About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Art Patzia at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class covering Acts through Revelation.
Many people find Paul’s perspective on women to be very confusing. Paul seems to affirm a positive view of women, such as in Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:3-16, and Titus 2:3-5, where he identifies women to be on the same level playing field as men. However, Paul also seems to have a negative view of women, such as in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2, where he subordinates women to men. Does Paul contradict himself? Some scholars have argued that there is no contradiction and that Paul does have a good perspective on women. We should look at the aforementioned negative texts and see how scholars who argue that Paul has a positive view of women and does not contradict himself make their case. We will look at what they argue and claim regarding each of the negative texts, and then we will summarize their methods. Before we look at the scholarly explanations of the seemingly negative texts, let us first look at the general feel of the positive texts, so that we will see the distinction between the two types that are often juxtaposed.
Looking at Scripture
There are five positive texts that we should briefly summarize, which are Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, and 1 Timothy 5:3-16. In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul argued as follows: in Christ, we are all equals; ethnic, social, and gender distinctions do not exist in Christ. The issue at hand is a present equality in Christ for every person so that gender distinctions do not exist.
In Romans 16, Phoebe is identified as a deacon and a benefactor (vv. 1-2), Prisca (or Priscilla), who is a coworker with Paul, is the object, along with her husband, of much gratitude among the Gentiles, and in fact she and her husband host a house church (vv. 3-5), Mary is said to work hard for the Roman church (v. 6), Junia is identified as a relative of Paul and as being prominent among the apostles (v. 7), Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis are identified as workers in the Lord (v. 12), Rufus’ mother is identified as a non-biological mother to Paul (v. 13), and Julia and Nereus’ sister are identified among a company of saints (v. 15). All of these people are women, and they are all considered to be prominent in some way or another in the church. It seems in this text that women were seen as coworkers and equals alongside men in Paul’s view. The next three passages give or affirm some sort of rights or privileges to women. In Titus 2:3-5, older women are charged with specific instructions for leadership for the specific purpose of teaching younger women. Here it seems women are specifically given a leadership role in ministry in this specific text, and although it is a leadership role over other women, it is a leadership role nonetheless. In 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, each man is urged to have his own wife and each wife should have her own husband (v. 2). The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights, and the wife to her husband (v. 3). The wife does not have authority over her body, and the husband does not have authority over his body (v. 4). Paul views marriage through a lens of equality, so that wives have the same rights as their husbands. In 1 Timothy 5:3-16, Paul affords provision for women by the church, women who are old widows and are true widows–those who meet specific qualifications. Paul shows concern for widows.
Therefore, the positive texts that we have looked at seem to demonstrate that Paul had a positive view of women. He was concerned for the care of widows. He upheld equality in terms of conjugal rights in marriage between the husband and wife. He made room for women to teach at least other women. He perceived women to be equal co-workers alongside himself and other men in service to the church and to the Lord. He taught that in Christ there is neither male nor female; in Christ there is no gender distinction. However, Paul elsewhere seems to contradict this positive view. We should now look at the seemingly negative texts and see how some scholars have treated these passages.
There are four seemingly negative texts that we are going to look at, which are 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, Ephesians 5:21-33, and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, respectively.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, there are several pieces that point toward a negative view of women. We should summarize this text’s contents. Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ (v. 3). Disgrace comes upon the head of a man who prays with his head covered (v. 4). Disgrace also comes upon the head of a woman who prays with her head uncovered (v. 5). Man is the reflection and image of God, and women are the image and reflection of man (v. 7). Woman was made from man and woman was made for man (vv. 8-9). Woman should have authority on her head because of the angels (v. 10). In the Lord woman is not independent from man nor man independent of woman (v. 11). Woman came from man but so also man comes from woman through childbirth (v. 12). However, all things come from God (v. 12). It should be asked, “Is it proper for women to pray with their heads unveiled?” (v. 13). It should also be asked, “Does nature say men who cover their heads are a disgrace?” (v. 14). Finally, it should be asked, “Does nature say women who have long hair are glory?” (v. 15).
There are no less than six questions regarding 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. What does “head” mean? What does the relationship between Christ and man, husband and wife, and God and Christ mean in relation to “head”? What is the significance of head coverings? What does the image of God and image of man mean? What does “because of the angels” mean? What does it mean that man and woman are not independent of each other in the Lord? Perhaps these questions should be answered (or attempted to be answered) by considering the issue at hand.
