I promised last week that
this morning we were going to look at one of the most difficult passages in 1
Timothy. For those that missed last Sunday, I introduced the first letter
of Timothy and noted in the process that there’s a near consensus among
mainline scholarship that though the letter purports to be from the apostle
Paul, that in fact it was not written by the apostle Paul, but rather reflects a
very common practice in ancient times of writing in the name of someone else to
honor that person. Think of it as a way of saying ‘this is what I think
that person would be saying to us today in our context’. Thus it’s not
surprising that we would find then a letter like this that claims to be written
by Paul and is included in our New Testament.
That process by the way, the
inclusion of such letters and all the books of the New Testament, took a couple
of centuries. And it was not without controversy. Marcion for
instance, was a very prominent church leader, a wealthy ship builder who was
active in the church. In about the middle of the second century he
published his own version of what he thought should be regarded as the
scriptures of the church. And that only had 1 gospel—the gospel of
Luke—excluded the others, and there were more than just the four by that time
that we know. Marcion only had 10 of Paul’s letters, we have 13 in
the New Testament. He specifically excluded the Pastoral Epistles – 1st
and 2nd Timothy, and Titus. Scholars do not know if he excluded those
three because he was opposed to them in some way, or if he excluded them just
because he didn’t know of them. Which is also one of the reasons
scholars think that these three letters were written later than the others.
Marcion, by the way, was declared a heretic later by the church for his
viewpoints. And his teaching was largely refuted then. Our bible
would obviously be much smaller today if his viewpoint had won out. Not
only did he exclude the other gospels and some of the other letters but he also
excluded the entire Hebrew scriptures. He felt that only Luke and those 10
letters of Paul were appropriate.
Well, last week I also
revealed one of the minor secrets of that process of editing and assembling our
New Testament. And if you’ll recall that little secret was that the
order of the letters was not done chronologically or alphabetically –
wouldn’t that have been wonderful?! Wouldn’t that make it so much
easier to find the books of the Bible if they were arranged alphabetically!
It was not done by importance – ‘we think this is the most important’.
There’s some argument that Matthew was placed first among the gospels, and
that Romans, the first of the letters of Paul was the most important. But
actually it was simply a matter of size – that was the order in which they
were assembled. The longest letter first then the shortest at the end.
This morning I want to reveal
another secret, much more significant in our interpretation of scripture and
which in particular turns the traditional interpretation of 1 Timothy on its
head. So let me then read the text for this morning, from the 2nd chapter:
desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands
without anger or argument. Also
that women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing
not with their hair braided or with gold curls or expensive clothes.
[should we take a check here, and see how you’re doing?
But with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for
God, let a woman learn in silence with full submission.
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man.
She is to keep silent [I think here’s where I preach to the choir!
For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived but the
woman was deceived and become a transgressor.
Yet she will be saved through child bearing provided they continue in
faith and love and holiness with modesty. [I noticed after I read this passage
in the first service someone immediately pulled out their Bible and said
“where was that?! I’m not
sure if they were surprised by it or they wanted to use it.
Look for yourself, I’m just reading it word for word as it appears J]
I began my sermon preparation
this week as I typically do, reading the passage several times, contemplating on
it, writing down some notes to myself and from the first reading what this says
to me, my questions. And then I pulled out one of my commentary’s, and
typically I go for the New Interpreters Bible, which is one of the newest
commentaries, one of the best, just to see what that person has to say.
And this is what I read: “Few if any texts are more painful to modern
sensitivities. The portrayal of women as effectively gagged in church,
forbidden to exercise authority over men and restricted to the role of
childbearing, modest dressers, and doers of good deeds is as about as remote
from the most 21st century evaluations of women’s roles in Western society as
one could imagine. What does one do with a text like this.”[i]
Such help I get from commentaries! Thank you very much! Indeed that
has been the question all week, as people – some knew because I announced it
last Sunday what I was going to preach on – and they were asking me “what
are you going to say about that?” And I think Francis Hyland summed it
up best in our spiritual formation group on Thursday morning after we read it
and she said “You’re going to preach on this?” Yeah, I am. For
two reasons. First, it’s a good opportunity to illustrate how we
approach scripture in our tradition. And secondly, it is precisely its
archaic view of the role of women that makes it relevant for today.
Let’s review what it says
on the proper role of men & women in the church. First of all, men
should pray without anger or argument. Now that’s an interesting notion
in and of itself. Think about the opposite of that, praying with anger and
argument. Typically the letters are written in response to specific
issues. There must have been some interesting prayer meetings going on in
that church where Timothy was. I can accept that. OK, men? No
Secondly, women: dress
modestly, perform good deeds, keep silent in church, no teaching of men or
exercising authority over men as God intended, and give birth to children.
