Merz contra Winter

Among the many literary accomplishments of Bruce Winter, onetime warden of Tyndale House and presently professor emeritus at Queensland Theological College, is his engagement of the connection between the Pastorals and their Greco-Roman cultural context. Published works in this regard include:

“The ‘New’ Roman Wife and 1 Timothy 2:9–15: The Search for a Sitz im Leben.” Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000): 285–94.

Providentia for the Widows of 1 Timothy 5.3–16.” Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988): 83–99.

Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. [esp. pp. 97–169 on 1 Tim 2:9–15; 5:11–15; Titus 2:3–5]

“You Were What You Wore in Roman Law: Deciphering the Dress Codes of 1 Timothy 2:9–15.” SBL Forum, n.p. Online.

In Roman Wives, Roman Widows (see, e.g., this review for a general summary), Winter sets forth his understanding of the “new woman” in the Greco-Roman context of the NT, making application to Pauline passages such as 1 Tim 2:9-15 and 1 Tim 5:3-16. As a matter of definition, “The ‘new’ wife or widow in the late Roman Republic and early Empire was the one whose social life was reported to have been pursued at the expense of family responsibilities that included the complex running of households” (5). Winter lays out literary evidence from “(a) the views of contemporary writers covering the late Republic and the early second century A.D.; (b) those of the poets and playwrights; (c) and the legal moves of Augustus where he specifically legislates against this new phenomenon in the late Republican period and the early Empire” (22). He finds that this evidence supports “new mores” of the time which had implications for the social roles of women and “in some cases, endorsed [the ‘new woman’s] illicit sexual liaisons with younger, single men” (3). The “new woman” was characterized by provocative clothing and a loose lifestyle, in contrast with properly modest wives and widows.

Winter’s work has been widely engaged. It plays a significant role, for instance, in Towner’s NICNT commentary on the Pastorals. It has not been, however, uncontroversial. To that end, I point our readership to a just-published, and rather severe, critique: Annette Merz, “‘New’ Woman? Bruce W. Winters These und ihre Rezeption in der exegetischen Diskussion kritisch beleuchtet [Bruce W. Winter’s thesis and its reception in the exegetical discussion critically examined],” in Frauen im antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum (ed. Jörg Frey and Nicole Rupschus; WUNT 2/489; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019), 209-34. Merz has posted a teaser on Academia, providing her faculty email address (a.b.merz@pthu.nl) for readers to obtain a copy of the entire essay.

In her lengthy discussion, Merz contends that Winter reads the ancient evidence too uncritically; appropriates modern historians too selectively and feminist scholarship too rarely; and unduly expands a limited phenomenon of antiquity beyond historically verifiable chronological and geographical bounds. She considers his overall thesis “dubious” (“dubiose,” p. 231), indeed, an “evangelical research-myth” (“ein evangelikaler Forschungsmythos,” p. 234).

My purpose in noting Winter’s and Merz’s work here is not to evaluate either, but simply to highlight the discussion. If students of the Pastorals are leaning heavily on Winter’s work in some particular project or if Winter’s thesis undergirds their understanding of the letters to any great extent, they will at least want to be aware of Merz’s substantial critique.

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