Paul seems to be concerned with praying according to the social customs in public and seems to be addressing a specific issue that the Corinthians had inquired to him about. But it seems from this text that Paul perceived men to be the rulers of women. Is this Paul’s view? Linda Belleville says that it is not.
According to Belleville, 1 Corinthians 11 explains how women should pray or prophesy, but it does not question who or what one should pray.1 To be clear, her point is that Paul was not restricting wives from speaking in church worship, but rather he was prescribing how women generally ought to speak in church worship.2
In Belleville’s view, the issue in 1 Corinthians 11 is not concerning husbands and wives, but rather males and females; it has been suggested that since virtually all women were married during the First Century A.D., it can be assumed that “males” and “females” is understood to mean “husbands” and “wives,” but this proposal does not consider Paul’s care for widows, virgins, and the divorced earlier in 1 Corinthians.3
Belleville argues that Paul’s instructions were addressing a specific situation. During the First Century A.D., Asia Minor had fixed customs regarding gender attire. The words “shameful”, “proper”, and “disgraceful” in 1 Corinthians 11 demonstrate that Paul seems to be concerned with these social customs regarding gender attire. However, Paul’s appeal to Genesis 2 involves something more than inappropriate attire; women and men are taught by nature to wear their hair differently from each other. By addressing the issue of hair, gender distinctions are clearly at hand. Women were approved by Paul to pray or prophesy alongside men, but Paul was concerned with how they publicly performed prayer or prophecied.4
Belleville demonstrates that the attire in question in 1 Corinthians 11 is headgear. Is it hair? Is it a covering? Verses 14-15 seem to indicate that women ought to cover their heads with something else because of their long hair. The long hair is understood to be a covering provided by nature, but it is not the head covering itself. Also, in v. 6, Paul said that if a woman will not cover her head then she should cut off her hair, which assumed a different covering from her hair itself. Verse 10 also suggests that something other than the woman’s hair ought to be placed on her head, because there was no indication in the First Century A.D. that hair and authority were linked, but it was an accepted practice for female laity in Roman religions to place a cover on their heads before performing religious functions.5
Furthermore, Roman women did not wear head coverings in public, but religious laity and civic leaders did cover their heads in public by pulling their togas up far enough to cover their head. There was a leadership role for women in the First Century A.D. But there was still a necessity to keep distinctions between the sexes, even though both genders are equal in Christ.6
Head coverings are not the only piece of the text in question. Paul’s use of “head” is also a strong focus in modern scholarship and research concerning 1 Corinthians 11. Belleville argues that we can determine how Paul was using “head” by drawing on the language of vv. 7, 8, and 12, and we will find that he used it something along the lines of “glory.”7
In Belleville’s understanding, the problem for Paul was when a woman uncovered her head attention would be drawn to her masculine origin or “head,” so that attention was taken away from God. Women were to cover their heads so that God was the focus of everyone’s attention.8
Craig Keener argues along the same lines as Belleville. He is additionally helpful in terms of his treatment on head coverings. He notes the function and significance of a woman who revealed her hair in public for the Corinthian cultural setting. According to Keener, a wife who revealed her hair in public was tantamount to cheating on her husband, for a woman’s hair was perceived as a sexual object by men. This thought also explains why virgins and prostitutes uncovered their hair in public; they were seeking to draw attention to themselves, that is, they were attempting to attract men.9 At the very least, head coverings were typical of married women.10 Husbands wanted to preserve their rights to the beauty of their wives; head coverings helped to preserve such rights. When wives went into public without their heads covered, they were perceived as being immodest for publicly displaying their beauty, for the head and hair were seen as the most important part of a woman’s beauty.11
Keener is also helpful in his treatment of Paul’s phrase, “because of the angels.” Keener argues that the statement for a woman to have a covering over her head because of the angels was Paul’s way of saying that women did have authority over their heads but they needed to use their authority responsibly, that is, for propriety’s sake. Paul’s intention was to avoid contention by adhering to cultural customs.12
Keener’s argument that Paul was attempting to avoid conflict with cultural customs is supported by Walter Liefeld’s argument that Paul was instructing women in this way for evangelistic purposes. Liefeld links Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to what we find in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, because of the conjunction de that joins the two passages together. The earlier passage is concerned with actions for the sake of evangelism, and de in 1 Corinthians 11:2 links this new passage with the previously stated evangelistic purpose.13
Belleville, Keener and Liefeld, along with other scholars, argue that Paul was giving instructions based on a specific situation. According to these scholars, Paul did not prohibit women from speaking, but rather he instructed them for their situation how they were to speak when they were at church worship. They also emphasize Paul’s intentions for the instructions; they served an evangelistic function. Their arguments point out that Paul did not contradict himself, because he was not instructing the Corinthian women with timeless rules. Instead, he acknowledged their rights, but for the sake of the gospel, he asked them in their particular situation to give up their rights. For these scholars, there is no contradiction, because the positive texts have a timeless scope while 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has a limited and specific scope.
