Paul's comments about women in 1st Timothy chapter 2 are, in and of themselves, misogynistic, prejudiced, and violate egalitarian principles put forward in other Pauline literature; but by recreating the contemporary worldviews of Paul's day we may be able explain this apparent contradiction. The powerful emotions that gender based vocations arouse in people color their exegesis. For example, feminists do not accept these verses as authoritative, whereas a male chauvinist uses 1st Timothy as the hallmark of his philosophy. These positions do not seek find the author's original intent but rather to have their worldview inserted unnaturally into the text. If we want to know the author's original intent we must demystify the text by crossing the barriers that separate us from the author's thought process. The barriers of time, culture, distance, and language can be diminished if we examine the text retrieving the historical-cultural background. By doing so we see Paul was attempting to counteract the effects of a popular heresy. This heresy is not only a one-time occurrence but also rather a particular religious persuasion that has produced predictable results throughout the church's history. Paul's situation may have been unique but the evil he sought to destroy has consistently reappeared and produced similar results as that which occurred in Ephesus.
- In 1st Tim 1:4 Paul advises against studying “fables and endless genealogies”. The Church Fathers believed the studying of speculative genealogies to be a Gnostic characteristic. (Twomey, 2009, pg 19)
- 1st Tim 2:4 instructs his author to come to “knowledge of the Truth”. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word γνωσις (Lindell, 2003, pg 144) meaning knowledge. Here Paul is using a pun, for he uses ἐπίγνωσις meaning full knowledge (Lindell, 2003, pg 249). He also qualifies ἐπίγνωσις with truth, hence emphasizing that the Gnostic's knowledge was false and should be abandoned for true and full knowledge.
- 1st Tim 2:5 emphasizes there is one Mediator between God and man. This declaration of Christ as mediator is uniquely Pauline (if Paul wrote Hebrews). In this instance it seems out of place. Augustine, a former Gnostic, taught there were two mediators between man and God, one being Christ and the other being sin (Twomey, 2009, pg 39). It may be that Augustine was attempting to Christianize a pagan doctrine he was familiar with. Augustine was also a fatalist, who prescribed to limited atonement (Twomey, 2009, pg 13). It is noteworthy that a former Gnostic disavowed two major tenets of one chapter of 1 Timothy.
- Most Gnostics practiced asceticism, so it is unlikely they would need to be warned on appropriate attire as Paul does in 1st Tim 2:9. History, however, provides a window to the behavior of the Gnostics of Paul's day. Irenaeus tells us of the sexually promiscuous behavior of Gnostic leaders, who were particularly attracted to the best-dressed and wealthiest women (Logan, 2004, pg 177). It is conceivable that women were dressing provocatively in order to attract Gnostic leaders. In order to gain acceptance into this exclusive sect the women were likely attracting the male leadership with ornate dress.
- 1st Tim 2:11-12 tells women to be silent in Church and forbids them to teach men. In Tertullian's critique of the Gnostics he mentions women's predominance in the church, that they were "bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures— it may be even to baptize. Their ordinations, are carelessly administered, capricious, changeable" (Tertullian, Chap 41) . The fact that women adopted preaching duties builds the case that Paul was referring to a specific problem and group.
- In an apparent justification for diminishing women's authority, Paul relies on Genesis to establish a hierarchy based on birth order. Yet I propose that 1st Tim 2:13-14 is in response to Gnostic teaching. The Gnostic creation accounts differs drastically from the Biblical account. For example, in one of the Gnostic creation accounts Eve brings Adam to life and then instructs him (Pagels, 1989, pg 31). I propose the Gnostics were teaching that women had authority to enlighten based on their version of the creation account. Paul was not telling women to be silent in Church, but rather retorting how women do not have authority based on the Genesis account. Paul was smart enough to realize that being created first was not a stamp of authority. If it were, a fish would hold greater authority than humanity. Paul counteracts such nonsense by telling us “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” 1 Cor 11:12
- Paul's controversial statement on childbirth is difficult to elucidate, but through the light of Gnostic doctrine certain elements are illuminated. The Gnostics believed that children were born evil and procreation “ increased the number subjected to evil angels,” hence sex and procreation were wicked (Yamauchi, 2004, pg 31). These dogmas were later synchronized into Church teaching via St. Augustine (Khan, 1990, pg 58-59). St. Augustine promulgated the principle that sex was wrong and children were inherently evil in the Church. It is likely Paul was referring to an early form of this teaching. This is further evidenced by the later passage 1st Tim 4:3, where Paul mentions a demonic sect that “forbids marriage”. I propose that Paul's strange statement in 1st Tim 2:15 was a call to repentance. The women of Ephesus had likely become anti-procreation due to their Gnostic indoctrination. Paul was calling them to repentance by instructing the women to abandon this doctrine by practicing the alternative. Hence, the women were not saved by childbirth but rather by their practical repentance, which in this case was childbirth.
- Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman and Neil S. Wilson, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Life
application Bible commentary, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Il, 1993.
- Fee, Gordon D., Gospel and Spirit, Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Hendrickson
Publishers, Inc. Peabody, MA, 1991
- Khan, Ali, The Hermeneutics of Sexual Order, Santa Clara Law Review, 31.1, 1990
- Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical
Interpretation. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, TN, 2004.
- Lindell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2003.
- Logan, A. J. M., A. J. M. Wedderburn, Ed. New Testament and Gnosis, New York, NY, T&T
Clark International, 2004.
- McGrath, Alister. Iustitia Dei: a History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2005.
- Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. Random House, New York, 1989.
- Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius Florens, Prescription against Heretics,
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0311.htm, (date accessed, 6/16/11).
- Twomey, Jay, The Pastoral Epistles through the Centuries. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, UK,
- Yamauchi, Edwin M., Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins, First Gorgias Press Edition, New