in light of I Timothy 2 and Paul's letters.
The royal priesthood of believers
(My original, longer version of this article is on this blog. I do not purport to offer an exegesis of the text nor to cover or otherwise rehash the multitude of views for and against this subject. I am confident of the content and trust readers will ponder it themselves and respond accordingly.)
Sisters and brothers, the called out saints in Christ, the royal priesthood of believers, as Peter called us, (I Peter 3:9) stand out and apart from the world in which we live and minister. It is the royal priesthood which God in his divine wisdom ordained for the work of teaching and preaching the knowledge of his divine will. Yet, the same reluctant spirit of Moses to go to Pharoah is alive today. It manifests itself, not in the reluctance of the priesthood to go, but in how men have determined half of that priesthood, namely our sisters in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, ought not to go. Still, the royal priesthood is unlike any other in the world because of its call to minister to those who are in Christ as well as those who are in the world.
The world immerses men, women, youth and children in culture and although cultures differ between countries and the peoples of the world these cultures all have the common effect of diverting knowledge and worship away from the living God. There are too many facets, good and bad, in culture, nonetheless it is the call and duty of priests to teach, offer sacrifice and pray with and for those to whom they minister in the body of Christ and those to whom they minister in the cultures of the world. Condemning culture or casting those things we do not understand under the broad umbrella of culture does little to enlighten the saints. Similarly, “It was a first century cultural practice” as the default explanation to the saints in Bible class is as unconvincing, dry and lifeless as ancient temple ruins.
Broadly speaking, there are two views in the royal priesthood of believers attributed to Paul and which bear on the ministry and proclamation of the gospel by sisters and brothers in Christ. These include, in the order as presented by Paul in I Timothy, teaching and the exercise of authority by women, with the sole cause being to silence women, and the precedence of Adam in the order of creation, with the sole effect being silent women. Both of these views are exacted from Paul's ministry message in Ephesus to Timothy who, like Paul, ministered under the shadow of the temple of Artemis. The central text in this discussion is I Timothy 2:9-16. There's no question the words are Paul's anymore than their importance and prevalence in the church today. However, there is a question as to how we attribute our interpretation and meaning of Paul's words to these views as being what Paul intended.
Although this article is not about culture I believe a working definition of culture is helpful as we seek to minister, not to change culture, but to bring to the transformation of the new birth those who know not Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Paul arrives in Ephesus
The transforming ministry of the work of the Spirit in Ephesus began with the arrival of the apostle Paul. It was not without some obstacles. He had been twice forbidden by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6,7) from speaking the word in the northern regions of Asia. He exited Asia west into Macedonia, worked his way south to Corinth before crossing the Aegean Sea east back into Ephesus in Asia.
The account by Luke of Paul’s arrival and departure from Ephesus on this second missionary journey is brief. Luke relates this in two verses in Acts 18:18-21. Paul continued on his way to Jerusalem.Then, after a short stay in Antioch he departed from there on another missionary journey. This time Luke is just as brief with his account of Paul’s journey through the upper country of north Asia saying only,
There he ministered for at least two years despite no mention of the removal of the prohibition from speaking the word in Asia Paul had received earlier from the Holy Spirit. It is significant it was here in Ephesus where Paul delivered through Timothy an instruction concerning the teaching and the exercise of authority to the royal priesthood of believers, or more specifically, to our sisters in the faith.
Artemis, the daughter of Zeus, or Diana as she was known to the Romans, was introduced for the saints in Christ in Acts 19. Although Paul was literally on the sidelines and was mentioned by name he was not directly involved at that time in which a riot nearly broke out. It is the testimony of Demetrius which reveals Artemis was not merely an obscure local deity in Ephesus. She was well known and worshiped throughout Asia.
The circumstances in Ephesus represented a potential situation for sisters in Christ to become embroiled or to be mistaken as being part of the carnal mind-set of those wanting to be teachers of the law. Perhaps even worse was the possibility they could be mistaken, in a teaching role, as dominant priestesses of the temple of Artemis or her broader cultural dominance in Ephesus. (It seems plausible that priestesses who had emerged from the cult of Artemis would have the means to possess gold, pearls and expensive clothing and it is they who are the specific reason for Paul's instruction on the matter of their outward appearance.) Either way, their association could potentially have produced a clash with Paul’s mission on Artemis as carried on by Timothy. It is an audacious stretch to smear to embroil our sisters with others in Ephesus with the false teaching which had emerged in the church on the basis, as some have stated, that there were some women who were gossipers and idlers. Paul never made any suggestion or statement that the women were involved in teaching false doctrine. Nonetheless, the church in Ephesus seemed on the brink of becoming another Corinth.
