Women in Ministry: The Egalitarian Perspective

Sometime in the mid-first century A.D., the Apostle Paul penned a letter to his protegee Timothy who was planting churches in the city of Ephesus. He begins his letter as follows:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

So,  we have to keep in mind the context of this letter.  Timothy has been by appointed by the Apostle Paul to fix a problem in the churches at Ephesus (1:1-11).  Specifically, there are false teachers in the church. 

Who were they?

The most influential institution at Ephesus was the Cult of Artemis, which, among other things, taught that women were created before men and were, therefore, inherently superior to them. 

Moreover, during the 1st century there was also a feminist movement known as “The New Roman Women”, who, among other things, taught radical Independence from men and practiced abortion. 

Were ancient feminists influenced by the Cult of Artemis the false teachers at Ephesus?

Paul goes on to reminds Timothy that even he was once a false teacher who was shown grace (1:12-17), implying that he should be charitable to these false teachers.

Paul then gives Timothy a “You can do it, bro” speech (1:18-20) and then the Apostle advises Timothy  on how to fix the problem:

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 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—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

So, first, Paul has the congregation pray for everyone from Caesar on down (2:1-4).  Prayer is always a good place to start when there are problems and Paul is also very concerned with the public perception of the church–prayer for leaders would’ve helped to disquiet any talk of subversion.  

Rome looked down on radical feminism, so if the problem at Ephesus was a group of the New Roman Woman, then Paul had to make sure that the churches were not regarded with great suspicion by the authorities.

Paul then turns, as he always does, to the Gospel (2:5-7) as well as his authority as a commissioned apostle of King Jesus.

Paul then advises that men/husbands are to worship and be peaceful (2:8) and that the women/wives are to dress modestly and focus on good works (2:9-10). It is important to remember that the Greek word for “man” was synonymous with husband and the word for “woman” was synonymous with “wife.”  More on this presently.

The next few verses have not been translated well in most English Bibles.  Paul states that women/ wives should learn with a gentle spirit and not try to dominate their men or husbands (2:11-12) as was possibly taught by the local cult of Artemis.  Instead, they should learn about Jesus quietly and not disrupt or argue. 

If Paul is referring only to the husband/wife situation then this would make some sense.  Rome, going back to Caesar Augustus, strongly pushed “family values,” in which the woman was to be wholly submissive to the husband.  In some parts of the empire, men had life and death power over the entire household.  Thus, Paul, given his concern for public perception, as well as false teaching, may have been instructing wives not to “dominate” (a better translation then the ESV’s “exercise authority”) their own husbands. 

Furthermore, Paul did not want a group to teach that had been influenced by a local cult.  So, he tells them to learn about Jesus with a gentle spirit (a better translation then “remain quiet”).

Finally, Paul took a few shots at the teaching of the local cult.  He reminded Timothy that the woman, Eve, sinned first, which means that a woman is not inherently superior to a man (OR Paul may be reminding them that Satan destroyed peace with God and with each other in this world by inducing the wife who then induced the husband) (2:13-14).

Paul then argues that the women/wives will be saved/healed/set free by being loyal to Jesus and being good mothers, who raise their children to be godly (2:15) instead of being radically independent “New Roman Women” who practice abortion. 

Now, does this reading of 1 Timothy cohere with the rest of Scripture?

Remember that in the Bible you find women prophetesses (Exod. 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22; Isa. 8:3; Luke 8:36; Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:4-5), a judge/ruler (Judges 4:4), a deacon (Rom. 16:1) and possibly even an apostle (Rom. 16:7).  Would Paul have these women be silent?

Again, remember that Paul was very concerned with the public perception of the church because of the impact on evangelism (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:7 cf. Rom. 13:1-7).  What would he say today when one of the top questions the unchurched and dechurched have of a community is, “Do you value women as much as men?”

Something to pray about!

Next week, the complimentarian position.

Posted by Matt, Revolution Leadership Team.

Revolution Church: Worship-Grow-Serve.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s