I love getting “theological” questions because it gives me a chance to dig into subjects that I don’t always have occasion to explore.  If you like that sort of thing, welcome to “Theology Thursdays!”  If not, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.

— Pastor Phillip


QUESTION: My cousin was asking about 1 Timothy 2:8-12 because it makes it sound like women shouldn’t preach.  How would you respond?

Well, good thing THAT’S not a loaded subject…

The other day a friend of mine sent me this question via text message, and I replied that I wanted to make sure and do my research before replying.  Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this issue, but I always try to get a “refresher” before commenting on things that have the potential for controversy, and this is definitely one of them.

Let’s look at the text in question, but let’s expand it two verses to get a fuller picture.  I have formatted the text to better break up the thought patterns.

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
likewise also that women should 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.
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
-1 Timothy 2:8-14

Now, let’s work on this…

SECTION 1, “in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…”
Starting with Paul’s instruction that “in every place the men should pray,” the classic text-analysis resource Vincent’s Word Studies says “Wherever Christian congregations assemble.  Not every place indiscriminately.”  Of course, we are encouraged elsewhere to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which would of course include EVERY place we go, but to think that men should walk around with their hands held high everywhere they go is just silly.  Therefore, we see that the context of Paul’s instructions in this section is related to “every place” that the Church is gathered for the exercise of corporate worship.

SECTION 2, “likewise also…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel…”
Paul then addresses the issue of how women are to dress, that it should be in “respectable apparel.”  He goes on to talk about modesty, self-control, and good works, things which obviously are not literal “apparel”, as much as they are outward indicators of the inward state of a woman’s heart.

Is Paul saying women should never braid their hair or wear jewelry?  No, he’s saying that true followers of Jesus won’t let those become the main focus of their life and won’t use the assembly of the Church as an avenue to draw attention to their own ego.  He’s saying that the way of the Kingdom is not to refuse luxuries, but to let them take a back seat to more important things like good works that benefit others.

SECTION 3, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.”
In a culture that often did not permit women to receive any kind of education, Paul writes that women absolutely should have the opportunity to learn, but that they must do so with a respectful attitude, not causing a scene and constantly questioning what is being taught in the assembly (I’m sure you’ve met those women…)  His point is not that women have no right to open their mouths, but that they shouldn’t be interrupting and disrupting the flow of the gathering.  This is the same principle as his instruction about adornment, that it’s about a heart that desires to behave in a way that benefits others.

Now, as a side note, Paul’s teaching as a whole extends this instruction to men as well.  Here’s what he writes in 1 Corinthians 14:26-30.

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.

A few verses later, Paul writes the reason for all of this: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:33a, 40)

He continues in 1 Corinthians with another instruction that is related to our primary text of 1 Timothy…

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?
(1 Corinthians 14:33-36)

On the surface level, it seems like Paul is saying women should indeed keep their mouths closed whenever the Church comes together, but looking at one more passage reveals this cannot be the case.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
(1 Corinthians 11:3-5)

When Paul writes about head coverings, he’s assuming that women WILL not only pray, but “prophesy,” that is, share a Word from God with the assembled Church body.  What he’s doing, though, is tying the way in which these things are shared to three important principles.

1) Act in a way that the culture recognizes as respectful (in that day, head coverings),
2) Act in a way that promotes order and peace in the gathering of the Church, not disorder and confusion, and
3) Act in a way that is in line with God’s established order of authority and responsibility (“the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”)

Now, let’s go back to the passage in 1 Timothy and look at it again in light of these principles.

SECTION 4

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;”  (1 Timothy 2:11-13)

In our culture, is it disrespectful or disorderly or disruptive for a woman to be educated?  Of course not.  Do any of those negative elements come into play when women teach in general?  Absolutely not!  In fact, many women are such excellent teachers that to deny them that right would be an insult to the God who made them that way.

The two keys to understanding Paul’s intent —and more importantly, our responsibility today— are about order and authority.  In Paul’s letter to Timothy, in his letter to the Corinthians and in many places all throughout Scripture, we see that God has designed a beautiful world of harmonious cycles and systems, of rhythms and hierarchies that are designed to maximize the joy and purpose of all of His creations.

Ants and bee hives have queen bees because that’s how God designed them.

Elephant herds and prides of lions have alpha males that ensure order within the group because that’s how God designed them.

Even within the Godhead, we see that the Son chooses to be in subjection to the Father (John 8:28, John 17:1), the Spirit flows out from the will of the Son (John 15:26), and the Father serves both the Son and the Spirit in the way He loves and gives to them (see John 3:35, John 5:20, John 8:50).

God’s design for the universe is patterned after His own essence: not a hierarchy of importance or value, but a particular order of roles and functions in which everything flows in harmony.

Because we are far-removed from the culture and context of Paul’s day, we have to dig a little deeper into what he means when he writes, which is what we’ve done.  We see, then, that for a women to “be silent” is like the way she “adorns herself.”  Yes, it’s about actions but it’s more about the attitude of the heart.  We see that women have a right both to pray and to bring Words from God (to prophesy), and that when they do so it should be done in a way that is orderly and respectful (an instruction that also is given to men in multiple places.)

We see also that for “a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” is not so much about whether she stands up and shares something from the Lord or from her heart, but is much more about whether or not she is over-reaching in the role that God has assigned to her.  It’s like Jesus the Son trying to call the shots instead of God the Father.  Nobody would say that the Son is any less important than the Father, but they each have their part to play.

In the same way, God has laid a foundation of a flow of authority from Himself to His Church.  Then, in the Church it flows from male elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9) to the other gifted people who exercise their gifts and individual authority under the protective umbrella of the spiritual authority of the men God has appointed to the role of overseers.

Finally, Paul writes one more thing to elaborate the importance of this point.

SECTION 5: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
I like how the ESV translation of the Bible renders the account of the Fall of Mankind in Genesis 3:6.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”  (emphasis added)

Think about that for a moment.

Adam was right there and he said nothing to his wife about what she was about to do.  He did nothing to prevent her taking a step that they had both been warned against and assured would lead to their death.  Yes, Eve took the fruit and ate, but Adam failed in his responsibility to fulfill his role in the creative order, which was to protect and care for all of God’s creation and especially his wife.

The principle is that as the Son and Spirit play the role of partner and “helper” to the Father as the Father oversees to ensure the good of the others, so it is in the family and so it is in the Church.

It is the responsibility and burden of men to be overseers and shepherds, caretakers and providers for their homes and their Churches, and to do everything they can to maximize the joy and effectiveness of everyone under their care.  They must seek to provide and promote opportunities for women to exercise the gifts God has given them for the building up of the church, and also must try to protect them from absorbing more weight, responsibility and authority than they were designed to carry.

Women should share Words from the Lord publicly as He gives them, and should instruct and give insight into things as God has enabled them.  They should not, however, have to or try to take on the weight of the primary “teaching authority” or “senior pastor” of the Church.  This has nothing to do with capability or privilege and everything to do with calling and protection.  It is not because they have less value or ability then men but because they are too valuable to be placed in situations where their gifts would be overshadowed by a yoke that their shoulders were not designed to carry.

So, speak up, sisters, and rejoice in the fact that like the metal setting of a precious jewel, our Father has provided in the Church a setting of authority designed to highlight you and make sure that whatever your gifting is, it has the opportunity to shine.