HISTORICAL LIGHT ON PAUL’S WORDS TO TIMOTHY.
321. Prof. Ramsay says, further, “The danger about 65-70 is that calumnies and false charges be circulated, and the Christians tried for these imputed crimes. In such trials recantation is not sought for, and would be no palliation of the crimes charged against the Christians: (p. 247). History has not left us ignorant as to the nature of these calumnies. We have seen that Tacitus spoke of the Christians as “a race of men detested for their evil practices.” We should prefer not to give more precise information as to these calumnies, but it is essential to an understanding of Paul’s words, to know what sort of slanders had to be met,¾and they were precisely of that nature that would cause Paul to recommend (1) a separation of the sexes; (2) and that the women should be quiet for their own protection. Lecky, in the book we have already quoted from, states: “At a time when the moral standard was very low, they [all Christians] were charged with deeds so atrocious as to scandalize the most corrupt. They were represented as habitually, in their secret assemblies, celebrating the most licentious orgies, feeding on human flesh, . . . [and worse]. The persistence with which these accusations were made is shown by the great prominence they occupy, both in the writings of the apologists and in the narrations of the persecutions. That these charges were absolutely false will now be questioned by no one” (Vol.1, p. 414).
322. We must not forget that an accusation against a woman’s virtue throughout all time, has generally been treated more severely than a proved deed of the same sort in a man. Moral conditions were most terrible under Nero, who actively encouraged his officers and soldiers in every conceivable form of vileness. Paul had an intimate first-hand knowledge of all these dangers to women, and he knew more; he knew what had actually transpired at Rome, when the little church (that had gathered round him in the friendlier days, only two or three years before) had been wiped out of existence by Nero’s ferocity. We have only a glimpse, in a single sentence contained in a letter which Clement of Rome, a few years later, wrote to the Church at Corinth. We will give the sense of his words in the language of Archdeacon Farrar, from his book, The Early Days of Christianity: “Christian women, modest maidens, holy matrons, must be the Danaids or the Proserpine, or worse, and play their parts as priestesses of Saturn and Ceres, and in blood-stained dramas of the dead . . . Infamous mythologies were enacted, in which women must play their parts in torments of shamefulness more intolerable than death.”
323. Some of the women who came to this fate for their
confession as followers of the harmless and holy Son of God,
we probably have heard of by name, in the 16th
chapter of Romans, for therein Paul sends greetings to many
women of Rome. We are glad to know positively that Priscilla
the mention of her name in 2 Timothy 4:19. How the tender,
loving heart of Paul must have bled when he heard the
terrible news of women who had “labored with him in the
Gospel,” women “of note among the apostles,” women who had
“succoured” him, or “bestowed much labor upon him,”¾those
to whom he had applied these and many other appreciative
words, brought to such a terrible plight as above
described! And then his mind would sweep the entire field
of his missionary labours, and he would see the same peril
threatening, or the same shame being suffered, by his
Christian sisters and female disciples everywhere.
324. But it must have rested with peculiar sadness upon the city of Ephesus, next in importance to Rome, where he himself had suffered persecution so sore that he describes it as having “fought with beasts,” 1 Corinthians 15:32. When Paul went up to Jerusalem, before ever he was arrested, as he passed through Miletus, he summoned the elders from Ephesus to meet him there, and said to them: “Ye yourselves know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord . . . with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19). Thus he testifies to the spirit of hatred towards Christians which prevailed at Ephesus, where Timothy lived, to whom Paul’s epistle is written. In Acts 19:23-41, we have an account of trouble there, when a certain Alexander was put forward by the Jews. What he would have said, had the mob permitted, we do not know; but when Paul writes his second letter to Timothy, he warns Timothy to beware of the man,¾so we know there was at least one deadly and active Jewish enemy of the Christians at Ephesus,¾the man who, later did Paul “much evil” (2 Timothy 4:14-15), even probably going to Rome for the purpose of appearing against Paul at his last trial before Nero, when, alas! Paul was finally condemned and executed. It should cause no surprise, then, that Paul, under such exceptional circumstances, should caution Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, against bringing women into prominence, or permitting them to come forward, under such perilous circumstances.
325. And, then, there was a peculiar peril to women, of which Paul would know, though Christian women might be ignorant of it. We will describe it in the words of Prof. Ramsay (page 399, footnote, of his Church in the Roman Empire): “The ingenuity of Roman practice had in A.D. 31 perverted a humane scruple . . . into a reason for detestable brutality [criminal outrage] to the young daughter of Sejanus; . . . and this act constituted a precedent, which might defend numerous cases of similar brutality to Christian virgins in later time. There is no reason to disbelieve these cases, as Neumann does. They are attested by too weighty evidence, though of course the fantastic developments given to them in later hagiography are inane. If such things were done to the innocent daughter of a Roman noble, why not to a Christian criminal?” Yes, and under Nero, why not to married women, as well as to virgins, if the keeper of the prison so chose? We know, then, that the situation which women Christians occupied under Nero was that of extreme peril, not only to life, but, as Church history shows, to virtue also. And we know that the peril to men who would indoctrinate women in the Christian religion, was great also,¾for it led to the accusation of provoking family discord (par. 319).
326. To be sure, one should not carelessly assume that anything in the Bible is of exceptional and temporary import only. Yet we are now dealing with a personal letter, and advice given to one individual, and given in a time of exceptional peril,¾and these facts ought to count for a great deal. Again, while we should not thoughtlessly assume that the Bible is to be read in the light of profane history, and corrected by it; nevertheless, the Bible, when carefully tested by well-known ancient customs or conditions set forth in reliable profane history, will be found to ring true to contemporary facts. We might have suffered a stagger to our faith in Paul’s tenderness and prudence, if not a stagger to our faith in the Bible, if, in a time of such supreme peril to Christian women, Paul could be represented as urging women to the front of the fight, and putting on them equal ecclesiastical responsibilities with men,¾when he knew that the cost to them would be far heavier than to men. Rather, we find in Paul’s letter to Timothy precisely that sort of natural advice that a tender over-pastor under such conditions would give to one in charge of a church in his jurisdiction: “I should not allow a woman to teach or control a man. They are attacking our reputation for common decency, and we must meet it by separating the women from the men, and having them keep very quiet.” All history testifies that women did not shirk martyrdom for Christ’s sake, but Paul says: “However willing they may be, I do not permit it. We men must take the lead: Adam was first formed, then Eve, and besides, Eve, being immature, got involved, unwittingly, in transgression through her immaturity and inexperience. So are our women immature and inexperienced; they do not even understand fully the terrible dangers that confront them.” Thus might the Apostle, who, ten years before, wrote to the Corinthians about women “praying and prophesying,” and to the Galatians about the same time, to the effect that there could be no distinctions as regards sex in the Christian body, now consistently write after this manner to Timothy,¾for he must have regard for the situation under Nero, and the relations of Christian to the social order about them. It seems to us far more sensible, then, to ascribe Paul’s precautionary advice to the then existent perilous times, especially for women, than to go back to Eve, or to creation to find a reason.Lesson 43 Home