This post is the fifth one of a simulated interview with the Apostle Paul taken from the position of what he might say if we could transport Paul from the New Testament account through a time tunnel into our present day.
Doug, a strong complementarian is itching to question Paul regarding who is referred to as “they” in 1 Timothy 2:15. Let’s listen in. (The previous interviews are linked at the bottom of this post.)
Paul: Greetings brother Doug.
Doug: Thanks for meeting with me once again. It seems like I have more questions each time we meet. I really want to hear what you have to say about 1 Timothy 2:15 and who you were referring to as “they”. My bible says that it is women.
Paul: No, it wasn’t about women at all. Remember I told you that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a complete thought because of the way that I joined each verse together. When I wrote about “they” in verse 15, the ones I was referring to will be found in that same connected passage. My writing was not meant to confuse anyone. Timothy knew exactly what I was talking about since the letter was written to him and for his benefit. You will not know all the details that Timothy knew, but you can get enough information from the passage to know the action I required from Timothy and the reason for this action and the grammar will tell you who the action was intended for. The Holy Spirit inspired me to carefully build an argument that would stand the test of time for those who are willing to meticulously follow my grammar. Remember that it sometimes take hard work to understand scripture just as I wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 was written in such a way that a false understanding of the text would contradict the grammar in one way or another. I could never have done that on my own. I give all the glory to the Holy Spirit for His inspiration.
Doug: I really thought this passage was clear in my position as a complementarian. However 1 Timothy 2:15 always did confuse me and I didn’t quite feel settled on any of the interpretations that I heard about this passage especially dealing with childbearing and women. I could never understand why you even brought up the subject of children since not all women have the ability to become mothers and what has that got to do with the prohibition anyway?
Paul: Some of the confusion that you experienced is because many of the translators placed their interpretation into the text instead of translating the text as it was written. It appears that they didn’t know what I was talking about so they worked with the grammar to “correct” me. That really wasn’t necessary. The Holy Spirit doesn’t make grammar errors. I had an opportunity to look through some of the popular translations before I came here today and while I see several bible versions got verse 15 right, many did not.
In the Contemporary English Version the translators wrote “women” and “they”, completely ignoring the singular grammar. That will never do if one wants to understand this passage. The Good News Bible interprets the verse as “a woman” and “she”, completely ignoring the plural grammar! The New American Standard Bible interprets it as “women” and “they”, although they do put “women” in italics showing that the first plural is not in the original, but they completely ignore the singular grammar leaving it out as if there is only one reference to people in the verse. That is not accurate and will make the passage harder to understand. I also looked through the King James Version and this version has both the singular “she” and the plural “they” but they left out the definite article before childbearing. That throws another curve ball when trying to interpret my meticulous grammar.
There were three versions that I found that had both the singular “she”, and the plural “they” as well as the definite article “the”. The translations that got those three points of grammar right were the Literal Translation of The Holy Bible, the Revised Version and Young’s Literal Translation. There may be more versions that were correct, but I didn’t have time to find any more. I paged through handfuls of bibles that were wrong on one or more of the grammar points in verse 15. This is why I recommend that one who wants to study to show themselves approved, should take the time to look up these difficult passages in the original language. There are good helps out there that will guide you to all the words and each piece of grammar used.
Doug: Okay, I get that there is a need to dig deeper, but surely you can see that you weren’t clear when you went from plural to singular and then from singular back to plural. How is anyone supposed to know what you meant? And if “they” is not all women, how could we possibly know who “they” is?
Paul: In order to figure this one out it is helpful to go through this passage backwards starting from 1 Timothy 2:15. I will help you.
1 Timothy 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
We already discussed in our last conversation about who I was referring to as “she”. Now trace the plural “they” back to the first mention of more than one person that fits my specific grammar. Remember I wrote that “she will be saved” as future tense and “continue in faith…” is the action that is necessary to bring about a future salvation. You will have to bypass Adam and Eve in verse 13 because they are both dead so neither one of them can be doing something that would affect the future salvation of a woman. By tracing the plural grammar back you will find yourself back to verse 12 with “a woman” and “a man”.
Doug: How can “they” be two particular people? Why is it not all of the church that is called “they”?
Paul: The grammar would cause you problems if it was the entire church. The church would also include Timothy wouldn’t you say?
Doug: Well sure it would.
Paul: But then I would have had to use the plural “you”. So it would have been written “She will be saved…if you….”
