1 Timothy 2 – Prayer, Politics, and Feminism

1 Timothy 2 Bible with Theo Orange Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateTheo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage1 Timothy 2

Oh no.

Today’s chapter is a Controversy Box, and I’m going to have to open it. Not all of what Paul says to Timothy here will prove unpalatable or hard to swallow, of course. Christians will readily accede to his theology on Christ as Mediator, and even the generally religious or spiritual may see some interest or value in it; only an adamant antitheist would take serious issue with it, and while I try to accommodate the skeptics even as I accommodate my own inner skeptic, I don’t expect there are many religion-haters reading Chocolate Book. Paul’s views on political authorities here might be a little more divisive, but even a politically anti-authoritarian liberal-leaning Christian could see the value in praying for their native nation’s leaders, and for peace for all men. Moreover, Paul’s teachings on modesty in this chapter may even appeal to the feminist who’s willing to look closely at what he actually says. But then he gets into female submissiveness, and man, I am not looking forward to cracking open that can of worms.

So let’s tackle the easy stuff first.

Paul starts by prescribing an attitude of civic-minded prayer. He tells Timothy: “I urge that entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1-2). A tranquil and quiet life? Sign me up for that. And don’t get me wrong; Paul made waves in the Roman Empire. He got flogged and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, lived through shipwrecks, and had to escape the Jewish leaders at Damascus via a basket lowered on ropes (Acts 9:23-25). His opposition to idols disrupted a local economy and started a riot (Acts 19:23-41)! But Paul didn’t seek adventure for its own sake, and based on what I’ve seen of him, I think he sought to advance the gospel by amicable means wherever possible, only causing friction where no other way presented itself. He adds, “This [offering of prayer] is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3-4). Generally, the gospel thrives on civic peace, and we can do a lot to advance it simply by asking God for the well-being of our neighbors and leaders.

Next, Paul segues into an interesting bit of Christology. He states: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (5-6). It struck me that he calls Christ not God, but man and mediator, and ostensibly presents him as a distinct person from the one God. But Paul’s theology does imply Christ’s divinity, even if it doesn’t state it explicitly. Jesus couldn’t give himself as an adequate ransom for all if he were not God; he could only satisfy the price for all humanity’s sins against an infinitely good God if he himself were infinite, if he were God himself. If he were merely a man, he would be an imperfect mediator. We need God and man in one person. We need Jesus Christ.

And now we get into Paul’s words about women. Roll up your sleeves, kids; if we’re gonna unpack this stuff, we’re gonna have to get our hands dirty.

First of all, Paul advocates modest dress for women. He writes: “I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments” (9). But notice that modesty, in Paul’s book, is not about how much skin is being shown. It’s about gold, pearls, overly elaborate hairstyles, expensive clothing. Paul’s not pushing for the kind of “modesty” that treats men as slaves of their lusts and their eyeballs, as if women are responsible for keeping men’s sexual desires in check. He’s not blaming women’s clothing for men’s failure to control themselves, and he’s not putting an unfair burden on women by turning wardrobe selection into a sexual behavior. No, he’s talking about ostentatious displays of wealth!

Paul is against women flaunting their opulent wardrobes. Making a lifestyle out of showing off your fancy dresses and flashing your bling is divisive, wasteful, and aims to elevate you at the expense of less wealthy believers. I can’t underscore it enough: this isn’t a sex thing, or a matter of how much women are covering up. Paul isn’t talking about bikinis here, unless they’re rhinestone-studded. Dial it back, wealthy women. Show a little financial modesty and put your wealth to work for the body of Christ, not your wardrobe.

And now we get to the tough stuff. Paul once again espouses a view of submissiveness for women. And here’s what he has to say:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (11-15)

I’ve argued elsewhere that Paul’s views on women and teaching are cultural, a response to the dearth of formal education for women in the ancient world, and that I don’t think Paul would object to well-informed women teaching and preaching today, provided they’d been sufficiently educated and the preaching took place in an orderly manner without disruptions and interruptions. But what am I supposed to do with this passage? Paul bases his claim on Adam’s chronological priority to Eve, her status as his helper as established in Genesis, and her first violation of God’s single commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Women will be preserved through the bearing of children?” What on earth does he mean by that?

I have no idea what to make of this passage. I’d love to adduce an argument in support of it that’s to the liking of the feminists, if I can, but holy crud, people. That’s a tall order. And frankly, if Paul’s maintaining a fundamental inequality between men and women before God? I ain’t ready to swallow that pill right now.

So pardon me while I repack the contents of this Controversy Box and put it back on the shelf. For all I know, tomorrow’s passage may have a brand-new Controversy Box for us, and I gotta get my work space ready.

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