A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VII : 1Timothy 2:9-15)

I don’t know what I was thinking running this skimpy post; it’s like I was being lazy and quick. But, going back through this portion, I see that more needs to be said and  teased out to give you, the reader, a better understanding into why Paul is saying some of these things and the meaning behind what he’s saying. So, let me try writing this post again…

For information about the difference between the letters to persons and the letters to churches, click here; the intro to that post will provide you with information I should’ve provided here.

1 Tim. 2:8-15

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

To note, Timothy is serving in Ephesus. For a brief history of the cultural situation of Ephesus, click here.

v.8 I’ve included verse 8 in this post even though it doesn’t particularly deal with women specifically. Verse 8 shows us that what follows in vv. 9-15 is part of a larger concern: behavior in the public worship assembly (Towner). When we forget that it’s part of a larger passage dealing with a bigger concept and ONLY focus on what Paul says to women, we will, in my opinion, forgo a richer reading of the text, we’ll miss out on Paul’s main concern and open ourselves up to seeing Paul strictly in a misogynistic light or we’ll create blanket statements/laws about women and what they should be wearing at all times.  “[T]his span of text  is not an addendum treating a separate topic; it occurs within the textual frame indicated by the key ethical term ‘propriety’ in vv. 9 and 15…and within the cultural frame of the expectations governing the behavior of women in public” (Towner 190). Why does Paul care so much about propriety of women (and men) withing the worship service? Let me quote Towner,

The point is this: the activities that combined to forma Christian worship meeting were essentially, therefore, public, and it is precisely the public nature of the activities addressed in 2:8-15 and the reactions of observing outsiders that concerned Paul (191

It may have been mentioned elsewhere in this series, but, nonetheless, it bears being repeated: the worship services typically occurred in houses, and in the common gathering area of the house which was visible (very visible) from the street. Outsiders could easily witness a Christian worship service. So, for Paul, any aspect of the worshipers or the worshiping that would have had deleterious effects on the proclamation of the Gospel was quashed as fast as possible through exhortation. So, when we isolate the passage on women from this overarching point, we will not only be subjecting ourselves and others to horrible eisegesis, but also losing out on the rather egalitarian and progressive trajectory of Paul’s teaching. We’ll take something that’s relatively descriptive and make it prescriptive <—that always causes problems!

So, on to the body of our text

vv. 9-10.  Interestingly enough (at least to me) is that our pericope starting at v.9 starts with the word: “likewise.” And, grammatically, is not really a new thought. Why is this interesting? I’ll tell you: it means that the verbal idea of the previous statement (in v.8) should be carried over into v.9.

The housecode transition marker, ‘likewise’…shifts attention to the second member of the pair. At the same time, it requires that the previous verb of command (‘I wish’), or possibly the larger verbal idea including ‘prayer,’ be carried over. IN the latter case, the assumption is that the unifying or thematic factor is ‘prayer,’ so that Paul is ultimately concerned with the manner and outward demeanor in which this activity is carried out in the worship meeting by both men and women (Towner 204).

It’s also important to note that both vv. 9 and 15 have contain the word that is translated as “propriety” or “self-control.” So, our passive (vv. 9-15) is bracketed by the exhortation for women to have “self-control,” as if the exhortation is not to give into the New Roman Woman’s pagan pull of fashions, fads, and fancies. As noted in an earlier post, one of the feminine virtues of the Greco-Roman woman was “self-control.”  Winter writes,

 

[v.]9…requires the wife to adorn herself with that great Roman feminine virtue of ‘chastity’ or ‘self-control’ that is often translated as ‘moderation’ … the Latin equivalent being prudential.  It was the cardinal virtue for women in the ancient world.  Phintys, in a treatise ‘on Woman’s Moderation’, wrote, ‘The virtue most appropriate to a woman is self-control … because the author argued that it enabled her to love and honour her husband.  This was the virtue that epitomized the discreet matron and was lauded on the tombstones of women (Winter 102).

