Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Women: More Easily Deceived?

Do you not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. On account of your desert--that is, death--even the Son of God had to die."--Tertullian, early church father.

"In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." ~Paul, 1 Timothy 2:9-15

The Problems

This is the main verse cited to bar all women from obtaining any "official" positions in the church that would put them "over" men or have any say in the decision-making aspects of church government: no teaching, no preaching, no leading, or anything that could be construed as having authority over men. However, if we are to use this verse to exclude women from the "top" levels of ministry, we must also embrace the reasons this verse seemingly cites to justify women's exclusion, which are:

1. Eve was formed second

2. And was the one who was deceived, falling into transgression

Then to top it off, Paul declares that despite this fact that "woman" was deceived, "she" will be saved through childbearing..." All this taken literally implies women are easily deceived and therefore should not be allowed to teach men, lest we ruin them as Eve did with Adam (which is the longstanding 'traditional' interpretation of this verse) and that women obtain salvation through childbirth. The last line (if taken literally) is heresy. Women are saved by the blood of Jesus, just like men, not through bearing children. Other translations remedy this puzzling choice of words by making the verse say women will "survive" or be "kept safe" through childbirth. But even this reading begs the question, is Paul really promising that christian women will never die during childbirth, even though countless have, especially during this time? And if all women ARE somehow more prone to deception than men, why are they admonished to teach at all? Why would they be allowed to teach other women and children? Would they not just pass on their deception to other deception-prone subjects?

It is Paul's reference to the creation order that convinces complementarians that his forbidding women to teach or exercise authority over a man is universal and all-time binding. Are all women prone to deception because of Eve? Was Eve created with an inherent lack of discernment, thus all women inherit this trait as well? Are women, covered in the blood of Christ, to be eternally held accountable for the failure of our ancestral mother?

Fortunately, the cultural and historical context of 1 Timothy is one of the easier to reconstruct. Ample evidence exists both in other biblical passages and in historical/archaeological evidence to shed light on the environment of Ephesus and the nature of the false teachings plaguing the infant-christian church of Ephesus. Oddly enough, the nature of these false teachings directly correlates to the descriptions and commands given in 1 Timothy, especially 2:9-15.

The next post will expound upon these false teachings and how it brings out a clearer meaning to Paul's letter to Timothy. Without a contextual understanding, Paul's words seem harsh, ludicrously stereotypical, and border on heresy, for all are "saved" by grace through faith, not through childbearing. If we want to bar all women from teaching based on this passage of scripture then we must also believe the reason for their exclusion is because Eve was the first deceived, first to fall into transgression, and all daughters of Eve take after her, therefore must not teach. The literal reading irreversibly ties the prohibition against women teaching with Eve's deception, not just the fact that she was formed after Adam.


Melody Joy said...

HMmm...I'm kind of bummed that Tertullian is credited with such brilliant quotes as, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," because the one you quote makes me a little angry.

Thanks for pointing this out. I don't think people tend to realize the textual problems presented here. Part of that is because this passage, more than most, has been used for proof-texting. When you interpret these verses in light of the entire canon, though, it becomes blatantly apparent that there is something going on other than a sermon on wifely submission.

Tia Lynn said...

I had the same reaction when I saw that quote. But then I have to realize that while the early church fathers had some great insights, they were still fallible men. They were as subject to their cultural biases as we are today. So, I glean what I can from them and discard the rest. When Constantine took over the church, the freedom for women in ministry evaporated as a new generation of Christians were indoctrinated with pagan culture and mindsets that placed the value of a woman slightly over that of a mule, and that was only because she could give you children. So much of Paul’s radical message on male-female relationships was distorted for centuries.

Jeff Gill said...

The Tertullian comment seems to exemplify the sentiment that seems to me is behind the Complementarian position, i.e. At best women are a bit crap; at worst they are downright dangerous. It carries on today. I've noticed it especially among certain youngish 'cool' Reformed pastors.

Let me qualify. I don't see that among any of you women of the C persuasion in this conversation. I also acknowledge that I have heard leaders of the C persuasion go to great lengths to point out that women are not worth less than men. However, the fact that they have to go to such great lengths makes me wonder...

Paul's appeal to creation is interesting. I alluded to this in an earlier post: apparently nature taught Paul that men shouldn't have long hair and women should. (1 Cor. 11).

In that same passage Paul says women should wear head coverings because of the angels.

