Bible Q&A: Please Explain 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Please explain 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Contextually, Paul is giving divinely-inspired instruction to the preacher Timothy concerning what to teach the Christians at Ephesus (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3ff).  At this particular point in his letter, he was instructing Timothy on what to teach the Ephesians concerning the different roles men and women have in the church (1 Tim. 2:8ff; cf. 3:14-15).  Men “in every place” (thus showing these commands are universal in intent and not just limited to the church at Ephesus, cf. 1 Cor. 4:17) were commanded to “pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (v. 8).  Since the New Testament commands all Christians to pray (1 Thess. 5:17), specifically mentions Christian women praying (1 Cor. 11:5), and also commands that Christian women not “exercise authority” over Christian men (1 Tim. 2:12; cf. 3:14-15), then we conclude that the directive in 1 Timothy 2:8 is that Christian men lead the prayers in mixed-gender worship assemblies, and do so only if they are holy in nature (“lifting holy hands”) and not a hot-tempered or contentious person (“without anger or quarreling”). Thus, it would be good to view 1 Timothy 2:8 as the biblical qualifications for all who would lead acts of worship in the church assembly. When a Christian man who is living a clearly unholy, ungodly life, a brother in Christ who might be infamously known as a hot-head and a very contentious person, stands before the church to lead them in prayer, song, or other acts of worship, it can be very detrimental to the goal of worshiping in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

Paul then turns his attention to women, commanding them to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10).  When compared to Peter’s similar instruction (1 Pet. 3:3-4), it is clear that women are commanded to dress modestly and respectfully with greater attention given to making sure that they are “spiritually clothed” with godliness and good works instead of giving their top priority to how they look physically in what they wear. If you want a good idea of God’s standard of modesty, do a word study of Genesis 3:7 and Genesis 3:21. Adam and Eve initially tried to cover themselves with “loincloths,” which in the Hebrew (chagorath) referred to basically underwear that would cover only one’s groin area. No wonder after doing so Adam admitted that he still felt naked (v. 10)! Later, however, God himself clothed them with “garments” (kethoneth) of animal skin. This is a Hebrew term depicting a garment that covered one from the shoulders to the knees. Thus, we learn that God’s standards of modesty involve being covered from the shoulders to the knees. Additionally, Paul’s instruction in these verses show that the concept of modesty includes respectability and humility, the opposite of dressing to draw lavish attention to oneself. Instead, as pointed out earlier, the priority of Christian women should be how they appear spiritually.

This brings us to 1 Timothy 2:11.  Women are commanded to “learn,” and to do so “quietly, with all submissiveness” (v. 11).  At the time he wrote this as well as today, cultures existed which strongly discouraged women learning anything.  By inspiring Paul to command that Christian women learn, God shows Christianity to be quite different from the worldview of many both then and today.  The command to learn “quietly” (hesuchia) means, when a comparison is made of how this Greek term and its derivatives are used elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Acts 11:18; 21:14; 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12), that total silence is not being considered; rather, God is instructing Christian women to learn with an attitude of quiet focus and openness. 

The command to learn “with all submissiveness” is expounded upon in 1 Timothy 2:12:  “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”  In his letter to Corinth, God inspired Paul to teach about the divinely proper scale of authority in spiritual matters:  “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).  This scale of authority is seen in Paul’s words to Timothy in this passage.  “Teach” (1 Tim. 2:12) in the original Greek (didasko) means exactly that, in either a public or private setting depending on the context.  In this context, it’s pretty clear that public teaching is what Paul had in mind, especially since he also prohibits Christian women from “exercise(ing) authority” (authentein – “to govern one, exercise dominion over one”, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon) over Christian men.  To publicly teach gives one a sense of having authority over the assembly of those being taught.  The same naturally applies to the one “leading singing,” “leading a prayer,” or doing anything that would require one to stand in front of the church and act in an authoritative manner (such as giving thoughts about communion or helping to serve communion, etc.)