Self-control provided a realm in which women, within the society, were to operate to their fullest; Paul’s intent is to provide a freedom from the entrapments of society. Towner offers,

The importance of ‘self-control’ in the present discussion can be seen from the way it brackets this parenesis to women…moreover, its currency in the secular discourse gives it double value for Paul, who with it calls Christian wives away from the popular [New Roman Woman] movement and to an expression of Christian life that is chracaterized by Spirit-inspired ‘self-control’ (206).

Winter offers his reader a portion of a letter from Seneca to his mother (A.D. 41-49), which provides a good example of the proper 1 Tim. 2 woman,

‘Unchastity, the greatest evil of our time, has never classed you with the great majority of women.  Jewels have not moved you, nor pearls…you have not been perverted by the imitation of worse kind of women that leads even the virtuous into pitfalls….You have never blushed for the number of children, as if it mocked your age….You never tried to conceal your pregnancy as through it was indecent, nor have you crushed the hope of children that were being nurtured in your body.  You have never defiled your face with paints and cosmetics.  Never have you fancied the kind of dress the exposed no greater nakedness by being removed.  Your only ornament, the kind of beauty that time does not tarnish, is the great honour of modesty (Winter 98).

Plutarch praises his wife who lived a ‘discreet’ life, “Your plainness of attire and sober style of living without exception amazed every philosopher who has shared our society and intimacy; neither is there any townsman of ours to whom you do not offer another spectacle—your own simplicity” (Winter 106-7).  Winter writes, “Seneca…bears witness to the great social pressure that these new mores [of the New Roman Woman] exerted on his mother and other modest wives in the time of Claudius” (Winter 99).  Commenting on the hetairai (Shameful Woman), Winter writes, “McGinn has documented the immodest dresses, outlandish hairstyles, and lavish jewellery including gold and pearls which distinguished the hetairai from the modest wives in first-century society….” (Winter 100).

To ensure that women would comprehend (and obey) how to dress and wear their hair, Roman Society, in response to the New Roman Woman, displayed statues, “…which epitomized the modest wife and were worn by members of the imperial family.  These statues were replicated through the Empire and represented ‘fashion icons’ to be copied by modest married women.  Juvenal confirms this when he asks, ‘What woman will not follow when an empress leads the way?’” (Winter 104).  Along with clothing and hair, jewelry was also to be worn in moderation, quoting Juvenal, Winter offers his reader, “There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircled her neck with green emeralds, and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears….” (Winter 104).  Also, “The law of Syracusans had stipulated that ‘a woman should not wear gold or a flowery dress or have clothes with purple unless she accepted the name of a public hetairai.  Dalbly notes, ‘This Greek phrase, “dresses and gold” is the standard statement of the two accoutrements of a hetaira’” (Winter 105).

Braided hair (“plaiting and piling” hair on the top of the head (Townder 208)), gold and pearls, costly attire all speak to the fact that Paul is addressing the wealthier women in the church. Women of means often bucked the modest Imperial style wanting to show their wealth (Townder 208-9); they were also prone to (by having the means) adopting new fashions and trends, especially those of the New Roman woman. Braids aren’t bad, jewelry isn’t bad, dressing well isn’t bad, but the question that Paul is asking is: what are you trying to communicate and is that message hindering or supporting the proclamation of the gospel?

[Paul’s] critique is precise. It prohibits the kind the dress and adornment that would associate Christian women with the revolutionary ‘new woman’ already in evidence in the East. Were that connection to be made, the Church wold be open to allegations of endorsing this departure from traditional values (209).

