1 Timothy 2:9-15 reads (in the New Revised Standard Version):
9 Also that women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
Gary G. Hoag identifies a number of interpretative issues posed by this passage. He brings to the table Ephesiaca, a love story dating from around 50 AD which involves a young Ephesian couple. This story has words and themes in common with 1 Tim 2:-15, and is therefore useful in exegeting it.
In the following outline, I first summarise the exegetical issue, and then Hoag’s suggestion about how Ephesiaca might shed light on it:
- How are we to understand the prohibition about ‘braided hair’ (v9)? Is the concern simply about modesty and decorum? This hairstyle was required in order for young women to demonstrate piety towards Artemis.
- What is the reasoning behind instruction about ‘expensive clothes’ (v9)? Is it because such clothes were associated with prostitution or promiscuity? Such costly clothing would be worn by women while making their way to the Artemisium to honour the goddess there.
- Why is the woman instructed to learn ‘in silence with full submission’? Does this apply to all women everywhere? Or is there something more local and contextual going on here? Ephesian women were taught from an early age to serve the cult of the goddess. They would pray aloud and learn by repetition and incantation. They would compete vigorously for roles associated with the cult.
- When women are forbidden to teach (v12) is this, again, prompted by something local and contextual? If not, what specific groups may women teach? If not men, how can women elsewhere be identified as apostles? Ephesus was the home of the cult of Artemus. Women aspired to cultic posts in which they promoted this cult. The prohibition on women teaching, seen in context, is a prohibition against teaching the myths and legends associated with the cult.
- What does ‘have authority over’ (v12) mean? Does this imply that women are less than equal to men? Or does it mean that women are not a ‘usurp’ authority? The Artemis myths included views of creation and sin that were at variance with the Biblical accounts. Isis (the woman) had usurped authority over the man (Ra) and had also instigated violence against him by creating a serpent that would bite him. The Artemis myth gave her authority as the author of all life. Paul’s teaching pushes against all of this.
- How do these instructions link with the account of creation and the fall (v13f)? Does this appeal mean that a teaching role for women would violate the order of creation? Or, once again, is it related to the role and function of women in Ephesus in particular? In the Artemis myth of creation, it was Ra (the man) who was deceived. 1 Timothy undermines this myth by asserting the biblical account in which Adam was created first, and then Eve, and Eve the one who was deceived, not Adam.
- How are we to understand the promise of salvation through childbearing (v15)? Is this a reference Mary? Or a protest against abortion? Or something else? Artemis was honoured as the mother of all life, and the goddess of childbearing. Christian may have been frightened that in leaving the cult of Artemis they were leaving her protection. 1 Timothy affirms that they can trust God to protect them.
Hoag suggests the following applications:
- Ephesian women needed to abandon social and religious norms associated with dress and appearance and adopt a lifestyle characterised by modesty and good deeds. Modern women should do the same. ‘As women everywhere set their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, they rise above both pagan practices and cultural expectations. They are free from having to adorn themselves or act in a way that aims to please people (inside or outside the community of faith). Their decorum and deeds reflect their reverence for God.’
- Ephesian women would have to disregard the well-established practice of teaching legends about creation and sin. They would feel under some threat in doing so, not least in the sensitive area of child-bearing. ‘Likewise today, in some places around the world, choosing to live for Jesus means putting your life at risk. The threat of vengeance from spiritual forces of evil is real. This text inspires disciples everywhere to rest in the fact that just as Ephesian women would be kept safe through childbearing, God will preserve those who persevere in the faith.’
- Both men and women should be cautious about how they treat biblical texts which have disputed meanings. Sometimes, instead of insisting on our own (sometimes divisive) reading of a text, we should make further investigation and seek further light. ‘Let us take the high road and stop contending that this text is about the role of women in ministry. Gender status distinctions are levelled in the New Testament. So, rather than battle each other or posture for position, men and women must work together on an equal plane, remembering that the aim of instruction is to make the truth known in love and holiness.’
But if this text is not about women’s ministry, it does nevertheless have a lot to say to women believers: ‘In particular, I encourage female Christ-followers to dress modestly, live simply, do good works, teach about Jesus, and live out their faith in love and holiness with modesty, despite the potential risks of doing this inside and outside God’s church.’
Demystifying Gender Issues in 1 Timothy 2:9–15, Evangelical Review of Theology, Vol 44 No 3, Aug 2020, pp242-249.