Hugging the Rock

From Mimi Hadad, President of Christians for Biblical Equality:

Analogies can be powerful tools that bring clarity to complex issues. Educators suggest that metaphors and analogies enable individuals to grasp quickly the essential elements of logic in what are otherwise complicated discussions. Perhaps this is one reason Jesus used metaphors and analogies when explaining spiritual realities. Because the biblical interpretation is often complex, it can be helpful to use analogies to grasp the meaning of passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Consider the following example.

When climbing a steep rock, or when reading a confusing passage in Scripture, the temptation is to hug the rock too closely—to rely upon the “clearest reading” of the English text. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a classic example. It is a very steep rock—it is a difficult text to interpret not only because Paul suggests that women are saved through childbearing (v. 15), but also because Paul uses a strange Greek word, found only once in the Bible—authentein (v. 12). The passage, by virtue of its complexity, demands more of us, just as a skilled climber recognizes that climbing a steep incline requires a counter intuitive measure: despite the laws of gravity, the safest path upward is not to hug the rock but to lean away from it. In order for us gain a universal application from a difficult text like 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we must lean away from the plain reading of the passage in order to gain perspective through a historical, cultural, and linguistic analysis, and by allowing what is clear in Scripture to shed meaning on what is unclear.

To gain balance and perspective in understanding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we lean back and consider how other writers from the first century used authentein. The answer is very helpful. First century writers nearly always used authentein for “authority” that was domineering, misappropriated, or usurped. It can also mean to behave in violent ways or to kill. That is why the Vulgate, the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, and others translations of Scripture translate authentein as “domineering,” or “usurping authority.” It is also helpful to lean back and learn that Ephesus was a city known for its worship of the fertility goddess Artemis, who promised women safety in childbearing. Unlike most goddesses, Artemis did not have a male partner, and this background helps explain why women affiliated with Artemis might have usurped authority to promote myths and genealogies that are contrary to Scripture. Paul opposes their efforts by using the unusual Greek word authentein.

As we continue to “lean back” and study the situation at Ephesus further, we observe that Priscilla and Aquila built a church in their home in Ephesus, where they instructed Apollos (1 Cor. 16:19). Significantly, Priscilla is referenced ahead of her husband in teaching one of the most gifted speakers mentioned in the New Testament—Apollos. She instructed him in the very place—Ephesus—where Paul asks women not to usurp authority over men. Clearly, the type of leadership Priscilla exercised is one that was godly and not domineering. Importantly, she did not promote myths and genealogies but explained the way of God more adequately! The universal principle of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not to exclude women (like Priscilla) from teaching, but to exclude false teachers who usurp authority.

To give Scripture its fullest authority in our lives means we resist the “clearest reading of the text” when doing so places Scripture at odds with itself, as when reading 1 Timothy 2:11-15 at face value. Hugging the rock and clinging to a plain reading of the passage may feel safe, but it places Paul in conflict with himself! It is the surest path not to the top of the mountain of biblical clarity, but to the bottom.

Mimi Haddad

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  • Scot, do you know which first century uses of authentein she has in mind? The only one I’m aware of, other than 1 Tim 2:12, is the (possibly first century) astrologer Dorotheus, who uses it with reference to planets. (Unless she means first century BC, but it didn’t sound like it). Any ideas?

  • Scot McKnight

    Andrew, I can’t speak for Mimi — and it’s very early in the AM in Minneapolis where she is. Maybe she will speak to this later. My guess, and put no stock in it, is that by “first century” she means more or less that general time. Catherine Clark Kroeger’s work is influential among the CBE folks so I suspect she’s used Kroeger’s work.

  • I love this metaphor – such a great way of looking at how we should approach difficult texts. We really do a disservice to ourselves in trying to understand the scriptures when we fail to consider the historical, cultural, and linguistic aspects of a text. If we really have a high view of scripture, we need to this kind of work – “leaning back” to try and see as much of the whole picture as we can.

    Thanks for posting this. Great stuff!

  • BradK

    Andrew, here are some references to uses of authentein that may be helpful…

  • BradK

    Btw, I am assuming she meant 1st century BC, although it does sound like she meant 1st century AD.

  • Marcus C

    It seems to me like we are very selective in which scriptures we choose to “lean back” on. Christian Smith’s book “The Bible Made Impossible” comes to mind…

  • Thanks for posting Mimi’s work & thoughts, here! I agree with her “leaning back”. Pressing in too closely to the grammar and literal meaning poses a danger that we locate meaning more from within ourselves than from the fundamental daily realities in the communities which were addressed by Paul. When we get lost within our own thoughts, we can disconnect from hearing others where they actually are. (& that seems too, too easy to do! Staying present is much harder than mentally straying from being “with” others.)

  • Jeremy

    @Marcus C: I’ve heard of a pretty nifty book on that very subject… Something about a parakeet. 🙂 Scot will be able to tell you more.