Genesis 1-5 as Ancient Memory

I have recently discovered the work of Riane Eisler, and particularly her classic 1988 work The Chalice and the Blade. Eisler is a second-wave feminist who has specialized in cultural history. Her book is an overview of the apparently substantial archaeological evidence that human society during the Neolithic pre-historical period (that period that before written historical records, before the rise of the Egyptian empire) was radically peaceful, cooperative, and egalitarian.

It turns out, there is no evidence that Neolithic communities built fortifications or defenses around their towns, no evidence among what we can find of their metallurgy that they manufactured any weapons, and from what we can tell about their social lives, men and women lived in equalitarian peace, neither patriarchal or matriarchal.

Thus, Eisler distinguishes between two ultimate types of social structures, which she terms the “chalice” and the “blade.” Or, phrased differently, the cooperative and the dominator culture, each organized around the common cup or the power of the sword. It was not until the nomadic herdsmen swept down from the steppes to expand their grazing territories that weapons and defenses begin to be seen, and over a period of centuries the peaceful Neolithic communities were conquered by various nomadic warlords. The Minoan culture on the island of Crete was the last remaining peaceful, egalitarian society, finally conquered by the warring mainland Myceneans (Greeks) in 1420 BCE.

Her research is helpful for us in that it demonstrates that competition, violence, and domination are not inevitable for the human person or the human community.

As a Christian, I found her insights of prehistory and the emergence of patriarchy as a later “de-evolution” from a cooperative, peaceful community very interesting. I was thinking this week about how we might view the earliest portions of Genesis as the collective memory of the Hebrew people, living in and often part of the patriarchal model of human society, of a lost age of peaceful and unoppressive human community.

That is, Genesis was probably written or compiled during the Babylon exile, when Israel was in captivity and under the oppression of the dominator model of human community. While prior to this historical point, Israel had come into Canaan and settled there, eventually displacing the peaceful people that lived there and had desired a king like the dominator model (in 2 Samuel 8), by the time they began to collect the earliest stories of their people and culture, they were slaves and prisoners to this same system. Thus, the idea of a former age of peace and a tragic fall came into their yearning. In other words, because they were enslaved and suffering, they sought the hope that such a plight was not inevitable, but that there had once been an age without such oppression and suffering, and then a fall from such a human community.

To make this clearer, Genesis is a foundational mythic retelling of a cultural memory of a distant past. There are glimmers of a genuine lost historical age found under the mythical trappings of the story, much as there might well have been a real flood that gave rise to the flood account of Noah.

When we turn to Genesis 1-5, then, we see the remnants of their ancient memory of precisely this neolithic past, passed down in stories through the collective memory of the community, of a way of being human in community that had been lost (but might be recovered in some eschatological future). The story of Adam and Eve dwelling in harmony with each other, the creation, and God in the Garden of Eden is the expression of what the Hebrews called “shalom,” or peace, a comprehensive peace and harmony between all creation, where all relationships were properly ordered in equalitarian and healthy, nonviolent terms. (I am here assuming that Phyllis Trible and various eco-theologians are correct in seeing Genesis 1-2 as egalitarian and opposed to androarchy, mankind-rule and people-centrism.)

When the serpent turns up, it inserts disorder and disharmony into all of these relationships, humanity with itself, between the genders, between humanity and the animals and the creation. There is now “enmity” (Gen. 3:15) that interferes with shalom. This could well be, once again, the collective memory of an ancient neolithic past in which communities of shalom and cooperation and harmony were conquered by warlords, which would have plunged people into enmity with one another and with the world. Later, in Genesis 4, this enmity bursts into violent murder between agrarian Cain and herdsman Abel, the precise two kinds of communities that fought with each other in the later neolithic age. Cain, the violent one, then goes on to found the first city (and the implication of it, empire, domination, oppression).

In the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, the word “enmity” in Gen. 3:15 is echthran. This is important for the gospel, as Ephesians 2:14-18 makes clear:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

In this passage, pseudo-Paul mentions “hostility” twice as something that Jesus killed. The Cross, then, was the ultimate act of violence of God’s part–the violence of enemy-love, to suffer rather than retaliate, and in that way execute hatred and violence forever. That word “hostility” is echthra, forging a close connection between the serpent-dominator who gets between healthy, harmonious relationships with its enmity [echthran], and the Christ-liberator, who finally killed enmity [echthra] itself in the human soul and in human community. By killing enmity, Jesus opens up new ways of being human and living together in community, restoring “peace,” shalom, that ancient human community based in cooperation, love, peace, and egalitarian life.


Manhood vs. Jesus

There has been a long history of “masculine” Christianity in the life of the modern church. The fact that the Christian faith has been the refuge for women and other minorities and vulnerable, weak elements of society has created an aura of anxiety around the men that are active in Church life. They fret about masculinity, manhood and the faith, fearing the “feminization” of the Church, nursing the lurking suspicion that perhaps in the end it is feminine itself.

