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Fulton County Gospel News

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First Timothy 2:11-15

By Ted J. Clarke

Here on the FCGN website, we have recently been featuring former editor Ted J. Clarke’s six-part series “The Role of Women in the Lord’s Church.”  Clearly this is a subject that remains just as relevant today, if not more so, than when it was initially published in the Fulton County Gospel News from 1996-97.  This is the sixth and final article in the series.  We pray that you will honesty consider the words of brother Clarke, and that women will bring glory to God by exemplifying the role He has given them. - Editor

First Timothy 2:11-15
 
INTRODUCTION
 
Our text comes from the first of two letters the apostle Paul penned to his son in the faith, Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19-22). Likely it was written soon after Paul's release from prison in Rome, ca. AD 62. Paul admonished Timothy to warn false teachers (1:3), and to "wage the good warfare" (1:18, NKJV), remembering that there are those who can make "shipwreck" of the faith (1:19-20).
 
In chapters two and three Paul deals with matters pertaining to one's conduct "in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (3:14-15). Among those concerns for how one is to behave in the church is the role of women (2:9-15). In particular, Paul addresses the manner in which women were to adorn themselves (2:9-10), and he reminds Timothy of the need for the women to demonstrate a submissive character in relation to the men (2:11-15).
 
APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY
 
I am amazed at the boldness with which some supposedly religious people simply dismiss what the apostle Paul says here about the role of women. After mentioning God's desire for all people to be saved through the knowledge of Christ, Paul names Jesus as the one who gave Himself in our place and stands as Mediator between God and man. Concerning these things, Paul was to testify as an apostle. He states:
"for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle – I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying – a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth"  (1 Timothy 2:7, NKJV).
The point is that what Paul is writing he is writing as an apostle, appointed by the Lord to teach and preach! [See also 1 Corinthians 14:34-37.] What he is speaking in this epistle is "the truth in Christ" (1 Timothy 2:7).
 
The "Therefore" of verse 8 and what follows is directly related to his claim to be speaking the truth as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He speaks with the authority of Christ when he says, "Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting" (2:8, NKJV). The Greek word for "men" (aner) in this verse is a word that specifies males only, and thus authorizes only males to do what Paul commands. In the context of how to behave in God's house (church), this verse authorizes only men to lead in prayer "everywhere." We know that women are to worship (John 4:23-24; Acts 2:42; 1 Thessalonians 5:17); and that women prayed in certain situations (1 Corinthians 11:5, 13).[1] Therefore, what Paul teaches in this passage must mean that the men have the God-given responsibility of leading in the offering of prayers whenever there is a gender mixed assembly (both men and women).
 
Verse 9 says, "In like manner also,"  as Paul begins to discuss matters pertaining to how women are to behave in the church. The same apostolic authority that specified what the men are to do is now directed at the conduct of the women. Here is where many are trying to change what Paul wrote as an apostle of Christ. How dare anyone come along and presume to explain away what Paul says is "speaking the truth in Christ"?!
 
REGULATION OF THE WOMAN'S ROLE
 
Space prohibits an extended consideration of the modesty with which women are to adorn themselves, but the contrast Paul gives is that while men are to lead in prayer with "holy hands," women are to adorn themselves with "modesty [and] good works" (2:9-10; cf. 1 Peter 3:1-7). The common thread is holiness and purity for both men and women. What the women "show" is not to be flash, form, nor flesh; but modesty, godliness, and good works (cf. Matthew 5:16).
 
Further instructions on how female behavior is to relate to men in the church follows in First Timothy 2:11-12. Some religious feminists and "change agents" in the Lord's church have said that Paul's comments here were intended to be temporary and local, attempting to regulate some disorderly women in the Ephesian congregation. There is no indication for such an assumption anywhere in this letter. The attempts to manufacture evidence for it would be comical, if it were not such a blatant disregard of apostolic authority. There is no definite article before the word "woman" in the Greek text, which would be expected if a particular group of women were being considered. These are women in general, all women, who are being regulated by Paul, the apostle of Christ. Were just some women supposed to dress modestly and behave with godliness and good works, or all women? Obviously, all. Just so, all women were to honor the following restrictions revealed by Christ through Paul.
 
