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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 12: Circumstances Requiring the Epistle

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When the Gospel was first being spread in Ephesus, Demetrius—a wealthy silversmith who made silver idols of Artemis/Diana—instigated a near riot when he perceived his idol-making trade was vulnerable under the increase of Christianity. Acts 19:23–29, 20:1 documents a tumultuous few hours when the entire city was thrown into chaos and many voices in one accord decreed, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” A gracious town clerk brought the matter to an end, but not without a lasting impression that this “Christianity” was a powerful force to be reckoned with. The incident concerned Paul, who thereafter headed to Macedonia. But those who remained in Ephesus had already heard that a new religion was forming, and it was one that centered around a Savior who required nothing more from His followers than faith and love.

This new “Christ religion” also centered on a Savior who was brought to the world without the involvement of a human male…which was a concept that would have been familiar to the women in a city that worshipped a goddess who created life without a male’s participation. We can already see a connection forming here. These pagan women, as well as recent converts to Christianity, would have already viewed themselves as the “experts” of such theology. Keep that in mind.

What followed for the next few years was a turbulent and agitated relationship between theologians/ministers of pagan, Jewish, and Christian conviction. The area was rampant with not only well-learned men and women of the pagan religions, but with professional graduates of philosophy who fervently applied their esteemed intellect to exceptionally persuasive doctrines that had been culturally adapted into every crevice of Greco-Roman identity for eons before Paul ever visited Ephesus. Whereas today, most people follow the ideologies, doctrines, and tenets of a specific religion that suits them, in Paul’s day, it wasn’t at all abnormal for a person to cherry pick what he or she liked to hear from several religions and mesh them together, simply as a result of so many years of pagan eclecticism in the ancient world.

Priests and religious leaders at that time could be gurus of several different cults at once. By the time religious personalities were rising to the call for Christ’s Gospel, many of them would have viewed such syncretistic practice as routine. For instance, there might have been a priest whose central doctrine was of the Messiah, Christ, while his creation doctrine was that of Artemis/Diana as the Great Mother, preaching that all must bow to the authority of the Roman imperial cult, demanding all males to be circumcised (Judaism), and cautioning all his followers’ behaviors to reflect those within oriental religion. (Any devout and learned Christian or Jew would know better, but these kinds of leaders still existed aplenty.) That’s five religions in one, and although we might consider that to be a sellout today, at the time it was a blending of strong suits. Such a motley collection of beliefs understandably presents believers with several holy deities to follow, and the roads to salvation were not through Christ alone, as Paul strictly taught, but through several various gods.

Again, without the New Testament as a reliable training tool for the early Church (because it had not yet been written), Christianity was subjected to false teaching to the maximum extent. Women were equal to men behind nearly any secular platform in Ephesus, so female converts to Christianity were becoming deceived by all the diverse religions and presenting a syncretized version of the Gospel with a pagan slant to their listeners (2 Timothy 3:6). (Men were as well, and Paul mentioned several of them by name: Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus [1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17; 4:14–15]. This same behavior was happening around the same time in the city of Crete when Paul wrote to Titus [1:10–11, 14–15; 2:11–15; 3:9–11].) From every angle and all at once, Paul was beginning to feel bombarded by false teachers, and the problem was still occurring in Ephesus by the time Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:14, 18, 23; 3:1–9, 13; 4:3–4).

