1 Timothy 2:8-15 – The Silencing of Women (?)

Tonight, we will be discussing 1 Timothy 2. In the first part of the reading tonight, Paul gives instructions concerning prayer. In the second half of the reading Paul gives instructions concerning the appropriate conduct and place for women. There may be no other part of the New Testament which jars our modern sensibilities more than Paul’s instructions to “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” vv.11-12. If we are to take Scripture seriously and authoritatively, we cannot simply brush over these verses.

From a more conservative perspective, these verses should be applied as written. The fact that the verses offend our modern notions of sexual equality simply shows how the church is different than the world. The history of the church is generally one where women are to be silent. Within the Anglican tradition, as late as the 1949 Lambeth Conference, Resolution 115 rejected the question of women’s ordination. Not until twenty years later at the 1968 Lambeth conference did the Communion state that women’s ordination should be studied, but provinces were encouraged to allow women to preach and to read in church. See, Resolutions 34-38. The Episcopal Church did not allow women to be lay readers until 1969, and only allowed women to be priests in 1976. Although women’s ability to teach men has been resolved in the Episcopal Church, it still remains an open question in the Anglican Church in North America.

These verses have had their greatest impact in the modern church within the South Baptist Convention. The conservative resurgence within the SBC began with this resolution in 1984 based upon these verses. At that time, most SBC seminaries trained women to be pastors while none do today. The prohibition is not only for the office of pastor but extends to teachers as well. For example, The Gospel Coalition will not allow women to teach men at their conferences, but only allows women to teach women during breakout sessions. There is also the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which works with churches to insure that both men and women understand their respective roles in the church (which includes women not teaching men). (As an aside, the 2019 SBC Annual Conference begins today. This past Sunday the Washington Post had an article about impending discussions at the Annual Conference as to whether men can listen to a Beth Moore bible study.)

If you have a more progressive understanding of women’s ordination and ministry in the church, there are two broad ways to read these verses other than literally. First, these verses appear to contradict other teachings and examples in the New Testament. In contrast to vv.11-12, elsewhere Paul specifically permits women to pray and to prophesy in church, so long as their head is covered. (1 Cor. 11:5). Paul also appears to value women’s leadership in his salutation in Romans (Romans 16). There, Paul says he sent a deaconess named Phoebe to deliver this letter and to organize his trip to Spain (v.1), he mentions the husband-and-wife missionary team of Aquila and Prisca (and mentions the wife, Prisca, first (v.3)), and he lists Junia (a female) as an apostle (v.7). These women were teachers and Paul recognizes their authority. Additionally, Jesus appoints Mary Magdalene to go and to tell (teach) the male disciples that he is risen. (Matt. 28:10).

A second way of interpreting these verses is to attempt to place them in context. Paul is writing Timothy to address specific issues occurring in the church in Ephesus. 1 Tim. 1:3. The central feature of the city of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The cult of Artemis was concerned with fertility and childbearing and was led by women reciting incantations and prayers. The cult also included its creation story of being founded by the Amazons. In Acts 19, Luke tells us that Paul spent two years (v.10) in Ephesus and was so successful that the idol-makers in Ephesus brought some of Paul’s disciples before the town clerk to have them punished for putting the cult at risk (vv.21-40). Therefore, the Ephesian congregation contained women whose prior worship experience was female-centric where women were heavily adorned with jewelry, where the method of worship consisted of constantly reciting prayers aloud, and where the purpose of worship was for having a good child-birth. Paul’s statements in vv.8-15, can be interpreted as simply to counteract and redirect these prior experiences. Two good explanations of this view are HERE and HERE.

I have attached N.T. Wright’s translation and interpretation of these verses from his book Paul – The Pastoral Letters (p.22). Wright translates these verses as “They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them, rather they should be left undisturbed.” For Wright, “women’s silence” does not mean that they cannot teach in church but that, unlike the cult of Artemis, learning is to be done silently not by verbal recitation. “Women’s submission” isn’t to men, but to God. And, Paul’s statement that women should not teach men is actually a statement of egalitarianism. Paul is simply saying that, unlike the cult of Artemis, women do not have the automatic authority to teach men.

1 Timothy 2:8-15 should challenge us. Too often, we in the church seek to explain away Biblical teachings we do not like while loudly proclaiming those verses with which we agree. We also see how the church will re-evaluate long-standing interpretations of certain verses in light of changing social norms, such as the prohibition on the charging of interest (Luke 6:34-35), the divine right of kings (Romans 13:1), or the support of slavery (1 Peter 2:18). The question remains, however, as to whether we allow the Scriptures to impact our social outlook or vice versa.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is lasagna. Discussion at 6:45. If you have time, please read the attached excerpt from Wright. Hope to see you here.

[The Bible] carries the Word of God; and we (under grace with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not be using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message. 

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p.112.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.