The ‘Silent Women’ Verses

Hi everybody. Welcome to Faith Friday.

(What follows is a modified transcript of the video above.)

I think there’s a big difference between the institution of religion, and the community of faith, and naturally, I would love to invite you to the community.  Religion is absolutely useless to me and definitely useless to you too. Unfortunately, the institution of religion has used these two verses in Timothy as the “shut up” verses teaching women to be silent and that’s been quite harmful to women.  So I’ve taken a deep dive into the verses to see what they would come to mean to me, and now it’s time to share what I’ve learned with you.

But first, please allow me to say that if these verses have been used to harm you, I’d like to take the opportunity to simply say: I’m sorry.  I’m sorry you were shut down and shut up.  That wasn’t right.  God wasn’t in that. 

Together let’s find a fuller understanding of this interesting pair of verses.

Let’s explore 1 Timothy 2:11,12

If we go back to the original text (and I don’t read, speak, or pronounce Greek, but I can study it.) Given the study tools that we do have readily available, I can go back in and take a look at those verses and see what they mean to me today, and explore what they meant to women back then.

So let’s take a wild ride shall we?  This will be fun.

1 Timothy 2:11 and 12

Verse 11: “A woman should learn in quietness and submission.”

When we hear that, the alarm bells go off with this idea of “submission”. Of course they do. Of course they do. But when these words were written, women weren’t educated. Women and men are educated now in many places, but they weren’t back then.  And sadly, there are parts of the world where women are still not allowed an education, so we have work to do.

What would have been exciting for Timothy and his community as they read this letter was “a woman should learn”. Absolutely revolutionary!  A woman should learn!

What kind of environment does she learn in?  Quietness. Okay. How many of you are moms and have kids that are going: “Mom! Mom! Mom!…” Can you learn like that when somebody is going: “Mom! Mom! Mom? Of course not. So quiet is a good thing.  Maybe there is someone taking care of the kids so she can learn.  She’s not being meddled with, this as an environment where she can listen and focus and really hear what’s being taught.

This is beautiful thing that a woman should learn. That’s not the case in every culture. So I think it’s exciting that in the community of faith, a woman should learn and she should have the chance to learn in a quiet environment where can actually focus and take it all in.  That’s what it means to be a community – everyone gets their chance to quietly and respectfully learn, and I think that’s exciting.

Verse 12. “I do not permit…”

Who was talking?  Paul? Well, Timothy is a letter from someone to Timothy. That’s usually believed to be Paul. Interestingly enough, there are a number of letters written by Paul in the New Testament, and they all have a style that is different from the style of this letter. So scholars came to the conclusion that maybe Paul wasn’t the one writing, but I don’t know how much it really matters. So we’re, we’re talking about Paul OR someone who is… I don’t want to use the word “masquerading” as Paul, it’s just that there is some question as to whether or not it’s Paul speaking.  I think there are good reasons to understand that it might not be Paul, but again… I’m not sure what real difference it makes who wrote it.  It’s in circulation as part of the Text.  Let’s continue to look at the original text.

So reading along in verse 12: “I (Paul?) do not permit…” and this is a pretty good translation of this particular word.  Paul does not grant permission… the next words are “for a woman” and this is a gender specific Greek word that we translate “woman”.  Any woman, any age.  So it would sound like: “I, Paul, do not grant permission for a woman too…” And the next word is translated “teach”. And another word, a combination here, “have authority”.

The first word is the idea of teaching (+) plus, or prolonged teaching. So this is an educator. This is not somebody who stands up and talks for 15 minutes. This is somebody with whom you are in class in an ongoing way. This is an educator, isn’t this interesting?

This “educator” is together with “have authority”. Now this Greek word is unique in the new testament. I couldn’t go to other scriptures of other verses to find like the nuance because it’s only in there once. Now there’s other words translated “authority” in other places in the New Testament – but this one is unique.

So let me see if I can give you a feel for what this word means.  It’s the idea of a master of slaves.  A dictator of a country.  This is a person with absolute mastery and control, including the ability to take a human life.  The image that comes to mind is Jim Jones who indoctrinated a bunch of folks and then passed out cyanide laced Koolaid and they drank it even though they knew there was poison in it.  Wretched.

I know we have the word “Headmaster” in English – and a person in that position could make a student’s life hell – but they could not have a student murdered.  My reading of the material indicates that these words “have authority over” is actually a very extreme level of mastery and control – to the point of death.

So what Paul is talking about is an ongoing educational environment where a woman is a professor with absolute mastery over the students.  Then, interestingly enough, this word translated “man” is most commonly translated man, but according to the reference material, it can also mean a group of both men and women.  Now that’s interesting!  Where the first “woman” in verse 12 is gender specific to women, the second word “man” could be interpreted as a group of both men and women.  How does it change the way the verse sounds if you realize Paul could be saying “I do not allow a woman… over a group of men and women?”  It doesn’t sound nearly as sexist when you realize that the second Greek word could be indicating a group of women and men.

