Recently, my daughter was reading through a certain New Testament book that I knew was going to get her all hot and bothered. I knew that if my little feminist read that letter to a particular young man, she would only see the words written at the end of the second chapter, lose her temper, and then feel confirmed in her impression that her mother was stupid for making her read this archaic, misogynistic nonsense. So, when I saw that this book was next on her Bible reading chart, I prefaced it with a bit of background, hoping to jump start her critical thinking ahead of her thoughts of criticism.
“Honey, let me give you a little background on why this book was written before you jump in. That way as you read, you can imagine why Paul wrote the things he did.”
“Because if you isolate Paul’s words from the historical setting and his motivation for writing the words, you’re going to not understand God in the right way.”
“1 Timothy is a personal letter written to Timothy from Paul. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus when he had to leave it suddenly due to the whole city demonstrating against him for preaching against Artemis.” My avid Greek mythologist perked up at that name. “You remember Artemis?”
“Yeah. She was a hunter and Apollo’s twin. She stood up against men.”
“Yep. She was a virgin, and she refused to consort with men. In Ephesus, they had built a huge temple in her honor. It was bigger than the Parthenon. Inside was a gigantic statue of Artemis, and people from all over the Roman Empire came to Ephesus to worship her. The wealthy Ephesian aristocrats dedicated their young, virgin daughters to serve her. It was very prestigious to be a priestess of Artemis. She was also the goddess of childbirth, not because she gave birth herself, but she was supposed to sympathize with women in labor. Her own mother, Leto, labored for seven days to give birth to Apollo. So, pregnant women prayed to Artemis to help them in childbirth. Half of the women in those times died in childbirth, so Artemis had great power with women. The women would bring her beautiful clothes and dress up to worship her at temple.”
“What does this have to do with Paul and Timothy?”
“The church in Ephesus had people that were teaching the wrong things about God. Paul wanted Timothy to correct that bad teaching. So, Paul gave him specific instructions about how to do that.”
“What does Artemis have to do with God?”
“Exactly. She doesn’t have anything to do with the real God. She is an idol, a made-up story. But, she had a strong influence with the Ephesians, and some were mixing her worship with the Christian worship. Especially the women. Because Artemis had such appeal to women.”
“So, as you read, just keep in mind the women were influenced by their previous devotion to Artemis, and Paul wanted to clear up that confusion. Jesus is the one, true, living God.”
“Are you done? I want to just get this reading done.”
Ames, Frank R. “Appendix One. The Ephesian Social World Providing the Backdrop for Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy,” in What’s With Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2. By Jon Zens. Lincoln: Ekklesia Press, 2010.
Baugh, Steven M. “Cult Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42 (1999), no. 3: 443-460.
Glahn, Sandra L. “The First-Century Ephesian Artemis: Ramifications of Her Identity,” Bibliotheca Sacra 172, no. 688 (2015): 450-469.
Glahn, Sandra L. “The Identity of Artemis in First-Century Ephesus,” Bibliotheca Sacra 172 (July-September 2015): 316-34.
Oster, Richard E. “Acts 9:23-41 and an Ephesian Inscription.” Harvard Theological Review 77 (1984), no. 2: 233-237.