The Ephesian Context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

The Ephesian Context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

For decades, I used 1 Timothy 2:9-15 as the starting gate for gauging my function in Christianity. I filtered my understanding of my place in God’s world through this passage. I was a woman. I had certain restrictions.

I was wrong.

Like many in Baptist churches, I had been taught a traditional interpretation of Paul’s instructions for women in 1 Timothy 2: women should be silent and never teach or govern men, or some softer variant of these limitations. This interpretation isolates the passage from the greater context of 1 Timothy, and mistakenly became my threshold for all commentary on a woman’s place in the church.

So how else should I understand this passage? Is the only alternative to believe a progressive interpretation that disregards these instructions as archaic, culturally based, and irrelevant for today’s church? In disregarding this passage as obsolete, I could be denying the truth found in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable.  But, what is profitable for modern Christians in 1 Timothy 2:8-15?*

Put in its historical and contextual setting, Paul’s instructions for Christian women in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 reveal God’s desire to see movement from deceptive controversy to unified doctrine.

Ephesian Error

Templum Dianae Ephesinae1 Timothy was written by Paul to guide Timothy in combating the false teaching that infected the church in Ephesus. Timothy was left behind to correct the doctrinal mess being taught by some in the church after Paul fled Ephesus for Macedonia due to the riot caused by the worshipers of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:23-20:1). If the church fell for what these folks were teaching, the Christian faith in Ephesus was in danger. From his first words to his last, Paul reiterated that the truth of Jesus’ gospel must be protected. Read what he wrote.

“Timothy…command certain people not to teach false doctrines … or devote themselves to myths…” (1:3-4)

“…hold onto faith…which some have rejected…”  (1:19)

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales…” (4:7)

“Watch your … doctrine closely…” (4:16)

“…guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.” (6:20-21).

This is the central concern that drove Paul’s instructions throughout the letter. Timothy was to guard the truth against the deceptive and contentious teaching present in the Ephesian church.

This error involved a definitive female target. In the Ephesian church, marriage was abandoned, and celibacy was embraced (4:3). The enrollment of “Widow,” a woman who lived without a man*, was filling with women who refused marriage, who meddled in other people’s affairs and said the wrong things (5:11-15). Older women were superstitious, avoiding the work of caring for others (4:7; 5:9-10). We get a glimpse of these superstitious and magical practices in Acts 19. The Ephesians valued objects with mystical powers (Acts 19:11-12, 19).  Men were not immune to the errors, either. Men and women were devoted to circulating fictional tales, fantasies and traditions (1:3-4, 6), and the men especially were causing disputes and arguing (2:8; 3:2-3; 6:4-5). Men were using the gospel for greed (3:3, 8; 6:5, 9-10).

The reason Paul was so serious about correcting the error was that false teaching results in wrong behavior. Paul was not only concerned that some might destroy their own faith (1:19; 5:15; 6:10, 21), but that others might not hear the true gospel because of the misguided conduct of the Ephesian Christians (4:16). Paul instructed Timothy to teach proper behavior (3:15) so the church would have a good reputation with outsiders (3:7), would not be open to blame (5:7), would not give cause for slander (5:14), and so others would see the consequences of good and evil behavior (5:24-25). In chapter 2, our specific context, Paul linked quiet, godly lives with God’s desire to see all people saved (2:4). To understand 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in a way that can be applied to societies outside Ephesus in the first century, it is imperative we understand what Paul was teaching Timothy: the church’s behavior reflects the church’s beliefs, and the world is watching.

What is profitable for us, today?

