Women Learn in Silence

This week’s Come Follow Me Sunday School Lesson includes 1 Timothy 2. It’s short. Read it here.

Ok, now I’m going to give you the gift of reading it as if you were a woman or young woman in the church who loves the scriptures and wants to find meaning therein no matter what because it’s scripture. This woman/young woman believes that the church values women highly but understands that there have been changes lately to help women and men better understand women’s roles in the church, so is feeling a bit wobbly.

Woman, reads 1 Timothy 2 verses 1-8: “These are such beautiful verses, I need to work on my prayers of thanks, and I love how the atonement figures so prominently. I should think about these verses when I take the sacrament this week. Oh, there is a verse to not doubt, ok, I’ll do my best to put aside my doubts about the things that have been bothering me lately. Good reminder.”

Woman, reads 1 Timothy 2, verses 9-15. “Oh, these verses are about women. Ok, reading more intently. Be more modest. I know I just bought that cute outfit, maybe I should take it back. Hmm. How can I wear less costly appear? Need to do better at that. Oh, I love good works. It makes me happy to serve. Please help me to see  ways to better serve my family and neighbors this week. Oh, wait. ‘learn in silence?’ Um, ok, that must be personal scripture study. Reading on. Oh. Um. Ok, so I guess I shouldn’t talk too much in church, right? Makes a mental note to sit on my hands more. Oh, here’s some temple stuff, ok, I guess this sort of makes sense. Although I thought Eve made a good choice and wasn’t deceived. I’m confused. How can I make this work because it’s scripture? I think I should just do better to let my husband/father/church leaders be the ones who take the lead and I make sure I’m stepping back instead of being overbearing in church things. It’s ok to talk, just not too much. This must be my lesson about not doubting.”

Both the Come Follow Me Sunday School Manual and the Individuals and Families Manual cover these scriptures, but only the Individuals and Families Manual touch any of these verses, specifically the verses about women being more modest, admonishing “While aspects of Paul’s counsel for women to dress modestly do not apply to our time, we can all learn from his counsel to “adorn [ourselves] … with good works.”

So I’m guessing most teachers won’t touch these verses with a 10-foot pole. However, that’s a problem as I’ve hoped I’ve illustrated above because we are counseled to liken the scriptures to ourselves and if we are not able to talk about these problematic verses, just to say that 1. These might be later additions (as far as it is translated correctly!) and especially 2. Not everything in the scriptures is scripture. The idea that women should keep silent in church, even if we soften it to “just be more silent than men” certainly is not scripture and we must do a corrective so that women are not left with having to wrestle with sexism on their own, internalizing it in frankly damaging ways that will leech into how they teach others, perpetuating harmful cycles of women being lesser in the church.

We have seen enough (and will continue to see) correctives lately regarding women in church. It’s welcome and wonderful. Let’s do what we can to call out sexism in scripture so that women do not learn in silence any longer.

Comments

  1. The funny thing for me is that women are certainly not silent in our church. Most weeks, at least in my ward, 2 of the 3 speakers are female. Sure the Bishop is male, but he doesn’t actually say much. The 14 year old girl giving the first teaching says a whole lot more than the Bishop on a typically Sunday. To me its one of the most wonderfully subversive things – that grown men in our church regularly receive teaching from teenage girls.

  2. Another website said that he women silience in church was just a local problem Paul was dealing with.

  3. Sparks, you’d never see the opposite though, so I don’t know if that makes it much better. I prefer the explanation that it was added later as men freaked out about Jesus having female leaders/teachers.

  4. These verses are a classic example of a great church leader mistaking his own culture’s norms for the word of God. Silencing women is bad. For everyone. It’s a lot easier for us to wrap our heads around this truth in 2019 than it was in Palestine two thousand years ago.

    People mistake their own cultural values for God’s values all the time. It’s an easy and understandable mistake to make. I’m guilty; I suspect most of us are. Why does it happen? How does it happen? How can we know the difference between our cultural assumptions and values and the mind and will of God? These are not easy questions. At all. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to everybody. But they’re important questions, and this passage should lead us to an urgent discussion–because when we get it wrong, it can cause a lot of needless hurt.

  5. Jennifer, I don’t want it to be subversive. That feels sneaky. But it has to be when we have teachings like this that are not only unremarked upon, but unchallenged.

  6. I’m curious what others do with 1 Timothy 2. Mostly ignore, I suspect.
    For myself, I can do something with trajectory hermeneutics. Otherwise, it seems only damaging to women. And men’s thoughts about women’s roles.

  7. If I were the teacher, I’d hit head on. Look, this isn’t scripture. We don’t know exactly why it was here, but likely sexism was the reason and if it makes you feel better, imagine that biblical scholars put it in later. Regardless, these scriptures have been used to hurt women religiously throughout the life of the Bible. This needs to stop. Why do you think women feel like they can’t talk up as much in church? Let’s talk about ways that we’ve encouraged women’s participation in the last few years and ways we could even do better.

  8. EmJen – Interesting! I love subversive. :-)

    The difficult with the “this isn’t scripture” approach is that pretty soon we could eliminate just about everything from the text. And that knife cuts both ways.

    I think this section is absolutely scripture – and we have to grapple with is as scripture. That doesn’t mean we have to follow the traditional interpretation of it though. Rather, we must creatively re-interpret for our day.

  9. Jennifer,

    Maybe I’m not creative enough, but I can see no way around it except to call it out as not translated correctly. I would never teach this to my daughters, that in religious spaces, they, because of their gender, should sit silently. Yes, there are times to be quiet, contemplative, silent even, but never because of your gender.

  10. EmJen – Luckily, there is a vast tradition of scholars dealing creatively with this passage. In the last 10 years especially there has been an explosion of scholarship around this issue. Understanding the Old and New Testament requires an awful lot of historical context and this passage is a great example of that. I just think we lose a lot when we start to say this or that isn’t actually scripture.

  11. LaJean Carruth says:

    I am teaching this lesson, and teaching the subject in general, that Paul was writing to specific individuals and groups of people, in his time and his day, and we need to study his teachings through that lens. Some teachings, like many of his teachings about women, reflect his time and his opinion in his time. I transcribed George D. Watt’s shorthand for a general conference around 1860 {I can’t remember the exact year, it might have been earlier or later} where it seemed the major theme was, Keep your cattle out of your grain fields! Hardly relevant to most of us today, but essential then for the survival of those in Utah territory. I call myself a practical theologian – I study and ponder mostly to know how to live, how to worship, to learn about God. My Ph.D. is in literature, I read scriptures using the tools I learned there, and seek the principles behind Paul’s words – do these principles apply to us, today? What can we gain from his teachings? What parts were specific to his time and place, or to the person to whom he was writing? What are general? What can we learn that will help us here and now? I refuse to get upset about instructions to a different people in a different culture in a different time that really are not relevant to us today, according to our modern scriptures and prophetic teachings. Many of Brigham Young’s practical ideas were excellent counsel in his day, but not wise in our time, when so many things have changed.

  12. As I read it, Paul explicitly states in vv. 8-12 that what he describes there is his will (desire). He does not attribute it to God. [Of course, my reading also requires understanding v. 7 (“I speak the truth in Christ and lie not”) as referring to his testimony stated in vv. 3-7 (or perhaps only to his v. 7 report of ordination as a preacher and apostle).
    I see no need to think of vv. 8-12 as Paul’s words translated incorrectly. Instead, it’s a great example of a church leader pressing his personal preferences (whether or not originating in general culture). Were I teaching I’d introduce that idea into the discussion and let (or prod) people find recent church history examples. I’d raise the question when it is best to accommodate such expressions of personal preference (even if the speaker mistakes them for God’s will) and under what circumstances it is fine not to accommodate them or to take issue with them.
    There is, in my view, certainly no need to liken each of Paul’s personal views statements to ourselves, whether or not they’ve been enshrined in scripture canonized a few hundred years later and centuries before the restoration. I’d say likening this passage to ourselves means identifying the problem of dealing with church leaders’ expressions of personal preferences and determining what to do with that problem in various circumstances. These verses raise the question; they do not answer it.
    Trajectory hermeneutics is a good approach; the trajectory needs to be followed through at least to current church leaders’ instructions on women teaching and speaking up in church. (For me “at least” is an important concept in that sentence.)

