Unpacking a Controversial Passage: 1 Timothy 2

 
Phillip Jensen | April 2nd 2019

The following piece is an extract from 1 & 2 Timothy For You by Phillip Jensen. God's Word For You is a series of expository guides which walk you through books of the Bible verse by verse.

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”       1 Timothy 2:11-15

“No passage in recent times has come under such intense study as this one. The intensity of the study and the plethora of books and articles are indicative not of the difficulties in the text so much as of the desire to understand it in the light of present social changes.

1 & 2 Timothy For You

1 & 2 Timothy For You

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Expository guide to 1 & 2 Timothy that can be read as a book; used as a devotional; and utilized in teaching and preaching

Paul’s concern in these verses is that women need to learn. Learning is the principle verb of the sentence in 1 Timothy 2:11. This is the command of the apostle and not given as an optional extra to those women who enjoy learning. All Christian women are commanded to learn. How else will they be able to express their profession, if they do not know and understand the gospel?

It is the manner of learning that is emphasised. A Christian woman must undertake her learning in a Christian fashion: quietly. “Quietness” is critical to understanding the passage. The word “quiet” can refer to silence, but equally it can refer to a “quiet demeanour”—“the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” of 1 Peter 3:4. In our passage, it is more likely to mean a quietness of demeanour than silence, given the same word is used earlier in the chapter in this way (1 Timothy 2:2). However, it is the rest of verse 11 and all of verse 12 that explains what Paul means by learning quietly, for not only does he commence verse 11 with the phrase, literally, “in quietness” but he also concludes verse 12 with the same phrase. So to learn quietly is to learn with all submissiveness—that is, for a woman to place herself under authority. Paul explains it by the contrast of verse 12—he does “not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man”. Learning is contrasted to teaching as submission is contrasted to authority. A woman’s learning is not part of a rebellion, with the end goal of becoming the teacher and leader, but rather part of a growth in understanding in order to know how to behave as a woman who professes godliness. So the contrast is repeated at the end of the verse—”to be in quietness” (RV).

Understanding Authority

The word translated “authority” here is unusual, and some have translated it not as having authority but as usurping authority, or domineering. The inherent weakness in such a translation is that it fails to make any contextual sense. Why would Paul need to prohibit something as obviously evil as usurping authority at this point and in this way? And why would it only be women to whom he speaks of this problem? It requires creating a speculative back story where the false teachers were women, when so far only men have been mentioned as false teachers (1:3, 6, 20—the ESV obscures this by translating the word as “persons” in verses 3 and 6).

The controversial nature of 2:11-12 has attracted more analysis and comment than almost any other passage in the Bible. Without enumerating or answering all the proposed alternatives, it is worth noting that the understanding of the previous paragraph matches that of the rest of the New Testament, especially of Paul, whose teaching in all the different churches is the same (see 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 14:33):}}

  • Submissiveness is a spiritual good that is taught to all Christians (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 16:16). It is based in our understanding of God sovereignly instituting human authority (Romans 13:1). It was demonstrated by none other than God the Son towards his human parents (Luke 2:51).}}

  • Teaching is more than downloading information; it is a relational activity of leadership. So, leaders must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 4:11-12; Titus 1:9) because teachers have an authority, which requires disciples (students) to follow, respect, submit and imitate (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In this way the church is governed by the word of God rather than by power, politics, personalities or prescriptions.}}

  • While males and females are created together in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and enjoy the same status in Christ as heirs of eternal life (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7), they continue in sexual polarity and differing responsibilities in this lifetime (1 Timothy 5; Titus 2).}} Elsewhere, Paul speaks of a rule in all the churches about women not speaking and being in submission in the churches (1 Corinthians 14:33-36).

The Reasons for Prohibition

Return to the text of 1 Timothy 2, in verses 13-14 Paul gives two reasons “for” his desire for women to learn quietly in submission and not to teach or exercise authority: namely, creation (v 13) and the fall (v 14). God’s order of creation—“Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v 13)—is significant in the Bible’s understanding of authority. For John the Baptist, it was a remarkable thing that “he who comes after me ranks before me” but it was explicable “because he was before me” (John 1:15; see also Romans 9:12). The principle of the firstborn may not be fashionable today, but was part of the biblical world and of Paul’s (Spirit-guided) understanding. While men and women are interdependent in procreation (1 Corinthians 11:11-12), the man was not made for the woman in the way that the woman was made for the man (1 Corinthians 11:7-9). It was in the fall of Genesis 3:13 that “the woman was deceived” (1 Timothy 2:14)—“the serpent deceived me”—and in Genesis 3:17 God censured the man for accepting her teaching (“Because you have listened [or “hearkened”] to the voice of your wife”). She was by her deception a “transgressor”, crossing the line that God has established. Adam was not deceived—he had directly received God’s command (2:16-17), and he wilfully became the sinner who brought all humanity into sin. Eve’s participation in the sin of the world was to teach and lead her husband; his was to accept her lead and teaching. Thus, it is always called the sin of Adam; it is in Adam, not Eve, that we all both sin and die (Romans 5:12, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

The Good Works

Eve’s salvation did not come through teaching and leading her husband but through childbearing. Bearing children was part of her creation purpose and joy (Genesis 1:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12). From her offspring would, eventually, come the child who was born to save her (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4). This verse is not saying that every woman must have children, nor that every woman who has children is saved, but that the work of the gospel restores the order of creation. And salvation for the Christian woman is to be lived out “in faith and love and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:15). Here are the good works of verse 10, which truly express and adorn the women who profess godliness: faith, love and holiness. This is the way a godly woman, in any age, will choose to dress herself, as she works out her salvation “with” the educated wisdom of “self-control”.

Questions

  1. Are you by nature more drawn to rejecting, embracing or reinterpreting this passage?

  2. How do Paul’s words about the roles of men and women shape the practices of your church? How do they shape your own attitudes in this area?

  3. Is there anything that this section has raised that you need to pray, think and talk about? How will you make sure that you do so?

1 & 2 Timothy For You is available to buy here.

Phillip Jensen

Philip Jensen was the Dean of Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral, and an outspoken leader of evangelicals in Australia and throughout the world. He is married to Helen and they have three children and 13 grandcildren. Phillip is Founder of Two Ways Ministries and the author of many books, including By God's Word, The Archer and the Arrow and the world-famous Two Ways to Live evangelistic resource.

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