Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Lucy Peppiatt on Men, Women…and Family?

For the vast majority of secular-minded people in the West today, any traditional Christian perspective on women is considered strange or weird, at best, or misogynistic or inherently oppressive, at its worst.

In many respects, church history does not have the most stellar record when it comes to dealing with the abuse and degradation of women. Far too often, women have been treated as second-class citizens in the Christian movement. On the other hand, it also could be argued that the Christian faith has been the primary catalyst affirming the value and contributions of women, a reality that most sophisticated Westerners today simply take for granted. Christianity has led to the most vital protections for women, and the most uplifting force supporting women, more than any other movement in world history. While this issue has an impact on how Christian churches and marriages function, it also has an impact on Christian apologetics, and how nonbelievers hear the Gospel message. So, the question stands: Which narrative best represents the message of the Bible for women? One of abuse and degradation, or one of affirmation and honor?

Despite recent advances for women, a most pressing concern in our postmodern world is the decline of the traditional family. The joy of having a mother and a father, who stay together until the death of one of them, is a vanishing characteristic throughout much of Western culture. Living in blended families has become more of the norm, rather than the exception. The definition of marriage keeps changing. The number of Americans who live alone keeps rising every year.  Yet in the words of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Sandra Glahn, for men and women, “we need one another.”  A rediscovery of Scripture’s vision for women, and how they relate to men, and vice-versa, must also address a theology of the family, which is in considerable crisis today in the West.

Christians today are divided over understanding what the Bible teaches regarding how men and women are to relate with one another in the church and the home. We need to have better good faith conversations among professing believers, as to how best work through what we find in God’s Word, and act in obedience accordingly. Scripture teaches that men and women are both created equally in the image of God, and yet are distinct from one another. Nevertheless, egalitarian Christians emphasize the former, and complementarian Christians emphasize the latter. For readers unfamiliar with this topic, I would suggest starting your journey into this topic with this introductory Veracity blog post, linked here, from 2019.

 

Two Books in the Complementarian/Egalitarian Conversation

This year, I endeavored to read two books in this conversation, one by a complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church. The other book, the focus of this review, was authored by Lucy Peppiatt, a theologian and Principal at the Westminister Theological Center, in the U.K. She has written an insightful set of expositions of Scripture, along the lines of an egalitarian theological framework, in her Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. A charismatic evangelical, Lucy Peppiatt lectures in systematic theology, and serves as a lay minister in the Church of England. Many readers sympathetic to an egalitarian point of view have recommended Lucy Peppiatt to me, as representing perhaps the most mature, balanced argument defending this perspective currently in print.1

The intended audience for Peppiatt’s work is targeted towards those thoughtful Christians who hold to a traditional, complementarian view, what she calls a “heirarchialist” view, who are willing to consider a change in perspective regarding the teaching of Scripture. However, the book is also for egalitarians nervous as to whether or not the Bible actually teaches egalitarianism. For several disputed passages, the issue comes down to whether a distinctive teaching is prescriptive for all times and all places, versus being descriptive,  possessing a set of instructions for a particular first century, cultural setting. Unfortunately, a more sacramentalist approach, which looks for concrete ways for regarding men and women as fully equal within the sight of God, and yet relating to one another in the church and in the family in non-interchangeable ways, is not sufficiently interacted with in Peppiatt’s work. To put it briefly, Lucy Peppiatt succeeds in admirable ways to make her case for what she calls a “mutualistic” view of relations between men and women, while still coming up short in certain specific and crucial areas.

The Strongest Elements of Peppiatt’s “Mutualistic” View of Men and Women Relating to One Another

First, there are a number of strengths in Rediscovering Scripture for Women that need to be highlighted. Peppiatt does not appeal to a “trajectory hermeneutic” that calls upon the reader to go beyond the text of the New Testament to make conclusions about ethical teachings, which the New Testament writers themselves in their day supposedly knew nothing about. For example, a “trajectory hermeneutic” suggests that while the Apostle Paul could never have envisioned the complete abolition of slavery, he left enough pointers in his letters that would inspire later generations to condemn slavery, in ways that would have completely surprised the first century Paul.

To put it nicely, a “trajectory hermeneutic” does not scale very well. While a “trajectory hermeneutic” has been employed at times to suggest that the elimination of slavery and misogyny are unstated aims, but nevertheless fully accepted trajectories of the Bible, this hermeneutic has been misused to justify a whole assortment of ethical views that are explicitly denied in Scripture. The adoption of same-sex marriage, as well as promoting gender identity merely as a social construct, as with the massive explosion of rapid onset gender dysphoria, that plagues untold thousands of young people today, often employs a “trajectory hermeneutic” as a justification for ignoring Scripture. Instead, Peppiatt keeps her focus on the text of Scripture, which is a refreshing alternative in these discussions. Without a careful attention to the whole of Scripture, it is so easy to fall into a kind of “I-do-not-really-like-what-that-passage-says-so-I-will-pretend-it-is-not-there” approach to the Bible, that does not do justice to the text.2

In the debate regarding the meaning of “head,” as it relates to the concept of “male headship” in the Bible, Peppiatt argues against both the standard egalitarian and complementarian interpretations of the Greek word “kephale,” typically translated as “head” in most English Bibles, as in Ephesians 5:23. She rejects the typical egalitarian view that “kephale” means “source,” while also denying that “kephale” means “authority,” the typical complementarian view. Instead, Peppiatt broadly follows the view of the church father John Chyrsostom, where “kephale” refers to a “first principle” or perhaps “cornerstone.” A growing consensus among scholars supports something along the lines of Peppiatt’s view.3

Peppiatt makes other arguments that should be agreed upon by all historically orthodox Christians. Women were the first to give testimony about Jesus’ resurrection, and even though Jesus’ closest disciples, the twelve, were all men, there were women included among Jesus’ earliest disciples. She denies that to speak of God as “Father” implies that God has an assigned male gender. She dismisses the Son’s eternal subordination to the Father, a theological error that has crept into some extreme forms of complementarian theology today.

Peppiatt also rightly affirms that women occupied leadership and teaching positions in the early church, by pointing out that the act of women prophesying, which Paul encouraged, includes a “teaching element” (p. 123). A bit of humor stands out as Peppiatt describes how the New Testament women Nympha (Colossians 4:15), Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), and Lydia (Acts 16:40) sponsored churches in their homes: “I wonder how many people hearing that assume that this meant they were fluffing up the cushions beforehand, baking something for the group, and serving the coffee!” (p. 127) These women did more than that. They were leaders. However, this does not necessarily mean that these women were “elders,” nor were these young house churches ready to take on “elders,” those responsible for passing the faith on towards the next generation, something to be addressed below.

Other examples abound in the New Testament. Phoebe, as a deacon, was commended to the church in Rome as his representative, which gave her a certain kind of authority to explain the contents of Paul’s letter to the gathered assembly (Romans 16:1). Euodia and Syntyche are described as Paul’s “coworkers” in Philippians 4:2-3. Junia, in Romans 16:7, is considered to be a female apostle, though it is not clear what Peppiatt means by that. It does not necessarily mean that Junia was an “apostle” in the sense of Paul being an apostle, as the word “apostle” simply could be understood in the sense of being a missionary church planter. Nevertheless, roughly a third of the people Paul appreciates as coworkers for the Gospel in Romans 16 are women. In other words, when it came to non-presbyterial functions, women were leaders in the first century church, ranging from church planters to deacons.

