Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Show Stoppers – 1 Timothy 2: Universal Restrictions or a Specific Remedy (Introduction)

Note – this will be an in depth and lengthy study and will therefore be conducted over several posts. I will post them all at once. I would prefer that any commentary and discussion be conducted in the final post only. Thank you.

I end the Show Stoppers series with a passage that some may think an odd choice. Traditional teaching on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 states that the passage relates to the conduct of women in worship services. As such, it seems out of place in a series on equality or hierarchy in marriage. But that is only if we 1) assume traditional teaching is correct, and 2) we don’t look too closely at the details of that teaching.

Imbedded in much of the teaching of the second half of 1 Timothy 2 are some assumptions about women in general, which certainly includes wives. Moreover, the inclusion by Paul of narrative involving Adam and Eve specifically, indicates to many that this passage has a dual function, or at least, that it addresses male/female relationship in two distinct realms: church and marriage. Finally, there are many who use the passage as a basis for more specific discussions of the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5, and even more importantly, 1 Corinthians 11.

Because of both the generalization that this passage makes universal statements about women and the belief that this passage forms a basis for interpreting specifically marital passages, it is indeed a show stopper in the equality/hierarchy debate.

I need to begin with a rather bold and inflammatory statement but it is an essential prerequisite to this analysis: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is one of the most erratically and erroneously translated passages in all of scripture. Now – I don’t expect anyone to take my word on that. I do intend to prove that that statement is sadly but most definitely true. In turn, it is bad translations that lead to even worse interpretations and ultimately to a view of women and men that is completely antithetical to Paul’s teaching. Put simply, we have completely missed the point of this passage. With my premise in view, let’s take a look at this final show stopper.

As with all interpretation of scripture, we need to begin by understanding the context surrounding and informing a section of text, and the intended audience. That is especially true of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. First, the entire letter to Timothy is a personal letter to the addressee who Paul had left in Ephesus to watch over the church there. In fact, the letter is a response to Timothy based, presumably, on a letter Timothy had written Paul concerning the issues that Timothy was dealing with. One of those issues, and possibly the most distressing one facing the young disciple, was the rampant paganism, false teaching, and heresy that existed in Ephesus at the time. Specifically for the Ephesian Christians, false teaching was a growing concern. Paul spends the entirety of the first 2 chapters of the letter (as we know them – the letter itself was not split into chapter and verse) dealing with false teaching, instructing Timothy on how to deal with both specific false teachers and Christian behavior in the presence of false teaching. That includes verses 11-15 of chapter 2. We must keep in full view that false teaching was the issue being addressed, and that Timothy, not the church at large, was who Paul was speaking to and instructing.

In order to fully address this section of 1 Timothy and adequately demonstrate the translational problems with it, I need to go into a very detailed, sometimes word for word, breakdown of the text. This will be tedious but necessary. Suffice it to say that virtually ALL English translations of this passage contain translational errors. Yet, most get some things right as well. What I propose to do is take a translation that is predominantly flawed and use it as a template. I do this not only because it will provide the starkest comparison to what I believe is the correct translation of the text but also because it highlights all of the various subsequent interpretational errors. So, here is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 from the Contemporary English Version:

[11] and they [women] should learn by being quiet and paying attention. [12] They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do. [13] After all, Adam was created before Eve, [14] and the man Adam wasn't the one who was fooled. It was the woman Eve who was completely fooled and sinned. [15] But women will be saved by having children, if they stay faithful, loving, holy, and modest.
In the next four posts I will break this text down, highlighting the translational errors and how they impact the traditional interpretations, discussing the impact of these errors, and proposing, from other bible versions, a more proper translation.

Show Stoppers - 1 Tim 2 Series:
Verse 11
Verse 12
Verse 13-14
Verse 15

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