In the last post, I briefly relayed some of the difficulties of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. In this post I aim to place these verses within their cultural and situational context. Not only do these verses make much more sense viewed in this light, but they fit within the larger context of 1 Timothy and the rest of the Bible.
As shown in a previous post, the prevailing theme of 1 Timothy is standing against false teaching. But what were these false teachings? Even though we do not have Timothy’s letters to Paul explaining the details of the situation at Ephesus, there is an ample amount of context clues, historical evidence, and other biblical records to reconstruct the basic scenario at Ephesus at the time of Paul’s letter. Let’s start with context clues:
In 1 Timothy 1:3-4, Paul tells Timothy to put a stop to certain “men” (the Greek word here is tisin and means “ones,” not men. It’s gender neutral) from teaching false doctrines and to rebuke them for devoting themselves to “myths” and “endless genealogies.” In 1 Timothy 1:6-7, Paul describes those who have turned aside to fruitless discussions, “wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul then launches into a corrective teaching on the proper use and purpose of the law, sin, the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of the Lord, and takes great care to point out that God is King, eternal, invisible, and the only God. It is obvious Paul is countering the false teaching Timothy is battling in Ephesus by reiterating the true teaching of the gospel.
Ephesus was a decadent Asian city, whose focal point was the fertility goddess, Artemis. The Romans called her Diana. Artemis is said to be the twin of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus and Leto. The cult of Artemis was particularly alluring for women because Artemis was believed to protect her female worshippers during and after childbirth. Plus, women were viewed as superior to men, possessing secret divine knowledge. Men were drawn to this cult as well because sex was part of the worship rituals, where men would receive divine knowledge through engaging in sexual rituals with female priestesses.
We know from indisputable historical findings (such as ancient temple ruins, writings, and graves) and the biblical account in Act 19: 11-41
, that the city of Ephesus was dedicated to the fertility goddess, Artemis.
The passage in Acts reveals the exact brand of paganism running rampant in Ephesus, even causing confusion among believers. The teachings of this goddess-cult caused so much confusion and hostility among the assemblies and the city that violent riots broke out. People were fiercely passionate about The Lady of Ephesus
and flew into a blind rage when Paul rejected her divinity. Artemis was the fertility goddess and protector of women
(keep that in mind for later). The female-focused cult of Artemis taught female superiority and dominance based on their claim that women were descendants of mythological Amazon women
. These women enslaved the men and forced them to build the city. In order to prove this myth,
followers would create lengthy genealogies
in attempt to prove they were true descendants of the goddess herself or the amazon women who supposedly founded the city. Could this be what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 1:3-4
?Artemis’ temple was so stunning and brilliantly designed that it became one of the seven wonders of the world. So, this is no little unknown, undocumented cult with gaps so wide that it would be impossible to reconstruct the culture and setting of Ephesus at the time of Paul’s letters.
Entering into the Ephesian cultural-mix is gnosticism. Gnostic
teachings ran rampant during the first century, which were famous for infusing christian and pagan beliefs together to comprise one of the first heretical teachings to infiltrate the early church. As christian and pagan beliefs intermingled, Gnostics
taught that Eve, contrary to the Genesis account, actually liberated
the world by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They called Eve “the illuminator
” because they believed she became enlightened when she ate the fruit and paved the way for others to become enlightened, too. They also taught that Eve was created FIRST and Adam received life from her. For the Gnostics
, Eve became a salvation-figure.
Between the cult of the Artemis and the gnostics, it was widely believe that:
1. Eve was created first and received special knowledge when she ate the from the tree of knowledge.
2. Women prophetesses or mediators could share or pass on their “divine knowledge” through rituals mixing sex and worship.
3. The legend claimed that ancient amazon-warrior women, far superior to any man, founded the city of Ephesus and erected Artemis’ temple. Therefore Ephesian women were these amazon-warriors’ descendants and inherited their special knowledge and superiority.
4. Artemis’ name means “safe.” Allegiance to her meant she would keep women safe during and after childbirth.
, the passage in question (as well as other parts of 1 Timothy) refutes
all of these teachings. When you look at these four beliefs in relation to 1 Timothy 2:11-15
, suddenly we can see that Paul is not citing creation to teach women’s inferiority, to put more blame on Eve, or to justify an all-time exclusion from teaching, but to correct
the bizarre false teachings some Ephesians had embraced with the truth of scripture. He retells the events of creation to reveal what really happened
so believers could easily recognize these false teachings circulating about the creation account. These verses do not mean all women must not teach because Eve was created second or because she became deceived, as the church has taught for centuries.
Let’s go verse by verse:
Verses 9-10 admonishes women to dress modestly and appropriately for women professing godliness. He tells them to avoid braided hair, gold, pearls and expensive clothing. This is another context clue that hints toward the women of Ephesus being influenced by the cult of Artemis, for the priestesses would wear elaborate, braided hairstyles and adorn themselves with extravagant jewelry and attire. Paul makes a curious statement when he classifies this type of extravagant attire as inappropriate for women “professing” godliness, which could mean he questioned the sincerity of these women’s faith to begin with.
is particularly liberating for women at this time. Most modern readers take “Let a woman learn…”
as Paul granting mere permission for women to learn, but the original Greek is phrased as a command that women BE TAUGHT. This was a major battle in the first century, since traditional male Jews and Greeks did not find any value in educating women and viewed it as a disgrace. Paul insists that they be allowed to learn (this would be imperative if false teachings were to ever be overcome, too). Of course, women, who have never before learned the scriptures, would not be qualified to teach and would be more susceptible to deception and false teaching. It’s not because they are
women, but because of the patriarchal prejudices that kept them in the dark for centuries.
Paul says he
does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man (we’ll analyze the actual word meanings in the original language post). This makes perfect sense, if women are indeed the targets and spreaders of these false teachings consuming and dividing the Ephesian church. Paul follows his ban on women teachers by reiterating sound teaching that counters the false teaching. For Adam was formed first
, not Eve, like the cult of Artemis and the gnostics
taught. He then points out that Eve became deceived and sinned. This is hardly the basis upon which to claim female-superiority and divine knowledge. Eve did not do a noble thing or liberate the world; she was tricked into violating the command of God. It’s important to note that Paul is not arguing for male superiority, just refuting female superiority by pointing out the facts of the creation account. He is not implying that because Eve was deceived all women are prone to deception or because she was created second that women may never be entrusted with the ministry of the word. Directly after refuting this false teaching, he moves onto the childbirth subject.
, This strange verse about women being “saved” through childbirth should actually read a woman shall be “preserved” or “kept safe” through childbirth. It becomes especially meaningful and relevant in light of the fact that the women of Ephesus looked to Artemis to keep them safe through childbirth. In a time when massive amounts of women and babies died in childbirth, we can easily see how the cult of Artemis would be tempting, even among Christians. Here, Paul admonishes women to continue in the faith of Christ and to put their lives in His
Now, since women were obviously the primary targets of this pervasive teaching and the most vulnerable members of the church (since new christian female converts, whether Jewish or Greek were not schooled in the scripture), it makes perfect sense for Paul to forbid women from teaching at a church that was overrun with false teachings, false teachings that just happen
to be tailor-made for attracting women. Of course,women who had never received proper teaching would first have to learn before they could teach. The requirements were the same for men. They had to be trained in “the way” and then were sent out to teach others. Women had been shut out from such learning under Judaism and most Greek religions. When we consider the “catch-up” game women had to play under their new found freedom in Christ, is it any wonder why Paul would command the Ephesian women
who “wanting to be teachers of the Law…they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions”
(1 Timothy 1:6-7
) to first learn in total submission to sound teaching and stop teaching themselves? One cannot teach before they have been properly taught themselves.
While Paul’s words are inspired, they were inspired for this particular situation at Ephesus. It distorts the inspired words of scripture to rip them out of their specific context, the crisis at Ephesus, and transform Paul’s disciplinary
solution to a culture-specific problem into a blanket prohibition
against all women teaching for all times in all places.
Next post will examine the original Greek words of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Modern translations are misleading to say the least.
next post: the mistranslation of 1 timothy2:11-12