I grew up in a conservative baptist church. I’m so thankful for my upbringing and everything I learned while growing up but the more I grow, especially in the last year and a half, the more I find that there’s so much more than I ever knew. God is so much bigger than I thought, so much more loving, and there’s so much more power to access and gifts that God wants to give me!
So I keep learning and sometimes, I find myself faced with a question that goes like this:
I was taught suchANDsuch when I grew up and there are verses to back it up.
I see/hear/experience suchANDsuch now that contradicts what I learned growing up but that also has verses to back it up.
I threw some questions out to my bestie at Brave Blessed and Beautiful and she told me to dig deeper and consider the historical context of the time, and the original language it was written in. (She also said she’d love to talk about it but this was through a message.)
So I did. For the last few days, I have prayed for wisdom and poured over everything I could find surrounding the following passage from 1 Timothy.
9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.1 Timothy 2:9 – 15
It seems clear in these verses that women should not teach men or hold positions of authority over men. Amiright? And that’s what I was always taught. There’s also just so much to unpack in these few verses. Are we saying women cannot wear gold and pearls, as well? Because that part wasn’t taught in church. Why is Paul (who wrote the letter) talking about Adam and Eve all of a sudden? Like where did that come from? And a woman will be saved through childbirth? Um, aren’t we all saved through Jesus Christ?
So apparently I needed to look more into this and not just the part about women not having authority over men.
Also, there are so many accounts in the bible of God giving women the authority to teach, preach, be missionaries, and work in ministry. In the Old Testament, there were women prophets! A woman JUDGE! Throughout the bible, we clearly see God using women to reach others. So why here, now, is Paul telling women not to?
It comes down to the historical context, the culture at that time, the city they lived in, and the Greek word for authority. Are you ready? It’s about to get SO interesting!! Or is that just me?!
Paul (the author) wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to Timothy as he was leading the church in Ephesus.
At this time, Ephesus was an epicenter of the ancient world and it centered around the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Artemis was extremely important and central to that culture at that time. The Christians in the church of Ephesus, who Timothy was leading, would have grown up with the goddess Artemis at the center of their lives, up until they met Jesus.
Artemis had many women priestesses, mostly virgins, and they had dominating power in their religion. The women in Ephesus, who served Artemis, had privileges and honor, and respect like no other women at that time.
Artemis was the goddess of many things, some being hunting and fertility, and childbirth. Women at that time would worship Artemis and want to be like her and pledge their allegiance to her because to be a mother and have children, was the best route for their life. Childbirth was a leading cause of death for women, and they believed that Artemis was able to keep them safe through childbirth. Of course, if you crossed Artemis, you would die in childbirth.
Artemis and her priestess also believed in female superiority and feminist genealogy, that women were more important than men, or that men came from women.
To show their respect for Artemis, women would dress in gold, and pearls, and show off their wealth. They dressed to imitate and impress Artemis. They would do their hair up in the hairstyle of Artemis and her priestesses.
So Paul says, “9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
Paul was letting women know they didn’t have to dress up to impress anyone. They no longer needed to wear jewelry and do their hair like Artemis. It’s more important to dress and live in a way to honor the one true God and turn away from the way they were taught to dress to impress Artemis. Dress for God, not the goddess of the time.
How does this apply to us? We don’t need to dress to impress anyone either! We should dress in a way and live a life that honors God!
Then Paul goes on to say, “11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Women at that time were used to leading in religious experiences. The men may have even been used to it. What’s most interesting here, though is the Greek word for authority. Everywhere else in the New Testament the Greek word for authority is exousia meaning lawful or of moral influence, governmental authority, the power to make decisions.
BUT, in this passage, the Greek word is authentein and it is the ONLY time it is used in the New Testament. The meanings of authetein are the originator of, domineering, usurping authority, and abuse of authority, often associated with aggression and violence.
The women were behaving in the church the way they saw/learned/or did behave in allegiance with Artemis. It’s not that women can not teach men or hold positions of authority (exousia) but it’s that Paul was saying women should not usurp the authority of men, women should not be abusive or domineering (authentein) towards the men of the church.
This makes sense! God creates order and harmony. God never intended for women to dominate men nor for men to dominate women for that matter. His beautiful plan is perfect balance through love.
As far as women being the originator of men, Paul addresses that too, by saying that “13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”
So that’s where that came from! Paul was addressing the cultural issues of a church living in a city that worshipped the goddess Artemis and knew only the ways of Artemis! To us today, it doesn’t seem to make sense. But to the church at that time, this would have made perfect sense to them! It was culturally relevant!
Finally, because the women were so scared of dying in childbirth and looked to Artemis to save them from that, Paul also comforts the women and gives them hope by saying “15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.”
He was letting women know they did not/should not trust in Artemis for their safety in childbirth, that God is the one who will save them; to stop following and putting faith in Artemis and instead put their faith in the one true God.
Paul wasn’t saying that women get their eternal salvation through childbirth. He was saying that God would keep them safe through childbirth. Again, culturally relevant to the church and women of Ephesus!
One of the questions I had while doing this research was that if so much of this is so culturally specific to Ephesus at the time that Paul wrote this letter, why is it included in the bible for us today? I know God’s word is inspired, so does this still speak to us in 2022?
I think, Yes. The principles are still so relevant today!
– In 2022, we only need to look around while out and about to realize that we still need to dress modestly and in a way that honors God. To live a life that gives honor to God rather than any other things we may be worshipping or yearning after – Magazines, models, actors/actresses, “the ideal body,” the perfect size, the just-right number on the scale. None of that matters. We live and dress and honor our bodies for Jesus!
– In a culture that currently places so much attention on gender and how confusing everything is right now… it’s still so relevant to understand God’s perfect plan of balance and unity and love and that no one should be domineering over another, no one should be usurping authority when authority ultimately belongs to God, there should be no authentein authority that uses abuse, violence, or evil intentions to control others.
– When it comes to the verse about Adam and Eve, I think we can be reminded that God has and always has had, from the very beginning, a perfect plan that He is working out for us on Earth.
– And God will save women in childbirth – God is still in the business of saving and healing people from all kinds of disease and illness and injury!
Seven verses in the New Testament… so much to learn and unpack! It’s SO interesting! I’m so thankful for a God who WANTS to help us understand Him better!
Thank you, Jesus, for leading me to the right resources to learn and understand the context of these verses. Thank you that they are still relevant today. Thank you that you love women! Thank you for your love for me! Thank you for answering the questions we have. Thank you for being willing to hear us, listen, and respond. Thank you! In Jesus name, Amen.