Friday, October 24, 2008

The Logic of Paul: I Timothy 2

Instead of continuing with the reasons that pushed me from disillusioned Christian to unbelief, I'm going back to a factor that brought me to disillusionment in the first place. The one goes all the way back to ninth grade when I memorized I Timothy 2 for Bible quizzing.

First, I would like to draw a distinction between two easily confused words: irrational, and non-rational. By non-rational I just mean anything that isn't logic. By irrational, I mean things that try to make sense and fail. “I believe in the Trinity” is non-rational. “I'm convinced the Trinity makes perfect sense” is irrational. While there are of course problems with being non-rational, I should note that to begin thinking one must make the non-rational assumption that one is capable of thinking and logic is in some sense true – non-rationality is often necessary. Of course, I consider “more” non-rationality to be bad, but that's not what I'm going after here. I'm going after irrationality in Paul. In the context of instructions on worship, he writes

I Timothy 2:11-14 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

I'll suppose for the sake of argument that Paul's command for women not to speak or have authority over a man [in church] is not unfair and merely critique the logic behind the command. If Paul had just said “do it this way, because I'm Paul, and God is speaking through me – do what God says” as he does in I Corinthians 15:34-37, this would be non-rational. (This is a rational argument for why you should obey, but a non-rational argument for why is it commanded.) This would cause all the usual gender role issues, but I wouldn't have had this particular problem with the chapter.

The problem here is that Paul tries to explain the rationality of the instruction, and it doesn't work. His first reason given is that Adam was formed first. What does that have to do with anything? In the second creation account at least, animals were formed before Eve, but this would make a horrible first step in arguing that animals should rule over women. 35-year-old women were formed before 34-year-old men, but seniority still makes for a poor argument that the latter should not be permitted to have authority over the former. Even this seniority argument is better than Paul's because at least the person who is older was actually formed first. Women alive today were not formed after men who are alive today. At best, Adam having been formed first justifies why Adam should be over Eve, not why men should be over women.

The second reason Paul gives is that Eve was the one who was deceived. This is a very strange accusation. Paul is implying that Adam wasn't deceived, or was at least less deceived than Eve. If they both sinned, this would mean that Eve's sin had more to do with being innocently wrong, whereas Adam's sin had more to do with willfully choosing wrong in the face of knowing what was right. If Eve was the one who was deceived, does this not mean Adam's sin was the greater one? I'd prefer a leader who is sometimes wrong to a leader who sees the right thing to do and doesn't do it.

Next, Eve wasn't deceived in Genesis 3. She knew what God said and chose to disobey – she even recites her specific instructions right before sinning. The only talk of deception is in her excuse – which should be taken with more than a grain of salt, even when assuming Genesis is inerrant.

(Update, 11/1/08: As has been pointed out to me, Eve was deceived. A recap should be 1) Eve understands what actions are sin. 2) The snake deceives her into thinking that sin pays. 3) Eve sins knowing full well she is sinning but while deceived into thinking the results will be favorable.)

Furthermore, Paul doesn't even mention that fact that Adam had anything to do with what went wrong. He talks of Eve being deceived and becoming a sinner and just leaves it at that – as if Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden due to Eve's sin alone. Genesis 3 provides a different picture. Eve eats the fruit, brings it to Adam, and only after they both eat does the narrator tell us their eyes were opened. Adam ate the fruit before Eve's eyes were opened – it's like Genesis is going out of its way to make them share the blame. But Paul merely takes up Adam's banner of “blame the woman.” From this perspective, “Eve was the one who is deceived” is a perfectly logical accusation. It's her fault. Paul argues as if Eve's “I was tricked” and Adam's “stupid woman” excuse is correct. If I believed Genesis and was still deciding about I Timothy, I might reject I Timothy for this reason.

Perhaps Paul is not trying to make his own argument regarding the reason for gender roles, but is merely referring back to Eve's curse in Genesis 3:16. If so, this is quite a clumsy reference. Also notice that this curse is Adam over Eve. Taking this to husband over wives is not explicit, but is one reasonable interpretation. Paul takes this one step further by saying men over women. Furthermore, men could be over women without revoking women's right to speak. Elders are over younger men and yet younger men still get to talk. What is his justification? He merely fakes an answer by giving the justification for the lesser command of Adam over Eve.

In a similar passage, I Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul gives another reason “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.” Where in the Law does it say women are to be silent?

(Update, 11/21: As has been pointed out to me, "as the Law also says" likely refers to "subject themselves" and not also to being silent. Genesis 3 is part of the Law, and "he shall rule over you" is close enough to "subject themselves" that my criticism is not justified.)

Why not just say “thus sayeth the Lord” in I Timothy 2? That's really all that's going on anyway. Why must Paul use irrational arguments to try and defend the rationality of his view of gender roles?

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