Monday, 12 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Three: 1 Timothy 2.15

On Thursday I promised to write about 1 Timothy 2.15, and why we should conform to the world. This is where this whole set of three blogs really arose, because it was 1 Tim 2.15 that took up most of the last College discussion group.

In Part Two, I argued that Galatians 2.38 ("in Christ there does not exist male and female") has been used out of context by proponents of the consecration of women to the episcopate. In particular, I suggested that Galatians is a letter about Christians not conforming themselves to the world outside their community. This means that the line taken by  "Enough Waiting" and others, that we risk looking ridiculous in the eyes of the world if we don't pass the Measure next week, is not one Paul would take.This is true whatever Paul actually thought about the proper relationship between male and female in the Church (and therefore in ministry).

But of course, there are counter-arguments to this. the most interesting and challenging I've met in quite a while arose out of last week's discussion of 1 Timothy 2.15. Now in case anyone isn't familiar with that verse it reads in the NRSV:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
As usual, there are huge difficulties of interpretation. For a whole range of intepretations see here, but I'll summarize what we discussed last week.

Who is "she"? Well immediately preceding this verse we have mention of Eve, so "she" could be Eve, but then "will be saved" makes little sense, since Eve is in the past. In any case verses 13-14 about Eve are explaining what was said in verse 12:
I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
This means the Eve reference should probably be put in brackets, so that "she" is the woman who is not to teach. Note that the Greek here could read "wife" and "husband" for "woman" and "man." I don't think that's the most natural way to take it, but equally, it doesn't make much difference to the general point.

Next we ask about how child-bearing can save. One option is to say that this is the specific child-bearing of Mary - woman (and man for that matter) is saved by the birth of Jesus Christ - by the Incarnation. whilst his is possible, it hardly seems likely in the context. If that's what Paul meant, you'd expect something much more explicit about Mary and Jesus being involved.

Alternatively, one interpretation offered (we were consulting commentaries) is that Paul thought that Christian woman are saved from childbearing - that they don't experience labour-pains or perinatal mortality. We found that explanation pretty ridiculous.

And who are "they"? The childbearing women? Then why the change to plural from singular? The children? Since when did the conduct of children bear on the salvation of the parent?

If we believe that salvation comes through grace and faith not works, this mention of child-bearing is really problematic. Somehow, there must be something about the way that a woman take her place in the household of God, which includes bearing and nurturing and teaching her children, which relates to her salvation. All these things would be marks of the fact that her faith is genuine. This is a fairly generalized account of what this verse might mean. The specifics are beyond our understanding, nearly two thousand years out of context - how do we deal with women who cannot have children, for whatever reason? Surely we don't think the cannot be saved?

What we seem to have here though, is a clear text showing that for Christians, male and female are not simply interchangeable. Paul thinks that there is a real difference. No man can ever bear children. Here then is a proof-text which shows that Galatians 3.28 cannot mean what the proponents of women's consecration think it means.

This interpretation, which is the best we could come up with that actually does justice to the text, is not without difficulty. It suggests a status for women which is hardly progressive, and not one that most people today would wish to stand up for. The world has moved on.

Which leaves the difficulty of what to do with this text. I have so far written about what "Paul" thought, but most scholars would say that this Epistle was almost certainly not by Paul. One tactic used is therefore just to dismiss this passage. Not by Paul, it is unworthy of Christianity.

Well, I think the scholars are right (I'm not totally convinced by the arguments). But, like it or not, 1 Timothy is in the canon of scripture, and I don't wish to discard any part of scripture. That's just making scripture mean what we want it to, rather than letting ourselves be changed by it. So fine, not by Paul, but is Christianity worthy of it?

At the end of the day, I think we have to admit that it's a struggle. We don't quite know what's going on here, and even what we think we understand, we don'y know how to deal with.

The only possible answer is to say that we need to look at the rest of scripture. Article XX:  the Church  may not "so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." Just as Gal 3.28 should not be used as a proof text, so 1 Tim 2.15 should not either. Perhaps the best arrangement would be for both sides to pretend these two verses don't exist, and to see what is left in scripture.

I don't think either side would change its views, but I think we'd have a healthier debate, which didn't rel yon just one verse, as if it closed down the argument..

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