Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The difficulty of 1 Tim 2:11-15

Talking with Graham Cole the other day, he gave me some new words with which to think about 1 Tim 2 - here are some:
Enthymemic: An argument which doesn't state the assumption.
1 Timothy 2 is an enthymemic argument in that the reason that vv13-15 are relevant to what he has said in vv11-12 are left unstated. Why does Paul say "for Adam was formed first, then Eve"? Why does he talk about Eve being deceived? Why does he talk about being saved through childbearing? And what does all this have to do with women teaching men?
All that is left (frustratingly!) unstated.
The problem (for us) with enthymemic statements, is that they can be very persuasive, and they can persuade people to believe an unstated premise which is not true, more easily than if the premise were stated.
Some more terms which I learned from Cole which are helpful in my thinking
Creation Order and Analogical.
These describe two of the main schools of interpretation on this text, which give meaning to the unstated premise.
1. Creation Order
I used to think that this was the only way to think about this text. My understanding is, that this is the argument which says "Paul cites an example from creation so this applies for all time...".
The reason "for Adam was formed first, then Eve" is relevant, is because it refers to primogeniture. The practise of the first born son having the rights and authority. So, this argument claims that Paul is saying that since Adam was born before Eve he is endorsing Adam having the authority over Eve, and by implication men over women.
But what about "for Eve was deceived" how is this relevant?
Proponents of this view, in my conversations and reading, seem to be very keen to say that it is not women's inferior intelligence or lack of gifting or skill which is being discussed here (though some do). They claim that male authority is simply God's good intention for creation, no matter how much we understand it or not. I'm not sure really how they explain vv 13-14. Can anyone enlighten me?
2. Analogical
I first came across this argument a few weeks ago in this paper (found on this page).
This argument says that the reason that all of vv 13-15 is relevant is because it is summarising the Genesis passages (Gen 2 til the start of 4). Why does Paul want to summarise these passages of scripture? Because it is analogous to what was happening in the Ephesian church at the time.
You'll notice, reading through Ephesians that it is largely about teaching. In chapter 1 Paul tells the men to stop teaching, in chapter 2 he tells the women to stop teaching, and in the final chapters he's putting in a place a system of leadership which will teach the correct doctrine. The people in the Ephesian church should only listen to Paul, Timothy, and the elders of whom Timothy approves because they are teaching sound doctrine.
How might this situation be analogous to Genesis? The women might have been deceived about the correct teaching. At the time it was rare in Jewish circles for women to be trained in the scriptures.
Women were less likely to be literate than men, were trained in philosophy far less often than men, were trained in *rhetoric almost never, and in Judaism were far less likely to be educated in the *law. Given the bias against instructing women in the law, it is Paul's advocacy of their learning the law, not his recognition that they started as novices and so had to learn quietly, that was radical and countercultural. The IVP Bible Background Commentary
This gives credence to the idea that both women and men were teaching, but women were relatively more deceived, at that time, as to the true gospel.
Given women's lack of training in the Scriptures, the heresy spreading in the Ephesian *churches through ignorant teachers (1:4-7), and the false teachers' exploitation of these women's lack of knowledge to spread their errors (5:13; 2 Tim 3:6), Paul's prohibition here makes good sense. His short-range solution is that these women should not teach; his long-range solution is "let them learn" (2:11). The situation might be different after the women had been instructed (2:11; cf. Rom 16:1-4, 7; Phil 4:2-3).  The IVP Bible Background Commentary
How do we know that Eve was deceived? She told something to the serpent which was not true - that God had said that she may not even touch the tree or she would die. Adam who was with her at the time, was led astray by Eve, even though he knew the truth.
The analogy with the Ephesian church is that women were teaching and leading men astray by their teaching, so Paul was instructing them to stop teaching, and instead to learn.
If we see vv 13-15 as a summary, we can see a point which Paul might have been making - that God judges those who disobey God, both those who lead others astray, and those who go along with it.
If we see 13-15 as a summary the reference to childbearing also makes more sense - at the start of Gen 4 Eve, though childbearing has been cursed, she still safely gives birth to a son. The allusion to this by Paul is a statement of God's grace - that he has cursed one of woman's primary functions, but still God is present with her in that suffering and saves her through it. Though women (and men!) in the Ephesian church have led other's astray - led them to disobey God as did Eve - there is still grace in the midst of judgement for them.
In verse 15 there is a switch from the singular language of verses 11-15a ("he" and "she", "a woman" and "a man" * ) to the plural "if they remain in faith, in love and holiness with propriety". I wonder if these are the conditions of the grace which Paul has referred to in the previous verses... one question is who are the "they" it is referring to. I think it's most likely referring to Adam and Eve, in the context of the analogy, and therefore to both the men and women in the Ephesian church.
Here's one question I had with the "analogical" argument:
The analogical argument implies that the real meaning of "gar" at the start of v 13, is more like, in English, "it's the same as the situation where..." I wondered whether there was any other use in Paul's writings of the use of "gar" to obviously introduce an analogy. I didn't have to look far... 1 Tim 5:17-18 is a clear analogy linked by "gar".
In summary, I'm much more convinced by the analogical argument than the creation order argument. It seems to explain more about the text in question, and fits in better in context with the entire letter.
It's interesting to note that both of these views are represented side-by-side in some study bibles, but not all.
* Many English Bible versions translate these verses in the plural (eg. NIV, NLT, CEV), and I think this is a mistranslation which hides, instead of reveals, the meaning.


  1. Yep, I'm much more convinced by the analogical argument than the creation order one. Especially because I think the creation order one requires bending Gen 1-3 so much.

    That said -- I reckon you've gotta tackle 1 Cor 11 at the same time.

    Both 1Tim 2 & 1Cor 11:
    - Speak of gender relationships
    - Refer back to Genesis
    - Mention Creation order in some way

    Comp's will argue this leads towards their view. I'm not convinced, but I haven't yet figured out how to fit 1Cor 11 in with everything else.

    Btw, have you come across Cheryl Schatz's interpretation?

    I've summarized it here: http://unrelatedramblings.blogspot.com/2008/02/single-woman-in-1-timothy-2.html

    What I find compelling is that it explains v15 so well. But, I'm wary of the fact that I don't think it's had much peer review.

  2. I just stumbled across your blog. I like reading through your thoughts.

    One problem I have with the creation order argument is that it inverts the usual reading of the creation accounts. Adam and Eve are the final creatures in Genesis. If temporal priority somehow indicates ontological or social priority, why do we not consider that humans are at the bottom of the pecking order among the creatures? It feels to me that the creation order argument is logically inconsistent and that the analogical reading is much more convincing. Also Paul uses the creation order argument to direct women to pray and prophecy with their heads covered in 1 Cor 11, yet the church has been far less rigid in its interpretation of this passage.

  3. If you are helping people understand the bible and making a living at it, that is spectacular.

    the reference to Genesis in those passages states some facts and some indirect curses on both man and woman.

    Consider that the premise you think is missing is actually stated;

    Genesis 3:16-19

    To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

    To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

    It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

    By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
    until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

    Because Eve had done this and ate of the fruit and gave also to Adam to eat. Woman was indirectly cursed to always attempt the usurpation of the Man's role in the world.

    Because Adam listened to his wife and ate of the tree which he was commanded not to, the indirect curse of the ground was established.

    Hence the first battle of the sexes was established and by all means not the last.

    Also having developed the knowledge of good and evil. God kicked them out of the garden. Lest they also eat from the Tree of Life and this madness continue forevermore.