Updated: Feb 15
As has been said in previous posts, Paul Scott and I share in our esteem for the Oxford English Dictionary. I would encourage every student of the Word of God to locate a library near them that has a set (about the size of an encyclopedia) and begin looking up words. There is a tradition among conservatives to utilize the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary, but Mr. Webster is often wrong. Webster did his research 217 years after the King James Bible was translated and all too often he serves up meanings as they would be understood in 19th century New England, and not as the King James translators used them in 1611.
The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) goes back for centuries in its definitions and shows how a word was used in each succeeding generation, and gives examples to clarify. The word "silly" is a word that was in flux, or undergoing a transition at the time the translators used it to describe the type of women that false teachers captured (II Timothy 3:6). We tend to think of a silly girl as the type who snorted her milk out of her nose in the lunch room when she tried to suppress a laugh, or we envisage some hapless blond from a TV sitcom.
There were two dominant definitions of "silly" in the late 16th century and early 17th century. The foremost definition was "Plain, simple, homely. Often it was associated with unsophisticated people. Cowper, that great English poet and hymnodist, spoke of "silly" sheep which tend to wander without a shepherd. He is not so much calling them foolish as he is calling them unsophisticated and simple, unaware of danger. Early in the 16th century "silly" was thought of as helpless, defenseless. It was often used to describe a weak ailing person.
It had a secondary meaning developing at the same time of being ignorant or empty headed. It is not hard to make the leap that a plain simple person lacking in sophistication should make decisions associated with ignorance. Certainly, this is what Paul is describing in II Timothy 6. What is important to understand here is that our understanding of the word "silly" today comes as a result of their decision making. Women who lacked knowledge (ignorant), who were homely, (associated with only knowing the things of the house and in looks and outlook were confined to the perspective of their own family circle); and who were simple and unsophisticated in outlook; such women were legitimate prey for false teachers.
This was one of the great clarion calls for women to be educated. A bible believing populace will always educate their women. Susanna Wesley, John and Charles Wesley's mother insisted that no girl be ever taught any work around the house until she was taught to read. Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 or as it is also called, Volume 5 of the Oxford History of America, takes great pains to show how the religious awakenings of the early 19th century ended up liberating women from the legal and social shackles that bound them.
As men understood their bibles better, they sought to educate their women better. The Temperance Movement awakened men to the sufferings of women with drunkard husbands who had almost unlimited power over their bodies, children and possessions. Institutes began to educate young ladies in the very same disciplines as men's institutes taught. Women were delivered from the bondage of bad law and simultaneously offered true education and slowly gained the same legal protections of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that men cherished for themselves. Silliness was slowly eradicated among women in proportion to the local population's subjection to scriptural precepts.
Today, silliness is inculcated in our educational system. Their is no sex bias in our ability to make our young unsophisticated, and ignorant. Over a decade ago I heard Dr. Thomas Sowell bemoaning the lax educational standards of our day. He spoke of a survey that demonstrated that the average high school graduate in 1948 when quizzed about geography, mathematics, English, history and logic; was equivalent to a person in the year 2000 who had earned a baccalaureate degree.
As our institutions spiral into social and philosophical idiocy (blinded by their state of the art technical and science knowledge), they are turning on the very source of women's liberation, the Word of God. Any reader who doubts this need only look at all of the cultures that have no bible roots. Soviet Communism never developed female leaders on any great scale. They developed female road workers. Nations built on Sharia Law boast of a few protections for women embodied in the Koran, but there is no evidence of any female equality in a Koran led society. If you think otherwise, marry a Saudi Arabian and tell him you would like to drive when you visit his parents and that you would not like your genitalia mutilated when he is in a country where his word is law.
It is a hallmark of today's educational system to teach the young of some cultural attribute felt to be more respectful of women from a remote or foreign culture. An African tribe or an Amazon tribe may have a tradition that is more enlightened or empowering to women than Europe or America had 100 years ago. That tradition is then pulled out of all context and spoon fed to the silly student of today who fails to look at the overall fruit of that society. The student is never asked to view the culture in its entirety to see if that positive attribute had been enough to institutionally liberate women in that society. Instead the student is propagandized to believe that his or her own cultural roots are somehow lacking.
Modern education has accomplished one of its goals. Both women and men are equally apt to be silly and led about by false teachers.