  13. Jennifer, any examples? Because obviously we don’t have anything that I know of in our tradition. My favorite church scholars have really nothing to say about it except that it might be an unknown author written later, which to me is blasphmous and thus unscriptural.

  14. Let me tell you the other problem. If I bring this up as problematic, there will more than likely someone in my ward who jokes “see, this is why women should stay silent in church.”

  15. Prior to my conversion a few months ago, I was an ordained pastor in another denomination. Even denominations that ordain women still struggle in these issues. I heard just about every version of the above (and far worse). I had to learn to handle it with humor, for my own sake.

  16. If someone jokes “this is why women should stay silent in church,” that might be a great teaching opportunity on inappropriate joking. But, unfortunately, it might go down better with the jokers if you primed a man in the group before class to take on such jokers. Sometimes there’s one who will do it.

  17. Emjen
    The feminist woe is me is really tiring

  18. Sidebottom says:

    I don’t have any problem taking Paul out of the equation altogether – there are plenty of reasons besides the women-keep-silent line that suggest this is a late addition. Perhaps a church father with his own agenda, borrowing Paul’s authority because he lacks his own.

    Latter-Day Saints of all people ought to be open to this sort of reading, what with the “apostasy” and removal of “plain and precious truths”, but anything stronger than “bad translation” seems to play poorly in a public Sunday School discussion. We seem more afraid of being perceived as picking-and-choosing-from-God’s-Word than actually trying to figure out what God has to say.

  19. John Bristow’s book, “What Paul REALLY Said About Women” kicked off the scholarship on this issue almost 20 years ago, and it is still a solid read. Instead of jettisoning scripture – or Paul himself – it can be pretty interesting to try and see him from a different perspective. This book is short and accessible to non-scholars.

  20. I really liked 2 Timothy this time around. I noticed in chapter 2:14-17 how he mentions to not quarrel about words (seem relevant?) and to avoid irreverent babbling. I read this and thought “Yes, we should really focus on core doctrine in church and not get distracted by side things.” But then in 2 Tim 4:2 it reads about being able to reprove, rebuke and exhort, etc. at all times. And this is where it gets interesting. How does one know if they are reproving or exhorting what they should be, or if they are irreverently babbling? In addition, what happens when we have one (or a handful) of church leaders (particularly apostles) who do confuse the two. They’ll give into their irreverent babbling, but their peers who know better, don’t correct the situation in front of members. As a result, as a church, we just let their talks slowly die away with time. It’s kind of sad.
    As for people who are concerned about taking issue with the idea that a Bible verse may or may not be scripture, we know from the Book of Mormon that corrupt priests modified the record of the Jews (ie, the Bible). Surly you can take a verse that we’re obviously not following or teaching and chalk it up to that. For more ideas of potential versus this applies to read “Misquoting Jesus.” The author goes over specific verses in the New Testament that we know are altered, because we have the history of how, why and when they were altered. The people who altered the New Testament left a paper trail (in some cases).

  21. I am open to the idea that some things in the Bible have been corrupted. The history of translation (which most Protestants are completely unaware of) suggests this quite easily. But – for myself – I need to be very careful which passages I throw away as not-scripture. It would be far too easy to just throw away the passages which are uncomfortable for me on a personal level, instead of on evidence and criteria. As a result, I rarely throw anything out of scripture. But this is my own philosophy for myself and how I handle it when the text rubs me wrong (which, if I’m honest, is an awful lot – I still have so much growing to do.)

  22. Sidebottom says:

    And that’s exactly what we ought to avoid doing. But the questions about Timothy’s authorship go back over two hundred years, and arose from simple lexical questions and inconsistent historical information rather than selective theology.