Men have done a number of things to remedy this situation, but they all ultimately boil down to a “re-masculization” of the faith, emphasizing themes of capitalism, warfare, and patriarchy. From Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to the contemporary Quiverfull movement, Doug Wilson, and beyond, this movement has tried to rediscover, define, and enforce masculinity in counter-distinction to femininity, as a vital need within the Church.

Typically, this is expressed in the traditional masculine roles of Protector, Provider, and Progenitor. As I was thinking about these categories today, I suddenly realized how far these are from Jesus’s vision as presented to us in the New Testament. Christianity, then, innately destabilizes traditional male and female roles by summoning women to ministry, service, and education, and by summoning men to surrender their instinct to self-defense, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Man as Protector. Here the man is seen as guardian, the paternalistic defender of the patriarchal household of wife, property, and possessions. Jesus undercuts this instinct when he summons Christians to the life of nonviolence and non-retaliation.But I say to you, do not resist with violence the harmful person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you,” (Matt. 5:39-42). While the male instinct is the assertion and defense of rights and property, Jesus asserts that the opposite is characteristic in the Kingdom of God.

Man as Provider. In this perspective, the man is seen as the source of provision for himself and his household. Implicit in this idea is the concept of capitalist acquisition, accumulation, and consumption, the making of money and the provision of a household for the subservient wife and children. The degree to which our society insists this is a matter of honor for men (while simultaneously abandoning much of it in practice) shows how ingrained it is in our thinking. Jesus challenges this directly. Jesus himself was not a provider, but received the hospitality and financial support of others, including women (Luke 8:3). He advocated this life for his followers: “You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:24-26). The pattern here is mutual support and a radical trust in God, not accumulation and provision.

Man as Progenitor. Here the man’s power is felt in his sexual veracity and his ability to procreate – hence the struggle of men with impotence and other sexual issues. Rather than seeing sex and marriage in egalitarian, equalitarian terms, it becomes a means of planting one’s seed, of “taking” a wife and fertilizing her garden, an instinctual regression to patriarchy, however guided by evolutionary necessity. Even here, however, Jesus reconstructs our view. “But seek first His kingdom and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matt. 6:33-34).

Jesus, as is apparent from this brief glance, radically un-centers the capitalist, middle-class lifestyle into which modern Christians are desperately seeking to accommodate him, and the patriarchical assumptions that sit behind it. He calls us into a vastly different type of community, organized around a revolutionary set of assumptions that challenge the cultural locations of both men and women. He is not pro-masculine or pro-feminine, but beyond both, a new way of living in which there is “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:25).

Courtship and Those Crazy Patriarchalists

Thomas Umstattd has been making waves in fundamentalist homeschooling hyper-conservative homesteading courtship patriarchalist circles these days. His blog post “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed” is a solid bit of work which I recommend glancing at.

My biggest problem with the piece, if it has a flaw, is that all of the arguments are pragmatic, rather than Scriptural. That is, it opens itself up to the charge that courtship isn’t really the problem, just certain people practicing courtship wrongly. This was, as one might expect, exactly the protest leveled by patriarchalist Doug Wilson in a response titled “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Awed.” In the post, by the way, Wilson describes himself as “someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map,” and this is more or less true in a lot of ways.

But Umstattd never asks the fundamental question: “Why are we even still talking about this?” It is 2014. Fourteen years into the 21st century. And we’re still talking about the boy having to get permission from the father, and the father given extreme veto power in this dynamic? Fuck that noise. There isn’t a shred of evidence this is necessary, required, or even recommended in Scripture. If the father likes the boy that much, he should marry him. There are a lot of states letting you do that these days, apparently.

Courtship is just a small portion of the problematic teaching in these circles, but at their core they all have one thing in common. Dependency. Don’t get me wrong. We’re supposed to help and support each other. But dependency is entirely different. Dependency manufactures immaturity and destroys self-empowerment. In a novel, when a character is free to make their own decisions and behave proactively, they are said to have “agency.” All patriarchalist theology is designed to take away your agency as a person by making you dependent upon the opinions, the decisions, and the commands of others.

This is soul-sucking abuse and it is mentally and emotionally crippling. Be your own person. Love God, love your neighbor and your enemy. Figure out what you like and dislike, and the kind of person you want to have a relationship with. No one can make that kind of decision for you. They aren’t you. They can’t know. Live, love, and know that God loves you for who you are, mistakes, lessons, brokenness, and all.

Justifying Domestic Violence?

