Sometimes we need to read larger chunks of the Bible more quickly. And sometimes we need to drill down into a single chapter or verse. Either way, our goal is to understand clearly what God has spoken, so we can know him and live for his good pleasure.
Because too much study of verses-in-isolation can give us a mistaken picture of God’s intentions, my interest lies more with the first, broad type of reading. But I’m also committed to regularly studying small portions of text, in context, to gain deeper insight into the big picture. To that end, I was delighted to receive from Crossway a review copy of Women in the Church (3rd Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in exchange for an honest review.
And this book goes deep. The subtitle deceives, as this book is really about not the paragraph of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, but the lone controversial verse of 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Though parts of the book look at the paragraph – and even the full chapter – to explain the passage’s logic, the book targets verse 12 as the chief subject. Beyond that, one chapter of Women in the Church examines, nearly exhaustively, the lone Greek word behind the English phrase “exercise authority.” So after discussing the cultural context of first-century Ephesus, the contributors move from the word “exercise authority,” to the phrase “teach or exercise authority,” to the sentence, to the paragraph, to the chapter, to contemporary non-Western cultural applications, and finally to a virtual round table discussion about contemporary Western-culture applications.
As I said, this book goes deep. The material is thorough and exhaustive. The controversial verse gets tackled from almost every direction. I benefited greatly from this book, and I’m glad to have read it. I highly recommend the book for pastors, scholars, and academically minded Christians familiar with the Bible’s original languages.
However, I can’t recommend it for the average reader for three reasons:
- It is long.
- It is technical.
- It uses much Greek without ever transliterating it. For example, when discussing the word for “exercise authority,” the book never uses authentein. It uses αὐθεντεῖν. If Greek study will play a role in a work of scholarship I prefer this approach; but I admit it makes it difficult for people who don’t know the difference between v and nu.
The contributors try to make the book more accessible in the last chapter, where they interview a panel of pastors and Christian writers about their own church experiences. And this chapter begins exceptionally well:
“Tried-and-true Bible study moves from observation to interpretation to application. In this volume so far, we’ve done plenty of observing and interpreting…But while the detailed efforts at observation and interpretation have clarified the meaning of the passage, many questions remain on the level of significance, that is, with regard to specific points of application in the myriad of contexts in which many of us find ourselves today.”
I couldn’t agree more with this quotation. But unfortunately, the chapter doesn’t follow through on its promise to offer “specific points of application.” The round table discussion remains vaguely general. And in the end, I found it less than satisfying.
With that said, the rest of the book offers careful scholarship on key questions that arise over this passage. Is Paul addressing a specific cultural situation that no longer holds true today? Does “teach or exercise authority” really mean “teach authoritatively”? Is authentein best translated as “assume authority” (NIV) and not as “exercise authority” (ESV) or “have authority” (NKJV, HCSB)? Is the prohibition time-bound, as is the prohibitions on braided hair and jewelry in 1 Tim 2:9? How do we make sense of the many objections to the “traditional” understanding of this verse?
So my feelings on the book are mixed. If you have these burning questions, and you’re not threatened by a technical approach to them, go for it. There is much here for you. But if you just want plain English, you may want to wait for another book that takes this research and adapts it for ordinary folks.
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