Women in the “Household of God”: Democratic Discourse and the Household Topos in 1 Timothy

Midway through 1 Timothy, the author states the letter’s purpose to instruct, “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the ekklesia of the living God.” If this is, as many scholars have asserted, the “key ecclesiological statement” in 1 Timothy, then an exploration of this verse and its claims must have a particular weight and urgency given this letter’s advancement of an ekklesia in which not only the leadership but also the very voices of Christian women are silenced. Some have argued that the silencing of women in 1 Tim 2:8-15 may be explained by the extent to which this ekklesia was understood as public, and thus “male,” space by the author. In this paper, I will argue that this reading does not account for the gendered public and private dichotomy as a construction in an ongoing struggle over gender and political power. Indeed, I suggest that the author of 1 Timohty applies the topos of household to the ekklesia precisely in order to undermine the radical democratic understanding of the ekklesia in this community as a public assembly open to the speech of all: men, women, and slaves alike. In the course of the paper, I will demonstrate that this author exploits the topos of household because it had a place in ancient democratic discourse as a construction fostering hierarchy of gender and class in both political, “public” contexts, and within the space of the ancient home.