Paul is moving from his discussion of prayer in the worship assembly to the role of men and women in the worship assembly in these verses. Before we begin, let’s be reminded that he is still speaking within the context of Timothy’s mission to deal with the false teachers in Ephesus and return the church there and in the region to proper teaching and worship.
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. (2:8)
First is his instruction for the men: They are to be in prayer without anger or disputing. This is advice we can use today, for all too often there is disputing and anger more than prayer in the church. The men need to become men of prayer instead of being men of disputes.
Now comes the part that causes so much controversy in our times; his instruction for women. Verses 9-10 are simple enough; women are to dress modestly in church. Here, he doesn’t mean modesty in the way we might think of it today, for what he is telling Timothy is that he doesn’t want the women to dress up and show off, but rather to dress sensibly without trying to attract attention. It seems from verse 10 in particular that Paul’s attitude is that women should be known for the way they live their lives, their good deeds and godly living, not by their sense of fashion, for let’s be honest about this, as servants of Christ, we are all supposed to be modest, not calling attention to ourselves.
My job would be so much easier if Paul had stopped right there, but he didn’t. He goes on to say:
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. (11-12)
The Greek rendered “quietness” carries a sense of more than simple volume, for it implies something more along the lines of a “quiet spirit” than literally not being allowed to speak. “Full submission” is a little more difficult to get a handle on here, for one would typically see this kind of language used to describe the relationship between husband and wife in Paul’s writings, but remember our context: Paul is talking about worship in light of Timothy’s mission to deal with false teachers. Nothing in this text tells us that the false teachers were women, but there is an implication that women might have been more affected by them then the men, yet this is an implication only. Certainly we can take this to mean that they should be in full submission to the word, the message and to the authority of the teacher, after all, it is much more likely that a person will learn when they aren’t arguing with the teacher; I always taught my children that we learn more by listening than we do by talking.
Now take these thoughts as they relate to women, and compare them with what Paul has advised for the men. The men are to be men of prayer, not men of angry disputes; the women are to be of a godly spirit and submissive to proper teaching. It seems to me that these are roughly equivalent, while recognizing the somewhat different roles of men and women in society in the first century.
Paul doesn’t permit women to teach, nor have a position of authority over men. He didn’t say that women can never teach, and certainly Timothy of all people would know that women do teach, for he was taught by his mother and grandmother, and he is not the only example in Scripture, but remember that the context is about worship assemblies… It seems to me that Paul is talking about what we might call the preacher and a sermon, which would have been the job of an elder which will be discussed in the next chapter. He goes on to explain further:
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. (13-15)
Well dear reader, our adventures are never dull are they? Here is a short batch that causes as much controversy today as any passage in the New Testament. People write books on these verses, and others write books about the arguments over these verses, but only graduate students bother to read them, so I won’t get into all of that.
As I read these verses, it seems to me that Paul is simply pointing out that women and men have different roles to play in the church, just as they have different roles to play in the home. Neither role is better than the other, neither role is more important than the other, and surely neither one is dominant over the other. This is a good thing, for it brings about a partnership between people. A husband and a wife together are much stronger than a man and a woman separately. The Body of believers is much stronger containing men and women, each doing their part as God has ordained it, than a Body of men or a Body of women. In the final analysis, women can serve the Lord in great and powerful ways, but they do not need to become one of the boys to do it, for their role in the Body of Christ as women is every bit as important and significant for the Kingdom, as the role played by men.
Of course you’re welcome to disagree…