The Religious A priori

Women And Christianity

Neither Male Nor Female:

Forbidden to Teach?

1 Tim.2:11

11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.


Context in Ephesus

Paul elsewhere names so many vital Chrisitan leaders who were female,it seems hard to believe that he would forbid them to teach. Yet, when we examine the context in which this letter was written, we can see that the injunction is limited to a certain situation and must be limited by the assumption of qulaified feamle leaders.

Ephesus was in Turkey, the major cult of the city was the that of Diana (Artimus), which was still very strong. The major cultural mileau was the admixture of Greek and Phrygian (Asia Minor). Ephesus was located in or near the Lycian region of Asia minor where Sir William Ramsay believe actual existence of Matriarchy was once found. Ramsay found that the traces of this way of life still colored the thinking of Asia Minor. Women of that region were given greater honors than they were in other places, even to the point of a woman leader of the Synagogue. Ramsay claimed on this basis to have found some geneune material in the otherwise fraudulent Acts of Paul and Theckla which was an admitted forgery of the second century.(see Ramsy Cities of St Paul 1907).

In addition to the culture of Asia minor, and the religion of the Greeks, including the Diana cult, Ephesus also possessed a burgeoning Gnostic movement; or rather, the early beginnings of the gnostics. The presence of Gnosticism in Ephesus is well documented. I have listed many scholarly sources on the page dealing with 1 Cor. 11.Those sources are listed below, in addition there is much more:

Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

Dr. Ralph Wilson

Besides the cult of Artemis, there is evidence of various mystery religions, the practice of magic (Acts 19:19), worship of Egyptian gods Sarapis and Isis, as well as devotion to large number of other deities: Agathe Tyche, Aphrodite, Apollo, Asclepius, Athena, the Cabiri, Concord, Cybele (the Mother Goddess), Demeter, Dionysus, Enedra, Hecate, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hestia Boulaia, Kore, Nemesis, Pan, Pion (a mountain god), Pluto, Poseidon, Theos Hypsistos, Tyche Soteira, Zeus and several river deities.

Why was the Letter written? Since Paul's founding of the church, the Ephesian believers seems to have won many Gentiles to whom Paul's Letter is now directed. They were converts from a Hellenistic environment of mystery religions, magic, astrology, etc. They feared evil spirits and weren't sure about Christ's relationship to these forces. They also needed encouragement to adopt a lifestyle worthy of Christianity, free from drunkenness, sexual immorality, theft, and hatred. They also may have lacked respect for the Jewish heritage of their faith. Paul uses a number of words in Ephesus that would have been familiar to his Gentile Christian readers from their former religions -- head-body, fullness, mystery, age, ruler, etc. A century later this kind of terminology was used by full-blown Gnosticism. But Paul uses these words to demonstrate to his readers that Christ is far above and superior to any hierarchy of gods and spiritual beings -- that they are all lesser beings under Christ's feet. The language of Ephesians serves an apologetic function for the Church in a pluralistic society.

Theology Website
Scott David Foutz

Ph.D. Trinity International Universeity
Faculty North Park University in Chicago
site in assiciation with Trinity International Uiversity

The city of Colossae lay in the valley of Lycus, a tributary of the Meander, in a district of mountainous beauty about 100 miles inland from Ephesus. It was overshadowed in importance by the neighboring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis, in both of which Christian churches had been established (Col 4:13).

It is never easy to reconstruct the precise tenets of a heresy when the only data available are indirect allusions in the course of a positive statement of doctrine intended to counteract it. Yet such is the situation in the Colossian epistle. It is impossible to determine whether or not this heresy had any coherent form.


It is clear enough that the false teaching was in some way detracting from the Person of Christ, for Paul lays great stress upon Christ's preeminence (1:15-19). This was a tendency which became fully developed in the Gnosticism of the second century.

philosophical character:

The apostle warns against "philosophy and vain deceit" (2:8), which suggests a tendency on the part of some of the Colossians to be attracted by it. It cannot be determined with any certainty in what sense Paul uses the word "philosophy", but it is generally supposed to point to Hellenistic elements. It is possible that the use of the terms "fullness" in 1:19, "knowledge" in 2:3, and "neglect of the body" in 2:23 may also be drawn from the same general background. All these terms were in use in second-century Gnosticism.

Jewish environment.