In the meantime, there was an interesting development specific to the Artemis/Diana priestesses in Ephesus. In the last chapter, we discussed how a woman’s body was seen as the pathway to blessings from the gods. In Ephesus (and in Sardis), the thinking was similar, but with a more spiritual application. The priestesses of Artemis/Diana saw themselves as the divine mediators between gods and men, and they were revered as such by the males in and around the city. (There are many records of this same “woman as mediator” type of religious practices around the time of, and predating, the priestesses of the New Testament age in Ephesus. Consider the oracles at Delphi, Didyma, and Dodona. Only these women could intermediate between Zeus or Apollo and men.) Documented accounts of these divination/oracle-type incidents describe the women going into a trance-like state, whereupon they would moan or convulse and even go into hysterics. Because of so much emphasis on virginity, fertility, and orgiastic worship throughout this part of the world during this time, even when sex wasn’t directly involved, the episodes were often known to be of an erotically charged nature, as documents show: “Female priests (such as the Pythia at the oracle of Delphi) played a more trance-like, inspired role. The unintelligible prophecies of these women had to be interpreted and delivered by men. The worship of the mystery cults was enthusiastic, and all those present—including women—took part. Hysterical shouting and wailing of women was a valued part of the meetings. Ancient texts record even the sounds and syllables they uttered.”[i]

By the Gnostic enlightenment age, which was in early stages of development at the time this epistle was written, women were frequently prized mediators who were observed to be the principle mouthpieces of the gods. When Christianity was introduced to Ephesus, these same women embraced the Messiah’s story as truth, but they also made a smooth transition into positions of leadership as the mediators of the Savior, Jesus Christ, as only one god to fellow believers, while they maintained belief in the authority of Artemis/Diana.[ii]

Imagine you are a new male convert to Christianity in the city of Ephesus in the first century. You have heard of this man, Paul, who knows all there is to know about Jesus Christ, as he not only had a personal experience with Him on the road to Damascus, but he was also in the company of Christ’s very disciples and learned His doctrines first-hand from those who walked with the Messiah daily. Paul is not present to speak to in person, and there is no idol of Jesus Christ nearby, but you wish to further sharpen your understanding of the Messiah. You’ve heard that there is a church within city limits that Paul, himself, established with the help of a woman, Priscilla. You assume, as would anyone else within your culture, that Priscilla was the mediator between Jesus and men. Men could not gain truth from the Son of the Living God without going through some kind of female oracle, you believe, so you head over to the meeting place to seek assistance from the priestess. When you arrive, you are told that Priscilla is not available, but there are many women among the congregation who also serve as priestesses of this new and “true” religion. One of them offers to help, and she takes you to her home that afternoon, lights candles, and tells you about Christ. You’re as happy as ever to hear of this “way” to salvation through the blood of the Messiah, and you’re even more thrilled when you learn that it’s free to all who believe. You’re a little confused when she tells you that all life began through the Great Mother of Asia, Diana, without her ever having to engage in sexual relations with a male god…but if Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, then maybe the goddess of virginity and fertility could have been the true creator of Adam as well. And if Diana was the creator of all life, and this priestess is a mediator of the goddess and Jesus Christ, then she is undoubtedly the right person to teach you the truth of this new, popular religion sanctified by Paul. The priestess begins to chant, moan, sway, and “communicate with the spirit of Christ” on your behalf. It’s not surprising to you, because you’ve been taught to believe that this is normal behavior for a mediator—and after all, this woman is a graduate of the School of Philosophy in Ephesus, so she can’t be just another crackpot minister, because the reputation of the school stands behind training only the greatest minds. She elucidates Christ’s message to you with impressive articulation and intellect. After a few minutes, she escalates her vocalizations to the ultimate, spiritual, euphoric ecstasy (use your imagination), and then finally releases a hefty sigh and returns to a peaceful countenance. You believe that you’ve been given the greatest gift of all: salvation through Christ and Diana. As you turn to leave this strange and erotic affair, the priestess gives you one last thought: “Thank the gods Paul came to Ephesus when he did, or else you may never have been reached with this gospel. Doesn’t it feel so good to be cleansed?”

Do you have this picture of insane pagan-Christianity syncretism in your mind? Then you may now have a better understanding of what historical and cultural circumstances were in play when Paul wrote the epistle that theologian Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian said held an “exceptional character” of “emergency measures.”[iii]

Paul was reacting to an emergency.


