Snake Oil Theology
This is a rebuttal 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 view.
The paper begins with the setting of a precedent that he will use later: since God gave “the church (and therefore churches) pastors/teachers”, he can set a foundation of a singular being taken as a plural. But note that the word ekklesia refers to a group even in its singular form, just as nation or family does. This is not at all the same grammatical situation as the “she...they” of 1 Tim. 2. But Arp is either hoping the reader won’t notice the switch or is ignorant of it himself.
Next is an erroneous implication: that since God gave pastors/teachers, this must denote a kind of hierarchical “office”. Not so. God also gave apostles, evangelists, etc., and while some still hold all of those to be “offices”, I’ve argued in my document on Churchianity in the Downloads page and other articles that there are no such offices in the Body. No clergy/laity class distinction was set up by Jesus or Paul or anyone else. So the debate on who can hold an “office” is really moot since there are no offices.
In the second paragraph Arp presumes that the interpretation he is about to express must be the right one, that is, his interpretation is to be equated with the inspired Word. But knowing as he does that there is disagreement, this is a presumptuous and boastful claim. It falls upon him to show from scripture that his view cannot be refuted, but as we will see, he utterly fails to do so. Personal convictions are fine, but we must not claim that others who disagree have a low view of scripture or have some ulterior motive.
Arp cites 1 Tim. 2 as something “which helps to answer this question”, yet it is held to be one of the most difficult passages in all of scripture. Again, Arp cannot simply brush off the fact that many competent scholars and faithful believers disagree with him and realize the part this passage has played, not in clarifying but in confusing the issue.
He begins the study by presuming that Paul is issuing instructions for “women concerning their behavior in public worship services”. First off, where does Paul state this? Where does he talk of “public worship services”? Arp, like many others, presumes that the traditional model of “churchianity” is the correct one. But remember that Jesus said “where two are three are gathered in My name, there I am with them”. So Arp would have us to believe that not even 2 believers can meet together without the supervision of “clergy” who will sanction this “public worship service”. But worship is one thing and learning is another. Worship comes from the worshipper to God, while learning comes from the teacher to the student. So this too is a flawed brick in Arp’s foundation.
Under Purpose, Arp (see footnotes) claims to be approaching this topic with the whole context in mind and with consistent reasoning. That remains to be shown, as we will see. Then he adds the disclaimer “this paper does not purpose to give a detailed interpretation of the passage”, which pretty much says the opposite of that statement. Does he not remember what he just wrote, or does he think he can do this “discourse analysis” by brushing off those pesky details that he can’t deal with?
Under Clarification, Arp repeats his presumption that there is such a thing as “the office of pastor/teacher”. While some egalitarians do hold to this, I personally do not, as I think it’s a more consistent position with regards to the whole of scripture. But for the purpose of this rebuttal I will take the egalitarian view he is opposing.
Under Meaning, Arp holds that Paul is saying only men need to “lift up holy hands without anger or disputing”, while only women need to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety... with good deeds” (1 Tim. 2:8-9). But telling one group of people not to do something does not mean the others can do it. Instead, Paul is giving specific emphasis to problems each group was exhibiting. In general, it tends to be the men that fight and the women that flaunt, but this hardly constitutes the issuing of strict rules of conduct that would amount to men being allowed to flaunt and women to fight! It’s just practical advice sent to a particular individual who has been charged with putting things in order at a particular location. This is an important part of the context which Arp should not ignore.
Under The Purpose of 1 Timothy, Arp calls Timothy “the leader of the Ephesian church”. Where is this ever stated? In fact, Paul calls Timothy an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5) and co-worker (Rom. 16:21) who also went to other places such as Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17). Timothy, as is clear from scripture, moved around a lot, and was never “the leader of the Ephesian church”. And what is “the house of God”, a church building or “sanctuary”? No, Paul defines it himself in 1 Tim. 3:15 as being the whole ekklesia, the whole Body of Christ. And this behavior is that which is demanded of all who are held up as examples to follow.
Where Arp sees “codes of church conduct”, I see examples of high standards. Where Arp sees a chain of command, I see servants nurturing the immature. Where Arp sees a commander giving orders to an underling, I see a bond slave giving advice to his co-worker. Where Arp sees “administration”, I see a mission. This illustrates the profound effect one’s view of Christian relationships can have on one’s interpretations.
Then Arp looks again at these which he considers “rules of conduct”, and argues against Christian women dressing immodestly. Of course no one disputes this, but the point again is that it isn’t only women who must be modest and consider the culture. Yet culture seems to be a dirty word when male supremacists come to the following discussion.
