Revd Esther Prior, Vicar of Cove, tackles the controversial text: 1 Timothy 2: 9-15
When I became a Christian in my last year of University, one of the first and significant things that changed for me was my sense of ambition. I would look to the future that I had planned for myself and the career path that I had chosen, but it all felt like it no longer fit who I had become and who I was becoming. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense that ‘I wanted to work for God’, without any real understanding of what that meant.
"I remember asking God to give me a story to tell that would vindicate my sense of call"
From then on, I followed the promptings of my heart, only to realise later that these promptings were leading me into a theological landmine! I didn’t realise as I became a Christian, that in the very distant land of England women were being ordained priests for the first time. Neither did I realise that the Church that I was later to serve in had been very conservative and had actively taught against women’s ministry! Nor did I know that the very controversial 1 Timothy 2 existed!
But these are things I was soon to find out and sometimes in very painful ways. In the midst of being called Satan’s bride and Jezebel, I sought God’s will and I remember asking him to give me a story to tell that would vindicate my sense of call.
As I embarked on this journey, I knew that one of the things I couldn’t do, as I sought to come to an understanding of God’s will about the role of women in the church, was to simply go by my personal experience. That would lead to unreliable subjective ‘truth’. My position was and is still that the bible must remain the norm of truth and the ultimate authority from which my understanding and my actions should flow. I realised therefore that I couldn’t talk about the Bible being normative for my life without confronting head on the difficult texts like 1 Timothy 2!
"The driving force has to be a ‘big picture’ understanding of God’s word, and in this case, weighing Timothy against the radically new model of ministry that is ushered in by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit."
My rule of thumb is this, when making decisions about controversial subjects; I can’t just go to difficult a passage in isolation, what I need to do is to ask searching questions about the whole biblical witness on the theme at hand. The driving force has to be a ‘big picture’ understanding of God’s word, and in this case, weighing Timothy against the radically new model of ministry that is ushered in by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit. When I did this, I realised quite quickly that the passages that restrict women’s roles do not reconcile with the actual practice of Jesus or even Paul himself nor do they reconcile with other Old and New Testament texts where women were clearly exercising the roles that seem to be prohibited in 1 Tim 2:9-15.
So what is the wider biblical context? How does the bible answer the question: ‘what is ministry, how is it to be done and by whom’. Looking first at the creation/fall narratives, you find there that ministry began with the stewardship responsibility that God first assigned to Adam (Gen 2:15) and then equally to Eve (1:28). The fall brought about a structure of hierarchy with Adam ruling over Eve (3:16). It was only then that ‘ministry’ became separated into predetermined roles for the woman and the man.
As the story moves on with God’s covenant with Abraham (and subsequently Israel), ministry evolved as the privilege of a few ‘ruler’ type individuals while the majority of the people remained on the outside looking in. Gradually, 3 categories of people emerged as ‘ministry specialists’ on behalf of the people – priests, prophets and kings.
- Priests – were male recruits from one of the twelve Hebrew tribes.Their function was to minister in worship before God and to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people.
- Prophets – was a group comprising of man and women who were called from all walks of life to speak God’s word to the people in times of need and in situations of crisis.
- Kings – Before Israel demanded a king, God sent Judges to bring some order out of their recurring anarchy and these were men and women called from all walks of life. When the monarchy was established a third category of ministry specialists was established.Kings were, from the time of David males from the tribe of Judah.With time the idea of kingship was held in anticipation of a coming King, the Supreme King and Messiah that God would send into the world.
See Part 2 in which Esther will explore how ministry evolved with the coming of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit.