A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Monday, February 9, 2009

1 Timothy 2 Q & A

I thought I’d post this little Q & A exchange that came up following my lesson from 1 Timothy 2 last Sunday morning. I’m sure the questions are those many have asked and are asking, so I post this here for your benefit. Here is the exchange:

“Okay I have 3 questions regarding your lesson on Sunday. Forgive me for not having my Bible in front of me.”

Q. “In vss. 8 or 9 (I think) where it says men lift up holy hands...why is that not literal? Why are men not supposed to literally lift up their hands in prayer?”

A. There is certainly nothing wrong with a man lifting his hands heavenward to pray. It is not essential that he do so, because various passages also speak of people bowed in prayer, prostrate in prayer and so on. So, we interpret all the prayer passages in harmony to conclude that the posture is not the issue. The point in 1 Timothy 2:8 is not the "position" of the hands, but the "condition" of them (i.e. "holy," and "without anger or quarrelling"). So, whether a man leads a prayer with his hands raised, clasped in front of him, or behind his back, etc., what matters is that he does so with no animosity toward his brethren, with no axe to grind, and with the right relationship to God.

Q. “It is very clear to me a woman's role in the church, however, how do the other religions (ones with women preachers and such) justify doing so? Do they just not read that part of the Bible?”

A. No, they read that part of the Bible, they just interpret it differently. I would say, wrongly. They read things into the text and misinterpret it. I'm sure that most of them are very sincere, but they make one of a variety of mistakes. One such mistake is to misread Galatians 3:28 and then interpret all the other texts about women accordingly. Galatians 3 speaks of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to provide him with numberless descendants coming not through the Law (of Moses), but through faith (in Christ). Paul shows that the church is the ultimate fulfillment of that promise and leads to the conclusion that, so far as salvation is concerned, all are on equal terms. No faithful Christian man is any more saved than a faithful Christian woman, as no Christian master was any more saved than his Christian slave. In Christ, all are equal. We affirm that wholeheartedly! However, read the book of Philemon and you'll see that Paul didn't understand this principle to mean that Onesimus didn't have to go back to his master. It did mean that masters had to treat their slaves as people of equal intrinsic value (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-24, 4:1). So it also is between men and women. Whereas pre-Christian society usually did not view women as equal in intrinsic value to men, through Christ we understand that men and women are created equal. But, equality does not mean that we all have the same function or role (Romans 12:4). Read Ephesians 5 and you’ll see that a wife must obey her husband as the Lord, but the husband is not permitted to “lord it over her” as if he is superior to her. He must lead with sacrificial love. 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 make it very clear that, at least in the assembly, we also do not have the same roles.

A second mistake some make is to make unwarranted assumptions about Paul's reasons to write chapters like 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Some assert that since Corinth had the temple to Aphrodite (and pagan female clergy) and Ephesus (where Timothy was) had the temple to Artemis/Diana (and pagan female clergy), that the culture of those cities was influencing Christian women to misbehave. They continue by saying that Paul only forbade the women to lead in those places--that it was a local, cultural prohibition. Some cite 1 Tim 5:13 as evidence of this, but I find nothing convincing in their case. I would respond by saying that it is pretty ugly doctrine to say that God forbade some women from using gifts they were (supposedly) free to use otherwise, due to the misbehavior of a few. Seems pretty unfair to me! I think it at least as strong a position to say that since these two cities had women leading and teaching among the pagans (which was an exception to the general rule in ancient Greco-Roman society), Paul (by the Spirit) was especially careful to point out that it was not to be so in the church. In both texts (1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2), Paul clearly ties his doctrine to the Law (1 Corinthians 14:34) and to the way of things even before the Law came (1 Timothy 2:13-14) proving that these prohibitions against women leading, teaching or preaching to men in the assemblies of the church were not cultural, but based in principles of God's will that have been around since the Beginning, and will be so until Jesus reappears.

To answer your question simply, they read these texts, but misinterpret them as mere cultural prohibitions that do not apply today.

Q. “About the women and the head covering....This has always baffled me. You (not literally you) used other resources, history and such to come to the conclusion that passage was directed at women of a different time and culture and the reasoning behind it. What if we did not have the luxury of those extra sources? If we only had the Bible, Would we (women) be covering our heads to worship? I know this is a big what-if but to me it kinda falls into the same category as the music...don't add to or take away from. Are we not taking away from????”

A. Excellent question. First, let me point out that 1 Corinthians 11 does apply to us today. The passage indeed was originally addressed to women of a different time and culture, but the principles of every passage apply with full force even if the specifics of a cultural application of it do not. Rather than addressing this question here, I’ll refer you to a complete thing I wrote about the passage some time ago which explains why I believe the head-covering command was a cultural command that doesn’t necessarily apply to every woman today. By reading it, you’ll also learn a little bit about how we recognize certain commands as having limited, “cultural” application, while others, like 1 Timothy 2 are binding even to the specific precedents. Find it here.

Thanks for the questions. Good questions by the way!