Men, Religion, and Shaky Scholarship


1 Timothy 2:11-12  Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

“…A friend of Xenophon’s described his ideal marriage partner this way: “She was not yet fifteen when I introduced her to my house, and she had been brought up always under the strictest supervision; as far as could be managed, she had not been allowed to see anything, hear anything or ask any questions.” Bristow, John T.. What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love (p. 7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is what Paul was dealing with when he wrote that passage in Timothy.  He was writing to a Greek community where the women were purposely required to be abjectly ignorant.  He was writing to a world where philosophers waxed poetic that women did not even have souls. They did not think women had the intellect to read a book, let alone teach about Christ.

I am in the middle of an argument with someone who means well.  He is an Baptist minister who strongly believes women are not to have a teaching roll inside the church and cannot teach men.  He’s also currently ‘aggravated’ with me because I dared tell a young woman that Christ did not teach women were not to be teachers and ministers.  So, I’m a heretic because I disagree with his version of Timothy.

Without being a total jerk, I have a problem with this approach.  First, I think women are the equal to men.  I don’t want to do anything to screw up his faith.  That is something which is wrong.  But – his party-line approach against women being ministers is hurting this young woman.  I feel sorry for her.

Me and my big mouth…

I explained the context of the passage in Timothy.  I have a very real problem with anyone who thinks they are a ‘minister’ and don’t know their history.  You can’t be a teacher of any subject and do it from ignorance.  The historical context and sociology of the Bible are incredibly important. It’s like reading up on manna, to learn that it caused chronic constipation.  No wonder the Children of Israel (Jacob) spent forty years bitching while they wandered around the desert.  When you realize there were at least a million of them, and the column of travelers stretched for a hundred miles, well, if they were not chronically constipated, the human waste would be the stuff of nightmares.

Context is everything…

“… I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God…” 1 Timothy 2:8-10

Paul was first and foremost a Roman.  He was a Roman citizen and probably an attorney.  He knew the law.  As with any goodly Roman of his era, Augustus Caesar was to Paul what Ronald Reagan is to Rush Limbaugh.  Get it?

Paul, if he indeed wrote Timothy, and I don’t think he did, needs to be understood in context.  First, Paul never said, anywhere, that women were to be silent in church.  The passage was added later, and not written by Paul.  Further, it MUST be taken in context.  Todd D. Still (PhD, University of Glasgow) is William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas wrote the following.

“…Where does this comparative study leave us? In a pleasant, if unexpected, place. It likely comes as little to no surprise that Jesus affirmed the dignity of women, treating them as individuals created in the divine image, and that women played a pivotal role both in Jesus’s earthly and post-resurrection ministries. It may, however, come as a surprise to some that Paul’s calling of women/wives to silence and submission is tempered, if not trumped or interpreted, by his affirmation of mutuality and equality of women and wives in marriage and ministry.

Both Jesus and Paul, then, affirmed women in principle and practice. Paul’s prohibitions and restrictions, I would contend, may be at most occasional exceptions to this general rule. As such, they would be contextual, not continual; time-bound troubleshooting, not timeless guidelines; a chapter in a book, but not the entire story. More often than not, there is inclusion and embrace, and it is this trajectory that we trace.21 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27–28)….”

Why is this important?  It’s all about biblical hermeneutics, which is… “the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics which involves the study of principles of interpretation for all forms of communication, nonverbal and verbal…”

So, once again, the women of Ephesus were Greek.  Unfortunately, Greek women were not the same as Roman women.  I know, it’s all ancient history and who cares?



Roman women were well educated.  They were allowed to be in business.  They could own property.  They could not actively be in politics, but they sure did meddle. They had quite a bit of power to the point where Augustus tried to reign them in, and try to get them to be more traditional.  Greek women lived much differently.

“…For in real life, respectable Greek wives led a completely secluded life. They took no part in public affairs, never appearing at meals or at social occasions. Recreation was severely limited for them, as were social contacts. Athenian men enjoyed outdoor sports and frequented the agora, the marketplace, which served as the center of city life and communication. Women were excluded from both. The ideal Athenian woman, according to Xenophon, a disciple of Socrates, was one who “might see as little as possible, hear as little as possible, and ask as little as possible.” Even conversation between husband and wife was neither valued nor expected. “Is there anyone to whom you entrust more serious matters than to your wife,” Socrates asked Athenian men, “and is there anyone to whom you talk less?…” (p. 5)

“…Aristotle thus laid a lasting philosophical foundation for the notion that females are inferior to males. He formalized the practice of sexual discrimination and offered learned authority to the belief in sexual inequality. Centuries later, church leaders who themselves were a product of Greek culture and education interpreted Paul’s writings from the perspective of Aristotelian philosophy, even to the point of assuming that when Paul wrote of the husband being head of the wife, he was simply restating Aristotle’s analogy of the husband being to his wife like one’s soul to one’s body. As will be seen, a careful reading of what Paul wrote demonstrates that this apostle was actually challenging Aristotle’s idea instead of supporting it….” (p. 6-7)

This is why Biblical hermeneutics are important.  If you don’t know the historical and sociological context of how Greek women were treated compared to Roman and even Jewish women, you then think that Paul is banning women from the ministry. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I suspect, considering the later influence of Greek philosophers, who hated women, the very idea of preventing women from being ministers, based on pagan ideas is heresy.

Bristow, John T.. What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love  HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.