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8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 Likewise, 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– I Timothy 2:8-15
Paul’s address to early Christian women is a bit different, though it is motivated by the same christology of powerlessness that characterized his instructions to men. Nevertheless, I believe Paul’s instructions are different not so that “gender roles” may be established or so that so-called “G-d’s design” can be made typical; but because Paul finds that Christian women are the newly liberated ones of whom Christ had/s set free from the patriarchy common to not only first century Near Eastern (and Greek) culture, but typical in many walks of traditional Judaism. Therefore, Timothy calls Christian women to do, in principle, as the prophets of the Old Testament call for time and time again– that they would remember their exodus. And so, Paul’s call to Christian women is that they would remember they were once the lowly objects of the caesars and pharaohs who ruled a male dominated cult but were set free from its power by G-d in Jesus Christ who dismantled the theological and social need for such things through the declaration of Christ’s Gospel of powerlessness. And so, Paul’s call is that they would act believing this to be true and would allow this truth to affect their actions by how they choose to worship and pray as a congregation in remembrance of Christ and the significance if his life to their life together as the Christian colony.
Therefore, Paul’s instructions to these newly liberated Christian women are given in caution that they ought not become a new caesar in their freedom, but that they would enter G-d’s grace and, therefore, be powerless alongside their male brothers by living in remembrance of their liberator and savior, Jesus Christ, who rendered the coercive, violent, cultic, self-justified political powers of the world insignificant through his example.
Verse nine starts with the adverb “likewise” to tie in Timothy’s previous command directed to men that they should seek the rescue of G-d in powerless ways. This then begs the question: Could we imagine that these recently emancipated Christian women are in the midst of learning to substantiate their freedom in Christ at the time Paul wrote to the Timothian community? I believe this is why Paul’s instructions are more specific; because Christian women– who have been the lowly and the “least”– are learning to express their freedom in Christwell through learning the disciplines of Christian worship and prayer and how this manifests in how they carry out relations to their fellow brothers in Christ. They were set free to do as they were given– to set others free; to revolt against the political cycle of the world (“domination and revolution”), that perpetuates the cycle of human lowliness, through how they choose to orient themselves toward G-d and, thus, unto each other in expression of their communal relations and public worship.
And so, Paul proclaims that it is right for women to not bear the fruit of yet another zealot political revolutionary by guarding how they are spiritually disciplining themselves in community. Therefore, Paul’s instructions are given with the hope that they will eliminate their lust for this type of powerfulness the heavily male leadership of the Timothian communities believed characterized “the world.” And so, Paul gives some suggestions for how women might consider disciplining themselves in the Spirit of this christological emancipation women were coming to be formed by. This brings us to believe that his instructions are not universal or permanent orders but are markedly contextual to the community Paul wrote to. For it is likely that in their new freedom, these newly emancipated women of G-d needed to humble themselves, listen for a time, and seek the Spirit by which they may substantiate a faithful form of Christ’s commitment to powerlessness and grace in their community.
And so, Timothy gives the instruction that women should dress simply– that is, without excess or as to call excess attention to themselves. This is so that they may not only be powerless and selfless in worship, but powerless and selfless in both presence and character. This is certainly not to squelch the dignity of women or to suggest any notion of “modesty;” but to empower them with a presence of non-coerciveness and grace that worships Christ and his Gospel. Similarly, this is also as not to display excess to those who have no excess, as to listen to those who are not heard, and to be silent before G-d’s Word of which they believed is only heard in silence, simplicity, and fasting. And so, as they are empowered by their silence before the Lord, they will surely be silent before each other as both men and women come to find the rhythms of grace and powerlessness practiced in mutual submission and service. Therefore, the call for women to be silent, simple, and submissive is not so that she may serve any notion of patriarchy (never!)– but so that she may be discipline herself by the peculiar claims of the Gospel. Paul’s wish is not to take from her dignity or to set men above her. Not at all! It is so women may seek a spiritual character that gives dignity to all of whom enter the non-coercive, gracious presence of our sisters in Christ! She is not secondary in the realm of public worship. Not at all! But a profound model of godliness in the making. Therefore, in the hope of her powerlessness being realized, it will eventually demand the submission of Christian men who forget their confession of Christ and his powerlessness.
That being said:
How many Christian men who lead in Christian congregations have forgotten their Christ, his powerlessness, grace, and mercy and, thus, continue to perpetuate an idolatrous leadership model that is quite simply a denial of who Christ is? In the wake of this epidemic male idolatry, I write to these congregations:
I want the women to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. Likewise, I also want the men to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, watches, or expensive suits, but with good deeds, appropriate for men who profess to worship G-d in Jesus Christ. Your men should learn in quietness and full submission for now. I do not permit a man to teach or to assume authority over a woman at this time. He must be quiet until further notice. This is even though Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was the one not deceived. Even though it was Eve who was deceived and became the sinner, your men live as if they do not remember their mother by silencing her struggle to repent of her sin. Nevertheless, men will be saved through childbearing alongside their mothers in Christ if they continue in faith, love, holiness, powerlessness, and remembrance of Christ who set us free from the sort of power you exercise over your sisters. And so, let this period of instruction serve as a reminder.
(Stay tuned for part 3!)