Throughout her book, Peppiatt firmly establishes at least some leadership roles for women in the administrative, and to a certain degree, the teaching ministry of the church. It would be fair to say that Colossians 3:16 affirms that both men and women are called to teach one another, but that the context of Colossians, which makes no reference to the office of local church elder or overseer, leaves the question of “women as elders” unanswered throughout the majority of the New Testament, with the exception of the Pastoral Letters (specifically 1 Timothy), which Peppiatt saves for her last few chapters in the book.

Peppiatt’s affirmation of women serving as leaders in non-eldership positions of a local church stands as an essential corrective to many evangelical complementarian views of “male headship” that deny women leadership and/or teaching, even under the authority of qualified male eldership. Perhaps the greatest weakness of complementarian theology is the lack of uniformity among complementarians when it comes to describing where women can function as leaders. Some complementarians believe that men in general carry a special authority over women, whether or not those men are qualified or not. More moderate complementarians make no such broad claim.

Some believe that such distinctions take place even in parachurch ministry, whereas other complementarians believe that such distinctions belong only in the local church, and only with respect to eldership. The sacramental aspect of spiritual fatherhood, a key aspect of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views of complementarian theology, is frequently ignored by many Protestant complementarians, largely because such views originate from Roman Catholic and/or Eastern Orthodox theology. The early church view of eldership, whereby certain Christian leaders in established local church communities were responsible for handing the faith down to the next generation, rarely comes up in books written by certain complementarians today. This hodgepodge of conflicting beliefs among complementarians may truly lead to the downfall of complementarian theology and eventual supremacy of egalitarianism.

 

How does the debate between Christian complementarians and egalitarians help us to better understand a vision of Christian marriage? Not everyone agrees, but the discussion is vitally important.

 

 

A Brief Word on the Troublesome Passages in 1 Corinthians

Lucy Peppiatt’s work comes to the attention of many readers through her comprehensive analysis of difficult passages of Scripture as found primarily in 1 Corinthians 11, the well-known and much discussed “head covering” passage, and secondarily in 1 Corinthians 14. Regardless of where a Bible reader eventually lands regarding how Christian marriages should function, and in how women should be able serve in Christian ministry in the church, these passages are exceedingly difficult to work through, without having some knowledge of the Greco-Roman world, in which the Apostle Paul was operating.

Peppiatt’s approach to 1 Corinthians 11 really deserves a concentrated discussion, so this review will not comment on it now, in hopes of addressing it in a future blog article. As far as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 goes, the rather infamous passage teaching that women should be silent in the churches, Peppiatt takes what it is best described as the quotation/refutation view, which suggests that this instruction is not Pauline at all, but rather, this is an example whereby Paul is quoting a Corinthian saying/instruction, in which he then goes about to refute. Unfortunately and ironically, Peppiatt fails to cite some of the most compelling evidence in support of her position, thus weakening the forcefulness of her case (see Peppiatt, p. 76). She had an opportunity to knock the ball out of the park on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but she settled for no more than a single or a double, to first or second base.4

Catherine Clark Kroeger (1925-2011), a New Testament scholar at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was perhaps the most influential scholar in the evangelical egalitarian movement of the last quarter of the 20th century. As founder of the Christians for Biblical Equality, Kroeger (and her husband Richard) wrote I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, in 1992, a seminal work to advance evangelical egalitarianism. However, Lucy Peppiatt’s 2019 Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts stands to replace Kroeger’s influential text (credit: Christianity Today magazine).

 

Is “Hierarchicalist” the Best Category to Use When Comparing Different Views of Christian Marriage?

Before taking upon a larger critique of Peppiatt’s work, it bears noting a frustration that sometimes the reader encounters in Peppiatt’s prose. In making her argument against what she calls the “hierarchicalist” position, she will at times make statements like this, “It is interesting (and not a bit disturbing), that so many men choose a few verses in Ephesians in order to attempt to demonstrate that a Christian husband has authority over his wife…” (p. 93), in reference to wives submitting to husbands, as in Ephesians 5. The assumption that Peppiatt makes is that it is primarily men who insist on such a complementarian arrangement. But what about the women?

While correctly pushing back against certain extreme views, Lucy Peppiatt completely ignores the reality that many Christian women actually want their husbands to lead and assume responsibility in their homes and churches, and to protect them. In an age where deadbeat husbands and spirituality negligent men push family responsibilities unfairly upon women, and leave them vulnerable, it would have helped Lucy Peppiatt if she had at least acknowledged the motivations of those women who are opposed to egalitarian thinking, instead of laying blame solely on chauvinistic men.

Such sensitivity to this frustration is magnified by Peppiatt’s critique of Kathy Keller’s writings in probably one of the best and most wonderful books on marriage today, Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. Kathy Keller offers a widely accepted female complementarian perspective on marriage in that book, that is far from being extreme, and yet Lucy Peppiatt dismisses this in Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, as at best confusing. When I read critiques by those of Lucy Peppiatt’s persuasion it really makes me wonder if such egalitarians view complementarian women as possessing some kind of self-loathing, self-hatred, as though a complementarian woman simply does not understand a woman’s perspective. Really? How ironic is that?

Interestingly, there is very little in Peppiatt’s view of husband and wife roles, in her discussion of Ephesians 5, that most complementarians would disagree with. She describes marriage as a partnership of equals, and yet she also acknowledges that “the idea of head as the cornerstone or foundation upon which a structure is built up and through which all things hold together, and this concept of head as cornerstone also works quite well for God-Christ, Christ-husband, and husband-wife relations” (p. 108). In other words, husband and wife work together for the good of the marriage, while acknowledging some leadership role for the husband, for the sake of order, to nourish and raise up his wife, all under the ultimate headship of Christ. What is there to argue with?

This picture of marriage does not seem that terribly different from what Tim and Kathy Keller describe in their book on marriage, including with what Kathy Keller writes. Nevertheless, Peppiatt concludes with a final word that Christian marriages should “reject any expectation that the husband should occupy an authoritative role and the wife a submissive one” (p. 112). If Lucy Peppiatt has in mind the most authoritarian extreme, of a completely top-down, chain-of-command view of marital relations, then her caution is well founded. But if her warning is targeted at a more moderate complementarian, like a Kathy Keller, then it would appear that Peppiatt and Keller are simply talking past one another. At best, it could be said that Lucy Peppiatt has misrepresented Tim and Kathy Keller’s vision of complementarianism, though I sincerely doubt Lucy Peppiatt did this with any malicious intent. Perhaps we need a different category other than “hierarchicalist” to describe complementarian relations between male and female.

In her discussion of 1 Peter 3:7, where Peter speaks of women as the “weaker sex,” Peppiatt comes out strongly against men patronizing women, but she also acknowledges, rather begrudgingly, “perhaps, then, it is not offensive to find that the Bible recognizes certain disadvantages that women face and exhorts men to make every effort to redress the situation” (p. 103). Well, at least that is good. At least some women acknowledge their vulnerability and actually want men to “redress the situation.” A healthy and robust complementarian theology acknowledges certain vulnerabilities that at least some women face, and calls upon men to protect women without being patronizing. However, in her prose, it just seems like Peppiatt’s often repeated refrain against such patronizing indicates that more than a few of the complementarian men that she has run up against have simply been, for lack of a better way of putting it, perhaps chauvinistic jerks? Nothing more needs to be said here.