Message of 1 Timothy

Paul begins again by identifying himself (1:1) and then his recipient, “Timothy, my true child in the faith” (1:2). The apostle wastes no time in diving straight into the central crisis—false teaching—in verses 3 through 11. He spends a brief moment telling his personal testimony in verses 12 through 17 in order to pack a more powerful punch behind his charge to Timothy, who, like Paul, will have to remain vigilant in these trying times of unbridled false teachers: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander [false teachers]; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1:18–20).

Chapter 2, verses 1 through 8, include Paul’s instructions for how to pray and what to pray for, so that Christ will be ever at the center of the church’s focus. The transition between verse 8 and 9 is telling: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel…” Notice that he does not say, “I will therefore that men pray… Now onto the issue of women’s apparel.” He specifically writes “I will therefore that men pray… In like manner also, that women…” First, he describes the humble way he wants men to pray in the church, and then he writes hosautos: “in the same way:—even so, likewise, after the same (in like) manner [as the men he just instructed],”[iv] referring to how he wants the women to pray in the church; he wants them to do kai (“also”; “and”; “likewise,”[v]) with modest apparel. Both genders are receiving instructions on how to pray (which involves speaking) in the corporate setting of service. So, later remarks about silence cannot be seen as Paul describing a “silent woman” in the church.

Focusing more completely on verses 9 and 10, we hit a strange snag: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness [Greek aidos: “modesty”[vi]] and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

As pointed out earlier, almost every minister of the Gospel today dismisses these verses as a “cultural issue.” The exception might be in conservative churches that follow the Word to the literal extreme, but by and large, there is a common shoulder shrug that modern readers apply to the prohibition of braided hair, gold, pearls, and expensive clothing. Barring extremists, nobody in the Body of Christ today has an issue with a woman coming to church with her hair in braids or pearls around her neck. If a Western minister today were to stand up and proclaim a necessary return to these prohibitions with literal application, his message would be met with the exasperated sigh of a million theologians. Why? Because we all know Paul’s concerns were not with braids, pearls, gold, or expensive clothes. His concern was with a woman attending church in modesty and humility, and in making sure that her appearance in a place of worship would be for the right reasons (to worship, not to attract the attention of surrounding men).

In ancient cultures, women didn’t wear miniskirts or low-cut blouses. They didn’t wear six-inch heels, fishnet stockings, or skin-tight, celebrity-designer clothes. If a woman wanted to dress in a manner that alerted all the men around her that she was ready to have a good time, she wore eye-catching accessories and expensive and colorful robes—and she would braid her uncovered hair intricately, weaving flashy pieces of precious metals or gems into it. In fact, the literal, word-for-word translation from Paul’s Greek was not “braided hair, or gold” (plegmasin e chrysio), it was “braided hair and gold” (plegmasin kai chrysio).[vii] (Note that in order to see this translation, the interlinear must be done from Greek to English first. The interlinear cannot be like some of those tool-Bibles online that start with the KJV and simply show the Greek equivalent above or below. That is essentially translating from our known English back to ancient Greek, and in this case, because the KJV has “or,” the Greek will show e as the equivalent. A true Greek-to-English interlinear comparison will show that kai [“also”; “and”] was the word Paul wrote originally.) Paul was aware that women were weaving gold into their braids, which was a common practice for prostitutes who wanted to wear an ongoing advertisement in public that they were “available for hire.” These women knew that the culture around them considered their hair to be an extension of the body’s most intimate fluids, so they drew even more attention to it with gold, fine metals, and gemstones.

