Should you ever find yourself in that unfortunate position of being in a debate with an evangelical Christian and they trot out their old favorite, “But, the Bible says . . .,” rest assured, you can use their own weapon against them. Now, this weapon can be used for any number of topics, but let us focus on dealing with women’s rights.
Fundamentalists—both men and women—are quite fond of quoting the misogynistic view found in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as (scripturally sanctioned) grounds for marginalizing women in their communities: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Well, isn’t that sweet!
There is a problem with accepting this passage as authoritative from an apostolic perspective, however. The first letter to Timothy (and 2 Timothy, Titus, etc., ad nauseum) were, wrongly, thought to have been written by Paul. Contrast this passage with what Paul actually said in Romans 16:1-3, and you can readily see the contradiction: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus.”
As New Testament scholar, Professor Bart Ehrman, points out in Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, that “in the letter “Paul” gives Timothy instructions pertaining to how to run and organize the church.” This is odd, because in his other letters Paul does not write to leaders “because there were no leaders of the church.”
Why were there no leaders? Because, like Jesus, Paul believed in the imminent end of life as they knew it: “But this I say, brethren, the time is short,” 1 Corinthians 7:29. The rest of this verse is the one that instructs people, Catholics mostly, not to worry about getting divorced. Don’t sweat it, stay in that unhappy or abusive marriage, because it will all be over soon anyway.
So the forger, writing as Paul, of 1 Timothy and contradicting Paul’s own words in Romans, is describing a situation which does not occur in the time of Paul himself: an organized church, with a (male-dominated) hierarchy, which has settled in for the long haul.
Now the more literate evangelicals might want to refute these claims by quoting “Paul” from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
However, as Professor Ehrman points out in Forged:
But just as 1 Timothy is forged, so too has this passage in 1 Corinthians been falsified. These verses in chapter 14 were not written by Paul. . . .
. . . Scholars have adduced many reasons for this view. For one thing, the verses seem to intrude in the passage in which they are found. Immediately before these verses Paul is talking about prophecy in the church; immediately afterwards he is talking about prophecy. But this passage on women interrupts the flow of the argument.
Fore-armed with the facts (something fundamentalists loathe and, consequently, don’t know any) you can confidently refute that these passages are forgeries, written decades after Paul died, to anybody who claims that the New Testament, through Paul, commands women to be silent; not that Paul had any special authority for ever telling women their place, or that this archaic crap should be tolerated in the modern age in any way. However, you can always throw Romans 16 back in the faces of these fundamentalists, seeing as they believe that every word is literally true.