This is an example of the method I think is most likely to render an understanding of a particular passage of the Bible, which is most likely to capture the author's original intent. It's not perfect or foolproof, but it's a five-step method that thoroughly examines a text according to historical and literary context, word meanings, and place in the Bible canon. Hopefully, it will be helpful, whether or not you agree with every idea.
Preliminary note: Based on the hermeneutical principles I think are most likely to render an accurate reading, I follow these basic ideas when looking at this passage:
A. I will look at the passage primarily in terms of narrative theology. Narrative theology says that what the Bible primarily is, is a story: the story of God's interactions with humanity, with the story of Christ in the center as the focal point. Looking at it as a story means that you interpret each thing in terms of where it belongs in the plot; and you see a progression in the human understanding of the nature of God from the earlier to the later books. The passage will be looked at in terms of where it fits in the Great Story.
B. The writer will be speaking from within his own cultural mindset, and God will accommodate His revelation to that mindset while at the same time sowing seeds for a greater understanding of the Great Commandment, "love God and love one another."
With this in mind, here are the first three of my five steps.
Step 1: Determine where this book of the Bible fits into the conversation centering around the Great Story.
The elements of the Story are: Creation; Fall; Covenant Community of Israel; Redemption through the Christ; Covenant Community of the Church; Consummation at the End of the Age. This book is part of the "Covenant Community of the Church" part of the Story. The conversation centers around what this New Covenant community is to be like. The main thing that characterizes the New Covenant Community is that rather than being centered around one chosen nation, it is centered around faith in the Christ. Therefore, the importance of who you were born to be (Jew or Gentile) has become obsolete. A central text that explains this new mindset is found in 2 Cor. 5:16-17 - "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. . . If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come." The Old Covenant Community was distinguished by laws that set it apart from other nations, and within that community, there were further settings apart of priests and Levites as special classes. In the New Covenant, every "tribe and language and people and nation" is "a kingdom and priests." (Rev. 5:10) There is no special class of people, no chosen nation. Acts 2 shows the inauguration of this "kingdom" in the pouring out of the Spirit on "all flesh," male and female, young and old. 1 Timothy's place in the story is as part of this New Covenant.
Step 2: Determine the larger context of the letter within the writings of its author.
Since the letter purports to be from Paul, and is in any event part of the canon of Scripture, a mainstream hermeneutic accepts it as canon and tries to fit it into its place. A major principle of literary interpretation is that the position of a writer on a particular topic is found by looking at all of his/her writings together. Paul's letters have many things to say about women; 1 Tim 2:11-15 is just one piece of the puzzle. But before working on what Paul is saying about women, it is important to take into account his own view of his general mission. A business's "mission statement" gives us a foundation of what a particular business considers its purpose for existing, which is essential to an understanding of that business. Paul, too, had a “mission statement.” What did Paul consider to be his purpose in preaching and writing?
Paul gives his mission statement in 1 Corinthians 9 and in Galatians 1. In Galatians 1 he tells the story of his "call by God's grace" and how he believes the gospel he preaches is directly from God. He expresses his commitment to the accurate transmission of his message by saying, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God's curse!" In 1 Cor. 9 he speaks of being "compelled" from within to preach, but also about how he adapts his message and his own behavior to the hearers: "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. . . to those not having the law I became like one no having the law. . . I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some." (v. 20-22).
Paul, then, is concerned about two main things: the transmission of a “pure” gospel message, and ways to render the message acceptable to the different peoples and cultures who he wants to receive it-- which means, in part, that he and all believers must behave in ways that enhance, and not detract from, the message. Almost everything he writes has one or both of these goals in mind. Undergirding all of this is his idea of love as the very center of the gospel (1 Cor. 13). (Note how 1 Timothy fits in here: "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." - 1 Tim. 1:5)
Step 3: Determine the historical and cultural context of this book of the Bible.
Acts 19 tells us quite a lot about Ephesus, which is where Timothy was ministering when Paul wrote this letter to him. First of all, Paul spent at least two years there, and probably longer. The church at Ephesus is special to him; in fact, possibly more than any other church that Paul founded, the church at Ephesus was Paul's church. Second, Ephesus was famous for its temple to Artemis (Diana), the virgin goddess. Pagan worship in Ephesus was therefore centered around female priestesses. Third, it appears from this particular letter that by the time Paul wrote it, the teachings of Gnosticism were in their early development and gaining ground in the city. One of the teachings of Gnosticism was that Eve was created before Adam and that her act of giving him the fruit was an act of wisdom and goodness; that Eve was superior to Adam.
In the midst of all this, Christianity itself was viewed with suspicion by many. There were rumors that when Christians partook of the Eucharist in secret, they were actually performing acts of cannibalism. They were accused of seeking to overturn the established authority structures, etc. At the same time the Jews were accusing the Christians of being lawless and lewd.
Another prime consideration is that both Jewish and Greek customs forbade the education of women. Although there was a movement towards greater liberty among upperclass women in Rome, this was not prevalent in communities like Ephesus, far from Rome where Greek customs still prevailed. Although the worship of Artemis was carried out largely by females, and though Gnosticism was teaching forms of female supremacy, Ephesus was a city in which ordinary women were largely denied education. Women coming into the young Christian church, therefore, would be likely to be uneducated, influenced by Artemis-worship, and attracted to doctrines of female superiority in the rising Gnostic beliefs.
Congratulations! This post was included in the November 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival. This is quite an achievement. My word, yes.
Wow, that's incredible! I'm very honored! Thank you.
So what do you think Paul meant then, when he said that women shall be saved through child bearing?
Also, I was wondering if you could tell me where I could find info on the culture of Ephesus at that time.
Btw, I enjoyed this very much!
Anonymous, if you'll click on "newer posts" at the bottom of the screen, or if you look at the "blog archive on the right-hand side of the screen, you'll find the other parts of this series, which will answer these questions. Thanks for reading!
PS. As far as the practices in Ephesus at the time, try John Temple Bristow's Book What Paul Really Said About Women. I'm sure there are also online resources; try Christians for Biblical Equality.
P.S. New Life has some really great stuff about historical Ephesus:
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