1 Corinthians 14:33-36
In 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, Paul made a rather negative and harsh remark concerning women. The text reads that women should be silent as in all the churches of the saints (vv. 33-34). Women are not permitted to speak (v. 34). Women are to be subordinate as the law says (v. 34). If women desire to know anything, they need to ask their husbands at home (v. 35). It is shameful for a woman to speak in church (v. 35). This passage sounds like it is in contradiction with Romans 16 or Galatians 3. However, there are some questions that must be asked regarding this passage. What does Paul mean when he says, “As in all the churches of the saints?” What law did Paul refer to? What is the significance of the questions that Paul asks in v. 36? It does seem as though Paul was concerned about disorder in the church worship, and he did instruct women to be silent in the church. It seems as though Paul did have a negative view of women, especially when he restricted them from speaking in church worship. Is this accurate? Again, Belleville disagrees.
Belleville demonstrates that this passage is difficult enough to begin with, let alone the fact that it seems that Paul was contradicting himself. There is much to consider in terms of the difficulty of this passage. Paul did not specify to what or to whom women were to submit. Paul did not specify if the law was the Mosaic law, church law, or the law of the land. Paul did not specify what it was that the women desired to learn. Paul did not specify why it was disgraceful for women to speak in church worship.14
The phrase, “as in all the congregations of the saints,” adds to the difficulty of this passage. Does it go with the preceding words or the following words? If the phrase goes with the following words, then it approves the silence of the women in the church. If the phrase goes with what precedes it, then it approves orderly worship in the church.15
Belleville rightly argues that we need to come to terms with the use of “as” phrases in Paul’s writings in order to understand this phrase in 1 Corinthians 14. Did Paul use “as” phrases to conclude or begin a thought? He used them for both. How did Paul use “as” phrases in regards to church practice? In 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16, similar “as” phrases conclude Paul’s arguments. Specifically concerning church practice, “as” phrases conclude arguments and instructions in 1 Corinthians. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 14:33 fits the mold. We should attach the present “as” phrase to the preceding words due to the pattern of “as” phrases in connection with church practices in 1 Corinthians. Furthermore, according to Belleville, if the “as” phrase goes with the following words, Paul would be repeating himself rather sloppily with the words “in the churches” said twice in the same sentence. Finally, the words, “let the women,” are a typically Pauline way of starting a new paragraph, such as in Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. Given the use of “as” statements in 1 Corinthians in connection with church practice, given the use of the words “in the churches,” and given the use of the words “let the women,” we can be confident that “as in all the churches of the saints” belongs with the preceding words.16
Belleville points out the confusion behind the phrase “as the law says.” We simply do not know what law Paul was referring to. There is no Old Testament law that instructs women to submit to their husbands. Genesis 3:16 is not understood in this way, so we cannot attribute it as such. Jesus did not instruct women to submit to their husbands either. Paul did instruct women to submit to their husbands, but he did not equate his instructions with the law. Was it the law of the church or the law of the land? Greek and Jewish marital contracts did involve wifely obedience, but Roman contracts typically did not. Since the word “husband” is not present in this passage, we should consider it on a broader basis. We should start by looking at Paul’s use of “submit” elsewhere in his letters. “Submit” for Paul was virtually voluntary. Churches submit themselves to their leaders (1 Cor. 16:16), believers submit themselves to secular authority (Rom. 13:1), slaves are to submit themselves to their masters (Col. 3:22), and wives are to submit themselves to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5). The context of 1 Corinthians 14, in addition to the typical use of “submit” throughout the rest of Paul’s letters, helps us to understand what Paul meant here in v. 34. Paul said that the spirits of the prophets were to submit to the prophets, so that when another prophet received a revelation, the first prophet was to sit and be silent; furthermore, those who spoke in tongues were to be silent when there was no one to interpret. Therefore, to be silent was to be in submission. The idea was to have control over the tongue for the purpose of preserving order. Tongues speakers, prophets and women were to be silent for the sake of orderly worship.17