After the brief look at outward styles, the main topic of behavior or conduct is introduced, and he focuses on the conjunction alla (“but” or “however” or “in contrast”). Paul is saying “In like manner also, that women not adorn themselves with... but good works befitting women claiming to be godly”. That is, women should not focus on external appearance but on the inner person (see also 1 Peter 3:3-4 , and note the word hesuchia there as well. Does Arp think women must have “an absolutely silent spirit”??). Arp again seems to argue that only Christian women are forbidden to wear “costly dress” while men are given no such restriction. Should not Christian men also “concern themselves with good works which are consistent with their profession of godliness”?
All that points out the fact that these alleged women-only rules are identical to the behavior that is expected of all believers everywhere, for all time, as many scripture passages make clear. If Paul is making specific “blue” and “pink” rules, he has yet to say how they differ from “Christian” rules. So for a passage that is alleged to clear up a controversy concerning women in the church, Paul has not even begun to address it in the first 10 verses out of 15!
It is of course only the last five verses that address what at least one woman is doing at the time in Ephesus. But Arp begins with the assertion that Paul is talking about “the women’s role in public worship”. Never mind the stated purpose of the letter is stopping false teaching, or that Paul just finished telling Timothy about areas of immaturity in the believers there. All that context is thrown out the window in order to lift these last few verses out and apply new meanings to them.
This is clearly “another discourse”, but not about “public worship”. Arp would be hard-pressed to find any word or phrase in the entire letter to Timothy (either one!) about “public worship”. The women “who profess to worship God” has nothing to do with an organized time of praising God wherein women alone are forbidden to wear fancy clothes. And where is any term like “role” in the entire New Testament? We have gifts and service, but no “pink” and “blue” roles or offices. And again, unlike any other of Paul’s discourses on behavior, this one alone would be very one-sided in that the “roles” of men regarding modesty and propriety are absent.
Arp notes the abrupt change with the beginning of verse 11 yet tries to make it part of the general instructions preceding. Likewise, the first verse of the next chapter starts with another abrupt change, making this little section stand alone. But he can’t have it both ways; either this is a different topic that is not related to the ones before and after it (yet all are in the context of the topic of deception), or it is part of the general instructions. And Paul has already tied behavior to appearance, such that this abrupt switch is not part of that but a clean break from it. Since Arp makes such a big deal of the separateness of this section, he should argue consistently with that.
But we see that he first of all alters the scripture from singular to plural. Paul actually says “let THE WOMAN”, not “let women”. To say Paul is using “the woman” as generic plural begs the question. If Paul had preceded this abrupt change of topic with something like “All women are to do such-and-such. If a woman...” then the generic plural could be legitimate. But no such preface exists, as Arp so emphatically argued. It is therefore fallacious to presume the plural. Paul, if we follow the “plain reading”, is talking about a particular woman and uses the singular throughout, never changing until the “they” of vs. 15 which is not grammatically feminine. Either there is a clean break which prevents “the woman” from getting the generic plural from the preceding discussion, or there is no clean break.
Next Arp, consistently in this regard at least, ignores the fact that it isn’t only Christian women who should learn respectfully and quietly. Again we see a general Christian trait, if in fact it is meant to apply to all and not just one individual. What is Paul’s point in specifying women then, since these qualities are certainly required of men as well? The answer that should be obvious is that Paul is not talking about general rules, but an individual in deception who needs to sit down and learn.
Then Arp completely ignores the rare word authentein, found nowhere else in scripture and infrequent in other literature of the time. There were other words for “authority” and Paul used them elsewhere, not insignificantly in this same sentence. He writes, “I am not giving permission (epitrepo) to woman to teach nor to authenteo man”. Does Arp think this means “I am not giving any women authority to authority any man”? That would be an extremely poor translation. The meaning of authentein is highly questionable and Paul, in this very sentence, had other words to use for “have authority over”.
So exactly what is this woman not allowed to do then? All we know from its usage in other literature is that it had something to do with murder or violent overtaking, and that it certainly did not mean “any and all authority”. So to claim Paul means otherwise is to make a groundless assertion.
And once again, to do this spiritual violence is not something men are permitted to do! If it means “authority over a man” then he must believe some men can have authority over other men. But this would also require that men do not have authority over women! Where does the Bible say they do? Arp cannot defend the idea that if Paul denied women authority over men, that men must have all the other authority. This is the kind of jumping to conclusions that the cults do. So far, this alleged “clearing up” has raised more difficulties than it purported to solve.
