Women in the Church- 1 Timothy 2:8-15

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.

 I. Exegesis
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.


  1. November 18, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    Lane, thank you for this excellent beginning on an important topic. I look forward to reading the full commentary. I love this: “Paul wants the women to strive for true adornment, which consists of good works coupled with modesty and self-control,” i.e, the “complete” woman inward and outward. Blessings, joan

  2. Fr. Bill said,

    November 19, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you, Lane, for this. I look forward to your next installment. I commend your acknowledgement of the major hinges and planks of the whole passage (male/female; prayer as an organizing theme). The same hinges and planks are visible in 1 Cor. 11:1-16, but Paul there zeros in on the veil as the point of contention while 1 Tim 2 would suggest a broader area of concern (deportment generally, especially as it relates to the relationship of the sexes in worship).

    What I say next intends no criticism at all; rather, I would make a gesture toward another area of spiritual labor that complementarians, patriarchalists (whatever we call them/us) have not done, viz. the very laborious work of synthesizing the teaching of the Bible on the nature and relationship of the sexes into a coherent body of doctrine. In a real sense, the Christological syntheses of the Fourth Century, crystallized in the Nicene Creed, offered nothing that was not already clear in the NT and believed by Christians of the first three centuries. But, because of the Arian challenges, the Church had need to do the hard work of formulating Biblical doctrine that had not been expressly formulated theretofore.

    The same situation obtains today with respect to the Bible’s teaching on the sexes. When the Bible’s teaching in this area is formulated, it will offer nothing that is not already visible in the Bible and the faith of God’s people. However, it is the feminist/egalitarian challenge — every bit as toxic and threatening today as Arianism was 17 centuries ago — which presents the Church with the critical mission of formulating in express, concise, and coherent ways what the Bible has always taught.

    We face two hurdles, neither of them surmounted yet. First to undertake the task, the Church is in far worse condition for such a mission than it was 17 centuries ago. It is no longer possible for the Church to speak ecumenically as it could in Athansius’ day. No council by any Christian communion will ever hold the same force as the Nicene Bishops’ convocation, though the Romans would think themselves capable of it, possibly the Orthodox as well.

    Beyond that hurdle, there is the simple inertia of *anyone* undertaking this task. Worse, it seems to me that complementarian “Generals and Colonoels,” the ones who ought to be at the forefront of formulating a coherent theology of sex, do not even see the need for this project. The best work out there is till Stephen Clark’s _Man and Woman in Christ_. He is Roman (limiting the attention of evangelicals who desperately need what he is offering), and, his magisterial work is now over 20 years old. Can no evangelical of any stripe step up to the plate??

    The point: the finely focused exegetical, grammatical, lexical work typical of evangelicals today (e.g. Koesterberger’s work and similar works) are hobbled by an absence of Biblical-theological context. When you read the egalitarians’ work, they are rewriting not only the exegesis of the half-dozen NT texts that bear on this issue, they are deconstructing the Church’s teaching of the past two millennia. It’s an easy thing for them to do, when that teaching has never been coherently organized and set forth.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 19, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    You’re absolutely right that we need to do this work. And not only do we need a complete system on this, but it also needs to factor in our practice: if women are not be in the positions of authority in the church, what are they to do? How can we best use their talents in the church to make the church grow. Fr. Bill, there is one Protestant organization doing something like this. It’s called the Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. http://www.cbmw.org/
    They have produced a gigantic volume of essays entitled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, available here:
    Sorry for the lengthy link. Just copy and paste it. They talk about all the exegetical issues, theological issues, practical issues and historical issues. It is rather comprehensive.

  4. Fr. Bill said,

    November 19, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the link, Lane. Here are some others you may find helpful, if you do not have them:

    This link is the front door to the PDF version of _Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood_ by Piper/Grudem.

    This link is to the front door of an html version of the entirety of Stephen B. Clark’s magisterial work _Man and Woman in Christ_.

    This is the URL of a page of links to entire books at CBMW’s site (in both HTML and PDF versions). Included on this page are the links to Clark and Piper/Grudem above, and 13 additional works.

    For all of this, the approach of CBMW’s work since its inception in 1987 has been to focus on the exegetical, lexical, practical, and historical issues related to this debate. Yes, they also touch — here and there, through a variety of authors, writing from a variety of doctrinal frameworks — some narrow theological issues. For example, recently some such as Ware have come forth to answer Giles concerning the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father and the implication of this issue to the overall theology of the sexes.

    But, they do not attempt what I propose is a missing factor in the whole debate. Indeed, you would think, from surveying the key works created by or promoted by CBMW, that the controversy turns on the proper exegesis of about six NT passages! To the degree that one construes the controversy in these terms, to the same degree the egalitarian interlopers will lope past them, dismissing their work as theologically unmoored.

    I know the people involved here, and I’ve interacted with them for years on this very topic. Tim Bayly, the previous executive director of CBMW, is a good friend, and I know that he agrees with me about the missing piece to the complementarian response. Just when and how that missing piece will take shape is anyone’s guess at this point. Until enough people recognize its absence, I fear that complementarian apologetics will continue to be perceived (and, to achieve its aims) as a little of this, a little of that, and so forth.