Doug: Okay, I see that now. But if you were talking about one particular man and one particular woman, why did you refer to the creation account?
Paul: Because the man was a key to the problem just like Adam was a key to the very first problem situation.
Doug: You were linking Adam to the problem?
Paul: Absolutely. I wrote that it wasn’t Adam who was deceived…but the woman being deceived… Adam was created first and had something that the woman did not have. He had a state of non-deception.
Doug: Is that supposed to be bad?
Paul: It isn’t bad at all for someone to not be deceived unless that one doesn’t do something with the truth that one possesses. Is it right to have the truth and then hide it from someone who needs that truth? Adam’s state of non-deception should have been used to protect and open the eyes of the one who was being deceived so that she would not fall into transgression.
1 Timothy 2:14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
In the same way the man I was speaking about in my letter to Timothy was not deceived. Do you see that I wrote in verse 15 “she will be saved…if…”?
Doug: Uh huh… okay… so…?
Paul: So, this is my point…I didn’t say that “they will be saved….if…” because she was the only one who was deceived in the relationship. He was not deceived. But like Adam he did nothing. He was silent and he let her carry on in her deception and her error. And in her deception she was trying to influence him in her strange doctrines. Timothy did not want to get involved at first because he was afraid of offending the husband but something had to be done. I commanded Timothy to make sure that she was in a position to learn. Do you know how I did that?
Doug: No, how?
Paul: I put a stop to her teaching. When someone has embraced error and consequently has fallen into deception the more they practice the error, the more they become solidified in their beliefs. Those who go door to door with their error are solidifying their faith every time they give out their presentation at the door. If the one who knows the truth is not going to put a stop to her teaching, it was the grace of God in action that I was able to convince Timothy to do something about another person’s wife. She had to be stopped from teaching the error and she had to be given the chance to learn the truth. The church is there to teach the truth so she should be embraced and brought in to learn.
Doug: But why didn’t you name her so that we could know that this was one person and not every woman?
Paul: This another sticky situation. You will notice in my letters that I never identify deceived people who are teaching error. I do identify the deceivers and those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. But those who believe the lie and are not deliberately deceiving others, I never identify those ones by name. That would have brought long lasting shame to their name. Think about the names Judas and Jezebel. What comes to mind when you hear those names?
Doug: Traitor, evil, shameful.
Paul: Murderer would be another thought. Tell me, brother Doug, do people these days like to name their children “Judas” or “Jezebel”?
Doug: No. There is a stigma attached to those names.
Paul: And rightly so. But how would you like a stigma attached to your name if you had repented of your sin and gone on to faith in Christ?
Doug: I wouldn’t like it at all.
Paul: If a person who had been deceived and who had been singled out by myself to stop teaching error had been named, her name would have been recorded as attached to deception and error for all of church history. I never exposed a deceived person to such shame. If you look at my writings you will see that the only ones that I identify by name are the ones who are deliberate deceivers. Do you remember Alexander, Hymenaeus and Philetus? Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection had already happened and they were deceiving many. I turned Alexander and Hymenaeus over to Satan as they had rejected the faith and in their deception they were ruining the faith of many.
Doug: I do remember reading about those names.
Paul: But you don’t remember reading about the names of the ones who were the victims of deception do you?
Doug: Well, no, I don’t remember seeing any of those names.
Paul: That is because their names are not listed. The Holy Spirit has kept their names out of the New Testament record because of grace.
Doug: Okay, I can accept that, but why list creation as the reason for the prohibition?
Paul: It wasn’t creation that was the reason. It was the link between the first created and the state of not deceived. It was also the link between the second one created and the fall into deception.
Doug: I still don’t get it. It just seemed to fit so neatly with stopping all women from teaching the bible to men and now you are telling me that I had it all wrong? Was I deceived?
Paul: Next time, my dear brother in Christ we can talk about that. We will then have time to explore the importance of the creation account and why Adam’s first creation was so important to me and to Timothy.
Doug: Where are you off to now?
Paul: I have been invited to speak at Mars Hill by someone by the name of Mark Driscoll. I am going to speak about other gods and I will learn a little more about your culture.
Doug: I think you are in a for big culture shock. Promise me that no matter how shocked you are, that you will still come back here to talk with me.
Paul: You have my word. Grace and peace, brother.
(The first interview with the Apostle Paul and Doug is located here. The second interview is located here. The third interview is located here. The fourth interview is located here.) Part six is located here.