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Who Are the Women in I Timothy 2:1-15 (Part II)

In the first installment of this series, we noted and illustrated the importance of the presence or absence of the article (the) in Greek grammar. Presence of the article usually indicates identity and absence of the article generally stresses quality or character. We showed how this grammatical difference (not usually present in English) affects our interpretation of verses 1 through 7 in I Timothy 2.

We now turn our attention to the presence or absence of the Greek article in the crucial passages that have been used for centuries to limit the participation of women in teaching and leadership in the church.

Literal Translation: I Timothy 2:8-15. 8. I desire that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 9. Likewise, I desire that in respectable [or modest] clothing women adorn themselves with modesty and chastity, not with braiding of hair or with gold or with pearls or with expensive clothing, 10. But with anything which is fitting for women [plural] professing godliness through good works. 11. Let woman [singular] be learning in quietness with all subjection [to God]. 12. Further, I am not permitting for woman [singular] teaching and [’n] domineering over man, but I am ordering her to be learning in quietness. 13. Now, you see then, Adam was formed earlier, then Eve. 14. And Adam was not deceived but the woman [Eve] being deceived [or led astray] has come to be in transgression. But she [Eve] will be saved [or attain salvation] through the childbearing it they remain [abide] in faith [faithfulness] and in love and in holiness with chastity [involving good judgement].

Verse 8. Here Paul discusses how men as a class should pray in every place. He uses the article with “men,” thus identifying them as one group of human beings (generic use of the article.) No article appears with the phrase “in every place” or elsewhere in the verse. Regardless of the characteristics of any place, men as a group (the men) are to be praying positively – lifting up holy hands to do all that God wants them to do. They are to pray without anger or argument (no articles.) Such a qualitative mood and action (anger and argument) would never promote genuine prayer. Paul had first hand experience with the men Timothy was to instruct. In this verse Paul instructs men as a class or group by an indirect command. A direct command would read: “Men, pray in every place in this way.” But here we have an indirect command: “I desire that the men pray in every place in this way.” This indirect command is mostly positive, only negative in the warning about “anger and argument.”

Verse 9. Now the discussion turns to women of various kinds. Note that Paul does not begin the verse: “I desire that the women (as a class or group)…” Paul is speaking to women with a variety of qualities and characteristics and in the negative commands to a certain kind of woman with character traits that must be changed. The absence of the article with “women” shows that qualitative kinds of women are defined by the context. It is only to a certain kind of woman that the negative commands apply.

In verses 9-10 we have what is technically called an “indirect command.” The negative and positive sides of these commands tells us the kinds of women Paul is addressing or is concerned about. Of course, all women could hear these commands, but the absence of the article shows that Paul addressed the negative commands to one kind (quality) of Gentile woman rather than all women. He instructs those who had problems with modesty, chastity, or the exhibition of wealth. Paul states this carefully: “I desire that in respectable clothing women (all kinds) adorn themselves with modesty and chastity.” Then he shifts to the negative side: “not with braiding of hair or with gold or with pearls or with expensive clothing.” Here is one kind of woman who needs help. Women who were not guilty of immodesty, unchastity or exhibition of wealth did not need these rebukes that were part of Paul’s instructions. But there were some women whom Timothy really need to reach and restore.

Verse 10. There is no article in this verse, indicating Paul is still writing about the same kind of woman– those who did not know what was fitting. Instead of the adornment that was part of their past (perhaps their present too), the women addressed in verse 9b were to adorn themselves “with anything that is fitting for women professing godliness through good works…” This (and other things) they had to learn.

Apparently, some women professing godliness were not conducting themselves rightly. Men or women may profess godliness but not live godly lives. Paul had explained in I Timothy 1:9 that law is not given for a righteous person but for unrighteous persons. There are two sides of law; law both instructs and rebukes. In I Timothy 1:9 Paul emphasizes the side of law that rebukes. This side of law is for unrighteous persons and exists to make such persons aware that their conduct is sinful. So, in Chapter 2 where Paul gives commands, the negative side of the indirect commands was to show a certain kind of woman that her conduct was party of an ungodly lifestyle that must be abandoned. She must be learning what a godly life involves. Other kinds of Christian women knew this and lived consistent godly lives.

Verse 11. No article appears in this verse but there is one third person singular imperative. Paul shifts from the plural “women” to the singular “woman.” Perhaps he is indicating to Timothy that where a group of people were doing wrong things, Timothy should deal individually with them. Woman (singular) of the kind having a problem with modesty, chastity and exhibition of wealth must be “learning in quietness with all subjection [to God].” Such a woman’s former life had been self-centered (see verse 9). Learning about a Christian manner of life was essential for her restoration. Paul wrote here about one kind of woman. Those who apply verses 11-12 to all women have forgotten what Paul said in I Timothy 1:9: law on its negative side is for those who are disobedient. Paul here sets forth how disobedient women can be restored.

Verse 12. Paul places further restrictions on this kind of woman. The combination of immodesty, unchastity and exhibition of wealth points to a woman from the upper classes. She could very well be educated and able to teach. But she must not do so. Paul forbids teaching ‘n domineering. The word for domineering has many possible meanings, but both words together (teaching and domineering) seem to refer to one and the same activity 1 toward a man on the part of such a kind of woman. Notice that I have shortened the “and” that comes between the two words. Philip Payne in his article “Oude in I Timothy 2:12” covers all the examples of this negative conjunction in the New Testament. He concludes that the second word joined by oude to the first word clarifies the meaning of the first word. Here Paul would forbid “to teach in such a manner that domineers over a man.” 2 Hence the translation “teaching ‘n domineering” conveys clearly both things going on at the same time. Such teaching and domineering show a wrong attitude on the part of an authoritarian teacher. Consequently, Paul restates what he said in verse 11: He commands a process of restoration – “that she be learning in quietness.”