If we interpret 1 Timothy 2:9-15 through the lens of its context of correcting false teaching, and assume that the restrictive measures Paul takes against women corrects some blatant error at that place and time, then we can find what is profitable for us, today. This assumption is reasonable in light of Paul’s support of women’s involvement elsewhere. Women and men are equal in the Lord (Gal. 3:28). They worked hard for the Lord (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, 22:4; Rom. 16:12; 1 Cor. 1:11, 16:19; Col. 4:15), prayed and prophesied in gatherings (1 Cor. 11:4-5, 14:23-24), taught men (Acts 21:9, 2 Tim. 1:5, 3:14-15), served as deacons (Rom. 16:1-2) and apostles (Rom. 16:7) and leaders (1 Thes. 5:12), and were co-laborers with men (Rom. 16:3, Phil. 4:2-3).

The “extreme” limitations Paul placed on the women of Ephesus is contrary to his customary practice. There must be a good reason why.  The mixed-up, no-good, spirituality that was being taught in Ephesus led people astray from the true faith. Extreme measures were needed that solved the problem. Paul’s instructions concerning women must be understood in context of the dangerous false teaching found in Ephesus. And this understanding hints at how we can apply 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to today. Here are some possible suggestions.

  • Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • False teaching is not to be dealt with lightly.
  • Restrictions should be placed on those who cause the church to loose faith.

Next up, we’ll look at the immediate context of chapter 2: prayer.

References:

[1] Nancy Wiles Holsey, “Response to Scholer and Kroeger,” in Women, Authority, and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 248-249.

[2] Charlotte Metheun, “The “Virgin Widow”: A Problematic Social Role for the Early Church?” Harvard Theological Review 90, no. 3 (1997): 286-287.

Part 1: A Young Feminist Reads 1 Timothy.
Part 2: 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Offends
Part 3: She kept reading, a win

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She kept reading, a win

She kept reading, a win

“Well the Bible says it, so it must mean it.”

Cue incoming brain shut down. This statement has been used to terminate further discussion for generations. I could read the signs written all over the body language of my opinionated teenager. I would have limited time and verbiage to be heard without an argument.

If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of my daughter’s voyage into the “offending” limitations of 1 Timothy 2, you might want to catch up.

Part 1: A Young Feminist Reads 1 Timothy.
Part 2: 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Offends

My daughter had just finished reading 1 Timothy 2 through verse 15. Even though I had prepped her reading with interesting tidbits about the pervasive mythology driving Paul’s instructions to Timothy, she had done what many Bible readers have done in the past. She divorced the context from the passage, hence misunderstood the meaning, and then made sweeping conclusions by being complacent with a naive, literal interpretation. Simply, it was confusing and she didn’t want to think any more about it.

I asked, “Who was Paul talking to?”

“Women.”

“Which women, specifically?”

“Uh… the women in Timothy’s church?”

“Yes. You remember where I said they were?”

“Oh yeah. The place where the temple to Artemis was?”

“Ephesus. Can you see any connections?”

“Not really.”

Window of Opportunity closing in 5…4…3…

Speed talking now, I said, “Could it be possible Paul wasn’t talking about women, everywhere, in every time? The women in Ephesus had been deceived by the Artemis myth, and most likely, they were pretty confused. Paul didn’t want them teaching others.”

2…

“Oh, Okay. I just want to get my reading done.” She opened the Book and began flipping to the right page.

1…

“Great. Let me know if you have any more questions.”

“Mm Hm.”

Conversation closed.

She sat on her bed with the Bible open.  She might not understand all the theological points Paul was and was not making in that chapter, but she was still reading. I consider that a successful foray into the mires of a modern mind reading 1 Timothy. Simply understanding that we might not understand, is an important lesson to learn when reading the Words of God.

So, what about 1 Timothy 2:9-15?

It was enough for my daughter to know that I believed the passage taught something different than her literal, isolated understanding of it. For me, that was a gift I could give to her… an open door.

For decades, this passage closed the door to ministry for me. I was taught this passage was written to all women, everywhere, at every time. Like many others, I used this passage to interpret all other Scripture written about women, instead of using Scripture (especially the immediate context) to decode the meaning of these limitations and teaching.

If you’re willing to go deeper with me than my daughter wanted to go, join me for the next few posts as I explore the purpose of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in context and in application.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy 2:9-15 Offends

1 Timothy 2:9-15 Offends

Read the first part of this story here: A Young Feminist Reads 1 Timothy.

