Friday, November 5, 2010

"A Deeper Theological Issue"

“Why this concern to separate the roles of men and women and to silence women teachers in the church’s worship? At the practical level, SILENCING WOMEN TEACHERS CUT THE FALSE TEACHING OFF AT ITS SOURCE---wealthy women, as we have seen, were probably financing the false teachers and spreading the false teachers’ heresy themselves, and younger widows, happily released from any obligation to marry and care for children, were going about from house to house teaching the heresy” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, page 419).

Reading the above quote from Frank Thielman’s New Testament Theology encouraged my heart somewhat. I stayed up late this morning to see what he had to say about the Pastoral Epistles. I’ve read a great deal of his theology textbook this semester and I like the things he has to say. His work has been impeccable, in all of the letters of the NT he traces. So I wanted to know his thoughts. Immediately, I began to think of the site here, “Men and Women,” and it became clear to me that I would have a blog post---whether it would be a positive or negative one, I would have something new to add to the work done here.

I sat down and read attentively. And in his section titled “The Church Gathered For Worship,” I read the above quote. All along, Thielman implicated women in the false teaching at Ephesus:

“...false teachers are ‘ruining whole households’ (Titus 1:11). They apparently do this by insinuating themselves into homes and CONVINCING ALREADY CORRUPT WOMEN OF THEIR FALSE TEACHING (2 TIM. 3:6). PERHAPS WE CAN ALSO LINK TOGETHER PAUL’S claim that a desire for wealth motivated the false teachers (1 Tim. 6:5; cf. 6:6-10, 17-19), his concern that women not make ostentatious displays of their wealth (2:9), and HIS CONCERN THAT WOMEN NOT TEACH IN THE CHURCH (2:11-14). WEALTHY WOMEN IN EPHESUS MAY HAVE BEEN PAYING THE FALSE TEACHERS TO TUTOR THEM AND THEN CONVEYING THE FALSE TEACHING THEY LEARNED TO THE CHURCHES THAT MET IN THEIR HOUSES” (Thielman, 412).

“If men in the church are involved in angry disputes, they cannot lift holy hands in prayer, and if their behavior hinders their prayers, then it also hinders the advancement of the gospel (2:1-8). If WOMEN IN THE CHURCH ARE abandoning modesty and like Eve, succumbing to Satan’s offer of sinful knowledge, AND THEN TEACHING THIS ERROR TO OTHERS (2:9-14; 5:15), then their very salvation is threatened (2:15)” (414).

“WOMEN---particularly the wealthy women who may have paid the false teachers to tutor them, and the younger widows whom the church has supported from its common funds---ARE APPARENTLY AMONG THE CHIEF ADVOCATES OF THE HERESY THAT HAS LED TO THIS BEHAVIOR. WEALTHY WOMEN ARE PERHAPS TEACHING THE HERESY IN THEIR HOUSES while the men spend church meetings not in prayer but in angry disputes about the heresy. THE YOUNGER WIDOWS, freed by the largesse of the church from the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, which they do not believe in anyway, CAN SPEND THEIR TIME MAKING THE ROUNDS OF BELIEVERS’ HOUSEHOLDS ADVOCATING THE FALSE TEACHING” (417).

In these four references (the beginning quote plus the three quotes above), Thielman seems to link women with the false teaching: not only were they listening to it and entertaining it, they were also teaching it themselves. In the first quote above, Thielman states that to prohibit women from teaching would stop the spread of heresy. Since women were the ones propagating and clinging to the heresy, prohibiting the women teaching would stop the false teachers’ influence in the church at Ephesus. In turn, the false teachers would have to find some other way to stir up trouble (aside from the women).

But this is where Thielman then takes a turn for the worse:

“As is already apparent from Paul’s willingness to separate the roles of the sexes in worship in 2:8-9 and to silence all women teachers in 2:12, however, a deeper theological issue is at stake in this gender-specific ordering of worship. Paul states this issue explicitly in 2:13-15. God fashioned human beings in two genders, male and female, and the order in which he created them implies distinct roles in the church for each gender...women should submit to the authority of the church’s male leadership because ‘Adam was formed first, then Eve’ (2:13). Men, rather than women, should teach BECAUSE EVE RATHER THAN ADAM WAS SATAN’S FIRST VICTIM IN THE DECEPTION THAT LED TO THE DISOBEDIENCE DESCRIBED IN GENESIS 3:6. THE IMPLICATION IS CLEAR: Adam and Eve violated the divine ordering of the genders when Eve led Adam to disobey God’s command” (419).

Up to this point, Thielman has shown us in context that women were involved in teaching heresy; that women were not only soaking up the teaching but spreading that to others, presumably other women in the congregation. In addition there is evidence that these women may very well have been told to “learn in silence with full submission” (2:11) because they had been disrupting the learning process during worship services. But how then, does his last statement connect to the four quotes he made prior to this last one?