Leto with her children, Apollo (center) and Artemis (down to the left). In Ephesian mythology, Leto gave birth first to Artemis, and then spent nine days in labor to deliver Artemis’ twin brother, Apollo. The cult of Artemis was a big deal in 1st century Ephesus. What type of insight is gained from this to better inform how we read controversial passages in 1 Timothy? (Lazar Widmann, in Bohemia, 1699-1769. circa 1742 Sculpture Alabaster)

 

Progress Made in the Last Thirty Years Regarding the Scholarship of Gender in the Bible

To her credit, if Peppiatt’s purpose was to help Bible readers rethink certain preconceptions as to what the Bible teaches regarding women, and their relationships with men in the home and in the church, she has succeeded admirably. A humble attitude towards how we interpret Scripture is often missing in this debate, and Peppiatt’s work encourages such humility. However, at this stage in the complementarian/egalitarian debate we live in the rather unfortunate place whereby good faith readers of Scripture will come to contradictory conclusions on certain important matters, similar to how churches have dealt with questions like the validity of infant baptism and the charismatic movement. How well then does Lucy Peppiatt make her case on the egalitarian side of the debate?

Lucy Peppiatt effectively demonstrates that some of the most widely cited passages that place certain restrictions on women defy easy, straight forward analysis, particularly when it comes to women serving as leaders in the life of a local church. The topic of women leadership in the church is where Lucy Peppiatt’s thinking is the most engaging and challenging in Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women. She has brought up several possible alternatives to what might be described as traditional views regarding women, in these areas, that can not be easily dismissed out of hand. However, the work of a Bible interpreter does not consist solely of trying to establish a possible interpretation for any particular Bible passage. Rather, the objective here is to establish what is the most probable interpretation that the author had in mind, when comparing a range of potentially plausible interpretations.

When compared to other works in this area, Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women seeks to correct serious mistakes made by a previous generation of scholars who have made unsubstantiated and misleading claims. One example would be Karen Jo Torjeson’s 1995 volume, When Women Were Priests. Rather unsuccessfully, Torjeson went to great lengths to try to show that women served as priests in the earliest years of the Christian church, which even sympathetic readers found completely unconvincing.5

More importantly, Peppiatt improves upon or otherwise corrects some of the well-intended, but ultimately misleading and incorrect assertions made in Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger’s 1992 I Suffer Not a Woman, a seminal work in the contemporary evangelical egalitarian movement. The Kroegers contended that the cult of Artemis was ruled primarily by female priestesses. While it is true that female priestesses did participate in the Artemis Ephesian cult, just as they did elsewhere throughout the pagan Greco-Roman world, male priests also participated extensively within the Artemis cult, a fact obfuscated by the Kroegers.6

Furthermore, the assumption made by the Kroegers that Artemis was a fertility goddess has now been effectively disproven. Peppiatt correctly cites the work of Sandra L. Glahn to show that Artemis was quite the opposite, in that Artemis prized virginity instead.  Quoting from Glahn: “Artemis had no desire to give birth herself, so she asked her father to make her immune to Aphrodite’s arrows, a request that Zeus granted. Thus, Artemis, having special sympathy for women in travail from her first days, came to be associated with virginity and, especially in Ephesus, with midwifery.”7

For years, I was enamored with the work of the Kroeger’s, particularly their thesis that 1 Timothy 2:12 sought to discipline certain female teachers in Ephesus, who were falsely teaching Gnostic doctrines, such as that Eve was created before Adam, and that it was Adam who was deceived, and not Eve. These false doctrines are therefore refuted in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. According to this thesis, Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12 against women teaching is merely a temporary command limited to misguided Ephesian women, and not something that Paul prescribed universally.

However, Lucy Peppiatt is aware of some of the intractable problems with the Kroeger thesis regarding Gnosticism, as will be noted below. Instead, Peppiatt wisely focuses on the influence of the Artemis cult in Ephesus, to make her argument. Peppiatt relies heavily on the work done by Gary Hoag and Sandra Glahn, two excellent scholars in the area of ancient Ephesus studies. Certain insights particularly from Sandra Glahn are worth noting and appreciating. For example, Artemis was widely ascribed to be “savior” by the people of Ephesus, which might explain why the theme of “God our Savior” is repeated throughout the pastoral letters.

Another interesting insight that Glahn brings to the discussion, does not help us so much in interpreting 1 Timothy, as it does in helping us with 1 Corinthians 15:32, where Paul writes of, “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” Scholars for centuries have wondered what Paul was getting at, in his reference to the “beasts at Ephesus.Glahn interestingly appeals to Homer for a clue, as Homer described Artemis as “Potnia Theron”, as a mistress of wild beasts; that is, “mistress” in the sense of being a counterpart to a “master.” Paul elsewhere describes great opposition to Artemis’ followers in Ephesus (Acts 19:23–41; 1 Cor 16.9). This might be a strongly plausible explanation as to what Paul meant by fighting beasts.

The most compelling analysis that Glahn gives us is in explaining why Paul encourages women to remain single in 1 Corinthians 7:38 versus Paul encouraging the women to marry in 1 Timothy 5:14. At an initial glance, it would appear that Paul is contradicting himself between the two letters. However, Glahn argues that contextual differences between Corinth and Ephesus explain what is going on. In Corinth, sexual promiscuity was a real problem, so it was sensible for Paul there to encourage women to dedicate themselves to Christian ministry (or otherwise get married). However, in Ephesus the presence of the Artemis cult, which prized virginity, might have probably encouraged a false teaching that forbade Christians from marrying (1 Timothy 4:3). It would then be sensible for Paul in Ephesus to work against that and encourage the younger widows to get married and have children. Glahn even then acknowledges that this contextualized understanding of 1 Timothy reinforces her belief that Paul actually did write 1 Timothy, in contrast with the majority critical consensus, which argues against Pauline authorship, placing the writing of 1 Timothy perhaps as late as the 2nd century C.E. The explanatory power that Glahn brings to the discussion regarding the Artemis culture is profound, but how far does the analysis go?8

As an aside, though surely important for those concerned about the silencing of women in the church, Lucy Peppiatt successfully argues against the NRSV translation of 1 Timothy 2:11, “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission,” and 1 Timothy 2:12b, “She is to keep silent,” which is reminiscent in some minds with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Peppiatt suggests that the word “silent” should be better translated as “restful,” as in: “Let a woman learn, but be restful when doing so.…” and, “She is to be restful.” For Peppiatt, “in the context of Jewish and pagan attitudes to women [this] was a revolutionary command in itself in relation to women — that they are to learn!” Nevertheless, this is “a call to the assertive women for attentiveness and receptiveness while learning so they will become good and truthful teachers in time.9

Alas, some criticisms of Lucy Peppiatt’s treatment of 1 Timothy and Titus are in order. First, she glosses over the gendered language of a “husband of one wife,” or more directly, a “one-woman man,” or simply, a “man of one woman,” as the qualifier for those who desire to serve as an elder/overseer in the local church (1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12; Titus 1:6). Granted, the use of masculine pronouns found in several popular Bible translations are not grounded in the original Greek, a point that Peppiatt highlights. Paul’s use of “if anyone” as in one who “aspires to the office of overseer” (1 Timothy 3:1) could indeed be gender neutral. Nevertheless, while the gendered status of “husband of one wife” is a matter of vigorous debate, traditionally it has been understood to refer specifically to a male, which would indicate that only qualified men, and not women, were to serve as elders of a local church. It would be highly unlikely for Paul to have used “husband of one wife” to describe a woman, despite the fact that many 21st century commentators today see no problem with a woman identifying as a man, thus redefining the definition of a “woman.” Even if this idiomatic expression is gender neutral, by itself, other contextual factors need to be taken into consideration, and various attempts by other authors to dismiss this beg for further discussion.10

Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century C.E. (credit: Wikipedia)

 

Zooming in on the Most Controversial Passage of All: 1 Timothy 2:12-15

Much of the focus regarding “women in ministry,” a much abused phrase, centers around the most controversial 1 Timothy 2:12, at the expense of other passages in 1 Timothy and Titus. Elsewhere, Paul argues that the church needs both fathers and mothers (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Furthermore, Paul contends that he became a father to the Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:15) and to the Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Paul’s use of fatherly language in the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 would suggest that Paul believes that elders should be the fathers of the church. The idea of spiritual fathering implies that an established local church should take upon the task of passing on the faith from one generation to the next. Peppiatt never fully addresses this notion of church elder as spiritual “father,” a peculiar omission.

