I am firmly convinced that when we read Scripture, we have to read it within the context of the time and place its situated in. We need to understand the background, and the culture, and traditions its placed and speaking into. Scripture informs us that the Apostle Paul appointed Timothy to be the Bishop over the church in Ephesus and the surrounding area. We have two letters written to him, about establishing church order in the area.
The significant religious backdrop of Ephesus is the worship of Artemis. The Diana cult. It was a female led and dominated religion. One where the women were the priestesses and men were relegated as second class citizens. The only males who were allowed to serve in the temples and religious practices were those who were neutered. Men were not allowed to pray, to speak, or have any meaningful leadership role in the temple…rather were considered servants to do the priestesses bidding. They also had to walk and stand with their heads bent to the ground…they were forbidden to look up, or at the priestesses during their time of worship.
It’s against this backdrop we can now come to the books of Timothy and understand the pastoral implications of what Paul is saying. First of all, he is urging that men stand up, lift up holy hands, and pray for all in authority. Kings, governments etc without grumbling. He then says he doesn’t permit women to have authority over men. He is referring to the issue of female dominance as most of the converts in Ephesus were former idolaters and the women had been taught they were dominant over men. He then says that women are to learn in quietness.
Paul is not reversing the order and now saying that men are dominant over women. He is not now saying that men are to pray in the service and women be silent. He is saying…that now men, you too can pray in the church, and I encourage you to do so. Under the rules of the Dianna cult it was only women who could be taught – but now he is saying…hey women, learn quietly and if you have a question go and ask your husband. The issue here isn’t that now Paul is saying your husband is a higher authority over you…but rather, now, you are to treat your husband as an equal.
One of the continual overriding themes throughout the NT is where slaves and slave owners are told they are equals in Christ. Men and women are told they are equals in Christ. Jews and Gentiles are equals in Christ. And the authors of Scripture go to great lengths to continue to establish this status quo.