Forbidding Women Teachers or False Teachers?

June 17, 2008

“In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” ~Paul, 1 Timothy 2:9-15

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.
Coincidentally, 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.

Verse 11 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.
Verse 12-14 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.
Verse 15 , 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 hands.
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

10 Responses to “Forbidding Women Teachers or False Teachers?”

  1. […] Forbidding Women Teachers or False Teachers? 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 … […]

  2. Spiritbear Says:

    This site is a breath of fresh air. I am a guy but a true feminist. I am so sick of hearing in Churches that I need to use my authority over my wife.

    In the US I cannot believe how rampant “complementarianism” is even in Churches with Egalitarian doctrine.

    We have a long way to go. Even though I am a guy, I support this cause wholeheartedly

  3. […] bookmarks tagged forbidding Forbidding Women Teachers or False Teachers? saved by 12 others     ScarredLALfan bookmarked on 07/06/08 | […]

  4. linda Says:

    please be aware that this blog is not a democracy and rude comments that do not engage the discussion will be deleted, just as if you came to my house and were rude you’d be asked to leave. if someone has a differing view of the topics here you are certainly welcome but please present them civilly. thanks.

  5. Bezalel Says:

    I’ve just come across this site whilst looking for some female Christian teachers to listen to. Every evangelical teaching site I’ve found only includes one or two (if any,) and then they’re only focusing on women’s topics. This site is fantastic, and a wonderful mission. God bless you in your endeavors…I’ve been praying that God will set his daughters free to do His work!!

  6. John Says:

    Too bad you guys totally wrest the text in order to force foreign meaning into it. : (

    For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

    The “for” refers to “Adam was formed first”. There’s plenty of scripture that interprets this for you, its full intent, being the same writer and theme, without having to force ill-handling of Greek and a lot of assumptions about a cult upon the text.

    Not to mention you contradict not only other scripture, but nearly all early Christian writing.

    Having a lexicon a greek-reader not make; nor a few facts a historical interpreter. The “for” is about who was formed first, “and…deceived” about Eve is secondary, “just to shore-up”, and other scriptures also show this.

    What about the verses of women being “subject” (which could probably, perhaps more fairly, be rendered, as un-PC as it is, “suboordinate”)? Interestingly you say the “to learn…” part and excise “in silence”!

    Or how about the verse about women being the “weaker sex”? Here’s some Greek education for you: that does refer to women being easily deceived and swayed, and gullible in Classical as well as Koine (and has parallels in other ancient languages: enough so that I’m wondering not if, but where, I’ll find it as I take-up latin).

    There’s a reason politicians target women…ease; there’s a reason all marketing is geared primarily to women…ease; there’s a reason stores are set-up and focused on women…ease. There’s a reason the U.N., etc. focus on women…ease; in anything women are the easily swayed.

    So to conclude: a little Greek dictionary does not a scholar make; nor desperate wresting of text a valid point.

    P.S., remember that Paul wrote under the claim of delivering the Lord’s words: only once ever qualifying a statement that it was his judgment on a matter; improperly, then, trying to say Paul is saying “I” is not valid.

  7. Bekah Says:

    I enjoy the debate and the cultural context to the post. Thank you for creating this blog. I have been studying these issues for so long and it is such comfort to know I am not the only one.

    I find it so interesting that the discussion about Eve being deceived often fails to recognize or analyze Adam’s silence. I believe the deception and willingness to disobey God was mutual.

  8. Steve Says:

    Thanks for posting this site. I am right there with you on this subject. For too long women have not been dealt a fair deal with regards to teaching and leadership in the church.

    I just recently taught 1st Timothy at a Bible school and did extensive work on the text myself to really get a grasp of this passage.

    Historical Background to Ephesus and Gnosticism is essential to understand this passage and you have outlaid it very well.

    It is interesting to note that the word “authority” in the Greek is authentein, which is only used here once in the whole New Testament. That should tell us something about what Paul is speaking into.
    The whole epistle is about defending sound doctrine, and refuting that which is false.

    The word authentein means roughly “to claim authorship over something or someone…” and understanding the context that these false teachers are claiming that women are the originators of man is incorrect, because “Adam was formed first, then Eve”.
    The fact the Paul mentions Eve being deceived comes into play because the Heresy of Gnosticism claimed that Eve had this superior knowledge when she took the fruit.
    Actually, Paul states that transgression came because of this deception not knowledge.

    Great work everybody, this is a crucial hill that i will die on to defend women.

    Just another thought, the spiritual gifts have gender assignment in 1st Corinthians, so women can be teachers and leaders if God so chooses.

    Grace and Peace.

  9. Hey! First of all, wanted to say I love the blog and the article. Had a couple of issues with your portrayal of Artemis though….

    Being an English major who focused on myth and lore, I couldn’t help it. :)

    So, I see your awesome blog on a reinterpretation of 1 Timothy, and raise you a reply with a few other thoughts:

    Care to take me up on it? :D

    Thanks for creating such a wonderful site.

  10. Alex Pomegas Says:

    Thanks for the post;

    in our Filipino cultural setting, women are teachers of the minds of young boys and girls.
    in our history, we have Gabrila silang, Princess Urduja, etc. now by your post clarifying Paul’s ban, we cannow strengthen the ministry of women for the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ .
    God bless

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