A Commentary by John Stott

1 Timothy 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).

Secondly, there are others who, while refusing (like the first group) to distinguish in Scripture between eternal truth and its cultural expression, then go to the opposite extreme. Far from enthroning both, they *dismiss* both. Instead of upgrading the cultural expression to the level of eternal truth, they downgrade the eternal truth to the level of its cultural expression, Instead of investing both with divine authority, authority is denied to both. Since God’s Word is clothed in such ancient cultural dress, they argue, although it may have spoken to people long ago, it is now completely out of date and irrelevant. Consequently, Paul’s entire instruction to Timothy about the men’s prayers, and about the women’s adornment and submission, must be jettisoned. There is virtually nothing worth salvaging, for nothing is ‘eternal’, everything is merely ‘cultural’. For example, A.T.Hanson has written: ‘Just as the first half of this chapter showed us the author at his best, so the second half seems to show him at his worst. Christians are under no obligation to accept his teaching on women.’ Similarly, although less stridently, William Barclay writes: ‘All things in this chapter are mere temporary regulations to meet a given situation.’

It is understandable that liberal commentators, who lack respect for the supreme authority of canonical Scripture, should feel able to be so dismissive. It is worrying, however, when conservative scholars argue somewhat similarly. To be sure, they do not affirm that the cultural conditioning of Scripture altogether undermines its contemporary authority, but they say that certain passages are so culture-specific that they do not apply to us, and we may safely ignore them.

Even Dr Gordon Fee, whose judicious commentary on the Pastoral Letters in general I warmly recommend, seems to me to fall into this trap. Drawing attention both to the importance of Ephesus as the centre of the cult of the Goddess Diana/Artemis and her foul rites, and to the success which false teachers were having among ‘weak-willed women’ (2 Tim.3:6; cf.1 Tim.5:6, 11), he adds that ‘within that context’ Paul’s instruction on women ‘can all be shown to make sense’. But Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 ‘is specially related to the problem in Ephesus. He obviously did not take this position about women in general.’[After writing this chapter, my attention was drawn to Dr. Fee’s book *Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics* (1991). and specially to chapter 4 which takes 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as a test case. He argues that, because of the *ad hoc*, historically particular character of Paul’s teaching here, he did not intend it ‘as a rule in all churches at all times’. Gordon Fee distinguishes, in effect, between different *categories* of New Testament teaching. Some of it is intended by its author to be of general, eternal and universal application, while other parts are meant only to be particular, transient and local. Then, once we know which is which, we must accept the former, but are free to reject the latter. In my view, the better and right way is to distinguish between two *levels* of New Testament teaching, one being the profound, fundamental word of God, and the other its surface cultural expression. Then the former must be accepted as normative, while the latter is not to be rejected on the ground of its ‘cultural relativity’, bur rather to be transposed into a contemporary cultural form. The discernment we need, then, is not *between* texts (some normative, others disposable), but *within* each text (the eternal substance and the cultural expression).]

Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger further develop this principle of specific local application in their remarkable book *I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence*. It is a *tour de force*, the fruit of much painstaking research into the ancient world. I share their concern that this text has been improperly and oppressively used to deny women legitimate ministries. For without doubt Scripture affirms the leadership of many intelligent and gifted women. How then do the Kroegers handle the text in more than a hundred pages? Describing Ephesus as ‘a bastion of feminine supremacy’, dominated by the Great Goddess ‘Diana of the Ephesians’ (Acts 19:28, 34), and infiltrated by weird Jewish and Gnostic myths, the Kroegers re-interpret every phrase of verse 11-15 as applying exclusively to that context. ‘Let a woman learn in quietness and full submission’ (11) is an instruction to Christian women, in contrast to the ‘babbling nonsense’ of the Gnostic women, to be taught in, and be silently submissive to, the Word of God. ‘I do not permit’ (12a) refers to ‘a specific and limited situation [sc. in Ephesus] rather than a universal one’. The teaching which women are forbidden to give refers only to ‘wrong doctrine’. The ‘authority over a man’, which is equally prohibited, is not only a domineering one, but means a woman must ‘not proclaim’ herself the ‘author’ or ‘originator’ of man. The Gnostic myths that a woman was responsible for both the creation and the enlightenment of man are contradicted by Paul’s reference to the priority of Adam (13) and the deception of Eve (14). Nevertheless she will be ‘saved’ not condemned.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.