I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.1 Tim 2:12
The above text is used by many parts of Christianity to bolster their practice of keeping women out of preaching, teaching, or ordination (with variations that allow this teaching in some places by women to women only). I only recently came across the interpretation of this text that the author of 1 Timothy is not referring to women generally but to some single, individual woman in the community to which this letter was originally sent.
I have read the argument by Marg Mowczko, but I am unconvinced. In this approach, the author of 1 Timothy continues writing about this specific, anonymous woman:
the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
1 Timothy 2.13-15
One should be suspicious about this interpretation – there is no allusion in the letter to such a specific, anonymous woman prior to these verses. There is no reputable contemporary translation which supports Marg Mowczko’s approach and interpretation.
Be that as it may, I want to press Marg Mowczko’s approach deeper. The underlying presuppositions beneath the approach may be missed. What Marg Mowczko is doing is treating every word, phrase, and sentence in the Bible as being so inspired by Almighty God to be eternally binding and applicable – including in our current context. Her underlying approach is neither necessary nor helpful.
I want to press past the not unimportant point that majority contemporary scholarship would not accept that Paul is the author of 1 Timothy. Marg Mowczko’s approach cannot allow for this (she mentions Paul as author about 30 times), because to admit that the text of this letter is incorrect at one point (in attributing the letter to St Paul, 1 Tim 1:1-2) means that her convoluted, revisionist interpretation of making 1 Tim 2:12 fit to her egalitarian agenda becomes unnecessary.
Marg Mowczko’ approach is her response to those who, similarly, treat every word, phrase, and sentence in the Bible as being so inspired by Almighty God to be eternally binding and applicable. I would question this approach to the Bible (and, hence it is not unimportant that we can accept that this letter, which claims to have Paul as the author, was not actually written by him).
In other words, to put it plainly: the Bible is wrong when it states that we could, in our contemporary context, affirm that Paul wrote 1 Timothy. Similarly, the teaching that women keep silent in church is no longer applicable, appropriate, or binding in our contemporary context.
Further, if the understanding is that Almighty God has so inspired 1 Tim 2:12 that it is binding on us all in 2019, then it is clear, from the inability to agree about the application of 1 Tim 2:12 in 2019, that Almighty God has made a very poor job of this particular piece of inspiration.
It is no use, as is so often done, to argue that in 1 Tim 2:12, God is perfectly clear and that it is simply we, as sinful, imperfect human beings, we are reading God’s perfect clarity imperfectly. If God, in His almighty inspiration, cannot take into account our sinfulness and imperfection, then the Bible simply isn’t fit for purpose, and Almighty God has made a very poor job of this.
There is another way forward. This other way is to take the Bible seriously enough that one reads it with the best possible contemporary scholarship available and, hence, that one acknowledges that these are ancient documents often with genres, approaches, and attitudes that are unacceptable in our contemporary context. This way does not seek to twist the text to fit our context, but treats them with honesty and integrity in their own right.
These texts, now bound together into what looks to most people to be a single book (the Bible – and note, of course, that there are even different versions of what texts are in and what are out), these texts, covering a good thousand year period, set up a trajectory – and we are where we are as a result of that trajectory. That trajectory now means that ascribing an author, who didn’t produce something, to a document (in the manner perfectly accepted in the first couple of Christian centuries) would now be regarded as dishonest. And that trajectory has now (increasingly) resulted in giving women a fuller place in the life and ordained ministry of the church.
What do you think?
- Disagreeing With The Bible 4
- The Bible says 8
- Rethinking Paul’s Clobber Passages
- Let US Make
- Selective biblical literalism