Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church, chps 17-20, discuss the most controversial — according to all — and significant — according to some — text in the entire NT when it comes to the “role” of women in the Church. So, let me quote the whole text from 1 Timothy chp 2 and then offer summaries of her discussions.
8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 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 childbearingâ??if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
There are lots of issues here; I cannot possibly even try to resolve all of them (or any of them at length), but we can point to the issues and to how Sumner resolves them. If you are in a hurry, read the text above and then skip to point #6 below: she thinks the text is addressing a local situation.
Here’s the big question — it’s at the bottom of this post.
First, Sumner contends up front that any simplistic reading of this text runs into conflict with other passages in the Bible, in the letters of Paul, and in the practice of the early churches. Thus, no one accepts at face value v. 15 that “women will be saved through childbearing.” No one believes the redemption of women occurs through childbirth — if accompanied by faith (as a moral virtue), love and holiness.
And she contends that v. 12 is not taken at face value either: everyone (in one way or another) modifies “I do not permit a woman to teach” — though Paul makes no qualifications. Taken at face value, this prohibits women (her example) from teaching piano lessons or (my example) from teaching Physics in a college classroom.
Without going any further into examples … this sort of encounter with the text can lead a reader to the view that this text (vv. 8-15) may be responding to specific issues in the context to which Paul is writing.
Second, the Piper-Grudem line of thinking (again her example) contends that Paul is here prohibiting some kind of personal, pastoral and direct teaching, though both of them contend that Paul would be permitting women to “teach” through books and radio and other less personal/direct forms of communication. (She uses this to illustrate that no one takes this text simplistically; it requires nuance etc.)
Third, she contends that it is very important to realize that churches do not “call” anyone; that the gift of preaching and teaching is a gift from God. God selects those who are to preach and teach.
Fourth, many in the history of the Church have understood this prohibition of women (not to teach or exercise authority) as deriving from the order of creation and the initiation of sin by Eve — that this leads to women being more gullible. (She discusses this in chp. 18; no question that some have taught this sort of thing.)
Her contention is that if this is a creation order prohibition, women are banned forever from teaching anything. And, if God called Deborah or other women to lead Israel (inevitably teaching would be involved), then God violated his own creation ordinance.
Fifth, in seminary Sarah was told by a teacher that if she ever wrote a commentary her professor would use the textbook but not permit her to teach in the class.
Sixth, without getting into too many details for this post, Sumner argues that vv. 8-15 contain plenty of contextual clues to suggest that Paul is responding to specific issues in the local context. Here are the basics:
1. Both viewpoints see vv. 8-10 referring to local situation: how men and women behave when they gather as a church.
2. Both viewpoints generally agree that v. 15 is a local issue: that women will be saved through childbearing.
3. It is likely then that vv. 11-14 emerge from the same context: shutting down women from teaching and exercising authority, etc.
4. It is likely then that Paul is addressing a situation something like mistaken/heretical women who are not yet taught in the faith exercising authority and teaching in the local context, and that such ideas most likely involved the contention that Eve was created first and goddess worship. Men were reacting in violence and threats to women — like dying if they had another child.
What do you think: if vv. 8-10 and v. 15 are addressing a local situation, do you think it is likely that vv. 11-14 would be too? What would be the “application” of this passage if her view (and this view is essentially that of Gordon Fee and RT France — and many others) is preferred?