Ben Witherington, Women in Ministry 2

Ben Witherington, Women in Ministry 2 April 12, 2012

On Tuesday we posted the first part of Ben Witherington’s 7 minutes videos on women in ministry. Here’s a second one. Take a listen and we can have  a conversation here.

"I am a sinner, I'll readily admit. But I do not believe a theological position ..."

Girls and Soccer
"Sounds to me as if you want people to agree that you are not a ..."

Girls and Soccer
"Calling complimentarianism a "sin" is disparaging because it allows someone to discount the complimentarian argument ..."

Girls and Soccer
"Question, are we to understand that the synagogue is reading sequentially through the scriptures (as ..."

Jesus Read Isaiah (RJS)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Thanks, Scot … one of the things I most appreciated about my mentor Dr. Mont Smith — beside his amazing work on cHesed, of course — was his use of the term “frozen accommodations” for some of the scenarios being talked about in these two videos. Paul was clearly making accommodations in specific circumstances, as people were working through the amazing cultural changes Jesus and his teaching called for. The problems arose when these accommodations were “frozen” rather than grown through into increasing maturity in Christ.

    That this very old “Cold War” is still being waged is both a heartache to Jesus and a black eye for his Bride. Thanks for bringing sources of light and heat, brother.

  • Tim

    A couple of great and very helpful videos, thanks for posting them. I would have been interested to see Witherington engage with Paul’s appeal to the creation order in 1Tim 2 more explicitly as this is the crux of the passage for some people… Perhaps Witherington considers it implicitly ‘dealt with’ when we understand the cultural context, but it’s still a nagging issue for me. Anyone else’s thoughts?

  • Thanks for posting these two videos, Scot. Like many other issues in the NT specifically, I’m thinking specifically about Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts, it is always important to remember that he presented his ideas out of the context of correction based in a very specific context and situation. They were meant to communicate something for future generations, but not always what we have interpreted them to mean, which In this case has often been the exclusion of woman from ministry. I love the fact that Ben shed light on this simple, yet often misunderstood and rather straightforward interpretive issue in a simple and concise way. Excellent!

  • Jeremy

    I’m really wrestling with this topic of late, having come from a solidly complementarian background. One sticking point in Dr. Witherington’s explanation of 1 Tim 2 is that Paul goes on to explain his position on women teaching and he doesn’t say anything about women needing to learn before they can assume the role of teaching. Rather, he bases his argument on Adam and Eve, then goes on to say some stuff about women being saved through childbirth (whatever that means). That all seems like a giant non-sequitor if Paul is really just saying, “Just because you were a teach in your old religion doesn’t mean you can just come in and usurp the teaching authority of the established teachers. Learn quietly for a while and then you can teach.” It seems that if that was his point, he was awfully opaque is his addressing of the situation.

  • Phil Miller

    Witherington addresses those issues with more specifics here (pretty convincingly, if you ask me):

  • Jeremy

    Thanks. That’s very interesting and he makes some great points. Perhaps it is just a matter of translation, but I still get hung up on Paul’s wording. He says explicitly that he doesn’t want a woman teaching or exercising (usurping) authority over a *man*. Why the specificity if the usurping of authority was the issue and not the gender of the one being usurped? To then appeal to Adam and Eve as the foundation for his seemingly gender-based argument only further confuses things if gender is not at issue here. Basically, Paul uses a lot of gender-based arguments for addressing an issue that isn’t really gender specific.

    Please know that I’m not trying to argue or debate. I’m desperately trying to understand and these are just the sticking points for me…

  • Jim

    Jeremy (#6)

    I actually love using this verse when teaching about equality of men and women.

    The Timothy passage talks about how women should be learning (in quietness and humility). In Rome, this is already very counter-cultural. Men are usually the people of society who are learned and who hold power. Outside of Temple priestesses, we don’t find too many women who really have any type of “authority.”

    And after Paul talks about women “learning,” he then makes his point that he does not allow a woman to teach. This makes perfect sense. At that point in time, if a woman has not learned, how can she teach? And if she does teach, isn’t she “usurping” or exercising authority?

    But the big part comes in this, if Paul was asking women to learn, there was also an implicit command for men. They were to teach. They were to bring women to the knowledge that they had.

    Now, if we go to the creation order, and the order of formation; Adam came first and then came Eve, and through woman the whole earth was deceived. This is not promoting that men should teach over women, it is showing the consequences of what happens when a woman (or anyone for that matter) isn’t taught properly.

