1 Timothy and Historical context

I suspect that in ministry from the pulpit, there will be less opportunities for very detailed exegesis, although of course, it needs to have taken place during preparation. Long-winded explanations about the original languages, parallel examples of words in other contexts and literature, and problems of translation across the centuries might have congregations running for the doors. I could be wrong. There is a balance I guess between being overly-stuffy and academic and devotional in our readings of the Bible. I suspect also though, that one area of studies which the average church attendee is interested in, is the historical context of what is written in the Bible. John Goldingay explains how: 'The least controversial shibboleth of biblical interpretation for a century has been the conviction that any passage of scripture should be understood against its historical background,' (Anvil, Vol 1, No.2, 1984 'Interpreting Scripture') so we should also be fairly safe in our explorations. In our house-group we looked at the political implications of preaching Jesus as Lord in Philippi and I remember all of us having been fascinated and for some of us that part of the Bible would never read the same again.

All of this is a precursor then to my posting here an article to which I was alerted by Tim Goodbody on the historical context of 1 Timothy. It reads very well and I am sure it would be interesting to many Christians:

1 Timothy 2:11-13 is usually mistranslated into English, "Let the woman learn in silence in all subjection. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man but to be silent. For Adam was formed first then Eve." The correct translation of the passage is, "A woman must learn and she is to learn without causing a fuss and be supportive in everything. I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of a man - rather, she is not to cause a fuss - for Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Authenteo, originator, is a rare Greek word that occurs once in the New Testament. The verb and noun occurred a mere twenty times in the classical Greek authors. Apart from the one instance in Euripides' Suppliants, the word occurred nineteen times with the meaning "murderer/killer." However, it should be noted that in the fifth speech of Antiphon, the word is used in the sense of originator, perpetrator of the murder.

The remaining classical example is from Euripides' Suppliants. It is usually rendered, "Again, where people are absolute masters over the land..." but a correct translation is, "Where democracy springs from the earth..."

Let us turn to the papyri. The word occurs over twenty times in the papyri in the meaning "original," "originator of." It eventually does take on the meaning "master," "mastery (over)" but not until many centuries after New Testament times. This is however disputed in two papyrus examples. The first is P.Leid.W. 6.46, in the vocative case where the sun is addressed, "...the archangel of those under the world, O authenta sun!" It has been assumed that the meaning is "O ruling sun!" as those in Western European culture assumed that ancients saw the sun as a ruler. However, the papyrus was Mithraic. Mithras was connected with the sun's life-giving powers, and Mithras was believed to cause plants to spring from the earth. There was no hint of the sun being ruler; rather, the sun was considered to be the source, the originator, of life.

The other papyrus example is BGU 4.1208, which lexicons have cited for the meaning "authority, mastery over." However, the real meaning is apparent from a reading of the Greek text, which states that the sea captain should have adhered to the original agreement. The whole context supports the meaning "original" as do specific parallel words in the text.
The adjective occurs on one inscription, Aus Lydien, no. 46, an inscription recording parts of two rescripts from the proconsul Maximilianus to the Asiarch Dominus Rufus. The text reads, "I deposited a copy of the commands...the original (authentike) command which was written...."

The vocabulary of 1 Timothy alludes to various magical practices of Ephesus and to the problem of Gnosticism. The focus of the pastoral epistles is the problem of teachings contrary to those of Christianity.

1 Timothy 2:12-13 is to be translated as follows: "I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of a man: rather, she is not to cause a fuss. For Adam was formed first, then Eve."

