Responding to Kostenberger (with comparisons to Marshall)

Kostenberger (K) refers to Andreas Kostenberger “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9-15” in Studies on John and Gender, 253-254.

Marshall (M) refers to Marshall, I. Howard. “Women inMinistry: A Further Look at 1 Timothy 2.” Pages 53-78 in Women, Ministry and the Gospel. Edited by M. Husbands and T. Larsen. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2008.

Winter refers to Winter, Bruce W. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Pages 97-122.

Interpretive debates are nothing new in the evangelical community, but few are assigned the importance of the debate on gender. Traditionalists insist that we are perched atop a slippery slope which can lead only to ruin, that we are in the midst of a grave capitulation to the desires of the world in the face of God’s express command. The veracity of such sentiments rests solely on the question of whether there is good reason to question the past exegesis of the relevant texts. The traditionalist points to the relative novelty of the egalitarian position and claims cultural bias, but this line of thinking fails to understand that the reason for asking a question need not be the reason for the resultant conclusion. In fact, in an ironic twist, the supposedly progressive egalitarians desire to reevaluate texts like 1 Timothy 2:8-15 on the basis of canonical continuity, a concern that should resonate with the largely inerrantist composition of the complementarians. The articles by Marshall and Kostenberger under consideration here bear the marks of this sometimes bitter conflict. As surveys, both articles leave much to be desired in terms of detailed exegesis, but the general tenor and quality of the arguments presented is, in my opinion, indicative of the debate as a whole.

Kostenberger’s approach is to survey the pertinent issues related to interpretation of the text and apply his conclusions to exegesis of the passage. A number of his opening points are questionable or factually inaccurate. For example, he insists that his understanding of the passage has been normative for the church for “nineteen centuries” (K 234). This is largely true, but it ignores notable historical exceptions like the emergence of joint monastery-abbeys which were sometimes ruled as a unit by an abbess rather than an abbot. He also asserts that what 1 Timothy 2 says about women must be normative for today regardless of contingent context (K 238). In some sense this is true; the authority of the text is not in question. However, our exegesis of the passage alters our understanding of what is being conveyed. In other words, application of this text might be normative either way, but the content of the norm is undeniably altered by our exegesis (e.g. women be silent vs. conduct yourselves in a culturally appropriate manner).

Another glaring weakness in Kostenberger’s approach is revealed in his discussion of women teaching. Kostenberger posits that if Paul wanted to communicate that false teaching was the problem there was a “perfectly good Greek word” he could have used to do so instead of simply διδάσκω (K 240). This argument has three failings: 1) It is impossible for us to critique the word choice of biblical authors on the basis of some other word falling within the semantic domain; this is a pointless exercise. 2) διδάσκω is used elsewhere in the Pastorals in reference to false teaching (Titus 1:11), contrary to Kostenberger’s later assertion (K 246). 3) It is possible, especially in light of Paul’s tone, to assume that there is a conceptual difference between false teaching and what Paul is correcting. Considering that 1 Timothy is intended as communication (either Pauline or later), the possibility must be considered that the command to learn silently and not wield authority (or dominate) reflects that exactly that is happening (M 58). Marshall notes that such is clearly the case in 1 Corinthians, which is parallel to the 1 Timothy text, and he also points out how lack of access to education may have shaped Paul’s injunction there. Kostenberger’s counter assertion that women were regularly educated is laughable. The evidence reveals that very wealthy women were sometimes educated as the Winter article shows, but this cannot be taken to be the norm.

Kostenberger’s approach to αὐθεντεῖν is equally lackluster. Kostenberger’s argument is formulated in two parts. First, he simply makes reference to a study conducted by Scott Baldwin which supposedly demonstrates the word is neutral and argues there is no good reason for interpreting this rare verb on the basis of its more common cognate (K 245). That such studies abound and often come to different conclusions is no secret. In fact, Marshall’s main approach to the question is to cite his own preferred study and consider the matter settled (M 68 n. 44). From my personal reading on the issue, I know more substantive discussions of this issue are available. As presented, the issue is undeniably ambiguous. Second, Kostenberger appeals to syntactical analysis to argue that when two verbs are connected with οὐδέ they must both have the same force either positive or negative (K 246). Even assuming that αὐθεντεῖν is neutral, this argument in no way advances Kostenberger’s case unless he can prove that διδάσκειν is intrinsically imbued with a positive meaning. As Marshall astutely notes, perhaps both words simply have a negative force (M 68)! Given that διδάσκω is used in Titus 1:11 to reference false teaching it cannot be inherently good. Kostenberger makes the irrelevant point that external descriptors are used to indicate it is false teaching in view. Regardless, it demonstrates that there is no inherent positive or negative force in the verb.