When we remember that his instruction to Timothy is limited to those within the church (“…I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God…” – 1 Tim. 3:14-15), then we see that God is not saying that no woman should ever teach or exercise authority over a man in any circumstance whatsoever.  1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women from teaching men in secular matters.  It does not prohibit women from exercising authority over men in secular matters.  Thus, it is not a sin for a woman to teach male students in a secular classroom or be the supervisor of male employees in the workplace.  Since these commands are limited to “how one ought to behave in…the church of the living God…”, we see that it would also not be sinful for Christian women to teach the gospel to non-Christian men (cf. Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15), due to non-Christian men by definition not being part of the church.  It would not prohibit a Christian woman from joining a Christian man in teaching spiritual truths to another man in a private setting, as was the case with Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos (Acts 18:26).  Nor would it prohibit Christian women (such as mothers or teachers of children’s Bible classes) to teach or exercising authority over boys who happened to be Christians, since “man” (aner) is defined by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as “…a reference to age, and to distinguish an adult man from a boy,” boy being translated from a different Greek term (pais).  It wouldn’t prohibit Christian women from teaching by joining in congregational singing since that is one way we all are taught and all Christians, regardless of gender, are commanded to participate in congregational singing (Col. 3:16).  It certainly wouldn’t prohibit Christian women from teaching other Christian women (Tit. 2:3-5) or non-Christian women (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15).  Therefore, when we read elsewhere in the New Testament that women prophesied (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5), we can correctly conclude that they did so while following the parameters of the passages we’ve just examined.  It also makes it very clear that this limitation on Christian women in no way keeps them from being very active in making significant and needed contributions to the cause of Christ, just as the limitations on some Christian men who do not meet the biblical qualifications for being an elder or a deacon (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9) do not keep them from being very actively involved in other areas of church work.

Why do these limitations on Christian women exist?  God inspired Paul to explain, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13-14).  Adam was created before Eve, and Eve was created to be “a helper” to him (Gen. 2:18).  Additionally, Eve was the first to rebel against God, thus leading Adam and the rest of humanity into sin.  Satan approached Eve first rather than Adam, and it was Eve who initially was “deceived” (apatao) instead of Adam and then was “deceived” (exapatao – totally deceived, completely taken in by Satan’s lies), thus “becom(ing) a transgressor.”  “Became a transgressor” is in the perfect tense form in the Greek, thus showing a perpetual outcome.  Just as there continue to be ongoing consequences for mankind due to Adam’s sin (cf. Gen. 3:17-19), there continue to be ongoing consequences for womankind due to Eve’s sin (cf. Gen. 3:16).  The prohibitions listed in 1 Timothy 2:12 are some of them.  By going all the way back to the beginning of time to give the theological reason behind these prohibitions, Paul shows that these prohibitions were not solely culturally applicable to the Roman society in which he and Timothy lived.  Thus, we correctly conclude that they are just as applicable today as they were two thousand years ago when Paul wrote this. 

Yet, 1 Timothy 2:15 gives both hope and a position of honor upon women, placing upon them a major contribution to the salvation of all of humanity.  Admittedly, at first glance it is hard to see how this is so.  The verse itself at first glance is very ambiguous:  “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”  Is Paul saying that the only way for a woman to be saved from sin is to bear children?  Some think so.  I have been told of a relative of mine who gave the fact that she was a mother of numerous children and thus would be saved based on what 1 Timothy 2:15 says as her excuse for rejecting the biblical teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38).  Some interpret this passage to mean that “childbearing” is a synechoche to refer to the totality of women’s domestic role of being a wife, mother, and homemaker (cf. Tit. 2:3-4).  Yet both of these interpretations present problems.  If women are biologically incapable of bearing children, are they condemned to hell through no fault of their own?  If a woman is never married, or becomes a widow before her and her husband have children and never remarries despite her best efforts to find another husband, then must she commit fornication in order to get pregnant and thus be saved through childbearing?  If a woman never marries and thus lacks a traditional domestic homelife, is she condemned?  Would this therefore require marriage for all women, and thus contradict Paul’s divinely-inspired allowance for the legitimacy of being single (1 Cor. 7:6-9)? 

A word study of the verse shows that the Greek article “the” (ho) precedes “childbearing” (teknogonia), thus making a more accurate English translation to say, “Yet she will be saved through the childbirth.”  When one remembers that Jesus, our Savior, was “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4), it is clear that a necessary part of God’s plan to save mankind was to have Christ come into the world by being born of Mary.  If a woman had not given birth to Jesus, none of us would be saved.  Thus, God is inspiring Paul to tell Christian women that in spite of the role Eve had in the downfall of man and in spite of the subsequent limitation placed upon Christian women when it comes to teaching and exercising authority over Christian men in the church, we all have much to be grateful to women.  Women (and men) will be saved because a woman gave birth to a particular Child who went on to live a sinless life and die as the propitiation for all of our sins.  If Christian women (and Christian men, as the rest of the New Testament shows) “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control,” they will be saved because of that Child which Mary bore.

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