Secondly, she concludes that the “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” command given by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 should instead be interpreted in a more temporal sense of “I do not now permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” This would suggest Paul’s prohibition here is merely temporary, applicable only to the present situation, and that at some later time Paul would lift that restriction. Admittedly, this type of verbal construction is permissible in the Greek, according to a number of scholars. But if one were to apply that same verbal construction to other passages elsewhere in 1 Timothy, then Paul’s theology begins to fall apart.

Take 1 Timothy 2:4 as a prime example: For where God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” according to most translations, this now would become “God at the present time desires that all people be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, but this might change at a later point in time.” In other words, as circumstances change, God might rethink this whole thing about including everyone or every type of person in his salvation plan. Yikes!!11

Thirdly, in her analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Peppiatt relies heavily on the work of Gary Hoag, asserting that “there is compelling evidence that the Artemis cult [in Ephesus, where Timothy’s church was] lies behind this text” (p. 146). Hoag’s work highlights the overlapping themes and vocabulary found in both Xenophon’s Ephesiaca and 1 Timothy. Previous scholarship located the writing of Ephesiaca, a love story novel, in the second or third century C.E. Hoag’s thesis is not to be ignored as the authorship of Ephesiaca can now be placed in the first century, the time period of Paul’s ministry. For example, the Artemis cult made a big deal about women wearing their hair in braids, as part of their religious ritual, which might explain Paul’s prohibition against women wearing “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).12

Lucy Peppiatt’s narrative carries with it more assertions to make her case: Paul commands such women to cease from usurping authority and teaching, because he considered these women to be false teachers in need of correction. In modern terms, these women in the Ephesian church were close to being radical feminists, who sought to exert female authority over men. First, we know that Artemis was the first of two twins who were born. After Artemis was born, she watched her mother writhe in agony for several days (nine, according to one version of the story), assisting her mother as a midwife before her twin brother Apollo was born. In other words, Artemis came first and then her brother Apollo. Paul therefore corrects the Ephesian creation story by saying that it was actually man before woman, Adam came first before Eve (1 Timothy 2:13), as taught in Genesis. Then Paul refutes the errors of the Ephesian female false teachers by pointing out Eve’s deception at creation. Paul does all of this, not to emphasize the priority of the male, but rather to bring a sense of balance to the radical feminism of the Artemis cult (1Timothy 2:14). Finally, Paul encourages the women not to have the fear of Artemis, who was the goddess of midwifery. Instead, these women should put their trust in the Christian God, who would offer protection (1 Timothy 2:15).

Let us assume that the above analysis summarized by Peppiatt is correct. An historical reconstruction of how the early church got this teaching completely wrong, as Peppiatt frames it, would run along these lines: At first, the earliest readers of 1 Timothy would have completely understood the spiritually damaging influence of the cult of Artemis, and its particularly corrupting influence on the women of Ephesus. However, as time moved along from the first century, successive generations of Christians would have forgotten the original context of Paul’s teaching, thereby distorting its message. So, by the time we eventually get to someone like a John Chyrsostom in the 4th century, the notion of “braided hair” being associated with heretical teaching becomes forgotten, and then this teaching gets transformed to be more about encouraging women to dress modestly for church gatherings. The whole idea of a temporary prohibition against Ephesian women teaching false things, as in Paul’s day, gets wrongfully replaced by a permanent injunction against women serving as elders in a local church.13

It should be fairly noted that this historical reconstruction of events is quite possible. But again, we return to asking if this is the most probable explanation for how the church got things so terribly wrong. Do we actually have the evidential support necessary within the text of 1 Timothy itself to compel the Bible reader to adopt this historical reconstruction? No specific mention of the Artemis cult is made in 1 Timothy, and no other source outside of 1 Timothy indicates that any heretical Christian group, whether only women or not, were promoting this particular false teaching. This reconstruction is complicated by the fact that the practice of having “braided hair,” along with costly clothing and ornamentation, was not simply some religious practice associated with the cult of Artemis. It was also practiced by wealthy women all across the Roman empire, which had no clear connections with any particular religious practice associated with Ephesus.14

Not only that, but this historical reconstruction is made even more problematic considering the arguments of other scholars, who question the accuracy of this analysis to begin with. For example, consider the claim that the Artemis cult indicates the presence of a culture whereby women were ruling over men, in the city of Ephesus. It is one thing to say that Artemis encouraged women to avoid marriage, in order to stay away from patriarchal family arrangements. This substantially explains why certain unnamed false teachers in Ephesus were forbidding marriage (1 Timothy 4:3). Fair enough.

But it is another thing to then conclude that women were ruling in society, the home, and the church anywhere within the first century Greco-Roman world. The pater familias tradition of Rome, whereby the male head of the household ruled absolutely, in a most patriarchal, oppressive fashion, was the order of the day, and Ephesus, as the Roman empire’s fourth largest city, was certainly not exempt from this social order. The consensus among scholars of the classical period, whether they be Christian or non-Christian, fully establishes the ubiquity of the pater familias ethical standard in the days of Paul.15

For another example, the claim that Artemis is the goddess of midwifery, as the protector of women going through pregnancy in hope of surviving childbirth, has some good support, primarily through Sandra Glahn’s work, yet there are still problems. Positively, it can be argued that Paul is urging the women to put their trust in Christ to sustain them through their childbearing, as opposed to looking upon Artemis as their spiritual midwife, but the translation difficulties in 1 Timothy 2:15 are difficult to ignore.16

The ESV reads “but women will be saved through childbearing– if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Assuming that the word “saved” is used consistently throughout Paul’s writings, it would suggest that the act of bearing children is what guarantees salvation, an idea that contradicts the rest of Paul’s teaching about grace. However, the NASB provides a different translation: “But women will be preserved through childbirth– if they continue in faith, love, and sanctity, with moderation,” thus emphasizing a “salvation” in more of a material sense, suggesting that Paul is promising that women would survive childbirth, through their faith in Christ.