I thought I had set the stage carefully. I’d explained the historical, cultural and religious background of Ephesus at the time 1 Timothy was written. I had her attention and interest. I thought she could just read through the second chapter, and accept that there were things she didn’t understand, and give Paul the benefit of the doubt. That’s what I had done as a young girl.

I was wrong. A few minutes later, this…

“I CAN’T STAND READING THIS. PAUL MUST REALLY HATE WOMEN. I THINK THIS IS CRAP.” She slapped the Bible closed.

And I absolutely agreed with her.

I would like to cut this portion of our sacred text out and silence it, as it has been used to silence God’s feminine image for thousands of years. 

But if I did that, where would I stop? There are a lot of passages that have been used to harm. Should they all go? Am I the proper judge for God’s Word?

Nodding my head in agreement, I said to her, “I know. Its hard to read. That’s why I spent time giving you context. I wanted you to see the problem these words were addressing. You’ve done what so many other people have done, isolate this passage from the rest of the letter and the rest of the Bible. Do you believe God likes men better than women?”

“No. But this passage makes it seem like it!”

“Yes, it does. But Paul himself said that God does not show favoritism (Rom. 2:11). This is a hard passage to understand, and there are many explanations.”

Let me stop the conversation there.

Take a moment and read the words of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.  The Revised Standard Version reads:

 9…also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire 10 but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

You have just done what many expositors, preachers and theologians have done since… well, forever. You have read these words in isolation.

When we segregate these instructions from Paul’s intent and passion for the truth, it offends. When we quarantine these instructions away from Jesus’s life and ministry, it confounds. When we disengage this passage from its surrounding context, we are kinda horrified. When we detach this passage from Paul’s support of women in Christian ministry elsewhere, we get this zinger of demands that has been used as justification for restricting women for millennia.

This was not its original intention. I can say that with absolute confidence. Because, this passage is nestled in a literary context that Paul explained. Paul was no misogynist. Nor was he worried about acquiescing to the patriarchal culture of his day. Paul saw no difference between Christian men and women in Christian ministry (Gal 3:28). Paul appreciated that women worked hard for the advancement of the gospel (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, 22:4; Rom. 16:12; 1 Cor. 1:11, 16:19; Col. 4:15). He affirmed their prayer and prophesy in the church gatherings (1 Cor. 11:4-5, 14:23-24). He confirmed that Christian women taught men elsewhere (Acts 18:24-26, Acts 21:9, 2 Tim. 1:5, 3:14-15), that women served as deacons (Rom. 16:1-2) and apostles (Rom. 16:7), and were co-laborers with men (Rom. 16:3, Phil. 4:2-3). The “extreme” limitations Paul placed on the women of Ephesus was contrary to his customary practice.

So, why does he limit women when writing to Timothy in Ephesus?

That’s where we’ll pick up our conversation next time.

 

A young feminist reads 1 Timothy

A young feminist reads 1 Timothy

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.”

“Okay.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“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.”

“Fine.”

…stay tuned.

 

References:
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. 

 

 

Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

In 1998, The New York Times reported that the Southern Baptist Convention had voted to amend its statement of beliefs to include a declaration that wives should submit.

…”that a woman should ‘submit herself graciously’ to her husband’s leadership and that a husband should ‘provide for, protect, and lead his family.’ …The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an effort to soften the language was soundly turned back…The amendment relies on biblical passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, which compares the husband-wife relationship to that of Christ ruling the church…” The New York Times by Gustav Neibuhr, June 10, 1998

gibaltar
Gibraltar June 10, 1998

The same day the Southern Baptists (SBC) were making a stand on women, I was honeymooning in Spain. Little did we know the impact this pronouncement would make on our lives. Because of the specific attention on gender roles being taught in seminaries and churches, our early years of marriage were not focused on love or unity, but on making sure the other spouse was doing the proper “role.” His was to lead, mine was to submit, and never the two should cross. Sadly, the Southern Baptists and the Bonikowskys got Ephesians 5:21-33 all wrong.

