Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Woman, alone, photograph by Tobias Mayer, May 2021

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
1 Timothy 2:11-12

Introductory note to the pastoral letters: It is now widely agreed among scholars that the three so-called 'pastoral letters', 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, were not written by Paul, but by other hands, some 50-100 years after Paul's death.1 As well as the great differences in style and vocabulary to the earlier letters, the hierarchical church described in these letters did not exist during Paul's time. Most importantly though is the distinct difference in theology between the earlier and these later letters. The writers Crossan and Borg identify three distinct different voices in the thirteen Pauline letters, the radical Paul of the genuine letters, the conservative Paul of the disputed letters and the reactionary Paul of the pastoral letters.2 Comparing the oppressive, chauvinistic tone of today's chosen verses to Pauls' earlier attitude towards women, as equals and even leaders of the church described in the opening verses of Romans 16 makes this point quite well. Romans, and other earlier letters are truly radical in their confrontation of authority, whereas the later letters seem to be seeking approval of the Roman authorities by agreeing with their attitudes on women, slavery, land ownership, etc. Over the time span of the thirteen letters there is an undoubted theological shift, away from the Way of Jesus towards the way of Rome.

I selected these verses today, not because I can draw meaning from them (I cannot—I did try, and I cannot) but because they act as a reminder that when we read scripture we ought not to take it at face value. These words were written in a particular historical and political context. They are not only disturbing but strongly contradictory to both the teaching of Jesus and the earlier teaching (some would say all of the teaching) of Paul. Politics and religion cannot be separated, indeed religion usually serves politics in some way. Faith however does not. Those that truly put their faith in Christ did not bend to Rome, but stood up against it. Many died for this stance.

Later Christians, such as those that wrote these pastoral letters, sought for Christianity to be part of the Roman system of rule, thus bent to its thoughts and methods. They achieved what they sought at the Nicene council of churches in the year 325, when Rome did its hostile takeover of Christianity making it forever since a tool of state control and oppression. It is a sad tale. There have always been those however that do not accept this state ownership of Jesus, among them being movements like the Amish and the Quakers, and more recently the Red Letter Christians.3 For many of us the original teaching of Jesus, and then Paul, still represent a challenge to the status quo, still represent a radically different way of showing up in the world. We must take time to look beyond the many layers of state manipulation of Christianity imposed over generations to find its heart again. It still beats, strongly.

1 A decent summary of Paul/non-Paul authorship can be read in this Wikipedia extract
2 The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon by John Dominic Crossan & Marcus J. Borg, 2009
3 About the Red Letter Christian movement