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…

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A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VIII: 1 Tim. 5:9-16)

When I went to copy and paste this section (below) from my paper in to this post, I took a step back and noticed how lame this portion of my paper was. Not lame as in: not cool; but lame, as in: shoddy academic work. Yikes. This portion of scripture, after having studied it in greater depth a couple of years back, is powerful; the work I did on it in seminary doesn’t reflect that in the least. So, what was supposed to be a quick: copy, paste, edit, and release has turned in to a brand new portion of the paper. I will be relying heavily on Philip H. Towner’s TNICotNT commentary: The Letters to Timothy and Titus. It’s a work I highly recommend to anyone wanting to understand more about these short pastoral letters.


An interesting note, and not one that I think I’ve covered before, is that these letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) are personal letters. When we read them, we need to look at them throw this lens, they weren’t written with the intent to be read to the congregation at large, like some of our other letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians). These are letters to two people: Timothy and Titus. Reading these letters without taking into account that the author of the letter was writing as a father to his sons will deliver to the reader coal rather than the diamonds that they are.  So, these letters while powerful and deep in theology are also chock full of fatherly advice, loving given to ears that were tuned in to listen and receive.  You and I have those people in our lives that we consider to be as fathers and mothers, and they have the unique position to guide and direct us without causing offence because our hearts are oriented toward them and we know, maybe even first and foremost, that their’s are directed toward us. When we remove this facet of these letters and uniformly and coldly apply certain aspects and concepts broadly and beat our parishioners over the head with them, we will not only send the sheep scattering (a grave problem in and of itself), but we will also miss out on the depth and richness of the spiritual father and son relationship embedded in the letters and, thus, we will lose out personally and dare I say spiritually.

So, I cease my prattling; and continue to the previously scheduled post.


1 Tim. 5:9-16

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busy bodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

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

The process of taking care of widows is not a new development in Paul’s letters, specifically here.  The tradition of the Israelites made provisions for widows in their community; also, the ancient Greco-Roman legal system.  Winter writes,

The Graeco-Roman world sought to make sure that a widow had security by giving her shelter with her dowry in the household (oikos) of her elder son, her other sons of her father.  Someone in that social unity became ‘the lord of the dowry’ (kurios or tutor mulierum) and accepted responsibility for her financial support….In Athens there was not only a moral but also a legal obligation placed upon children to care for both parents, and failure to do rendered them liable to prosecution in which ‘the prosecutor ran no risk of punishment’.  The Roman woman had similar security (Winter 126).

vv.9-10.  Towner makes mention that the “enrollment” referred to in v.9 is enrollment on to a list, but, as he points out, “nothing in the term itself reveals how formal the procedure was or in what sort of group the process determined membership” (345).  Paul, specifically in v. 9 (and also in v.10), lays out the terms for being a “real” widow, the women who needed the church to step in and care for them; this is less about, according to Towner, what type of ministry the widows should take up within the church. He writes, “But references to activities in v.10 are backward reflections on activities that determine character, not references to ongoing service. Furthermore, given the typical life span of that culture and day, the age stipulation would mean that these real widows were int he closing years of their lives, not at a point in which to take up new ministries” (346).

Behind the mention of age, comes the widow’s life itself. Like all the other times Paul speaks about what qualifies someone for something, marital fidelity is high on the list. The widow was to be, to quote Towner, “‘a one-man woman'” (346). Why is this important? Winter describes that the secular literature and some ancient legal sources discuss the lifestyles lead by widows of the ancient society, “It descried their lifestyle as ‘behaving promiscuously’ (katastrayniasosin) (5:11), i.e., they were guilty of stuprum.*  Roman law used this term to describe the sexual indiscretions of single women, widows, and divorcees, rather than adulterium, which was the term reserved for the indiscretions of married women” (124).

Oh, Grandma!

In the list of what qualifies as “good works” (done in faith), rearing children falls first, “…since typically the widow’s sphere of activity would have been the home, Paul inquires about her skills as a parent (this begins the enumeration of the good deeds).  Raising children successfully was one of the marks of the ideal woman in the Greco-Roman and Jewish world…” (Towner 118). In other words, she did her duties as wife and mother, well. The mention of hospitality is as it sounds and not as some would want you to hear it (did that make sense?). This is not about the cleanliness or beauty of her home, but the openwardness of her heart toward traveling believers, that she conducted her self well as the matron of the house, that–in this act–furthered the church’s mission (Towner 347).