The epistle reflects the fact that this heresy invloved Jewish elements. The most conclusive reference is that of circumcision (2:11; 3:11), of which Paul finds it necessary to put it into its true Christian perspective. The warning against human "tradition" (2:8) would be an apt reference to the familiar Jewish tendency to superimpose the traditions of the elders upon the ancient law, but could also be understood of Gentile tradition in view of its close association with philosophy. The ritual tendencies found in 2:16, where the readers are urged not to allow anyone to judge them in respect to meat or drink, or feasts or new moons or sabbaths, are predominantly, if not exclusively, Jewish.

The elements of the world:

These elements may be understood in two ways, either as elementary spirits or as elementary teachings. Although the case of the former, it would be a reference to the powerful spirit world which was at that time widely believed to control the affairs of the natural world. If it means "elementary teachings" it would presumably describe a purely materialistic doctrine concerned only with this world.


From this somewhat fragmentary evidence it may safely be deduced that the heresy was of syncretistic Jewish-Gnosticizing type. One suggestion is that there was here a Jewish Gnosis influenced by Iranian ideas. Anoter is that pagan Phrygian influences were present. 4. Purpose We may certainly conclude that the threat from this false teachinng was of such a character than an immediate coorective was imperative, and that this was the real purpose of the letter. Paul has two main problems to settle, one doctrinal, concerning the Person of Christ, the other practical, respecting the life of the Christian.

While this pertians to Colasse and not Ephesus, the two were only 100 miles apart. It is important to note that the brand of Gnosticism at Colasse had Jewish character to it.

Other sources documenting Gnosticism at Ephesus:

Constance F. Parveym,"The Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament," in Reuther, Religion and Sexism, p. 121.13Ibid., pp. 121f.14

Walter Schmithals,Gnosticism in Corinth (New York: Abingdon, 1971), pp. 160f.15

Ernst Kasemann,New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), p. 71.

Yamauchi, Edwin M.,"Gnosis, Gnosticism," DPL, pp. 350-354.

We can see themes of the struggle with this emerging Gnosticism in the epistle itself:

1 Timothy 6:20.

"O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge."

That phrase is a strong clue, since Gnosticism is derived from the Greek term for knowledge, and the frase "knolwedge falsly so called" was how the early chruch described Gnosticism.

(1:3-4) Strange doctrines
(1:6-8) Myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation... Confidently on matters different from the Law
(2:4) That only spiritual authorities and powers were relevant and stood uninvolved from this world
(4:1) To pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons
(4:3) Marriage was forbidden
(4:3) To abstain from foods
(4:7) Worldly fables Different doctrine and does not agree with sound words
(6:3) not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ
(6:2) Worldly and empty chatter and opposing arguments which is falsely called 'knowledge'
(6:4-5 Controversial questions and disputes about words

It is clear that the problems at Ephesus invovled some sort of pre-Gnstoic teaching or perhaps Mystery cult based teaching. Spiritual "powers," forbidding of mariage and dietary laws were all the stuff of second century Gnosticism.

The Argument:

The argument is that the injunction against women teaching is a temporary move desinged to combat the growing tendency toward Gnostic-style teachings. These teachings typically embody sensuality, urge the andonment of marriage, and perhaps refur to matter of the OT law which are grossly inaccurate. Paul laid this injunciton up Timothy, not as a universal command for all time, but to inform him of his current practice in light of the current climate. Perhaps Paul's practice was not meant to be limited in time, but it was mosly likely limted to those women who were not prepared to teach. If that is the case, it really indicates more of an open attitude toward teaching, since before the policy was inacted, apparenlty anyone could teach.

Paul does make reference to false teachers who wished for the teaching authority but had no knowledge.

1 Tim.1:3

...3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay F3 attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

Of course the translation used here says "instruct certain men," but the actual Greek does not say men. Paul does not use the term andros here (male gender, husband) nor does he use anthropos (human) but he says "certain ones." The myths and endless genealogies probably speaks to the Gnostic or mystery cult mythos which often included either genealogies of angels, fantastic beings, or authority genealogies centering upon who taught whom, designed to gain credibility for the teachers. While women aren't mentioned as such, the passage could clearly include women. My assumption is that the women were a particular problem for cultural reason I will go into latter, but the problem was not limited to women alone.

