti-marriage and anti-childbearing.

        8. I Tim 2.5 points out that there is "ONE mediator between God and Man"

        9. It also points out that there is only ONE God!

        Knight (NIGTC, p. 11) summarizes the false teaching in the Pastorals:
        The false teachers are characterized by an interest in myths (I Tim 1:4; 4:7; Tit. 1:14; 2 Tim. 4:4) and genealogies (I Tim. 1:4; Tit. 3:9), a concern with the law or a Jewish orientation (I Tim. 1:7; Tit. 1:10, 14; 3:9), an interest in "antitheses" that they identify as "knowledge" (1 Tim. 6:20), a tendency toward controversy, argumentation, and speculation (1 Tim. 1:4, 6: 6:4, 20; Tit. 1:10; 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:14, 16,23), deceptiveness (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Tit. 1:10-13: 2 Tim 3:6ff., especially v.13), immorality ( 1 Tim. 1:19, 20; Tit. 1:15, 16; 2 Ti. 2:16, 19; ch. 3), and desire to get material gain by means of their teaching (1 Tim. 6:5; Tit. 1:11; 2 Tim. 3:2, 4).
      • The historical setting:

        1. Ephesus was legended to have been founded by the Amazons in the 12-13 centuries BC (ISBE, s.v. "Ephesus"), and maintained one of the strongest goddess worship centers in history (WS:ISNW:47-54). This was worship of the Great Mother or maternal principle, who allegedly gave birth to both humans and the gods.

        2. "By the mid-third century B.C.E. Ephesus and surrounding parts of Ionia were already inhabited by Jews; and in the first century BCE, a vigorous Jewish community was able to contend successfully for its civil rights. The Jewish population may have numbered as many as seventy-five thousand persons. Many lamps bearing an inscribed menorah have been recovered, and there is evidence of the involvement of Ephesisan Jews in magic. The Jews of Asia Minor, especially those Phyrgia, had assimilated much of the culture of their surroundings, so that there was a saying, "the baths and wines of Phrygia separated the Ten Tribes from their brethren." Certain elements of Judaism, especially the biblical stories, were adopted by the larger society. At Apameia, coins minted in the reigns of three successive rulers showed Noah's ark. The legend above the box-like ark says "Noah"; but the two persons standing outside the ark indicate that the biblical account has been embellished, perhaps from the Greek flood story of Deucalion and Pyrrha." (WS:ISNW:54-55)

        3. "From the earliest times in Anatolia, female religious officials known as 'old women' kept alive the ancient myths." (WS:ISNW:64).

        4. "These Jewish myths or stories cannot be the traditional biblical sotires, for again and again the writer maintains that wrong teaching must be combatted with the use of Scripture...Ancient writers attest that distorted stories, including perversions of the Adam and Eve saga, were already circulating in the first century of the common era. Recent scholarship suggests that Gnostic-like myths opposed to traditional biblical values may have been afloat in Alexandria as early as the second or first century before Christ. Philo, who died in CE 45, utilizes the very theme which was to draw rebuttal by Paul; namely, mythologizing Eve as the one who brings knowledge and meaningful life to Adam" (WS:ISNW:65)

        5. Full-blown Gnosticism will not emerge for another two centuries, but that a proto-Gnosticism, pre-Christian, perhaps Jewish in basis, circulated in the 1st century AD seems almost certain--the evidence we have "points not to the great Gnostic systems, but rather to a kind of Judaizing Gnosticism...as is found elsewhere" (Dibelius-Conzelmann, cited in NIGTC:28) and "there is no need...to look outside the first century, or indeed the span of Paul's life, for such an amalgam of Jewish and Gnostic traits in the Levant" (Hanson, cited in NIGTC:28).

        6. The type of reverse-Bible story we have in the passage (that Eve was created first; and that Adam was the one deceived) is obviously a distortion of an OT teaching, in keeping with pre-Christian expansions/reversal stories of the time.

        7. Expansions, embellishments, and even 'corrections' to the Biblical stories show up often in the Intertestamental literature--most notably the Pseudepigrapha. These do not necessarily represent "Gnostic-type" currents of thought, but they do demonstrate that people in various situations would 'change the biblical stories' for their purposes. [WS:EWEC:93-130; WS:WLT:67-82; 107-126; 145ff]

        8. The cult of Artemis, the main revenue-generator and "claim to fame" for the city, was particularly woman-centered and immoral (ZPEB, s.v. "Ephesus"):
          When the son of Codrus, last king of Athens, founded the city, he placed his colonists near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks, following the religious syncretism common in the ancient worlds, called after their own goddess Artemis. This was perhaps in the 10th, 11th, or 12th cent. B.C., so uncertain are dates in this borderland of legend and history. The cult thus recognized was that of a nature-goddess, associated with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution.
        9. The success of Paul's ministry at Ephesus would no doubt have included some of the priestesses of Artemis (cf. the story of the burning of incantation scrolls by cult practitioners in Acts 19.19). Mickelsen (cited in WS: WIC: 126) shows how these might be in view in a number of the textual situations:
          In Ephesus with its huge temple to the goddess Artemis were hundreds of sacred priestesses who probably also served as sacred prostitutes. There were also hundreds of hetaerae, the most educated of Greek women who were the regular companions and often the extramarital sexual partners of upper-class Greek men. Possibly some of these women had been converted and were wearing their suggestive and expensive clothing to church. Since hetaerae were often respected teachers of men in Greece (many are named in Greek literature), they would be more likely to become teachers after they became part of the church.
          Paul, of course, had lectured in a Greek secular school for two years there (Acts 19.9), and if the pattern was anything like that in Athens (Acts 17.34), educated women were probably there and were converted under his teaching.