Why would a woman teach that she is the originator of a man? At the time 1 Timothy was written, Gnosticism was in its early stages. The Gnostic literature states that Eve was formed first, then she enlisted the help of a goddess to help her form Adam. Thus at the time 1 Timothy was written, early Gnostics were stating that women were the originators of men.. In 1945 the Nag Hammadi Library discovered a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty Gnostic texts in upper Egypt. On the Origin of the World was among the Nag Hammadi texts. The creation account in On the Origin of the World is as follows: "After the day of rest Sophia sent her daughter Zoe, being called Eve, as an instructor in order that she might make Adam, who had no soul, arise so that those whom he should engender might become containers of light. When Eve saw her male counterpart prostrate she had pity upon him, and she said, 'Adam! Become alive! Arise upon the earth!' Immediately her word became accomplished fact. For Adam, having arisen, suddenly opened his eyes. When he saw her he said, 'You shall be called "Mother of the Living." For it is you who have given me life."

This is why the author of 1 Timothy continues, "for Adam was formed first, then Eve." 1 Timothy 2:13-15 makes sense in light of the threat to Christianity of the teachings of Gnosticism.

I should also point out that the word usually mistranslated "silence " here is hesukhia. This word does not in fact mean "silence". It means to cause less fuss, to become quiet in behavior. The same word occurs in Acts 22:2 in the meaning that the crowd caused less fuss, not in a meaning that they became more verbally silent (which, of course, would be an absurd expression).

Dr. Ann Nyland is an ancient Greek language scholar and lexicographer known as the translator of The Source New Testament available at http://www.smithandstirling.com Her research field is word meaning from New Testament times.


Rosemary said...

Now that's interesting .. thanks.

David Ould said...

1 Timothy 2:12-13 is to be translated as follows: "I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of a man: rather,

What a quite shockingly poor translation of ουδε which quite obviously acts as an extension of the previously used ουκ. Goodbody has taken the liberty of simply replacing one conjunction with another, οτι, which has a completely different function - not to mention the fact that it's simply not there in the original.

Seriously, it's quite atrocious. There is simply no possible way you could translate 1Tim 2:12 as this guy has done. Does this sort of stuff not bother you, Rachel?

Rachel Marszalek said...

My pleasure.
God bless

Rachel Marszalek said...

David, I think you need to read the whole thing again. It has not been written by Tim, who I am quick to defend here, he is a friend.

'What a quite shockingly poor translation of ουδε which quite obviously acts as an extension of the previously used ουκ.' - you need to expand on this if you are seeking to communicate clearly to most readers wth very little knowledge of ancient Greek.

I am not concerned by Dr Nyland's work. I think she does much to help readers understand that it is not women, per se, who should not teach. The universal application is that we should be very careful about people usurping authority to teach false doctrine, ideas etc. That idea is for me the most persuasive and it must be so for the Church of England at large, considering the fact that if it weren't, they really shouldn't be letting any women teach men!

Peter Carrell said...

David is right: oude is a problem for Dr Nyland which (reading her whole article) she simply avoids tackling. Perhaps you should be concerned about her work! Without a good argument re oude her article represents wishful thinking rather than sound interpretation based on solid exegesis. There is another problem with Nyland's approach: she offers no insight as to why Paul would have felt that this passage with its general instructions about worship was an appropriate place to pop in a prohibition of one particular erroneous teaching.

Rachel Marszalek said...

A hendiadys or not a hendiadys, that is the question?


Yes, granted, with Nyland, there is an element of 'over-egging the pudding' going on (what a great British phrase!).

I do prefer the idea that what the woman should not do is 'teach false doctrine' or 'usurp authority'. Nyland is pulling extra implications from what she perceives to be the historical background. (Interesting and convincing though her ideas are)

I guess we're now going to get into a discussion about Didaskein and Authentein which are linked with the 'oude'. A hendiadys, yes. Autentein reverberates with the idea of 'lording it over', usurping. If the verbs are a hendiadys then the teaching has negative connotations too ie it is false teaching (if we look at the letter as a whole for the concerns).

In conclusion, and sorry this is a rushed response, women are not prohibited from teaching correctly. They are though, not to teach false doctrine. No one is to teach false doctrine. No one is to authentein, or 'lord it over' or 'usurp the authority' of another human.

