Posted on November 7th, 2010
Archived in Preaching the Pronouns
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You in Him
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Here’s some more of my questions –
Regarding 1 Timothy 2:12 – I know people who say that Paul is writing to address a particular issue with Timothy’s church in Ephesus, namely that of unruly women who are teaching false doctrines. How much do we need to know about the specific 1st century situation to be able to understand what Paul is saying? (or any of the Bible for that matter)
In 1 Corinthians 11, which you mentioned briefly, Paul seems to encourage prayer and prophecy by women. A few questions from that –
What is prophecy in this context?
Why does Paul encourage speaking here and silence in 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14?
We often have women lead prayer in church – why don’t they cover their heads?
Last one is from 1 Corinthians 14 – which I know you didn’t talk about but i’ll ask anyway
verses 33-35 again command women to silence. Here it seems to even discourage speaking when it comes to learning (ie asking questions) telling women if they have questions they should ask their husbands at home. Any clues about what to do with this verse? Especially for those who don’t have a husband at home to ask, or those whose husbands are non-believers?
Thanks Kate, all good questions. I’ll try and address them in turn.
How much do we need to know about the specific cultural situation? I’m of a mind that we have everything in the Scriptures themselves that we need to know. In terms of the specific passage you mention, any suggestion of a particular conflict in Ephesus (where Timothy is) isn’t actually an argument based on our knowledge of their specific culture, rather it’s speculation.
Where there’s a local issue, the context usually makes it clear. So, for example, see all the location specific details that Paul provides in 1Corinthians when necessary. When writing to Timothy, however, he just doesn’t make those comments. Let’s allow the text itself to tell us when there’s a culture or location-specific matter.
There’s wide debate about what “prophecy” is in the New Testament. It doesn’t appear to be exactly the same as Old Testament prophecy, but beyond that I wouldn’t be pushed too hard. It seems to be distinguished from preaching. It’s certainly something that women are rightly doing (1Cor. 11:5). Perhaps it is the simple sharing of Christian testimony? It might even be a form of the “word of knowledge” (which seems plausible, given what will be said in chapter 14 – see below). This is, therefore, something quite distinct to the authoritative gospel preaching that Paul seems to be referring to in 1Tim 2.
As for covering heads, it seems to me that Paul is both making application on the general principle that men and women should present themselves appropriate to their gender and respective “headship”. There is some argumentation about who is the “glory” of who and so on that I don’t pretend to have properly worked through but the general principle seems to me to be sound. It is, however, more than simply what is appropriate in a particular culture since Paul adds,
1 Corinthians 11:14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
So there seems to be something basic about hair length (which is what I think he means by “covering”) that we’ve got to get right, but beyond that surely the more important question is “what can we do in our own culture to not present ourselves in a way that denies our gender and respective roles?”
Finally 1Cor. 14 presents a real challenge. It is clearly not a ban on all speaking by women, since in chapter 11 they are obviously prophesying and praying. Perhaps the previous use of “silent” is instructive…
1 Corinthians 14:28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
The context is the giving and interpretation of tongues and prophecy, as continuing to read makes clear…
1 Corinthians 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.
when we get to Paul’s “harsh” instruction it is in this context,
1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.
The “order” that Paul refers to, if the train of thought is continuing (and I believe it is), is that of correct speaking of tongues/prophecy and its interpretation. Thus the “speaking” is the specific weighing and interpretation of prophecy/tongues which, if I understand it correctly, is an authoritative act of a different nature. It is in this respect that the women should be silent.
Now, I freely admit that this is certainly not watertight but it seems the best fit to me.
One other thing. “Single” women as we understand them (ie relatively independent of their fathers) is a concept that the Bible writers were not familiar with. Thus I think we have to work harder at defining what the specific application is in that respect. I’m inclined to suggest with 1Cor 14 that since the issue is the authoritative discernment of men in the congregation (and the elders particularly) that the issue is moot. Paul might have written “go and ask your fathers” but he might equally well write to us “go and ask those men under whose authority you sit”. But at this point I really am beginning to speculate. In these things we need to return to the basic principles and see if we can, in good conscience, apply them.
Keen to hear others’ thoughts and questions.
I think you should consider these 2 articles before writing off the natural (and historic) interpretation of 1Cor14:
and this from NTRF:
Thanks for the links Henry. I think it’s a little presumptive to say that I’m “writing off” the “natural” interpretation of 1Cor14. Nevertheless, the links are stimulating and challenging reading. I don’t think I’ve read a better presentation of what you call the “natural” reading.
no hard feelings, but was I really being presumptive when you had said this:
‘Finally 1Cor. 14 presents a real challenge. It is clearly not a ban on all speaking by women, since in chapter 11 they are obviously prophesying and praying.’
To me that seemed like you passed straight over the natural interpretation in one sentence as though it was not even an option. I apologise if that was not what you meant by those words, perhaps ‘writing off’ is too strong – perhaps you were always open to other insight but at the time just genuinely thought that 1Cor11:5 was conclusive on the matter?
Anyway, many thanks for the interaction,
All the best.
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