Women and the church: I Timothy 2

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Today’s reading: I Timothy 1-6.

Some passages are difficult to understand or accept, but learning “the whole counsel of God” is key to reading the Bible. John Piper asked his audience to judge whether this passage surprised or offended them. If it did not offend them, he said, they had grasped the essence of Biblical manhood and womanhood.

When a husband leads like Christ and a wife responds like the bride of Christ, there is a harmony and mutuality that is more beautiful and more satisfying and more fruitful than any pattern of marriage created by man. God loves his people and he loves his glory. And therefore when we follow his idea of marriage, we are most satisfied and he is most glorified. – John Piper

Some discredit this passage by saying it is only Paul speaking, or that it is a product of the times in which it was written. However, it fits with everything else the Bible says about men, women, and the church.

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 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. I Timothy 2:9-14

This passage relates to the discussion of submission in Ephesians 5. Based on that passage, Piper gives the following definitions:

  • “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”
  • “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”

Submission as used in the New Testament comes from a Greek military word describing how troops were ordered by their rank. In non-military use it referred to a voluntary willingness to agree, cooperate, or carry out a responsibility. It has none of the connotation of being “beaten into submission” as we might say today. It has much to do with working together according to an agreed hierarchy in order to accomplish common goals.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” Quietness doesn’t mean silence. Instead it refers to a peaceful and orderly life, as in Paul’s earlier statement, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” The twin tasks of teaching and wielding authority describe the position of the elder in the early church. With that in mind, Piper says, the best way to understand this verse is that women should not serve as elders in the church. The Bible does give examples of women teaching other women and children. There is even the example of Priscilla teaming up with her husband to teach Apollos.

“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.” Paul takes us back to the beginning to show that this lining up of men and women in a working order was not new on his part, but came from God’s original design. 

God created man first, put him in the garden, gave him the responsibility over the garden and the moral pattern for life in the garden, and then created woman as his partner and assistant to help him carry that responsibility into action. – John Piper

Both Adam and Eve sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. Eve was deceived when she stepped out of her role as assistant and took on the role of decision-maker without consulting Adam. Adam abandoned his position and accepted Eve’s decision. The result was disastrous for them both. Paul makes this point to help us avoid repeating their mistake. He wants the church body to live according to God’s original design. If the church will do so, then such mistakes can be prevented. Of course, both parties must fulfill their responsibility. Men can fail to lead effectively, to be servants, or to be Christ-like. Women can fail to act as partners and assistants.

The relationship between husbands and wives in the home carries through to the relationship between men and women in the church. Earlier I gave Piper’s definitions for headship and submission in the home, but he has given equally good definitions for authority and submission in the church.

  • “Authority” refers to the divine calling of spiritual, gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christ-like servant leadership and teaching in the church.
  • “Submission” refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church, both men and women, to honor and affirm the leadership and teaching of the elders and to be equipped by them for the hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.

Image by Bread for the World on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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6 thoughts on “Women and the church: I Timothy 2

  1. Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

    This question just seems to linger, waiting for an answer.

    Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

    And what is the bulwark and foundation of the truth?

    “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:14-15

    When you read this, add to it the mystical image of Christ wedded to the Church, consider the value of Her Traditions (such as the canon of scripture), the tireless fight against the introduction of heresies, the endless list of saints that She has produced from the charism of the Holy Spirit that watches over Her, you begin to form an understanding of something indeed mystical, yet organic, something that goes even beyond bricks, mortar, and even the souls within, it almost seems to be a repository of truth. Texts copied over and over, century after century with scarcely an error.

    “You are old and outdated, obsolete. You need to change with the times. The world will leave you behind.”

    No, She needs to do what She has always done, holding fast to the Traditions passed on through Her, testing everything, holding on to the good. Yes, much of the world will move along to its own tune, interested in the story, not in the truth. In fact, the rest of the will soon turn against Her, and begin to wage war against Her.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    • Regarding 1 Timothy 2, one could also argue that it is we who are a product of our times, and that Paul is speaking a more universal truth.

      Now we are all about equality, an equal share of power, wealthy, glory.

      But like it or not, God made us differently. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

      Why an all male priesthood? Why only women bearing children? Why shouldn’t women teach men?

      Could it be that the answers are not known to us fully? But if we are created in his image, and if he made us the way he did, then perhaps there are some truths knowable, some unknowable, but at order to things because he intended it to be so. But fascinated to think that there could be some knowable truths about God by looking at creation itself, even at us, male and female.

      • Good point that we are a product of our times. It seems like maleness and femaleness must be subsets of who God is, he encompassing all that and more.

  2. When churches cannot even get it right on homosex, how are they going to stand against the antichrist. The sad truth is, they won’t. They will likely join with him.

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Women and the church: I Timothy 2 | ChristianBlessings

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