He also goes on a bit about how woman comes from man, so she is the glory of man (rather than the glory of God, like man). But at the end he seems to undo his whole argument by flipping it and saying man comes from woman too.

The thing about these passages in Cor. and Tim. is that they don't seem to have the same brilliance or clarity or feeling of universality that most of his other writing does. Ephesians and Romans are examples of Paul at his best.

And in all of these woman passages Paul gives an indication that he's writing what he feels should be the practice of the churches he is writing to.

To me C-ism doesn't add up to a strong defensible position.

Having written all that, the way that my wife Christine and I live and work together probably looks a lot more traditional than the way the things I am writing read. When I look at Paul's writings as a whole, I think it was similar for him.

I'll stop now.

Tonya said...

Tia, do you want to get into the "saved through childbearing" stuff here? Or is it going to be discussed later. 'Cause if it is, I'll wait.

Jeff, anyone who says that women are worth less than men is a heretic!:):):). Seriously. That is not taught in the Bible.

And I think Paul was every bit as inspired when he wrote Corinthians and Timothy as he was when he wrote Romans. I don't think universality is a qualifier for Biblical teaching and I know for sure that Jesus' own teachings lacked clarity to those who were "ever seeing but never perceiving, ever hearing but never understanding. Otherwise they might turn and be saved". (Luke 4-12). In fact, he had to explain things all the time to the 12. Lack of clarity or brilliance just means that we are dullish. Sadly. I am constantly reminded of this as I read the Bible. It is a stop and go thing for me. Read a little. Stop and shake my head and say "what the heck does that mean". Then I pray and sit there until I get a glimmer. Sometimes I dont get a glimmer for days or weeks (or even years at one point). I guess what I am saying is that digging around, lining the hard passages up with the rest of the Bible and a lot of prayer takes care of the lack of Biblical clarity and brilliance:). Hope that makes some sort of sense...

Tia Lynn said...

Yes, Tonya we will get to the saved through childbearing in the very next post. And I also believe Paul was inspired when he wrote romans, timothy, and corinthians. The question is can temporary admonishments also be inspired with universal principles behind them. Yup! I am not arguing that these verses in timothy are uninspired, quite the opposite. I just think our understanding of them is off because we lack the knowledge of the cultural and historical context and most are unaware of the differences between the original language and most modern translations. I think biases that infiltrated the church early on (during Constantine’s reign) have tainted how we view Paul’s teachings.

Jeff Gill said...

Tonya, you're right in everything you said. In fact, this past weekend I was preaching on the parable of the talents, I talked about how Jesus used parables to obscure the meaning of the kingdom of God.

I don't in anyway consider the passages in question to be less deserving of a place in the bible. However, when one compares Paul with Paul, there is a distinct difference between his writings on women and practice in the church and most of the rest of his stuff.


It's harder, I think, to do what I was tring to do: communicate clearly about the feeling or spirit behind a doctrine. It goes beneath the rational. It seems subjective. It is a lot more uncomfortable than evangelical concrete.

I appreciate in the conversation around Tia's posts the willingness of many to step away from comfortable positions to look at and think about others' understanding of scripture.

Faith J Totushek said...

Hi I am new to this blog but have something to add about deception.

First anyone who is not taught can be easily deceived. To say that all women are easily deceived based on this text is to read something into the text that is not there. The only thing mentioned is that Eve was deceived why because Adam was created first. It is not about her substance... because of her female substance, she is more easily deceived... it is about the fact that Adam had been created first and had not been deceived. By inference, Adam had more knowledge about God because of his longer experience with God.

Verse 14 is refering to the story of Adam and Eve in which Eve is under the influance of a false teacher, the serpant. The serpant incidently was a cultural image of a wise one--something like a shaman or teach of false gods. Moses was teaching the people of God to watch out for false teachers who seem wise. It is to that analogy that Paul is refering. The text says nothing about the substance or make up of a women so that she is easily deceived.

Paul is not permitting untaught, deceived women like Eve to teach because they may lead others into their deception. I would not permit a deceived person to teach in the church either at least until that person had a chance to learn. which is what verse 13 is refering to --let them learn in quietness.

regarding verse 15 and being saved through childbearing. In the Greek it says the childbearing. "tas teknogonias". Tas is rendered either "her" or "the", since using her would be opposing salvation by faith, it makes sense to choose "the".

A woman will be saved by the childbearing...meaning the child born of a Mary.

This too is a logical, thoughtful and faithful interpretation of the passage.

Tia Lynn said...

Well said! Welcome and come by often. I need the help! :)