Context, Context, Context

Context, Context, Context December 12, 2019

By Andrew Bartlett


Scot has been blogging the conclusions of the different chapters of my book Men and Women in Christ.. In response to Scot’s summary of my conclusions on women elders (1 Timothy 3), Tom Harmon commented:

The Greek over English? How about the full texts in context? Paul addressed the specific question and answered it directly! Woman not to usurp.

I agree with Tom that our understanding should depend upon the full texts in context. Here are some questions for exploring the context which leads into the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:


  1. In 1 Timothy 1:3-6, is Paul’s concern

(a) the gender of teachers who give sound teaching, or

(b) wrong teaching and those who do it?


  1. In 1:7, is Paul concerned that the people who desire to be recognized as teachers

(a) do not have a good understanding of God’s truth, or

(b) are the wrong gender?


  1. In 1:8-11, is Paul’s concern

(a) bad behaviour, or

(b) the appropriate authority structure for teaching in the church?


  1. In 1:12-17 is Paul’s own experience relevant

(a) because he is a man, or

(b) because Christ turned his life around?


  1. In 1:18-20, did Paul formally exclude Hymenaeus and Alexander from the Ephesian church

(a) because they had some wrong ideas, or

(b) because they were elders or recognized teachers who were leading others astray by wrong teaching?


  1. In 2:1 does Paul’s reasoning commence with ‘therefore’ (Greek ‘oun’)

(a) because he is giving instructions on how to deal with the problem identified in Q1-3, or

(b) because he is moving to a different topic?


  1. In 2:1-4 does Paul urge prayer for those in authority

(a) because prayer is generally a good thing to do, or

(b) because dealing with wrong teaching is a spiritual battle (1:18), and the remaining false teachers (1:3) are elite persons who may cause trouble when Timothy tries to deal with them?


  1. In 2:5-7 does Paul say he is not lying

(a) because he thinks Timothy and others may think that he is lying, or

(b) because his almost unbelievable journey from persecutor of the church to teacher of the Gentiles is relevant and encouraging for those whom Timothy needs to deal with (see Q2-4 above)?


  1. In 2:8 does Paul’s further reasoning commence with ‘therefore’ (Greek ‘oun’)

(a) because he is moving to a different topic, or

(b) because he is continuing to give instructions on how to deal with the problem that he has been addressing so far?


  1. In 2:8, who have ‘the men’ been arguing with? Is it

(a) each other generally, or

(b) the false teachers, because the men have not accepted what the false teachers are teaching (6:4-5)?


  1. In 2:9, why does Paul urge that women should dress modestly etc and not with gold braids, pearls or expensive clothes? Is this

(a) because there is no harm in issuing a general reminder about plain dress, or

(b) because some elite women in the Ephesian church are dressing immodestly and flaunting their wealth?


  1. In 2:9, why is ‘women’ (in the Greek text) not preceded by the definite article? Is it

(a) an accidental omission, so that the contrast with ‘the men’ in 2:8 is of no significance, or

(b) a deliberate omission, because only certain women are dressing immodestly, and Paul does not want to imply that all the women in the Ephesian church are doing so?


  1. In 2:10, is Paul urging that the women do good works

(a) only when the church assembly meets for worship, or

(b) generally?


  1. In 2:11, why does Paul switch from the plural (women) to the singular (a woman)? Is it

(a) because, while he still has in mind the misbehaving women of v 9, he is about to use an illustration from the story of Adam and Eve, or

(b) because he is aiming his remarks at every Christian woman in the world?


  1. In 2:11, to whom should ‘a woman’ be in submission while learning in quietness? Is it

(a) to someone who has not been mentioned, perhaps male elders of the church, or

(b) to God (v 10 – ‘theosebeia’ – reverence for God)?


  1. In 2:12 Paul says ‘I do not permit/I am not permitting’. Is this expression

(a) a suitable choice of words for laying down a general rule applicable to all churches in all times and places, or

(b) an expression which is unprecedented anywhere in the Bible for laying down an enduring rule?


  1. If the expression ‘do not permit’, in a context that does not involve physical force, implies a range of jurisdiction, over whom is Paul exercising jurisdiction in 2:12? Is it

(a) over women in the church at Ephesus, as the apostle who built up their Christian community, or

(b) over all Christian women in the world?


