A couple of Sundays ago a Denny Burke preached on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in a sermon entitled “Women in the Church”. He has a rather interesting understanding of verse 15 (“But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”) and rests his premise in part on his understanding of current cultural issues.
Rather, I should point out that he rests his premise on his misunderstanding of cultural issues.*
Falling Over Figures Of Speech
First, we need to see how he views verse 15. The pastor acknowledges that many people in church history have considered that verse as referring to the birth of Jesus: a woman gave birth to our Savior, and this childbirth is part of salvation. The pastor, though, thinks this teaching is faulty and that Paul really did mean all women – women in every generation over the centuries – are saved through bearing children.
Then he says Paul didn’t mean just childbearing but all the things that childbearing supposedly represents, all the things that (in this pastor’s opinion) women are supposed to do to fulfill their Bible-mandated responsibilities in caring for their homes. The pastor gets there by saying that Paul is employing a figure of speech, as he explains here:
The figure of speech is called a synecdoche, and all that means is that it’s a figure of speech where the part stands for the whole. So if I tell you to come outside with me, I want you to see my new wheels, you know that I’m not asking you to come outside and look at tires, right? Come look at my new wheels means come look at my new car. …
I think Paul’s doing the same thing here when he’s talking about childbearing. Childbearing is the part that stands for a larger whole, and that larger whole is the point. Childbearing is a part of the woman’s wider role to care for the home.
Most readers of this blog know that I love figures of speech, and they can be found throughout the Bible (including some quite humorous ones). Understanding biblical metaphors and analogies helps us understand the meaning of Scripture itself.
But this pastor is not illuminating Scripture by his synecdoche analysis, but putting it into a straitjacket.
This pastor is forced to argue that childbearing represents more than simply bearing children because otherwise the verse leaves out childless women, none of whom would share in the salvation spoken of in verse 15. But if the verse really means homemaking then – voila – all women can join in because even childless women can be homemakers.
It is a little bit later that we see why this forced interpretation is so important to his thesis. Regrettably, the pastor has to rely on falsehood to make the point.
He closes his sermon with six applications and in one he says:
Embrace the role God has called you to, and I mean this particularly to the ladies.
Ladies, our culture is trying to indoctrinate you with the error that motherhood and caring for the home is worthless. but don’t you believe that.
Our culture is saying motherhood and caring for the home is worthless? Has he seen the magazines at grocery checkout lines devoted to making a better home, a better meal, better children? Has he never heard of the thousands of Pinterest pages devoted to motherhood and homemaking? Does he not see the tremendous pressure our culture puts on women to be perfect in all things domestic?
Yes there are other aspects of culture that do not value homes and parenthood, but contrary to his gross overstatement our culture is complex and nuanced. When he sets up such a straw man argument as this for a sermon point it’s not only a cheap shot but also displays the weakness of his main premise.
There are more weaknesses to come.
Men Should Always Provide For Women … Unless The Woman Is Putting the Man Through Seminary
He then says that men too should embrace their roles: their roles are to do everything they can to make sure women are homemakers. The pastor tells men it might even mean forgoing certain pursuits in order to make it possible for their wives to stay home. As he puts it, if this means the family has to “scale back” then do so but don’t pursue a lifestyle that forces women to work outside the home.
His next point shows he doesn’t really mean it.
He says there are different seasons and in some of them the woman might not be home, but out earning an income. Then he gives an example from his own marriage before he and his wife had children.
The pastor and his wife both worked while he was in seminary. A common experience, I’m sure. But didn’t he just finish telling us that men should scale back because it’s so important for the woman to be in the home? Shouldn’t this pastor have instead kept working full time to save up for seminary until he had enough money to both go to school and allow his wife to stay home?
Here’s what he really means: the Bible says men should work and women should stay home, unless the man is going to seminary and then the woman should go out and get a job to pay for things her husband would otherwise be earning money to pay for.
These inconsistencies show that his take on the passage does not stand up to scrutiny. And as we’ll soon see, his take on the passage ignores single women completely.
Women Means All Women, But Not Really Single Women
Consider what this teaching means for the single woman. The pastor said at one point (in passing) that his sermon applied to both single and married women caring for their homes, but then he proceeded to preach entirely to married women.
And that’s where his teaching falls apart.
Single women today don’t have someone out making money to allow them to stay home and take care of things there. And since these women are single I’m betting this pastor doesn’t want them to engage in childbearing either. So how does he expect them to attain the salvation spoken of in 1 timothy 2:15? He doesn’t say, and that means that contrary to his sermon title this sermon isn’t really for all “Women in the Church” but only married women whose husbands are not seminary students.
Here’s one thing that does come across loud and clear for all women in that pastor’s sermon, though. His teachings don’t ring true.