Monday, December 1, 2008

Blue Parakeet - Paul's Silencing of Women

Scot noticed that we already contextualize 1 Cor. 11.6 (For if a woman does not cover her head…). We discern that Paul was concerned about how the appearance of Corinthian women (who were letting their hair hang down perhaps in the manner of the Corinthian prostitutes) would impact the reputation of the gospel.

Context is everything. Knowing context permits deeper and wiser discernment. So what was the historical context to Paul’s words in 1 Tim. 2.9-15?

New Roman Women in Ephesus: Dress, Public Discourse, Anti-Marriage

McKnight claims that during Paul’s mission days there was a gender and sexual revolution observable in many of the major cities of the Roman Empire. This “new Roman woman” describes an aggressive, confrontational public presence on the part of women during the very time Paul was writing these letters. They were expressing their newfound freedoms in immodest, sexually provocative, and extravagant dress. They were even snatching the podium for public addresses and teaching.

In Ephesus this was combined with the Artemis religious fertility cult, where worshipers were surrounded by eunuch priests. Part of their worship was the elimination of normal sexual relations; these women despised marriage and childbearing and childrearing. Furthermore, this fertility cult extended their sexual and gender freedoms into open practices of abortion and contraception. This must be kept in mind as the new Roman woman began to jeopardize the holiness of the Church.

Scot points out that the big point Paul makes is not to “keep the women silent” but to “teach the women.” There were other problems at Ephesus that are sprinkled throughout the letter that impact the meaning and context of the original injunction. There was a problem with sensuality among the younger widows (1 Tim. 5.11-12) and there are busybody teachers (1 Tim. 5.13). If set into the new Roman woman context, we will see that 1 Timothy 5 is referring to young widow who, because they are not yet theologically formed, are being accused by Paul of idling and busy bodying. What they were saying and teaching was Paul’s concern.

Paul also point to the virtue of marriage in chapter 5, which harkens back to 1 Timothy 2.15 ("But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”) Scot doubts Paul is demanding all women everywhere marry, have children, and manage their homes (we only need to look at 1 Corinthians 7 for evidence that that is not the case). But if we factor in the new Roman woman’s desire to end marriage and childbearing and to pursue instead a sexually promiscuous life, Paul is countering those ideas with the virtue of marriage and managing a home. This is the context that gives rise to the silencing of women.

Paul’s focus in 1 Tim. 2.9-15 is not on what women cannot do, but on what these women must do: learn. He is not concerned with silence in general but silence in order to learn. Scot then concludes that the silence that Paul talks about in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy 2 is a temporary silence – temporary until these women have learned.

What about today?

Scot states that we can at least begin with two basic options: either we have a general prohibition of women teaching and leading with some exceptions or we have the possibility of women teaching and leading with some restrictions. There is no ground for total silencing of women in the church.

Scot then appeals to 1 Corinthians 9.19-23 and asks: Do you think Paul would have put women “behind the pulpit” if it would have been advantageous “for the sake of the gospel?”

In light of what you’ve read in the last few posts (What did women do in the OT, in the NT and the background to 1 Tim. 2.9-15), how would you answer Scot’s last question: In light of 1 Cor. 9.19-23, do you think Paul would have put women behind the pulpit if it would have been advantageous for the sake of the gospel?

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