Seems fair and balanced to me
J. Kind of like FOX news, right? What
happened to the great equality Paul was preaching in Galatians 3:28 – “there
shall be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”? And
not just Paul, either, pushing some radical agenda. Look at Romans 16 –
look at Romans 16, look at Romans 16! It’s there in your Bible, we
bought those new Bibles for a reason – page 925. This is the last
chapter of Romans (Paul of course didn’t write chapters, those were added
later). At the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he has a long
greeting. These are people he has met along the way. They evidently
have gone before him to Rome because Paul has not yet been there. And so
he sends this letter up ahead to greet these people, these good friends of his,
workers in the Lord and the like.
Now, what is significant
about this list is that there are 29 names (one or two are just relationships,
the mother of Ruth, etc). Ten of those 29 are women (we don’t recognize
always because we don’t know Greek names very well). Of those 10 women,
8 are specifically identified for something they have done – they are praised
for something they have done, good workers in the Lord, or something to that
effect. And only ˝ of the 19 men are also so praised. And note the
very first woman – the very first person—named in that text is who?
Phoebe, who is what? A deacon. Do you remember the older English
translations, what did it used to say? Deaconess is the way it used to be.
There’s no such word in Greek – deaconess. They were all deacons, but
it was our difficulty with this concept there could be women deacons that we put
that into the English. They’ve now taken that out, they’ve cleaned
that up in the modern translations. Phoebe is a deacon. And a deacon
has much more significance than the job descriptions we give to deacons in our
tradition. It’s more, if you’re familiar with the Methodist deacons,
or in some black churches – a deacon is a minister in training, in essence.
Then the second woman, Prisca,
or Priscilla is the more familiar form that we know from Acts, and Aquila,
probably her husband – a pair, who worked along side Paul, with Paul, not
underneath him but with him, side by side. Mary, a good worker in the
lord. And then the fourth and most significant of the women in this list.
In verse 7, Junia.
Now, you will note there is a
little footnote after Junia. See the little “i” in your text? If
you scan down to the bottom of the page, it reveals “or Junias”. Added
an “s” to the name – what is the significance of that “s”? Those
of you who know Latin know that it makes it a male name. “S” makes it
a male name. It’s only in the last 20 years that Junia has appeared in
the text. It used to be in the older English translations Junias appeared
in the text and Junia was in the footnote. You’ll also note in that
footnote it says “some ancient authorities say Julia”, obviously a female
name. Usually when there is a footnote like that it usually means that
there are a variety of manuscripts and there’s a difference in those.
So I looked – I pulled out my Greek manuscript that lists all variations and
here’s the secret I’m going to reveal: there is no manuscript where
the male form appears. How did this happen? Where did the “s”
In fact, when I took Greek,
the Greek lexicon of the New Testament, which is what you have to have if
you’re going to study Greek in preparation for the ministry. I spent a
semester studying Greek not so that I could read the New Testament, it was so I
could read this dictionary. Just so I could look up words – that’s
about all you accomplish in a semester of studying Greek. And I looked up
Junias there, and what did I find? It says that this form Junias is found
nowhere else. Not only nowhere else in the Bible, it is found nowhere else
in ancient Greek literature. What the dictionary does not say, and this is
the definitive dictionary on the Greek New Testament, is that there are 250
references to Junia, the female form. Worse, it goes on to say that the
possibility from a purely lexical point of view that this is a women’s name is
probably ruled out by the context. What is that context? Go and read
the verse – what does it say? Not only that they were in prison, keep
going, they’re relatives – just means they’re people of the faith, they
are apostles. Andronicus and Junia (probably again a husband and wife) are
apostles. Did you know there was a female apostle?! I just learned
this last year, it happened when I was in Turkey with Dominic Crossan.
There was a female apostle named in our New Testament and it has been kept a
Hmm, is right. Why?
Because it was inconceivable to the editors of our Bible that there could be a
woman apostle – the “s” was added to the name. Oh, it must have been
a mistake. In Paul’s scheme, the highest office in the church is
apostleship. And not only is Junia and her husband Andronicus apostles
they are prominent apostles, Paul says. Again, I ask: what happened
to the equality not only preached by Paul but put into practice by the early
Christian community? I’ll tell you what happened – the normalcy of
civilization happened. The success of the early church, especially among
women of means – women, who could dress, you know, the role – who could wear
gold in their hair and so on and so forth. Women who were prohibited from
exercising any authority over men in that male dominated, patronage society.
The success of the church among such women is evident here in this text, and it
was precisely that success that was too much for its own good. Placing
women like Phoebe and Junia in leadership positions would and did get noticed by
that Roman society.
Recall then from your history
of the early church, the persecution of early Christianity as an illegal
religion. If the church was going to have any hope of being accepted in
society it would have to conform to the social norms. Again, recall from
last week that I said that scholars tend to think 1 Timothy was probably written
about 30 years after the death of Paul. Now think about the difference 30
years can make. Look back in time, it doesn’t seem like a long time
after 2000 years, but look back to 1974. Gas today: $2.10 a gallon.
In 1974 what was it? 35 or 40 cents a gallon. Today, you’ve got a
phone at home, you’ve got a cell phone in your pocket, women have one in their
purse, we buy one for the kids, you go to the store to get a cell phone and they
sell them by the six-pack. In 1974 the average family had 2 – you had
one upstairs and one downstairs, and that was it. Today John Kerry is
campaigning against the war, in 1974 John Kerry was. . . .oh, wait a second –
some things don’t change!
