On Friday I kicked off a series of posts I will be doing with the heading The Danger of Women’s Ministries. I am encouraged from the responses and messages I have received over the weekend that many women resonate with this danger. And there has been some good reflection on this word “gullible,” that I honed in on from 2 Tim. 3:6. But such strong language does make some women defensive. So before I continue, I want to make it clear that Paul was talking about a particular type of women.
However, we can all be susceptible if we are not adequately conditioned in the Word. Think about it for a minute. Paul is exhorting Timothy, the pastor to the church in Ephesus. This is a church known for it’s passion for the truth! If Timothy needs to watch out for this in his congregation, then so do pastors today. We are all vulnerable to false teaching.
But like I said in my last post, this is a jarring warning to read:
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
This expression, weak women or gullible women, insults us. It is meant to. The phrase, literally translated “little women” or “small women,” was a term of contempt. Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. Most of his writing shows a high view of women and much appreciation to their service to God. I wish we could all be that kind of woman that is praised.
And Paul is not saying that men are not gullible. He is saying that this particular type of immature women were the targets for godless false teachers to manipulate and infect households. Why do you think they were a target? I want to briefly look at two reasons for going after women in general, and then two that make these particular “little women” more of a target:
I want to start with something I mentioned in my last article. The tactic that the very first false teacher and the father of them all, Satan, used in the garden was to go for the woman. Why didn’t he approach Adam? Was it because Eve was more susceptible to error? Scripture doesn’t tell us the reasoning behind his strategy, but we do see that he is “more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Gen 3:1). Satan was going after Adam by going after his bride. He went for a target of value for Adam’s fall. It is no surprise then that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers.
The Influence They Have Over a Household
Women are influential both in their personal households and in the household of God. Research shows that men open up and have deeper conversation when a woman is involved (see Housewife Theologian, 139). God has given us a gift of being relational. But this can also be used in a very sinful way. Our propensity for intimate conversation helps us to be persuasive to others. This is especially true with our husbands. Before the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding popularized it, Spurgeon gave this witty advice to a bride in a wedding ceremony he was officiating: “According to the teaching of the apostle, ‘The husband is the head of the wife.’ Don’t you try to be the head; but you be the neck, then you can turn the head whichever way you like.” It’s funny because it’s kind of true. We don’t have to be the head to have heavy influential power.
Another interesting thing to mention is this word “household” in our text. In their commentary on 1& 2 Timothy and Titus, R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell note that “the original Greek says ‘the homes.’ They were probably the spacious homes of the wealthy, where house churches often met” (245). So it may be that these ungodly men were even more direct in their own stealthy manipulation tactics in the house of God.
This term of contempt may tell us a little more about the type of women who were being manipulated. Robert W. Wall and Richard B. Steele explain in their commentary that this phrase which they translate as “immature women” is “based on a caricature of middle-class women in antiquity” (262). They explain that these are women with time on their hands, unlike the working-class women. They had the time to chat. Extra time is a blessing if it is stewarded well, but immature women do not use it for God’s glory. Idleness is a practical gem for someone who wants to infiltrate bad doctrine into a church.
Paul doesn’t just use this term of contempt without qualifying it. If you combine idleness with women “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6b-7), you have some low-hanging fruit for the picking. Weak women are satisfied with half-truths because they are already invested in their sin. They are attracted to counterfeit, something that appears godly, but doesn’t embrace all of God’s truth. And so they don’t trust in God’s Word to transform them, they deny its power. This is why Wall chose the word “immature” to describe “this working principle: these are female believers whose spiritual maturity, not yet brought to maturity by the word of truth, are more easily seduced by false appearance” (262).
This leads me to why we are so insulted when we read this passage today—we should be! I don’t want to be a little woman, immature in the faith, and an easy target for false teaching. This should shake us up to evaluate our own theological fitness. Many of us, working class or not, do have extra time on our hands. Are we investing in that time well? Are we holding on to a particular sin that is weighing us down? The preacher to the Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:1b-2a).
Make no mistake, weak women are still being targeted. Much of the material that is marketed to woman in the so-called Christian market is banking on our immaturity. Maybe you think no one is susceptible in your church because of its good teaching. But if Timothy needed to be warned, so does every other pastor.
No, not all women are gullible—don’t be one of those women! I agree with Wall and Steele that this is a haunting passage. We may think our desire to learn is a good thing in itself, but this Scripture shows us the danger of not coming to the knowledge of the truth. There are enemies making their way into the doors of our churches. Wall and Steele warn us that this situation is grave. These enemies are “further described as those who not only ‘oppose the truth’ and ‘ruin the mind’ but are without the intellectual equipment…(anoia, literally ‘without a mind’)—needed to come to a knowledge of the truth and repent. Unlike that of Hymenaeus and Philetus, their situation is truly hopeless” (263).
Now that we are warned, I will return to the topic of women’s ministry. We will look next at how the church ministers to every member and whether every member is a minister.
*Originally published July 13, 2015.