Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Controversial Passage and a Plea For Unity - 1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2
After writing this entry, I wrote this more personal response about women in ministry.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 (ESV)
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

After encouraging Timothy to preach the good news of Jesus boldly, especially that our acceptance by God is by grace, and excludes no one, Paul turns to prayer. He begins by instructing Timothy to teach everyone to pray for those in authority. This is a challenging thought when one considers that the authorities of Rome were at this time persecuting both Christians and Jews alike, even to death.

Paul reminds Timothy that invitation to the Kingdom is offered to everyone. It is not necessary for us to support or agree with the government in order to pray for them. Certainly Paul and Timothy would have disagreed with the Roman government that they should persecute Jews and Christians, or that they should continue their colonization through violence and oppression. Paul says that Jesus came so that everyone, everywhere can be rescued from empire. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and pray for those that persecute us. Just as God's love for us is the same when we act contrary to Kingdom justice, our prayers can be with our government even as we resist its corruption.

Paul's reminder that we have one God and one mediator is in opposition to Rome, who would call Caesar a God and demand worship of local idols to gain favour for the region. That mediator is available to Caesar as much as to us. For Caesar to leave the empire and join the Kingdom of love and justice would be a great victory indeed.

Prayer keeps us in unity, since we humbly remember our position before God as we pray. We cannot judge or quarrel with one another when we remember that we all are equally loved by the same creator.


(my comments on equality of men and women in ministry here are brief. Please see this longer article from Sojourners about Supporting Women in All Levels of Ministry. I find this article to be scholarly, thoughtful, and gracious.)

1 Timothy 2:11-15 (ESV)
 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

This passage and the verses preceding it are difficult for those of us who seek to practice the equality of the gospel in Kingdom communities. The New Testament is an ever expanding story of walls between people dismantled, and radical mutuality across all lines, especially ethnic, religious, and social class. Yet here in Timothy, Paul seems to contradict this central gospel principle by demanding a marked difference in faith practice between people based on gender alone.

The argument against women in ministry is called complementarianism, indicating that women and men are not unequal, but different, complementing one another in their differences. In this case, complementarians would say that men's special role in the church can include teaching and authority, but women's cannot. To their credit, they do point out that Paul clearly does point to ancient scripture (men were created first), making the argument sound universal. Paul is not appealing to culture, and therefore they would argue that this is not a culturally specific instruction.

However, this is only as gracious as I can be to the position. I would argue that if a complementarian is so willing to withhold the opportunity to teach from half the population based on this passage, they have to also be willing to interpret the entire thing, including the part about being saved through childbirth. Paul has already made it clear in several different ways that salvation comes from Jesus alone. He has also shown that it is distributed universally. Certainly women are not "saved" through childbirth. Many have tried to interpret what this means, but most agree that it is one of those dark passages for which we simply do not have a clear answer.

I submit that this entire controversial passage is very difficult to understand, and that our practice of freedom or restriction to teaching should be based on more clear passages than this one. Jesus' practice was to elevate the role of women throughout his entire ministry. Paul himself honours women by name in many of his epistles. Paul's good friends Priscilla and Aquila are named as ministers together, with the wife being named first. Scripture has many examples in the old and new testaments of women acting in teaching roles or having authority, without condemning them. Finally, the message of the gospel is one of freedom from all oppression, and that certainly includes freedom from patriarchy.

Paul says in this very chapter that we are to seek unity, and pray to avoid quarrels. I do not seek to quarrel or promote disunity with complementarians. But in the case of this difficult to understand passage, I must speak from what I know of the gospel, and that gospel is freedom and justice, and submission to God's will. If God gives the gift of teaching and preaching to a woman, and I believe he does, I will gladly submit to God's word in her mouth.

After writing this entry, I wrote this more personal response about women in ministry.

Read my notes about Jesus' treatment of women in the book of Luke
10 Reasons Why Men Should Not Lead or Teach In Church (Humour)
See all of my entries labelled "Gender Equality"

Read 1 Timothy 2

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