In this video, we are going to examine Paul’s instructions regarding the role of women in a letter written to Timothy while he was serving in the congregation of Ephesus. However, before getting into that, we should review what we already know.
In our previous video, we examined 1 Corinthians 14:33-40, the controversial passage where Paul appears to be telling women that it is shameful for them to speak in the congregation. We came to see that Paul wasn’t contradicting his earlier statement, made in the same letter, which acknowledged the right of women to both pray and prophesy in the congregation—the only injunction being the matter of head covering.
“but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head, for it is one and the same as if she were a woman with a shaved head.” (1 Corinthians 11:5 New World Translation)
So we can see it wasn’t shameful for a woman to speak—and more to praise God in prayer, or teach the congregation through prophesying—unless she did so with her head uncovered.
We saw that the contradiction was eliminated if we understood that Paul was sarcastically quoting the belief of the Corinthian men back to them and then stating that what he had earlier told them to do to avoid chaos in congregation meetings was from Christ and that they had to follow it or suffer the consequences of their ignorance.
There have been a number of comments made on that last video by men who strongly disagree with the conclusions we have reached. They believe it was Paul who was pronouncing the injunction against women speaking in the congregation. To date, none of them have been able to resolve the contradiction this causes with 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13. Some suggest that those verses do not refer to praying and teaching in the congregation, but that is not valid for two reasons.
The first is scriptural context. We read,
“Judge for yourselves: Is it fitting for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that long hair is a dishonor to a man, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering. However, if anyone wants to argue in favor of some other custom, we have no other, nor do the congregations of God. But while giving these instructions, I do not commend you, because it is, not for the better, but for the worse that you meet together. For first of all, I hear that when you come together in a congregation, divisions exist among you; and to an extent I believe it.” (1 Corinthians 11:13-18 New World Translation)
The second reason is just logic. That God gave women the gift of prophesying is uncontestable. Peter quoted Joel when he said to the crowd at Pentecost, “I will pour out some of my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams, and even on my male slaves and on my female slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17, 18)
So, God pours out his spirit on a woman who then prophecies, but only at home where the only one to hear her is her husband who is now being instructed by her, taught by her, and who now must go to the congregation where his wife sits in silence while he relates second hand everything she told him.
That scenario might sound ridiculous, yet it must be so if we are to accept the reasoning that Paul’s words about praying and prophesying by women only work within the privacy of the home. Remember that the men of Corinth came up with some bizarre ideas. They were suggesting that there was not going to be a resurrection. They also tried to ban lawful sexual relations. (1 Corinthians 7:1; 15:14)
So the idea that they would also try to muzzle the women isn’t so hard to believe. Paul’s letter was an effort to try to set matters straight. Did it work? Well, he had to write another one, a second letter, which was written only months after the first. Does that reveal an improved situation?
Now I want you to think about this; and if you are a man, don’t be afraid to consult the women you know to get their viewpoint. The question I want to ask you is, when men become full of themselves, arrogant, boastful and ambitious, is that likely to produce greater freedom for women? Do you think that the domineering man of Genesis 3:16 manifests himself in men who are humble or full of pride? What do you sisters think?
Okay, keep that thought. Now, let’s read what Paul says in his second letter about the prominent men of the Corinthian congregation.
“I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.”
“I consider myself in no way inferior to those “super-apostles.” Although I am not a polished speaker, I am certainly not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every way possible.”
(2 Corinthians 11:3-6 BSB)
Super-apostles. As if. What spirit was motivating these men, these super-apostles?
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their actions.”
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15 BSB)
Wow! These men were right within the congregation of Corinth. This is what Paul had to contend with. Much of the lunacy that prompted Paul to write the first letter to the Corinthians came from these men. They were boastful men, and they were having an effect. The Corinthian Christians were giving in to them. Paul responds to them with biting sarcasm throughout chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Corinthians. For instance,
“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”
(2 Corinthians 11:16-21 NIV)
Anyone who enslaves you, exploits you, puts on airs and strikes you in the face. With that picture firm in mind, who do you think were the source of the words: “Women are to be silent in the congregation. If they have a question, they can ask their own husbands when they get home, because it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in the congregation.”?
But, but, but what about what Paul said to Timothy? I can just hear the objection. Fair enough. Fair enough. Let’s have a look at it. But before we do, let’s agree on something. Some claim proudly that they only go with what is written. If Paul wrote something down, then they accept what he wrote and that’s the end of the matter. Okay, but no “backsies.” You can’t say, “Oh, I take this literally, but not that.” This is not a theological buffet. Either you take his words at face value and damn the context, or you don’t.