Belleville argues that since we do not know of a Roman, Greek or Jewish law from the First Century A.D. that commanded women to submit, we must look for help elsewhere, and we can find it by focusing on what Paul meant by “silence.” We know that women are permitted and approved to pray and prophesy in the church, so what kind of silence is Paul talking about? There are four things we need to note. One, the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 is about public worship. First Corinthians 14:23, 26 uses the words, “When you gather as a church,” which indicate that a public service is in mind. Two, the speaking that is being silenced is of a disruptive nature. Paul is focused on orderly worship and orderly speaking, so the silencing of speaking must be an effort to stop the kind that frustrates the orderly service. Three, the source of the disruptive speaking is married women. In 1 Corinthians 14:35, Paul tells the married women to ask their own husbands questions at home. Four, the women were disrupting out of a desire to learn. Inspired speech was not the issue; Paul was not instructing against the use of spiritual gifts. The women made the mistake of asking questions in the wrong place, and it is likely that they were asking the wrong people too, otherwise Paul would not have said, “ask your own husbands.” To ask another man a question and not one’s own husband would have been shameful for anyone in the Greco-Roman culture of the First Century A.D. Blurting out questions would have caused confusion, which would have hindered the church’s witness to outsiders. Furthermore, in pagan worship it was improper for women to blurt out questions, and public speaking was discouraged in that culture, so to have women asking questions during a worship service would have been disgraceful.18
Belleville argues further that women were in a position to ask questions. According to Belleville, women were not well-educated, which would give rise to questions. Formal instruction for women typically stopped around ages 12-16, depending on if the female was a Jew, Greek or Roman. Lower-class women were not in a position to pursue formal instruction as a career. Instead, women were in charge of raising children and managing the household, so there was hardly any time for them to learn.19
Belleville notes that Paul in fact affirmed the right for women to learn and be instructed in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, but he instructed them to do it at home with their own husbands. He also affirmed the right for women to ask questions, but again, this was to be done at home with their own husbands. Also, bear in mind that it was not only women who were silenced, but it was also “long-winded prophets” and “unintelligible speakers.” Paul targeted anyone or anything that disrupted the edification of the church.20
Keener points out as Belleville does that Paul seems to be silencing questions. He is helpful in pointing out the significance of asking questions in a public format in the First Century A.D. It was possible for questions to lead to shame. In all ancient lecture settings, questions were permitted, except when the person who was asking the question was not sufficiently educated. When someone was not sufficiently educated, it was expected that he or she would keep silent.21 Furthermore, whispering during a lecture was perceived as rude.22 It may not have been acceptable for unlearned people to ask the speaker questions, but it neither was it acceptable for the unlearned people to ask the learned people around them during the speaker’s lecture. Both were seen as shameful. Paul seems to want to spare the women from such shame.
Keener concludes with a similar statement as Belleville. According to Keener, Paul instructs women to learn by asking their own husbands questions at home. In Paul’s view the husbands were responsible for educating their wives. He avoided breaking cultural customs of propriety by giving such instructions, but he was not against their learning, nor did he prohibit them from praying or prophesying in church worship. The issues here were not gender, but propriety, and not speaking, but learning.23
Belleville, Keener, and others, have argued that Paul was silencing women in a specific form of speech, and he was not silencing speech in its totality. They do reference back to 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul affirmed that women pray and prophecy in church worship, so he was not silencing all speech. They recognize that Paul’s instructions were given in order to meet a specific need, as they did in their treatments of 1 Corinthians 11. They emphasize that women were uneducated and would have been prone to asking questions. Given the possibility for questions to bring shame onto the uneducated women, Paul instructed them to learn by asking their husbands questions at home. Their arguments indicate that Paul did not contradict himself. He was writing his letter within the confines of a specific situation and was not laying down timeless guidelines. Therefore, Paul was not being negative or misogynistic. Rather, he was positively affirming women’s right to learn, but he made that right available in such a way that the women’s pursuit of their rights did not hinder the gospel.