But is Paul really saying that Christian women would all survive the childbearing process, if only they believed in Jesus? The number one cause of death among women in the ancient world was through the complications associated with childbirth, so it would be very surprising for Paul to teach that having faith in Jesus would enable women to all physically survive the trauma of childbirth. The NASB “preserved” translation is further complicated by the fact that elsewhere the word “saved” is used in the pastoral letters, Paul is normally referring to salvation from sin, and not any kind of material salvation (see especially 1 Tim 1:15; 2:4; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5). A more likely translation emphasizes the fact that the Greek definite article appears before “childbirth,” something ignored by most translations: “Women will be saved through the birth of the child,” which would be a reference to the idea that Eve’s offspring would eventually produce the Messiah.17

Despite the appeal that the midwifery of Artemis has for understanding 1 Timothy 2:15, it is not entirely clear how the cult of Artemis is necessarily required for Paul to teach in response that women, as represented by Eve, are to be saved through the bearing of the Christ child. Elsewhere, Paul in Romans 16:20 recalls Genesis 3:15, regarding the offspring of Eve, such that God will crush Satan, without any hinted reference to an Artemis or Artemis-like cult, creeping in to promote some kind of false teaching. Paul’s appeal to Genesis need not be limited to a refutation of any particular heresy being taught in Ephesus.

Furthermore, emphasizing Artemis’ status as a midwife as relevant to 1 Timothy 2:15 at points needs to be balanced with other evidence that indicates that Artemis, who always remained a virgin, actually had no interest in the bearing of children herself. Some scholars contend that the Artemis connection with midwifery is too weak to effectively show that Paul was addressing Christian feminine concerns about the bearing of children in 1 TImothy 2:15. This current reviewer is surely no scholar in the field of classical studies of ancient Ephesus, but the lack of scholarly consensus in how to interpret the archaeological and literary sources we have available gives sufficient reason for caution. We need more evidence defeating the above objections to effectively demonstrate as much as Peppiatt hopes to find here.18

Jesus meets the woman at the well. Sometimes people will pit Jesus against Paul, as though Jesus uplifts women, whereas Paul “keeps women down.” Is this really a fair characterization of what the New Testament teaches?

 

The Best Argument to Date Defending “Women as Elders”…. But Does It Actually Work?

What made the earlier Kroeger thesis so interesting some thirty years ago is that we actually have direct, substantial evidence that shows that some heretical Christian groups were teaching the kind of fully developed Gnosticism that 1 Timothy would rightly condemn as false teaching, at least by the second century. This is unlike the situation with the cult of Artemis argument, where the available evidence supporting an Ephesian matriarchal Christian heresy is largely circumstantial. There is a big difference between substantial evidence, that directly bear on claims advanced by a thesis, and largely circumstantial evidence, that relies primarily on inference from data that sits off to the side. Aside from what might be inferred from 1 Timothy, our sources from the first century onwards are silent about any Artemis syncretism movement within the Ephesian church. Arguments from silence can create a lot of mischief!!

In contrast, we have solid evidence that Gnostics were teaching that Eve was not the one deceived, but rather, that she received enlightenment by the partaking of the fruit in Genesis. From church fathers like the second century Irenaeus, to the Nag Hammadi texts rediscovered in 1945, the direct evidence from Gnosticism is difficult to refute. However, this advanced Gnosticism evidence is found only in the second century onwards.19

Because the evidence for a highly developed Gnostic heresy is lacking in the first century, when we really need it, the Kroeger thesis is rarely adopted today, except among those who hope for new evidence to be uncovered, that would demonstrate a first century movement beyond the incipient form of Gnosticism, as dealt with in the Johannine New Testament material. It is a lot easier to make a case for something based on evidence we already have, instead of relying on evidence we wish we had, yet do not currently possess.20

The advantage of the cult of Artemis influence proposal, that Lucy Peppiatt proposes, is that we can confidently infer the influence of Artemis in Ephesus, in the first century C.E., in a way that we simply can not with a fully developed Gnosticism, the latter which only later plagues the church in the second and third centuries, and onwards. The challenge with the cult of Artemis proposal is the extent with which the myth made an impact on the first century Ephesian church, in the days of Paul. All of the available evidence is circumstantial, and not direct.

Granted, we actually do have good reason to find certain connections that help us to better interpret certain unusual features in 1 Timothy, such as probably determining the source of the false teaching that forbade marriage. However, the question remains as to whether or not we have sufficiently substantial evidence to demonstrate that Paul was explicitly attacking a particular Artemis/matriarchal heresy being promoted by certain female Christians, if not all Christian women, in the Ephesian church, with respect to 1 Timothy 2:12-15. This is where the cult of Artemis influence proposal remains speculative, as opposed to being the most probable explanation for Paul’s statements for not permitting women to serve as local church elders.

 

Coptic Christians celebrating Christmas Eve in Cairo. Some the practices of this ancient tradition may strike many Protestants as archaic, as in the displayed practice of having women and men on different sides of the sanctuary. However, it is interesting to learn that among many older, non-Protestant traditions, that women have a greater voice in the church’s communal life than you find in some Protestant evangelical complementarian communities!! (photo credit: Associated Press, Amr Nabil)

 

What Actually Tips the Scales in this Debate: Who Bears the Burden of Proof?

In reviewing the arguments presented by Lucy Peppiatt, and others sympathetic to her position, a common theme emerges. Essentially, who bears the burden of proof in making their case? For egalitarians like Peppiatt, they find the threat of the cult of Artemis to be so pervasive in 1 Timothy, that they would place the burden on the traditionalist to demonstrate why the heresies linked to Artemis do not explain everything we plainly find in the text.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it comes across as an example of Protestant hubris, suggesting that a “plain reading of the text” should be obvious to anyone, devoid of any substantial connection with 2000 years of church history. Sadly, one can think of about 33,000 reasons why this naive approach to Scriptural hermeneutics has not worked out very well, as we have some 33,000 different Protestant denominations that all cite the “plain reading of the text” to make their case.  Yes, the “33,000” number is both widely cited and wildly inflated, but hopefully the point is appreciated, in that Protestantism is infamously known for its excessive denominationalism, and often highly idiosyncratic readings of Scripture that leads to division in the churches. Even if the number is more like 3,300, it is still greater than the one church Jesus actually envisioned. Rather, it is more historically responsible to place the burden of proof on those who wish to challenge traditional teaching, and not the other way around.

Furthermore, to try to argue that the holder of any traditional Christian view bears the burden of proof is simply a terrible line of thinking, that has disastrous consequences on how we as believers defend our faith. For example, why do we have 66 books in our Bible, at least for Protestants? Is it because we have some divinely inspired table of contents, uttered by an inspired apostle of the first century to tell us? No, we do not. The reason why most Protestants accept that there are 66 books in the Bible is because of a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation to generation, that only became consensually formalized in orthodox circles by the latter half of the fourth century C.E. By default, most Protestant Christians accept that particular tradition as trustworthy, and affirm that the content of the Biblical canon we have is correct, as listed in every Bible today, and they would never dismiss it as false unless there was substantial evidence to demonstrate that such a tradition was faulty.

Other beliefs dearly held by Christians today are grounded, not by explicit texts in Scripture, but rather by tradition developed from implicit reasonings found in the Bible. For example, we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels based on tradition, but no explicit text in Scripture firmly teaches this. Also, we have no explicit text in Scripture that affirms the doctrine of the Trinity, rather we are beholden to church tradition that has synthesized evidence implicit in Scripture that gives us this essential doctrine of the faith. You are going to be in a heap of trouble if you insist to a critic that these beliefs have firm groundings, if you simultaneously suggest that defenders of church tradition bear the “burden of proof.”

