Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Be careful with 1 Timothy 2:12: It may not be as complementarian as some want it to be

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12)

I just read through a syntactical study widely regarded (even by its critics) as the most convincing work that argues for 1 Tim 2:12 to be understood as how a complementarian sees it ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man") and not as how an egalitarian sees it ("I do not permit a woman to falsely teach in domineering manner over a man").

It is written by Andreas Köstenberger, a complementarian. This position simply means the affirmation "that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men." 

The whole article is here. A summary is here.

I must say it is really a good and detailed study!

What caught my attention is his careful qualification in the study's conclusion. He made it very clear that the reason behind the instruction "do not permit a woman teach or to exercise authority over a man" is due to the church's specific circumstances. He was so careful to qualify this that he repeated it a few times in his conclusion as follow (pp.281-282, emphasis added):
 3. A distinction should be made between the fact that two activities or concepts are viewed positively in and of themselves and that they may be prohibited due to circumstances. [...]

4. 1 Tim 2:12 can legitimately be seen as an example of the first pattern, i.e. the denial of two activities which are viewed positively in and of themselves, under contextually adduced circumstances. [...]

5. [...] Thus 1 Tim 2:12 is an instance of the first pattern where the exercise of two activities is prohibited or the existence of two concepts is denied by the writer due to certain circumstances. [...]
It is clear that Köstenberger thinks that the instruction to disallow women to teach and exercise authority over men in 1 Tim 2:12 is due to the circumstances facing the congregation at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) at that time.

As we know, Ephesus was where the powerful Artemis/Diana cult located at that time. This cult revolved around high priestesses and hence promoted a form of women superiority over men.

If this is the case, then Paul's instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 is specifically dealing with the religious-cultural circumstances of the Ephesian church at that time. Probably the women in the Ephesian congregation have adopted some of the pattern of the Artemis cult.

If so, whether can the circumstantial instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 be applied universally for all contexts (e.g. 21st century Singapore's churches) needs much more further investigation so that we don't misapply (or worse, abuse) the Scripture. 

If this is followed, then the suggestion that Paul's instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 should be universally applicable must not be too readily accepted as plain truth.

Nonetheless, one may say that precisely because the Ephesian women have overturned the order in the Church---as influenced by the Artemis cult---that Paul needed to remind them of the complementary position, which is the correct order.

Even so, one still need to demonstrate whether did Paul meant his instruction to be universally applicable or should it be only applicable to the Ephesian congregation at that time, within that context.

If one chooses to think that 1 Tim 2:12 is universal, then one has to deal with 1 Tim 2:15, "But women will be saved through childbearing". Should this also be universal?

I'll discuss this in another post.


onegodonemaster said...

Good post. Bizarrely enough, I looked at the photo in the article and thought, "Is Joshua an Anglican?" I think your fondness for Rowan Williams contributed to the thought appearing, although both these things are totally irrelevant to the question that popped into my head. Signs of poorly directed trains of thought. - Soo Tian

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Soo Tian,

LOL.. My membership is not with Anglican. :)