In light of the PCA study committee on the role of women in the church, and our own congregation’s study in order to evaluate the study committee’s report and recommendations, I decided to read Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner (2nd edition). It is more of an academic than a popular treatment of the material, as you might imagine. It contains 6 chapters defending and explaining the basis for the complementarian interpretation of this passage so central to the discussion of women in the church, particularly church leadership. I am planning on summarizing the chapters for the purpose of our own study committee, so this “review” will be done in an as yet unknown number of parts.
The volume begins with a chapter by S.M. Baugh, professor of New Testament at Westminster California, about the cultural context of Ephesus. This is pertinent because of many egalitarian claims about the role of women in ancient Ephesus that are used to justify contextualizing Paul’s words into obscurity. Part of the problem is that work regarding the cities of Asia Minor from that time period are seriously lacking. As Baugh notes, we should not equate 1st century Ephesus with either Roman culture or classical Greek culture. It is perhaps even unwise to assume that Ephesus is like other Asia Minor cities, as Paul Trebilco does in his work. Trebilco notes that in Asia Minor we have records that 28 women held the municipal magistracy. He neglects to mention that we have no record of any women in 1st-century Ephesus holding that position. We do have the name of quite a few men. Baugh also notes that this position in Ephesus had little to no power. After the reign of Augustus it was changed “to a minor priesthood of Hestia Boulaia, held sometimes by unmarried girls probably in their early teens years or younger.” (pp. 14) There were also major economic and social changes in the second and third centuries, so studies about first-century Ephesus can’t be based on what we learn then.
Ephesus had been under a series of foreign rulers from the 6th century B.C. In many ways it was quite traditional, and was not controlled by radical elements. “Ephesus never adopted an egalitarian democratic ideology that would necessitate feminism or, minimally, the inclusion of women in public offices.” (pp.17) It was generally pragmatic and accommodated its foreign rulers. In Paul’s day it was accommodating Rome, which was by no means feminist.
It political structure resembled the Athenian model with the state assembly derived from the male citizen body. No women are known to have filled any of these offices, and there were no known women’s civic groups like them. Religiously they were typical Hellenistic polytheists. “The majority of these deities, even the goddesses, were served by male priests at Ephesus.” (pp. 19) The temple of Artemis/Diana dominated the city. This temple was the largest building in the Greek world, 4x bigger than the Parthenon. Tourism, as a result, was a significant part of the economy. It was also a banking center.
There would appear to be no basis for claims that Ephesus was marked by feminism. Women did not dominate the city. The priestesses of Artemis were listed according to their parent(s), not the name of their husbands which was customary in the Greek world. This leads Baugh to believe these priestesses were young, unmarried women, which means they were likely 14 or younger. Based on the roles of these positions, their father’s were wealthy benefactors. There is no record of a High Priestess until 25-30 years after Paul wrote his letters to Timothy. To speak of her influence shaping the Ephesian church doesn’t make sense. “Like the high priests, their most important function was financial…” (pp. 33).
Women are not noted in records of “graduate schools”. But to fulfill their roles in managing larger households, at the least upper class women could read and write, understood math etc. Some of these upper class women seem to be in the congregation. The women in the church there were not uneducated or illiterate. As a result, we shouldn’t think they were disqualified from leadership on the basis of education.
During the 1st century, Ephesus was increasingly influenced by Roman culture. Greek hairstyles were pretty simple (parted in the middle, pinned back or held with a scarf/headband). The Roman imperial household began to influence hairstyles, sort of like the capital in The Hunger Games: elaborate curls, braids, wigs, pins and ornaments. The richer the family, apparently the more elaborate the hairstyle. The immodesty of the Ephesian women was not about low necklines but displays of wealth imitating the expensive fashions of Rome.
“Paul positively opens the road to learning to all women by enjoining them to learn in the church. Furthermore, Paul does not tell women to remain cloistered at home but to exercise their gifts in the practice of public good works and especially in the discipleship of younger women.”
We see neither the denigration nor the exaltation of women in Ephesian culture. Their role in the home included authority over servants/slaves and management of domestic affairs. There is no evidence for the claims of egalitarians that Paul’s comments were meant to keep overly bossy and heretical women from dominating the church.
The second chapter, An Important Word by Henry Scott Baldwin, focuses on authenteo. This is one of the key words in the text. It only appears in this passage. In recent decades this word have been under attack with new, innovative meanings being offered. It is often claim that the word means “to dominate, to domineer” rather than to exercise authority. This claim is made to justify women exercising authority over men in the church. Paul, it was claimed, is trying to address bossy, domineering women.
Baldwin addresses the limitations of word studies. Lexical studies provide descriptions of what a word can mean (semantic range) rather than a prescription of what a word must mean. He examines a number of extra-biblical uses to show the range of meaning. It is not exciting reading. But, “There is not sufficient warrant to postulate a new meaning such as ‘tyrannize’ or ‘coerce.'” (pp. 46) When thinking about “to domineer” there is only one usage that substantiates this claim. “What we can say with certainty is that we have no instances of a pejorative use of the verb before the fourth century AD.” (pp. 49) There is no basis for the newer translations of the word as domineering thereby contextualizing Paul’s instruction away.