Egalitarians need to seriously rethink their line of reasoning, if they make this type of “burden of proof” claim, that puts the traditionalist in the defensive posture. Such a rhetorical strategy may come back and hurt them later on, as skeptics of the Christian faith will often insist that Christians themselves bear the “burden of proof” for why they accept the authority of the Scriptural canon, the commonly accepted names of the Gospel writers, and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Nevertheless, if the burden of proof can indeed be met, to dismiss a tradition, then that is another thing entirely. Accepting a traditional teaching simply because it is traditional, alone, is insufficient, if there is strong evidence to go another direction. There are numerous cases where a traditional view has been set aside when substantial evidence has been cited to refute a particular tradition. For example, extreme ascetic practices associated with the early church are no longer widely practiced today. A number of early church fathers lifted up celibacy as being spiritually superior to marriage. Paul’s encouragement for the unmarried to remain unmarried, as in 1 Corinthians 7:8, is often cited in support of this.

However, for many Christians today, this is no longer accepted as true. Instead, God’s good design for marriage, as taught more broadly in the Bible, indicates that marriage is just as spiritual a calling as celibacy is. If anything, Paul’s teaching that marriage should be affirmed, from 1 Timothy 5:14, as discussed in this blog post, should be sufficient to demonstrate that certain early church views that inappropriately elevated celibacy over marriage should be rejected. Therefore, given this and other examples, all Christians, including those with commitments to a complementarian theology, should be open to such evidence that pushes back on their tradition, and be willing to revise their views accordingly. But the key is that the evidence needs to be substantial, offering not a mere possibility, but rather offering a solution more probable than not.

Rather, given the current state of the evidence, it is more probable that the early church did get it right, when the church set aside only qualified men from being ordained to the presbyteriate (the elders of the church).  However, that such an ancient practice is actually consistent with how many evangelical complementarians actually implement such a practice in contemporary churches is most definitely questionable.  For example, 1 Timothy 5:3-16 has Paul instructing the church to support qualified widows, which effectively creates an order of widowed women. These women are entrusted with a type of Christian ministry, particularly associated with prayer, a practice that has its roots in the early church, which is contrasted with the office of male elders (1 Timothy 5:17-25). How many churches today actually practice something like this?

A more likely scenario is that overly enthusiastic defenders of a qualified male eldership, as Paul was teaching, have over the centuries taken Paul in such a way as to improperly remove women from other legitimate forms of service and leadership in the church. For example, women served faithfully as deacons, according to evidence outside of the New Testament as early as the first decade of the second century. Unfortunately, the practice of having a female diaconate slowly faded away by the early medieval period, thus leading to various ways of disenfranchising women from serving in other good and profound ways in the church. The “hierarchialist” perspective that Peppiatt critiques more probably owes itself to this kind of historical development.

On the other hand, those who believe that those who wish to defend church tradition bear the burden of proof will see things quite differently. The influence of the Artemis cult on Ephesus, even with the minimal evidence we currently possess, which admittedly at certain points discussed above is convincing, will sway such Christians to abandon any traditional view on the nature of eldership in the local church. Lucy Peppiatt herself is among those who are amazed that the cult of Artemis influence argument fails to persuade critics. Those who believe that challengers to the tradition of the church bear the burden of proof instead will beg to differ.

The Need for an Integrated View of Gender and Family: Towards a Sacramental Vision of Spiritual Fatherhood and Motherhood

Before concluding, it is important to frame the importance of this discussion, not just within the church, but within the larger culture.  At one level, questions over the relationship between men and women, in the family, and in the church, is an intramural discussion to be had within the church. None of this is a “salvation issue,” and there are many Christian believers who stand in good faith, with opposing positions on these matters. I have a heartfelt word for Lucy Peppiatt’s efforts in Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women. I have known many evangelical egalitarians over the years who love the Lord, and who seek to uphold a high view of Scripture. Though I do not know Lucy Peppiatt personally, I know that she and others like her really mean well. In fact, as this review has hopefully shown, there is a lot of room for agreement with complementarians on certain points that Peppiatt raises. The problem here is that in the effort to clean up the bathwater, we risk throwing out the baby in the process.

Yet at another level, this issue does have an impact on how the Gospel is presented to nonbelievers. Some are concerned we should make every effort to remove any hint of misogyny within Scripture, and while this is surely well intentioned, much of the reasoning used to defend egalitarian theological positions would prove disastrous when compared to other similar defenses of certain Christian doctrines that have a much, much greater importance. Furthermore, and most ironically, egalitarian type theology offers very little to a world that is confused about God’s good design with respect to gender differences.

Perhaps the greatest drawback to Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women is the lack of any sustained reflection on the notion of Christian family. For if the biological family is the cornerstone for advancing the human race, and the church is to be the family of God, where men and women, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, partner together to achieve God’s purposes, then it is striking that Lucy Peppiatt to a great extent ignores this dimension when describing Scripture’s vision for women.

Certain feminist impulses within society and the church have sought to expose and correct egregious abuses of women, and Christians should welcome these efforts. Yet at the same time, the rise of feminism in contemporary culture has come at a tremendous cost, in terms of the stability of family life. A local church community, therefore, has an imperative responsibility to model what healthy family life looks like, both in terms of examples of successful marriages, as well as in how local church communities are structured. When churches start to look more like businesses, following secular corporate leadership practices, instead of looking more like families, such churches have missed vital opportunities to show to a hurting world what good marriages and good family life really looks like. When churches fail to embody sacramental and ritual practices that honor the good differences between men and women, we risk extending confusion to the next generation of children regarding gender, which has a particularly devastating impact on young girls.

It would have been better if Lucy Peppiatt had engaged a more sacramentalist approach to men and women in the church and in the family. Those who drink deeply from the patristic sources of the early church would see that the call for spiritual fathers and mothers in the church is really at the heart of why the New Testament intertwines both marriage and life in the church together. How we practice life in the church, as men and women, has an impact on how we practice life in terms of family: husband and wife in relationship, along with children and others within an extended family.

Very rarely do works that address these issues consider why men serving in the priesthood, as presbyters, going back to the early church, were called “fathers.” The Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that “For though you have countless  guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Those who see the need for spiritual fathers and mothers in the church will often wrestle with why only qualified men are called to serve as elders, but perhaps the best explanation is that men need to be called out to serve in such ways that are not required of mothers.

When expectant parents go to the hospital for the delivery of a child, it is quite obvious who the mother is. She is the vulnerable one crying out for morphine, or some other relief! On the other hand, it is not self-evident who the father is. A father needs to be called out, to which the father responds, “Yes, I am the father.”

Nevertheless, the nature of both spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood is essential to modeling what Christian family, made up of husband, wife, and children, is to look like, among the people of God. Alas, to most evangelical Protestants, such a vision of spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood is often lost. As a result, our discussions regarding men and women serving in ministry often devolve to questions about how to run the church as a business, or even more sadly, power struggles between men and women, as to who gets to make decisions in the local church. The same dynamic is then often passed onto families. Those who are single, who lack a direct connection to a biological family, are inadvertently left out in the process.

Egalitarians like Lucy Peppiatt are to be highly commended for pushing back against missteps made by churches to disenfranchise and marginalize women. Those who read Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women having that concern primarily in mind will most probably find Peppiatt’s work compelling. However, it is worth considering that the utter strangeness of having only qualified men serving as elders in a local church,  a practice that the secular world thinks of as being, at best, weird, might actually possess some spiritual wisdom regarding the relationship between church and family that a broken world desperately needs to experience. Such weirdness need not imply the denigration and exclusion of women. Far from it. The practice of honoring and protecting women, in more subtle ways, mysterious and sacramental, might actually turn out to be a more truthful way of affirming women, as men and women partner together in the mission of God’s church.