And, rather than flashy, showy, ostentatious outer adornment, the Christian woman should adorn herself with good works. But before we all go running for the hills because of the words good works, let me offer this insight to calm our nerves: this adornment is the same adornment that brings praise to the Proverbs 31 woman. Oh no, now I’ve certainly sent you running for the hills. But wait! Look at this:

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates. (Prov. 31:30-1)

That “fear of the Lord” there in v. 30, is none other but FAITH. Faith brings honor and praise to the noble woman of Proverbs 31. Thus, faith in our passage in 1 Tim 2, is also what (should be) the adorning characteristic of the Christian woman. It’s faith (in Jesus Christ) that will work itself out in good deeds done for others (Towner 210). So, you can not braid your hair, avoid gold and pearls, and dress in burlap, but if you lack faith you still lack the right adornment; all your works in modesty is for naught. “In Paul’s formulation of the concept the inner reality (knowledge of God, faith) and outer action come together in a life of service in accordance with God’s truth” (Towner 210). And when you are thinking about what type of “good works” faith produces in the life of the believer (regardless of gender), keep in mind the fruit of the spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-3). 

vv.11  Winter describes The Stoics view on the education of daughters as essential to the moral development that is inherent in learning, also “…[for] the embracing…of the cardinal virtues and the importance of avoiding the cardinal vices….” (Winter 112).  Submission would have been one of those core virtues taught to daughters.  Men were superior to women; therefore, women were inherently inferior to men and therefore in a subordinate position.  However, Paul’s call for submission is different and, as we find out, extremely counter-cultural.  “The sentence reads literally, ‘the wife in silence must learn in all subordination (“Gunay en haysuxia manthaneto en pasay hupotagay“)Had it meant to indicate that she was in a ‘subordinate position’ then the Greek would have been [en jupotagay, notice the missing “pasay“], as, for example in a third-century-A.D. papyrus” (Winter 114, inserted thought, mine). It’s important to notice that in this passage “submission” is not to her husband, but to what is being taught.

Towner points out that the terms “quietly” and “submissiveness” means

…quiet and attentive listening (in quietness) and complete (‘all’) acceptance o the authority of the teacher to teach and the willingness to embrace what was being taught. As applied here, both ‘quietness’ an d’subjection’ related to the teaching situation, not to life and relationships in general: together these stipulations describe the learner (wife or husband, woman or man) in contrast ot the teacher, and within a community authority structure (216)

This quiet and submitted posture is the posture we should all have when learning about the Gospel and what Jesus Christ has done for us. It’s not to say that all leaders/teachers are never to be doubted, but that someone who does have the authority to teach and is teaching what is true, that person should be listened to. On the flip side, no person in authority should demand to be heard because they are in authority or should they beat the sheep over the head with their authority. It’s a checks and balances relationship, in my opinion: when authority is abusive it should be disrespected, but not all authority should be disrespected and shunned.

v.12 Possibly one of the most troubling verses I encounter when looking at the housecodes in Paul’s writing. But, face it we must and we’ve no reason to run. Let’s take it concept by concept. First, “I do not permit a woman to teach.” Linguistically I’ve always liked reading this as Paul’s opinion emphasizing the “I.” But that’s bad form on my part. That would render the text as being unimportant, and important it is! What’s interesting, certainly, is that whenever Paul refers to something as doctrine, something that has been handed down and is irrefutable, he’ll say (something like): the saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance. He uses this language earlier in 1 Tim to explain why Jesus came: to save sinners of whom he (Paul) is the foremost. That tenet of our faith is to be received without question or doubt. It. Is. So. But here, he doesn’t use a phrase like that, so this isn’t doctrine that’s been handed down or to be received without doubt. Towner says that the way Paul phrases this injunction one of two things, “…[it expresses] either a new command that does not rely on tradition or an ad hoc solution to a newly encountered situation” (217). But why is Paul restricting the teaching office? Let me quote Towner:

I would nonetheless suggest that three convergent forces lie behind Paul’s prohibition of women from teaching. First, whether owing directly or indirectly to the false teachers, some wealthy women had come under the influence of a too fully realized eschatology [1 Tim 6:20-21]. Second, they may well have been encouraged to step into the rollse of teacher by some element of the heresey. It can hardly be accidental that Paul encourages the domestic path of childbearing (v.15) while the false teachers prohibited marriage (4:3, sexual relations). Third, coincidentally adding momentum was their contact with the cultural trend of the new Roman woman (219-20)