    And it doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Even if we throw out Timothy we still have to contend with similar language in Ephesians and Corinthians, which requires a similar brand of mental gymnastics to shoehorn into modern sensibilities. As for me and my house, it gives me one less thing to worry about.

  23. I assume he was giving advice specific to some women in the area. He elsewhere was happy with faithful women of prominence.

    I leave open the possibility of those not being his words at all, but I think we can learn from them if we equally apply them to some men in our day.

    He might have said, but let the bloggernacle learn in silence and not seek to rule over the brethren.

    If he said that, I wouldn’t assume that he was saying that no one should blog or have anything to say.

    The modern gender critique of this amplifies how wrong it sounds, but teachers should absolutely be willing to address this issue by saying there’s clearly a backstory we’re missing because it doesn’t square with what else we know.

  24. Geoff-Aus says:

    Our teacher asked first what stood out to us in this weeks reading. Deacons to have one wife, exercise profiteth little, drink wine not water.
    He then discussed sending back an escaped slave with a message for his master to treat him as a brother in Christ.
    Setting up that some of the things in this reading are culture not accepted today.
    He then took on the part about women, and pointed out that it had been quoted to justify discrimination against, and abuse of women ever since. At one stage he asked men to be quiet and listen to the women. His wife is a feminist. The teacher has been in stake presiencies.
    He brought up the “me too” movement as positive. There was some push back but lesson very good, no contention or anything.

  25. Geoff-Aus,

    That is incredibly helpful. I wish every unit could have a similar curriculum.

  26. I brought this up in the SS class today at a mid-singles ward after reading this post. The teacher started with a “what stood out to you?” intro, and when no one else jumped in, I said that these verses made me feel uncomfortable. The teacher handled it well, allowed other people to speak about quality of translations and cultural context, and then just said “no matter the situation in Timothy, you get to feel what you want to about these verses, and I can understand why they would be troubling.” It started a conversation at least, and I felt heard.

  27. Similar to BeeCee, I spoke up about these verses in Sunday school after reading your post. The conversation was excellent–there were many comments about struggling with the scriptures, how cultural bias can seep in even in the words of God’s anointed then, and now. Many people commented afterwards about how grateful they were to have had an open conversation about this. I kept thinking about the Young Women, largely based on reading this. We didn’t resolve things by any means, but it was a start. So thank you.

  28. Jon Miranda,

    The sexist status quo is really tiring. If you’ve got a substantive response, make it–just tossing off a belittling label and saying you don’t like it is both tiresome and lazy.

  29. Why not mention DC 25? Whatever instruction Paul may or may not have given 2,000 years ago, the Lord made clear at the beginning of the restoration that women are to speak and teach opening in our church.

  30. Yay for those where this sparked good conversations. We just need this to be churchwide.

  31. Dave K – I agree.

    As a new convert to this church I can say that the opportunities for women to speak are FAR AND AWAY better than in most churches. All but a handful of denominations bar women from speaking in church meetings. Things are changing, and yes there are some that ordain women and allow for women to be pastors, but its not the majority by any means, and the vast majority of the non-LDS world would never stand for a woman to teach on Sunday morning – but we get that regularly. I often walk away from these conversations thinking that most Saints have no idea how good we have it.

  32. Eric Facer says:

    You can actually make a pretty compelling argument that Paul was a “proto-feminist” if you read his writings in context and acquaint yourself with the scholarship regarding the authorship of the New Testament. For example:

    It is noteworthy that in Romans 16:3, Paul mentions the woman’s name first: “Greet Prisca and Aquila . . . .” Crossan & Reed, in their book, “In Search of Paul,” indicate that Paul does this elsewhere in his letters, so this wasn’t just a one-off.

    Also, there are only six times in all his letters where Paul uses the Greek root for special apostolic activity—kopiao, which means “worked hard”—and on four of those occasions he is describing a woman: Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis. (The other two times, he describes himself.)

