Monday, May 28, 2012

Trouble with Pearls

Barbara Bush is in trouble.  We read this in 1 Timothy 2:9:

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

No. no. no. No pearls.  No stringed.  No cultured.  No fresh water.  Of course, the problem is not with pearls.  The passage isn't telling women not to wear any of that stuff.  There isn't anything wrong in and of themselves with broided hair, gold, costly array, or....pearls.

And what do pearls have to do with what comes after v. 9?  Learning in silence.  Subjection.  Not teaching men.  Not usurping authority over men.  Being in silence.

Four words:  The New Roman Woman.  That's what pearls have to do with those above things.

Shortly before the first century, Roman society required propriety of the Roman woman.  Not the man.  While his wife was required faithfulness, he was allowed casual extramarital liaisons.  But into the first century, this began to change with the new Roman woman.  She brought to the marriage her dowry and property in her own name.  They may have asked like the title of the book by Maureen Dowd, feminist columnist of the New York Times, Are Men Necessary?   The new Roman woman was finding the answer, like that of Dowd, to be "no."  This financial independence became reflected in a new social freedom.  From their men, they learned well.  The new Roman woman became a playgirl, assertive and glamorous, competing for attention like her male counterpart with a similar objective.

Like many a modern female, the new Roman woman protected her independence with abortion and contraceptives before those practices were very safe.  Without bearing children, what she preserved in the way of her figure, her leisure, her equality, and her opportunity, she lost or suffered in the way of a God-given role, the reward of child rearing, the protection of a husband, and even her life.  Abortion and contraception and the lack of male refuge in a dangerous world often led to an early demise.   Depressed older years would accompany the older Roman woman with her thoughts of a wasted, barren life, her biological clock run out, with nothing in the way of legacy or grandchildren.  She could have been saved through childbearing (cf. 1 Timothy 2:15).

So what do pearls have to do with the previous three paragraphs?  It wasn't pearls.  It wasn't gold.  It was a particular look that communicated a philosophy.  The influence of the new Roman woman had entered the church at Ephesus, just like it had in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:32-33).  Dress really does mean something.  It's a way to fit in with the world.  It's a way to jive with the culture.  It's a way to guarantee opportunities you would not have heretofore possessed.  Styles and looks and fashions do mean things.  And Paul said "no" to these.  That assumed that you could interpret what the dress meant.

Paul wasn't saying no gold, no pearls, or even costly dress.  He was saying, stop attempting to look the part of a particular woman with which you should not be identifying yourself.  The same instruction of 1 Timothy 2:9 could be given to the men as well.  Men try to look hip.  Men try to look a particular way that will attract women.  They strut.  Today this is even seen in pastors who attempt to look and sound a part just like the world, communicated in many different ways---the hair, the t-shirt, the beard, the frames, the speech.

You may read and think or say, "Well, that's a non-essential."  Paul doesn't write like it isn't important.  He gets to it in the second chapter of the first epistle to Timothy.  He gets into this early on and has a lot to say about it (2:9-15).  The people of God should not be fitting into the world with their appearance.

Today women indicate their independence in some of the same ways, and some different.  They look similar or just like the world, and to the modern church, it just doesn't matter.  It's even a good strategy.  You can be a Christian and you don't have to be different.  Very egalitarian.  You don't stick out that way, look like a woman of submission.  That looks weak and uneducated.  So we've got the new Roman woman come into the church again.  What women dress like says something.  It really does.  And, again, it relates to male authority.

With those women in Ephesus, it doesn't seem that they really were the new Roman women.  They just looked like them.  And that mattered.  That's the trouble with pearls.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Where can I find info on the "the new Roman woman"? It helps 1 Timothy 2:15 made more sense.