The hetairai spoken of in the last chapter were women of the professional courtesan or prostitution vocation. Well before their bodies were ever offered to their first clients, older or retired prostitutes had trained them in the fine art of cosmetics and fashion so their beauty and ornamentation would secure the interest of potential patrons. Throughout the ancient world at this time, as in Corinth, there was a certain kind of attire that “loose” women (especially prostitutes) would wear in order to gain the attention of men and let them know what kind of work they were in. (In Ephesus, it may have been the aforementioned “bees” [priestesses/prostitutes] of Artemis/Diana setting this trend.) As time went by and the hetairai had influenced the other matrons and single women who belonged to the soul of upper-crust society (i.e., educated women with well-paying jobs who hobnobbed with the elites and could afford gold, pearls, and fancy clothes), women began to imitate this form of adornment simply because it looked feminine and pretty. So not all of the women who wore braids, gold, pearls, and costly array were prostitutes, but since the fashion trend principally began in those circles, even an innocent maid would be seen as indecently dressed if she went out in public wearing her hair and clothing in a similar, flashy way. They “looked the part,” so to speak.

According to the celebrated book by Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in Light of Ancient Evidence—whose work has been cited numerous times (including within university textbooks, although their treatment of the Greek authenteo [addressed shortly] has drawn much scrutiny)—Paul may have even been responding to a report that women were either lifting their skirts to their waistlines as a symbol of fertility or taking their clothes off during service. Erotic art from the surrounding regions shows women participating in mystery-cult celebrations (the book mentions Dionysus) while nude.[viii] This sounds extreme, and we cannot guarantee that this specific lewd behavior was taking place in the church at Ephesus, but we can be sure it was happening in the area—and, as stated before, Paul appears from every angle to be responding to an emergency.

Food for thought…

Whereas many modern ministers may not be aware of the plegmasin e chrysio versus plegmasin kai chrysio comparison—or of who began the trend (prostitutes/hetairai)—they are aware that the verse in 1 Timothy demands modesty and humility. They preach that women today can wear braids, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing, as long as they don’t dress in a provocative way that “advertises” that their presence in church is for the wrong reasons. Why? Because it’s a “cultural issue.”

By this, they are successfully completing the steps we outlined before:

  1. The original circumstances must be determined. (Women were attending church in attire that their culture perceived as immodest.)
  2. Similar (or exact) circumstances of today must be determined. (Women sometimes attend church today in attire that our culture perceives as immodest.)
  3. The “relative” instructions apply to today’s reader after a fair comparison of the two preceding factors have been determined, and in a way that preserves the spirit of the principles taught. (Women today should not attend church wearing immodest clothing or accessories.)

See? Easy peasy. Obvious and clear-cut. The regulation is understood and then applied as it relates to the original intent.



Now to the most glaring (and frustrating) fact in all of this: The very next verse in sequence—you know, that one right after the one about braids and gold—is not given this same allowance. Many, many preachers today who interpret 1 Timothy 2:9–10 as a “cultural and relative regulation” state that 1 Timothy 2:11–12 (“I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man”) is an “absolute [normative] regulation for all times.” These ministers may not personally be hypocrites, but their willingness to go from “relative” to “absolute” one verse over—without even a shred of evidence that this verse was intended to be an absolute regulation (especially when there is so much evidence to the opposite from Paul, the same author: that women were praised as prolific leaders and theologians of the early Church)—is hypocritical. These men may not aim to be hypocritical, and I understand that many are simply teaching what their mentors/pastors taught them in the first place, but a willingness to look at ancient culture in one verse and not the next is—at the very least—duplicitous, if not intentionally neglectful of the proper hermeneutical responsibility they hold as teachers of the Word.

In light of all our studies throughout this book, it’s noteworthy to mention that before Timothy was the pastor in Ephesus, Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, were equal partners in establishing, growing, and maintaining the church there. And, as we stated earlier, historical evidence makes it clear that Priscilla was an astute early theologian of the doctrine of Christ, likely ahead of even her husband. As such, the reader needs to remember that Priscilla (a woman) perfected the theology of Apollos (a celebrated holy man), which was met with accolades from the apostle Paul in Ephesus, the very recipient city of this pastoral letter. The original readers of Paul’s letter to Timothy (meaning Timothy, himself, as well as all those affected by Paul’s instruction through Timothy) knew Priscilla personally. She was their archetypal “pastor” before Timothy was. Therefore, the Ephesians would have immediate insight into the nature and regulations that 1 Timothy addressed. If Paul had gone out of his way to verify Priscilla as a significant leader of the Christians in Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19); if she was honored and recognized by “all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3–4); and if the residents of Ephesus knew her as their previous teacher who perfected even Apollos’ theology (Acts 18:24–26)—then the readers of 1 Timothy would have known that Paul was, himself, in support of women like Priscilla leading a congregation. (And that is only to list close-proximity proof. Chapter 2 of this book thoroughly examines a trainload of other evidence that proves Paul’s acceptance of women as church leaders, and we haven’t even arrived at what Christ thought of them yet…which presents a whole other gamut within the “internal consistency” proofs.)