In Ephesians 5:21-33, all the believers are told to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (v. 21). Wives are told to be subject to their husbands as they are to the Lord (v. 22). The husband is said to be the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church of whom he is its Savior (v. 23). As the church is subject to Christ, so also should wives be subject to their husbands (v. 24). Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (v. 25). Husbands are also told to love their wives as they love their own bodies, for whoever loves his wife loves himself (v. 28). The argument closes, saying that husbands should love their wives as themselves and wives should respect their husbands (v. 33). There are at least a couple of questions that arise from this passage. What did Paul mean when he said, “be subject to one another,” but then turned around and explicitly told the wives to be subject to their husbands and did not instruct the husbands to be subject to the wives? How are we to understand his statement that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church? The issue seems to be that Paul was addressing how the Ephesians should be living as imitators of God, which includes submitting to each other. This submission seems to work out differently in Paul’s mind for husbands and wives. Submission for husbands is to love, and for wives is to respect. But it seems as though Paul negatively instructed women to submit to the leadership of their husbands. Is this what Paul was affirming? Belleville does not agree.
According to Belleville, wives are called to submit to their husbands, but it is important to note that they are called to submit, not to obey. Obedience is required of an inferior. In this context we find that slaves and children were instructed to obey their superiors. However, submission is a voluntary and humble acceptance of the wishes of an equal. The wives are free and responsible agents equal to their spouses. Furthermore, what the wives are instructed to do is no different from what all believers are called to do to one another. Paul instructed all of the Ephesians to submit to one another before he instructed the wives to submit to their husbands. The implication is that the instruction Paul gave to women was not negative, and it did not necessarily indicate a hierarchical subordination.24
Belleville argues that the instruction to the women has an evangelistic purpose. She says that there is good reason to accept that Paul’s instructions reflected the social customs of the First Century A.D., and so must be understood as an evangelistic tool in their cultural context. First, the instruction for the wives to submit is not grounded in the creation order of male and female. Paul quoted the creation order to stress mutuality in marriage, but he did not appeal to the creation order when instructing the wives to submit. In wanting not to discount the gospel, Paul wanted to appeal to the culture by following the social norm. Second, the instruction to the wives is not grounded by Paul in Scripture, as are the other instructions given to children and husbands. Instead, Paul stated that the wives should submit to their husbands because it was fitting (and he instructed slaves to obey their masters for the same reason). Again, Paul was attempting to appeal to the social norms of their culture. Third, Paul based his instructions on social reasons. Elsewhere in the New Testament, wives were instructed to submit to their husbands so that God’s word would not be discounted (Titus 2:5). Evangelism through social norms was the goal of the church. In order for the gospel to be credible, the Christians had to act in socially acceptable or inoffensive ways.25
Belleville looks at Paul’s use of “head” and the analogy here as a distinctive feature describing the relationship between the husband and wife. Focusing on the analogy of Christ and his relationship to the church, she argues that Christ is both savior and sustainer of the church. Neither nouns, “head” or “savior”, have the definite article, so the two are descriptive rather than definitive. “Head” in this instance refers to source, not chief ruler; likewise, “savior” refers to life-giving preservation. Christ sacrificed his life so that the church, which finds its source in Christ, could live. This sacrificial preservation is the model for which the husband ought to love his wife. As Christ cares for and tends to the church’s needs, so also must the husband provide for his wife. Paul continued on to say that such provision was really caring for oneself. The church is Christ’s body, and the wife is the husband’s body, because the two have become one flesh.26
