What’s With Paul & Women? – Book Review

What’s With Paul & Women? 

By Jon Zens

1 Timothy 2:11-12 has been used as a “clear” mandate to silence women in the church for over 1500 years. In What’s With Paul & Women? Jon Zens exposes the fallacies of this interpretation, and opens up the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 using insights gleaned from the Artemis-saturated Ephesian culture where Timothy was left to stand against false teaching (1:3). Going beyond 1 Timothy 2, this book covers the major issues in gender inequality with three Appendices: one on the Ephesian social world in which 1 Timothy was written, another on 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 and an extensive review of John Piper’s What’s the Difference? Manhood & Womanhood Defined According to the Bible. If 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 have puzzled you, What’s With Paul & Women? will help in your quest to discern the mind of the Lord as the gender debate continues.

I was hoping this book would be better than it is.  Jon Zens raises a lot of good points and issues, but makes a mess of his argument, relying too heavily on an untenable translation of the Greek verb tense as a pivotal point of his argument. The Greek basically has three tenses: a future tense, an ongoing, continuous action (present), and a past, completed action.  He tries to interpret the verb for permit in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 as "I do not presently allow" as if Paul's restriction was a temporary ban put on women because of a current problem facing the Ephesians: 

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. (1 Timothy 2:11-14, NIV)."

The Greek, however, does not support the weight of his contention. While the Greek action is present, there is no implication that it was meant to be a short term admonition. Zens makes a better case for the word silence being "quietness" which speaks not of abject silence but of a spiritual condition of being teachable and quiet in spirit. Indeed the Greek supports that view.  However, he veers into irrelevance when talking about headship and Adam being formed first, versus Eve, as if once could explain away the natural order in marriage as a distortion created by traditional culture's  oppression of women.  And I believe this is where Zens misses the major point… more on that in a moment. 

Zens rightly points out the varied Scriptures where women exercise authority over men (Deborah), where Jesus and Paul treat women as full equals in ministry, where woman prophesy in church (Corinthians & Acts) and teach men (Priscilla instructing Apollos). These examples cause us to question the singular interpretation of a woman's role in church using Timothy as a sledge hammer to keep women in their place. He also touches on, with the help of another author, the social context in Ephesus where the worship of Artemis, a female goddess, caused the distortion of female roles as somehow more spiritual and authoritative than men, and this might lead to the conclusion that some contemporary problem was the focus of these verses.  

However, in swallowing a gnat, Zens misses the most obvious interpretation of this passage. It has nothing to do with teaching in church. It has to do with martial relations, where a woman should not domineer her husband.  The context of this verse makes it very plain in the Greek that Paul is speaking of husbands and wives.  I deal with the Greek context in this article: Feminist Hermeneutics and The Bible

By the way, if you want to see just how radical Jesus was in his approach to women and defying his culture, there is a section in the book  Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: cultural studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey, which deals with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well which destroys every misogynist prejudice one might hold. 

Some of the most helpful sources in the book are on the Talmud and the, then contemporary, rabbinical hostility towards women, showing how they used scripture to justify women's second-class citizenship. The quotations from rabbinical sources reveal just how shocking Jesus' actions must have appeared to the Jewish leaders of his day, as well as how liberating it must have been to the women who followed him. 

In short, while Zens raises some good points, the book was very disappointing from a scholar's point of view. 


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