About “washed the feet of the saints”, Towner writes, “Probably, however, the references is to an act that became a symbol for humble service, its metaphorical extension being suggested by the general application here to ‘the saints'” (348). And “helping those in trouble” is a reference to her station (widowed) and her ability to now help those in need, she is “strategically placed to actively bring relief to the afflicted of the community” (348), and she is quite free to do so. And the final “devoted to all good works,” “…provides a last open-ended condition that describes the acts of service by which the ‘real widow’ will be known” (Towner 348). Far from being a list of ministerial duties for an “order” of widows, this list highlights that the only things that separates these women from the other godly women in the church are: age, death of her husband, and her destitution. For all intents and purposes, Paul is advising Timothy: her faith and the work of the Spirit in her life qualify her for enrollment.

vv.11-12 Who does not qualify? The younger widows. Who are they? The terminology should be understood as: any woman who is a widow yet still of re-marriageable age (Towner 349). Why? Libido. Towner writes, “The language implies that the young widows had adopted a lifestyle characterized by sexual misbehavior and that this negated their dedication to Christ (cf. 1 Cor 7:34)–that is, their lifestyle contradicted their profession of faith. This pursuit of promiscuous behavior is clearly thematic and strongly suggests involvement in the lifestyle of the ‘new woman'” (350). So, if you are a young widow and still in burning-age, then you are not only encouraged not to seek enrollment but the elders of the church are encouraged not to let you on the list… at all.

So, the young widow should remarry. But, the language Paul uses for the desire to remarry while “on the list” is rather negative; her desire to remarry will bring condemnation. Why is this? For having abandoned their former faith. What does this mean? There’s a lot written about why and how the why is formed, but for your sake (and because this is a blog post) I’ll skip to Towner’s conclusion, which I think suffices:

It is possible to construe the distinction as turning on the alleged ‘vow’ not to remarry: vv. 11-12 depict remarriage as vow breaking’; v. 14 depicts the remarriage of those who have not taken the vow. In such cases those encouraged to remarry in v.14 are only those young widows who have not taken the ‘vow.’ But it seems far less complicated to reconcile the two views of remarriage around the issue of marriage to unbelievers, in keeping with earlier Pauline instructions (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). Apparently, Paul envisions young widows led by their enjoyment of promiscuous behavior to marry unbelievers. Since typically the wife would adopt the religion of the husband, remarriage to unbelievers would involve actual rejection of the widow’s ‘first/prior faith in (commitment to) Christ.’ Indeed, Winter suggest that abandoning their Christian faith may have been a precondition of marriage to unbelievers. When Paul turns to encourage young widows to remarry in v. 14, he assumes marriage to believers (352).


It’s a rather merciful move on Paul’s part here in his advice to Timothy. By not accepting young widows on to the widows list and avoiding a vow to celibacy (as the requirement for her to be on the list is: no husband)–a vow which may be broken because of her marriageable age and her desire to marry–Paul seems to be protecting the young widows from falling from the faith.  If we look at it like this, I might be able to shed more light on the subject: if there is an existent atmosphere of promiscuousness within the culture at large, then those who have taken a vow of not engaging sexually and who are now feeling the overwhelming desire to engage sexually would be more likely to stray outside the church to fulfill their desires, thus denounce their faith and marry an unbeliever. The condemnation brought by the law in facing our temptations forces us into the dark and not into the light. So, by way of eliminating the presence of that law–a law that very well would be difficult for a young widow to fulfill  and, thus, bring death (because of her natural desires)–Paul offers her freedom and life. Freedom because she is free to burn and to remarry all within the church community (without shame) and wind up marrying a believer; life because now she won’t stray to marry an unbeliever (because of her shame).

v. 13  Young widows are excluded from the list not only because of the high chance they’ll burn and want to remarry and thus abandon their faith, but also because of their tendency to be idle, to gossip, and to be busybodies.

Ouch, Paul. Just…ouch.

At first glance, my feminist leanings get quite agitated. But, looking a bit more astutely, the reasons behind why Paul is saying what he’s saying are sound and probably are more based on his understanding human depravity rather than, strictly, womanhood.

Let’s look at this. What happens to you when you have no responsibilities and are bored? It’s a fair question. What happens to me is this: candy crush….oh! And, candy crush soda saga…yeah…annnnd…anything else that will alleviate my boredom but is not “work.” Without the internal nagging or the external need of something that has to be done (and even sometimes when there is that internal nag and external need), I will fill my time with fluff, or worse…your fluff. For all intents and purposes, an idle lauren is a dangerous lauren.

