Tom Wright on Women's Roles
Back in 2004, Tom Wright presented a paper on women’s roles in the New Testament. As usual, it is interesting, challenging, and scholarly. Having spent most of my life in Christian traditions with a very clear-cut, uninterpretive understanding of the role of women, I don’t know what to think of his interpretation. I’d like particularly to look at his translation of 1 Tim 2:8-15.
First, from the ESV:
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Now, Dr. Wright’s translation (which I assume is in Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters)
8 So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9 In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10 instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11 They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12 I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13 Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15 She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.
I know that when I’ve read verse 11 before, it has always sounded like Paul thought the women were going to run wild unless Timothy commanded them to settle it down. But in a world where the vast majority of women were not permitted to learn, and remembering the synagogue prayer “Thank you, God, that I am not a woman,” it seems more consistent with other passages (Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 11:2-11, Mary “sitting at the feet of” Jesus, Paul’s desire to persecute both men AND women in Acts 9) that Paul would be commanding Timothy to make sure that the women were encouraged to learn and were protected from being disturbed. And then the warning in v.12 makes sense considering the likelihood that Timothy was in Ephesus when this letter was received. The Ephesians knew what happened when women were educated; the Artemisian priestesses took over and dominated. And verse 14 makes even more sense, as a warning that women need to learn so as not to be deceived into transgression.
What do you think? The first thought I always have is a suspicious one: is the writer trying to justify a position he already holds? In the COC school of thought, is he trying to sneak in woman preachers and elders? But you have to go to different passages to do something like that. I think Dr. Wright is trying to say that Paul isn’t talking about authority here, but about being both brave and careful with new possibilities.