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    B. Hermeneutic No. 2

    Let’s start by examining the internal context, by noting what Paul said just before and after the sentences under question:HIPSA 16.11

    Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Timothy 2:8-12, NASB).HIPSA 16.12

    God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).HIPSA 17.1

    In both passages Paul talks of prayer and other religious exercises in public places of worship. He is obviously concerned about maintaining a spirit of reverence. Apparently there was a problem in the Christian churches of Ephesus and Corinth.HIPSA 17.2

    Concerning women worshipers in particular, Paul expressed concern about a possible lack of modesty and discretion. And he not only inveighed against ornamental jewelry, but also braided hair.HIPSA 17.3

    Cultural historians of the Mediterranean basin of the first century A.D. 1See, especially, the work of Mikhail I. Rostovtzeff. report that some bolder women would weave strands of silver and gold thread into their hair as they braided it. Then, when they walked in direct sunlight, the light rays would bounce off these metallic threads, “knocking out” the eyes of any male in close proximity. For reasons that applied also to ornamental jewelry, Paul was concerned that Christian women not draw undue attention to themselves—and their bodies—a practice favored by pagan (and often shameless) women.HIPSA 17.4

    Patently, there was nothing immodest or indiscreet about females braiding their hair—it was what went into the hair that incurred the apostle’s displeasure, for practical as well as theological reasons.HIPSA 17.5

    As we examine the external context we find that Paul was combatting three problems: (1) irreverence, (2) sexual immorality, and (3) the nature of Greek and Jewish culture of those times.HIPSA 17.6

    Irreverence. There appears to have been a problem in maintaining reverence in the early Christian churches. Unlike the custom in Jewish synagogues, women and men worshiped together.HIPSA 17.7

    Probably no institution apart from Christianity freed the women of the New Testament world as did the religion of Jesus. In their newfound freedom these Christian women (who had always been required to remain silent in Jewish synagogues) now exercised their liberty by calling out questions when they did not understand something the preacher had just said. This caused confusion and irreverence in the churches of Corinth and Ephesus.HIPSA 17.8

    Sexual immorality. Second, and of even greater urgency, problems relating to sexual immorality in these cities threatened the very existence of the Christian church. Both cities shared a unique problem, as far as Christians were concerned.HIPSA 17.9

    At the time Paul wrote, Corinth was a leading commercial metropolis in Greece, one of the largest, richest, and most important cities of the Roman empire. With a population of 400,000, it was surpassed in size only by Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. It was “a renowned and voluptuous city, where the vices of East and West met.” 2Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965), p. 593.HIPSA 17.10

    “Sin City,” that’s what it was, universally known for its rampant immorality. To call a young woman a “Corinthian girl” was tantamount to calling her a prostitute. “To Corinthianize,” meant to lead an immoral life. In its pagan rituals, vice was consecrated as religion.HIPSA 17.11

    Strabo, a historian of Paul’s day, wrote a 17-volume Geography of the Mediterranean basin in which he speaks of the low moral state in Corinth. On the edge of town there stood a limestone hill nearly 2000 feet high. On its top stood a large, ornate temple dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite (known elsewhere as Venus), the goddess of fertility and sexual love.HIPSA 17.12

    Aphrodite’s temple had 1000 priestess-prostitutes whose salaries came from local taxes. These “ladies of the night” were honored citizens of the town; they even had reserved seats in the local Corinthian amphitheaters. 3Ibid., p. 595. See also William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians. revised edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), pp. 2, 3. (Referred to hereafter as Corinthians). Also helpful is Barclay’s The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, revised edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 67. (Referred to hereafter as Timothy.)HIPSA 17.13

    Ephesus had its temples, too. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” was the rallying cry of the silversmiths, makers of tourist trinkets (replicas of Diana and of her temple). They feared that Paul’s preaching might imperil not only the local religion but also their livelihood (Acts 19:23-41). The hundreds of priestess-prostitutes at Diana’s temple in Ephesus were called Melissae (which, curiously, translates as “bees”). Their function paralleled that of their sisters in Corinth. 4Barclay, Timothy, p. 67.HIPSA 17.14