Therefore, we have only two avenues by which to travel down Logic Road here: 1) Paul supported women in ministry, until he suddenly and inexplicably began to contradict himself; or 2) there were isolated, cultural circumstances that applied at the time, and it was those very circumstances Paul had to address. If we agree to the principle of internal consistency—and we must, if there is any truth to the Bible at all—then we must also agree that Paul wouldn’t suddenly contradict himself and still be included within the canon of Holy Scripture, which leaves only the latter of these two possibilities.

The prohibition against women teachers was a “cultural issue” also! It had to have been, or else Paul could not have commissioned women leaders in the early Church, as we well know by now that he did!

If “braids and gold, or pearls, or costly array” are allowed to be a “relative,” then the very next verse should be allowed that same interpretational accommodation if there is enough evidence to justify it—and there is…in spades.

Speaking of our trip down Logic Road: Why didn’t Paul, in his letter, say that he supported women leaders of the church, and then give a full explanation as to what circumstances might require otherwise? Simply because he didn’t feel he had to. Timothy, as well as the other leaders of the church in Ephesus, already knew how Paul felt on the issue. Priscilla—a woman—had been their pastoral figure in the beginning! Their familiarity to her gave them insight into what Paul was forbidding in his letter that we modern readers have to look harder to find than the original readers did. They knew what their problems were, they knew how Paul felt about women, they knew that Paul’s response was related to a specific and unique issue, and Paul wrote to them via the conclusion that Timothy (and others) would have an immediate and clear understanding of precisely what cultural issue he was referring to. Just because we do not have that explanation in this very spot of Scripture does not mean that it doesn’t exist in the historical record. Simply put by the authors of the textbook, The Biblical Role of Women: “They knew that the apostle Paul, who had left Priscilla to pastor this very congregation, was not prohibiting, once and for all, women as spiritual leaders. Historical context (especially these details surrounding the founding of the church) disallows such an interpretation.”[ix]

So what were the problems that led Paul to such an extreme prohibition of the women in Ephesus? As mentioned in the “Audience” heading in our “Backdrop” section prior: Sex magic, mystery cults, pagan idolatry, prostitution, and women as mediators and oracles between God and men were infiltrating the teaching of the church Paul had launched. However, at the center of all of this was the worship of Artemis/Diana.

UP NEXT: Paul Was Responding To The Artemis/Diana/Christianity Syncretism In Ephesus

[i] Ibid., 125.

[ii] Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Kindle edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1992) 72–73.

[iii] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family: 3rd Edition (Kindle edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2006) 132.

[iv] Strong’s G5615,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,; emphasis added.

[v] “Strong’s G2532,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[vi] “Strong’s G127,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 22, 2017,

[vii] 1 Timothy 2:9, Interlinear,” Bible Hub, last accessed July 22, 2017, Notice, however, that this very website even gets it wrong, which shows how often this error occurs. In the interlinear comparison, the word for “and” (kai) is clearly shown between “braided hair” (plegmasin) and “gold” (chrysio) in the Greek line; later in the same Greek line, we see “or” (ē) as distinct. But in the English translation line, it is “or” all three times.

[viii] Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman, 74.

[ix] Dr. Deborah M. Gill and Dr. Barbara L. Cavaness Parks, The Biblical Role of Women, 138.

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