This post was inspired by my consideration of an article written by a female professor of Women’s Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary title, “Women Teaching Men – How Far Is Too Far?”
From time to time, I receive criticism from someone because of the in-depth-ness of study I do of scripture, primarily focusing on word usage, word meaning, and grammar of the original language of the New Testament – Koine Greek. But I contend, that in order to have a truly proper understanding and, from which, to have a properly aligned application of the text, one must first truly understand what is being said.
For example, I believe this article highlighted just such an occurrence. Concerning a particular reference passage from 1 Timothy 2, she makes three common mistakes that are made due to lack of depth of understanding of which I spoke above.
First is the title of the article itself. Nowhere, not even in 1 Timothy 2:12, does Paul say he is not permitting women to teach men. In all actuality, Paul is saying that, for the time being, he is not permitting women to teach at all, men or women. The confusion comes in when a person reads the English translation: “I do not permit women to teach nor hold authority over a man.” On the surface, it looks like that’s exactly what Paul is saying – a woman is not to teach men specifically.
But this is where the importance of the grammar enters. The two infintives (“to teach” and “to hold authority”) demand different cases of objects. The grammatical case of “man” pairs it with only “to hold authority,” not with “to teach.” Therefore, Paul is saying “I am not permitting a woman to teach” anyone period. The object “man” cannot be legitimately connected with “to teach.”
Second, because of the grammar of the verb “permit,” Paul literally is saying, “I am not permitting…” This is not in the voice of a command, but is in the tense that denotes linear action and is most often descriptive. It is an action that is currently being done, but it is not a command.
The third mistake this author makes is that she doesn’t understand what the word commonly translated as “to hold authority” truly means. And this is what often does not come through in translation. This is the only place in the New Testament that this word is used. And, at that time, it had a negative connotation. It spoke of those individuals who, holding authority, sought to use that authority to dominate and domineer others. It was not a prohibition against a woman having authority over men, but using that authority as a means of dominating and domineering men, which was actually a part of the cult of Artemis. And then when Paul gives a reminder that women are to be in quietness, this is a reference back to what he just said about women learning in quietness which, according to the thinking of the day, was the best and highest level of learning.
Paul’s intention was that through learning, not only would women learn the mistakes of the heterodoxy (mixing of the gospel with the cult of Artemis’ teachings) they had been teaching and come back to the pure gospel, they would also learn about the proper use and role of authority within the congregation of Jesus. And at the time when that learning had occurred, women would then be allowed, once again, to teach, whether male or female, and to exercise the authority given to them.
The problem that I see most people make with passages like this is that they make them proscriptive, never ending, rather than prescriptive, to be in place for a while until the situation requiring the practice has been rectified.
There were women who were around and known by Paul who were deacons and some numbered among the apostles. There were women whose teaching ministry (and they taught men) Paul encouraged. There were women involved in prophecy to whom Paul gave instructions about how to properly carry out their ministry. Therefore, I find it highly unlikely then that Paul would give an unending prohibition against women teaching and exercising authority.
And this is why I believe it is so important to know and understand not only what is the context of why something was written, but also the words and the grammar of what was written, because it can greatly impact what truly is being said. Without it, it is quite possible that erroneous, and hurtful, applications can be and typically are made.
And that confusion leads to articles such as the one reference above being written trying to explain “how far is too far,” when it is totally unnecessary.