To be honest, we could debate this sentence for years. I am just glad that the Church has finally recognised that this one sentence about which there has been so much scholarly angst, is not something given a second or third witness in the scriptures, indeed, is not a universal mandate prohibiting women in ministry (teaching mixed congregations). If I really thought God didn't want me to teach from his precious Holy Word, when there were men listening, then I wouldn't do it. I am happy to be taught how to teach well, by both my male and female teachers at college, and I hope I will obediently submit to the authority of the Church of England who submit to God in these matters (that all sounds so crass), but what I think I am really trying to say is that I am not going to revise my thinking in these matters.

Interesting as always
...long may the learning (and teaching! ;-)) continue.

Sue said...

If you would like I can provide the Greek documents for the only two times that authenteo was used prior to the New Testament. No translation exists for these documents as they are both fragmentary.

There is simply no evidence that authenteo means to "have authority."

While I don't agree with Nyland's analysis, I think we need to be realistic and admit that the analysis put forward by those who restrict the leadership of women is equally tentative.

I can write more about this if you like.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Sue, that would be fantastic - a guest post on that very line from 1 Timothy 2 would be so helpful.

At my theological college, (which I start in two wks' time), Greek is not compulsory once you're over 30 years old but it's the first thing I'm going to turn up to, 'all pens and pencils ablazing'. Really looking forward to it. I need the education.

You can reach me at hrhtimport@gmail.com

Thank you

Just last night, I was reading your responses to the interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger at 'Between Two Worlds' which I found very useful.

Rachel Marszalek said...

This was in my box this morning from another thread I am following:


Author: Nina
I'm always baffled when people cite this verse as if it were a rule the contemporary church must follow.

The key verb ('I do not allow', ouk epitrepo) is a first person present tense indicative. Nothing about such a statement implies a general rule. If I say "I don't allow my daughter to stay up past 8 o'clock", you would assume my daughter is a little girl. You wouldn't interpret me to be saying that when she's 18, I plan to keep on enforcing an 8 pm bedtime, or that I'm saying that all parents everywhere should oblige all their children, of whatever age, in whatever culture or climate, and on any day of the year, to go to bed at 8. It's statement of what I think is right for the particular circumstances of the moment.

Or put it another way: think about what's missing from this verse. There is no statement to the effect that this is a rule binding on the church for all time, in any circumstances, nor is there any hint that this notion comes directly from God and Paul is passing it on to the church as a divine command: he says 'I--note, I, I, I--do not allow'. That's very far from being a claim that God forbids something for all time.

The fact that so much can be made of this tiny verse, whose grammar is so uncongenial to the purpose for which it is cited, suggests to me bad faith on the part of those who adduce it for this purpose. I don't normally like to impute intention to other people, but when you take a passing comment of an obviously limited nature and attempt to claim it has the weight of a divine, eternally-valid command, the argument is so strained, I can reach no other conclusion than that the verse is being cited in this way because it is convenient for half the church to keep the other half of the church under their thumb. It suits men to bully women and so they find a figleaf of a Biblical text to justify it. If you really have the truth on your side, find some larger, weightier body of evidence than this one verse--and find something looking like an imperative.

And don't you ever wonder why, if this point were so important, Jesus of Nazareth had nothing whatsoever to say on this issue? Who is the foundation of the church, anyway?

See all comments on this post here:

Rachel Marszalek said...

More from Sue on authenteo here:

...(authenteo) ...four meanings are possible: (1) to control, to dominate; (2) to compel, to influence; (3) to assume authority over; and (4) to flout the authority of.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Suzanne's Bookshelf

Sorry finally after 18 months, I've discovered I need to html links into my comments boxes, wow, this will improve things

Anders said...

I recommend you and the reader of this post to do an extensive research of the origins of NT in the below website (and learn what the followers of first century Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth said about NT.): www.netzarim.co.il


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.