Monday, March 23, 2015

A note about 1 Timothy

In comments recently here I have asked the question whether those who use 1 Timothy 2 as an argument against women being ordained as presbyters or bishops, or against women teaching mixed gender congregations also implement the instructions on widows in 1 Timothy 5.

My point in raising the question has been 'defensive' because commenters raised questions about my consistency on certain issues. But I realise it is likely to be read as aggressive (e.g. in the sense that raising the question could be interpreted as 'I dismiss your claims about 1 Timothy 2 if you do not consistently follow through on 1 Timothy 5').

So let me walk through the important point about looking at 1 Timothy 5 in comparison with 1 Timothy 2, a point which I hope is beyond any need I feel to be defensive. I hope also, especially in respect of the Epilogue below, that I demonstrating an awareness of and appreciation of arguments for male leadership and thus that this post is eirenic in both intention and delivery.

Note on 1 Timothy

One of the questions I have long had about the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is whether it is sufficient to bear the weight of applying to the life of the church through every generation in every culture and in every context.

Is it a universal law of the church or a command for a particular occasion, an occasional law? The occasion in 1 Timothy would then - in my view - be the occasion when the church is under threat of false teaching damaging or even destroying it

When a well supported understanding of the word authentein is 'to usurp authority' (interestingly, the translation of the KJV), the question arises whether women are being prohibited from being appointed to positions of authority in the church - appointed that is by proper authority in a church (such as a council or synod).

In terms of the question of whether a universal or occasional law of the church is being laid down in 1 Timothy 2:12, the word authentein meaning 'to usurp authority' implies the verse is setting out an occasional law, a law for the occasion when a woman usurps authority with a view to teaching error.

That is, 1 Timothy 2:12, on this logic, is not laying down a universal law which forbids any woman from ever having authority in the church in any and every generation, culture, context. Also, on this logic 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a law forbidding an authorised council or synod of the church making an appointment of a woman otherwise bound by the terms of her appointment to teach true doctrine.

This approach, thinking of 1 Timothy 2:12 as an occasional law and not a universal law is strengthened when we consider what is said about widows in 1 Timothy 5.

In this chapter Paul continues from earlier chapters to set out his views on how Timothy should order the church in Ephesus. Mostly what he sets out about widows can readily be ascribed to universally (e.g. in terms of respect for widows (5:3), family obligations to care for family members being fulfilled (5:8)) but some aspects warrant closer inspection in respect of what might be occasional.

In 5:4, for instance, those Christians privileged to live in a welfare state are likely to ask if they continue to have an obligation to monetarily provide for their widowed mother or grandmother when the state may take care of that obligation.

In 5:9 Paul speaks of a 'list' on which widows' names are to be put 'if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once' (with further conditions in verses 10-11, and see also 16). Anecdotally (and confidently) I would say that no church in New Zealand keeps such a list. I would further suggest that if we did start keeping such lists we likely would argue among ourselves about '60' and about 'married only once'! In other words, I suggest that what Paul instructs in verses such as 5:4 and 5:9 is an occasional law regarding widows in the church and not a universal law.

Things get even trickier when we move down to 5:14. Recognising some difficulties re younger widows living, shall we say, a gadding about and gossipy lifestyle, Paul says (with an "I" familiar from 2:12), "So I would have the younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households ..."

Again, this on closer inspection is difficult if we take it as a universal law of the church: it speaks to younger widows of child bearing years who have opportunity to marry but it fails to speak to younger widows of child bearing age who do not have opportunity to marry; it also, in conjunction with 5:9, fails to set out what a middle aged widow younger than sixty, either beyond child-bearing age, or old enough to prefer not to bear a child is to do. It seems reasonable to understand this instruction re younger widows marrying as an occasional law of the church, when given the opportunity to marry, they should. But this is not a universal insistence that all younger widows must remarry nor that the church should ensure this happens.

I would go further and also suggest that when churches are not troubled by gadding about and gossipy younger widows, then the occasion for Paul's instruction here might not arise

Obviously much here can be discussed and debated, both about 1 Timothy 5 and about 1 Timothy 2, to say nothing of other laws laid down by Paul in other parts of each of these chapters and in other chapters.