A submissive, unified and loving church of men and women is the nuance of Ephesians 5:21-33  that we missed and that the SBC  obscured because commands were thrown into verses where they do not belong.

Back to the Greek

In Ephesians 5, Paul uses a few imperative verbs. Imperatives are verbal commands.  He tells them to carefully watch or to “Take heed! (NIV)” to live wisely;  and to “Understand!” God’s will. “Do not get drunk!” Instead, “Be filled” with the Spirit! Then, he lists a few things after his command to “be filled” using verbal nouns, or participles. Participles are tricky in Greek because they are nuanced and used extensively as nouns, adjectives, adverbs or verbs. When used adverbially, the participle is reliant on the main verb to explain its usage. It can explain when the verb occurred; how it happened and why; and it can even describe the result of the main verb. Its purpose is usually evident in the context, but there are ambiguous examples. Naturally, Ephesians 5, specifically verse 21-22, falls into the ambiguous category.

Commands and Results in Ephesians 5:18-24

Here are the verbs. Imperatives with a ! Participles with a  __ing.

18 Do not get drunk! Be filled with the Spirit!

19 Speaking in psalms… singingmaking melodies

20 Giving thanks…

21 Submitting yourselves to one another…

22 (no verb)

23 is

24 is submissive

25 Love!

First, you’ll note that there is no verb in verse 22. Open your Bible and you’ll see that your English translators supplied one for you. Note as well, that the added verb is most likely an imperative. Now understand that translators add verbs all the time to clarify meaning, but does this addition clarify what Paul intended? Does Paul command wives to submit to their husbands in verse 22?

Submitting is the result of being filled with the Spirit.

To get an idea of Paul’s intention, let us look at the role these participles play in regard to their main verb, which is “be filled” in verse 18. Are these actions the indicators of when a Christian is filled with the Spirit? Is Paul stressing the time a believer is filled? We are filled only when we are speaking, singing, giving and submitting? Or is he giving us a list of how to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit by means of speaking, singing, giving and submitting? My 1984 NIV’s translators thought this was Paul’s point, and they wrote all these participles as commands, stretching the manner of action into a command/imperative. But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching elsewhere that all Christians already have the Spirit? Can we get more of the Spirit by means of doing these actions? More likely, these actions are the result of being filled with the Spirit. Daniel B. Wallace, the author of Greek Grammar, agrees on page 639.

…it would be almost inconceivable to see this text suggesting that the way in which one is to be Spirit-filled is by a five-step, partially mechanical formula! … the idea of result here would suggest that the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18 is by the participles that follow. Wallace, p. 639 [underlining mine]

Speaking, singing, giving thanks and submitting to each other will follow being filled with the Spirit. The ESV does a good job of retaining this inflection in 5:18-21.  Paul does not command Christians to submit to each other (vs 21), he is explaining what will be the result of Christians being filled with the spirit. There is no command to submit in verse 21.

To view any of these participles as imperatival is to view the passage from the English point of view only, ignoring the Greek. Wallace, p 651

There is no command to submit in verse 22 either. Verse 22 does not have a verb, it simply says “wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” We must look backward to supply the verb from the previous section. English Bibles put a header break between 21 and 22, but this is not consistent to the Greek sentences. Verse 22 is a continuation of 21 and a bridge to 23. It is a  result participle of submitting from being filled with the Spirit.

