“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
Oh, if Paul had only left this Scripture out the whole world might be in a better place. But no, there it is. Causing uncertainty and confusion among the masses. Perhaps we should state like Peter that Paul’s letters “contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Pet 3:16).
On the surface this Scripture in English seems plain: ‘Women–Shut Up. Have babies. Be happy with that. And dress modestly too.’ But in Greek, we see a “curious” picture.
I was prompted to write this as last week I went to see a pastor at a new church to kind of get a feel for the theological tone of the congregation. He meets with all the new people and I really appreciate that.
Up came the role of women in ministry. His response?
“They can cook. They can clean. They can teach children. And other women. The Bible says “women aren’t to teach” and so that’s what we believe.
End of discussion. Actually there was never a beginning to it.
I wanted to ask him (even though I didn’t):
Do you ban women from wearing jewelry, as the sentence before this makes that clear? (1 Tim 2:9)
Do you greet one another with a holy kiss? (Rom 16:16)
Why, sir, do you still have arms and eyes, because those who lust are supposed to cut them off if they lust? (Mt 5:27-30)
How is this different than the woman are treated in a mosque? There are husbands and fathers who dearly love their wives and daughters. How is it different in Christ?
What do women do who have the gift of teaching the Word? Or singing the Word?
Now please understand, I’m not a feminist. And I actually do believe that there are different roles in the body of Christ and an importance on male leadership in its function of blessing and releasing. But what I wanted to engage this pastor in is that in one sentence there is a literal interpretation on women’s roles (‘be quiet and don’t teach a man’), and the very sentence before is deemed not literal (‘wearing of jewelry’) but “subject to interpretation” and considered “cultural.” Two sentences together and one is interpreted literally and the other not. He didn’t say this was view but I would presume this is his interpretation since women in the church are not in any influencing role in the church other than with children, and there are many of the women who wear jewelry but aren’t policed.
I don’t want to single him out as I’ve encountered this theology many times…especially in missions. Somehow if we cross a border it’s Ok for women to do anything and everything for “the primitive cultures.” It’s very condescending and paternalistic at heart.
But let’s get back to the subject. The only thing that matters is ‘what does the Bible Say?’ Because what that Bible says, even if we don’t like it, is the guiding principle of our lives.
Looking at 1 Tim 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
There are many curious things about this text, most of which we don’t see in English. The important ones are these:
- There is a clear distinction between all people (anthropos) which includes men and women, and the Greek word for men as in males (aner).
- Paul often writes with a high level of structure. There is chiasmus which looks like A-B-B-A and the structure we see here that is A-B-A-B. He talks to Timothy (1:1-4), then the church (1:5-17), then back to Timothy (1:18-20) and then back to the church (2:1-4:5). It’s this A-B-A-B structure throughout the letter.
Before we dive too far into the text though, we need to make sure that the heart of God is conveyed. It’s actually a tenderness that he is expressing towards humanity and an important part we shouldn’t overlook.
His desire is that
- All people (anthropos) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified
- All people (anthropos) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth
- All this is accomplished through the work of Jesus
His Heart = Salvation for all People
His Heart = Peaceful lives to live in all godliness
The Text of 1 Tim 2:8-10
Paul has given us the heart of God, that all people be saved. Now he gives us how this can be accomplished — Prayer. Yes, prayer.
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (anthropos)” (2 Tim 2:1).
The book of Timothy is a letter from Paul, to Timothy, concerning the ministry in Ephesus. Ephesus was a huge city, it was the center of the lust goddess Artemis, it was fraught with immorality and had much spiritual opposition. So, yes. Prayer. In fact in the book of Ephesians in 6:10-20 in a short span 4 times Paul exhorts the Ephesians to fight through prayer. This city was going to be won through prayer.
So that the believers could live peaceful, quiet lives, that all would come to a knowledge of the truth and this would happen through the power of Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:1-7).
In verse 1 it is clear that he is calling all to pray. But in 2:8 it is clear that is pointing specifically to men.
“I desire then that in every place that men (ander – males) should pray” (2 Tim 2:8).
And when they pray they should pray without fighting or disputing in their lives.
But what about women praying?
In the Greek the word that opens the next section is hosautos and means “likewise” or “in the same way.” It is in essence an equal sign (=). Paul does not directly call them to prayer but the Greek is strong in its implication that in the same way as men are praying, women are to pray, and here’s how. So much so that Chrysostom who is one of the renowned early church fathers even added “to pray” in this verse. The implication is for both to pray.
Men–Pray without arguing or disputing
Women–Pray dressing modestly, letting beauty shine from within
Women Should be Quiet – 1 Tim 2:11-15a
“Women should be quiet.” That’s what we think this Scripture says. But it doesn’t. Not in the Greek. We see here a very unique turn in Paul’s vocabulary.
Paul has been writing in very global terms. God wants “All People” to be saved. God desires that “all people” live in peace. He calls on “all men” (males) to pray without arguing and disputing. And he calls “all women” to live with modesty and purity.
And then it switches. He no longer addresses women in the plural and global expressions of “men” and “women,” but now takes a turn and talks about “a woman.” The wording is clear in Greek and there is no doubt. The word “woman” is singular. The reference “she” is also singular and not “they.” And for several verses he keeps his rhetoric about “a woman” and not “women.” Not until the very last verse in summation does he switch back to the plural usage of “women” (v. 15) where “they” continue in faith, love and holiness with self-control. It’s almost as if he is following the A-B-A-B structure he has been following throughout the letter.