Moving on… : “She, (this woman who has not yet learned) must be silent.” Now this word translated “silent” is an interesting word.  I studied some of the other contexts where this word is found and we are talking about going into listening mode. It doesn’t mean that a woman would never say a word, at any time… ever. It means that she (in an education environment where she finally gets to learn) goes into listen mode, okay? It just means… be quiet so you can hear.  If I really want to hear something, I’m gonna have to shut my trap. This is interesting because she is the woman who has not yet learned. So the person who’s being told to go into listen mode is the woman who has not learned yet.  It doesn’t mean that she can’t ever speak, it just means that we are students first… and then we speak.  That’s the order of things.

So let’s amplify verse 12 out: “I (Paul) do not grant permission for a woman to be an authoritarian professor, with the ability to take human life, over a group of women and man. She must go into listen mode until she has developed understanding.”  This is the meaning as I’ve studied it.  To make the point even more plain: “I do not grant permission for a woman to be a Jim Jones type leader, she must go into listen mode until she has developed understanding.”

Now religion would like us to think that women must just give way whenever a man has something to say.  And that is absolutely the way it works in some places – in some religious cultures.  But that is not what this is about. This is talking about a toxic learning environment and Paul doesn’t want this to happen in the community of faith. Paul or his surrogate don’t want that kind of toxic environment to exist, and I dare say that it has less to do with gender and more to do with toxic leadership styles.

I don’t want that either, I wouldn’t be able to learn that way.  That’s pure indoctrination – not learning.  And while that may be a useful approach in religions around the world in terms of controlling the flock, that’s not how it works in the community of faith.  I don’t want any teacher to think they have absolutely mastery over me.  That’s not safe, and that’s not education.  That’s indoctrination and subjugation.  Spare me.

Culturally, Timothy’s community had pagan priestesses who were dictators in their realms. And some of those dear women must come into the community of faith, and without having first listened about Jesus, they just continued in their patterns. And Paul takes notice and says he won’t grant permission for this to continue, this is toxic. There are no dictators in the community of faith. We learn in an environment of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  We learned in mutual respect… teacher for student… and student for teacher.

Cool, right? Some modern preachers point at this scripture to mean that women should be silent across the board and let the men do all the talking, all the leading. But over and over and over again, we see women who were communicators all over the Text. There are the voices of women all through the scripture, and Paul was taught by a woman.  So if God wanted women to be quiet, then God wouldn’t have kept the voices of women in the scriptures.

The Woman at the Well

Jesus met the woman at the well, and she was a Samaritan woman. In those days, Jews had nothing to do with the people of Samaria. Jesus mentions that she has had five husbands. Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn’t treat her as if she’s done anything wrong, he just mentions it.  And she realizes there is no way he could have known that, so she concludes that he is a prophet.

Most preachers make her out to be a real floozy, but those five marriages could have ended through no fault of her own. People die. The medical care may have been crap, and maybe her spouse just walked away way. But having five husbands means she’s been through a lot of loss, and that’s horrible.

She has a conversation with Jesus, then she goes back to her community and talks to them about this man who seems to understand her life just by looking into her eyes.  And when she got back, Jesus was still there. This is a woman who had been abandoned repeatedly. But Jesus was still there when she got back.

She went and spoke to her community and they came out to meet him. And you know what? He turned aside and spent a couple of days there with that community. That was a change of plans. A conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well changed everything.

The conversation between Jesus and this woman was very interesting! They had a very theological discussion.  The second she realized he was a prophet, she came out with a very theological question.  It was a conversation of equals.  That’s how it is with Jesus, He’s respectful.  Even toward someone that culture says is far less than him, he’s still respectful.  But that’s who Jesus is.  They had this very theological discussion, and then she became a communicator in her community.  That’s what I really want you to hear.

There is a time and a safe place to listen and hear Jesus, and to go into listen mode to soak up everything Jesus has for us. But when we’ve met Jesus and realize who he is, then it’s time to go out and be a voice in the community. I’m not talking about becoming an advocate for religion! No, we don’t need to spread an institution, and ideology, or a political framework!  Absolutely not!  When we meet Jesus, good news wells up within us, and we become communicators.  It has nothing to do with gender, it’s just the natural progression of things.

When you’re with Jesus, you can pray your prayers and ask your questions – even the theological ones like the woman at the well.  Then you can into listen mode for the response that you get.  And when you hear the voice of Jesus in your spirit (and you will) then you get up from that quiet place and go out into the community and speak your truth. That is your commission for today. Go into listen mode with Jesus and then go speak just like the woman at the well.

Now it’s really important that you hear me. If that would not have been an appropriate role for her, Jesus wouldn’t even have spoken to her. He spoke to her, and naturally she went to tell her community about him. He could have spoken to a man, but He spoke to her. He worked together with a woman to reach her community.

Be encouraged today. You can speak, you can find your voice. And when you want to find your voice, go listen to Jesus and then go to your community and spread the words you hear from Jesus.

That’s the way it works.  That’s the way it has always worked.

Thank you so much for listening, I really appreciate it.

About Me Page Final Photo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s