Last post, Sarah asked a thought provoking question, regarding 1 Timothy 2:9-15,: When standing at the crossroads of mainstream and biblical, which way will you choose? Do you go with Scripture’s timeless truths or the ever-changing societal beliefs? But before we can understand the “meaty” verses, we have to first look at the background which surrounds this highly controversial passage.
What was the setting of 1 Timothy?
1 Timothy was written for the church in Ephesus. Some myths maintain that Amazons were the original founders of Ephesus, though the Ephesians ascribed that honor to a Greek hero named Androclus. Ephesus was the home of the Temple of Artemis, the fertility goddess, which has been claimed to contribute to a society which was overrun with fertility cults, priestesses, and prostitutes. Even the Amazons (mythical female warriors) are said to have begun a “sex reversal” in the city engaging in anti-male activities. Many liberal and egalitarian scholars argue that Ephesus was a place of “female-rule” or a feminist environment. However, Ephesus never had an egalitarian democratic ideology, nor did they include women in public offices or even most religious affairs with the different deities in Ephesus. We’ve taken a look at the outside context but what about the context surrounding 1 Tim. 2:11-15?
What was the purpose and for whom was it written?
1 Timothy was written by Paul to…you guessed it… Timothy. In 1 Tim. 3:14-15, Paul states, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” Paul was giving Timothy guidelines for God honoring behavior within the community of believers in Ephesus.
The intent was also to help Timothy deal with the false teachers/doctrines which were invading the church of Ephesus. But Paul doesn’t go into very many specifics on the false teaching or about its impact on the women in the church. Since this is the case, we must be careful not to reconstruct the scene or let it play too much of a role in our interpretation. What we do know is (1) false teachers sowed dissension within the believers (1 Tim.1:4-6; 6:4-5); (2) they taught abstinence from certain foods and marriage (1 Tim. 4:1-3); (3) the false teachers had persuaded many women to believe their teachings (1 Tim. 5:15; 2 Tim. 3:6-7).
Though this letter was also meant to help correct the problems of the false teachers, it does not mean that everything in the letter is for that specific situation. Some scholars argue that since this was written to a specific audience with a specific need, it does not apply to us today. But as we saw in 3:15, it was also for the behavior of God’s household. God inspired the complete text; therefore, as part of God’s household, it holds truth for us today.
Context of 1 Tim. 2:9-11
Verses 1-7 are an emphasis on believers praying for the salvation of all people, for whom Christ was sent and desires to be saved. Paul then says, in verse 8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” Paul is connecting the previous verses by saying “I desire then…” This links prayer for the unsaved with men praying, presumably for the salvation of those in verses 1-7. He’s calling the men to pray “in every place” which refers to churches everywhere, not just in Ephesus (1Cor. 1:2), pointing to a public worship context, not just a church home. So now that we’re able to understand a little more about Ephesus and the purpose of 1 Tim., let’s take an in-depth look at 1 Tim. 2:9-11.
9Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
Paul’s guidelines for women were probably stemmed from unsuitable attire/adornment being worn during public worship or meetings. We see in churches today, as well, an inappropriate focus on fashionable clothes, jewelry, and “who’s wearing what.” This improper focus extends from within the church setting. Wearing appropriate clothing and good works should happen “in every place” not just church meetings. Paul connects verse 9 with 8 by adding “likewise” or “in the same manner.” Just as he wanted men to pray in certain manner and attitude, so too should women pray with respectable apparel and clothed with modesty and good works. On a side note, even though Paul calls for men to pray and women to wear respectable adornment does not mean that women cannot pray in worship. In 1 Cor. 11:5, women were allowed to participate in prayer during public meetings. Ok, back on track now.
Some scholars have maintained that the Koine Greek word used for women or wives (γυναικας) should be interpreted more as ‘wives’ but if this was so, does that mean only wives should dress respectably and clothe themselves with good works? Should single women not be modest? It is highly unlikely that Paul would have suddenly inserted guidelines for husbands and wives into a letter dealing with false teachings and the conduct of the community of believers. These guidelines are for all men and women, married or single.
