Recent scholarship into the worship of Artemis of Ephesus resolves three of the largest puzzles in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (idolatrous prayer, creation order, and childbirth), but even without specific knowledge of ancient sources, this passage can be understood as combating idolatrous or heretical practices, not a handbook for women in the universal church.
For example, Katharine Bushnell, a scholar who wrote on women and the Bible a hundred years ago, understood 1 Timothy 2 as “advice suitable for the emergency only.” In the same way that we no longer encourage church leaders “to use a little wine” for illness (5:23), we should not restrict women in societies who do not face this particular Ephesian heresy. Citing that Priscilla taught Apollos and Eunice instructed Timothy, Bushnell says, “Paul did not at other periods in his ministry forbid women to teach men. This is an exceptional, prudential measure to meet a dire necessity of perilous times.”
So, what is useful in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 for today? In this passage, Paul provides an example of how we might take extreme measures to halt the spread of error. Because behavior is linked to belief, it might be necessary to alter our behavior in circumstances where heresy is acute. God desires to see His church move away from deceptive error to the truth, and Paul teaches us that ruthless measures might be needed in severe cases. The measures taken should be appropriate to the false teaching and reflect sound doctrine.
1 Timothy was written to combat specific false teaching in the Ephesian church that was blending myths and superstitions with proper faith in the one, true God. It was dangerous and deceptive. Many in Ephesus had already left the faith. The women experienced a special place of privilege, and they were refusing to learn, insisting on supremacy and confusing the truth of God’s creation. This error might have been influenced by the pervasive cult worship of Artemis of Ephesus, which sheds light on Paul’s specific instructions to women in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. But even without Artemis as a specific focus, this passage should be understood in light of combating the false teachings specific to the Ephesian church.
As we seek to understand the tensions present in the church of Ephesus, we also must seek insight for how error today has mingled with sound doctrine, and how our behavior could destroy the good news of Jesus Christ for the watching world. The Ephesian error in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is not present today in its exact form, but error still seeps into modern churches. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 teaches us that we should be willing to take extreme measures to correct false teaching that threatens to wreck the faith of Christians and unbelievers.
Application for today’s church
If 1 Timothy 2:8-15 teaches us that we should be willing to take extreme measures to correct false teaching that threatens to wreck the faith of Christians and unbelievers today, then the begging question is… What false teaching is wrecking faith in Christians today?
In Paul’s day in the church of Ephesus, the women were teaching a form of female privilege. Could it be that our church today suffers from the opposite? Does the church show favoritism to men? What would happen to our churches if we told the men to be quiet and learn from the women?
While I love this thought, and would be so tickled to see it in action for a little while at least, I think its throwing the baby out with the bathwater… or literally… throwing the good men out with the bad. How about we just start with the bad?
Who are these “bad” church leaders? I’m thinking of those who have allowed abuse to occur on their watch. Or they have abused others themselves. Or they have exploited their position for sexual favors. Or, they had affairs. Or, they are charged with sexual misconduct. The modern church could do with a great pulpit purge.
Child sexual abuse is prevalent and a neglected issue in the church. Many churches and Christian organizations have ignored or covered up child-predation in their midst, perhaps thinking some men are more important in God’s kingdom than His little ones? This false belief needs extreme measures implemented to protect not only the bodies, but the souls of the kingdom of God. Why do we allow those who have sheltered abusers, much less the abusers themselves, to continue in Christian leadership? Those who have knowingly allowed a child to be harmed should be quiet. They should not be permitted to work with or over children. For Jesus said that our care for children is a reflection of our care for Him.
The #metoo movement sparked the #churchtoo movement and we are all weary of hearing of yet another famous Christian man hitting on or taking advantage of his position to gain sexual favors from women underneath them. Might this reveal we have not a behavior problem, but a belief problem? What is the church teaching about women? What do we believe about cheap grace? Do we really believe God hears the victims? Why do we allow those who abuse their power to gratify sexual lust to continue in Christian leadership in any capacity? Maybe our modern era has a “man” problem, and we should keep them from all positions of authority? At the very least, we should keep those men with uncontrollable lust away from positions of power.
When these church leaders are caught, they often repent, spend time on hiatus, but then are welcomed back to the mic with applause! Why do we allow these returning “bad” church leaders a voice? Why do we listen to them? Why do we buy their books? Why do we let them teach us at conferences? Dianna Anderson wrote in her article “Louis C.K., Paige Patterson, and the White Male Forgiveness Charade,” that “the truth is that they [misbehaving men] believe they can get away with it. Because we let them. We believe that the calling out of their misdeeds is punishment enough and that, by the time dust settles, it’ll be time to welcome them back with open arms.”
The church let them return. In Ephesus, Paul did not let the women destroy the good doctrine of the Jesus with pagan myths or behavior motivated by idolatry. It’s time to learn from 1 Timothy 2:8-12 and refuse to let those in church leadership who have harmed or allowed harm to continue to speak.
The words of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are relevant today to remind us that our behavior in churches reflects what we believe. Who do we silence today? Who do we allow to lead? Do we allow men (or women) in our pulpits who “knew better,” but did wrong or allowed another to be harmed knowingly?
Those church leaders who are sinning should be exposed and convicted before everyone, so that others may take warning. Stop showing favoritism! When we overlook their sins, we share them. (1 Timothy 5:20-22)