So now we come to what Paul wrote to Timothy while he was serving the congregation in Ephesus. We will read the words from the New World Translation to start with:
“Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but she is to remain silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and became a transgressor. However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, provided she continues in faith and love and holiness along with soundness of mind.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NWT)
Is Paul making one rule for the Corinthians and a different one for the Ephesians? Wait a minute. Here he says he doesn’t permit a woman to teach, which isn’t the same as prophesying. Or is it? 1 Corinthians 14:31 says,
“For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31 BSB)
An instructor is a teacher, right? But a prophet is more. Again, to the Corinthians he states,
“God has set the respective ones in the congregation, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then powerful works; then gifts of healings; helpful services, abilities to direct, different tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28 NWT)
Why does Paul put prophets above teachers? He explains:
“…I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be edified.” (1 Corinthians 14:5 BSB)
The reason he favors prophesying is because it builds up the body of Christ, the congregation. This goes to the heart of the matter, to the fundamental difference between a prophet and a teacher.
“But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT)
A teacher by his words can strengthen, encourage, and even comfort others. However, you don’t have to be a believer in God to teach. Even an atheist can strengthen, encourage, and comfort. But an atheist cannot be a prophet. Is that because a prophet foretells the future? No. That is not what “prophet” means. That is what we think of when speaking of prophets, and at times the prophets in scripture did foretell future events, but that is not the idea a Greek speaker had foremost in his mind when using the word and it is not what Paul is referring to here.
Strong’s Concordance defines prophétés [Phonetic Spelling: (prof-ay’-tace)] as “a prophet (an interpreter or forth-teller of the divine will).” It is used of “a prophet, poet; a person gifted at expositing divine truth.”
Not a foreteller, but a forth-teller; that is, one who speak forth or who speaks out, but the speaking relates to the divine will. That is why an atheist cannot be a prophet in the Biblical sense, because to do so means to—as HELPS Word-studies put it—”declare the mind (message) of God, which sometimes predicts the future (foretelling) – and more commonly, speaks forth His message for a particular situation.”
A true prophet is moved by the spirit to expound on God’s word for the edification of the congregation. Since women were prophets, that means Christ used them to edify the congregation.
With that understanding in mind, let us consider the following verses carefully:
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. 30 But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. 31 In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. 32 Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (1 Corinthians 14:29-33 NLT)
Here Paul differentiates between one prophesying and one receiving a revelation from God. This highlights the difference between how they viewed prophets and how we view them. The scenario is this. Someone is standing up in the congregation expounding on God’s word, when someone else suddenly receives an inspiration from God, a message from God; a revelation, something previously hidden is about to be revealed. Obviously, the revealer is speaking as a prophet, but in a special sense, so that the other prophets are told to be quiet and let the one with the revelation speak. In this instance, the one with the revelation is under control of the spirit. Normally, the prophets, while guided by the spirit, are in control of the spirit and can hold their peace when called for. This is what Paul tells them to do here. The one with the revelation could easily have been a woman and the one speaking as a prophet at that time could have just as easily been a man. Paul isn’t concerned about gender, but about the role being played at the moment, and since a prophet—male or female—controlled the spirit of prophecy, then the prophet would have respectfully stopped his or her teaching to allow all to listen to the revelation coming forth from God.
Are we to accept whatever a prophet tells us? No. Paul says, “let two or three people [men or women] prophecy, and let the others evaluate what is said.” John tells us to test what the spirits of the prophets reveal to us. (1 John 4:1)
A person can teach anything. Math, history, whatever. That doesn’t make him a prophet. A prophet teaches something very specific: the word of God. So, while not all teachers are prophets, all prophets are teachers, and women are counted among the prophets of the Christian congregation. Therefore, the female prophets were teachers.
So why then did Paul, knowing all this about the power and purpose of prophesying which amounted to teaching the flock, tell Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach…she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV)
It makes no sense. It would have left Timothy scratching his head. And yet, it did not. Timothy understood exactly what Paul meant because he knew the situation he was in.
You may recall that in our last video we discussed the nature of letter writing in the first century congregation. Paul didn’t sit down and think, “Today I am going to write an inspired letter to add to the Bible canon.” There was no New Testament Bible in those days. What we call the New Testament or Christian Greek Scriptures were compiled hundreds of years later from surviving writings of the apostles and prominent first century Christians. Paul’s letter to Timothy was a living work intended to deal with a situation that existed at that place and time. It is only with that understanding and background in mind that we can have any hope of getting the sense of it.
