Eve was deceived…

As a  young Christian I was taught that  because women are more prone to deception than men, therefore men should be the teachers. Adam was created before Eve, and therefore all women should be in submission to male leadership–whether that’s husband, pastor or some other Christian man. (I shudder even now to think how, albeit unwillingly, I swallowed these maxims. But I wanted to be a good Christian woman, and if that’s what it took…)

The idea comes from 1 Timothy 2

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.(vv 12-14 NKJV)

Two incontrovertible facts:

  1. Eve was deceived and then sinned.
  2. Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Let’s review the background from this letter. Paul was writing to combat heresy in the church in Ephesus (I Tim 1:3).  In Acts 20, Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come in, including some men who would distort the truth. The book of 1 Timothy is full of warnings against false teaching:

  • People were spending their time in meaningless discussions, wanting to be known as teachers of the law (1:6-7).
  • Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples who had deliberately violated their consciences and shipwrecked their faith and Paul had  thrown them out (1:20).
  • In the last times some would follow deceptive spirits and demonic teachings, saying it’s wrong to be married or eat certain foods (4:1-3).
  • Paul exhorts Timothy not to waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales but instead to train for godliness (4:7).
  • Some younger widows had already gone astray to follow Satan (5:15).
  • People who contradicted Paul and Timothy’s teaching were arrogant and lacked understanding, stirring up arguments that resulted in jealosy, division, slander and evil suspicion. Their minds were corrupt and they were using a show of godliness to become wealthy (6:2-10).
  • Paul gave a final exhortation to Timothy to avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who have wandered from the faith.

Again, the background to 1 Timothy is to deal with false teaching in a culture that was dominated by a female-centered religious cult.

Jon Zens in his excellent book,What’s With Paul and Women? makes the following points:

  • “First” is a function of time, not of superiority. Nowhere in the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 where both Adam and Eve are given the command to have dominion over creation, or in I Timothy 2:12, is there evidence that women are to be subordinate to men.
  • The worship of Artemis, goddess of the Ephesians, was a female-dominated cult ruled by women priests that included public sexual displays and fancy clothing and jewelry.
  • This cult taught that Artemis was born before her twin, Apollo, and that women, as the superior gender, therefore could dominate men.
  • Women in Ephesus looked to Artemis, the mother goddess. for protection–for their virginity, for aid in barrenness and for help in labor.
  • The history of the church shows that most false teaching has been propagated by males.
  • Eve being deceived by the serpent was not an example of what goes wrong when a female usurps male leadership, but of disobeying one of God’s commands. Paul uses the same example in 2 Corinthians 11:3 to show how an entire congregation can be deceived, both males and females.
  • It’s not right for anyone to teach with the goal of dominating others.
So is 1 Timothy 2 a “timeless universal restriction” on women? Or was it written into a specific situation where certain women in Ephesus had been deceived by false teaching and were passing it on to others?  Do we run into danger if we allow a cultural understanding to balance a literal obedience to the word?
What do you think?
 

Photo Credit: Rich_Lem via Compfight cc

  • http://blog.scilla.org.uk/ Chris

    I am quite clear in my mind (and the Spirit confirms this in my heart) that we run into danger if we don’t allow a cultural understanding to inform our response to the word.

    Anything written, said or done in one culture should not be applied to a different one without understanding those differences and the effects they have. To ignore this would be, frankly, foolish.

    • felicitydale

      Chris, agreed. From Jews I’ve talked with, one of the culturally Jewish ways of communicating is through exaggeration. So, for example, when Jesus says, “If your hand offends you, cut it off,” he’s using hyperbole to make a point. We aren’t expected to literally obey that (although I’ve heard of it happening). As you say, we do well to understand culture.

      • randirooks

        It is important to understand the culture and what was happening at the time of writing, right!? :)

  • Michael Fleming

    Wow, this sparks a lot of questions in my head. This whole thing would be much easier if the Bible would include some text that tells some men to be silent, wouldn’t it? :)

    Since most false teaching has been propagated by men, I wonder why there isn’t? Do you think Paul would have written the same thing to the men of this church if it was they who were spreading the false teaching? Or would he just kick them out? Or just instruct them to stop?

    This brings up a whole other area of this topic that I would love you to explore. Basically…how should men and women be handled differently given specific practical situations that are the same? Not just false teaching, but other issues that come up as well.

    • felicitydale

      Michael, a thought-provoking comment! Thank you!

      I can think of one example where Paul did just what you describe. In 1 Tim :20 Paul says, “Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” I think I would rather have been the silenced woman in that situation!

      In other instances, both men and women were told to be silent under certain conditions. For example in 1 Corinthians 14, three sets of people are told to be silent–those who speak in tongues if there’s no one to interpret, those who prophesy if a second person receives a message from the Lord, and women (who were causing a disruption).

      I’ll have to think about the other area. I’ll add it to my list of questions I want to make sure get covered, either in the book or in this blog post.

      • Michael Fleming

        Thanks Felicity. Yes, I’m wondering if Paul (and other Christian workers) were easier (or more gentle) on the women in certain situations. Maybe the men would get thrown out while the women would just be silenced? I don’t know though since the culture you were speaking of seemed to promote girl power! :) But, I would be interested to explore those practical questions. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

    Paul meant to say, “In Ephesus, Timothy, you have a bunch of trouble making women, who are used to Artemis worship. They need to stay silent (probably until they die since not end is mentioned).”

    Instead, Paul referred to two facts from at least 4,000 years earlier – that man was made first and that woman was the first one to be deceived.

