By Grant Vissers
Read: 1 Timothy 2:8-15
Martin Luther, a German theologian, and one of the central figures in the Protestant Reformation is credited to have attempted to remove Hebrew, James, Jude and Revelation from the Bible. He had a couple of different reasons, but for starters he felt like they contradicted the doctrine of sola fide, which states that humans are saved by faith alone. James, according to Luther, treads too far over that line when talking about “works.” In the end, Luther’s contemporaries and followers dismissed his views and the Bible still includes those books. Fun fact: they are toward the end of the English Bible because Luther placed them right at the end of the German Bible. He thought that little of them.
If I (Grant) was allowed to remove a small number of verses from the Bible, I’d be hard pressed not to remove these verses. They have created so much controversy and division in the church and still do, to this day. It’s ironic because one of the first things Paul writes here is that he wants the church to be free from controversy. I find the controversy and disunity hard, especially when the Bible is so clear about the Church’s mandate for unity. For example, in Ephesians 4 we read this, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” The goal is unity.
Now, obviously we can’t remove verses from the Bible or even ignore them, but we can work hard to study and understand the context in which they were written and the spirit in which they were meant. Let me begin by stating the obvious, I’m married to a female pastor who I believe brings it when she preaches. I interpret these passages contextually.
In other letters, Paul commends women for their work in their local churches. Let me name a few; Prisca, Priscilla and Aquila, Junia, Nereus’ sister, Trophena, Triphosa, and Phoebe. Pheobe was a Deacon in the church and led in local congregations. Bart Ehrman, a theologian and professor, has written stating Paul praises Junia as an apostle and leader within the church. So, on the surface, Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy seems to run contrary to how he himself ran his own ministry.
Let me suggest one way forward. Paul’s instruction to Timothy was context specific. There has been a lot of debate about who the women were that Paul seems to be concerned about here. Many scholars seem to indicate that they were a specific sect or group of women who were particularly disruptive during worship. That may be. But look closely at Paul’s language. “I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.” In the Greek, Paul uses the indicative tense and NOT the imperative. “I do not…” For this community, Paul is stating the way it is, he is not in fact dictating how things should be for all time. If he had intended to do that, I believe he would have used the imperative tense (command), as he does elsewhere in scripture. Therefore, this is not a once and for all command.
This passage is challenging, that’s why it’s entitled, “What?” It really gets people worked up. I don’t claim to know everything, but let me suggest this, nobody does. The best we can do, is to work to live together in love and unity, building up the body of believers and not tearing each other down.
- How does this passage make you feel?
- Are there other interpretations of this passage that you have heard before?
- How can we reconcile the seeming “contradictions” that we see in different scripture passages?