What I hope I might have raised here with some plausibility as well, I hope, with grace, is the question of how we read, understand, and apply the laws of the church laid down in 1 Timothy given the changing nature of church life in variable societies.

An important question I am advancing here is whether Paul is laying down in 1 Timothy universal or occasional laws for the church in respect of various matters of order in the life of the church.


I want to acknowledge that various arguments can be advanced in favour of an exclusively male leadership or headship of the church which are not underpinned by 1 Timothy 2:12.

A Roman Catholic (and now only rarely Anglo-Catholic) argument for a male priesthood concerns the representational character of leadership in the church: Christ was a male so his presbyters/priests also ought to be male.

Closely associated is an argument from a presumed pattern of leadership authorised by Jesus himself: leaders such as bishops and priests/presbyters in the church today are successors to the apostles who were exclusively male. That Jesus had women disciples, that Mary Magdalene had an apostolic role to the apostles and that 'apostle' as a general term could attach to a woman such as Junia (Romans 16), on this argument, only heightens the fact that Jesus chose twelve men to be 'the apostles' who would found, lead and guide the church. If women were intended to lead the church today, so the argument goes, Jesus would have signalled his approval by choosing at least one woman among the twelve.

A headship argument drawing on 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and Ephesians 5:22-33 proposes that men should lead the church because (a) the church as the body of Christ should be led on earth by men who fall into an ordering God/Christ/men/women, and (b) the church is a household of faith and men are to be heads of households.

Another 'pattern of leadership' argument draws on the creation story in Genesis 2: Eve is formed from Adam to be Adam's 'helper.' Understanding that 'helper' is a significant role since God himself is 'helper' of Israel and not in any way shape or form a demeaning role, the creation mandated role for women in relation to men is for women to 'help' or support men in their roles and thus not for women to lead men.

I am happy to be corrected if I have misrepresented these arguments.


Tony Siew said...

Dear Peter, I have enjoyed your interesting blog posts and many witty comments. However, I must beg to differ on your analysis of 1 Tim 2 and 5. There are two closely related prohibitions here, not just not usurping authority but first and foremost women are not permitted to teach men. I can't see how one can get away from this clear teaching of Paul supported elsewhere in 1 Cor 11 and 14,33-37. Nor can I see how this interpretation is only valid if only we are consistent with 1 Tim 5 on the widows. Paul's teachings can be universal and contextual at the same time. In other words, it can be universal without disregarding the local context. In terms of what is universal, obviously the care of widows, those over 60 years given that the average life span at the time was probably in the mid 50s, so this provision may not be too burdensome for the church as there would be few widows beyond that age. Now if this universal principle is applied we can say, given today's lifespan, perhaps 65 or 70 years before the church steps in. If the welfare state can care for the widows, then the church is less burdened though the principle of caring for widows is still valid which means wherever and whenever the State or families cannot care for believing widows, the church must shoulder the burden as Paul instructed.

Father Ron Smith said...

"... first and foremost women are not permitted to teach men." - Tony Siew -

Not a very good argument for the perpetual exclusivity of sexist male dominance in the teaching role. Time and context are important. e.g: God's children no longer need circumcision - which only dealt with the spiritual purity of males in the patriarchal society!

In this day and age, you'd be laughed out of court - unless you believe that the practice of religion is different from, say, the practice of medicine. Both are sources if healing deriving from God in creation. God is nothing if not contemporary - as well as eternal!
"When the Spirit comes..." - S/He is still alive and active in the midst.

Why can't you accept that patriarchal religion was an integral part of all patriarchal leadership in that society?

Tony Siew said...

I rather not conduct a debate on Peter's blog but if I may, for what it is worth I want to say to Father Ron that once you judge every teaching and the Lord's commandment with "time and context" argument, then the Bible is almost a free for all, every commandment becomes relative and subject to all kinds of private interpretations. Circumcision was God's commandment under the old dispensation but as Paul said, "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but the keeping of God's commandments." Obviously Paul was referring to the Lord's commandments given through the apostles under the new covenant since circumcision under the Old was certainly God's commandment. It happens that the commandment concerning women is given to the New Testament church which if not qualified elsewhere in other NT writings ought to be still valid for us today. It is a hermeneutical issue here if we talk on one hand concerning circumcision and the role of women in church on the other hand. If we evaluate Christ's teachings with what is acceptable in this spirit and age, then many teachings of the NT will seem ludicrous to many today, not just about women's role. But we are exhorted by Paul again not to be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may know what is good, acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom 12,1-2).