Belleville rightly notes that Paul instructed the husband to love, not rule, his wife. Paul does not give any sort of ruling authority over the wife to the husband in this instance. Instead of instructing the husbands to rule over their wives, whom he had just instructed to submit to their husbands, he instructed them to love their wives. Furthermore, Paul instructed them three times to love their wives, once in v. 25, v. 28, and v. 33. The example of Christ excludes ruling over, because, after all, Christ came to serve. Similarly, Paul did not give any sort of decision-making rights to the husband in this instance. In Paul’s understanding, the heart, not the head, was what made decisions (1 Corinthians 7:37). It is important that he does not say the husband is the heart of the wife. The analogy of “head” only expresses source, which is made clear when Paul sited Genesis 2, identifying that the church is the Eve of the Second Adam, being bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.27
Keener perceives Ephesians 5:21-33 in a similar way as Belleville, but he is helpful in pointing out some additional pieces of information. He affirms that Paul upheld traditional Roman family values, probably because the Romans did not like Eastern religions that put into question or attempted to challenge their social customs, and in some cases they discounted such religions.28 Whatever the reason, Paul used traditional categories of household codes, which were the codes for husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves, but he radically differed in his instruction when he told all the believers to mutually submit.29
Keener emphasizes that Paul’s language was radical. He instructed all believers to submit to each other. The instructions he gives men is not typical. Rulers of the house were generally instructed in how to rule, not how to love.30 Even the subordinates in Paul’s household code here in Ephesians, the wives, children and slaves, were to submit voluntarily, which was not the typical household code language. Paul, while working within particular cultural confines, instructed wives, children and slaves without calling into question the social practices and customs. According to Keener, Paul was giving specific instructions for specific situations.31
I. Howard Marshall points out an important connection between Ephesians 5:21 and 5:18.
Ephesians 5:18 is a command to be filled with the Spirit, and what follows is a set of participles that describe how believers should be filled. The last participle is found in 5:21. This participle identifies that submitting to one another is one of the ways believers are to be filled with the Spirit. This idea of submitting is made explicit to the wives in Ephesians 5:22, but the men, including husbands, were instructed to submit as well.32
Belleville, Keener, Marshall, and others argue that Paul was not negative but positive. Paul was arguing for women to choose to submit themselves to their husbands for evangelistic purposes. Again, they emphasize that Paul was meeting a particular situation with specific instructions. Their arguments demonstrate that Paul was not contradicting himself because his timeless principles were not being violated or reversed. In fact, they point out that Paul was unusual, because he did not instruct the men to rule, but to love, and for reasons that were not typical.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, a negative view seems to be plainly in sight. Men are to pray in every place with their hands lifted up and without anger or argument (v. 8), while women are to dress modestly and decently, without braids, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes (v. 9). Instead, women are to dress with good works (v. 10). Women are to learn in silence in full submission (v. 11). Women are not permitted to teach or bear authority over a man (v. 12). Women are to keep silent (v. 12). Adam was formed first, and then Eve, but it was Eve who was deceived (vv. 13-14). This text raises no less than eight questions. What did Paul mean by “dress modestly”? Why would Paul say that women could not dress with braids, gold, pearls or expensive clothes? What did Paul mean by “dress with good works”? What did he mean by “learn in silence and in full submission”? Why did he not permit women to teach or bear authority? Why did he instruct women to keep silent? What was Paul’s purpose in referencing and discussing Adam and Eve? What did Paul mean when he said that women will be saved through childbearing? There are not a few questions to face, but everyone who argues that Paul does not contradict himself must deal with each of these questions. In this passage, Paul seems to be instructing men and women how to pray. It seems as though he was not allowing women to teach or be a leader over men. Is this so? Belleville does not think so.
