Complementarianism Revisited. Again.

I recently received a comment on my original post about complementarianism that pointed me to a blog entry by Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Apparently, Ben has a commentary on coming out on 1 Timothy.

I’ve finally had the time to read the blog entry and comment on it. I realize that this is not Ben’s full treatment of the issue and so this is no my full response to it either. Just a few observations.

1) the verb ‘authentein’ in vs. 12 occurs only once in the NT– just here. The verb is a strong one, and in my commentary which comes out in the fall I give instances of where it can be used to mean ‘to domineer’ ‘to usurp authority over’, but it also has the sense of ‘to exercise authority over’ as well.

True. So the meaning of the word is not disputed. The noun form of the word is authentes “master”. According to Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon, the word means “hold sovereign authority, act with authority”. A very strong word in deed!

Paul is not talking about occasions or instances where it is perfectly proper for women to teach or exercise authority over men, something he will mention elsewhere, for example in Rom. 16.

There is nothing in Romans 16 that teaches that.

The issue here in Ephesus is that there are some women who are seeking to teach or take authority over men, without first being quiet and learning about their faith. This is inappropriate of course.

How does Ben know this? Verse 11 say to “let a woman learn” there is nothing saying “first and then…” Much of the egalitarian argument on the interpretation of this verse is based on what they suppose is the situation in Ephesus but little is provided in the way of proof.

2) nothing is said here about women being subordinate to men. What vs. 11 speaks about is learning quietly and so being in submission to the teaching and what is being required of the listener…In short, 1 Tim. 2 is talking about silence and submission in the presence of authoritative teaching and teachers.

True enough. Just to be clear, I am not arguing for the subordination of women from this verse. I am simply saying that women may not hold the office of elder or pastor and may not teach men.

Clearly enough, he is correcting high status women who actually had fine clothes and jewels to wear, and could come to worship with high coiffed hair. It is these sorts of women he has in mind in 1 Tim. 23) the verb here is ‘I am not (now) permitting’. As Philip Payne has shown, there is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where this form means ” I am permanently banning women from teaching etc.’ This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach.

This simply is not the best way to handle verb tenses in Greek. There are too many exceptions to this type of a rule. The verbal aspect theory would say that Paul is using a present tense verb not to mean “not for now” but to emphasize it, to make it stand out. As Stanley Porter says “Greek tenses are not primarily temporally-based.” (Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Mood and Tense, 252.) In other words, a verb can be present tense and be stative. The “default” setting for a Greek verb is the Aorist. It is the most common verb tense used. Rarer is the present tense. When the less common verb tenses are used, they serve to draw attention to what is being said. The exact time reference of the verb must be taken from the context. That is why some Greek grammars speak of “future Aorists.”

Back to verse 12 where the verb is present active indicative. Though it can be a present, temporary state, it can also indicate a steady state. For example, in Matthew 3:9 John the Baptist warns the Jews not to say “We have (present active indicative) Abraham as our father” as assurance that they are acceptable to God. John does not say that they will stop being Abraham’s children, he says that God can raise children to Abraham out of the stones. Their state is fixed, but not helpful to them. It is the immediate context which must tell us about the temporal aspect of the verb and that is entirely missing in 1Ti 2. There is nothing indicating that it is only a temporary prohibition that Paul has in mind.

I guess I’ll have to wait to see Witherington’s fuller treatment of this verse in his forthcoming commentary but I didn’t find the blog entry particularly convincing.

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  • Yawn — nothing new here in Witherington’s work. I hope he’s not selling it based on originality of thinking in this pericope …

    You did a good job in a little space, Tim.

  • Thanks Cartee. I didn’t think Witherington said much in his blog. Well, not much new anyway. I should check to see if his commentary has been published yet.

    Just in case anyone else reads this, my beef is not just with egalitarianism. My concern is hermeneutics. The hermeneutic used to create wiggle room for women in ministry can easily be applied to allow for homosexuality being acceptable. Not that egalitarians want that nor that they agree with it, but if the hermeneutic is diluted or qualified so as to allow one thing, there may be a host of others that follow. Instead, let us maintain a sound hermeneutic and wrestle with the question of women’s role in ministry within the bounds of what Scripture says.

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