It is an unfortunate understatement that Paul’s words for unity, enlightenment and instruction, directed as much to our brothers as to our sisters in Ephesus, continue to be primarily a perpetual silence of our sisters. The determination to maintain that silence is often upheld by men purportedly by the Spirit. However, it is to be noted that too often it is their career status and accomplishments which are the qualifications by which it is determined they are worthy to lead the saints in Christ, not because they are, full of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6) The fact that there are sisters who insist on the silence of their sisters and reject as offensive the idea of one of their own gender preaching and teaching is no more a understanding or submission to the will of the Lord than those brothers who beat their chest and in arrogant defiance declare, "not as long as I have anything to say about it." We know Paul was misunderstood at various times much to his dismay and sometimes utter frustration. Clearly, those misunderstandings of Paul were not limited to our first century brethren in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Today, one can only wonder about studies which emphasize language, historical interpretations and concocted, strained spins on first and twenty first century views on culture. These end result of these studies is that they are applied to the discussion on preaching and teaching by sisters in Christ with no more clarification or understanding in those studies than the exegesis of those same scriptures. Often these support or obscure a prohibition to teach written by Paul, but with little understanding or explanation as to why the Holy Spirit gave that prohibition and why Paul wrote it. Today, are men of a similar mindset who profess to be teachers and preachers any less to be admonished? How about those who want to be teachers, but who do not know what they say or about what they (despite their defiance) strongly affirm or any differently than Paul urged Timothy to admonish certain men in I Timothy 1.
If Eve was to be a helper to Adam in the garden how is we fail to understand our sisters today are to be no less helpers in the preaching and teaching of the gospel? No, not every woman is called anymore than every man is called to preach and teach. However, whether or not those sisters are called is not a matter for brothers, anymore than sisters to forbid it, because it upsets them or they just don't think it is right. These weighty matters of the kingdom demand a response which enlightens and edifies the saints in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul was not timid about using tactics in the war to topple and dethrone the cult of Artemis. In the Ephesus church, under the shadow of the temple of Artemis, there was no time for the priesthood of believers to be party to a spectacle in the scheme of something far greater than men teaching what they did not understand or women teaching at all. There would come a time when sisters would help their brothers just as Eve with Adam in the garden, not in the care of a garden, but in the teaching and preaching ministry of the gospel. The time came for Paul himself after being forbidden two times by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in northern Asia. He finally arrived in Ephesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit began his transforming ministry with the royal priesthood of brothers and sisters, some by their teaching others by their silence, in Christ in Ephesus, but each supporting, helping and aiding as co-workers with Paul and later with Timothy.
There's a significant, if not powerful, account about how Artemis came to seize the children, specifically, little girls, of the people of Ephesus. It speaks loud volumes to what the church continues to do with little girls. Little boys do not escape the message even if it takes them some years to gain some understanding of it.
When the Ephesians learned a wild bear had killed a little girl they hunted it down and killed the bear. Artemis, protectress goddess of wild beasts, was enraged (clue: note how often anger appears in Paul's letters) and declared that thereafter virgin girls would be dedicated to serve in her temple. Of course, these girls grew up to be women whom Artemis "saved" time after time through their birthing experience. Later, when these women came to the knowledge of the love of God in Jesus they rejoiced, not only in their salvation, but in childbearing.
What is the point about Artemis and how the church brings up little girls? It is really a reversal in the church from what it was in the temple of Artemis: Little girls grow up from their early childhood being devout and dedicated only to reach that point as women. They reach that point where it becomes apparent they can no longer serve while simultaneously living in the reality that they are prohibited from teaching and preaching in the assembly of the saints. Some little girls from their youngest years grow up actually thinking and being let to believe that they can and will, like anyone and everyone, teach and preach the gospel of the kingdom of God.
The obvious reality as it plays out in the church and for those little girls, then young girls, then women is that there are a lot (really?) nice things (serve communion? take up the collection? [but are prohibited from doing]) which they can do in the church, _ it's just not teaching and preaching in the assembly of the saints in Christ. Whatever nice and good thing they do they might do it as unto the Lord they are to do it _ divided, segregated by gender. It does not require great insight to discern the similarities towards women, our sisters in Christ and the church's past in America. The male leadership of the church was slow and reluctant to see the end of slavery and the emancipation of blacks in America. Little boys are not exempt from noticing these things. They grow up and as men can see, even though they if they do not have an understanding or comprehensive response to what they only see, the silence by their own brothers on the silence of their sisters is inescapable. Thereby, half the royal priesthood of believers continues to be silenced.
The beliefs which exalted Artemis in Ephesus and throughout Asia were false. However, they represented a real source of belief for those who were captive until their eyes were opened through the preaching of the gospel by Paul and Timothy, then. The time has come, today. Who can forbid that brothers and sisters teach and proclaim that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father? Maranatha.
Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons by Florence Bennett Anderson
A Woman Called by Sara Gaston Barton
Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal by Carroll Osburn
I really appreciate the heart and spirit with which Carroll Osburn treads through the multiple views on the subject. He's got a great response to each, yet I was surprised at his own less-than-substantive conclusion on the subject. There's no doubt he is quite capable of expounding long on I Timothy 2, but I expected a bit more.
The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on an Ancient Myth
Reading 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Its Literary Context
The single most glaringly audacious assertion in the above article is Doug Heidebrecht's mistaken alignment of our sisters with false teaching as one of the reasons for Paul's instruction concerning our sisters in the faith.The Cult of Artemis and the Royal Priesthood