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.