    In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul makes it clear that women were actively involved in local worship services, praying and prophesying, much as the men did. But he seems to walk back from these liberal views in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, where he says, in so many words, that women should keep silent church and look to their husbands if they wish to learn anything.

    The passage from 1 Timothy is pretty easy to disregard since most scholars believe that the Timothy and Titus letters are the second-century musings of a follower of Paul. The authors of those letters simply misappropriated his name to give their writings greater legitimacy. This was a common practice, by the way, in the ancient world. (Also, the fact that the author(s) of Timothy advanced an opinion of women not shared by Paul does not necessarily mean that other portions of this book is without merit and should not have been included in the canon.)

    The passage from 1 Corinthians 14, however, is more problematical since no one disputes Paul’s authorship of that epistle. Nevertheless, many scholars believe that Paul was not the source for these particular verses (34-35), as noted by Bart Ehrman in his fine book, “Misquoting Jesus.”

    As it turns out, these verses are shuffled around in several of the oldest surviving manuscripts from which the New Testament is often translated. In five of the more highly-regarded Greek and Latin ancient manuscripts this misogynistic language is found not in verses 34-35 but later, after verse 40, suggesting that it originated as a kind of marginal note added by a scribe. This was not uncommon since the scribes who copied the texts that later became scripture were involved in the debates about the role of women in the church. And in almost every instance in which a change of this sort occurs, the text is revised to limit the role of women and minimize their importance.

    Moreover, these verses do not fit well within their immediate context, where Paul is addressing the issue of prophecy and giving instructions to teachers concerning how they should conduct themselves during worship services. Finally, verses 33-34 are completely at odds with the views expressed by Paul regarding women elsewhere in First Corinthians and his other letters.

    Sadly, the radical views of Christ and Paul concerning the equality of women were ultimately rejected in the doctrines and practices of the early church. Paul’s teachings on this subject were not only ignored but eventually distorted by the scribes and church leaders to give doctrinal legitimacy to the discriminatory treatment of women. But the real tragedy is that traces of their deliberate mischaracterizations can still be found in the history, practices and teaching materials of virtually every Christian denomination. Including our own.

  33. Perhaps someone with better knowledge of such things can correct me, but is it possible that Paul accidentally carried forward something from Judaism into 1 Timothy? Because weren’t women not allowed to speak in Synagogues during that time? While Paul was all about not forcing converts to undergo circumcision, I don’t know if that means he correctly jettisoned all of his previous culture on the day of his conversion. What if he wrote down something that he thought was important, only to learn later in life that not only it wasn’t important, but wasn’t part of the gospel at all?

  34. Our GD class discussed this head on today, lead by our excellent female instructor. Very good discussion. These letters of Paul were intended as private communications to specific under leaders; they dealt with unknown back stories that Paul was dealing with in these branches of the Church. Different cultural norms of the time also could have played a part. Add to that some very good points in the comments above, about authorship other than Paul, rogue scribes who made their own additions and edits. Paul’s writings had influence on later scripture, B of M, D&C, Church organization and practice. There are great teachings and doctrine there but as all this shows, our scripture and our leaders are not inerrant. Bottom line in class today was that Paul’s central message that all need to come to Christ is still the central message and purpose of the Church today.

  35. At one stage he asked men to be quiet and listen to the women.

    Not acceptable to silence anyone. Imagine if this was reversed.

    At one stage she asked women to be quiet and listen to the men.

  36. Eric Facer says:

    To supplement what I wrote above regarding the pervasive role played by the women in the first century church, consider Romans 16 where, as noted by by Professor Bart Ehrman, Paul mentions a woman named Phoebe who is both a deacon/minister in the church of Chenchreae and Paul’s own patron whom he entrusts with the task of carrying his letter to Rome. And there is Prisca, who along with her husband, Acquila, are responsible for missionary work among the Gentiles.

    And then there is Mary, a colleague of Paul’s who works among the Romans. There are also Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, women who Paul calls his “co-workers” in the gospel. Most impressive of all, though, is Junia, a woman whom Paul calls (along with her husband) “prominent among the apostles.” (Romans 16:7 NRSV).