Heresy just won’t fly with Paul. And any influence heresy might have or find way into the proclamation of the Gospel will call for a restriction of any type. An uneducated person, someone who doesn’t understand or know what they believe and why they believe it, will be fertile ground for heresy. And if that person is given the ability to teach others, that heresy will, like a deadly airborne virus, swiftly take others down with it. When Paul restricts women from the teaching office, it’s less to do with some inherent inability to teach on the woman’s part or some random concept that the Spirit only gives the teaching gift to men or somehow only men are tuned in to intricate concepts of theology. When Paul restricts women, specifically these women, it’s because they weren’t educated properly and had learning to do (thus the final request for them to learn in quietness repeated in v.12). Just like it wasn’t that Adam listened to his wife, but that he listened to what she said.  Women can teach and should teach, but only when they’ve been properly educated; and the same goes for men. A good teacher is one who is both called/gifted and trained.

Now, what about “or to exercise authority over a man”? Well, it’s really important to point out that the Greek word translated here as “excercise authority” is NOT the typical word Paul uses when speaking about authority (which is excousia). The word use here is authenteo and, according to Towner, carries with it a wide range of meanings. But, interestingly, the word carries with it a negative connotation. To keep this dialogue short, or, rather, to get to the point, the word is better understood as authority with the intent to dominate. These women may have assumed the teaching role and were domineering and disrespectful to men/their husbands. Gospel freedom never manifests itself in the movement of one gender dominating another. Gospel freedom does not now advocate for women to dominate men (payback’s a …. ) since men dominated women. Gospel freedom DOES bring us all into a right orientation toward each other in which is the working out of loving our neighbors as ourselves. So, for Paul, there’s NO ROOM for domination of any kind (cf. all of Eph. 5).

So, what do we take away from this verse? Paul is, once again, protecting the proclamation of the Gospel and if it means that some people are silenced (for a time being) then he would take that action to silence them. Was it forever? Was it to be turned into a command forever prohibiting women from teaching or assuming a role of authority over men? No, not in  my opinion or others’ on this very subject. It was situational.

v.13-14  You know what I said about v. 12 being the most troublesome to me? I take that back. These next three verses (or two and a half, if you will) cause me loads of grief. Why does Paul call on Gen 2 and Gen 3 to defend why women shouldn’t be teaching or having authority over  men? Towner offers one idea that Paul’s movement to use Gen 2 & 3 in his argument was to “combat a specific view or correct an interpretation of the creation account somehow linked with the false teaching” (228). He explains,

[Paul] may have been looking in two directions at once–toward heretical developments and cultural influences. Some wealthy wives/women either emerged as teachers, or were functioning in such a way in the church’s public assembly that they would be regards as teachers, and teaching in a way that abused authority and disrespected husbands/men. A heretical reading of the creation story somehow support their progressive, role-reversal inclinations. Paul’s response was to prohibit these wives from teaching and to refute the fallacious reading of Genesis (232-3)

This isn’t about women just being more inclined to being duped (this would indicate a fault in God’s creation of woman) but rather to her station and situation at the time: she was prone to believing false teaching because she was educated improperly. Just as, in Gen 3, a valid argument is that Eve’s misquote of the law suggests she wasn’t taught correctly by Adam. Women how are taught well and do know what they believe and why they believe, those women who grasp well and are gifted to communicate all that is the truth of God acting for us through Christ and His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, have every right to be teaching and leading (having authority not domination). Just as a man who is not well taught and doesn’t know what he believes or why he believes it shouldn’t be teaching and leading. Had those women been teaching the gospel, the doctrine of the justification of sinners, and exercising authority in a loving manner, I doubt Paul would’ve penned any of this. Something was awry and amiss and the Gospel was at stake, so Paul picked up his pen and wrote.

