Ephesus, Women, And Getting Tossed Out Of A Board Meeting

Many people insist the Bible should only be read for its plain meaning on its face, and that anything else gets in the way of understanding God’s word. So they read Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2 and Paul’s instructions on women and men in the church and then try to apply it to every church everywhere. Yet they ignore that Ephesus was a special kind of place with a particular goddess cult that affected greatly how men and women interacted in all levels of religion, society, culture and business.

Of course, most of those same people will tell you that other passages – such as on slavery – can and should be understood in their historical context. But not when it comes to the roles of women and men. For those people, I’ve created this:

If I get tossed out the theological window for it, I will put my hope in the One who said I will fly like an eagle.

Which is another passage that is not to be taken literally, from what I can tell.


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37 Responses to Ephesus, Women, And Getting Tossed Out Of A Board Meeting

  1. Richard says:

    As I understand the counter to the argument that this is a cultural limitation, the following verse (13) refers to creation, which tends to argue against any limitation.

    • Tim says:

      Verse 13 is an interesting point. One cult in Ephesus taught that man was created from woman in the beginning, so I take it (based on understanding what Ephesus was like in Timothy’s day) that Paul was essentially setting that record straight rather than establishing a general hierarchy.

      (One good – and extensive – resource for background on Ephesus is Richard and Katherine Kroeger’s I Suffer Not A Woman.)

      • Angie says:

        Did you see Scot McKnight’s post today about this. It’s a review by Lucy Peppiatt of Gary Hoag’s “Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from ‘Ephesiaca’ by Xenophon of Ephesus.” Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2015. Insightful.

      • Richard says:

        Surely this is an area in which we can reasonably disagree, Tim. I note that the Kroegers’ argument has been heavily critiqued by scholars such as Thomas Schreiner and Steven Baugh. Dr. Baugh has written extensively on the history of ancient Ephesus, and finds the evidence for a feminist cult there wanting. Albert Wolters has criticized the Kroegers’ scholarship as well.

        • Tim says:

          They have their critics and supporters in academia. Another source is the link in the post above regarding the goddess cult. It strengthens the basis for thinking it existed.

      • Steve Friedrich says:

        Ordered. This section of my library is growing.

      • Kerry Luddy says:

        Catherine Kroeger was a gift to the Church! I was privileged to have her as a professor at Gordon-Conwell.

  2. Laura Droege says:

    Recently, I got into a discussion with someone at church who said, essentially, that anyone who believed these verses were limited to that culture and not universally applicable for all time (that would be me) didn’t take the Bible seriously. I felt a bit like the window-breaking, tossed-out-of-the-meeting guy in the cartoon.

    • Tim says:

      Have you asked them when they last went into the spice cupboard, counted out their dill seeds and gave a tenth of them to the church?

      • Laura Droege says:

        Oooo….that’s a good point! I can never think of good comebacks, especially when my husband isn’t there to give me moral support.

      • keriwyattkent says:

        do they eat cheeseburgers? Because that is so unbiblical. Seriously. Exodus 23:19, & 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21. Also, do they require you to cover your head when you (a woman) prophesy? Oh, wait, prophesy means to speak God’s truth out loud in church. Hmm. That’s a puzzle. How can you be quiet in church when you’re speaking out loud? (1 Corin. 11, which also seems to suggest women should keep their hair long–is that enforced in your church?) Hmm.

        • Tim says:

          Christ has set me free to eat cheeseburgers! (And you know how I feel about food, Keri.)

        • Laura Droege says:

          None of the above are enforced! They’d dismiss the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages because we’re “under a NEW covenant” of grace.

          I’m taking a long break from Sunday School because I can’t handle having to defend my point of view all the time!

    • Greg Hahn says:

      I take it they’re greeting one another with a holy kiss when they meet, per Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:2-, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:26 and 1 Pet 5:14, then, right? Because if there ain’t a bunch of holy kissing going on, they have some ‘splaining to do.

      • Tim says:

        Yep, gotta get the man-smooch going on! “It might be very common in some parts of the world still, but I imagine CBMW would consider it unmanly if starting this Sunday it were taken up in American churches as a regular greeting among the men.”

        • Jo says:

          Kissing in “some” parts of the world? How about in the US!! I grew up in a denom that still practices, even today, the “greeting of a holy kiss”. Men kiss men on the lips and women kiss women on the lips, all the while shaking hands and saying, “Greetings, brother” or “Greetings, sister”. This procedure is actually in their statement of faith/practice. To be fair, this practice came with them from Europe when immigration began in the 1800s; nevertheless, it continues as “Gospel” even as we speak because it is commanded in the Bible no less than 5 times, right?

      • Laura Droege says:

        Man, they DO have a lot of ‘splaining to do!! All these guys do is hug and shake hands.

    • Retha says:

      When someone tells me I do not take the Bible seriously, I feel like asking him: “Give me all your money!”