The phrase Arp renders as “I do not allow” would make us think Paul means “I never ever allow”. But the Greek reads “I am not allowing” (present ind.). The woman who is teaching error is not allowed to teach until she first sits down to learn and then shows, as any believer aspiring to leadership must (1 Tim. 3:1), that she is “walking the walk”. No Christian is allowed to teach if they teach error, but once they abandon their error, they can teach. This addresses the objection some raise that Paul would never temporarily forbid false teaching. The fact it misses is that if a false teacher turns from error and learns the truth, they can return to teaching. In that sense it is in fact temporary. Falsehood is never permitted, but truth is, and that is the very crux of not only this passage but the whole letter.
As Arp points out, there are two infinitives: “to teach” and to do that other rare word authenteo. So the false teacher is first of all to stop teaching, and then to sit and learn in humility. But “to teach” is not, as he asserts, “a positive activity”, and it does not follow that authenteo is also positive. We have already seen that the context is false teaching, not true teaching, and it is that context that determines whether “to teach” is positive or negative (or even neutral, meaning simply “to teach” without addressing the nature of the teaching). Since the teaching is negative (false) then so must be authenteo per Arp’s view. That being the case, then it is only this negative thing that is being prohibited, and women are thus not forbidden to teach truth (an idea that would be absurd in its own right).
Under “be in quietness”, Arp takes the extreme view that women must be utterly and completely silent as her “existence in public worship”. Wow. If he wants to be taken seriously then he must show how all other research on the word hesuchia that says it means “a quiet demeanor” or “with respect and deference” (read sidebar here or even the male supremacist source here) is in error.
In contrast to Arp’s assertion that this utter silencing of women in public worship is “the focus of this discourse”, Paul has spent the letter telling Timothy how to stop falsehood and get the people to act like all Christians should. Arp acknowledges the fact that this particular section is set off from the flow of the preceding about how various people need to change their behavior, yet as already pointed out, he then wants to include it under that same umbrella and make it a universal and timeless prohibition. And Paul’s focus is not to silence all women but a woman teaching falsehood. Such as Arp would literally gag half the Body (and thereby squelch the Spirit, who does not dispense gifts in “pink” and “blue”) and then wonder what’s wrong with churches today.
Now we come to creation order. Paul explicitly ties this to deception, not authority, yet Arp and other male supremacists would ignore both this context in 1 Timothy and that of Genesis to insert an interpretation that cannot be seen without a lot of reading between the lines. Again, this is begging the question. If scripture never cites creation order as signifying Adam’s alleged authority over Eve (which it doesn’t), then presuming Paul refers to it to establish authority in Genesis is circular. If Paul’s readers, as Arp asserts, were to already understand the Genesis account to which he refers, then certainly a statement about Adam having authority over Eve would be obvious. But it isn’t there, either expressed or implied. This attitude of superiority by virtue of “first come, first served” is foreign to the New Testament and tells us that men are still trying to vie for the position of “greatest”.
Contrary to Arp’s assertion, which he pulls from thin air, the “first-then” grammar of Paul only indicates sequence, and nothing more. Paul ties deception to sequence, and the whole of scripture is silent about why being last made Eve more vulnerable to the serpent’s beguiling. We could just as easily claim that she was vulnerable due to inexperience since she never saw God’s creative power firsthand as Adam did. Arp acknowledges that Paul’s grammar “indicates next in order of time”, yet he adds on his own fine print to tack on authority. Far from it “establish[ing] Eve’s secondary status” (which would also mean animals are superior to people-- if one is consistent), it only establishes the cunning of the serpent to pick on the least experienced person.
Arp admits that Adam was not deceived, but then he tries to tie it into his presupposition that Paul has been talking about why all women for all time must be kept under men. Adam’s lack of deception is why he alone is blamed for the entrance of sin into the world, as Paul himself wrote in Rom. 5:12-14. Adam alone is charged by scripture with hiding his sin (Job 31:33, which the TNIV mistranslates here), but Eve is only ever charged with being deceived. And both male and female Christians can fall under that same deception, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:3).
Considering all the scriptures about the Fall, about Adam and Eve, and about Paul’s writings, we cannot then conclude that Paul is saying God values deliberate rebellion and hiding sin over being deceived and admitting it! Yet that is the male supremacist argument. They presume that God rewarded Adam for failing to guard the garden, for standing and merely listing to his wife’s voice (Gen. 3:17) while he was there with her (Gen. 3:6), and for blaming God Himself for Eve (Gen. 3:12). And they presume that Eve was cursed for being the victim of a smooth lie, and that the solution was to put her under the very man that showed his utter failure to lead and protect! What cult could do worse?