    When we “allow a cultural understanding to balance” the verse, we can conclude that Paul was deceptive, not forthcoming, confusing and, frankly, mean. This is the word of God? In addition, we can attribute greatness to us, because we finally figured it out what Paul meant to say in this specific situation!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

      And God, knowing that Paul had manipulated his true reasoning, let it ride. Being all-knowing, it was clear to him that people would be duped for several thousand years. Yeah for this generation! It’s almost like we are more thoughtful than God, isn’t it?

    • felicitydale

      So in your fellowship do women wear head coverings? Are they silent in the church? Do they wear jewelry? You have to use the same standard throughout. If we say one thing is cultural, then other things are allowed to be cultural too–of course, I’m referring to the non-essentials of our walk with God here.

      • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

        Felicity, your questions are not relevant to the discussion. It is the fallacy of hypocrisy. If I smoke, but tell you not to smoke because it is bad for you, the fact that I smoke is not relevant to the fact that it is bad for you. It seems to me that women prayed and prophesied in the meetings. This is talking to God and God speaking to the group through a prophetess. (Modern vernacular has made prophecy just confrontational speech. Clearly from the Bible, it is only the words and visions directly from God. Perhaps like what was spoken over you when you were told to write.) The women were only instructed to cover their heads while doing these to things. “Silent,” then, would refer to teaching and questioning.

        I do want to be consistent. Not only do I want the same standard throughout, I want every part of the Bible to make sense together. I enjoy discovering consistent messages. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

        I would never want to refer to something as a non-essential. God is relational, not theological. He is personal and has personal preferences. God knows what he wants. Our job is to “Find out what pleases the Lord.” I don’t think that he wants his kids deciding what is essential to him and what is not. Essential, it is saying, “what can I get away with,” rather than, “how can I serve you best.”

        • felicitydale

          But the same kind of argument is used for the question about head covering I raised from 1 Corinthians 11, that Eve came from Adam. (Although he does then go on to “contradict ” what he said before when he says Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.”

          Like you, I enjoy discovering what God is saying, and if God is consistent with himself, then you have to allow for Deborah and Huldah, for Phoebe, Junia and Priscilla.

          • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

            I don’t think that my understanding fails to account for the women who you mentioned (and the many others). They actually fit quite well into my conclusions.

            Importantly, though, we can’t develop theology based on what people do in the Bible. It is clear that God is willing to permit foolishness, if it accomplishes his goals. Abraham gave his wife away twice and made out OK, as you know. I would not recommend his example, based on other, very clear instructions in the Bible.

            It is important to note that few details are provided about four of the women who you mentioned. We can’t make up stuff that is not there. The text concerning Anna, who you did not mention, is longer than most. Again, she was prophesying and praying, praise God.

            Concerning 1 Corinthians 11, I don’t know of a way to understand the bit that you quoted, except to say that Paul was saying that the one should not take the lesson too far. We could rightly say that the created circumstance should leave men humble, loving and respectful. You did not come to that conclusion, but embraced the contradiction that the whole lesson should be forgotten, did you not? If so, why would Paul say anything at all, then? If not, then what was the lesson?

            Please consider these things carefully. It could be that the Holy Spirit has me here to challenge you for a reason.

          • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

            I can think of 4 types of passages that we would deal with from the Bible. The first type, you would have to explain away. ‘Passages like 1 Cor. 11 and 14, must have another explanation. There is little or nothing that can be learned from these texts.’ This is most of what the Bible says about the matter. The second type of passages involves women who are prophesying and praying. You might wish to put in the egalitarian camp, but that would not be instructive. They are not contradicting the greater passages on the subject. The third type of Bible verse would be the ones that really don’t say anything about what the women did. There are a few of these. Of course, since it does not say what they did, they are not really instructive, either. So, we are left with three verses, as far as I can tell: Romans 16:1,2 and 7.

          • http://blog.scilla.org.uk/ Chris

            Hi Nate,

            I’d be really interested to hear your views on Jon Zens’ teaching about women. You can read the gist of it here in an article I wrote (load the link and scroll down for Jon’s full text).

            He’s also written a book on the same topic (linked at the bottom of my post).

          • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

            Chris, can you please help by posting a link for me to follow, both to your article and to Jon’s book?

          • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

            OK. I found the article. I think that your study goes wrong at this point: “We can also be assured that it is an improper use of Scripture to
            elevate these two passages in a way that causes all other information
            about the sisters to be invalidated.” Does this not imply either, or? If it is Holy Scripture, I don’t see any options other than both, and. This is the main logical problem with the egalitarian viewpoint, and it is a concerning one.

            As a result of the verses cited in your article, I see no reason to concluded that, the women taught in the meeting, yet that is what the egalitarian viewpoint claims.

            What are your thoughts?

          • http://www.facebook.com/nate.davis.3781 Nate Davis

            Chris, I hope that you understand that I am saying that Jon’s citations lead to my conclusion. I would say almost nothing different, but I would not come to his conclusion, because it forces one to contradict some scriptures and write them off as irrelevant. That grieves my soul.

            I noted the use of the term, Christ’s daughters. From where does that come? To my knowledge, we are only considered brothers and sisters of Christ in the Bible. When I google it, it looks like a Mormon idea. Are you or Jon Mormon?

          • felicitydale

            So tell me, what is your understanding about women? I’m getting very mixed messages from what you have written.

            Maybe one of the reasons you are challenging me is so I learn to handle the kind of challenges I will undoubtedly face when the book is published ;-)