Friday, May 24, 2013

Can Women Teach? Interpretation

Now we have a passage of Scripture to interpret.  Our work in yesterday's blog has expanded the original verse (1 Timothy 2:15) to include it's immediate context (1 Timothy 2:12-15).  There's a greater context to the passage, the chapter, the book, Paul's writings, the New Testament, and The Bible; but we will get to those in later posts.  Right now, I would like to focus on the immediate passage and some of the things I learned about interpreting it.

Rather than starting with my problem passage (verse 15), it's best if we begin with the first verse we are considering here (verse 12).  It reads:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV)

The next two verses are tied together with the word "and," so they need to be considered together.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2:13-14 NIV)

The reason for not letting women teach men in worship services is somehow tied to Eve.  Eve was formed second.  Eve sinned first.  For this reason, women cannot teach today.

Scholars have struggled with this passage.  It apparently shows that the reason for the command is not cultural.  It dates all the way back to Eve.  It apparently shows that the reason is not tied to the Old Testament Law, as is the case in 1 Corinthians 14:34.  This is why many conservative scholars conclude that the command originated after the first sin and before the law, making the command permanent in this life.  My conservative approach precludes me from making this interpretive step just yet.  The most I'm willing to pull from the passage is that the command is somehow tied to Eve and her apparent shortcomings in comparison to Adam.  (She may have sinned first, but Adam ate the same fruit. Plus, birth order is hardly a sin and reason for punishment.)

Next we get to my original problem passage.  I will continue quoting it in the NIV with the correct Greek translation from the note:

But she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

The word "but" in this verse indicates a change or contrast.  Something is going to change or be different. This verse tells us that Eve is somehow saved through childbearing if women will live lives of faith, love and holiness.  Eve's salvation (from the previous two cited incidents) is dependent on the holiness of women today.  The word "saved" bothers me because I know God's Word says in many, many places that Eve would not be held responsible for her decedents' sins.  Here's an example:

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16 NIV)

While there was a time in history when children were held accountable for their parents' sin, that time no longer exists.  Eve simply can't be receiving salvation in this way in the sense of eternal salvation or condemnation.  So, I checked the Greek word for alternate translations.  Here's what I found from Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary.

G4982 - σώζω - sōzō - sode'-zo
From a primary word σῶς sōs̄ (contraction for the obsolete σάος saos, “safe”); to save, that is, deliver or protect (literally or figuratively): - heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole.

So, let's do a quick summary of what we have so far about the passage just by looking at the language, both English and Greek, and by bringing in one theological concept about Salvation:

  • Paul doesn't allow women to teach or have authority over men in church gatherings.
  • He does this because of Eve's shortcomings in birth order and first sin.
  • Eve will be saved, healed, preserved, do well, or be made whole of these shortcomings if women today will continue in faith, love, holiness, with propriety.

You can see why scholars struggle with this.  Things still aren't quite "clicking into place."  We will need to investigate more to understand better what Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying.