Opinions on faith and life

An Inconvenient Scripture

2009-03-26

1 Timothy 2 has long been one of the most difficult passages (ref. quote below, plus other male supremacist and egalitarian sources) of scripture, not only because of some difficult (to our ears) grammar and rare Greek words, but also because of presuppositions brought to the text. I’ve covered this before but today I want to focus on the very end of the chapter, to answer the question of whether or not “she” can be understood as a generic reference to all women.

This matter only arises due to the presupposition that Paul must be making up a new law that forever silences all Christian women and forbids them to “take authority over” any man, for all time. When the Greek is read without this bias, much of the alleged difficulty vanishes, and then the passage can be studied like any other. But most Bible translations use a kind of “special pleading” approach to this passage, and their influence has done great damage to the Body of Christ.

As you know, some translations gloss over the Greek wording, which is as follows:

she-shall-be-saved yet through the parenting-of-children if-ever they-should-be-remaining in faith and love and holiness with sanity (Note: Each group of words connected with dashes denotes translation from a single Greek word)
The point I’m focusing on is the “she shall... if they”. Some translations render it something like “they will... if they” or “women will... if they”.

Let’s now examine a footnote from the male supremacist translators at Bible dot org (paragraph breaks added for ease of reading here):

24 tn Or “But she will be preserved through childbearing,” or “But she will be saved in spite of childbearing.” This verse is notoriously difficult to interpret, though there is general agreement about one point: Verse 15 is intended to lessen the impact of vv. 13-14. There are several interpretive possibilities here, though the first three can be readily dismissed (cf. D. Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” TJ 1 [1980]: 70-73).

(1) Christian women will be saved, but only if they bear children. This view is entirely unlikely for it lays a condition on Christian women that goes beyond grace, is unsupported elsewhere in scripture, and is explicitly against Paul’s and Jesus’ teaching on both marriage and salvation (cf. Matt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:8-9, 26-27, 34-35; 1 Tim 5:3-10).

(2) Despite the curse, Christian women will be kept safe when bearing children. This view also is unlikely, both because it has little to do with the context and because it is not true to life (especially life in the ancient world with its high infant mortality rate).

(3) Despite the sin of Eve and the results to her progeny, she would be saved through the childbirth – that is, through the birth of the Messiah, as promised in the protevangelium (Gen 3:15). This view sees the singular “she” as referring first to Eve and then to all women (note the change from singular to plural in this verse). Further, it works well in the context. However, there are several problems with it:

[a] The future tense (σωθήσηται, swqhshtai) is unnatural if referring to the protevangelium or even to the historical fact of the Messiah’s birth;

[b] that only women are singled out as recipients of salvation seems odd since the birth of the Messiah was necessary for the salvation of both women and men;

[c] as ingenious as this view is, its very ingenuity is its downfall, for it is overly subtle; and

[d] the term τεκνογονία (teknogonia) refers to the process of childbirth rather than the product. And since it is the person of the Messiah (the product of the birth) that saves us, the term is unlikely to be used in the sense given it by those who hold this view.

There are three other views that have greater plausibility:

(4) This may be a somewhat veiled reference to the curse of Gen 3:16 in order to clarify that though the woman led the man into transgression (v. 14b), she will be saved spiritually despite this physical reminder of her sin. The phrase is literally “through childbearing,” but this does not necessarily denote means or instrument here. Instead it may show attendant circumstance (probably with a concessive force): “with, though accompanied by” (cf. BDAG 224 s.v. δία A.3.c; Rom 2:27; 2 Cor 2:4; 1 Tim 4:14).

(5) “It is not through active teaching and ruling activities that Christian women will be saved, but through faithfulness to their proper role, exemplified in motherhood” (Moo, 71). In this view τεκνογονία is seen as a synecdoche in which child-rearing and other activities of motherhood are involved. Thus, one evidence (though clearly not an essential evidence) of a woman’s salvation may be seen in her decision to function in this role.

(6) The verse may point to some sort of proverbial expression now lost, in which “saved” means “delivered” and in which this deliverance was from some of the devastating effects of the role reversal that took place in Eden. The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).

25 tn There is a shift to the plural here (Grk “if they continue”), but it still refers to the woman in a simple shift from generic singular to generic plural. (emphasis mine)

I agree with points 1 and 2, but only with 3 in the fact that this refers to a single woman, and that “the childbirth” is accurate to the Greek grammar, whereas “childbirth” without the definite article is not. But notice the error in the statement “referring first to Eve and then to all women”. The sentence has no component of chronology or sequence; it is a conditional statement, an “if... then”, a statement of cause and effect. Paul is not speaking of a widening sphere but a condition which must be met. Can anyone cite another passage of scripture that uses “s/he will... if they” to denote a widening sphere? I am not aware of any, and it would be grammatically nonsensical.

In the sub-points under 3, I agree with [a] and [b]. The problem with [c] is that they are about to make their own argument in favor of subtlety in point (4) to follow. If subtlety is only accepted or rejected on the basis of degree, then it is completely arbitrary and highly speculative. Consistency demands that there be a defined line over which subtlety must pass, yet there is no objective basis for where that line is drawn. The real difference between “somewhat veiled” and “overly subtle” is personal preference, and even their claim in (4) is hardly what I’d call merely veiled; I would classify their interpretation there as “overly subtle”.

I agree with point [d]. No scripture ever speaks of Jesus’ birth in the context of how we are saved. Some argue that Paul must be speaking of spiritual salvation from the wrath of God due to the Greek word he uses here, but that is a circular argument. If context determines the meaning, then we must check all contexts to find a word’s semantic range. If one context is unclear, like this one, then we can’t dogmatically insert the meaning found in the other contexts, but instead should add this context’s possible meaning to the semantic range. The whole phrase, as they pointed out in the beginning of the note, is clearly understood to be an antidote to the error, so the most likely meaning of this context is to be rescued or delivered from that error.

In point (4) we’ve already noted the problem with subtlety, but they make a false statement: that “the woman led the man into transgression”, and they cite 1 Tim. 2:14 as the proof. Yet that verse only speaks of the woman having fallen into transgression due to deception. Where is there anything resembling this claim of Eve leading the man into transgression? They simply pulled that one out of the air. They would have us believe Eve tempted or coerced Adam, but Genesis simply states that she gave the fruit to Adam who was “there with her”. Talk about “overly subtle”! And where is this alleged “physical reminder of HER sin”? The woman Paul is talking about would then be shown as being cursed with childbearing!

Point [5] is of course blatant eisegesis. It claims that women will be saved by playing a role, one which apparently men are exempt from playing, as though Christian men do not need to “continue in faith and love with holiness”. Since they say “this does not necessarily denote means or instrument... but circumstance”, they are in fact arguing that a woman is saved by all that they have decided must accompany motherhood, and that only women are held to their “role”. Where is there any discussion of men keeping to their alleged role? In other contexts of general instructions to various groups, Paul discusses both male and female, slave and free. If this is one of those general instructions, then where is the teaching about men’s roles? Why are only women expected to show outward evidence of their salvation, and how do single women show this?

Point [6] grasps at straws. And it adds a phantom verse to Genesis: an alleged “role reversal that took place in Eden”. Where does Genesis tell us of this role reversal? It isn’t there. And if Paul is citing Genesis as the basis for this “law”, then it must be found there, but it is not. So to read “roles” into Genesis simply because Paul cites it is another circular argument. The context here in 1 Timothy is deception, and Paul clearly links that deception to Eve. He says nothing about roles, and neither does Genesis. Then they add “the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man”, yet it was never there to begin with. There can be no “again” unless there was a “first”, yet it is absent from Genesis before sin.

Then at the very end they simply note the shift from singular to plural, and tack on their own unsupported interpretation: that in spite of all they just wrote, somehow the rules of Greek grammar are to be dismissed when Paul mixes “she” and “they” in the same sentence. They already stated that “she” is definitely singular, so are they not doing what they condemn the TNIV for, which is using “they” as a singular pronoun? How can they “strain out the gnat” of “she” and yet “swallow the camel” of “they”? Such a flippant brush-off of the crux of the whole passage, the very key that solves the “difficulties”, is a serious omission by those that consider themselves scholars.

I won’t repeat what I’ve written elsewhere about the whole chapter, but hopefully the point has been made that this passage, especially verse 15, has been shamefully mangled in order to put words in the mouths of Paul and Moses. It is a display of double standards, of inconsistencies, and of tortured logic. But by remembering the purpose of the letter (stopping false teaching), by considering what Paul is in the habit of writing as well as his vocabulary, by remembering that nobody cites an OT reference to something that isn’t stated there, and above all by remembering that no specific prohibition would ever negate a universal principle, we can greatly reduce the difficulties found here or in any other passage of scripture.

Of course there is still room for disagreement on some things here, but we can rule out any one-sided role requirement or salvation by a most dubious form of “works”. We can also rule out that women suffer from the sins of both Adam and Eve while men are only affected by the sins of Adam. Such ideas tear at the very fabric of the faith. Without the need to advance an agenda of class superiority this passage becomes an affirmation of redemption and vigilance against falsehood-- not an enslavement of women.

10 Comments

Janice

Paula, you wrote:

I won’t repeat what I’ve written elsewhere about the whole chapter

Well, I wish you had, or at least that you had linked to what you’ve written elsewhere because this is an up-in-the-air issue for me. It’s not that I suspect it might be true that women have to have children to be saved. It’s that I need to know how to respond to these fellows who think that grace only applies to human beings with an XY pair in their set of chromosomes.

Fairly recently I read a paper by a Professor Arp, at the Baptist Bible College in Pennsylvania who wrote:

Paul’s proposition concerning the woman’s salvation builds on and develops from his proposition concerning her transgression. Because of its juxtaposition to the sinful state of "the woman," the salvific sense of "she shall be saved" is virtually guaranteed. ... Paul writes that the woman will be saved spiritually by means of childbearing.

Paul’s last proposition in this discourse is a conditional clause which modifies the previous proposition. The woman shall be saved "if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." The plural pronoun "they" indicates that Paul has returned to women in general. He expands reference from the representation case of Eve to the larger sphere of all "women". This clause indicates the condition necessary for the woman to be saved. It has a cause and effect relationship to the previous proposition. The women continuing in faith and love and holiness constitute the necessary cause, with the effect that the woman in question will be saved by childbearing. The conditional nature of this proposition requires the previous proposition to be interpreted in light of it. These last two propositions offer comfort to all women since all have become transgressors. ... Paul closes his argument by providing comfort for Eve and all women. They shall be [saved? - word omitted in the original] through childbearing if they continue to live in a godly manner. This comfort for women comes out and responds to their condemnation.

So this guy is actually saying that women not only have to have babies to be saved - in addition they also have to continue to live in a godly manner.

I am gob-smacked. If this is true then I am lost, lost, lost. There is no hope for me. I’ve had babies but as far as I know I definitely haven’t continually lived in a godly manner. If Prof. Arp is right it would have been better for me if I’d never been born. That I have been born means, according to him, that I’m destined for eternal destruction. Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t save me or any other woman.

Please help me out here. I’m quite sure he’s wrong but I don’t know how to tell him that he’s wrong. Where is his error?

Paula Fether

Hi Janice,

Sorry, the article was getting long but you’re right, I should have added a link. It’s in the Commentary which you can see at Scribd.

Now let’s take a look at the quote. First of all, and apparently in complete ignorance of the controversy over this verse even among strict male supremacists, the type of salvation Paul means is anything but clear, as I said above. Arp presumes salvation from eternal wrath.

Second, he presumes that Paul speaks of a generic plural, that Paul is talking about all women throughout the passage. I’ll check the full article later, but from this quote it seems so far that he’s simply airing his presumptions and not really justifying them. This is typical, and logically fallacious. If they want to justify their interpretation they must back up each premise with scripture.

In the largest paragraph Arp indicates that Paul has "returned" to talking about all women, so we know he admits there is "a woman" (singular) in the passage, that being Eve. Yet he had just said that "the woman will be saved", and since he says that was Eve, he is arguing that Eve herself cannot be finally saved until and unless all the Christian women of the future would be faithful!

Arp shows lower than average reasoning skills in the last paragraph with the statement that there is no word for "saved" in the phrase "saved through childbearing". What? Didn’t he just assert that Paul is talking about all women’s salvation in the second paragraph? Did he forget what he wrote earlier or did someone else write it and he assembled some random cut-and-paste from others?

You nailed it by saying Arp thinks Christian women have to be saved by faith--- PLUS a special kind of works (sex!) PLUS a degree of faithfulness and holiness not required of men! Which actually makes women better Christians than men!

Basically, Arp’s errors are in: 1-- Presuming his conclusions in his premises, meaning he takes the point he’s trying to prove and makes it a foundational "given" 2-- Poor reasoning that even contradicts his own statements 3-- Ignoring the very clear and undebated scriptures about how all people are saved 4-- Never even asking where Paul’s instructions for men are in this passage 5-- Not going to Genesis to show us the clear statements of authority Paul refers to

This isn’t Christianity or the Gospel, it’s phallus worship and idolatry and scripture twisting on a cultic level. Arp needs to be told the gospel, and to humble himself so he can learn. Like any other false teacher, he should be "handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." It’s a growing cancer in the Body and God will take out His own before very long!

Paula Fether

I read the rest of the article, but my rebuttal is getting too long for comments. I’ll post it soon.

Words of a Fether » Snake Oil Theology

[...] to a paper by a Mr. Arp on women in the church, prompted by comments in the previous article An Inconvenient Scripture. I examine this because it is typical of the male supremacist [...]

Crystal A Murray

Hi Paula,

I’ve been enjoying reading your posts whenever I get the chance, and I have so many thoughts that come to mind when I read them. On this one, the first time I heard a woman say she was saved because she had children, I was amazed at such a depth of ignorance. I was only 15 when I found out I could never have children. How then would salvation in childbearing apply to women like me?

As I’ve read and prayed over this one, here are my thoughts...

1. The word "saved" here is not about salvation, but allowance. The woman should not presume a just-because-I-said-so authority over a male, but she will be allowed to do so in the case of a male child - her own via childbirth.

2. The type of authority a woman is to avoid is that where she uses her feminine wiles to get her way. Eve was deceived, but Adam did not need to be deceived to sin. He just did it, and it was after he sinned that BOTH of their eyes were opened. Could he have taken the fruit from her just because he wanted to please her? Was it more disobedience (than deception) for him since he was the one who received the garden commands directly from God, and was it disobedience rather than deception that opened their world to the curse?

3. Any argument that supposes women cannot have ANY authority goes against the women in history that God, Himself, put in authoritative positions - and God never changes. Again, back to point 2, a man should not submit to a woman just because she’s a woman, or just because he wants something only she can give (sex), because if she were captive to some type of deception, she could lead him along with her.

I do believe the Godhead is best represented in the family relationship of husband, wife, and child, with leadership coming mostly from the non-emotional mind of a man, and the balance coming from the emotion and compassion of the woman. But, there are also places in God’s kingdom for the childless couple and the single person. The proverbs declare wisdom as feminine because true wisdom takes the balance of authority and compassion, and of knowing when to submit (obedience). Too much authority equates to cruelty, and too much compassion equates to the destructive liberalism we see in today’s culture. God is a God of balance, of both law and grace, power and love.

If you follow this passage into chapter 3, you see the warnings against the man who wants authority in the church without proper training of how to take correct authority in his home. He is in danger of the same condemnation of the enemy of our souls because he has not learned balance. And I also believe this male supremacist stuff is equal to homosexuality because of the lack of respect it gives to what God created in women.

I’d love to hear your thoughts here.

Blessings and Shalom,

~Crystal

Paula Fether

Hi Crystal, welcome! And thanks for your kind remarks. :-)

Let me comment on each point.

1- This is true, but it’s true of all believers. Men are not allowed any "just because I said so" authority over other adults either. Parents have authority over their children, and mothers are never excluded, even in the OT. So I really think Paul would not need to focus on the authority of mothers, or to only pick on women and not men when it comes to usurped authority.

2-- Men have "wiles" too, typically in the form of wealth or power. Again, Paul would not talk about flaunting or flirting as being wrong for women alone. As for Adam, there’s really nothing anywhere in scripture to say Eve did anything more than simply hand the fruit to Adam. There is no hint of "wiles", temptation, or a desire to please on Adam’s part. He stood by and watched while Eve was tempted, so it seems a stretch to think he suddenly felt sorry for her. He had no though of obedience before, so I think it’s highly unlikely he had any after.

3-- Yes, I agree. And I would add that neither is a woman to submit to a man just because he’s a man, or because she wants something (protection, wealth). Also, if men are so weak as to be unable to resist a woman’s leading into temptation, then that hardly argues for putting them in charge, eh? ;-)

I don’t think I’d call the family a representation of the Trinity, for that would put hierarchy between the Spirit and the other Two, since parents do have authority over children (temporarily!). I can’t think of any scripture that uses any human relationship to represent the Trinity, but only the Father/Son as represented by all believers to God. This view is not only consistent with scripture, but it also absolves the single adult from any sense of shame or lower worth in the eyes of God. Also, be careful with the "wisdom as feminine" analogy (or for that matter, the "courage and strength as masculine" one favored by male supremacists!). But I do believe that the masculine and feminine are designed to work together.

As for chapter 3, I don’t see "authority" in the church either. There is care and protection, and the Greek indicates something like "provide and protect" instead of "rule over". Yes, parents still have authority over their minor children. But the only scripture that speaks of an individual with actual authority is the wife! (see 1 Tim. 5:14, and the Greek word is literally "house despot") So any church leader is first of all a role model, an example of the true servant and protector. When Paul commended Phoebe he literally said she stood before him as protector!

Yes, male supremacy is as demeaning to women as any perversion, and more despicable than racism. It bows to culture as seen from history, and caters to the flesh. They are turning the once-liberating gospel into a heavy Pharisaical burden.

Hope that helps!

Crystal A Murray

Hi Paula,

Thank you for your comments on my comments. After years in a fellowship (I’m still trying to learn not to say "church" to represent a particular group or denomination) where women were terribly demeaned, there are a lot of old tapes there which still need to be examined. On the mother authority, I agree that both parents have authority. After reading your snake oil post, I would restate my original understanding to say that women who have children are given authority without previous training - saved/allowed in childbirth. Or maybe, that the one woman to whom Paul is referring should not take his message to mean she should not keep authority over her own children. But if Paul is not specifically talking to only women here, could he be speaking of spiritual childbirth as in, people who birth new life into the church should teach the new babes how to grow?

On the second point, I was definitely making assumptions about Adam’s response to Eve’s feminine wiles, and mostly based on my own experience as a wife. But I was also thinking of the Scripture in 2 Tim 3:6 about "silly women laden with sins" and "led away with divers lusts". I haven’t studied this to see if it is talking only of the female gender, but I thought of this as the reason why Eve was able to be deceived and then presumed the rest about Adam’s choice to sin with her.

Finally, the authority in the church (like I said, I’m still trying to stop using this term in reference to a group), to which I was referring was based on the word "bishop" and the statement in verse 5 that says, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" Again, I haven’t studied it to know here if Paul is talking of a male ruling his own house.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments. I especially like the idea of not seeing ourselves in lower worth by comparing ourselves to a position in the Godhead, even though my estimation of the Trinity is "Tri-Unity" which puts all the members of the Godhead at the same level.

Take care and keep writing,

~Crystal

Paula Fether

You’re very welcome, Crystal. I’m happy to provide a safe haven from "churchianity" and power struggles here.

Good point about parents being given authority simply because they are parents. Even so, we also know that if someone is abusive or otherwise incompetent, even parental authority can be revoked. So it’s the morality behind parenthood that gives the authority, just as it’s the divine principles behind the Assembly that allow some to lead. If they do not follow the most basic of Christian virtues such as humility and love, there is no reason to think they cannot be made to step down. There is no "touch not God’s anointed" to use as an excuse either. In fact, we’re all "anointed"!