In other words, Adam’s lack of deception was not his crowning achievement but his condemnation. Eve had an excuse (yet didn’t try to hid behind it), while Adam did not, and it is Adam who is solely blamed by scripture for sin entering the world. Again, it is preposterous to conclude that this somehow qualified Adam-- and all males after him-- to be the spiritual “keepers” of women (a phrase, incidentally, that is found in the Quran!). And have all the male supremacists forgotten that it was the seed of the woman alone that God would use to undo what Adam did? What great significance there is in that simple statement by God! The woman is not being cursed but honored, because she owned up to her sin and did not blame God for anything.
Then Arp notes that Paul switches from Eve to “the woman”, yet like all the other male supremacists, simply inserts his presupposition of a generic plural here and glosses over the significance of the shift. As he should know, the original writings (that is, the copies we have) are written in all capitals with no punctuation. So where a sentence breaks or where a comma should be is very much a matter of guesswork. Here is the Greek rendering of 1 Tim. 2:13-14:
Adam for before-most was-molded thereafter Eve and Adam not was-seduced the yet woman being-out-seduced in beside-stepping has-becomeIt would be perfectly legitimate to render it “Adam was formed first and Eve next, and Adam was not deceived. But this woman, being deceived, has fallen into sin”. Note also that “has fallen” indicates a past event with continuing effects. Male supremacists take that to mean Eve’s personal sin was passed on to all women, but since whether Paul is talking about one women or many is the point of debate, one cannot presume this meaning. Instead, it takes much less effort to take Paul at his words: He likens this woman’s deception to that which happened to Eve, and it is not Eve but this woman who is still in deception. For that reason she must step down and become a student before returning to teaching.
Arp seems to argue that “the woman” must be Eve, even though there is no more reason here to reject the generic plural than anyplace else. He follows the typical view that this one woman’s sin affected only the women who would come after her, while apparently remaining oblivious to the fact that only Adam’s sin is said by scripture to have affected all people, male and female, who would come after him.
Now to the last verse, the statement about “the bearing of children”. This too is an obscure word in Greek, and like authenteo, is never used anyplace else in scripture. Why would Paul use yet another rare word to describe something as ubiquitous as salvation? And why would Paul say of Eve that she, though dead, will only be saved in the future if all Christian women adhere to a level of holiness that men are not required to exhibit? Yet in spite of the inherent nonsense of this view, Arp goes on to state point-blank that he believes “Eve represents all women”, which is the point of controversy. Again, repeating an assertion does not amount to proving it. If, as he argues, Eve is “the woman”, then he is also saying Eve is still in sin. He cannot arbitrarily extrude Eve’s sin to all other women (and not men), simply because he can find no other way within his presuppositions to make sense of the passage.
And again, Arp asserts that only women must add works to faith in order to be saved. This is truly “another gospel”. Specifically, if as Arp asserts women “will be saved spiritually by means of childbearing”, then it is not by means of faith alone; the two are mutually exclusive. And what of the fact that Paul mixes “she” and “they” in one sentence? Male supremacists gloss over it and change Paul’s grammar to mean what they have already decided he must mean. Instead of letting the grammar form their understanding, they twist the grammar to their understanding, and thereby impose their foregone conclusions upon scripture.
My conclusion is, of course, much different that Arp’s. Paul’s letter is all about stopping false teachers and exhorting people to strive for the genral standards of Christian behavior. He graciously affords this particular false teacher the opportunity to turn away from her falsehood, for the simple reason that she has been deceived. Unlike others Paul has named elsewhere, who were doing the deceiving and knew what they taught was false, this woman is getting the same treatment God gave to Eve: she is not condemned but given an opportunity to learn, in spite of the rules of society which considered education to be wasted upon women. Arp even lets it slip that “evidently, the women were... teaching wrong doctrine”, which is true (but only of one woman). Why then does he completely ignore this fact and conclude that Paul was forbidding women to teach true doctrine? What an absurd notion, that any believer should be silenced from teaching truth, solely on the basis of the flesh!
The scriptures commend those who search them out and test every claim (Acts 17:11), especially everyone who makes claims about scripture. The reader of course must decide for themselves (-- a genuine example of a plural used as a singular), but debates such as these give people all the facts they need in order to do so. It is an honorable activity for Christians. In so doing I hope to have exposed the male supremacist house of cards built on a foundation of shifting sand. If nothing else, we must always question any system of interpretation which would divide the Body and make one half answer to the other, or put a human intermediary between any believer and their Savior. Idolatry is still a sin, and so is pride.