        10. The earliest strands of proto-gnostic and proto-mystery religions we know of had the characteristics of the false teaching in the Pastorals: nonsense syllables, ritual immorality, belief that the woman (variously Eve or other primal female figures) was the source of /origination of the man, belief that this primal Woman was NOT deceived but rather 'enlightened' by the Serpent--and subsequently 'enlightened' the deceived male; obsession with spiritual genealogies, and prohibition against marriage and childbirth.

          [Cf. the childbearing issue, held up as 'good' in 1 tim 2.15 and elsewhere (WS:WAB:243): "If the passage is a reaction to a proto-Gnostic type of teaching, verse 15 becomes more comprehensible. Childbearing and marriage were forbidden by certain Gnostic groups because they pulled the soul-atoms back into material bodies instead of liberating them to ascend to their ultimate source."]

      • Okay, so it LOOKS LIKE Paul is trying to stop a dangerous heresy, by (1) forbidding women from teaching/authentein-ing "proto-something's" counter-biblical views relative to adam/eve/marriage/etc., and by (2) aggressive instruction for women, who could at some point help deal with the issue--esp. among the younger widows.

    4. Now, given this overall pattern in the verse, do we have ANY LEXICAL DATA about authentein that would make sense in this context?

      Apparently so.

      The lexical work of Kroeger (WS:WAB:225-244) and Kroeger/Kroeger (WS: ISNW:87-104), although complex, documents one important strand of meaning as being "to proclaim as the originator or source of something" (op.cit.). Liefeld summarizes Kroeger in WS:WAB:246: "If Kroeger's understanding of authenteo is correct, the most straightforward translation of the verse would be, 'I do not permit a women to teach or to declare herself the originator of man.'"

      WS:ISNW:103 states it thus: "If we were to read 1 Timothy 2:12 as 'I do not allow a women to teach nor to proclaim herself author of man,' we can understand the content of the forbidden teaching as being the notion that woman was somehow responsible for the creation of man."

      And elsewhere: "I do not permit woman to teach nor to represent herself as originator of man but she is to be in [peaceful] conformity [ with the Scriptures, as a respectful student]. For Adam was first formed, then Eve..."

    This claim to origination was not just some genealogical quibble--the gnostics claimed that their origination gave them access to a 'purer' stream of revelation, truth, and 'knowledge' than the apostolic circles. This was not a trivial matter--but an issue that would radically affect how the church approached the issue of community truth.

    Now, if we try to peace this together, certain things seem to emerge:

    What this would mean for our study, is that this passage does NOT restrict women's role in the early church, but only the roles of FALSE TEACHERS--in this case, with the special case of women heretics.

    Remember also the I Cor 14 passage...If I was correct in my understanding of that, then Paul's scope of the 'not teaching' is ALREADY restricted to a VERY specific context confronting the Ephesians. He, accordingly, could not be issuing a 'gag order' without contradicting his earlier argumentation in I Corinthians (assuming that he had not changed his mind for some reason, of course, but we have no reason to assume that.).

    Now, in case I am wrong about this, the NEXT MOST LIKELY understanding of this verse (maybe even the preferred understanding, at the time of this update) keys off of another translation of authenteo, namely, "to domineer" or to "violently wrest authority from". Under this alternative interpretation, the error was not the 'having authority' (remember, that would have normally used Paul's "standard" authority words) but for "overthrow" or creating imbalance. Men and women were supposed to be 'co-rulers'; to "push the man off the platform and take it alone" is just as bad an error as "not getting up there" when you should be there! It is much more difficult to make sense of the adam/eve verses that follow that instruction, in my opinion, and the childbearing verse is extremely difficult to understand.

    We can see support for this latter position in recent commentaries:

[Note: these are complicated and difficult passages. I have indicated above 'where I came out' in my study of them. For the reader that would like to study the detailed arguments pro-and-con and all of the exegetical options, I suggest these books from my abbreviations list (all with the WS: prefix): ATW, EWEC, FAB, ISNW, WAB, WBC, WIB, WIC, WIM, WWWP. For the best (IMO) arguments AGAINST most of my views, the reader can check out the articles and book lists offered at Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.]


Paul is known as "the Apostle of Liberty." He was converted overnight from a legalistic, persecuting, pharisaic rabbi to a preacher of freedom in Christ, equality within the Body, of universal giftedness of the Spirit, to mutual submission after the model of the "meekness and gentleness of Christ."

His actions showed that his understanding of male and female alike was informed by the radical position we have in Christ. His practice and his words alike encourage ALL to accept the 'yoke' of service to the Master Servant of All...He consistently 'stays after women' to learn and grow and use their gifts for His precious Lord...He instructs his disciples to make sure that they are taught and utilized in the Body...He praises them in his letters for their faithfulness and hard work and 'co-laboring' with him...

This man's vision of women was re-created by the grace of God...would that we see what he saw, and live as consistently...

glenn miller, 1/25/97

The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)