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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can Women Teach? The Process and Context

Are women saved through childbearing? How? (1 Timothy 2:15)

That was the question I was setting out to answer.  I firmly believed (and still do) that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  I didn't know how to express that statement prior to Seminary, but I believed it's truth nevertheless.  Scripture, however, didn't seem to make sense in this instance.  So, it went on my list of questions to investigate.


I don't want to bore you with the details of my personal process with this question, which took over 8 years in calendar time and many hours of study.  Suffice it to say that I've read many passages of Scripture over and over again, many commentaries, and spoken with many scholars with expertise in Biblical Studies, Theology, Practical Ministry, Linguistics, Pastoral Leadership, and more.  What did I learn?  They're not sure, either.

I learned that there are many Biblical Scholars out there who are smarter than I am and yet disagree on the interpretation of this passage.  They may speak with confidence as though they have the answer, but they disagree...so many, if not all of them, are wrong.  One simply needs to read the various translations of 1 Timothy 2:15 to see this fact.  The translations show that the scholars struggle.  I found it comforting to know that I (and the woman who originally asked me) was not alone.

What I will share with you, however, is the process of unpacking this verse in the overall context of the passage, the interpretation process, and how it fits into the theology of the rest of Scripture.  I'll share some of the steps and good interpretive practices I have been taught by several of those smarter than me.  When we're done, I'll back up and give you a summary of where we've come so you can see the whole picture more easily and clearly.  Let's start with the context.

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First, Let's look at the verse in question again:

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

I'm not going to try to interpret the verse yet.  I'm simply going to focus in on the first word: "But."  The word exists in the original Greek as the word, "de," a "primary particle."  It's not important to know it's name.  It is, however, VERY important to recognize what it's doing.  It ties this sentence to the sentence before it.  In other words, this sentence is set in contrast to the statement before it.  So, we need to back up another verse to get the full picture.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2:14 NIV)

Notice that the first word of this sentence, "And," is a connecting word as well.  The Greek word, "kai," is also a particle connecting thoughts or sentences or phrases.  We don't have the whole thought process yet, so we continue to back up.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:13 NIV)

This sentence begins with the word, "For."  This word in the Greek, "gar," is also a very important particle.  It tells us that the sentence (and connected sentences) are giving the reason for something else.  Our movement of Non-Denominational Christian Churches recognized the importance of this word when we unpacked Acts 2:38 and learned that people were told to repent and be baptized...for the forgiveness of sins and...the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In our passage, every sentence we've added so far has been describing a reason for saying or doing something else.  So, we need to continue backing up.

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

You see how a woman's question about childbearing and salvation suddenly pulled me into a discussion about whether women can teach men or not?

Now before we tie it all together, I need to share one more thing I learned about our original sentence.  When I finally took my classes on Koine Greek and Advanced Interpretation in Greek, I went back to this verse to see if there was anything to learn from the original language.  I found out that there was.

Remember the verse?

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

We've already examined the word, "but" at the beginning of the sentence.  That was in the Greek just as translated.  The next word, "women," wasn't in the Greek, though.  Instead, I found the verb for "will be saved" with no definite subject.  This isn't unusual, though, in the Greek so we simply render the subject of the sentence as "they" when it is in the plural.  "Women" is an acceptable translation in this case.  The Greek word, however, presented a bigger problem.  The verb was clearly in the singular ("she") rather than plural ("they") in my Greek text.  It led me to checking multiple Greek texts to find out if mine was an anomaly.  It wasn't.  Every Greek text I found had the same Greek word referring to a feminine, singular subject to the sentence ("she.")  In fact, when I checked my New International Version notes at the bottom of the page, it confirmed that the Greek said "she."  This was incredibly important news for the lady who asked me the question about her salvation being tied to childbearing, because the sentence in the Greek actually should read something like this:

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

So, the entire passage actually reads something like this:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 
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. 
But she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 
(1 Timothy 2:12-15 NIV w/Note) (Emphasis Mine)

The woman who asked me about her salvation was safe.  She wasn't the one being saved through childbearing - at least not in this verse.  Eve was being saved through childbearing - as long as women continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.  I wasn't sure why Eve's salvation should be dependent on  the rest of womankind, but I was glad to hear that women didn't have to bear children to be saved.

I guess I could have stopped there, but now I knew this verse was somehow giving the reasons why a woman cannot teach or have authority over a man.  This not only intrigued me, but Eve's salvation seemed an important enough reason to keep investigating.  So, investigate I did.