One of the distinctives of most fundamentalist Christian churches, is the hierarchy of men over women. Several passages of Scripture are used, one of which is I Timothy 2:11-15:
“11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection.
12 But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve;
14 and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression:
15 but she shall be saved through her child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety.”
The Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy in Ephesus in Greece in about 64 AD. The custom in Ephesus at that time was for women not to be educated. Any educated woman was out of the ordinary in antiquity. It was not until the Middle Ages in Europe that nuns began to routinely be educated. Before that it was extraordinary to hear anyone, especially a man, say, “Let a woman learn…” Most men felt it was a waste of time to educate a woman, firstly because they did not believe women could learn, and secondly because they believed a literary, political or business education would be wasted on a housewife. What would she use it for? So for Paul to say, “Let the women learn” is amazing and unprecedented.
It was especially unprecedented in his own Jewish tradition, where one of the usual morning prayers included the phrase: “Thank you for not making me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman,” (dated in 220AD) and where school was reserved for boys. So what would cause the apostle Paul to make such a U-turn against his Jewish tradition?
It was the example of Jesus’ attitude toward women, the respectful way he treated women, not as sex objects, not as servants, not as children, but as equals. It was also the fact that the gospel stories are clear in the fact that the first witnesses of the resurrection, and first evangelists of the good news, were women who had come to the tomb to embalm Jesus’ body. This was in contradistinction to the Jewish custom of the time to not allow women (or shepherds) to testify in court because they were unreliable witnesses. God chose shepherds to testify about the birth of Jesus, and women to testify about his resurrection. God turned the hierarchy on its head to show that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
“But let her be silent” is the same Greek word as used 8 verses earlier to refer to the lives we should all lead, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
The rest of the I Timothy 2 passage referred to the Grecian fables that were popular in Ephesus at the time, the center of the worship of the goddess Diana. The women had evidently borrowed some Diana theology and mixed it with the Adam and Eve story and began to teach:
1) that women were created first, and
2) were superior to men
3) until childbirth, at which time they became defiled (in the Diana cult, Diana was a virgin goddess).
Paul pointed out that Eve was not created first, and that she was not superior to Adam during the temptation by the serpent, and that women are not defiled by childbirth. Furthermore he wanted uneducated women to stop teaching fables, and learn. The apostle Paul referred to “old wives fables” later in his letter to Timothy, evidently referring to the Diana cult teachings handed down by older women. (The word “wives” is interchangeable with “women” in many languages, including the Greek in which Paul wrote.)
The phrase “I permit not a woman to teach nor to have dominion over a man…” is a conjunctive phrase often used by Paul. The “nor” joins the two items before “over a man”. So Paul was saying, “I permit not a woman to teach over a man, nor to have dominion over a man.”
He was not saying a woman could not teach a man, because there is a clear example of Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos the truth. This is the only married couple in the Bible in which the woman is listed first, indicating that she was the more knowledgable and took the lead in the teaching.