It is astonishing to me how many people don’t understand how easily it is to justify violence, especially in the Church. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Most evangelicals are still strict complimentarian-patriarchalists. But even those I thought were more sane in their approach can fall prey to bad assumptions. Here’s a comment from a respected ministry guy who accepts women’s ordination and who has proved to be very wise on a lot of subjects (I won’t name him for his own benefit):

I agree: Men should never hit women. On that I completely, wholeheartedly, and unequivocally agree. Any man who physically, sexually, or verbally abuses a woman is nothing but a coward in my eyes. Man up. Live up to the name “gentlemen.” Treat others as you would like to be treated. That should not be the end of the discussion, though. Yes, let’s talk about the man’s behavior and do so in incredibly critical ways. At the same time (not “But”), let’s also talk about the woman’s behavior. In my opinion, significant societal progress will not be made until we’re able to have a thoughtful public discourse about both sides of the equation. The fact that discussing one-half of the behavior involved seems culturally taboo is a significant problem. Of course, I know why that is. Experience tells me that few people are able to engage in that conversation without immediately inserting foot in mouth, making some profoundly stupid and insensitive and hurtful comments. At their very worst, such comments can victimize the victim all over again. Not good. So it’s easier to simplify it to an absolute rule of “Just say no” without further dialogue. Yet that approach doesn’t work. It never does on a large-scale. As one born in 1985, I can tell you that it didn’t work with D.A.R.E. and it didn’t work with abstinence-only sex education. Likewise, it doesn’t work with domestic violence. There’s a crucial distinction to be made between understanding ad justifying. I’ll say it again. We need to be able to thoughtfully discuss the behavior of all parties involved. To my eyes that is nothing if not reasonable.

The guise by which we can sneak our poor assumptions in is through our appeal to “reasonableness.” Everybody likes a good, balanced discussion. Except that in this case, this is not a balanced discussion. This is the implicit justification of domestic violence. In the abstract it sounds perfectly acceptable to say that we should consider both sides; in philosophy and theology this is indeed a strength. But this does not necessarily apply when dealing with specific real-world situations.

The response with violence is never an acceptable response. It does not matter what the victim was doing, violence is never a proportionate response. So we should have no need to “talk about the woman’s behavior.” (Let’s include abused men here too and say that the victim’s behavior, regardless of gender, is not what is under review in trying to figure out what happened). There is no behavior on display that justifies violence as a response. It doesn’t matter what the victim was doing – the moment a punch was thrown you have crossed into unacceptable behavior. It doesn’t matter if they pissed you off. It doesn’t matter if they were annoying you, or even screaming at you. It doesn’t even matter if you have PTSD or “trigger words.” Violence is always a choice, which means we always have the opportunity to say no.

So how does this kind of superficial “reasonableness” imply victimization? Because it blames the victim for the event, even if handled in the nicest, kindest way. It does not do so directly, so you don’t have to intend to blame the victim or consciously realize this is what you are doing. The point is that implicit in the very assumptions of the statement above is assigning blame, or partial blame, up0n the victim. You cannot say what is said above to the face of an abused woman and not have it come across as blaming them. “You know it takes two to have an argument.” “What were you doing, Mrs. Brown?” Implicit in the claim that we “need to be able to thoughtfully discuss the behavior of all parties involved” is that both parties worked to provoke an act of violence. This also implies that women ought to learn how to walk on eggshells around their husbands so to not contribute to a situation that would result in violence. But this is not their responsibility. Our approach to the situation must not be, “Learn how not to get punched, Mrs. Brown” but “Stop punching your wife, you bastard.”

And what of those women for whom the only trigger in their husbands is alcohol? Or walking in the room at the wrong moment? Or asking how their day was? Or saying that dinner is ready? Anyone who can sit across from a woman with a black eye and bruises all along her body and ask her, “How did you contribute to the situation?” should not hold any counseling or pastoral position anywhere at any time. This is a mark of disqualification from oversight and care. It is no different from asking the rape victim, “What were you wearing?” That is irrelevant to the case of being raped. No outfit (or indeed no outfit at all) is “asking for” being raped.

We must stop victimizing the victims, blaming the victims, and focus on healing and caring for them. They need no more burdens placed upon them. Stop. Please.

James B. Jordan on Heads of Household

In my lengthy series on patriarchy, I devoted one part to dealing with the claim that family and ecclesiastical life are governed patriarchally, that is, by “heads of households,” essentially presumed to be the males of the family and church.

Well, just today I got some new work from theologian James B. Jordan that ties neatly with that and expands upon some of my comments, an essay titled “Heads of Households and Household Baptism,” in Rite Reasons No. 104. His intent is to criticize the patriarchalist impulse evident in “household” churches, but the way he goes about doing this is by exploring what a “household” was in the Greco-Roman empire.

He writes that the “assumption” that the “husband of a nuclear family is the ‘head’ of his ‘household'” is something that “has no foundation anywhere in church history, and it is not found in the Bible.” He calls it a “problem” for churches that are patriarchalist in structure: “women do not think as men do, and [so] soliciting the advice and counsel of women is essential for the healthy governance of the church.”

Then, following Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians and Meeks other scholarship, Jordan explores what a “household” was in ancient Rome. The term oikos was evidently far broader than the natural or immediate family, but referred to a vast network of relationships that included extended family, servants and bondslaves, friends and even clients of the household business. Examining the example of Lydia, Jordan summarizes that her household was “the people of her circle who look to her for leadership” in their social lives and for their livelihoods.

