Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Show Stoppers – 1 Timothy 2: Universal Restrictions or a Specific Remedy (Verse 12)

…continuing breakdown of 1 Timothy 2:11-15

(Please make comments on the concluding post)

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 ALL English translations of this passage contain translational errors. Yet, most get some things right as well. What I propose to do is take the translation that is the most 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.
Verse 12 – “They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do.”

Word order is a little backward in this translation, so I will rearrange it into the literal word order, but keep the translation the same.

“They should not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do, [but] should be silent”

12a “They” – i.e. women. The plural is maintained in the translation even though it is singular in the original text.

12b “should not be allowed” – The actual text states “I [Paul] am not allowing”. This is a huge omission in the CEV and many other translations. By making it a global statement – “women should not be allowed”, it gives the impression that a general law or prohibition is being conveyed here. But there is no law prohibiting women to teach in religious gatherings, either Jewish or Christian. Paul is making a specific appeal to his own authority. But why? Cheryl Schatz points out that this particular phrasing by Paul – “I am not allowing” – is unique in scripture, and quite a departure from Paul’s usual instructive form to Timothy within this letter. She makes the case in her blog post Using Paul’s Authority that Paul needs to take a unique approach to a unique problem.

…May I suggest that Paul is giving his own apostolic authority to Timothy to act in a very sensitive situation.

Timothy was a young man who in his youthfulness would have had a difficult time going past another man’s wife in order to stop her from teaching. In that culture a man’s home and family was his own responsibility alone. If you were going to deal with a man’s wife, you needed to go through the husband. But if the man of verse 12 was another “Adam” character who was saying and doing nothing about his wife’s deception, who could interfere? Paul could.

In the church Paul had the apostolic authority to go around the husband to stop the deception and false teaching of the wife. By Paul saying “I am not allowing” Paul is giving his authority to Timothy to act on his behalf in one of the most uncomfortable tasks that Timothy had to accomplish….
Why Does It Matter – The nearly universal teaching on this passage is that it is dealing with conduct in the worship service. If that is incorrect, if the passage is really dealing with a very personal and isolated problem within one or a few families in Ephesus, the entire authoritarian paradigm based on this passage breaks down. It is crucial that we understand the proper context of this verse.

A Proper Translation – At the very least, a translation should make clear that Paul is appealing to his authority. Many do, so for both 12a and 12b we will use the rather generic “I do not allow a woman”.

12c “to teach” – Now we are getting to the real fundamentals of this passage. Again, the presumption is that teaching to the congregation (if one could even call 1st century gatherings that) is what is being prohibited. But the entirety of 1 Timothy 1 and 2 is dealing with false teaching. Did Paul suddenly turn his attention to the prohibition of sound biblical teaching? Certainly not! The teaching involved here is not the teaching of the gospel to believers and seekers but more of the same false teaching and heresy that was rampant in Ephesus at the time and that Paul has consistently been addressing in the letter to this point. At best we can only assume that Paul is prohibiting false teaching to the congregation, and that a woman is the false teacher. But again, there are nagging clues which indicate that the audience for the false teaching was much more confined.

Why Does It Matter – It should be more and more apparent that our traditional view of this passage is completely off track. It will get even more apparent with further work. What one needs to take away from this is that the teaching of sound biblical principals and doctrine is not in view. Any interpretation that begins with that premise is off base at the outset and needs to be reevaluated.

A Proper Translation - There is nothing wrong with the almost universal translation “to teach”. One just needs to keep in mind that the Greek word translated “teach” has no inherent good or bad connotation. In context of the first 2 chapters of the letter, this refers to false teaching.

12d “or to tell men what to do” – Many of the translations sound a little more ominous, using some variant of “have” or “exercise” “authority” or “dominion”. Still, even slight changes convey subtle differences in meaning. Consider several variations using “authority”.

Easy English Bible Translation – “take authority”
King James – “usurp authority”
Today’s NIV – “assume authority”
Douay-Rheims – “use authority”
International Standard Version – “have authority”
English Standard Version – “exercise authority”
Recovery Version NT – “assert authority”
Meanings can range from simply being granted some kind of authority to snatching authority out of the grasp of a man or men. The one consistency is the assumption that the authority in question would be just fine if wielded by a man. It isn’t the authority that is the problem, it is the woman’s involvement.

There are also subtle differences in what noun is used. “Dominion” and “rule” seem slightly more negative than authority. Most people would agree that domineering behavior is not loving, and we have already discussed in a prior post in this series the true negative connotation of “rule” from Genesis 3:16. So, some translations at least indicate that something more than godly leadership, whether in the home or in the church, is at issue here.

And yet, none of them capture the true nature of the obscure Greek word authenteo (its only occurrence in the bible is in this verse) which is most often translated “authority”. Is it the benevolent kind of loving “servant” leadership one expects form a husband or pastor or elder? If not, then what possible connection could this portion of the passage have with teaching and leading a Spirit filled worship service? The answer should no longer be a surprise. The first, oldest, use given in Thayer’s Lexicon is “one who with his own hands kills another or himself”! The word is used in other Greek texts in relation to murder and rape. Thayer’s also has “an absolute master”. Hardly the kind of biblical leadership traditional teaching claims a woman is “usurping”.

Why Does It Matter – I believe the answer here should be obvious. Something quite different and sinister than conduct in worship services is going on in this passage. The woman or women in question are teaching heresy or worse and engaging in possibly violent domineering over the man or men in question. Moreover, the relationships in question are one-to-one, woman to man (contrary to the CEV continuation of the plural, “man” is singular in the original text). We have now entered an entirely different world than Christian worship services, and any teaching that misses or avoids this truth is itself misleading at best and downright devious at worst. In fact, it could not matter more that we get this verse correct because the interpretation of verse 12 colors everything in verses 13-15.

A Proper Translation – although some variations on “authority” have more negative connotations, they are not evident on our translations. “authority” is simply too benign a word to grasp the true idea behind authenteo. “Rule” comes closer, especially if the reader has Genesis 3:16 in the back of their mind. But the sheer severity of authenteo demands an even harsher word. Variations on “dominate” come closest, for even in the church setting, no one would accept domination as an acceptable leadership practice. We also need to eliminate verbs such as “have” and “usurp”, for this domination is not endowed as a Christian characteristic, nor is it taken from someone who rightly possesses it. It must be clear that the domination is forced on the other person.

We also have more confirmation that a husband and wife are in view, although the evidence is not yet conclusive. As stated before, when a singular man and woman are spoken of within a passage and there is clearly a relationship between them, it is generally assumed that a married couple is the subject. Several versions take that leap at this time and read “husband” instead of “man”. But I won’t go there quite yet. There is one more piece to this puzzle to make it conclusive.

With those two thoughts in mind, the Concordant Literal New Testament comes the closest: “to be domineering over a man”.

12e “but should be silent” – This mirrors the discussion of verse 11.

Here, then, is verse 12 from our template and with our multi-translation version:

Template: “They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do.”
Multi-version: “But I do not allow a woman to teach [false doctrine] or to be domineering over a man, rather, she is to remain at peace”

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

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