This text has been a bone of contention for Christians, particularly over the last one hundred years. I was recently assigned this text for a preaching class at RTS and virtually every single word is up for debate. What is Paul getting at when he says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet"? Now, it was no business of mine to address all these matters in that sermon. Yet, I find them significant enough to dig through with you all. Over the next few blog posts, I'm going to be doing a series of exegetical analyses of the text to help guide thinking on this passage. We'll look at a variety of exegetically-originated subjects in the passage and how they impact our understanding of the subjects addressed and life in the church today. For this first entry into the series, I'll be looking at some introductory matters to set the stage for the discussion.
The Landscape of Views
It is good to note, as a means of introduction, the various theological positions of those who interact with this text. Dan Doriani (in his 2003 volume Women and Ministry) has a helpful distillation of the views which he narrows to three:
Critical Egalitarianism: This view holds that the Bible does indeed convey that women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in the church. The critical egalitarian believes those views to be that of a patriarchal system that oppresses women. Thus, the Bible is wrong.
Evangelical Egalitarianism: This view holds that the Bible does not convey that women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in the church. Rather it believes that the Bible's egalitarianism liberates women. Evangelical egalitarians believe the Bible is right.
Evangelical Complementarianism: This view holds that the Bible does convey that women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in the church. The Bible's advocacy of loving leadership designated for men allows women to thrive. Evangelical complementarians believe the Bible is right.
Note a few things about these categories. There is indeed a distinction between the critical and the evangelical egalitarian. The chief among them is that the evangelical egalitarian believes that the egalitarian reality arises from the biblical text which has authority. The critical egalitarian believes that the egalitarian reality does not arise from the biblical text which they believe to be an anti-woman document. Thus, one significant commonality between the two evangelical views is that they believe they're deriving their view from what the Bible teaches — they both believe the Bible is right. That is no small common ground. Both evangelical egalitarians and evangelical complementarians have much to agree on because of that fact.
Authorship is a significant subject for this passage as it is amongst those of Paul's letters which most critical scholars question whether he actually wrote it. Now, it must be said that you can pretty much pick any one of Paul's letters and you're going to find some critical scholar that objects to its Pauline authorship. And yet, the subject of authorship is significant for our study. That is because some critical egalitarians will want to defang the complementarian argument on the basis that Paul didn't write 1 Timothy. The arguments typically lie in vocabulary usage which they believe to be too different from Paul's other letters.
Several responses have often been given by evangelicals in support of Pauline authorship with three standing at the fore:
We have no reason to believe that an educated man like Paul would have had a limited vocabulary.
We have no reason to believe that someone cannot use some amount of distinct vocabulary amongst various writings.
One must assume Pauline authorship for other letters and judge the pastoral epistles (of which 1 Timothy is part) based on that standard. But how are we to know that those letters present the real Pauline vocabulary and not the pastorals?
Now, I don't need to get into the details of what vocabulary is in dispute and how these arguments address the matter. What is significant to know is that Paul did indeed write 1 Timothy (as he said he did in 1:1) and that the egalitarians who object to Pauline authorship are either in or are flirting with the critical egalitarian camp.
Addressee and Occasion
The next introductory matter that is worth addressing in this study is the subject of the addressee and the occasion. We know that Timothy is the addressee because Paul says as much in 1:2. Timothy was a disciple of Paul and a pastor (1 Tim 1:2; 1:3, 2 Tim 1:2; 2:2, cf. 1 Cor 4:17). Paul is writing this letter to Timothy to instruct him on how to lead in godliness amidst a situation of doctrinal need, disordered worship, and false teaching. That is the situation into which Paul is writing. He wants Timothy to hear his instruction, take up his shepherd staff, and lead the people (1 Tim 4:14-16; 6:13-16; 6:20).
The final introductory matter is that of an invitation. You're reading this and seeing that I'm going to dive into this passage and you know full well where I stand on the matter. I've made that view known on here before. You may have your mind already made up on the subject and see no use in reading from this series. I invite you, do not turn away so quickly. Let us hear from God's word and take it for all its worth, authority, and beauty. You may be challenged or you may walk away unchanged. But here's the thing. You don't know which one it will be.
For great examples of thorough exegesis on the passage I commend to you two premier sources from which I have derived great benefit: Robert Yarbrough's commentary on the letters to Timothy and Titus and Women in the Church which is a 400+ page volume with contributors such as Robert Yarbrough, Tom Schreiner, and Denny Burke and it is completely dedicated to the passage.