Thus, the conversion of households, while including any children and infants within it, also included non-blood relatives or kinsmen, but encompassed any who looked to Lydia for advice and trusted her. Her baptism spurred her whole social network (if you will) to imitate her in getting baptized as well.

And though Jordan does not support women’s leadership in the Church, the implications of his argument lead is directly there. For what else can we conclude but that the households of all the women listed in Romans 16 with their households are, in fact, the overseers of large social groups (“households”) which they continued to oversee once the whole household had been baptized and brought into the Church?

There seems to be no other choice. Given what we know about Greco-Roman households and the way they functioned, Paul’s repeated mention of households in Romans 16 and elsewhere along with the name of the person, man or woman, who oversaw the household really boxes opponents of women’s leadership into a corner. They must either deny the scholarship regarding Roman households and social structure, or deny that Paul spoke about churches in Romans 16 at all. But as Meeks points out (First Urban Christians, 75-77), the Greek phrase he kat’ oikon ekklesia is best translated as “the assembly at _____’s household,” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15, etc.).

Against Patriarchy, Part Seventeen: Should Women Keep Silent?

We come now to the passage most frequently appealed to by those who oppose women’s ordination, 1 Timothy 2. We must begin with context and theme in order to properly situate this text, before examining it in detail.

The History of Ephesus

The church at Ephesus was a special focal point for the spiritual battle between Paul and the Judaizers. As Paul made ready to go up to Jerusalem from Ephesus, he gathered the elders of the church there together and told them to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” in order to “care for the church of God,” because “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them,” (Acts 20:28, 29-30).

This prediction proved true, and Paul was forced to pen two epistles to the young, beleagured minister, Timothy. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, not devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations…certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the Torah, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions,” (1 Tim. 1:3-4, 6-7).

It is commonly thought that John the Apostle wrote his three epistles to the church at Ephesus, against the gnostic threat there, denouncing this false faction as antichrists (1 John 2:18-22). “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you,” (1 John 2:26).

By the time Christ’s coming was imminent, around A. D. 65-67, the labors of Paul and John had finally paid off. In the letter penned by Jesus and sent to Ephesus, He declares, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false,” (Rev. 2:2).

The Problem at Ephesus

Like with the epistles of Peter, the epistle to Titus, the epistles of John, the epistle to the Hebrews, the epistle to the Galatians, and the epistle of Jude, the epistles to Timothy are written to confront the false teachings of the Judaizers, who have, in the case of Timothy’s Ephesian church, crept in and convinced a number of parishioners of their own teachings, and thereby created a division in the church that was threatening to tear it apart.

Paul’s argument is essentially not theological, but practical, not doxological, but praxological. That is, the core of his argument against these false teachers is that their fruit is rotten. By their fruits you shall know them, and theirs are quite pungent. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” but “certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion,” (1 Tim. 1:5-6). Their views lead not to shalom and peace and unity, but to strife and envy and division. “By rejecting this, some people have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme,” (1 Tim. 1:19, 20).

As with Hymenaeus and Alexander just quoted above, some of these teachers were men. But in fact, Paul uses gender-inclusive pronouns throughout his discussion of these false teachers. “Certain persons…have wandered away,” “some people have made shipwreck of their faith.” This implies that at least some of the troublers of the Ephesian church were women, an implication Paul soon makes explicit. He warns Timothy away from “old wives’ tales,” (1 Tim. 4:7, KJV; once more the ESV obscures the meaning by rendering it with the neutral “irreverent, silly myths,” when graodec refers to old women specifically). He counsels Timothy to correct error with gentleness in both older men, older women, and younger women (1 Tim. 5:1-2), implying that these three categories were in need of correction and education. The young widows were particularly vulnerable to false teachers in this particular context, probably because they were dependent, and would be willing to listen to anyone who helped her: “when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith,” (1 Tim. 5:11-12), for “some have already strayed after Satan,” (5:15) and “saying what they should not,” (5:13). That is, these younger widows were tempted to marry, not just anyone, but those who spread false teachings and in this way were led astray by marriage. These Judaizers “are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim. 3:6-7), who are “evil people and imposters” that will “go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim. 3:13).

Paul views the church as the new garden of Eden, the Garden-City of God, and he frames his discussion of these false teachers as an Edenic typology. They “creep” into households and take women captive; symbolically they stand in the place of the Serpent who is assaulting, in particular, the women of the Ephesian church, the women stand in the place of Eve, and Timothy is framed as the New Adam of his church, who needs to rebuke such false teachings and drive the ringleaders out of the House of God as Adam should have done with the Serpent, guarding the traditions laid down by Paul. (We should note that women could also take the Serpent-crushing role in Christ, because Paul has already said of Priscilla and the other women of Romans 16 that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rom. 16:20). The role of Serpent-crusher can be represented by any leader in the Church, and in this case the typology applies as it does simply because Timothy happened to be the leader of this particular Church.

1 Timothy 2

The structure of the second chapter of First Timothy follows thusly:

A. All People (vv. 1-7)
B. Men (v. 8)
C. Women (vv. 9-5)
– a. Plural form (vv. 9-10)
– b. Singular form (vv. 11-15a)
– c. Plural form (v. 15b)

We will look at each section in turn.

