Women Are to Learn, Paul Tells Timothy

August 13, 2012

Paul left us with one argument against women teaching in the church, based on a theological understanding of Genesis 1-3. We must reckon with this because our default setting is “to take the Bible literally.” And yet, as we have observed in the last few days, the witness about women in leadership in the NT is mixed. 1 Timothy 2:11 is the most serious challenge to women’s ordination, and therefore we must examine what it meant to its original hearers and how it is to be applied today.

The passage begins with Paul’s expressed desire for men “in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath or divisive arguing.” “In every place” probably means “at every op­portunity,” and “lifting up holy hands” requires one to come before God freely and with a clear conscience. Paul starts his instructions to Timothy with this call to prayer; prayer for his leaders and his society as well as for each other demonstrates loyalty, unity and godliness (2:2).

Likewise, the women are to behave in a way that would substantiate their claim to godliness. They should display modest dress and adornment so that their inner beauty is also visible. The specific mention of costly garments, expensive jewelry, and elaborate hairstyles coincides with Paul’s comments later about the accumulation of wealth. It may be that among their many problems, these women are not proving to be good stewards of their money. Paul here is asking them to let their stewardship reflect the priorities they should have as Christians.

In 2:10 Paul elaborates on what is respectful behavior for the women. He says, “Let the women learn . . .” They are to receive instruction in the things of God. This was a new freedom they had in Christ. Jewish women were not allowed to be taught spiritual things, so the fact that these women were to have the privilege of learning is significant. They are to learn quietly (the rendering “in silence” is overdoing it in this context. See 1 Timothy 2:2 where the Greek connotes “peaceful, unassuming” rather than “silence” as many present-day editions translate it); that is, they are to learn patiently, humbly and respectfully. They must do so in obedience, demonstrating discipline and submission to their teachers and to the truth of the gospel.

The women may learn, but Paul is not allowing them to teach or to domineer over men. The present active indicative “I am not allowing . . .” leaves open the question of future teaching. For now, they are not qualified. That Paul would discourage “domineering” (authentein) is not unusual, since his exhortation to downward mobility is well documented (see e.g. Philippians 2:1-5). In several instances he urges the church to be “tenderhearted toward one another” (Colossians 3:12) and to “submit yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Further, this is the only time he uses this particular vocabulary word, most often translated “exercise authority over.” Catherine and Richard Kroeger, intrigued by this word, searched the concurrent secular literature for some sense of its meaning. They determined that authentein is an ugly word connoting the manipulation of men with sexual pressure.[1] When Paul speaks of authority in the strong, positive sense, he uses exousia, as in Romans 13:1-2. The reader should be aware that several Greek words are translated into the English as “authority” and that an investigation of the meaning of each would be fruitful in making distinctions, particularly as they apply to women.

If the reasoning so far has been straightforward, “the plot thickens” at this point! “For (gar) Adam was formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but Eve, having been led astray, fell into transgression.” Gar is a conjunction, introducing either a causal association or simply a new thought. It is not obvious what Paul’s intended meaning is here. In my next post I will explore the possibilities.


            [1] Catherine and Richard Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman:  Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Baker Book House, 1992).


3 Responses to “Women Are to Learn, Paul Tells Timothy”

  1. Thank you for exploring this topic! I would like to add two observations: 1) In this particular passage, Paul said, “I DO NOT PERMIT” – it is clear that this is Paul’s, not God’s instruction. 2) Adam may not have been deceived, but he sure didn’t do anything to stop the Eve, nor did he refuse to partake. In my opinion, that makes him a weakling and every bit as guilty. He certainly did not exhibit any type of leadership.

  2. Dan Clark Says:

    Paul, like many of his time, had a rather stilted, if not weird, notion of women. Recall women, in the time of Paul, were considered the provocatuers of sexual activity. They were endowed with secret powers of seduction. The goddess of the Greek pantheon were the best examples. Thus, men, were powerless before such mysterious attraction. As a result, men were not responsible for their actions. Sexual expression was not intitiated by men only by women. Thus women were to be controlled as, left uncontrolled, they would plunge all of human civiliaztion into an erotic hurricane and leave the world without the rationality of men, endowed, of course, by the gods. This same suspicion emerges in Paul though he does realize that in Christ, all persons, have found equality before God in salvation. Yet, this is not a resolved issue for him as revealed by his paradoxical statements about women(recognizing their gifts on the hand, condemning their physicality in worship on the other) as he often does with resurrection(e.g., bodily or spiritual?). Paul’s views on women are, thus, to be treated with suspect as they reflect his unconcisous cultural conditioning. Dan

  3. Bill Says:

    Sounds like God only inspired Paul on the issues you want to side with, all other matters you can explain away. It seems this is one of the greatest issues causing your group to fail with regards to following “the whole” council of the Scripture. For over 1800 years the Church got it right. Since God’s Word never changes, the only conclusion is that those like you have. Open you eyes and see the results of your wrong thinking. Truly seek and you will find His Truth in this area.

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