Well, 30 years after Paul
tells us that there are women deacons and apostles who served side by side with
the men, the author of 1 Timothy tells us that women should not only keep silent
they should not be in such positions, they should stick to their role as child
bearers. And don’t even get me stared on this, you know, the
transgression that Eve caused and all that – we all know that’s true, but we
men keep it silent
J. In short, the radical equality of the early church
community ran into the male dominated normalcy of civilization and civilization
won. The brief experiment of gender equality in the Christian community
was killed before it hardly began. And it has taken us nearly 1900 years
to give rebirth to this grand vision of a community of God where members of the
church are truly equal.
This pattern, to which 1
Timothy gives witness, of pushing the edge of what will be accepted by society
and then the church pulls back, has been the pattern of justice in the church
ever since. The same thing happened with slavery – slave ownership was
at first incompatible with Christian faith. Read again Paul’s letter to
Philemon – where he tells Philemon that you have to accept your slave as a
brother in the Lord. Can be a slave and be a brother in the Lord.
But that too was too much of a threat, you see. And so the church pulled
back. Until the 19th century when the underground railroad and the like
exposed the immorality of the institution of slavery and the normalcy of
civilization changed. This is what I call “changing the wind” in my
Pastoral column this week, if you’ve read that.
It happened again with
military service – for the first 3 centuries Christians were mostly pacifists,
until Constantine, emperor Constantine, began baptizing armies wholesale.
And Augustine developed the ‘just war theory’ to provide the theological
justification for Christian involvement in war. The church pulled back.
The civil rights movement, led by the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference pushing the edge of what would be
accepted by society. And the church pulled back. Read King’s
letter from the Birmingham jail and of his disappointment – not that the KKK
opposed him, but that moderate whites in the church opposed him.
Today, we are seeing it all
over again. Here’s where I get in trouble. Multnomah County
started it for us in Oregon. 3,000 couples got married, same-sex couples.
You know what, they didn’t start it. It was the Metropolitan Community
Church, 30 years ago, that started performing, blessing same–sex unions, in
the name of Christ. Then the United Church of Christ started doing it.
Then Quakers started doing it. Then the Portland First Christian Church
declared themselves open and affirming. Medford First Christian Church
performed a same-sex marriage and split the church in half. It was because
of these Christian communities pushing the envelope of what was acceptable in
society that allowed Multnomah County to do that, to make it legal.
Well then, how do we respond
– is it any surprise that the larger church is pulling back? We’ve
crossed the line, we’ve gone to far, it’s the exact same thing to which 1
Timothy gives witness to. You have to stay within the confines of the
normalcy of civilization. Now here’s the dilemma, people: we are
faced with this problem in every age. The issue changes, but it’s the
same problem. The dilemma is this: do we side with Paul, and this
radical inclusivity and equality or with 1 Timothy and the normalcy of
civilization. Or, can there be a third option? Represented by the
inclusion of both perspectives within the scriptural tradition? Can it be
that the church is that place that’s called to be the big tent, as they say.
Where we are called to live in a covenantal community together regardless of our
differences on this issue, or the war, or taxation or any other issue. And
this is my point – the inclusion of both Paul’s gender equality and 1
Timothy’s gender inequality in the New Testament says to us that we must find
a way to live in this tension of the ever expanding circle that pushes on the
outer limits of the normalcy of civilization and what is acceptable.
There are times I think when
we do need to pull back for the good of the church. And there are times
when we need to push forward for the good of society. I believe this is a
time for the latter. Which is why I am campaigning against constitutional
amendment 36 – the definition of marriage. Because I believe it writes
discrimination into our constitution from a particular religious perspective
that legalizes social injustice. But I do not characterize that as the
only Christian position. And I recognize that Christians can and do take
the opposite viewpoint based on their faith and their reading of scripture and I
Some may say, some have said,
that I’m a heretic. Doesn’t bother me. What bothers me, is when
we divide the church. When we split into our separate groups and we cease
to dialogue with one another over our differences and how we interpret our faith
in such difficult issues. You see, that is the true heresy. Should
the fact that we have different viewpoints from the perspective of our faith
mean that we should be any less strident in proclaiming what we believe and why?
Paul wasn’t. And neither was the author of 1 Timothy. And both are
there in our Bible. And even thought I take my stand with Paul I’m glad
Timothy is there to bear witness to the vision of the church that is larger than
my own and is constantly struggling with how inclusive God wants us to be.
How shall we then keep the
community together when we have strong disagreements? Maybe, maybe 1
Timothy’s advice to men should be one we all take to heart. Pray
together without anger, without argument. If we can do that, we can be the
community of God’s people giving witness to God’s vision for this time and
[i] James D. G.
Dunn, “The First and Second Letters to Timothy and The Letter to Titus.”
The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI. Abingdon: 2000. p. 802.