    Adam was given a command by God. When we see Eve in the Garden with the serpent, we see that she does not fully know the command that God gave. Nowhere in Scripture do we see Eve commanded by God so we may assume it was Adam’s duty to teach and communicate it to her.

    Is it possible the verse isn’t actually telling us who can or can’t teach but the consequences of what happens when we withhold knowledge from others?

    Anyway, that’s my quick two cents and I hope it helps.

  • Jeremy #6

    Jeremy, I think it is hard be definitive about Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve. I’m convinced that Paul is addressing a problem. But what are the specifics of the problem? Paul and Timothy have no need to spell out the specifics because it is already know to them but we have to infer what is going on. Here are my thoughts.

    Witherington points out that the women being addressed here are wealthy women. Apparently they are presuming to have authority when they did not. Why? Status is one issue but we also know that wealthy women embraced the eastern goddess cults of the First Century. Keep in mind that Timothy is in Ephesus, the home to the temple of Artemis.

    According to the Greek Artemis cult, Artemis was the sister of Apollo. She was the protector of girls and the goddess of childbirth. Apollo was the protector of boys. She and Apollo were known to bring sudden death and disease to women and girls, or men and boys, respectively.

    But there were multiple versions of Artemis and her story. The goddess at Ephesus appears to have predated the Greek Artemis. The Greeks, in typical syncretistic fashion, seem to have transferred characteristics of their goddess (and her name) to the Ephesian goddess. We also know that there were other syncretistic aspects to these cults. Some scholars believe there were proto-gnostic stories that modified biblical accounts, including some versions where Eve was created before Adam. Women who became devotees of the Artemis cult would have access to special mystical knowledge unavailable to men. They would have special power over men and be protected by Artemis.

    There are instances in 1 Timothy that suggests that cultic influence was presenting problems, specifically concerns about myths and genealogies in 1:4. Also, much is made of the word “usurp authority.” The Greek word used here is unique in the bible and seems to suggest a forceful seizure of power. So if something along these lines were the facts on the ground, a “read between the lines” versions (always dangerous) might have been something like this.

    “For the moment, I am not permitting the women to teach or seize control of the teaching as though they have some privileged mystical insight that men do not. They need to be still and listen to the teachers. This idea that they have authority to teach because Eve was formed first is wrong. Adam was formed first, then Eve. Furthermore, it wasn’t Adam who was deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became the transgressor. These women need to learn so they don’t likewise lead others into error. Remind them that they need not fear the arrows of Artemis suddenly cutting them down. They will be safe all the way through childbearing, provided they continue in faith, and love and holiness, with modesty.”

    I don’t know that this is precisely what was going on but I suspect it was something along this line. What does seem clear to me as that something specific within the Ephesus context was being addressed here. This was not a “now and always” type of instruction.

  • JoeyS

    Jeremy, one other point that I’ve seen brought up: Paul may have been referring to “a” woman – a specific woman. The language lends itself to it being a singular female that he was addressing because he uses the plural in the same section, which may be a distinction. The line of reasoning goes that Paul only calls out people by name when their offense is a sin against the gospel, but is more gentle otherwise.

    As far as women being saved by childbirth, another viable translation is that women have been saved by the birth of A child – specifically Jesus. I don’t know enough about Greek to filter through this but I have seen some pretty convincing arguments to this affect.

  • E.A.B.

    Jeremy #6

    Frank Ritchel Ames gave a lecture in which he argues that the entire book of 1 Timothy is a polemic against Artemis. The topic of Paul’s letter is prayer and he is exhorting them to pray in a new way, not in the way they prayed to Artemis. Ames explains how many aspects of Paul’s letter to Timothy are corrections to the practices and beliefs of Artemis worship that have crept in to the Christian church. He illustrates how Paul uses phrases for Christ that are also phrases that were used for Artemis, such as savior. One name for the goddess was Artemis Sotera–Artemis savior. She is the opposing savior to Christ in Ephesus. He shows how artifacts illustrate that the Ephesian Christians had combined aspects of Artemis worship with their Christian worship. He includes inscriptions of prayers to Artemis for safety in childbirth. Other inscriptions show that women’s supplications and prayers were made with hair adorned with jewels and expensive clothing–they were a means of obtaining favor from the goddess.

    It is very interesting stuff and Paul’s letter makes so much more sense after learning this. A recording of his lecture is available at CBE Bookstore here (

  • Jeremy

    Thanks for all the great info. Looks like I’ve got some more reading to do. Frankly, I want to believe Paul’s admonition wasn’t an “always and for all time” instruction, but it’s hard to get past the idea that he was in fact addressing a specific problem in the Ephesian church with an argument from created order. I’ll keep wrestling…