Verses 13-15. These verses must be dealt with as a unit. They explain why learning is so important for a certain kind of woman. She must overpower a long p—iod of deception.

Verses 13-14. Paul points to Eve as an example of a sinless woman who was deceived by moral evil. “Now Adam was formed earlier [adjective in Greek], then Eve.” By these words Paul may simply be locating the place in the Old Testament (Genesis 2-3) from which he is taking his illustration, or he may have been refuting some first century gnostic heresy about whether Adam or Eve came first. “And Adam was not deceived but the woman (article shows specific reference to Eve – article of previous mention) being deceived [or led astray] has come to be in transgression.” Adam sinned knowingly, but Eve was genuinely deceived. If Eve needed more learning, how much more did the kind of woman to whom Paul was referring.

Verse 15a. Eve is still the subject of the first verb in verse 15. Paul discusses the deception and salvation of Eve. “Adam was not deceived but Eve was…but [nevertheless] Eve will be…” Eve will be saved through the childbearing. Thus far in these verses Paul has been taking his illustrative materials from Genesis 2-3. In Genesis 3:15 a message was given to the serpent that involved a promise for Eve. This text reads (translated literally): “I will set enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, between your posterity and between her posterity. Her posterity will bruise you [the serpent] in reference to the head and you [the serpent with his posterity] will bruise the posterity of the woman in reference to the heel.”

The use of the article the with “childbearing” is important. Eve knew that in some way a godly posterity (the result of childbearing) would crush the serpent’s head and defeat him. Of course, she did not grasp the full significance of these words. She could not have known then that the godly posterity who would be victorious could only do so by “being in Christ.” Paul mentions Eve’s salvation here only because he was using her as an illustration of how important learning is for the defeat of moral evil.

Verse 15b. Paul shifts from a singular (she) to a plural subject (they). Women who are a godly posterity of Eve will, like her, be saved if “they remain in faithfulness and love and sanctification with chastity.” Paul demands that followers of Christ live a holy life. He specifically pressed these demands on the kind of women whose immodesty, unchastity and exhibition of wealth showed that they had much to learn to make the new life in Christ a vital part of them.

Conclusion

  1. Paul as a teacher of Gentiles (I Timothy 2:7) and as one who had lived in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) knew well his Gentile audience, both men and women.

  2. Paul made clear how the men as a class or group should and should not pray (I Timothy 2:8).

  3. Paul knew that a certain kind of women who professed godliness were not living a godly life (I Timothy 2:9-15). Timothy, who first received this letter, was well aware of this. He was to inform women (qualitatively, various kinds) that profession of godliness demanded living a godly life. But the negative prohibitions of indirect command were directed to the kind of women that needed the opening prepositional phrase “that women in respectable clothing…” Some women needed learning so as to be able to know what a godly life involved and how to live it with God’s help.

  4. Paul stressed the manner of life in which godly women must abide (I Timothy 2:15b). He demanded a life-long abiding in faith/faithfulness, in love, in holiness or sanctification, and in chastity with good judgement.

  5. Four kinds of women are mentioned in this passage:

  6. Women who profess and live godliness through good works. These women adorn themselves with modesty and chastity (I Timothy 2:9-10)

  7. Women who had problems with modesty, chastity and the exhibition of wealth (I Timothy 2:9).

  8. The sinless woman Eve whose learning was not sufficient to prevent her deception (I Timothy 2:14-15).

  9. Women since Eve who abide in faithfulness, love, holiness and chastity (with good judgement.) The promise to Eve (Genesis 3:15) Paul applied to all women of faithfulness and holiness (I Timothy 2:15b).

  10. Paul would have been appalled to see how these verses have been misapplied. He was not writing about all women as a class or group. Paul knew many women of great Christian maturity. Some of these he called fellow workers – women like Phoebe, Priscilla and other women mentioned in Romans 16. They lived godly lives of ministry and service. One, Priscilla, had been a teacher of Apollos in this very city of Ephesus (Acts 18:26). To suggest that all women of the first century (and today) were guilty of immodesty, unchastity or exhibition of wealth is preposterous. There is nothing in this passage to support the silencing of godly women, or forbidding their teaching in church, their call to any form of Christian service, or the use of all the gifts the triune God has bestowed upon them (I Corinthians 12, 4:11).

Notes

  1. See Philip Barton Payne, “The Interpretation of I Timothy: A Surrejoinder.” Trinity Journal., Vol. 2 NS, No. 2 (Fall, 1981), p. 107. “It is difficult to find an English equivalent for oude, one which typically joins together two elements in order to convey a single coherent idea, and when referring to two separate ideas joins very closely related pairs. Perhaps the closest equivalent is the English colloquial use of ‘n as in ‘hit ‘n run,’ ‘nice ‘n easy,’ ‘spic ‘n span,’ or ‘good ‘n drunk.’ In practically every case ‘n joins two words which are thought of together as a single idea. The statement ‘Don’t eat ‘n run!’ prohibits leaving the host immediately after eating. It does not prohibit either eating or running by itself…” “We conclude, therefore, that Paul’s typical use of oude to join together two elements in order to convey a single coherent idea favors an interpretation of I Timothy 2:12 such as ‘I am not permitting a woman to teach ’n domineer a man…’ namely ‘to teach in a way that domineers a man..’” See also Philip B. Payne, “Oude in I Timothy 2:12,” paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, Annual Meeting, Nov. 21, 1986, p . 5.
  2. Payne, “Oude in I Timothy 2:12,” pp. 2,4,5.

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