In my recent A few thoughts on why I chose the ESV over the NRSV, commenter John Radcliffe provides a link to a paper presented by N.T. Wright at a 2004 symposium titled Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis.
On 1 Timothy 2:12, the then bishop of Durham writes:
There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine – was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.
Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them. (read entire paper, bold added)
And then Wright seeks to correct the misreadings of verses 13-15: references to Adam and Eve, and women and childbearing.
Now if what Wright argues about this being situational (as Scott L recently argued here) because of the Temple of Artemis and its female-only cult, then this text of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is worth rethinking—especially for those of us who haven’t done so yet.