Cherry-Picking & Breadcrumbs: Two Ways of Reading 1 Timothy, Part 2

HAVE WE LOST OUR WAY?

In “Cherry-Picking & Breadcrumbs, Part 1,” available here, I claimed that using a cherry-picking methodology to study through the letters of Timothy and Titus – misidentified as church-manuals centuries ago – in order to solve the women-in-leadership issues in the church is undoubtedly one of the reasons we are unable to arrive at consensus as to how to apply these verses in the body of Christ today.

The ripest text for the picking, of course, is that of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Decades of cherry-picking through these epistles have left many leaders within the Restoration Movement – Christian Churches/Churches of Christ – and other denominational churches, guilty of the very thing Paul warned Timothy to guard against in Ephesus. I’ll explain my views of how later.

TO TEACH OR NOT TO TEACH?

Last fall a church invited me to share with their staff, elders and deacons, and their wives. “We’re reconsidering women’s roles in the local church and will decide what that means after further study on the subject. Would you be willing to share your research on 1 Timothy with us?”

Elated, I envisioned the team poring through numerous scholarly works – pro and con – digging deeper into the Biblical passages for direction and illumination.

I became wary though after learning they were studying only one book, “Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner. With the abundance of resources available on this topic why settle for one that maintained traditional views if the goal was to reconsider the matter?

Had the leaders already made up their minds? If so, what would be the point of our meeting together? Was this simply another occasion to discredit a woman for venturing into a “sphere of activity for which by dint of her very creation she is not suited”?[1]

Trust me, this is treacherous territory for men to venture into and is especially so for a woman!

WHY THE SKIRMISH OVER TWO INFINITIVES?

It was during the weeks of frustrated preparation for this presentation that I discovered how the role of infinitives –  what I call the breadcrumbs in the text – led me to a better understanding of 1 Timothy. But before venturing into the discussion of the infinitives, let me explain how I got here.

In chapter 3 of the above mentioned book, “A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12,” author Köstenberger examines two infinitives – to teach (didaskein) and to usurp authority (authentein) – from 1 Tim 2:12.

Köstenberger made an ingenious move by arguing that both infinitives – didaskein, authentein – refer to two activities with positive connotations (pg. 159). According to this view, even though Paul has in mind two positive activities, the text teaches that Paul “disallow[s] these activities in the circumstance of women wishing to engage in them in the context of the local church” (Women in the Church, pg. 125).

Denny Burk, in chapter 6, “New and Old Departures in the Translation of Αύθεντεῖν in 1 Timothy 2:12, supports Köstenberger’s view stating, “Paul clearly conjoins two positive terms … Hence, it follows that αύθεντεῖν denotes the positive exercise of authority over men (not its abuse or wrongful assumption), and that is what Paul is prohibiting women from doing in the present passage” (Women in the Church, pg. 296).

These arguments stand in stark contrast to other scholars, (see footnotes on pg. 151) who contend Paul does have in mind a positive role of teaching on the part of a woman. In this more inclusive view, a woman’s teaching is to be controlled by the negative caveat in which the word authentein is taken pejoratively: she is not to teach in a way that usurps authority (a negative action) over men.

Thus, it is good that she teaches men – but it is not good if in teaching she teaches with a domineering, bossy attitude. In other words, when she teaches she must control her domineering behavior. This interpretation is precisely what Köstenberger’s and Burk’s work refutes.  

CAN WE FIND OUR WAY BACK HOME?

The inordinate amount of research in the last century on women’s roles in the church reveal we have reached an unresolvable stalemate. The arguments are dizzying and should be embarrassing to anyone committed to the truth of the Gospel message!

One view teaches Christian women have the freedom to serve as she sees the Holy Spirit guiding her. The other view restricts a Christian woman’s role to a domestic sphere far removed from teaching and preaching men in the local church. Both cannot be correct, can they?

I realized then and there that we have a problem. Have we lost our way by placing an undue burden upon two infinitives? How can two words – taken from one of the most contentious passages in the New Testament – be sufficient to put a woman in her place?

Have we perhaps, been duped like Eve to misinterpret God’s word? Could something else be at play here? I needed to know, and I hope you do too!

So, where might the other infinitive-breadcrumbs in the text lead us? Of the 40+ infinitives in 1 Timothy, twenty-six of them (including didaskein and authentein), are Present Active Infinitives (PA). Of the remaining infinitives, the break down is this: 7 Aorist Active, 2 Aorist Passive, 2 Present Passive, 1 each of Present Middle, Present Passive, Present Middle/Passive and Perfect Active.

WHY ALL THE FUSS OVER THE INFINITIVES?

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I will discuss each of the infinitives left by Paul in the text – examining one breadcrumb at a time – in order to help us find our way back to the purpose intended for every person living within the household of God.


[1] In 1957, Hendriksen wrote concerning 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, “Though these words … may sound a trifle unfriendly, in reality they are the very opposite. In fact, they are expressive of a feeling of tender sympathy and basic understanding. They mean: let a woman not enter a sphere of activity for which by dint of her very creation she is not suited. Let not a bird try to dwell under water. Let not a fish try to live on land. Let not a woman yearn to exercise authority over a man by lecturing him in public worship. For the sake both of herself and of the spiritual welfare of the church such unholy tampering with divine authority is forbidden.” See William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1957) 109.

One thought on “Cherry-Picking & Breadcrumbs: Two Ways of Reading 1 Timothy, Part 2

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  1. I’ve read Köstenberger’s argument that didaskein and authentein are both positive terms and I have never really understood it. If they are positive terms denoting positive activities, why is Paul prohibiting these activities? And why did early Latin and Syriac translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 translate authentein with far-from-positive words? (Rhetorical questions.)

    I read 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as being about problem behaviour in the Ephesian church which Paul addresses and provides corrections for.

    I’m looking forward to part 3.

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