A. All People (vv. 1-7)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [eucharistia] be made for all humanity [anthropos], for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all humanity [anthropos]  to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and humanity [anthropos], the new humanity [anthropos] Messiah Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all [humanity], which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher to the Gentiles in faith and truth.

I have modified the ESV slightly by changing “person” and “people” to “humanity,” because this is a stronger English equivalent of the Greek word anthropos, which refers to the whole of the human race. Thus, first, Paul calls for all Christians in Ephesus to mediate between the whole world and God, which involves mediation, or “intercession,” supplications, prayers, and thanksgivings. Far from promoting a culture war (which itself promotes the same sort of ungodly conflicts, anger, and divisions which he denounces the Judaizers for doing), Paul tells us to intercede on the world’s behalf, to supplicate to God for them, to pray for them, and to give “thanksgivings,” which in the Greek is eucharistia. Not only are we to give thanks and rejoice for the world, we are to perform the Eucharist for their sakes. And he requires us to do this for kings and all rulers; if you’re not interceding for Obama, and performing Eucharistia for Obama, you aren’t living up to the vision of Paul.

All this is to be done so that the Church will be able to live peaceful and quiet lives. This life of peace and peace-bringing is “pleasing in the sight” of Jesus, “who desires all humanity to be saved.” God’s greatest desire is for all humanity, the whole anthropos, to be saved. Next, Paul says that there is only one mediator between God and humanity, the new humanity of Messiah Jesus, the Totus Christus, Body and Head as “one flesh,” Christ and the Church together. The church can intercede on behalf of the world because, in union with Jesus, we also mediate for the sake of the world. The focus on the Body was in vv. 1-2, while the focus is on the Person and Work of Jesus in v. 5. Not only does Jesus desire for all humanity to be saved, His death on the cross is a ransom for all in v. 6, and the Greek implies that this ransom is not for all Christians, but for all humanity. This “ransom” does not refer to penal substitution, but to an act of liberation, of Jubilee, freeing us from enslaving powers as in the exodus (Ex. 6:6; Luke 9:31; Rom. 3:24; 8:22-23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7-8; Titus 2:14). The whole world was liberated from its slavery to Satan, corruption, and death in the death of Christ.

B. Men (v. 8)

I desire then that in every place the men [aner] should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

Returning to his gender-inclusive call that all Christians pray, intercede, and eucharistia for the sake of the world, here he specifically calls out the men to worship and pray in public worship without anger or quarreling, as, apparently, the Ephesian church was not doing. That is, he calls for peace, shalom.

C. Women (vv. 9-10)

likewise also that women [gune] should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women [gune] who profess [epaggello] godliness–good works.

Paul now turns to women, using the plural form, addressing all the women at Ephesus. He speaks to them “likewise” the men, that is, in the same way. He assumes they are not only participating in public worship, but were leading in supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings/Eucharistia just like the men. He even speaks of their profession of the faith, using the word epaggello, which Luke used to describe Paul’s own public teaching ministry: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared [apaggello] first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem,” (Acts 26:20). Matthew uses it to speak of Mary Magdalane’s apostolic declaration of the gospel to the male disciples (John 20:18). Luke uses a related word (anaggello) for Paul’s declaration of the gospel at the first Jerusalem council (Acts 14:27).

Paul’s comments about dress codes must be understood first in the context of women who are already leading in speaking and praying in the public worship of the church at Ephesus. His point is that if you’re going to be leading in worship, you ought not to dress in a way that is alluring, as the outside world defines alluring. We recall that Paul has already declared that the women leading in worship “have authority over their own head,” (1 Cor. 11:10), announcing that they can decide for themselves how to dress. In 1 Timothy 2, his context is different, and his mission is for the church there to worship in such a way that they will avoid unnecessary persecution from Rome. The broader context is for worship that will allow the church to “lead a peaceful and quiet life,” and a close look at what he tells the women here not to adorn themselves with are all characteristics of the sultry and erotic worship of the Atremis cult centered in Ephesus (see Cunningham, Why Not Women?, ch. 16). Thus, his advise here is contextualized on the basis of being “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:19-23), so as to minimize the slanders of the Jews and the Romans.

b. Singular form (vv. 11-15a)

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing–

This section is addressed to a woman in the singular form, as Paul switches from the plural form. David Hamilton has suggested this shift is because Paul has a particular woman in mind, who he does not name (Why Not Women?, 214-215). He observes that Paul often criticizes those who have fallen into sin without naming names, probably in the hopes that by such anonymous rebukes they will find repentance. He does not name the man sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:1-5) and neither the man in Crete, a “divisive person” who “must be silenced,” the ringleader of those who were “teaching things they ought not to teach,” (Titus 3:10, 1:11). If this is indeed what Paul is doing, and it seems probable, this woman was probably a central figure among the false teachers, and the process Paul commands Timothy to follow here would serve as a model for all those who are teaching wrong things and require correction. “command certain ones not to false doctrines,” (1 Tim. 1:3).

