In I Timothy, Paul tells us why he wrote what he wrote in this particular epistle. The entire book is a narrative that connects and ties in across all 4 chapters, and near the end He says. “I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” That’s the context and that’s important. Paul was not writing about how people ought to conduct themselves in their homes, or in their jobs, or in institutes of higher learning. Rather his concern was in creating parameters and theological fences that would safeguard the pillar and foundation of the truth- the Church. He was giving Timothy certain specific instructions and teachings that he, Paul, currently had in effect in the Churches that he oversaw and wanted his young charge to continue in likewise. Paul had planted the Church there years ago and had spent three years ministering to it and growing it. Now with Timothy as the evangelist and charged with her safekeeping, Paul taught Timothy what he must teach and point out to the people- things that he had taught elsewhere and in other Churches.
Let’s look at the list of teachings and ask ourselves three questions for each one. 1] Is this how people should conduct themselves in the house of God? 2] Which of these conducts are cultural constructs and merely existed for this particular church for a very short period of time [a couple months, decades, years] , and are no longer applicable today. 3] What evidence do we see in the text that any of these are cultural constructs and should only be taken as such?
1. “I urge,then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
2. “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”
3. “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, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
4. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
5. “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”
6. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”
7. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”
8. “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
9. “In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.”
10. “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.”
11. “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacon.”
12. “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”
13. “A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.“
Later on, Paul exhort Timothy to “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” What things? What things are Timothy to command and teach? The instructions of how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household. What does that include? Are we to suppose that it includes everything Paul said there EXCEPT for the one teaching and command that Paul roots in nature itself and the creative order? Even a cursory examination shows this is untenable. Paul says that Elders ought to be husbands of one wife. Is that a cultural construct only for a short time? We are told that overseers are to be faithful to their wives. Was that just a cultural thing “for them”? No. We don’t see any artificial breaks in his instructions that somehow vindicate or validate this position, but rather we see a seamless, purposeful instruction.
Paul appealed to the creative order only once in all of those 4 chapters. Are we supposed to believe that the one time Paul appeals to nature and creation itself as part of the basis for his argument is the one time that it’s only a fleeting cultural wisp of a suggestion, but all the other commands not rooted in nature and the creative order are to last for time immemorial regardless of time and culture? Paul tells Timothy that “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters,you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” Point out what things? What truths of the faith which are good teaching? Things like men should pray and lift up holy hands without anger, women should dress modestly, deacons should not indulge in much wine, and women should not teach or assume authority over a man in Church. The truths of the faith and the good teachings were the instructions he had been given.
So I ask again, of the thirteen things listed there, look at each one individually and ask yourselves ” 1] Is this how people should conduct themselves in the house of God? 2] Which of these conducts are cultural constructs and merely existed for this particular church for a very short period of time [a couple months, decades, years] , and are no longer applicable today. 3] What evidence do we see in the text that any of these are cultural constructs and should only be taken as such?
I’m convinced from the text that the answer is “Yes, none and none” and I would welcome any dialogue to the contrary.
July 15th, 2012 at 9:25 am
I appreciate your respect for truth & for the inerrant, authoritative written Word of God. I share that respect.
The following are culturally or historically relative elements in Paul’s instructions: 1. Praying for kings. Many countries don’t have kings. 2. Lifting hands in prayer (as opposed to folding hands, etc.). 3. Overseers & deacons must be married & have children. This instruction would bar Jesus &, presumably, Paul from being church leaders. (There’s no indication that Timothy was married, either.) You’ve also skipped Paul’s instructions that women will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15) & that the only widows who can receive church aid are those over 60 years old who have borne children & washed the saints’ feet (1 Tim 5:9-10). Since all the above are clearly relative elements, it raises the question of if there are other relative elements in the text.
Also: Your distinction between church & home, school, & work is artificial for 2 reasons: 1. churches met in homes; 2. you say that Paul grounds female submission in the creative order, which means that all women should always submit to all men in all times & places, since the creative order trumps everything else.
Finally, recall the hermeneutical principles that Scripture interprets Scripture & that context is crucial. In the latter case, the presence in Ephesus of the Temple of Artemas & its pagan priestesses is worth noting, as is the fact that 1st-century women tended to be poorly educated & much younger than their (1st) husbands. In the former case, recall that Paul writes to Timothy in opposition to heretics who are targeting gullible women (2 Tim 3:6; the concern about heresy runs through 1 Tim, too); his instructions in 1 Cor 11-14; his commendation of female co-workers & church leaders in Rom 16, particularly the apostle Junia & deacon Phoebe; the depiction of Priscilla in Paul’s letters & in Acts (especially Acts 18:26); & the Old Testament’s positive portrayals of such authoritative women as Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, & Esther. It’s also worth noting that in the Greek of 1 Cor & 1 Tim, “woman” & “wife” are the same word, as are “man” & “husband”, so Paul may be instructing wives to submit to their husbands rather than all women to submit to all men.
We can disagree on this issue, but let’s recall the more important things that, I assume, unite us: the ancient creeds, the Reformation’s solas, & above all, the Lord Jesus Christ whose we are & whom we serve.