      Him: “No” (Or something similar, maybe asking questions about why I ask that.)

      Theoretical, imagined me: “Don’t you take the Bible seriously? The Bible says to give to all who ask of you!”

  3. Pingback: The Plain Meaning | Stumbling Zombie

  4. Ruth says:

    Great post and responses! If I was thrown out of the window for my unwomanly views, according to some, would I fly like an eagle, or flutter like a helpless sparrow and need rescuing by a manly man…lol…..and sent back to the kitchen to cook my rescuer a sustaining meal?
    Whilst counting my dill and garlic, of course!
    Don’t think kissing would go down too well at my church, although I do like the handshake-hug.
    Take your partner by the hand, place an arm across his back, give each other a cheerful squeeze and smile if you’re sure your teeth are clean! Sounds like a square dance call….but it works very well.
    My Kiwi nephews taught that to their cousins when we were on a visit home years ago, great fun.

  5. Oh my stars, thank you. I’ve been pondering this and other passages, and it’s stinking hard to find any resource that discusses the cultural background of the verses discussing gender “roles.” Cultural background for everything else, yes, but not for those verses. Thanks for providing links.

    • Tim says:

      Glad to link for you. Another resource is The Junia Project blog where they have gathered a number of articles on 1 Timothy 2.

      One thing I was trying to get at, in addition to pointing out the cultural context issue, is that everyone should be at the same table talking through these things, not dismissing contrary views out of hand. No tossing out windows!

  6. david33647 says:

    The thing is the young man at the end of the table WAS taking the words of that passage literally. He had a literate understanding of historical and cultural context, and an understanding of the original intent of the author. With that in mind, he was able to take it literally — it was literally meant to address the issue of goddess worship in Ephesus.

    Many who would affirm the doctrine of “originalism” in the interpretation of the US Constitution seem unwilling to do so when it comes to Holy Scripture. IOW, they will rant about how the constitution meant what the framers meant it to mean, not what some judge today decides that it means on the face of it. Yet, when it comes to scripture, they refuse to attempt to parse out what the author might actually have meant in the context of the day. That seems odd to me, but there it is.

    • Tim says:

      Nick McDonald once told me that his hermeneutics professor at seminary said in order to know what the passage means you have to know what the writer meant. This is part of what it takes to read the Bible truly literally in the classical sense of the word (or – as I put it – to read the Bible literarily).

  7. Pingback: Scripture, Culture and Context – a quote from Keri Wyatt Kent | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  8. Cindy says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of your blog lately, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I would love to believe that some of the things you say are true, are really true. My struggle is that I’ve always been taught the other way. If the majority believe that these verses are for all time, how can the minority be right? I truly just want to know that what I’m being taught is biblical. And I want to believe correct theology and please the Lord. Thank you.

    • Tim says:

      Glad you’re here, Cindy. I don’t think this is a minority view, although it may be that it is not what people usually hear in evangelical settings. One source you might find helpful is the Junia Project website. http://juniaproject.com/blog/

      • Elizabeth says:

        Our counselor said to me “you can’t tell me 2,000 years of sound theology by hundreds of sound theologians should be thrown out the window by some 40-50 yr old “new discovery”??? I tell you, our marriage counselor does not know just how serious I am about the equality issue. I take everything he says on that subject with a ton of salt. I guess that makes me a closet “egalitarian”…. though in a light-handed fashion. (I’m still in the learning process).

        I have a husband who is very old-school and patriarchal in his thinking – though he thinks he’s not – and so I am having to learn how to “break the news” to him that we are equal, and do it respectfully. It’s a learning project for sure.

  9. Paul says:

    Read Fee on this. He successfully argues that this teaching is a temporary injunction concerning a temporary problem. Not only that, one can argue that just like we don’t think slavery is OK today, (Paul never tells us it is wrong, after all) many other cultural beliefs of antiquity don’t apply today.

  10. Linda Overall says:

    I could speak on this passage for hours. There is so much that has been overlooked or misinterpreted…The foundational verse for my embryonic thesis. There are commands in 1 Tim 2…well really only one…women are to learn. They are to be shaped (the word is plasso in the Greek…Paul uses metamorpho everywhere else…totally different connotation); Think caterpillar to butterfly. As it relates to creation…important to know that there is a small but important word preceding “childbirth”…the word is “the”…one should not ignore the definite article especially when there is no indefinite article in the Greek. The childbirth links the entire paragraph to Eve and the eventual birth of Christ. And then notice that Paul specifically states that he does not allow…making the command for a specific time and place…not at all a statement of permanent prohibition…and so it goes. Your theology is intact, Tim…LOL. And we could go on…but won’t.

    Thanks for the link, Tim…will be using that one!

  11. Pingback: How a Literal Reading of Scripture Leads to Universalism | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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