Women were to "learn," but "in silence" (2:11). The word for "silence" in this verse is different from the one used in First Corinthians 14:34-35, but the principle is the same. In Corinthians, Paul was showing that man had been given the leading role in guiding the worship of the church. Women were to be "silent" in 14:34, just as the "tongues speaker" was to "keep silent" when there was no interpreter (14:28), and the prophet was to "hold his peace" (keep silent, NKJV) when another prophet received a revelation (14:30). In First Corinthians 14:34 women were to "keep silence," not because others wanted to speak, but because "it is not permitted unto them to speak"!The Corinthian word for "keep silent" is a strong word which means not to utter a sound. In Timothy, Paul used a different word that can mean "peaceable quietness." In view of thatpossibility, some are saying this is proof that Paul was writing to merely correct disorderly women in Ephesus and not giving restrictions to all women. One language scholar did an exhaustive study of the Greek word Paul uses in Timothy for silence (hesuchia), particularly as it was used in the prepositional phrase "in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11-12). He concluded:
That silence from sound is an undisputed meaning of Hesuchia [silence], plus the parallels to the prepositional phrase en hesuchia [in silence], which we have cited, creates a presupposition that that is its proper meaning in 1 Timothy 2:11,12. I would be glad to see a linguistic demonstration to the contrary…The evidence shows that the translation tradition from the time of Jerome has been almost unanimous that 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 is dealing with silence (the absence of sound) and not merely with a peaceable disposition and behavior[2] [bold emphasis mine, TJC].
Verse 11 is amplified further by verse 12. The New King James Version presents a clearer translation of verse 12 than the older King James. Paul says, "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." [The King James word "suffer" in this verse means "permit," and the phrase "usurp authority" has frequently been misunderstood.] Paul here prohibits two related things regarding male/female relationships. The woman is not to teach "over a man," nor to have authority "over a man."
 
Women are to teach (1 Timothy 5:14; 2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:3-5), but not in any authoritative position "over a man." Neither is she to "have authority over a man" in any sense which would violate these Scriptures. Some have contended that the KJV's wording of "usurp authority' simply means that a woman cannot "take authority" over a man, but if she is given that authority by men then she could exercise such authority. However, as noted earlier, the better translation of that Greek word (authentein) is "to have authority." God did not give the woman that authority, so she cannot "have" it, no matter what man or group of men say otherwise! The American Standard Version and the New King James Version both translate "have authority" in verse 12. What Paul speaks of here is authority women cannot have; that is, to teach or exercise authority over men in the church.
 
THE EXTENT OF THE REGULATION
 
To what extent do these restrictions God placed on women apply? We know that women prayed and prophesied (taught) in some situations (Acts 18:26; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5,13 ; Titus 2:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:5 et al.) but the total context of all passages pertaining to the woman's role in the church shows that they did not take leading roles in praying or teaching over the men in any of the gender mixed assemblies of the church.
 
We also know that the woman's role of submission extends to the family relationship, as Paul illustrated by teaching on the duties of the wife toward her husband in Ephesians 5:22-32. [Husbands must also remember their duties to their wives in this passage.]
 
Also, the passage in First Corinthians 11:1-12 shows a general hierarchy of man as head (authority) over the woman. First Timothy 2:11-15 is also capable of being understood as a general status existing between the sexes, in view of the reasons stated for the restrictions. Some have stated that they believe that the restrictions in First Timothy have "no limitations as to time, place, and custom. It deals with women's position in relation to men." [3] Another states, "Paul makes it clear that the principle stressed is applicable at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. Is the woman to place herself (or allow herself to be placed) in a position in which she would be exercising dominion over a man." [4]
 
If this principle extends into the business world, worldly governments, and worldly social settings, many Christians will have to radically change their attitudes and actions. It is not at all clear to me that these prohibitions apply to situations which are strictly worldly. However, I must confess that I have not given a sufficient amount of thought to this possible application and cannot give a complete answer on this point. However, we have made it clear that the principle of the woman's submissive role does extend into the areas of the family and the Lord's church. That much is certain from the Scriptures studied.
 