Verse 9 continues with a call to wear respectable apparel (καταστολη) and then an elaboration on what that entails. This kind of deportment entails modesty and self-control. What does self-control have to do with clothes? Well, have you ever seen a woman at church who is dressed to the nines? She looks as though she’s wearing every piece of jewelry, animal print clothing, and all makeup she owns. She’s distracting right? I know I have a hard time looking away. We must exercise self-control when putting an outfit together or even with makeup. Dressing in a God honoring way, not only involves dressing in a way that is modest, not causing our brothers stumble, but also in a way that is not distracting to those around us and does not take minds off Christ.
We should not be concerned with how impressive we look but are we showing the fruit of the Spirit in our demeanor. Is Christ’s light shining through? That is what is proper for God’s daughters. Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women wearing cute, fashionable clothes. Paul is not banning all clothes, jewelry, or even nice hairstyles. What he is saying though, is that women should not have a devotion to expensive clothing or a preoccupation with appearance. Women of that day, however, were known for plaiting their hair with gold and wearing immodest clothing which would be enticing to all who saw them. As a pagan and polytheistic culture, their sole ambition was their own desires and pleasure. Having a beautiful appearance was far more important than having a pure and God honoring heart and spirit. Is that very uncommon from today’s world?
But that is not how the body of Christ is supposed to act. We are to be set apart, different. Christian women should be known for pure and kind hearts that doing “good works” for those around them. We are not to be known for spending lots of money on our appearance or for wearing ostentatious and enticing clothing. As we can see, the text is not forbidding jewelry or clothing completely, but it is warning against extravagance and vanity.
Let’s take a look at the final verse of this post. 11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
Encouraging women to learn in the Jewish culture was unusual but Paul is showing his belief in the capabilities of women’s minds to profit from teaching and education. He is not so focused though on that fact that women can and should learn but he’s more concerned with the manner in which they learn. It’s like if I told a little girl, “You must be careful with the new toy and take care of it.” The focus of what I’m telling her is not on the permission to play with the toy, but the manner in which she does. Paul is encouraging the women in Ephesus to be “wise and godly learners.” You can’t learn very well if you’re being loud or dishonoring your teacher in class.
Since the focus of learning is only directed at the women, we can almost be sure that the women of Ephesus were expressing some sort of “liberation” from the male leadership and were speaking out against the teachings in their church. They were experiencing false teachings and so they needed to learn to be submissive to the church’s teachings, which were the truth. More than likely, there were women who were not learning quietly but were causing dissension, brought on by the false teachers. This goes against all that Christ says a woman should act like. In 1 Peter 3:4, women are told to have a “gentle and quiet spirit.” 1 Cor. 14:34 also states that women should be in submission to those in leadership. Women were to learn, yes. But the manner is of more importance. They were to learn quietly and in complete submission to the male leadership.
What does this mean for us today? As Christian women, we are to be known for our gentle spirit and what we’ve done because of Christ in us. So be mindful, when choosing your clothing, etc., of your motives. Are you dressing to impress or entice? Let honoring God in all you do be your motive. The fruits of the Spirit are what we should known for, instead of what designer we wear or possibly even how gaudy we might dress. Along with a quiet spirit, we need to learn in a submissive, God honoring way. Be respectful of those in leadership and learn from them quietly, without causing dissension. God has put them in authority and thus, we must be respectful of their teachings.
So does the fact that women were to learn imply they should eventually teach, as well? Does all learning lead to teaching? In the next blog, we hope to give you some answers to these questions. 1 Tim. 2:12 will be uncovered and the controversial topic on women teaching in the church will be discussed.
1 Timothy: A New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur
1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary, Volume #13) by Gordon D. Fee
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Thomas Schreiner and Andreas Köstenberger