The situation in which a man, in this case Timothy, was appointed a guardian of the truth while a woman had been led astray naturally leads Paul to a typological comparison to Adam and Eve in the Garden. As usual, Paul lays the blame upon Adam while showing mercy to Eve, and as usual the Church has for too long blamed Eve. His point is not that Adam was made first and this somehow makes him better, smarter, or superior. Given what Paul has said about Adam and Eve elsewhere, this is simply impossible. No, Adam’s formation first means in this case that he has greater knowledge, having heard the prohibition on the Tree directly from God, while Eve was formed second and did not hear this directly from God. The force for the argument is in v. 14, not v. 13, on the temptation, not on the creation order. Paul claims that Adam was not deceived by the Serpent, but rather than somehow arguing that this made him less culpable, it actually makes him more culpable. Adam was not tricked by the Serpent, but still ate anyway. Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam had been right there the whole time and had done nothing to deal with the false teaching of the Serpent, but willfully disobeyed. His sin was high-handed rebellion, conscious and willful. Eve, on the other hand, because of inferior knowledge, had been genuinely tricked and led astray. Adam knew he was sinning, while Eve didn’t, and even in the law there is special provision and mercy for sins of wandering astray. With such sins God is more lenient. With such sins Paul is also lenient–the male heretics were handed over to Satan, but the female heretic was handed over to Timothy for educating.

Still deep in his typological comparison with the temptation in the Garden, Paul then declares that “she” will be saved by childbearing. There has been much discussion about what exactly Paul means here, but he probably has both Eve and the unnamed woman teaching heresy in the Ephesian church in his mind. Having already declared that salvation for the whole world has come through Jesus’s liberating Jubilee “ransom” for all humanity, he is saying that Eve, the ezer-deliverer, will be herself delivered by the coming of her seed, the new anthropos of the Messiah, Jesus and the Church together, in union. He could also have the unnamed woman in mind, and since she is teacher needing correction, her “childbearing” refers to her restoration, in which she will bear many disciple-children, delivering them from destruction.

The middle part of this section (vv. 11-12) illustrates how that restoration process is to come about. This unnamed woman who is teaching false doctrine is to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Paul’s command to Timothy, far from prohibiting women from teaching, actually establishes that “a woman should learn” in order to do so properly. He prohibits any unlearned and untrained woman from teaching, just as he would prohibit any unlearned and untrained man to teach, and calls for all women gifted with teaching ability to be instructed for that end. The ESV’s rendering of v. 11 evacuates it of its force: “a woman must learn.” Since all women were encouraged to teach in the public gatherings of the Church (1 Cor. 11, 14), Paul is actually insisting upon a theological education for all women in the churches.

Moreover, a woman is to learn “quietly with all submissiveness.” This is not a reference to 1 Cor. 14:35, where women wanting to teach ought to be instructed by their husbands, but to formal theological education by Timothy and the other qualified overseers in the Church. The phrase “silence and submission” was a common Rabinnical phrase describing the ideal student (Grentz, Women in the Church, 128). Far from meaning “sit down and shut up,” it refers to a willing and open receptivity to the instruction and to the doctrine being taught. Sitting at the feet of the instructor places the learner in a position of reception and absorption, as with Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39). Such “sitting at the feet” of the instructor was also a posture of submission. All this is cogent with the teachings of Scripture. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few,” (Eccl. 5:2). “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (James 1:19). “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom,” (James 3:13).

What then is to be done with verse 12? “I do not permit a woman to teach [didasko] or to exercise authority over [authenteo] a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” The first thing to note is Paul’s odd word choice, if he is indeed referring to a woman exercising authority over men. The word translated “authority” everywhere else in the New Testament is exousia, yet here Paul chose the word authenteo, a word he only uses here. In point of fact, this word does not refer to neutral authority, but a usurpation or seizing of authority through deceptive or violent means, a “hostile takeover,” so to speak, using aggression. (For more, I highly recommend John Jefferson Davis’s essay “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives.“) Thus, Paul’s sense is, “I do not permit a woman to teach by usurping authority.” Paul is already thinking of this woman and all such deceived women as types of Eve, who usurped authority and seized power outside the lawful structures and proper channels. This woman’s problem was not that she was teaching men, but that she was teaching them wrongly, with both false teachings and with an aggressive, divisive spirit, something which Paul and Jesus strictly prohibited among the leadership of the Church: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,” (Matt. 20:25-28).

Thus, this woman, and all false teachers, were to be taught by qualified persons in Ephesus, including the godly women who declare [epaggello] in worship (1 Tim. 2:10) and Timothy’s own grandmother and mother who instructed him in the “truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” which he was to “continue in” (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy was to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Tim. 2:2), but yet again the ESV is being disingenuous. Paul does not speak of “faithful men,” but of “faithful persons,” anthropos, not aner, human beings, not males.

c. plural form (v. 15b)

–if they continue in faithfulness and love and holiness, with self-control.