    Paganism always has managed to couple spiritism (spiritualism) with sexual immorality. 5See Numbers 25:1-15 and Psalm 106:28. This is what Paul, in part, was up against.HIPSA 18.1

    To illustrate: let us say that a Christian in Corinth was laboring in a certain guild. His benchmate, a pagan, noticed that this fellow was different from the other men in the factory: he didn’t swear or tell dirty stories. He cared about people and was always trying to help them, even when he had nothing to gain personally from doing so.HIPSA 18.2

    The pagan came to respect and admire the Christian. He may have figured out that it was the Christian’s religion that made him what he was.HIPSA 18.3

    This paved the way for the Christian to invite his pagan benchmate to church the next Sabbath morning. As they walked into the church and took a seat on the front pew, the leaders of the Sabbath school program were filing onto the platform to begin the service.HIPSA 18.4

    This was the first time the pagan had ever been in a Christian church. The daughters of Zion are often fair to behold, and the Sabbath school superintendent this week was a strikingly attractive woman.HIPSA 18.5

    Innocently, the pagan nudged the Christian, and said, “I’d like to meet that lady after the service.” (While he’d never been in a Christian church before, he had been to the temple on the hill, and he knew about the ladies who led out in the services there!)HIPSA 18.6

    During the intermission, before the worship service began, the Christian called the superintendent over to introduce the new visitor. Of course, she was glad to welcome him.HIPSA 18.7

    Unwittingly, the pagan made an obscene suggestion. The woman was horrified and visibly recoiled. The pagan didn’t know what he’d done wrong, but obviously he had committed a faux pas.HIPSA 18.8

    Nothing immoral took place. But it was as true then as it is today: embarrass a visitor in your church and he’ll never darken the door again.HIPSA 18.9

    So Paul (who spent 18 months in Corinth) decided some rules were needed to head off dangerous situations such as this.HIPSA 18.10

    Culture. Thirdly, Paul was challenging culture, a most formidable task. Greek and Jewish culture agreed on relatively few things in the first century A.D., but they did agree on the role and status of women.HIPSA 18.11

    In Jewish culture (out of which Christianity developed), women, officially, had a very low position. They literally didn’t count. When the Gospels report that Jesus fed 5000 on one occasion and 4000 on another occasion, from the proceeds of a peasant boy’s lunchbox, that meant so many thousand men. (Jesus actually fed perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 total persons on each of those occasions!)HIPSA 18.12

    William Barclay described the status of Jewish women in biblical times:HIPSA 18.13

    In Jewish law she was not a person but a thing; she was entirely at the disposal of her father or of her husband. She was forbidden to learn the law; to instruct a woman in the law was to cast pearls before swine. Women had no part in the synagogue service; they were shut apart in a section of the synagogue, or in a gallery, where they could not be seen. A man came to the synagogue to learn; but, at the most, a woman came to hear. In the synagogue the lesson from Scripture was read by members of the congregation; but not by women, for that would have been to lessen “the honour of the congregation.” It was absolutely forbidden for a woman to teach in a school; she might not even teach the youngest children.... Women, slaves and children were classed together. In the Jewish morning prayer a man thanked God that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”...A strict Rabbi would never greet a woman on the street, not even his own wife or daughter or mother or sister. It was said of woman: “Her work is to send her children to the synagogue; to attend to domestic concerns; to leave her husband free to study in the schools; to keep house for him until he returns.” 6Timothy. pp. 66, 67.

    In the world of Greek culture, the status of woman was equally low. Sophocles, an early male chauvinist, earned the ire of feminists from his day to ours with such maxims as: “Silence confers grace upon a woman.” Thus, women, “unless they were very poor or very loose in their morals, led a very secluded life in Greece.” 7Barclay, Corinthians, p. 136.HIPSA 19.1

    The respectable Greek woman led a very confined life. She lived in her own quarters into which no one but her husband came. She did not even appear at meals. She never at any time appeared on the street alone; she never went to any public assembly. The fact is that if in a Greek town Christian women had taken an active and a speaking part in its work, the Church would inevitably have gained the reputation of being the resort of loose women. 8Barclay, Timothy, p. 67.HIPSA 19.2

    In reality, Paul had no alternative but to issue rules to govern the activities of Christian women in the churches of his day and place.HIPSA 19.3

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