I am going to begin a series of posts on this rather important passage. There is so much written on it. I counted the entries in Mounce’s commentary just on this passage, and there are 300, many of them entire books! In my opinion, the very best book is _Women in the Church_, by Kostenberger and Schreiner (editors). This just came out in a second edition, which I have not read. I wrote a paper in seminary on this passage. I thought the reading would never end. But I did manage to read all the most important English commentaries, and all the most important articles, and a few of the monographs. Here is the result of my research (I will post this in several posts, so as to make it manageable). The bibliography will be given with the last post in the series. The footnotes are not hyperlinked (couldn’t get it to work in WordPress), but are in bold italics.
There are few passages in the New Testament more in dispute than this one. In the bibliography that Mounce has compiled on this passage, there are three hundred and twenty-five entries (eight pages of small print). Cultural issues and the relative obscurity of verses 14-15 have caused this deluge of ink. Through an examination of the exegesis of the passage and a further examination of the hermeneutical issues surrounding the exegesis, I will attempt to prove that Paul had a universally binding application in view regarding a prohibition of women teaching Christian doctrine to or having spiritual authority over men in a church setting.
A. The Flow of I Timothy as a whole
The dispute about Pauline authorship need not concern us much here, as it has little bearing on the precise meaning of our passage. However, inasmuch as canonical authority rests on the Pastoral Epistles (PE), we want to affirm its canonical status. I personally will assume that Paul wrote the PE. The next question (and a very important one) is the reason for the letter. False teachers had infested the Ephesian church. They were interested in long genealogies (1:4), myths, speculations, had erroneous conceptions about the law (1:6-7), and as a result were leading people astray from the truth (especially, it seems, some of the women, such as the widows). The corrective to these evils is a straight proclamation of the truth of the Gospel (3:14-16), and correct behavior in the church of God (which would presumably be antithetical to the false teaching: in 1:10, Paul makes the explicit connection between right doctrine and right living). These are the things that we can know for certain about the false teaching. Anything else goes beyond the scriptural evidence and must be weighed very carefully before being allowed as evidence. See more in the post on hermeneutics (forthcoming). Behavior in the church setting and the truth of Gospel in the context of false teaching is the subject of I Timothy.
B. Immediate Context
I have found that the immediate context has been almost universally neglected by advocates of the egalitarian position, and by a good many of the proponents of the complementarian position as well. This is all the more startling given the οὖν (oun, meaning “therefore”) in the postpositive position in verse 8. One might have expected the egalitarian position to take more notice of the universals in verses 4-5. One might also have expected the complementarian position to take more notice of the qualifications for elders immediately following.1 Therefore, we will not ignore either context.
In 2:1, Paul makes it plain that prayer is his driving concern for the first part of this chapter. Four different words for prayer or components of prayer form the first verse, which is then expanded to avoid cliquish praying for only those with whom one has agreement. This could be directed against the false teachers, who might have been encouraging people to pray only for those who are close to themselves, thus putting a wedge in the body of Christ. Against the false teachers’ insistence on knowledge outside the Gospel, Paul reaffirms the one true way to God, which is through Jesus Christ, the faithful and true Mediator. If this fact would be remembered by the members of the Ephesian church, then it would follow that the men would cease their wrangling and their angry arguments. And so, we have a natural progression into verse 8.
The passage immediately following, in 3:1-7, deals with the qualifications for elders. This passage is also much in dispute. However, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that elders must be men. This is evident from verse 2: μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, “mias gunaikos andra.” In order to be a husband, one must be a man. Vern Poythress argues that male leadership in the home requires male leadership in the church. He is one of the few who note the connection of 3:1-7 to 2:9-15.2 Plainly, there are role distinctions within the unity of the body of Christ. The relationship of the role of men and women to Galatians 3:28 will be handled in the hermeneutics post.
C. Structure of I Timothy 2:8-15.
Verses 8-10 have to do with behavior in the church, presumably in the worship service, but also having broader implications. Verse 8 deals with men, and verses 9-10 deal with women. Mounce notes that usually the division occurs between verse 9 and verse 10, because of gender issues. However, the disturbance in the church is the more likely candidate for division in the passage.3 In verse 11, the subject shifts slightly. This is indicated from the shift to singular “woman” from the plural in verses 9-10, as well as the shift from praying to learning. Verses 11-12 indicate what a woman must not do, and verses 13-14 indicate the reason(s) why. Verse 15 is a concession to the possible misunderstanding and alarm that might have been created by Paul attributing the fall of the human race solely to women. More on this later.
D. Verses 9-10
One of the main questions here is whether Paul is inferring prayer as the context of women’s behavior in these verses, or whether the men are the ones praying, while the women adorn themselves properly. We know that women are allowed to pray in the worship service (I Cor. 11:5), but is that the issue here? Specifically, is proseuchesthai (“to pray”) to be understood from verse 8, despite the already existing complementary infinitive (“to adorn”) in vs. 9? Clark (citing Meyer) indicates that to understand another infinitive is grammatically impossible.4 However, as noted above, the structure of the context indicates that prayer was a major concern of Paul in this chapter. The “proton panton” (“first of all”) of verse 1 indicates that prayer was of paramount importance. It is then more than likely that the “therefore” of vs. 8 refers back to verse 1. This adds weight to the idea that prayer should be understood for the women as well. The very fact that the infinitive “to pray” is not in verse 9 could indicate Paul’s sensitivity to this grammatical issue. The “likewise” at the beginning of verse 9 indicates at the very least that what he says about the men in church will be paralleled by this statement about women. I think that it is safe to conclude, therefore, that prayer is to be understood with regard to women, though larger concerns are not out of the question.5 The verse then describes the manner in which they are to behave in church, with special regard to prayer.
The English Standard Version translates the second half of verse 9 with admirable literalness here. Braided hair was an excuse to show off various valuable gems and gold jewelry (so most commentators). Therefore, braided hair is to be taken with both gold and pearls. Costly attire is then something separate. This corresponds with the connectives used (kai…e…e…e).6 The point is that women are not to show off. Marshall puts it well: “The picture is of a flashy luxury that is out of place in sinners seeking the mercy of God.”7 As many commentators note, this passage does not forbid the use of jewelry. It forbids the ostentatious showing of such jewelry.8 Verses 9-10 have the same structure as the statement, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The statement does not negate the importance of sacrifice, but rather relativises sacrifice in regard to mercy. In the same way, Paul wants the women to strive for true adornment, which consists of good works coupled with modesty and self-control, not for the merely outward adornment of jewelry.
1. One who does is Mounce, 2000, pg 118.
2. See Piper/Grudem, 1991, pp. 233-247, esp. pg. 238; See also Blomberg, Two Views on Women in Ministry, 2001, pg. 364.
3. Mounce, 2000, pg. 103.
4. See Clark, 1983, pg. 43.
5. See Lock, 1924, pg. 29.
6. See, e.g., Mounce, 2000, pg. 114.
7. Marshall, 1999, pg. 450.
8. Knight, 1992, pg. 136.