WHY PAUL GAVE THESE LIMITATIONS
 
Radical feminists who care nothing about the Bible portray it as mythical or call the apostle Paul a crotchety old bachelor who had it in for women. One cannot reason with such people. Others, who claim to be believers, but want to permit expanded roles for women in the church, will try to limit Paul's instructions to a specific cultural situation which they say existed in first century Ephesus when Paul wrote, but has no application to women in the church in general. In this passage (1 Timothy 2:11-15), we have shown that there was no one specific group singled out by the apostle. He was speaking to all women.
 
While we dealt with the reasons Paul placed these prohibitions on women in earlier lessons ("The Genesis Connection and the Role of Women in the Lord's Church," FCGN, Nov. and Dec., 1996), we will here make some brief comments. The first reason given for the restrictions on women is the order of creation, "For Adam was formed first, then Eve" (2:13, NKJV). This certainly cannot be said to deal with just a local, temporary cultural situation or with a grumpy old man. This goes all the way back to the sixth day of creation and makes a fundamental argument for the headship of man over the woman – "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:8-9). This explains a basic concept of God's intended relationship between man and woman.
 
The second reason stated is that when Eve acted in a leadership role in Genesis 3, taking the forbidden fruit, eating it, and then coaxing Adam to eat it, she showed flagrant disregard for the god-ordained headship role of her husband and assumed it for herself (2:14). God had established the headship of the man, not Adam! Eve's role of submission did not come as a result of the Fall (into sin). That had been the result of God creating Adam first and then making Eve for the man. [See "The Genesis Connection…" articles mentioned above.]
 
In spite of the woman's sin and the limitations in her relationship with man which God established, if any woman accepts this general role God has given to her and loves and serves Him, "she will be saved" (2:15). The word "childbearing" in this verse is likely a figure of speech where a part of something stands for the whole, a synecdoche. "Childbearing" stood for the whole general purpose of the woman's physical life. She was a wife to her husband, by whom she bore their children, thus being both wife and mother. These are God's gifts to a woman which give her life purpose and meaning (cf. Genesis 1:28; 2:23-24). How sad today that being a married lifetime companion of a man and bearing and raising children is looked upon with great contempt by so many women! Consider also how the concept of abortion runs so violently contrary to God's intention for His woman. But there is more for the woman to consider, more than being a wife and mother. She must have the continuing spiritual qualities of "faith, love, and holiness, with self-control" (2:15, NKJV). Only with these fruits of the Spirit will the woman fully be what God intended her to be (cf. Galatians 5:22-25). With these attributes she will be a beautiful woman, confident of her place in God's scheme of things. She will have no desire to seek roles outside of God's established order. She will be satisfied in knowing that she shares an equal salvation with man now (Galatians 3:26-29), and that God's way is always the right way.  She realizes that the restrictions God placed on her relationship with man do not make her less important, nor inferior. She just has different roles and responsibilities, but they are God given!
 
CONCLUSION
 
While these six articles have sought to provide crucial answers from God's Word regarding the male/female relationships, some things may have been said that raised other questions. Still, I am confident that we have presented a fairly complete and accurate picture of the role of women in the Lord's church.
 
The Scriptures, when considered in their totality, do not authorize women to take or to have leading roles in teaching or having authority over men. There is no authority for women serving as preachers or elders to the church. The idea of expanding women's role into other areas of leadership in organization or worship of the church is equally without authority. Elders, preachers and any other church leaders cannot give women the authority to do these things without violating the teaching of First Timothy 2:11-15 and the other passages considered in these six articles.
 


[1] See the previous article, "The Role of Women in the Lord's Church: First Corinthians 11:2-16," Fulton County Gospel News, March 1997, which deals with whether or not the women were praying and prophesying in Corinth in their regular assemblies and approved by Paul.
[2] Jack P. Lewis, "Quietness or Silence," in Gospel Advocate, Vol. 130, No.7: July 1988, 11-12.
[3] Jack P. Lewis, Leadership Questions Confronting the Church  (Nashville: Christian Communications 1985), 5.
[4] Roy Deaver, "Woman and Prayer," in The Spiritual Sword, Vol. 6, No. 4 (July 1975), 13-15.

Current articles in this series:

#1: Thank God for Godly Women
#2: The Genesis Connection
#3: The Genesis Connection, Part 2
#4: 1 Cor. 11:2-16
#5: 1 Cor. 14: 34,35
#6: 1 Tim. 2:11-15

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