    As to the authorship of epistles to Timothy and Titus, LDS scholar Ben Spackman identifies the following three reasons why most scholars believe that Paul did not write those letters:

    1. The writings of Timothy and Titus evince a fairly well-developed Church structure, one that did not exist in Paul’s day.
    2. Theologically, many of the themes and approaches in these works run directly counter to the other letters of Paul known with a high degree of certainty to have been authored by him. Timothy and Titus also assume a good degree of doctrinal development and orthodoxy, both of which take time to evolve.
    3. The style and vocabulary of Timothy and Titus are quite different from Paul’s other letters. The same words are used, but often in very different ways. And in some cases, the vocabulary seems to match a second century Greek lexicon, not a first century one, as it should.

    The truth is that Paul embraced the teachings of Christ when it came to the equal treatment of women. But to understand this in depth, you have to jettison the manual, except for the for the first lesson—YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN LEARNING—get yourself some good bible translations and books about the writings of Paul, and start reading. Trust me. It’s worth it.

  37. Given that the early Church existed mostly due to the willingness of wealthy women to open their homes as meeting places, Paul’s advice is pretty gutsy. Then again, it was a letter, so he didn’t have to be there in person to receive a response. I can think of a few responses. Origen’s apologetics were in part defending against the criticism that Christianity was just for women and slaves. So I suppose getting the women to take a back seat is one way to pretend it had more universal appeal. Like I said, though, tricky given the prominence of women’s contributions at that time.

  38. Angela – This is why I love Origen. And hate him. He thinks that gender is a bit of a “passing phase”…According to him, gender didn’t exist until Adam and Eve left the garden, and it will not be present in the hereafter. He sees gender as part of our sinful nature – with women’s sexuality being more fallen than men’s. So he gives with one hand (shows how women were involved in the early church) he takes away with the other by saying terrible things about women (“Men should not sit and listen to a woman . . . even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since it came from the mouth of a woman.” Fragments on 1 Corinthians)

  39. I think the most obvious explanation here was simply that Paul was wrong. It certainly wouldn’t end up being the last time that a prophet was mistaken regarding a particular point of doctrine or religious practice. We’ve seen plenty of that in the last 200 years in the way the church has changed since being restored. To me the discussion about whether or not it is scripture assumes that the Ensign is scripture, that Mormon Doctrine is scripture, that every book that an LDS prophet/apostle ever wrote is scripture. I don’t think Paul’s teaching here was mistranslated, it was simply an incorrect teaching, the same way that all the LDS prophets from Brigham Young to Harold B. Lee were wrong regarding the priesthood and who was worthy to hold it. The same way every LDS apostle until Russell M. Nelson was wrong regarding the term “Mormons.” The same way even Russell M. Nelson was wrong when he supported the November policy regarding the children of gay parents. This letter is the way that Paul understood things at a specific moment in time (even if he dictated it rather than wrote it himself). If that means that he wasn’t a true prophet then we’ve got a lot bigger problems to deal with in our time with our current religious practice as “believers.” His teaching on the topic of womens’ role in the church doesn’t speak to me at all, and it doesn’t bring me closer to Christ. However, Paul is still one of my favorite prophets. His teachings have greatly influenced my understanding of the gospel. I certainly consider the bulk of his teaching to be inspired. I simply don’t feel it when I read 1 Timothy.

  40. or how Russell M. Nelson is wrong regarding the term “Mormons”.

  41. I’ve been thinking about this since last week’s lesson, and while we all agree that the author was wrong and impacted by his culture, we still have a modern church structure that is reflective of these verses: no woman in this church has authority over a man. And while we’ve rejected in recent years this author’s interpretation of the Genesis 2 account, doesn’t the author’s conclusion (that women are not to hold authority over men) still inform how gender plays out at church? I’m experiencing some dissonance- we say he was wrong, but these ideas are still baked in.

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