A more correct translation is:

From verse 18: Be filled with the Spirit…

(21) With the result of submitting yourselves to one another in fear of Christ, (22) wives (submitting) to their own husbands as to Christ, (23) because…

The context of wives submitting to husbands is from the larger result of Christians everywhere submitting to each other as they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

As the church, so the wives

But even as the church is submissive to Christ, so also wives (are submissive) to their husbands in everything. 5:24

The church is marked with submissive men and women, because it is this submissive spirit that enabled our inclusion into Christ’s inheritance. Christ did the redeeming work and we have accepted; submitting to his washing and cleansing as the means of our unification with Him. The church (both men and women) is submissive to Christ, because an unsubmissive church would be no church at all. The refusal to join with Christ in faith, to deny his spiritual work through unbelief, and to separate from all things “christian” is the mark of an unbeliever. We all submit because we are all one body, joined by Christ who is the reason we are united.

The submission of wives is compared to the submission of the church. Some English versions take the middle/passive verb Paul uses (is submissive) and make it imperative. Like this:

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)

Sadly, this rendering takes the focus off the submissive church who is joining together into Christ who is our head, and puts it on the actions of an obedient wife. Submission no longer marks the church, but women. A submissive church of men and women is the nuance of the context that is missed when we throw imperatives into verses where they do not belong. It is easy to tell people what to do with commands, but Paul doesn’t do that here. Neither should the English translators.

dsc03841
2016

An unsubmissive church is no church at all, likewise the wives. The Bonikowskys survived the role-war. Because of submission. Not mine, but ours.

Be filled with the Spirit, submitting yourselves to one another.

ESV changes Genesis 3:16 – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

ESV changes Genesis 3:16  – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

One word in Genesis 3:16 has caused centuries of controversy. Why? Because this one word affects half the world’s population, the women. What is that word? teshuqa What does it mean? Well, let me introduce you to the evolution of teshuqa  from “turning” to “desire,” and now in the unchangeable ESV to “contrary to.”

A brief history of teshuqa

The following is a summary from Katharine Bushnell’s book God’s Word to Women.

Below is Genesis 3:16 in its natural beauty, in Hebrew. It is in this original form that you find the word teshuqa

 אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבֹונֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב

תֵּֽלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ ס

Below it is in the form as Jesus read it. This is from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). The seventy two Jewish scholars, whose goal was to put their ancient Scriptures into a language that the common (literate) person could read, translated teshuqa to ἀποστροφή in Greek. To a Greek reader, teshuqa is defined as “turning (BDAG 100).”

καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει

For the next few centuries, the notable translations (Syriac version from the first century, Samaritan version, Old Latin version, various Coptic versions) all translated teshuqa in Genesis 3:16 with the same meaning as the Septuagint: “turning.” There were various other Greek translations that we have bits and pieces of. Most follow the Septuagint and render teshuqa as “turning” or some cognate. Notably, one of these Greek translations pulls in the idea of alliance to teshuqaThe Arabic version even concurs.

The first notable departure for teshuqa is found in Jerome’s translation to Latin in the late fourth century. Below is Genesis 3:16 in the Latin Vulgate.

mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui

Jerome pulls rabbinical interpretation into the mix by rendering teshuqa  as “under the power of.” This is such a departure, Katharine Bushnell speculates Jerome picked up this idea from the Jewish Talmud’s Ten curses of Eve while studying in Palestine (now-Israel).  This rabbinic Midrash blames Eve for tempting Adam and expounds upon God’s curse of all women as the result. It is Jerome’s Latin Vulgate that we get the first definition of teshuqa with hints of desire or lust. Or, as Bushnell words so bluntly:

Jerome plainly shows he does not know what teshuqa means, but since the latter part of the phrase refers to the man’s part,—”he will rule over thee,”—he concludes that the beginning of the passage must refer to woman’s position, and renders, “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” –Katharine Bushnell 

Fast forward to English translator, John Wycliffe, in the 14th century. Wycliffe did not go back to the Hebrew to make his translation, he used Jerome’s Latin. Hence, it is evident his version of Genesis 3:16 completely misses the original meaning of teshuqa, but relies heavily on Jerome’s mis-translation.

Also God said to the woman, I shall multiply thy wretchednesses and thy conceivings; in sorrow thou shalt bear thy children; and thou shalt be under (the) power of thine husband, and he shall be lord of thee.