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Tony Siew, with the greatest of respect; do you not see the reason for Jesus teaching in parables. It was so that one needed to get to the heart of the lesson being taught - without idolising the specific culture and context of the story?

The Bible is given for study - of its ongoing message of God's love and forgiveness. It is not the result of a series of divine teleprinter messages requiring adulation for its own sake. If the Bible does not point to the redemption of the world by One crucified for his New Commandment of Love, it may have little effect in pointing to the real object of our devotion - God of Love!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tony
(I appreciate that you do not necessarily wish to continue an argument here so feel free not to respond!)

I agree that a full discussion of Paul on women in leadership, with specific reference to teaching-authority should discuss those other texts. (Without argument here, I do not think those texts materially affect the argument that Paul is not laying down a universal prohibitive law for the church for all time and all situations).

I also agree that the question of universal and contextual is nuanced: Paul can be speaking to both in the one comment.

I also agree that there are 'principles' to consider and considering those principles helps make for sensible policy in our day (e.g. what you say re widows).

But that in turn opens the door for considering what principles apply to ministry leadership in our day and thus what constitutes sensible policy.

If (just to pick up one matter when there are many to discuss) we feel free on the basis of principles to change Paul's '60' re widows to (say) '70', the question arises what other changes we might make on the basis of the principles we distill from his words.

To give a lead to where my thinking goes if we are talking principles and men and women in ministry: is the key principle that women should not lead men, or is it that the church should order its ministry to ensure sound doctrine is taught?

Andrew W said...

I don't get your confusion, Peter. The teaching on widows in 1 Tim 5 seems pretty clear:

(1) Elders, specifically widows, should be supported financially by their children and grandchildren. (A worthy rebuke to us Westerners where our elderly spend on themselves and the children also spend on themselves and expect the state to look after their parents)

(2) It was common for the church community to maintain a list of those for whom it gathers and provides (compare Acts 6:1), who have no children to support them. Paul is instructing Timothy that it is appropriate for the church community to own and support older widows whose behaviour brings honour to the community, but counselling that it is wiser for younger widows to remarry so that they are (1) provided for and (2) remain firm in the faith.

I don't see anything in this teaching that we should be embarrassed by, save that our western individualism causes us to hold ourselves apart from our families and to delegate to the state and superannuation responsibilities that should be first answered within the family and then within the church community.

I'd also note that the prescriptions in chapter 5 are practical out-workings of two core principles: the church community should be holy in behaviour and that its members' material needs should be provided for. So Paul is telling Timothy "Here are some simple rules to help make those principles happen". One could argue that Paul is doing the same thing in chapter 2, and one of the core principles there is that men are to be holy in leading and women to be holy in submission.

If I may coin an analogy: the Scripture treats men an women as interchangeable in much the same way that salt and sugar are interchangeable. Both are white crystal powders that are very valuable in cooking, but putting one in place of the other rarely achieves the desired result.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
Yes, the teaching on widows is very clear.
But if it is so clear is it not interesting that we carry on with our 'western individualism' despite being under a 'worthy rebuke'? Is it possible that we are not actually rebuked by the passage but that we are rightly and appropriately setting some applications of the passage aside because the world we live in is different to the world in which Paul lived in?

I think there is more to interchangeability between men and women in Scripture than you allow for (e.g. re being witnesses to the risen Jesus, co-workers in the gospel, receiving gifts of prophecy).

Michael Reddell said...

Don't churches always got caught up in the spirit of the age to some extent? It is barely 100 years since widows benefit and state retirement pensions (let alone a concept of universal retirement as entitlement) came into effect, and prior to that family (and friendly society and, presumably, church) support was the basis of support for the needy. Who knows how long universal welfare systems will last, and perhaps if they end that will call churches back to a more direct sense of obligation to provide for widows (and other needy) among their number.