What I’m asking is, “How can Thielman connect women to false teaching in the context of 1 Timothy 2 and then “broaden” the scope of teaching to all teaching in general in his application of the text? Yes, hermeneutics (the study of biblical interpretation) teaches us that context-specific principles can be generalized and applied to everyday life; but why can this text not refer to anyone teaching falsely, whether it be man or woman? And why can’t it be the case that women are not to teach heresy, not that they are prohibited from teaching sound doctrine?

For Thielman, the answer is found in Paul’s usage of Genesis. I have stated here at the site, however, that Paul writes “And Adam was not deceived” for a reason: if Genesis does not provide these words, why does Paul use them? He does so to defend the Law as it was being attacked in the book of Genesis. Thielman notes this as well (page 410), but does not make the connection. He even goes on to talk about the Nag Hammadi document “On the Origin of the World,” which states that “the goddess Pistis Sophia created the god of Genesis (‘the ruler’) and then withdrew to her region of light, leaving ‘the ruler’ with the impression that ‘[he] alone existed’” (Thielman, 410; quoting “On the Origin of the World”). However, Thielman still does not put two and two together that, if the Gnostic document claimed that the woman “created the god of Genesis,” that she must have been seen as having been created first---before the man. Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:13 make sense in light of this document. Paul then, was trying to refute the false (Gnostic) teaching that Eve was created before Adam, by affirming what the Bible teaches--- that Adam was created before Eve.

Thielman goes to such lengths to argue women as propagators of the false heresy (and students of the false teachers), not to mention that “proto-Gnostic teaching” (Thielman, 422) comprised the nature of the false teaching prevalent via women in the church at Ephesus. Why then, when he comes to his application, does he divorce the issue of false teaching from the application? Does God not want us to stomp out false teaching today? Does the Lord no longer care when falsehood is being taught in our pulpits, classrooms, and churches? Is it okay for Sunday School lessons to be plagued with gross statements about God that detract from (rather than reflect) His character? If God is still committed to this, then why is this theme of “anti-false teaching” not provided in Thielman’s analysis? Why is it that the point of Paul’s prohibition to the women is to keep them from teaching or holding offices of leadership in the churches?

In the end, all we receive of Thielman’s response to my questions above is “a deeper theological issue is at stake in this gender-specific ordering of worship” (419). But how do we know this “deeper theological issue” is really present in the text? In fact, Thielman’s words about women and the creation order are only mentioned for the first time in his modern-day application. All throughout his exegesis, he has focused on the false teaching and its impact. He has failed to do his homework and show us why Paul was so concerned with “putting women in their place” in the epistle.

Wanna know what my analysis is? I think Paul was concerned with the women neglecting duties of childbearing and homecare because to focus on such duties would prevent women from being prey to the false teachers and their heresy. Paul wanted women to do what was godly so that, by their example, they could serve as leaders in the church. After all, “if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5, NKJV).


  1. Deidre,

    If I am understanding you correctly, Theilman is basically blaming all of the false teaching only on the women. If that is the case, does he not connect with Acts 20:29-30 where Paul warns the elders of Ephesus about "wolves" and that "30Even from your own number
    some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" speaking directly to the elders? This was 2 or so years before 1 Tim was written if I remember my dating correctly. Paul is telling the elders that some of them listening to what he has to say will be led into this false teaching (Gnosticism) along with many members of the church in Ephesus in just a couple of years from their meeting.



  2. Wiley,

    You are right indeed! Thanks so much for commenting here.

    I agree with you; the source of the false teaching started with the false teachers, before the women are even mentioned as having anything to do with the heresy. In fact, in 1 Timothy 1:1, the very first verse of Paul's first epistle to Timothy, Paul states that Timothy was to stay in Ephesus to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Tim. 1:3-4, NKJV).

    When one attempts to arrive at a biblical theology of teaching (what the entire canon of Scripture has to say about teaching), one sees that the issue God has with teaching is teaching that is "false," not with what gender should teach. As Christians, we believe that no one passage in the Bible contradicts another. If the Spirit gives gifts as He decides (1 Corinthians 12:11), then how could Paul turn around and argue that women cannot exercise the gift of teaching (provided that the Spirit gives it)? Would Paul then not be saying, "Possess a spiritual gift but not use it?" And finally, think about what that would mean. Would not the complementarian position contradict Scripture, since the gifts are given "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12)??

    I think that hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) explains a lot of why complementarian thought prevails in much of our world. We simply don't understand how to interpret Scripture; as a result, one can hold to the complementarian view without examining all the other passages of Scripture that oppose the comp view.

    Thanks for commenting. Continue to read the work done here...and pray for the blog.


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