Kostenberger’s final argument against the false teaching view is to reiterate his view that Paul should have been explicit if that was what he was referring to, and any suggestions contrary to the explicit meaning are arguments from silence (K 249). Kostenberger astonishingly cannot envision a scenario in which later readers would not understand what would be explicit to the intended recipients of the letter. This reflects the fact that Kostenberger’s approach to scripture doesn’t take it seriously as an act of communication from apostle to congregation. The claim that egalitarians are making arguments from silence is patently absurd. The stated basis for much reexamination of this text is the way other New Testament texts handle the issue of women. As Marshall points out, the existence of figures like Junia, Phoebe, and Priscilla calls in to question the “plain” reading of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (M 62).

Marshall rather persuasively argues that the false teaching view is backed up by the appeal to the Genesis story. He notes the extreme emphasis on deception in the passage and the way it employs unusual language to make its point (M 59, 64-65). Given the references to myths and genealogies, it becomes plausible that some false teaching is being put forward by these women which appeals to these sources. In countering, it would make perfect sense for Paul to appeal to common ground. The reference to silence likewise lends weight to the false teaching theory. Marshall notes that all proponents of false teaching are silenced (M 70). Still, Kostenberger repeatedly asserts that his reading simply “interpret[s] the text to mean exactly what it says” (K 249, 250).

Of course, for all his vaunted declarations about the superiority of the plain reading of the text, Kostenberger promptly abandons this approach when dealing with the exceedingly cryptic statement that women are saved through childbirth. Ironically, as if aware of his contradiction, he calls the reading he does present the “natural reading” of the passage. By appeal to Pauline theology it is argued that σῴζω cannot be interpreted literally and must mean preserved or some such. One could easily point to the consistency with which this word is used in the Pastorals to refer to salvation from sin (including in 2:4, just before this difficult passage!), or to the reference to “faith, love, and holiness,” to indicate this form of salvation is in view. Using Kostenberger’s logic, Paul could have used a less ambiguous word than σῴζω; therefore, he must have in view salvation from sin. Frankly, none of the interpretive options presented by Kostenberger, Marshall, or Winter really stands out as the obvious answer.

The truly telling part of Kostenberger’s paper comes after all of his quasi-substantive argumentation has been spent. In a section that attempts to explore why people reject the “natural reading” (which is code for Kostenberger’s reading), Kostenberger posits that people only doubt on the basis of progressive social values, a misreading of Galatians 3:28, and the “alleged tie between women’s subordination and slavery” (K 253). He responds to the final accusation by saying that slavery is different because it is nowhere rooted in the creation account. Then again, if we do not accept his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13-14, then neither is the subordination of women. Even granting this argument, it is notable that pro-slavery Christians regularly appealed to the primeval history to justify their evil. On Galatians, he insists that the text should be read about unity and not equality. Besides pointing out that this statement inherently is a matter of split hairs, the issue in this text of Galatians is the supposed superiority of Jew over Gentile. What good would Paul be doing in the face of Jewish assertions of supremacy to merely say that they are one but not necessarily equal? On the question of shifting social values, Kostenberger does something that no respectable academic would do: he plays the sin card. Yes, Kostenberger attributes differences in interpretation to the sinful desire of people to place their culture above God (K 253-254). Egalitarians are rebelling against the creator and his created order, and this is the real issue.

After essentially calling his opponents sinners, Kostenberger even tries to work the guilt-by-association angle with his discussion of Stendahl who function in this rhetorical play as “Evil Liberal Bible Scholar #1.”  However, the capstone of his argumentation comes when addressing the claims of Grenz and Kjesbo, who argue that women have always played a crucial role in revival. Kostenberger’s flippant response is to merely assert that the argument is purely pragmatic and not scriptural (K 256). The problem lies in that Kostenberger insists that the inferiority of women is rooted in God’s created order, but if the empirical evidence suggests otherwise then that makes the Bible wrong, unless of course gender essentialism is false. Kostenberger attempts to gloss over their research by pointing out that leadership need not mean only head pastor. Somehow, I doubt that most revivals grew out of children’s ministry and choir direction rather than preaching. Kostenberger polishes off his non-argument with a passing accusation that Grenz and Kjesbo are “embracing the radical feminist agenda” (K 258). Probably the most irritating part about Kostenberger’s article is that he fails to capture the good (though in my opinion ultimately unconvincing) points that complementarians actually make. Instead, his article is populated with barely disguised ad hominem and arguments that beg the question. Altogether, the article is unprofessional and I would be embarrassed to have my name associated with it.

  1 comment for “Responding to Kostenberger (with comparisons to Marshall)

  1. May 13, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Nice article. The calling out of the “sin card” is apt.

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