Jean said...

I have a good friend (now 84) who I was priveleged to write a life history of as part of a University Paper.

Her alcoholic husband left her and her four children. She survived on odd jobs until the DPB first came into being. Then with much embarassment she had to line up in the Main Street to receive her weekly allowance.

Yes she was a christian and although not a widow she looked to the church. Her Priest told her, her husband left because of her failings, in her words because she was "the female of the species."

The miracle is she remains faithful to God and the church. The sad part is a sense of inferiority also remains with her, she does know if she is good enough to get into heaven.

I think you are right Michael the church does get caught up in the 'spirit of the age'; to what degree has the concept of the doctrine of male headship been formed in NZ by the 'spirit of the age' and to what degree by what scripture actually intends?

I think Peter's early proposal of outlining a doctrine of sacrificial love (as that called for by men in imitation of Christ) would prove an interesting work, as I do not think a true and spiritually led doctrine of headship/authority can be formed without the other half of the equation.


Tony Siew said...

Hi Peter, thanks for responding to my comments. I can only repeat what Paul said to Timothy and if the two reasons are taken seriously then both principles matter to Paul in that women should not teach men because man was created first (cf.1 Cor 11) and sound doctrine as well and here Paul gives the reason that Eve was deceived but not Adam. Again I think we can note that these two reasons however unpalatable to modern (Western) ears, are not culture or time conditioned but are theologically grounded. I can't see how one can subscribe to Paul's instructions concerning the Lord's communion in the latter part of 1 Cor 11 but ignore the headship or hierarchical order in the early part of the chapter. I won't deny that women can do many things, those not prohibited by Scripture including leading men in worship, prophesying, etc. No problem with women witnessing to the Gospel or the resurrected Christ to believers and unbelievers alike though I won't count witnessing as coming under the notion of teaching as proscribed in 1 Tim 2. As far as widows are concerned, I agree with Michael that the principle remains for church to support deserving widows with families being tasked to care for their kin if at all possible. I would agree with Father Ron that often times Jesus through parables declared the kingdom of God, forgiveness and the love of God but obviously if taken as a whole the New Testament corpus teaches us much more than that and it is not for Christians to ignore the difficult parts of Scripture. As far as the claim that everything is somewhat conditioned by time and context, I would agree with that to a certain extent since often times in Paul we are exhorted to think through things carefully (2 Tim 2,7) and even in Rom 12,1-2, the call for minds transformed to understand and discern the will of God because it is not always straight forward but requires prayerful consideration, searching of Scripture and a genuine desire for obedience in order to understand the mind of Christ for only God knows and sees our hearts.

Jean said...

Perhaps a good place to start would be with some thoughts by a woman I have come to highly respect, Jackie Pullinger. Note she has often repeated she has no strong focus on women in ministry, her passion is for the lost and the ministry of all the saints. Her comments largely come out of the challenges she has faced in her own Ministry:

"Husbands are to be like Christ, laying themselves down, giving themselves up for their wives.

Husbands are to wash their wives with the Word and make her holy, even as Christ makes us holy.

There's only one perfect Man—Jesus, and I saw what that perfect Man did.

On the night before He died He took a towel, girded Himself and stooped to wash their feet. If we want to know His secret, we find it in John 13:1. Jesus knew He came from the Father and was returning to the Father. That's how He can be the perfect husband. He was pure in His relationship with the Father God; therefore, He could take the towel and basin and wash His disciples' feet like a servant. Not acting like the leaders of the church with a microphone, having faith like the Pharisees, holding honor because of being the male leader, but because He was so secure in His identity and relationship with God the Father.

He could be a gentle man. When I saw that in Scripture, I said, "That's it." There's not a single woman who would not desire a man like that. That's the yearning of our hearts--a man who is so secure in His relationship with the Father that he can be gentle. He doesn't have to establish his position as the leader of the house, head of the family, or any of that. He doesn't need to. He gives that up. He guards her with the Word and makes her clean.
“Jackie, should you be doing this? Shouldn't a man be doing it?" And, I would ask, "Would you like to do it?" "Well, no,” they simply wanted to run the men I'd led to the Lord.