Paul finishes out his discussion by returning from the singular to the plural, speaking again to all the struggling, troubled, and divisive women in the Ephesian church that they will all be saved by the birthing of the Messianic anthropos, both Christ and Church together. The whole world at the time was travailing with birthing pangs, making ready to give birth to the sons of God (Rom. 8), the Church, which would appear in A. D. 70, coming down from heaven as the city of God (Rev. 21:1-3). But these women, like all people, would participate in this new reality only if they continued in faithfulness and love and holiness as Paul and Jesus defined it, in peace and love of neighbor and love of enemies and the fruits of the Spirit.

Against Patriarchy, Part Sixteen: Let the Women Not Keep Silent

It is time to turn to the first of the two key texts in denying women the opportunity of ordinary for church office, 1 Corinthians 14.

If we are to understand this hotly debated passage, we must first examine it’s structure for what Paul’s overriding point is. Without this determination, we are adrift in a sea of endless interpretation and debate, unable to ground ourselves in Paul’s central thesis. The good news is that there is a clear structure to this chapter, a structure which, in fact, was common to Paul and the other Biblical writers. 1 Corinthians 14 is structured as a chiasm, an ancient and Hebraic organizational pattern which has as its center the focus of the whole passage in question. The surrounding points all mirror one another. This is commonly described as ABCDCBA, with D as the central point and the parallel surrounding letters used to reinforce the central point.

The chiasm in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is as follows:

A. Worship for edification (v. 26)
B. Tongues (vv. 27-28)
C. Prophets (vv. 29-32)
D. Not a God of Confusion (v. 33)
‘C. Women (vv. 34-36)
‘B. Prophesy and Tongues (vv. 37-39)
‘A. Worship for edification (v. 40)

Paul’s point in chapter fourteen is the same point he’s been dealing with since chapter ten, that of proper and orderly worship, and has been discussing spiritual gifts since chapter 11. We see from this chiasm that the apostle is not changing the subject. His concern is for orderly worship on the basis that God Himself is a God of shalom and not of confusion.

A. Worship for Edification

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

Paul’s point is universal. When the Corinthians come together for public worship, all the members have been planning for something with which to contribute to the overall worship, and Paul cautions them against an over eagerness that leads to chaos and impatience. We should also note that both in chapter eleven, as we have seen, and chapter fourteen both presume mutual participation and mutual teaching and instruction by both men and women (1 Cor. 14:23-25). Thus, his immediate purpose is to instruct in taking turns and all things being done according to due process. Whatever his instructions for women in this passage, a strict prohibition on speaking in the church is impossible from the outset.

B. Tongues

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.

Here limits are given to those who would speak in tongues, two or three at a time, and only if someone can interpret it. If there is no one to interpret, there is no point in speaking the message out loud, as no one will be able to understand it. They can speak to themselves and to God. But let them “keep silent” in the public worship.

C. Prophesy

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.

Recalling that the prophetic office was both revelation from God and instruction and teaching in the Scriptures and in doctrine, we see that each person who brings an insight or a “lesson” (v. 26) is heard and considered by the rest. We are probably to understand the limit to “two or three” to carry the sense of “two or three at a time,” since Paul later says “you can all prophesy one by one” for the benefit of the Church. So there is a period of lesson-giving, and then a time of discussion and conversation, and then another time of lesson-giving. All the teachings of the prophets are weighed by the prophets who listen.

D. Not a God of Confusion

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

The reason for the specific instructions preceding and following this point is because the churches are to imitate the God they worship, who is not a God of disorder and chaos, but one who brings order to chaos. The astute reader following along in their own Bible will notice that I have modified the translation of the ESV, which again is problematic. The ESV (and many other translations) attaches “as in all the churches of the saints” to the next verse, “the women should keep silent in the churches.” However, my rendering makes better sense of the Greek, since it is God’s being a God of order and therefore the worship of all the churches are to imitate this (as Paul also appealed to the traditions of the churches in 11:16). This view is reinforced by a few variant manuscript sources which show that vv. 34-35 were in rare occasions moved to the end of the chapter. They don’t belong there, but this shows that vv. 34-35 were considered a self-contained unit, unconnected directly to v. 33. The KJV, NKJV, 1599 Geneva Bible, LITV, MKJV, YLT, NASB, Scofield Bible, and a number of others all render v. 33 as a single unit and translate it as I have done.

‘C. Women in the Churches

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” May it never be! Was it from you that the word of God came? Nonsense! Or are you the only ones it has reached?

We come to the sticky passage at last. I have made a few alterations to the ESV text in order to make the Greek stand out a bit more. We note at the first, again, that Paul’s entire discussion up to this point has presumed the right of women to speak and pray in church, and so (unless we are willing to consider a blatant contradiction in the apostle’s thought in a single chapter) we ought to start with the assumption that something else seems to be going on here.