Gnosticism had a special appeal to women. Some Gnostic groups did allow women positions of authority, but more importantly, it freed them form the burden or marriage. Some such groups abolished marriage and might have even let women out of the marriages they were already in. For abused wives or women trapped in a dead end situation, this may have seemed like an ideal way to rise above one's circumstances. Moreover, they had to give up spiritual womanhood and become spiritual men. This was accomplished by either remaining virgins or abstaining form sexual contact, needless to say that includes marriage.

Gnosticism was liberating form women, but not in the modern feministic sense. It offered certain freedoms and certain escapes, but not an ideological "empowerment" for all women qua females. Gnostic men had to give up their spiritual feminity and become "spiritual men." The male was still considered the primary form of human being. Nevertheless, given the climate in Ephesus, which was heavy on mystery cults, there could have been quite a few women who tried this path, but no one in particular who stood out above the others. Just four decades after the writting of this letter (assuming that Revealation written in the 90s, John of Patmos dealt with a female techer of a Gnostic bent, whom he doubed "Jezzabel." She was the leader of the liberatine sect known as "Nicholatiens," Iranaeus also mentions them. Some scholars feel that Revealation was written in the 60s.If the latter date is the case, then this false teacher may have gotten her start in church politics combatting ST. Paul and Timothy. However, in either case, the presence of this sect in the time of John is an inidcation of the kind of climate in which the letter to Timothy was written.

That Paul does aim a few barbs at a band of nameless women women who were trying to teach, or at least spreading someone's false teaching, can be seen clearly in the epistle.

1 Tim. 5:11

But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. 13 At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.

This passage apparently pertains to some preconceived list which had been established for widows to do church work. This may have been the forerunner of the order of Widows in the Eastern church that existed until the fifth century. This passage is one of the arguments agasint Pauline authorship of the Pastoral epistles, becasue the notion of a widows list seem anachronistic.

Younger widows are told to marry because they aren't on the list. In 4:7 Paul reefers to "fables fit only for old women." These were being spread by this band of miscreant grannies. The sexist nature of that comment stands out, but it may be rhetorically stated as a barb at this group of would be teachers. He's just using a common expression, "old wives tales." Paul's diatribes against "old women" and "busy idle gossiping women" are throwen out in an intimate letter to one of his friends, and used to describe the cult with which he was doing spiritual battle. They not indications of his over all attitude toward women. We might imagine that by this talk of "idel gossip" he means trure daily living "dirt" (gossip) but this is what he is calling the "junck" doctrines peddaled by this faction. The Gnostic mythos was quite absurd in many respects, very involved and elaborate, in the latter developments features beings with like "octobad" and "bildobab" who inhabit the spirit realm and try to trap bits of spirit in matter. There are all manner of myths which re told Old Testament stories, or have nothing to do with it. One such myth said that the goddess of wisdom, Sophia, took pity upon man, because Adam had no life. the false God or "demiurge" who created the world as a mistake did not have the power to make Adam live. Thus Sophia asked her daughter, the goddess of life, Zoe, to give Adam life. But this is one of the tamer stories!

In that context Paul may just be hurling a barb at this group rather than all women in general. Or he may have been a man of his times.

In any case he councils Timothy to guide the younger women in godliness:

1 Tim 5:14

14 Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; 15 for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. 16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.

This might be a response to the doctrine abandoning marriage. We know from the ist above that Paul does make reference to such an idea.

In Chapter 2 he also deals with women again:

1 Tim 2

9Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

But where women a particular problem? If there was such a faction of Gnosticizing women seeking to set themselves up with teaching authority, wouldn't Paul name them, or confront them more directly? That's a matter of conjecture, it seems that he would, but he doesn't name any men either. If the same were true of a band of errant male teachers, and clearly someone was teaching falsehood, wouldn't Paul have singled out the men? Yet he does not. So that argument is null and void. Moreover, Gnosticism did attract women in great numbers, and though it was not a feminist manifesto, it could have offered some of them teaching authority.

We would have to know more than we presently do about the local situation to answer these questions, but it is clear that Timothy was beset by a faction which sought to spread pre-Gnsotic element of false doctrine among the Ephesian Christians, and they were influential enough to evoke Paul's ire. After all, in the traditional view of things, why women were seeking to teach? Why does Paul even mention the problem if there were no women asserting themselves as teachers?
But understanding the context makes a tremendous difference as well see on page 2.

Next:Page 2, analysis of the passage.

Gnostic Female Teachers of Ephesus

The Religious A priori