Drawing heavily on Jewish midrash on Genesis, which draws all sorts of conclusions surrounding a woman’s urge, lust or desire for men, Pagnino (an Italian Dominican monk in mid-16th century) translates teshuqa  as “lust.”  Every English version thereafter repeats this definition of teshuqa  as lust or desire. On the cusp of the 17th century, the Geneva Bible cements teshuqa as modern translators have adopted.

In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

From “Desire” to “Contrary to”

Recently, the ESV translators have written their version of teshuqa in stone and declared they will never change it.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

How did they get “contrary to” from “desire?” And what about its original meaning of “turning?” We’ve come a long way from the definition Jesus used!

My guess is that the translators are confusing Genesis 3:16 as God’s prescription for women for God’s description of what would occur to women after the fall. So what the ESV translators have given us is a their interpretive understanding of what God is talking about in Genesis 3:16, instead of what  teshuqa actually means. Naturally, this must happen in all translation because language doesn’t literally equate word for word and make sense. The ESV has prided itself on adherence to the original language, even at expense of a natural English reading, but it has failed miserably in Genesis 3:16.

Conclusion

My hope is that this brief summary of teshuqa ‘s  evolution will caution you to accept the new definition. Another article will have to be written on why ESV’s new definition is dangerous. Another day.

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:23 says,

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Context

This verse is the beginning of a descriptive metaphor Paul employs to describe Jesus Christ’s relationship with his body, the church. It is foundational to understanding the relationship a husband and wife are to enjoy.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Much of the controversy in this verse spills into the following verses, so I will condense a few of those into three main points for this post.

  1. What does head (kephale) mean? The word head can be literal, as in that thing on top of your neck, or it can be a metaphor for something. Paul is using head metaphorically in this verse. Complementarians believe it means leader or authority, as in head of state. Egalitarians believe it means either source, as in the head of a river; or a symbol of the whole body, as in “counting the heads of cattle.”
  2. Is the husband the head of the marriage in today’s culture? Or was Paul using a Roman-Ephesian phenomenon to illustrate an eternal truth about Christ and the church? Complementarians believe Paul’s teaching on marriage is God’s eternal truth, and culture should not play a part in the interpretation of this verse. Egals believe understanding ancient Roman marriage unlocks the truth of what Paul is teaching about the relationship between Jesus and His body.
  3. How should we interpret the analogy of Jesus and the church to husbands and their wives? Complementarians believe Jesus leads his church and as Savior, he displays loving authority over all aspects of the church. Hence, husbands should exhibit loving leadership of their wives. Egalitarians believe Jesus originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work, he gave life to his body. Likewise, Roman husbands were the source of life for their wives. Comparatively, they should then treat their wives as Jesus treats his body.

Complementarian Interpretation

All complementarians agree that head metaphorically means leader. Their main argument for this is found in verse 22: wives [submit] to your own husbands. (See my explanation of that verse, here.) Because comps define submission as requiring some authority to submit to, they find that authority in the word head in verse 23. Ephesians 1:22 also uses the word head in conjunction with submission.

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

Using these two verses together, comps maintain that submission, or being under, requires a leader to be over. A major goal for complementarian marriages is for the husbands to behave as a leader. As a member of the church, men are asked to submit to each other, but since the husband’s role is to “play” Christ in the marriage, men – as husbands- have a different script to follow. Their job isn’t submission, but leadership. Husbands are to lead their wives like Jesus leads the church.

Leadership encompasses a right of privilege, authority to rule, and responsibility for outcome. Comps believe that the husband is not only responsible for his wife, but a good husband must keep his whole house in subjection (1 Tim 2:11-13).  It is the husband’s responsibility to ensure his family honors the Lord and is properly cared for. Comps impress the importance of the husband’s stepping up into their role of being their family’s spiritual leader. The husband, not the wife, should instigate church attendance, prayer and devotions. The husband will be held accountable for how he leads his house.