Belleville understands that the primary purpose of 1 Timothy was to instruct leaders against false teaching.33 She argues that Paul was addressing a specific and problematic situation, which means he was not giving universal instruction. Furthermore, his instructions to the church in Ephesus were out of concern for their evangelistic witness. However, Paul did affirm women’s right to learn and be instructed. He instructed how it ought to be done by appealing to cultural customs, not apostolic authority or Scripture.34
With this agenda in mind, Belleville argues that the more difficult parts of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are obscure but still relative to a specific temporary setting. Even the verb “to permit” is not a typical biblical prohibition. Given the use of this same verb elsewhere in the Bible, Belleville suggests that it is best to understand this particular prohibition to be a temporary restriction that is limited in scope.35
This limited restriction was twofold for Paul. Belleville argues that this twofold restriction contains two equal parts of the whole. One, women were not permitted to teach, and two, women were not permitted to bear authority over men. This twofold restriction is actually one and the same in Greek. What kind of teaching is not permitted? Belleville argues that we should understand the kind of teaching that is temporarily restricted by Paul by looking at the second part of the twofold restriction.36
Understanding of the verb authenteô, “bear authority,” is complicated. The verb is an hapax legomenon, and it is not a frequently used term outside of the New Testament. It is used outside of the New Testament in a negative way, such as “to domineer”, and its cognate forms can be translated as “murder.” Furthermore, if Paul was talking of the exercise of authority, as is found in the English translations, he would have used his normal term, exousia, or its cognate verb, exousiazô. Since he did not, we must question why. The verb form of our present text is rare, although the noun form is common. Predominantly, it was used of committing a crime or act of violence up to the Second Century A.D. It was also used in reference to taking matters into one’s own hands, to exercise mastery over, and to hold absolute control over someone or something. From the Second Century B.C. through the First Century A.D., the idea of exercising authority is not attested for this verb. If we are to take the verb in the sense of authority, then we have to take it in terms of holding control or mastery over another, which is how the Vulgate and early Latin versions understand the verb.37
Belleville appeals to Greek syntax to demonstrate that the two verbs are paired together in a specific way. The use of the neither/nor construction in Greek is important. It can be used to pair synonyms, antonyms, or closely related ideas. At other times it can be used to define a related purpose or goal, to move from the general to the particular, or to define a natural progression of related ideas. Since teaching and authentein are not synonyms, antonyms or closely related ideas, we can be sure that we are not dealing with such pairs. We do not have closely related ideas, unless we take the verb to mean “exercise authority”, which is not attested during the time leading up to and through the First Century A.D., nor do we have the movement from the general to the particular. What fits well is the neither/nor Greek construction defining a related purpose or a goal, where the goal of teaching is to dominate or get the upper hand.38
Belleville appeals to the structure of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, noting a parallelism in vv. 8-12. According to Belleville, men are addressed first; they are instructed to pray by lifting up holy hands and without anger. Women are addressed next; they should pray in appropriate attire and without attempting to teach a man in a dictatorial way. The first part of both is how they should pray in their appearance. The second part deals with the attitude, and it is a prohibition against anger and contention.39
Belleville suggests that there could be a possible influence from the cult of Artemis in the teachings of the false teachers. It is possible that within the false teaching the women were being encouraged to usurp authority as teachers over the men, since the cult believed that the female was superior to the male. However, this goes against the creation order, in which neither male nor female are to dominate the other. Paul appears to be correcting the false teaching and to be attempting to bring them back into mutual submission to each other.40
David Scholer focuses on 1 Timothy 2:15 as being not only the climax of the text (2:8-15), but also as the key to understanding the text as a whole. Verse 15 is linked with the preceding verses with the conjunction, de, and it depends on the previous verse to supply the subject for its opening verb. Paul said that women will be saved through childbirth, provided that they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. This identifies that women were identified among the saved through fulfilling the social norms of the Greco-Roman culture during the First Century A.D. in terms of maternal and domestic roles expected of them. This concern for propriety exists earlier in the passage. In v. 9, Paul addressed women’s attire. His instruction was concerned with women’s domestic role according to the contemporary culture.41
Scholer looks at the structure of the entire passage and not just at the last verse. First Timothy 2:8 instructs men to pray with the proper posture and attitude. Prayer was the preceding theme from 2:1-7, and it is clear that the context is in the church. The instructions for women’s dress is unqualified, but it is similar to 2:15 in that it uses the social norm for decency so that God’s word is not discounted. Furthermore, we find that Paul’s instructions for women’s attire was not different from the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural norms. In fact, rejecting outward appearance was part of wifely submission in the First Century A.D. A woman who adorned herself with gold, pearls, and expensive clothing was proclaiming sexual infidelity in that culture. Paul’s thought progression moved from women’s adornment to submission in vv. 9-12. Adornment and submission were two sides of the same coin in Paul’s culture. Therefore, the instructions given in vv. 11-12 must be understood in light of vv. 9-10.42