Is it possible that Paul was addressing a very particular woman? One bringing heresy into the church? And that was the reason why he completely changed his vocabulary mid ship? Paul was a very mindful writer. If he wanted to make the commands to encompass “all women,” he could and would have just continued using the wording he had been using. But instead he uses the singular word woman and he references this not as “they” (plural) but as “she” (singular).
11 Let a woman (singular) learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman (singular) to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she (singular) is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman (singular) was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she (singular) will be saved through childbearing—if they (plural) continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Ok. Context matters so let’s see what other Scriptures in Timothy and other books say to see if there is any outside corroboration to this being a possibility.
Clues from Timothy
- It’s clear that women were involved in false doctrines. Paul does not single out males with the clear Greek word “male” but uses gender inclusive words when referring to false teachers. Thus, women were more than likely part of the problems here. (1 Tim 1:3,6; 4:1; 6:3,21)
- Paul speaks clearly to Timothy, giving him instruction on how to deal with false teachers. The significance is that as Paul is discipling Timothy on how to handle false teachers in the church, he could very well have been doing the same thing here. It’s a subject that is a main theme in this letter. Sometimes he even named a person specifically as we see with Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus (1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17), and sometimes he just makes vague reference to them as we see in the man committing incest in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1-3). Could he have been doing the same for this woman, keeping her unnamed to protect her but still address the issue?
- The comparison to Eve to “a woman” (singular) and not “women”, may have been implying that just as Eve had been deceived, this woman had been deceived. He was not saying that women all have a genetic or spiritual tendency towards deception, but that this woman in particular was deceived in the same way as Eve.
- Women “who profess their faith” are indicated as “proclaimers” of the faith (2:10 – epagello). Nowhere in any Scripture do we see “proclamation” as a silent act. The word is often translated “profess” which in English can be active or passive, but in the Greek it has very strong connotations of verbal proclamation. It is one of eight verbs in the Scripture that have the root of “messenger” with a prefix added for its nuance. None of which are equated with verbal silence. Take a look:
- “To tell”- anagello – Rom 15:21; 2 Cor 7:7
- “To announce” – apagello – 1 Cor 14:25; 1 Thes 1:9
- “To herald” – diagello – Rom 9:17
- “to profess” – epagello – Rom 4:2-3; Gal 3:19; 1 Tim 2:10, 6:21; Titus 1:2
- “to evangelize” – euagello – Rom 1:1 and many places as the standard word for “evangelize”
- “to proclaim” – katagello – Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 2:1, 9:14, 11:26; Php 1:16,18; Col 1:28
- “to declare” – paragello – 1 Cor 7:10, 11:17; 1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:4,6,10,12; 1 Tim 1:3, 4:11, 5:7, 6:13, 17
- Paul giving instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:2 says “and the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable persons (anthropos) who will also be qualified to teach others.” If ever Paul wanted to make it clear that men alone were to be teachers, it would be here. The subject is all about empowering teachers. And instead of using aner for “males” he uses anthropos for all people. Interesting.
- Paul is writing to Timothy in the dealings of the church in Ephesus. So how did the church get founded in Ephesus? Through the wife and husband team of Priscilla and Aquila (where he names her first). The two of them both taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). Would it really make sense for Paul to come down with the hammer on silencing women, while at the same time upholding this extraordinary husband wife duo? It’s quite unlikely as he honored them every chance he got. In Rom 16:3 he tells the church to “greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus.” Even in the book of Timothy he says to “greet Priscilla and Acquila” (2 Tim 4:19) but makes no mention of any need to silence her from continuing to teach men.
Outside of Timothy, what do the Scriptures say?
Throughout the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testament, we see women in the place of service. For the sake of wanting to keep things “contemporary,” let’s just stick with the New Testament.
- Women receive His Spirit and Prophesy (Acts 2:17-18)
- Priscilla (and Aquila) taught Apollos (Acts 18:26)
- Philips 4 daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9)
- Junia and Adronicus (probably husband and wife) were considered “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom 16:7)
- Phoebe was a deaconness (Rom 16:1-2)
- Women were Evangelists (Eph 4:11)
- The gifts are not categorized via gender (1 Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4)
Women were and a vital part of the gospel and did much more than cook and clean. They had practical roles (financially supporting Jesus – Luke 8:31) , caring for the sick (Acts 9:36-43) as well as contending at the side of Paul (Php 4:2-3) and being a vital part of the work of Christ (Acts 18:26). All of these things would be very hard to do as “silent” co-workers.
There is much more to say on this issue.
- Like how the word “authority” (1 Tim 2:12) is such a unique word that translators really don’t know how to translate it well
- How “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Tim 2:15) in Greek is a noun, not a verb, implying that “the child-bearing” is Jesus.
- How the injunction we often miss in all this is that a woman “must learn” (1 Tim 2:11) which was a surprising text in the time and culture
- How the word “quiet” is the same word used in verse 2 and does not mean silence so much as it means peaceable.
- That Christ teaches that how he cares for the church is how men are to relate to women. And Christ in no way suppressed the church but rather unleashed the church and cared for her (Eph 5:25-33)
So do I believe that this verse is about a particular woman and not all women everywhere? There is strong credence to believe that this could be the case and its something we would do right to consider, at least as a possibility.
What I want to challenge people with in this section is that it is not as easy as “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” It’s important that we delve into the Scriptures to accurately represent what God may be saying. A lot of hurt and a lot of harm has been done with these few verses. And even though we might land on different ways we interpret this text, we would do well to remember God’s longing in it all: He desires that all people be saved and to live quiet, peaceable lives. His heart should always be our hermeneutic.
Note: This perspective is one I’ve relied on from the Greek but also from David Hamilton’s book Why Not Women?