v.15 This verse is hard to comprehend.  What is Paul trying to communicate in his words?  Winter, quoting Kostenberger, suggests that the phrase translated here as “‘saving through’…‘should be understood as a reference to the woman’s escape or preservation from a danger by means of childbearing’” (qtd. in Winter 110).  Winter proceeds by discussing the grammatical construction, “The use of the article in ‘the childbearing’ together with the preposition dia. with the genitive suggest that it is through the process of childbearing that she is preserved.  The use of this construction indicates ‘throughout’ or ‘through the course of’ and is well attested in Classical and Koine Greek, and confirms that the phrase should be rendered ‘through the childbearing, i.e., the pregnancy’” (Winter 110). Winter proposes that since that society was so consumed with feminine beauty—referring to Seneca’s comments on the indulgent use of cosmetics (99)—that pregnancy was actually a stigma for those who were pregnant (99).  Referring to Seneca’s comments, Winter writes, “[Seneca] graphically describes steps taken by others to prevent [pregnancy from] happening” (99).

Was it possible to avoiding child bearing in the ancient Greco-Roman society?  Yes, it was possible to avoid pregnancy and also to have an abortion in ancient times (Winter 110).  Evidence of this practice is primarily seen in a quote from Ovid.

She who first began the practice of tearing out her tender progeny deserved to die in her own warfare.  Can it be that, to be free of the flaws of stretch marks, you have to scatter the tragic sans of carnage?  Why will you subject your womb to the weapons of abortion and five dread poisons to the unborn?  The tigress lurking in Armenia does not such thing, nor does the lioness dare destroy her young.  Yet tender girls do so—though not with impunity; often she who kills what is in  her womb dies herself (Winter 110).

Towner writes,

Willingness to become pregnant (and perhaps to see it through to childbirth) was apparently a very real concern. Whether or not the term teknogonia (‘childbearing, pregnancy’) is meant to typify the whole of the domestic life (bearing children and raising them), the appended phrase (v.15b) with its final reiteration of ‘self-control’ (cf. v.9) effectively widens the scope to include the respectable wife’s proper attention to household responsibilities. Bearing children will not be a means of earning salvation, and it is doubtful if ‘saving’ means simply physical safety through childbirth. Rather, Paul urges these Christian wives to re-engage fully in the respectable role of the mother, in rejection of heretical and secular trends, through which she may ‘work out her salvation (235).

I think both Winter and Towner have valid points. In the time that Paul is writing an abortion was no safe matter and was almost certain death. But, also the concept Towner offers is worth taking into consideration, specifically in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel. Looking at the way he does, all of this means that Gospel freedom (as mentioned above) does not mean I abandon those orientations and relations I have been given. As a woman and one attracted to men, I married a man, and we had kids. The gospel–the way I understand it–and the faith I have in Jesus Christ, move me toward my neighbor in love and service not away from them. For me, and my station in life, my closest and most important neighbors are my husband and children and from there the circles ripple outward eventually incorporating all of humanity. And while I do believe that Gospel radically changes and affects our daily lives, giving us immeasurable freedom through faith in Christ, I also know that the effects of Gen 3 still loom heavy in the atmosphere. There are things, people, situations that demand from me something that infringes on other things that I’d like to do or be doing  on my freedom to do those very things. Because I live in a fallen world, I can’t have my cake and eat it to. When I had kids, my academic work slowed; i had to sacrifice one, and the way I’m inclined to parent that meant my academic work took the hit. Most of my male peers have started and completed PhDs while I’m still working on part two of section of the rough draft of my dissertation. Sacrifice in the face of a broken and fallen world isn’t a bad, four-letter word, it’s love.

2 thoughts on “A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VII : 1Timothy 2:9-15)

  1. This is helpful – also the Ezer Uncaged episodes on Paul and Women.

    So…trying to figure this one out. You wrote: “Just as, in Gen 3, a valid argument is that Eve’s misquote of the law suggests she wasn’t taught correctly by Adam.” Would it have been possible
    for Adam to “misteach” before the Fall, considering everything was perfect?

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