It is worth noting that the context proves the usage. That is, Paul has already used “keep silent” in the chapter for the two other groups speaking in the church, the prophets and those who speak in tongues (vv. 28, 30). In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, then, the phrase “keep silent” does not refer to a permanent and universal law, but rather to “keeping silent” at incorrect or inopportune moments, when the order of the service is in a different place and it is not their turn (Padgett, As Christ Submits, 72-76). The verb and structures are identical in all three cases. The women Paul had in mind, it would seem, were disrupting the worship with their questions, as we shall see.

These women are not permitted to speak, Paul says, and that they are to be in submission as the law says. But the question is, in submission to what? Their husbands? The men in the service? No. The passage has nothing to do with marriage, so it would not make sense for Paul to leap topics in such a way. Besides which, this submission is a submission which the law also commands, and the Torah never commanded a woman to submit to her husband. Not once. At best, it is an inference; at worst, eisegesis. However, the Torah does command worshipers to be silent and learn in the Temple. “Keep silence and hear, O Irsael: this day you have become the people of Yahweh your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of Yahweh your God, keeping His commandments and His statutes, which I command you today,” (Deut. 27:9-10). “This is the one to whom I will look,” declares Yahweh, “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word,” (Isa. 66:2). “Yahweh is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him,” (Hab. 2:20). These same verses stand in the background of Jesus’s own declaration that blessed in the Kingdom are the poor in spirit, meek, and mournful (Matt. 5:3-5). The way in which these women were going about their questions and their teaching was not with due reverence and humility for God and His public worship. The call for them to keep silent and submit is, then, a call for them to submit to the order of the service in God’s holy temple, to learn before you speak. Yahweh demanded silence on those who speak imputently to the righteous (Psa. 31:17-18), and silence showed respect for God (Isa. 41:1; Zech. 2:13) as well as for the wise (Job. 29:21).

In fact, the chief problem appears to be that the women were being disruptive in asking unbecoming or ignorant questions. This is why Paul recommends that “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” Far from excluding women from participation, Paul simply says the way in which they are participating is the problem. Women were routinely refused the education given to men in the ancient world, and were not instructed in many, even basic, doctrines and teachings. This was especially so if they were Gentile women who hadn’t been raised hearing the Torah all their lives. These women were exercising their right both to teach/prophesy, and to evaluate what others have taught, but they are ill-equipped to do so. Thus, Paul instructs something shocking–the men are to take it upon themselves to provide their wives with the education they will need in order to participate.

Next, the text says, “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” Those reading carefully will notice that I have put this comment in quotation marks, and the reason is simple. This cannot represent Paul’s teaching on the matter, because everywhere else he and the NT have presumed upon the fact that women can, and did, speak in the churches. The fact that this is a quotation Paul is refuting is also seen by this grammatical observation. Paul responds to and quotes his opponents a number of times in 1 Corinthians, and one of the ways we can tell what Paul agrees with and what he’s saying in order to refute is a very small Greek word (e). It is an emotional exclamation of disapproval, and it is always used in association with positions that Paul finds repugnant (1 Cor. 1:13; 6:2, 6, 16, 19; 7:16; 9:6, 7, 8, 10; 10:11; 11:22; 14:36a, 36b). It is found twice in v. 36. I have rendered it “Let it not be so!” and “Nonsense!” as these are both approximate to the emotional sense it carries.

So, the meaning Paul intends to convey is that it is not shameful for a woman to speak in church, as was the position of his opponents, who probably felt it was easier to exclude all the women than to deal with the situation. Thus, v. 36: “Let it not be! Was it from you that the word of God came? Nonsense! Are you the only ones it has reached?” This is Paul’s critique of his opponents in support of women speaking, lesson-giving, and prophesying in church. His question about whether the word of God “came from you” could be seen as an allusion to the women bearing the gospel back to the apostles first, perhaps, but it could also be a reference to the Incarnation itself, brought into the world by a woman. Thus, “Was it from males that the Word of God came?” Why then do you seek to keep out those by whom God came into the world? Either way, Paul’s point is that the word/Word of God is not the exclusive possession of males, and they do not have authority to tell some that they cannot express it. The second question asks whether his opponents were the only ones to whom the word/Word had reached. Of course not! It had reached many, and many of those that led the way were women, as we have seen. So on what possible basis can they exclude women?

‘B. Prophesy and Tongues

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command from the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

Paul finishes by establishing his own teaching as the rightful teaching which true prophets will recognize and submit to themselves (v. 37). It is “a command from the Lord” to acknowledge what Paul is saying is true, that is, to permit women to teach. “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized,” that is, the person who refuses to accept Paul’s word on the matter of the participation of women will not be recognized as a sound teacher or as a sound prophet. This has rather far-flung implications for those who deny women the right to ordination in the pastorate.

He concludes by saying that the whole Corinthian body should “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”

‘A. Worship for Edification

But all things should be done decently and in order.

Tying the chapter back together, Paul concludes his teaching on the subject with a return to the beginning, a coming of full circle. All that they do in worship should be done with the goal of decent and orderly worship of the living God.