Since comps believe Christ’s authority in the home is centered on the husband, a husband should lead like Christ. As Jesus leads the church for the body’s good, honor and glory; a husband’s headship is exercised for the wife’s good, her honor, and her glory. His leadership is one of love. Comps often refer to this as “servant leadership” or “loving leadership.”

“Paul tells us how to control our wives when he says to ‘love them.’ Love them. That is how you control a woman. You must love her. She is built that way. When she is fully loved, she is fully under control. Love her.”  Jay Adams, Christian Living in the Home. Page 101.

Complementarians believe the husband’s role is harder than the wife’s role, because husbands are called to reflect Christ’s role as Savior. Their role-model was perfect!  Even though it is an impossible job, the husband must actively lead because he represents Jesus’ relationship to the church. When he fails to lead his wife and family, he damages the name of Jesus.

All complementarians agree that God gave husbands (men) and wives (women) distinct roles. Comps believe these roles are rooted in God’s creation of gender, and are an eternal “script” that men and women are called to play. Because Paul’s writing was inspired by God, it vitally important we hold to its teachings. Many complementarians will point to the history of male authority throughout the Old Testament and church history as evidence of God’s plan for men to lead. Complementarians, though they admit that studying  culture enhances our understanding of this text, do not believe it should influence our interpretation of gender roles.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Egalitarians all agree that the metaphorical meaning of  head  is not always leader. In this context, its meaning is either source (head of a river) or a singular symbol for the whole body (heads of cattle). Egalitarians take the cue from they way Paul uses head in the previous chapter.

…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph 4:15-16.

Egalitarians understand Eph 5:23 in a similar fashion. The significance of the husband being the head of his wife is that they are joined together. It would be absurd to have a head that holds itself separate from the body. They are one. The husband and wife are both made from the same stuff. There is no fundamental difference between the two genders both made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ (Gen 1:26, Gal 3:3). Just as Christ, as the source of salvation and the First of many, gives the church fully of his inheritance and righteousness; so a Roman husband, as the source of income, property, sustenance and legitimacy in Roman culture, is to join 100% of those goods with his wife. Love is the connecting agent.

Egals believe a proper understanding of this passage cannot be divorced from the original culture. That the husband is the head of the wife was a fact in Roman society. Whichever meaning is chosen for head – leader, source or singular symbol – a case could be made that meaning existed in Roman law.  Women were the property of men. No one thought about equality or the absurdity of human property. The shocker for the Ephesian husbands was not that they were the “heads,”  but that they were to love.  Christians husbands are a head AS Christ is a head. The following verses describe how Christ heads the church (love). Egalitarians find no hint of authority or leadership in this context.

Egalitarians believe Jesus, as Savior, originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work as head, he gave life to his body. Christ saves the church to share the privilege of heaven with those he loves. He transforms the church as a gift of eternal life. Everything Jesus enjoys, he makes available to his body. It is through the head, the body is equipped for true life.   The responsibility of a head is to share privilege and life with the body. Those with the elevated position bring up those in the subjected role to a place of equilibrium by virtue of joining together in unity. And ultimately that is the heart of Paul’s message and Egalitarian marriage.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Eph 5:31)

Further Reading:

An Exhaustive Study on the Meaning of “Head:” Are Women Really Free To Function Freely? by Wade Burleson quoting Lauren Fasullo

Household: Household Code in Ephesians (Part 3) by Michael W. Kruse

Christ as husband is about love not leadership by Retha

Ephesians 5:23

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
For the husband is the head of the wife Head means chief or leader. The husband is responsible for his wife. His goal is to behave as a loving leader. Head means origin or source. A Roman husband was the key to life for his wife  in that ancient culture. This was a fact, not a goal.
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of authority and leadership. Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of pre-eminence. He is the first of many.
of which he is the Savior. Jesus earned the right to lead his church by His death and resurrection. Jesus’ role as savior is to transform us into His image.