  1. In 2:12 Paul uses the rare word ‘authenteō’. Is this

(a) for no particular reason, or

(b) because it is a significant word in the astrological lore peddled by false teachers in Ephesus, and because it means ‘overpower’, and Paul does not want a woman to overpower a man with her wrong teaching?



19.Does Paul use this rare word

(a) because he means exactly what he would have meant if he had used the ordinary word for authority (noun: ‘exousia’; verb: ‘exousiazō’), or

(b) because he means something different and does not want to be misunderstood as referring to regular authority?


  1. In 2:13-14, is Paul

(a) relying on general creation principles that men should be in charge and that women are gullible, or

(b) using an illustration which fits the situation in Ephesus, where the men remaining in the church have not been deceived by wrong teaching, but some of the women have been deceived by it and may yet overpower some men with it, as Eve overpowered Adam?


  1. In 2:15, is ‘the childbearing’

(a) something that Paul envisages taking place when the church meets for worship, or

(b) not?


  1. In 2:15, what does Paul mean concerning salvation? Does he mean

(a) that the Saviour came into the world by being born of a woman (Gen 3:15; Matt 1:21; Gal 4:4-5; 1 Tim 2:5), or

(b) that women will be saved through bearing children.


  1. In 2:15, does Paul emphasize ‘the childbearing’

(a) because he thinks this is every woman’s main role in life, or

(b) because, in contrast to the Artemis cult’s belief that the goddess would keep women safe in childbearing, he believes that there is a more important kind of safety, which is found in following the one born to be the Saviour, with faith, love, holiness and self-control?


  1. In 2:15, why does Paul jump from ‘she’ (singular) to ‘they’ (plural) in the middle of his sentence, without an intervening identification of the plural subject? Is it

(a) because he is signalling to the reader that the singular and the plural refer to the same people, that is, the plural instruction at the end of v15 is for the misbehaving women of vv 9-10 (plural), who should also comply with his instruction in vv 11-12 (singular) and heed his illustration in vv 13-14 (singular), or

(b) because his writing is of poor quality and he gets his pronouns muddled?


  1. In 2:9-15 why does Paul restrict teaching by women? Is it

(a) because he thinks this would be contrary to the regular authority structure when the church meets for worship, or

(b) because, after the exclusion of Hymenaeus and Alexander, there remain some women in the church who hold to wrong teaching (1:3; 2:9; 5:13 ‘talkers of nonsense and magicians, saying things they should not’)?


  1. In 2:9-15, why does Paul restrict women from teaching men? Is it

(a) because women can teach other women but should never teach men, or

(b) because the women he has in view hold to wrong teaching and have men in their sights (2:9; 5:11)?


  1. In 3:1, why does Paul refer to the situation where someone aspires to become an elder/overseer? Is it

(a) because Paul is moving to a new topic, or

(b) because he is continuing to provide Timothy with guidance for a situation where unsuitable people want to become elders and teachers (1:3, 7)?


  1. In 3:1, why does Paul use the gender-neutral term ‘tis’ (‘someone’/‘anyone’)? Is it

(a) because his remarks about aspiring to eldership apply to anyone, whether male or female, or

(b) for no particular reason.


  1. Is Paul’s discussion of the appointments of elders and deacons in 3:1-15

(a) a move to a new topic, or

(b) for the purpose of strengthening the church to be a bulwark against wrong teaching (1:3; 3:14-15)?


  1. Does the surrounding context of 2:11-14 show that Paul’s concern is

(a) that a woman might teach a man wrongly, or

(b) that a woman might authoritatively teach men true doctrine?

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  • ABartlett

    I meant to say also:
    Don’t be concerned
    that the questions are binary. The objective is to stimulate close examination
    of the context, not to rule out any possible third options.

  • Realist1234

    The problem with asking specific questions is they tend to show your own bias.

  • Elca

    I believe we should start with a chronological case for gender roles, then view the context from that point of view.
    Q: Did God create Male Man before Female woman? If Yes, was God unfair to the female?

    Q: Did God allow the male man to exercise dominion in the physical realm over the animals and the female by naming then them? If yes, was God unfair to the female, for she did not exercise any authority or dominion over the Male or the animals.

    Q: was she inferior to the male because God chose to make the man first and gave him delegated authority.?

    Q: Was the female unequal because God gave them different roles?

    In these examples, they can be no third choice. Either Yes or No.