When Paul wrote this letter, Timothy had been sent to Ephesus to help the congregation there. Paul instructs him to “command certain ones not to teach a different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies.” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4). The “certain ones” in question are not identified. Male bias might lead us to conclude these were men, but were they? All we can be sure of is that the individuals in question “wanted to be teachers of law, but did not understand either the things they were saying or the things they insisted on so strongly.” (1 Timothy 1:7)
It means that certain ones were trying to exploit Timothy’s youthful inexperience. Paul warns him: “Never let anyone look down on your youth.” (1 Timothy 4:12). Another factor making Timothy seem exploitable was his poor health. Paul advises him to “not drink water any longer, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Timothy 5:23)
Something else which is noteworthy about this first letter to Timothy, is the emphasis on issues involving women. There is far more direction to women in this letter than in any of the other writings of Paul. They are counselled to dress modestly and avoid showy adornments and hair styles that draw attention to themselves (1 Timothy 2:9, 10). Women are to be dignified and faithful in all things, not slanderous (1 Timothy 3:11). He targets young widows specifically as known for being busybodies and gossips, idlers who just gad about from house to house (1 Timothy 5:13).
Paul specifically instructs Timothy on how to treat women, both young and old (1 Timothy 5:2, 3). It is in this letter that we also learn there was a formal arrangement in the Christian congregation for caring for widows, something sorely lacking in the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, the reverse is the case. I’ve seen Watchtower articles encouraging widows and the poor to donate their meagre means of life to help the Organization expand its worldwide real estate empire.
Worthy of special note is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). Why this particular warning? “Irreverent, silly myths”?
To answer that, we have to understand the specific culture of Ephesus at that time. Once we do, everything will come into focus.
You will recall what happened when Paul first preached in Ephesus. There was a great outcry from the silversmiths who made money from fabricating shrines to Artemis (aka, Diana), the multi-breasted goddess of the Ephesians. (See Acts 19:23-34)
A cult had been built up around the worship of Diana that held that Eve was God’s first creation after which he made Adam, and that it was Adam who had been deceived by the serpent, not Eve. The members of this cult blamed men for the woes of the world.
Feminism, Ephesian style!
It is therefore likely that some of the women in the congregation were being influenced by this thinking. Perhaps some had been converted from this cult to the pure worship of Christianity, but still were holding to some of those pagan ideas.
With that in mind, let us notice something else distinctive about Paul’s wording. All the counsel to women throughout the letter is expressed in the plural. Women this and women that. Then, abruptly he changes to the singular in 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman….” This lends weight to the argument that he is referring to a particular woman who is presenting a challenge to Timothy’s divinely ordained authority.
This understanding is bolstered when we consider that when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman…to exercise authority over a man…”, he is not using the common Greek word for authority which is exousia. (x-u-cia) That word was used by the chief priests and elders when they challenged Jesus at Mark 11:28 saying, “By what authority (exousia) do you do these things?” However, the word Paul uses to Timothy is authenteó (aw-then-tau) which carries the idea of a usurping of authority.
HELPS Word-studies gives for authenteó, “properly, to unilaterally take up arms, i.e. acting as an autocrat – literally, self-appointed (acting without submission).
Hmm, authenteó, acting as an autocrat, self-appointed. Does that spark a connection in your mind?
What fits with all this is the picture of a group of women in the congregation led by a matriarch who fit the description Paul makes right at the opening part of his letter:
“…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” (1 Timothy 1:3-7 NIV)
This matriarch was trying to replace Timothy, to usurp (authenteó) his authority and undermine his appointment.
So now we have a plausible alternative that allows us to put Paul’s words into a context that doesn’t require us to paint him as a hypocrite, for such he would be if he tells the Corinthian women they can pray and prophecy while denying the Ephesian women the very same privilege.
This understanding also helps us to resolve the otherwise incongruous reference he makes to Adam and Eve. Paul was setting the record straight and adding the weight of his office to re-establish the true story as portrayed in the Scriptures, not the false story from the cult of Diana (Artemis to the Greeks).
For more information, see An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies by Elizabeth A. McCabe p. 102-105. Also see, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage by Heidi Bright Parales p. 110
But what about the seemingly bizarre reference to childbearing as a means of keeping the woman safe?
Let’s read the passage again, this time from the New International Version:
“A woman a should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; b she must be quiet. 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. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NIV)
Paul told the Corinthians that it is better not to marry. Is he now telling the Ephesian women the opposite? Is he condemning both barren women and single women because they do not bear children? Does that make any sense?
As you can see from the interlinear, a word is missing from the rendering that most translations give this verse.
