I want to take a couple of posts and share how I see the “flow of thought” of 1 Timothy and how that “flow of thought” I think impacts the interpretation of what is often a very controversial passage in the Bible – one about whether women can teach or have any sort of “authority” in the church. I really intend just to look at the first couple of chapters and not necessarily the whole book as a way to show you my thought process.
To start off I would like to remind us all of a rudimentary aspect of learning to read and understand the Bible. That is…
A text taken out of context is a pretext for a proof-text.
What this means is that one cannot just take a Bible verse and make it mean something all on its own without giving it some context. When we do that it ends up being a proof-text for whatever we want it to say. In my opinion, this happens with 1 Timothy 2:12, which, in the NIV, reads:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[a] she must be quiet. (the footnote reads “or her husband.”)
This verse alone, in many churches, keeps women from being able to teach anything in the church but children’s church (often up to 5th grade). It’s also used by folks like John Piper to argue that because of this verse, women cannot serve as pastors in churches, (preach or teach from the pulpit), therefore, neither can they teach in seminary where men are being trained for the pulpit.
In other churches – many have made exceptions and will allow women to teach but not be the senior pastor because of the authority issue.
In my personal opinion, I think this is proof-texting. Using a verse out of context to push one’s own personal preference on an interpretation or church practice.
So, I want to do a little flow through the text here to help build a case, from the text, that this verse doesn’t mean what many often try to say it means.
After the brief introduction, Paul begins… (following the NIV here for simplicity’s sake)
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. [bold and underlined, etc are my own]
Right off the bat Paul is telling Timothy to watch out for false teaching – he is to command people not to teach false doctrines – this was the purpose of Timothy being there in Ephesus – to combat the false teachings and promotion of myths and genealogies and meaningless talk. Paul says many want to be teachers but they don’t know (or understand) what they are talking about – it seems they are unlearned and given to meaningless talk. This is a distraction, he says, from what they’re supposed to be doing, “advancing God’s work.”
This paragraph is important to the overall context of the letter. It sets that context (and the tone) – false teaching was a problem and it seems many want to teach who did not know what they were talking about – they weren’t well trained or educated you could say – so Timothy was to command them to stop.
I’m going to stop here and pick up in the next post working towards our main verse to show how it fits within the false teaching context and not necessarily as a for all time forbidding of women serving in pastoral ministry.