According to Scholer, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 comports well with the generally expected behavior of women in the First Century A.D. These verses focus on honorable behavior, as do vv. 9-10 and v. 15. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, we have instructions being given to meet the needs of a particular situation. We can be sure that these verses are not a universal command because the immediate context of 2:9-15 and the larger context of 1 and 2 Timothy is dealing with the issue of false teaching. The false teaching in Ephesus had women as a particular focus and encouraged them to radically challenge appropriate social behavior. As a result, the situation merited Paul’s instructions in vv. 11-12. Furthermore, the climax of the immediate context, v. 15, indicates that the paragraph is situational, so what precedes it in the same paragraph must also be situational.43
After looking at 1 Timothy 2:8-12, Scholer turns to Paul’s allusions to Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Scholer reports that these allusions have been thought by some to clearly indicate, by an appeal to creation ordinances, women are inferior to men and are required to submit to their husbands and not teach or have authority. In other words, they look at the allusions as proof for universal application in 1 Tim. 2:8-15. However, alluding to Old Testament texts does not intrinsically give Paul’s instructions a universal intent. Furthermore, only v. 13 is part of the creation ordinance. What we find in v. 14 deals with the first sin, which is not to be confused with creation. Elsewhere, Paul looked before the sin of Eve to Genesis 1 to argue for the mutuality, not hierarchy, between man and woman (cf. Galatians 3:28).44
Scholer argues that Paul was selective in his use of Genesis 1-3 and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. However, Paul elsewhere attributed sin and death to Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-14), and in another instance he used Eve to teach against false teaching. According to Scholer, the facts show that Paul used whatever best fit his points. Paul often used other arguments to support his own points. This passage is in keeping with the rest of Paul’s tendencies. Therefore, 1 Timothy 2:13-14 functions for Paul as an explanatory argument to support the points he made in vv. 9-12.45
Belleville, Scholer, and others argue that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is not a timeless restriction. They emphasize that the letter was written for a specific need to a specific people in a specific location during a specific moment in time. They also argue by means of syntactical, lexical and form analysis to demonstrate that the teaching restricted is a kind of teaching that attempts to domineer or dominate. They demonstrate that Paul was not contradicting himself because his timeless teachings were not reversed in the specific instructions he gave for the situation he was dealing with. Paul still affirmed women’s participation in prayer alongside of men, but it was to be done in a culturally acceptable and fitting way. According to these scholars, this text is neither negative nor timeless.
Scholars like Belleville, Keener, Liefeld, Fee, Marshall, and Scholer appeal to the cultural setting and evangelical purpose of Paul when dealing with those seemingly negative and misogynistic passages of his letters. They typically demonstrate that Paul wrote letters for specific situations, and therefore his letters must be understood in light of those specific situations to which he wrote. Their basic argument suggests that whenever we can determine Paul’s instructions (or restrictions) to be tied to a specific setting, their literal (word-for-word or face value) understanding must be tied to the specific setting and not perceived to be a universal truth or timeless instruction. In their view, whenever Paul appeals to culture, so far as we can tell, we need to interpret those appeals for their cultural meaning and value.46 By following such a method, in their arguments these scholars have demonstrated that Paul neither contradicted himself nor possessed a misogynist view.
For these scholars, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has a high view of women, where Paul understands their rights and upholds them, but he asks them to give them up for the cause of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, they argue, Paul was affirming the right of women to learn, but he was giving helpful instructions how they were to go about learning. These scholars argue that Ephesians 5:21-33 is an exhortation for wives to purposefully choose to submit to their husbands for the sake of the gospel. 1 Timothy 2:8-15, according to these scholars, instructs women to dress appropriately so that the gospel would not be discounted, and prohibits women from teaching in a domineering way. Therefore, in their view, Paul is seen to have a positive view of women. He was not a misogynist. In these passages, he upholds women’s rights, affirms their abilities, but pleads for them to take on specific instructions for the sake of the gospel. These passages further compliment the positive passages, such as Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, and others previously mentioned. Paul did not contradict himself, and according to these scholars, he had a positive perspective of women.
Belleville, Linda. “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.
__________. Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Fee, Gordon. “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.
Keener, Craig. “Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.
__________. “Man and Woman.” Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, Daniel Reid, ed. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
__________. Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and women’s ministry in the letters of Paul. 7th printing. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.
Liefeld, Walter. “Women, Submission & Ministry in 1 Corinthians.” Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Women, Authority & the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
Marshall, I. Howard. “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33.” Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005.
Scholer, David. “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry.” Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Women, Authority & the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
__________. “Women in Ministry.” Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Women and Ministry in the New Testament. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005.