Especially in the last few years, people have come, telling me how wonderful it is that God has done all of this. Looking at all the kids shining with Jesus; [but] they tell me it shouldn't have happened as if I'm an illegitimate mother. "Course, you're not a pastor. All said, I was an evangelist, again not a pastor. O.K. Fine. Whatever you say. They would cast their eyes upon my lot. Some of them said they would like to have it. I had lots of spiritual offers." "Spiritual offers" of marriage, which came like this, "You've got this wonderful bunch of people who've come to the Lord. Now if you're covered spiritually, God would really bless. Let us come and lead your church, and then you can be released to your job which is evangelism. I nearly fell for it lots of times. However, my bottom line was and is, "What have you done for my kids?” So, I didn't give my kids away.

I'll go back to manhood because this is the key issue. If men are to come into manhood, there's no problem for us women. You see, when men are secure in their manhood, women can do anything. I'll never forget years ago speaking at a church in England. Doctrinally, they were not quite sure about what to do about women teachers. So, to get around it doctrinally, the pastor spoke for 5 minutes and I delivered my "testimony" for 50 min. "

Excerpts from

Father Ron Smith said...

" (cf.1 Cor 11) sound doctrine - here Paul gives the reason that Eve was deceived but not Adam." - Tony Siew -

No wonder people like Jean get upset!. This sort of sexist hermeneutic is long past its sell-by-date. Apart from the mythical relevance of Adam and Eve, the woman and the man were co-partners. How then could Eve be involved without Adam bearing part of the blame?

Tony Siew said...

Frankly, Father Ron I struggle with these difficult passages, but my conscience is bound to what Scripture teaches, properly interpreted of course. On a personal note, in my denomination we have women pastors, some 100 women out of 300 pastors. I am certainly in the minority and I have no problems working with those who disagree with me and I count many women-pastors as friends and partners in ministry. On a lighter note, I rejoice that NZ makes it to the Finals at MCG. All the way, Blackcaps!

Jean said...

Hi Tony

Yes first time in the finals, yeah!

I think we all struggle with the difficult passages or else there would not be so much conversation around them. And no doubt even if we are bound by conscience to our perspectives and if they when all is revealed end up to be incorrect, we have a merciful judge who knows the intentions of our hearts. I too have men such as John Wimber whose teachings/life I respect who held to male headship as a doctrine.

Although seriously, if Eve being deceived by Satan is the foundation for the universal exclusion of women teaching/instructing men - I dread to think what Adam as being the one who disobeyed God knowing what he was doing and as as a result aiding death into the world, ought to be excluded from.

Now of course we live in Christ under the spirit of grace and truth through, the salvation from the second Adam who lived a perfect life of obedience to God, rather than the under the law which results in sin and death ushered in by the first Adam.

Knowing this I do ponder if Paul used such illustrations for woman to not teach, but to sit in silence (to submit to learn in order to become teachers); as a way to help woman know the truth of the scriptures first, and therefore avoid deception and being deceived by false teachers - rather than to invent a law that becomes as difficult to adhere to as those the pharisees tried to follow (e.g. to call Jackie's teaching a 'testimony' so as not to break the doctrine of women teaching men).

All the Best

MichaelA said...

"I want to acknowledge that various arguments can be advanced in favour of an exclusively male leadership or headship of the church which are not underpinned by 1 Timothy 2:12."

Really? Then why not even mention the arguments taken from the direct commands in scripture, arguments which have been discussed at some length on several threads on this blog?

"An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. ..." [Titus 1:6-7]

"Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. ..." [1 Tim 3:2-4]

Paul's language is clear. He could have used comprehensive language if he wanted to, but chose to be gender-specific. Nowhere does the Bible give any indication that women are to lead congregations, but it is quite specific that only men are to do so.

I appreciate these are not convenient verses to think about - they directly challenge the spirit of our age.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
It is crystal clear that in the Pastoral Letters, Paul envisages male presbyters and overseers (but possibly, possibly not, male (female?) deacons.)

My argument is that it is not crystal clear that Paul was laying down a universal rule (and expectation) for all time and all contexts that only men will be leaders in the church.