The missing word is the definite article, tēs, and removing it changes the whole meaning of the verse. Fortunately, some translations do not omit the definite article here:
- “…she will be saved through the birth of the Child…” – International Standard Version
- “she [and all women] will be saved through the birth of the child” – GOD’S WORD Translation
- “she shall be saved through the childbearing” – Darby Bible Translation
- “she shall be saved through the child-bearing” – Young’s Literal Translation
In the context of this passage which references Adam and Eve, the childbearing that Paul is referring to may very well be that referred to at Genesis 3:15.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head, and you will strike him in the heel.”” (Genesis 3:15)
It is the offspring (the bearing of children) via the woman which results in the salvation of all women and men, when that seed finally crushes Satan in the head. Rather than focusing on Eve and the alleged superior role of women, these “certain ones” should be focusing on the seed or offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ, through whom all are saved.
I am sure that after all this explanation, I’m going to see some comments from men arguing that despite it all, Timothy was a man and was appointed as a pastor, or priest, or elder over the congregation at Ephesus. No woman was so appointed. Agreed. If you’re arguing that, then you’ve missed the whole point of this series. Christianity exists in a male-dominated society and Christianity has never been about reforming the world, but about calling out the children of God. The issue at hand is not whether women should exercise authority over the congregation, but whether men should? That is the subtext of any argument against women serving as elders or overseers. The presumption of men arguing against women overseers is that overseer means leader, a person who gets to tell other people how to live their lives. They view congregation or church appointments as a form of rulership; and in that context, the ruler has to be a male.
To the children of God, an authoritarian hierarchy has no place because they all know that the head of the body is only Christ.
We will get into that more in the next video on the issue of headship.
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[…] At a superficial reading it would appear that Paul in writing to Timothy is contradicting his own words written to the Corinthians. Of course, that cannot be, yet the organization makes no attempt to explain the apparent contradiction. To understand what Paul meant in writing to Timothy, see this article: The Role of Women in the Christian Congregation (Part 5): Does Paul Teach Women are Inferior to Men? […]
Due to the domination of women by men the world is so much the poorer. Imagine if all the suppressed women in the world like in Sudan, Iran, Afganistan and other similar places in the African and Arab world were free to express themselves in art, literature, music, science education and all the diciplines that only males are currently allowed to engage in????? How much richer their cultures and lives would be!!! Literally about half of the worlds population (women) are like a captive beautiful bird in a small cage with a shroud over it so it is invisible!!! Sad.… Read more »
MAN = man + woman
Hello forgot to add how much the richer spiritually is the Christian congregation where women can contribute to their full capacity. Qualities they naturally posses in abundance like love, empathy, and the desire to care and nurture would mould the congregation into what it should really look like today rather than the male dominated organisations we can see and have experienced.
Yes, Alithia, no one should dominate the church because all Christians, men and women, form the body of Christ. There should be only shepherds in congregations, who should kindly feed Christ’s sheep (John 21:17; Acts 20:28). I love that mathematical equation I wrote above: MAN = man + woman, because it explains everything and, at the same time, two inequalities are hidden in this equation: a) MAN is not only man b) MAN is not only woman Both man and woman, each of them, have unique qualities that complement each other to form together a miraculous creation of God. The… Read more »
Hello Eric, this is an excellent article. Thank you. The use of the Greek authenteó does give much more weight to the dangers of self-appointment, dangers that cause more divisions, sects and disagreements. It is clear why the apostle advices to be firm against such usurpations, whether any woman or any man were to act with such presumption.
Hi Eric, What a fantastic article and series you have written. You did very well to even find some of those publications you referred to, but this does not matter, as it makes no difference whether these are your ideas or those of others. What you have done is present them so very reasonably. We have been truly taught. It all goes to show howlittle I knew. The emphasis on ” a woman” completely changes the way to look at those verses, as does the thought on childbearing. So, MCPs have been around for a very long time, as indeed… Read more »
This video presents the kind of logical, in depth examination, supported by scriptures, reasoning that we used to get in the pages of the Watchtower decades ago. Comparing your “Reasoning from the Scriptures” Eric, with last Sunday’s Watchtower study on women in the congregation, well, there simply is no comparison. We should have been studying your article instead. I actually learn so much more about the scriptures from your video’s than I do from our current Watchtowers. Although I dont agree with ALL of your conclusions, they are never the less, well thought out and contain much scriptural support. Something… Read more »
I hope the discussion ensueing in these comments section can be done in the spirit of (love) Christ as Paul explain nicely in Ephesians 4 :1-32 ?