I hold the view that Paul’s use of "the childbearing" refers to spiritual upbringing. You may want to read my Summary at the Egalitarian link in the sidebar, which goes into more detail. Overall, I think what Paul is saying is that the deceived woman can be rescued out of her deception if she and her husband "remain in faith...". Also note that word "remain". How could she be unsaved and yet told to "remain" in something she has not yet begun? She is born but not growing, and she needs to be trained and nurtured in the truth by others. And I do view the "elders" of any congregation as something like parents, and in the same way, their "children" must not forever remain children as is true of "churchianity". Any "school" whose students never graduate must have something terribly wrong with it!

Here is an interesting footnote from classical Greek scholar Ann Nyland about the "silly women" of 2 Tim. 3:6:

Gunaikarion, a very rare word. A contemptuous colloquial expression referring to followers of heretics...
It gives the idea of being naive, which would be expected particularly of women of the time since they were uneducated and sheltered, making them easy prey for smooth-talking false teachers. What it certainly does not say is that all women are silly and naive by nature. Note also that in that context Paul’s emphasis is not on women but on false teachers who were taking advantage of the naive. And Eve was likewise easy prey, not because of her being feminine but because she was inexperienced. Naive men are just as easy to fool and lead astray.

In my Churchianity booklet I used the term "community of believers" for ekklesia. I think it says more than simply "the assembly", because it denotes not a mere gathering but a family. And like a family there are parents and children. What Paul said in 1 Tim. 3:4 and 1 Tim. 5:17 is what qualities any "parent" must have. But unlike physical parents, these elders do not have authority over other adults in the fellowship, but only the responsibility to serve and nurture and protect. In the first reference Paul says "anyone", not "any man", and the phrase "of one wife husband" was an idiom meaning "a faithful spouse". The qualities listed are what every believer should be striving for, and those who desire to serve as guardians have to have reached that level. In the second reference, the word is from the root "proistemi" is also used in Rom. 12:8 and has the connotation of ruling with benevolence, as a public benefactor who does not rule with an iron fist but truly serves. But these elders are not only males, as the masculine plural was used as long as there was at least one male in the group. From the totality of NT writings we know that there is no basis for presuming this to be the sole domain of men. At any rate, the emphasis is on the care, not bossing people around. That’s one of those things that should be obvious to all believers, but the poor souls suffering from that spiritual PMS don’t seem to grasp this most fundamental of Christian qualities.

Crystal A Murray

Yes, I will definitely read your summary at the Egalitarian link, and other of your writings as well. Your teaching is solid and filled with great detail. And you are so right that children must grow up and students must graduate, but the communities that wish to exert control do not let that happen. So, do you suppose that Paul was also speaking to the congregation elders when he chastised the believers for still being milk drinkers?

As for the silly women, when I read that, I had to say, "Wow!" because of the many I’ve encountered lately who so easily follow the mainline heretics like Todd Bentley. It seems like I just cannot get them to understand their own level of responsibility in trying the spirits. They are certainly enticed by something that drives them like lust, but it’s hard to figure out why someone would want to stay under the power of a drive instead of the freedom of serving God in maturity.

I hope at some point, you will also read my "Power of Faith" document at Scribd and let me know what you think. The gist of the article is that God has given faith to all (not just believers) and we are commanded to use it in obedience. This means that believers who use it as God directs should not get accolades or high titles just because they have been obedient. In other words, there are no great men and women of faith whom we should lift up and praise as if they are demi-gods over the communities of believers.

P.S. Is it WordPress that causes Scriptures to come up on mouse-over, or is it something else you have done to your site? I really like it.

Bye for now, with blessings and shalom,

~Crystal

Paula Fether

I will definitely read your article as soon as I can. I’ve been concentrating on turning some of my stuff into ePub format for handheld devices like the iPod Touch. ePub is supposed to be the new bleeding-edge standard, so I’ve been learning how to convert from LaTeX to ePub via php (for any geeks out there, it involves the extensive use of "regular expressions" which are a nightmare for old ladies with astigmatism). I got the Commentary to work nicely, now for the Letters. If you have a handheld device, I know Stanza reads ePub, and others like eReader will soon be able to read it too.

The popup verses have a small link in the lower right that says "powered by RefTagger". Click on that and it will take you to their site, where you can get instructions on how to add it to your site. Yeah, I really like it too, it’s very handy. My earlier documents have the references hard-coded and it was a royal pain.