PAUL’S WORDS TO TIMOTHY ABOUT WOMEN.
306. Paul’s advice about women, in a personal letter to Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, written about A.D. 67 (see 1 Timothy 2:8-15), assumes importance to women mainly because its import has been greatly exaggerated. Paul merely states his own practice and gives his reasons, as a matter of advice. He does not command or exhort Timothy, or anyone else, to do the same. Here there is no “as also saith the law,’ as in 1 Corinthians 14:34, to be made use of as opposing the ministry of women; nor does he express an “ought” on the subject, as in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Yet this, the third and last of the familiar utterances by Paul on the “woman question,” has probably been more used than the others as a pretext for subordinating woman, ecclesiastically. But to exaggerate advice of this nature in a personal letter, into a law for the governance of all women throughout all time, means to destroy the naturalness of this personal epistle.
307. Because Paul says to Timothy, in this same letter, “Use a little wine for the stomach’s sake,” no one is so foolish as to believe that all Christians for all time are expected to drink wine. Paul writes to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:13), “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, . . . bring with thee,” yet expositors do not teach that we must all follow Paul’s directions to Timothy, and fetch a cloak from Troas. To be sure, Paul was inspired, and often uttered, in these personal letters, exhortations, commands and perhaps requests, which we could not disobey without sin. But Paul was not so limited and hampered by his inspiration that he could no longer give individuals advice, and make private requests. He was not so hampered by his inspiration that he could not, like the rest of us, give advice of temporary use only,--advice unsuitable for all individuals to practice under all circumstances. Expositors who cannot see a difference between God’s inexorable laws, or eternal principles of justice and righteousness, as described in personal epistles, and practice or advice suitable for the emergency only, are too literal in their mental make-up to be useful teachers for their age and generation. We have already quoted, but will repeat again, John Stuart Mill’s thoughtful words of warning: ”To pretend that Christianity was intended to stereotype existing forms of government and society and protect them against change, is to reduce it to the level of Islamism or Brahmism.”
308. For all that, when Paul merely says: “I suffer not a woman to teach or to control a man” (as it should be read), certain expositors declare that all women must for all time be discounted as teachers of the Word and must not, on any account, have any place of importance in managing church affairs. With what ardour they contend that Paul’s mere example must be obeyed here! Do they thus ardently obey Paul’s example themselves, in all matters? Let us see: Speaking of his own un-encumbered state, Paul says, even in a general epistle (1 Corinthians 7:7), “I would that all men were even as I myself.” Yet men who would be scandalized by women daring to teach or preach, or to exercise authority themselves, in opposition to Paul’s plainly expressed wishes, marry. They disobey his plainly expressed example. The question is, ought they to obey Paul in this matter, or are they free to disobey, without sin? Listen to Paul’s own answer to this question; at verse 28 of this very chapter Paul says, “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned.” Therefore we know, on the Apostle’s own words, that he could give advice which might be disobeyed with impunity. In 1 Corinthians 16:12, Paul declares that he “greatly desired” Apollos to go to Corinth; but Apollos did not obey his wishes, yet Paul continues to call him “brother Apollos,” just the same, and hopes that he will go later,--a wish that Paul would not have expressed, had he felt that Apollos was sinning in this disobedience of his wishes. Paul understood, if others conveniently forget sometimes, that “One is our Master,” and that one is not Paul, but Jesus Christ.
309. All that is claimed by the Bible, for the Epistle to Timothy is that it was meant for Timothy. This all will admit, as to the ”wine” and the “cloak” question; and we claim it for the “woman question,” too,--for reasons that we shall presently state. Nevertheless, we are not hindered from seeing that Paul uttered many truths in this same Epistle to Timothy, that bear internal evidence that they are inspired with messages of value for all, and for all time,--words that breathe the same Spirit of prophecy and doctrine that characterizes the Bible in every part, and make it a Book to be both revered and obeyed. But it has been strong masculine prejudice, in the past, which has led to this stress upon Paul’s words about woman’s part and place in the Church. When prejudice runs strongly in another direction, men are quite ready to disobey Paul’s words, and to teach women to do the same. For instance, Paul says (1 Corinthians 7:8): “I say to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” Do ministers of the Gospel, and theologians go about saying to unmarried women and widows, “You should heed Paul’s words, and remain unmarried as he did?” Not at all, if there is one point on which prejudiced males would give advice to women who wished to preach, that point would be to “get married,--the home is woman’s sphere.” Their advice, then, on the “woman question” can run counter to Paul’s teaching when their prejudices do also.
310. Now, for the evidences that Paul’s advice to Timothy was not meant to control all women for all time, we must take time and space to get the historical setting. When Paul was arrested (Acts 21) and taken for safety to Caesarea for trial (Acts 23), he there appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25:11), and was sent to Rome, where he arrived in A.D. 61, in the seventh year of Nero’s reign. He was placed in the charge of “the Captain of the Guard,” who, profane history tells us, was Burrus, who treated him with some kindness, allowing him to dwell in his own hired house, and he preached to all that came to him,--though kept chained to his guard. In time Paul came to have a church gathered about him, almost within the very household of the most infamous potentate that ever disgraced a throne (Acts 28:16-31).
311. When Paul reached Rome there was less hostility against Christians there than anywhere else throughout the Empire. Nero was young, and his tutors, Seneca the Philosopher, and Burrus, already mentioned, attended to matters of state, while Nero, for the most part, devoted himself to art. But soon a courtier named Otho corrupted the youthful Nero, and the latter fell madly in love with Poppaea, Otho’s wife, a woman of desperate character, though a Jewish proselyte. She induced Nero to murder his own wife, Octavia, and marry herself. Thenceforward, his fall was very rapid, and his court became unspeakably vile.
312. Conybeare and Howson, in their most valuable book, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, (in comments immediately following the Epistle to the Philippians), say of St. Paul: “He tells us [see Phil. 1:13] that throughout the Preaetorian quarters he was well known as a pioneer for the cause of Christ, and he sends special salutations to the Philippian Church from the Christians in the Imperial household [Philippians 4:22]. These notices bring before us very vividly the moral contrasts by which the Apostle was surrounded. The soldier to whom he was chained might have been in Nero’s bodyguard yesterday; his comrade who next relieved guard upon the prisoner might have been one of the executioners of Octavia, and might have carried her head to Poppaea a few weeks before. Such were the ordinary employments of the fierce and bloodstained veterans who were daily present, like wolves in the midst of sheep, at the meetings of the Christian brotherhood. If there were any of these soldiers not utterly hardened by a life of cruelty, their hearts must surely have been touched by the character of their prisoner, brought as they were into so close a contact with him. They must have been at least astonished to see a man, under such circumstances, so utterly careless of selfish interest. Strange indeed to their ears . . . must have been the sound of Christian exhortation, of prayers, and of hymns; stranger still, perhaps, the tender love which bound the converts to their teacher and to one another, and which showed itself in every look and tone.” We will continue this sketch of Paul’s times and surroundings in our next lesson.