And so it goes for Paul and the young widows.  Towner writes,

…’idleness’ is described as something that has been learned, the die being that their enjoyment of church support with little to do has left them with time on their hands.

Their idleness or lack of direction is described as ‘going about from house to house.’…without household responsibility to occupy their time, these young widows were moving through the household terrain where they felt comfortable and had easy access. Probably one of Paul’s concerns was for the power they could exert among the women of the household with whom they would have chatted and gossiped. As C. Osiek suggests, this segment of the social structure (women in the household) operated according to its own rules of honor and shame, were adept at keeping confidences, and represented an influential power bloc that could determine or, equally, threaten the community’s stability (353).

An idle widow, is a dangerous widow.

And, to complete the picture, their idleness and flitting leads to gossiping, busybodiness, and saying things that should not be said. Gossiping we understand. Busybodiness is akin to being nebby (if you’re from Pittsburgh) or, for everyone else: meddling. The last phrase is a bit more opaque in meaning. There is the hint of teaching in the Greek, but that shouldn’t be over-stressed; if it’s anything, it’s casual conversation that might, in the slightest, be a means for learning something. But one of the best ways to understand what those things are that should not be said is: “spreading (perhaps inadvertently) elements of the false teaching as they went from house to house” (Towner 355).

v.14 So, the young widows are encouraged to marry, have kids, and manage their household (the greek verb implying “ruler of the house” and carries with it a great deal of authority (Towner 356)). And in so doing, give the adversary no room for slander.  What does this mean? Towner explains,

But the final prepositional phrase is causal and is better taken as explaining the potential cause/source of the opportunity Paul seeks to prevent; thus ‘give no opportunity to the enemy on account of reviling.’ In this case, an additional agent is implied, that is, some unnamed agent responsible for the act of reviling. This will be a person or people since the term used to describe the verbal attacks envisioned here is used o fpeople. Presumably, Paul means those outside the community, and he therefore has the church’s public reputation in mind (356-7).

The singular (“the adversary” or “the enemy”) is best understood as Satan, “…who operates against the community in concert with the criticism of those outside (as in 1 Tim 3:7; cf. Rev 12:10)” (357). And, as in most other places where Paul speaks about “roles” or “house-codes,” his biggest concern is the promulgation of the gospel and protecting the church, “…protection of the church’s reputation in the world has the promotion of the gospel as a significant goal” (357).  In all things, this should always be our goal as faithful believers–men and women. It’s a sober reminder: the proclamation of the gospel should always be my first and main priority, above and beyond any of my other personal interests and leanings.

v.15 The strong exhortative language from v.14 culminates (in my opinion) in v.15: because we’ve already lost some who have strayed after Satan. Turning away from Christ is turning toward Satan, “Paul’s employment of the polemical vocabulary reserved for the false teachers places their fall into the category of a ‘turning away’ from the apostolic faith (see 1:6), that is, apostasy…by pursuing a lifestyle marked by sexual promiscuity and rejection of traditional values (vv.11-13) they have endangered themselves and potentially the church’s reputation” (Towner 358).

v.16 Here Paul returns to the primary concern of the pericope: caring for widows (358).  Those women who had the means (financially and situationally) to care for the widows should do so. “If women take on the responsibility of helping widows, then the church (1) will be freed of the responsibility (‘burden’) to do so, and (2) thus enabled to care for the community’s ‘real widows'” (Towner 359).

In conclusion, I’ll quote Towner:

Paul walks the fine line between dealing with what might be regarded as a church-specific problem and the wider society’s evaluation of the church. The bottom line is that in this case, too, behavior adopted in the church or sanction by the church ultimately affects how those on the outside reared the church. In the case of the Ephesian widows–both from the perspective of the obligation of families to meet their needs and the perspective of how young widows live their lives–Imperial culture stood ready to evaluate the respectability of what would be perceived as Christian behavior (359-60).

It is always my opinion that in these portions of scripture, Paul’s first and primary concern is the proclamation of the gospel. When we begin to look at these passages of scripture through this lens, then what is exhorted takes on a life in it’s proper historic time period and also provides for us good markers to live by. None of this is about what a good woman who is widowed should do to be righteous or to be deemed a good woman, but about how she should act to protect the Gospel.


*”STUPRUM, civ. law. The criminal sexual intercourse which took place between a man and a single woman, maid or widow,who before lived honestly. Inst. 4, 18, 4; Dig. 48, 5, 6; Id. 50, 16, 101; 1 Bouv. Inst. Theolo. ps. 3, quaest. 2, art. 2, p. 252.” Taken from: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Stuprum

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.