Women Should Be Silent!

Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Biblical Reflection | 0 comments

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2

If we could land on one book of Scripture that would convince us that Scripture is NOT all of a piece, and that there are many variations in genre, authorship, and authenticity through the ages, it’s this letter to Timothy.   Those who shy away from making distinctions among the books may have to accept some of the responsibility for what 1 Timothy has done to women through the centuries, especially this second chapter. 

The issue of the roles of women in our contemporary world was brwomen carrying-waterought home to me in a blog warning that climate change is going to affect ALL of us, no matter how far away we are from the melting glaciers.   The author (from United Nations Development) states that “We know that in 38 of the 48 countries surveyed by the United Nations in a 2010 report, women (over 15 years old) are responsible for searching and collecting drinking water. The harder it is to access it, the further they will have to walk, the worse their health will be, and the less time they will have to educate themselves.”

Luckily, we have scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, who distinguish between a radical Paul (in his seven authentic letters), a liberal Paul, and a conservative Paul.  As Crossan puts it, “someone was cleaning up Paul” from his radical notions.   [See his talk on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/txdUXCY0clU].

Scholars are convinced that Paul didn’t even WRITE 1 Timothy, although it has been the cause of much dislike of Paul by women.

Chapter two of 1 Timothy is fascinating in how it has been (and still is) interpreted.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine (The Jewish Annotated New Testament), reminds us that the delay in the Second Coming of Jesus, which was the issue in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians, led the scribes writing in the name of Paul to support the status quo; namely, that women were to find their salvation in having children and their husbands were to rule the household, in the patriarchal culture (and in popular moral treatises) of the time.

Dr. Levine even writes, in her notes on chapter two of 1 Timothy: “The view that women are subordinate to men and that the subordination derives from Genesis [note that the New Interpreter’s Study Bible calls 1 Timothy 2:14 a ‘somewhat forced’ reading of Genesis] appears in later Jewish circles and is native to some rabbinic understanding of womanhood…”   When I remind my wife that Scripture says she should be subject to me, she gives me that look that promises: “In your dreams!”    Rightly so: we are partners who love each other dearly, and hierarchy is not even an issue.  In this, we may be following the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, since he often turned hierarchy on its head.

In a study of Paul that has been a staple of seminaries, colleges and universities for 25 years, Calvin Roetzel writes: “In this new age all barriers that divide the human family are removed, and all obstacles to fulfillment are torn down.  Although Paul nowhere attacks prevailing customs that assign women inferior roles in society, he obviously believes they are full partners ‘in Christ.’  When one treats women as full and equal citizens in the kingdom of God, it is difficult to hold disparaging views of them” [The Letters of Paul, p. 3].

Garry Wills, in his What Paul Meant, devotes a whole chapter to “Paul and Women” and much of it is devoted to Paul’s positive relationships to such women as Junia, Prisca,  Phoebe, and “the women prophets.”  Wills acknowledges that in that patriarchal culture of Paul’s time, it was impossible “to shed every remnant of sexism,” but “Paul gives every kind of honor to the women he works with” (p. 98).

A fascinating look into what it would mean for a woman to take seriously what the Bible teaches about women can be found in Rachel Held Evans’ quite recent book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson, c2012).  The subtitle will give you the idea: “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master.’”  Fortunately, she didn’t try to observe all that the Bible seems to demand of a woman at once.  She emphasized certain requirements each month.  In August, she observes 1 Timothy 2:11-14 by avoiding teaching or speaking.  Since she already had speaking engagements scheduled, she found a way around this stricture by following the interpretation of the founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who wrote: “The Bible is clear that women shouldn’t teach and have authority over men.  In context, I think this means that women shouldn’t be the authoritative teachers of the church.”  That left room for a speaking engagement here and there.   Then she checked into a Trappist monastery where she could observe a silent retreat.  Needless to say, she has an understanding husband!

Perhaps a way to swim free of the many places in the Biblical culture that attempt to force women to swim only in the pool of family life and children is to consider the viewpoint of blogger and author (Jesus Feminist) Sarah Bessy.   Her blog is titled “In Which I Admit that I Didn’t Like Paul.”  She called him “narrow-minded and bossy.  He was snippy.  As a feminist, I was suspicious of Paul.  I even avoided his words in Scripture.”

Yet as she was writing Jesus Feminist, she confesses that “I began to love Paul.   Really, truly love him, as a brother.”  She moved through the passages she hated and considered Paul’s full ministry.  She discovered she hadn’t really known him.  Galatians (especially chapters 5 and 6) and wonderful passages in 1 and 2 Corinthians became her home and his words changed her attitude toward him forever.  She found how he “praised and esteemed women in leadership in the Church, how he turned household codes within a patriarchal society on their head, how he used feminine metaphors, how he subverted the systems, how he passionately defended equality—the verses that used to clobber me began to embrace me.”

She and all of us may become even more impressed if we come to agree with John Dominic Crossan that Paul didn’t even WRITE Timothy and Titus and that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation, according to those who should know.   The radical Paul, whom Richard Rohr considers a mystical Paul, wanted all people to conclude: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile…neither male nor female…” (Gal. 3:28).   We are charged with transforming the world together!

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