Insights from Man and Woman, One in Christ: Part 10

This post concludes the series on Philip B. Payne’s magisterial work Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.

In reading the last two chapters, I was reminded of my post “Interpreting the Bible, Nursery Rhymes, or Just About Anything Else” and the importance of not importing our traditions and biases into God’s Word. What struck me right out of the gate was Payne’s assertion that

“If it were Paul’s intention that women should forever be excluded from teaching and from positions of authority in the church, there is no more natural place in all his letters for him to have said so than in the…passage listing requirements for overseers and deacons, 1 Tim 3:1-12. Unfortunately, practically all English versions of 1 Tim 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 give the false impression that Paul uses masculine pronouns, implying that these church leaders must be male. In Greek, however, there is not even one masculine pronoun or ‘men only’ requirement for the offices of overseer and deacon in 1 Tim 3:1-12 or elder in Tit 1:5-9.”

This raises serious questions as to why translators of every popular English translation (e.g., NIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, and even the TNIV) would translate these passages this way. While Payne does not demonstrate what was driving translators’ mindset on why these passages are not more faithful to the original language, one has to wonder if gender bias was not a motivation. Even if 1 Tim 2:12 provides a “limitation into the requirements for overseer,” it does not warrant the vast number of masculine pronouns introduced into the text, especially those “formally equivalent” translations such as the ESV, NASB, et al. (see Payne, p. 24, note 1 for the number of masculine pronouns inserted per English translation).

By providing a probability analysis of the words and expressions used of women in 1 Timothy vis-a-vis the descriptions of elder or deacon, Payne shows that “these qualifications not only can, but in fact do, apply to women.” Special attention is given to “one woman man” and Payne opines this applies not to divorced men or women per se, but to those who may be in polygamous relationships or who are sexually unfaithful to their spouse. Although no evidence is offered that polygamy was a concern in Ephesus (data regarding polygamous practices in first century Ephesus is dubious), Paul clearly insists on the moral requirement of fidelity to the marriage covenant, which women no less than men must demonstrate.

Whether Paul was addressing qualifications of deacons’ wives or female deacons, Payne astutely observes “if the only women who can serve are deacons’ wives, this requirement would disqualify all single women, all women whose husbands are not deacons, and all otherwise qualified men whose wives do not qualify.” And, he asks why the wives of overseers are overlooked yet qualifications for deacons’ wives are listed. Furthermore, no less than “sixty-one inscriptions and forty literary references to female deacons through the sixth century AD in the East, where the church in Ephesus was located” can be identified.

Thus, women can and should be eligible for the office of overseer and of deacon.

Conclusion with additional references
If 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation, then only one passage in the New Testament ( 1 Tim 2:12) restricts what women may do in the church. This restriction, according to Payne’s findings, favors a “present over a universal prohibition.” As I understand, this specific application to Ephesus would apply only in churches today where women were “assuming for themselves authority over men that the church had not granted them.” Paul neither prohibits women from teaching men nor from delegated authority, but does prevent women from doing what the false teachers had done, namely, assume a position of authority to teach others false doctrine.

I’ve chosen to make this series primarily a summary on each chapter since I do not believe I am qualified to offer a critical review. As I’ve said before, Payne’s book is a must read for anyone who takes seriously God’s Word and wrestles with the issues it raises. While years may pass before the scholastic landscape integrates and appropriates this magisterial book, I’m confident that this will become a standard reference. Equally important, every local church must take seriously Payne’s findings and evaluate its position in light of this research. If, at the end, no changes are made to male-only leadership roles, the church will at least be better informed.

Additional references include:

5 thoughts on “Insights from Man and Woman, One in Christ: Part 10”

  1. Payne says the term μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα (“one-woman man” or “a man of one woman”) in 1 Tim 3:2 doesn’t specifically rule out women, since it could be interpreted as “one-spouse human”. But the much plainer reading of the text is the gendered version, not Payne’s neutered version, which is why most modern translations go that route.

    Where there’s controversy, go with the plainer reading.

  2. Andy,
    Thanks for stopping by here. I do hope you will read Payne’s work en toto and not merely my summaries here. He deserves to be heard/read.

    I’m not sure about your hermeneutical principle “Where there’s controversy, go with the plainer reading.” After all, what constitutes “plain” to some is not “plain” to all. Moreover, not all controversies should be avoided. If that were the case, then Nicaea and Chalcedon would likely not have occurred and far more would be following Arius. Many texts are less “plain” than others and doing one’s homework is the best response to controversy….as I see it, anyway.

  3. Yep! I was actually referencing Payne’s own comments on this topic – he addressed this particular issue on his blog earlier in the summer, I think it was maybe June or so. I just thought his explanation wasn’t entirely persuasive.

    You are entirely correct, though, that what is plain may not be apparent to everyone. And there are some texts that aren’t plain at all (Peter himself said that some of Paul’s writings were “hard to understand”). We certainly need to be careful that we don’t assume that individual interpretation is infallible, just as we also need to be careful in not assuming that the institutional interpretation is infallible. It does seem to be a bit of a catch-22 to assert “We trust Scripture more than we trust our own ability to interpret it correctly.” Nevertheless, I think this is where the community is important – reading the Bible together with our churches, other believers, those who have gone before us, etc. This is our best safeguard against error.

    Debate should certainly be welcomed, although we should take Paul’s advice in Romans 14 to be very cautious about quarreling over mere opinions. If it’s something that impacts the gospel itself (i.e. the hypostatic union, for example) it’s certainly worth arguing vigorously over. For things that don’t impact the gospel (such as ecclesial gender roles), we should be more gracious in our interactions. After all, as Mohler himself noted, there are a great many faithful Christians who believe in Biblical inerrancy who also affirm egalitarianism. I myself was one until about 2 years ago. Looking back, I do think I was mistaken, but I don’t think I was EVIL or in rebellion or anything. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Andy. Appreciate your spirit here. Peter’s comments on “some of Paul’s writings” came to mind for me when composing my response to you. Thanks for mentioning. I wholeheartedly agree that we must not be married to our interpretation. After all, it’s the text that is inspired; not our interpretations. There are far too many Spirit-filled believers who disagree with one another and have their own solid reasons for doing so.

    Blessings to you!

  5. My thoughts on the ‘one woman man’ controversy seem pretty plain to me. 🙂

    Paul is addressing this section to anyone (tis) who desires, thus right up front this is an admonition directed to anyone who desires a certain work. The overall list is one of personal character. Taking into consideration that the masculine is a default when one is addressing an unknown or general crowd (we don’t really address the unknowns as neutered), then Payne seems right on the mark of interpreting the idiom of ‘one woman man’ as pertaining to ‘one spouse humans’. We can further interpret that as a call to faithfulness in relationships.

    This seems more accurate to me because then the call of faithfulness fits in with a Hebrew poetic call of: faithful is the saying….. an overseer then must be blameless, a faithful spouse, etc. In addition this also fits right in with the rest of the list as a personal point of godly, faithful, moral character.

    We really need to not insert physical requirements into Scripture when we know that God accepts all who come to Him.

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