Taking A Careful Look At The Ministry Of Women In The New Testament Church (Part Seventeen)

It is written:

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

On first reading, this passage sounds like “sour grapes” of the Apostle for women of the church. Paul says that he allows a woman to learn in “silence” with all submission.

However, when we take a closer look at this verse of Scripture, we see something quite different. The word ‘silence’ that Paul uses has a very interesting connotation.

“Just as in worship (1 Cor. 14), so in study: women are to be considerate of others and quick to hear the words of the leaders. But the word for silence is a lovely word, hesuchia (hey-soo-KEY-ah). It does not mean simply refraining from talking. It means restful quietness, as in meditation or study. A few sentences before, Paul used this same word to describe the peaceful and quiet life (1 Tim. 2: 2), good and acceptable before God, the kind of life Paul wished for all believers. 4 The difference between being quiet in order to hear someone speak (sigao—see chapter 3) and being quiet in order to listen with studious attention (hesuchia) is well illustrated in Acts 21: 40 to 22: 2. At the temple in Jerusalem, Paul was facing a hostile mob that was clamoring in such an uproar that the Roman tribune came with soldiers and centurions to establish order. The tribune had Paul arrested. But when Paul spoke to him in Greek, asking for an opportunity to address the crowd, the surprised official gave him permission. So Paul motioned to the people with his hand, and a great silence (sige, the noun form of sigao) fell over the crowd. Then, when Paul addressed them in the Hebrew language, we read that the people showed hesuchia. At his signal, they became still; as he spoke, they became quietly attentive. Paul was asking the same of women. He was telling women that they must learn, and to do so they must be quiet and respectful. Providing education for women, however, must have incited considerable criticism from family members and community leaders outside the Church. Any change creates resistence, but the matter of educating women ran the risk of moral censure from non-Christians. Teachers, at first, had to be men, for only men were educated in the faith. And Jewish custom strictly forbade women from conversing with men other than their husbands. 5 Moreover, the Jewish sages declared that any man who spends too much time talking with women “will inherit Gehenna” (hell). 6 Any man who taught Jewish women in the Church might be accused by their husbands of trying to break up marriages, or might be told that he was going to hell for his efforts. Greeks, when associating women with religion, would think of the temple of Diana in Ephesus, which had hundreds of prostitutes, called Melissai (bees). Any man who taught Greek women in the Church might be accused of catering to sacred prostitutes, or of seeking to entice women to enter into this position within this new Eastern religion.” (John Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women, 71-72 (Kindle Edition); San Francisco, CA; HarperCollins E-Books)

Paul is insistent that the woman be allowed to learn the Word of God, which was quite a different attitude displayed then that under Judaism. Sadly, many of the rabbis taught that women should not be allowed to learn God’s Law.

“One very familiar story in Luke’s account is that of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38–42). Preachers often pose the question, “Which are you, Mary or Martha?” in sermons. This is an excellent teaching passage on taking the time to learn and be contemplative. In Luke 10: 39, however, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus. This was the position that a disciple took. It’s the very same posture that Paul took when he learned from Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22: 3; cf. Luke 8: 35). What’s so startling about this story is that women were not disciples of rabbis. Period! They received no formal education, and the only skills they were taught were typically household duties. Moreover, if a man instructed his daughter in the Law, it was as if he was teaching her lustfulness according to the rabbis (m. Sotah 3.4). Women were too simple minded to learn such deep truths, so it was believed. For Mary to have become a disciple was for Jesus to have elevated women. This one small detail in this story is often overlooked, but it is a profound truth in a short phrase. (Steven Hunter, Being Phoebe: How Women Served In Early Christianity, 113-120 (Kindle Edition); Dallas, Tx; Start2Finish Books)

So, Paul’s teaching that a woman be allowed to learn in “silence” was a remarkable demonstration of the Apostle’s belief that women as well as men were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and that in Christ Jesus there is neither…”male nor female”…..but that all are “one” (Galatians 3:28).

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