For those interested in learning more about Lucy Peppiatt’s perspective, you might find the following interviews insightful, though it will be clear in the interviews that the interviewers are fully in sympathy with the whole of her arguments. Next week, look for the Veracity book review of these issues from a complementarian perspective, by Kevin DeYoung!
Notes:

1. Beth Allison Barr, cites Peppiatt frequently in her book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, reviewed here on Veracity

2. The “trajectory hermeneutic” was popularized by William Webb in his Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. Despite certain benefits that this hermeneutic provides, Andrew Wilson argues that it has serious problems as well. For an argument why we do not need a “trajectory hermeneutic” of Scripture, see this review of Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People. It is one thing to say that Scripture contains teachings that act like “timebombs” (per Sarah Ruden) set in the first century, that would centuries later explode cultural assumptions about the legitimacy of slavery, as in Paul’s encouragement to Philemon to receive the runaway slave, Onesimus, as both a brother and as a son, or the unreliability of women as witnesses, as with the Gospels’ record that the women were the first to witness Christ’s Resurrection. It is another thing to speculate that such timebombs would blow up Paul’s own teachings. See Paul Jewett’s Man as Male and Female, where Jewett argues that Paul’s rabbinic Judaism upbringing blinded him from accepted women as legitimate elders of the church; i.e. suggesting that Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy and Titus to have only qualified men serve as local church elders was wrong, and that Galatians 3:28 teaching about male and female being equal in Christ should supersede what Paul himself taught in 1 Timothy and Titus. This somehow implies that Paul got it right with Galatians 3:28, but then had second thoughts, walking back his views in 1 Timothy and Titus, which is not an acceptable solution for those who hold to a high view of the inspiration of Scripture. Another example of how Galatians 3:28 has been misused was analyzed elsewhere here on the Veracity blog.

3. Another synonym for kephale that a growing number of scholars embrace is “preeminence.” See pages 58ff in Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women. Also, see discussion in previous Veracity blog post on Ephesians/Colossians. The implications brought on by various discussions of kephale (or “head,” as typically translated in English) have had a major impact on recent discussions regarding the doctrine of Trinity, particularly concerning the contentious topic of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS).  An argument for why this ESS doctrine should be rejected is briefly set forward here and here.  

4. See other Veracity article on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35,: the Corinthian Conundrum.

5. For an insightful review of Karen Jo Torgeson’s book, When Women Were Priests, see this review at Goodreads.

6. See S.M. Baugh essay, “A Foreign World,” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Crossway: 2016, pp. 25ff.

7. Sandra L. Glahn, “The Identity of Artemis in First-Century Ephesus,” Bibliotheca Sacra 172 (July- September 2015): p. 321. For effectively dismantling the Kroeger thesis that Artemis was a goddess of fertility, see the critique in S.M. Baugh, “The Apostle Among the Amazons”, Westminster Theological Journal 56 (1994), p. 153-171. For more blogging resources written by Sandra Glahn, see this website associated with Dallas Theological Seminary.

8. See Wayne Stiles Youtube video interview with Sandra Glahn, and her article at Bible.org.. For more on Sandra Glahn’s research on Artemis, see here

9. See Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s, p. 154. The NIV translates the word for “to be silent,” as found in 1 TImothy 2:11 and 2:12b, in another passage in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 as “to settle down,” as in “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.”

10. See Marg Mowczko for an egalitarian approach to “husband of one wife.”  Egalitarian Philip Payne argues well that the simple use of “man” throughout the Bible could mean a male, but it could also mean either a male or female, just as it does in English. Complementarians Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner both agree. But does this same logic apply specifically to the idiomatic expression of a “husband of one wife” (“man of one woman”)? Payne argues that the use of “if anyone” in 1 Timothy 3:1 designates a non-gendered use of a “man of one woman.” The same logic would apply in Titus 1:6. However, egalitarian Philip Towner, regarded by egalitarian Scot McKnight as the preeminent scholar in this area, in Towner’s The Letters to Timothy and Titus Word Biblical commentary (p. 251) suggests that this passage “present[s] the overseer as a husband and father,” a distinct reference to the overseer’s/elder’s male status. Egalitarian Ron Pierce in his discussion with Denny Burk, in a YouTube video debate concedes that while only male overseers served in Ephesus, he nevertheless contends that Paul’s directives here are merely descriptive and not prescriptive. The failure of even the best egalitarian scholars to come to a consensus on this can be maddening…….   An additional curious interpretation of “husband of one wife” suggests that this is referring to a man who is married, and/or only married once throughout their life, which would rule out divorced and widowed men.  There are multiple problems with this viewpoint:  (a) neither Paul nor Timothy were married, so this view suggests neither Paul nor Timothy would qualify as elders, which is an untenable reading. To the contrary, a single man possessing the quality of faithfulness in relationships would indeed qualify for elder/overseer, just as Paul and Timothy would qualify, (b) all of the other qualifications listed in 1 Timothy are related to either character or gifting; e.g. above reproach, sober-minded, able to teach (for elders/overseers), etc, or a particular status that  is relevant to the type of purpose for which elders/overseers in the local church are to serve; e.g. the elder must show signs of spiritual maturity and having an established good reputation;  hence Paul’s insistence that the elder “must not be a recent convert,” and “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:6-7). Therefore, to insist on a particular marital status seems out of place in this list, (c) To insist that because the text (1 Timothy 3:4) says that his “children obey him,” that this means he must have children, would suggest that infertility disqualifies a man from being an elder/overseer, which also seems out of step with the character/gifting/purpose type of qualifications found elsewhere in this list. All of the scholars referenced above agree that “husband of one wife” is an idiomatic expression meant to determine the type of character an elder/overseer should have, as in being “faithful to one’s spouse.” In other words, does the elder have a good reputation in terms of their marriage. Where the scholars disagree is whether “husband of one wife” specifies being a male, or if this qualification is not gender specific. Granted, to be male is not a character or gifting type of qualification, but it would make sense to include this  if Paul had a concept of spiritual fatherhood in mind. See 1 Timothy 3:1-13;  Titus 1:5-9 .  For more discussion, see this article at Crossway.  

11. I am indebted to Andrew Wilson’s excellent summary of the problems associated with certain egalitarian readings of 1 Timothy and Titus, in the ThinkTheology blog.

12. See Gary Hoag, Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy : Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus. Eisenbrauns: 2015. Hoag’s work is reviewed by Steven Baugh in Women in the Church: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Crossway: 2016, see pages 55ff, and by Tom Schreiner, in the same volume, p. 226, see note # 472, and by Lyn Nixon, “Response to Hoag,” in Ex Auditu, Volume 27, 2001, pp. 161-168. The type of word studies that Hoag conducts, in relation to 1 Timothy are very intriguing, but the attempt to firmly establish 1 Timothy uniquely with the cult of Artemis context leave these scholars not entirely unconvinced. For an example of an elaborate, braided hairstyle among women in Paul’s day (1st century C.E.) in Rome, not in Ephesus, see this bust of possibly Julia, Titus’ daughter., thus showing that the wearing of fancy braided hair was not strictly limited to the Ephesian Artemis cult. These hair arrangements were particularly popular among wealthy women during the Flavian period. For Lucy Peppiatt’s review of Hoag’s work, see this review on the Jesus Creed blog.

