Instructions for Men and Women in “Church”, I Timothy 2:8-15

The instructions to Christian men and women in 2:8-15 are likely in regard to Christian gatherings. 2:11-12 certainly envisions a situation where teaching goes on. That such a setting is envisioned also finds support in the purpose statement of 3:15 where Paul says he’s writing about how one ought to conduct himself  in or among the household/the church of God.

If it’s Christian communal settings that Paul’s envisioning, then the praying that men are told to do in 2:8 most likely refers to leading others in prayer. Paul not only encourages men to be leading prayer in every place where Christians are gathered, but also to make sure that their character and lives are such that their prayers will be welcomed by God. The reference to “lifting holy hands” is likely not intended to encourage one posture for prayer over another, but is based on the fact that lifting hands was the common posture for public prayer and Paul thought it fitting to use the common OT idiom of “holy/pure hands,” the sort of hands the OT says are necessary to have God’s listening ear in prayer (cf. Psalm 24:4; 26:6; Job 16:17; 31:7; Is 1:15). The idiom refers to one whose manner of life has been holy/pure. Paul highlights that this involves having no anger in your heart and not being involved in feuding.

“Paul turns next to women (without the definite article, implying a broader context than merely wives).”1 The concern in 2:9 is with their outward physical adornment. They are to dress in such a way that does not encourage sexual desire, nor highlights their wealth or status. “Braided hair was probably included on the list of things to be avoided by the virtuous woman because elaborately braided hairstyles were, along with gold and pearls, an expression of wealth. Only a woman who had slaves had the time and the possibility to have an elaborate coiffure.”2 2:10 encourages Christian women to make themselves beautiful by means of good works.

There’s not much scholarly disagreement on what Paul commands and forbids in 2:11-12. It’s rather straightforward. What is widely disagreed on is why he gives these instructions, what his point is in 2:13-14 where he references the order of man and woman’s creation in the beginning and the deceiving of Eve, what he means in 2:15 when he says “women will be saved through child-bearing,” and how does this apply to us today.

Many advocate that Paul’s reason for forbidding women in Ephesus from teaching and exercising authority over men was because it was primarily women in the Ephesian church who were deceived by some false teaching going on there. 1:3; 5:3-16 and II Tim 3:5-9 are appealed to as hints of this. Paul’s reference to the Genesis creation and fall account in 2:13-14 is seen as either an illustration of what’s happening in Ephesus, though that makes it’s very hard to make sense of 2:13, or as correcting an interpretation of the creation account somehow linked with the false teaching.3 With this view, “in our day, we obey Paul’s injunction by preventing women who are ill-trained and under the influence of false teaching from teaching such doctrine.”4  But this appears to me to be pure speculation, that it was primarily women in Ephesus who were deceived. And there’s no indication that the false teaching had anything to do with a misinterpretation of the Genesis creation and fall account.

Others believe that Paul’s reason for these instructions is simply a concern with social respectability, that Paul is wanting Christians to conform to the generally accepted social standards of the day in order not to offend their society and damage the church’s reputation and influence. Certainly concern for the church’s public image is a legitimate concern. But there is no reference in this text to such a concern, and the appeal to the order of creation and what happened in the fall as the basis for this behavior suggests that Paul’s concern is bigger than just social respectability.

“Both the logic of this passage and the parallel in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 make this clear: for Paul, the man’s priority in the order of creation is indicative of the headship that man is to have over woman. The woman’s being created after man, as his helper, shows the position of submission that God intended as inherent in the woman’s relation to the man”.4 Paul’s statement in 2:14 could be taken as giving the reason God wills the gender roles just prescribed in accordance with God’s statement in Genesis 3:16 to woman because of her sin, “he shall rule over you,” but it seems to me to make a point about the different vulnerabilities of men and women. The way God designed man and woman in the beginning made woman the one more vulnerable to deception. Yet man was vulnerable to being lead astray by wanting to meet the woman’s wishes (cf. I Kgs 11:1-8; 21:25; 22:52; II Chron 21:6; 22:2). Paul’s point, seems to me, is that God has designed us for the roles he’s just commanded, and we are more likely to fall into sin and disaster when those roles are reversed as they were in the fall.

Many reject this understanding, not because it’s not what the text appears to be saying, but because they believe if Paul’s instructions here are authoritative for the church in all times and places and circumstances that would be inconsistent with his teaching elsewhere on equality in Christ (Gal 3:28) and NT evidence that women did have an increasing public role to play in Paul’s churches (Acts 18:26; 21:9; I Cor 11:5; Rom 16:1-3,7; Phil 4:2). But I see no such inconsistency. Paul’s point about men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile being all one in Christ, means we’re all equally important to God, equally saved, loved, blessed. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t intend us to have different roles in the body of Christ. God limits men from the role of childbearing, and limits new coverts and those with rebellious children and those who haven’t had good reputations and others from the role of overseers in the church (I Tim 3:1-7), and Christ only gave some to be apostles and some to be prophets and some to be pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11), and not many are to be teachers (Jam 3:1), etc. Such intended different roles are not inconsistent with the fact that we’re all equal in Christ. And while we do find NT evidence for women playing important roles in churches (personal study w/ Apollos in Acts 18:26 and prophetesses in Acts 19:21), I find no evidence that women were teachers in Christian assemblies or held the position of an overseer.

In 2:15 Paul is not saying that women cannot be right with God unless they bear children. “The women with whom Paul is concerned in this paragraph are all almost certainly married, so that he can mention one central role – bearing and raising children—as a way of designating appropriate female roles generally.”4 He’s saying women don’t need to be in the roles that God intended for men; they need only to fulfill their role as mothers and continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

– James Williams

1 – Gordon Fee, “New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus”
2 – Raymond Collins, “New Testament Library: I & II Timothy and Titus”
3 – Philip Towner, “New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Letters to Timothy and Titus” pg. 200,228
4 – Douglas Moo, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: 9. What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men (1 Timothy 2:11-15)”

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