13. Source for the John Chrysostom reference.

14. See this review of Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for more on this criticism. Also consider the various essays in Women in the Church: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Crossway: 2016. For an egalitarian response, see Marg Mowzcko. It bears noting that while two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, are admonished as false teachers (1 Tim 1:20), no women in 1 Timothy are named as false teachers. We even know that Hymenaeus was teaching a hyper-preterist theology that claimed that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:17-18). It would seem odd that only men would be called out by name for specific false teaching, but that the female false teachers in Ephesus would not be specifically mentioned, nor would their specific false teaching be described. ….. An alternate approach, noted by Hoag, Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy  (kindle PDF location 2114), regarding research by McCabe, An Examination of the Isis Cult, (p, 102-103), suggests that perhaps the cult of Isis, which made its way into Ephesus by the 1st century C.E. was also an influence on the cultural situation behind 1 Timothy, and not just Artemis: “The Isis myth of the origin of man promoted the idea that Isis had usurped authority from Ra in the Legend of Ra and Isis  to become as powerful and great as Ra. She instigated violence in the story by forming a serpent that would bite him, resulting in great pain.” This might explain Paul’s admonition for the Ephesian women not to “usurp authority” (see KJV reading of 1 Timothy 2:12) of the man. Furthermore, the cult of Isis myth suggests a different creation narrative, that Paul is seeking to refute here, in that the Isis myth “proclaimed that the man (Ra) was deceived by the woman (Isis), who instigated violence against him” (Hoag, kindle PDF location 2159).  This might make sense given that the Greek word for “usurp” in 1 Timothy 2:12 can also be translated as “instigating violence“,  and that Paul is teaching that Eve was the one deceived, and not the man, Adam. However, we still run into the same problem here, as with the purely Artemis myth, namely that we lack the substantial evidence necessary to establish the claim, where we most need it: We lack any specific reference to Isis in 1 Timothy itself, nor do we have a record outside of 1 Timothy of 1st century Ephesian Christian women spreading heretical teaching about Isis in a syncretist fashion. If we had that type of evidence, it would be a game changer. Instead, we only find substantial evidence of the Isis cult making in-roads into the Christian community with the advent of the Virgin Mary cult beyond the 1st century. The problem is very much like what “Jesus Mythicists” try to do to demonstrate that Jesus never existed: Jesus Mythicists will locate in the Gospels themes that harken back to Homer’s Odyssey, an 8th c. B.C. epic. On that basis, Jesus Mythicists conclude that the Gospels are simply works of fiction, thus lacking any historicity. Do Christian egalitarians not see the problem associated with this type of argumentation? In order to establish the egalitarian thesis, you have to unearth knowledge of the 1st century Ephesian church which was not accessible to the early church fathers. This is very different from Old Testament studies, where we actually DO have more knowledge of the Ancient Near Eastern world than the early church fathers ever had (see John Walton and Michael Heiser’s research).   

15. See S. Baugh, “The Apostle Among the Amazons,” in Westminster Theological Journal 56, 1994, p. 153-171. For example, Luke makes no mention of women exerting authority via the Artemis cult in Acts 19, where the pagans shouted against Paul, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” over and over for several hours. Only men are cited as leaders in this passage. Baugh cites Acts 19 to show that men “took a leading role in economic, civil, and religious affairs at Ephesus; no Ephesian women are mentioned in these connections” (p. 158), and “there are no matriarchal … societies in antiquity” (p. 160). A critic of Baugh, Bob Edwards, responds by citing evidence of the cult of Cybele that intermingled with the cult of Artemis in Ephesus and was in fact matriarchal (see here and here). The response of Baugh appears to be that such matriarchal practices in Ephesus ceased largely a century before Paul, and therefore do not sufficiently support the context for 1 Timothy, during the first century C.E. Yet another critic of Baugh, Linda Belleville, in Discovering Biblical Equality, 3rd Edition, 2021, acknowledges Baugh’s point with respect to urban Ephesus in the 1st century C.E. However, Belleville cites the presence of a female high priestess in suburban Ephesus, in the first century, which would suggest a suburban presence of a matriarchal society near Ephesus (p. 128). However, this is a curious argument made by Belleville, considering that Christianity primarily thrived in Paul’s day in urbanized areas, and rarely outside of major cities, until well after Paul’s death. In a survey of scholarship written by non-evangelical authors, we find the ubiquity of pater familias, whereby the male head of the household had absolute, authoritarian control over women in the house. No room can be found in 1st century Greco-Roman culture for a radical feminist sub-culture, that effectively disestablishes the dominance of pater familias in Ephesus (see notes for 1 Timothy, by Jouette M Bassler in the Harper Collins Study Bible, 1993 & 2006). Wikipedia has a helpful discussion about what pater familias is all about

16. In the apocryphal Acts of Andrew 25, a woman prays to the Ephesian Artemis (or Diana) to speed along her sister’s labour. Reference from Marg Mowczko.

17. The truth is, 1 Timothy 2:15 is a most difficult verse to understand, for both complementarians and egalitarians alike. See a  fuller discussion in a previous Veracity blog posting. Also consider Bill Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, Word Biblical Commentary, pp. 143ff. Jared August’s work on the messianic “the childbirth” interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 is the most convincing argument I have read. Sandra Glahn even admits that in one telling of the Artemis story, that when Artemis’ mother was wrestling for nine days in giving birth to Apollo, Artemis did not intervene at all, thereby avoiding any connection even to midwifery!! Interestingly, Sandra Glahn offers yet another way to interpret this passage, based on the observation that the first phrase of the verse has a singular subject, “she,” whereas the second phrase of the verse has a plural subject, “they.” Glahn suggests that perhaps the first phrase is actually an Ephesian saying, and that the second phrase is Paul’s effort to correct the saying by putting a Christian spin on it. A reconstruction might look like this, “Yet some Ephesian women have a saying that ‘she will be saved through childbearing.’ But I, Paul, say that this would only be true ‘if those women continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.’ ”  (listen to talk that Glahn gives at CBE conference). Glahn is in the process of writing a book, due in 2023, that may put together cohesive arguments for her findings.     

18. See David Litwa video, regarding appeal to messianic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15, on YouTube. Litwa, an early Christianity scholar in Australia, is not a conservative evangelical scholar, and yet he finds insufficient evidence to tie the writing of 1 Timothy to anything going on with the Artemis cult in the time of Paul, in the 1st century. As to the notion of Artemis as a goddess of childbearing or midwifery, Litwa reports that Artemis
doesn’t give a damn about changing diapers.” Furthermore, Litwa finds the pater familias standard of male domination in the whole of Greco-Roman society so pervasive, that any feminist potential within a city like Ephesus would have been inconsequential. Litwa views evangelical egalitarian attempts to appeal to the Artemis cult as weak attempts to restore confidence in Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy.

19. See Marg Mowczko. Note however, that with the possible exception of the Apocalypse of Adam, which can not be assuredly dated to the 1st century, but only somewhere between 50 and 100 C.E., none of our sources for advanced Gnosticism teaching can be securely found within the first century. Everything is either 2nd century or later. Mowczko, an egalitarian scholar, admits this shortcoming: ‘Scholars are increasingly reluctant to call syncretistic religious beliefs before the second century AD “Gnosticism”.

20. The influence of incipient Gnosticism on certain later writings in the New Testament, such as probably the Gospel of John, is well acknowledged. However, the fractured development of various and often contradictory beliefs among the Gnostics does not really take place until at least a generation has passed since the original apostles died.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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