  5. November 20, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Having read both Clark’s work and that of Piper and Grudem, I’d still have to say Clark’s work is the superior volume. Evangelicals as a whole still will not stand dogmatically on this issue (the biblical roles of men and women) enforcing it on an eccesasatical level. Organizations such as Vision Forum are taking us in that direction, yet until we fully grasp the abuse of this fundamental doctrine and it’s detrimental affect upon society (and the Church), we are only treating the symptoms, not offering a cure.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Fr. Bill, I see you are ahead of me here. Do you think that the underlying issue is the Trinity, or is it even broader than that?

  7. Fr. Bill said,

    November 21, 2006 at 8:22 am

    “Do you think that the underlying issue is the Trinity, or is it even broader than that?”

    In one sense, the besetting sin of egalitarianism is worldliness, and this is a root of many departures from the faith. If the message of the Bible encounters a powerful contra-message from the world, this poses a choice to the believer: will I confess, teach, and defend God’s Word, or will I take depart from God’s Word by way of re-interpreting it, so that its message no longer opposes the conviction of the world in this or that point?

    This is how we should understand the creation-evolution controversy. While I support the intelligent-design folks for their advancing the creationist position, I deplore their worldliness in abandoning the young-earth model of origins, geology, etc. In the face of unambiguous evidence from Holy Writ that Genesis 1-11 is both history and recent history, they believe the world’s message that Genesis 1-11 is meta-history and that the universe is mind-numbingly old. They go on to insist that the universe shows unmistakeable signs of intelligent design, using the latest advances in communication theory to make their case. Good and well, but the whole enterprise is vitiated by their prior capitulation to the world vis-a-vis the age of the universe.

    For the egalitarian, it is world’s message about the sexes — their nature and their relationship to one another — that challenges the patriarchy of the Bible. Having chosen the world, the egalitarian now must begin deconstructing and reconstructing 2,000 years of doctrine, pastoral theology, and ethics. And it is in this enterprise that they are dismantling the entire edifice of the faith.

    Yes, the Trinity is involved. Egalitarianism — if followed to its end — results in unitarianism. It begins by denying the economic hierarchy within the Trinity (as Groothius is now doing) and the next steps lead toward a denial of the persons themselves. This latter step can be seen in the current Christology of the leaders of the Episcopal Chuch USA, whose female presiding bishop was asked point-blank in a recent interview if she were not, then, Unitarian. She denied this, but she may be the last presiding bishop to do so. God’s own name for Himself — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is already being reworked along utilitarian lines.

    Also dismantled in the egalitarian project is the incarnation. If it were not bad enough that it is the SON who became incarnate, it’s worse that he did so as a human male. And, it is insufferable to suppose that he remains a human male for all eternity future. So, you find egalitarians who suppose the incarnation was only between Jesus’ birth and death. But, the implications of the orthodox doctrine are too powerful against egalitarianism for them not to eventually deny the doctrine outright.

    Also dismantled is the economy of salvation. Male headship is the dynamic by which all are damned in Adam. Male headship is the dynamic by which all are redeemed in Christ. Remove male headship and you remove the economic dynamics of redemption itself. Not only will they end up denying Romans 5, they must also deny their pet piece of Pauline prose: Galatians 3.

    This is why I (and one or two others) insist that the egalitarian heresy stands alongside the Arian heresy in terms of its toxicity, in terms of its potential for wholly erasing the Christian faith. While it is true that egalitarians today do not go the whole way in their apostasy — stopping at almost every point along that road, depending on whom you read — their disciiples, like all disciiples, will go beyond their masters with less and less fear of undermining anything of genuine importance. After all, they have already repudiated the source of all sound doctrine.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    November 21, 2006 at 10:11 am

    All I can say is, “Wow.” I agree with you. And thanks for a most penetrating comment. I also agree with your assessment of ID, although I have no compunction in using what’s good of their arguments for the service of YEC.

    What you say really gibes with the Letham book on the Trinity I just finished reading. By the way, you wouldn’t have too many problems reading that book, though he is Reformed, and you are Roman Catholic. The Trinity is something creedal to which we both hold. I think you would enjoy that book a great deal.

  9. Fr. Bill said,

    November 21, 2006 at 10:56 am

    Hmmm. I fear that the rarity of my ecclesial complexion has miscommunicated. While I admire and rejoice in any and all orthodoxy of my Roman brothers, I am not Roman Cathlic. I am Anglican (which to some evangelicals amounts to being a crypto-Roman Catholic; but that’s for another discussion). I am married (25 years) and have four daughters.

    In the “About this blogger” page in my own blog, I write this:

    “A word about the blog ID “Fr. Bill” …

    “ ‘Fr.’ is an abbreviation for ‘father,’ and I claim entitlement to that form of address on biological, legal, Biblical, spiritual, and ecclesiastical grounds. I am, as I said, the biological father of four daughters. I am legally the father-in-law of one young man (so far). Moreoever, I am that same young man’s godfather, having stood for him as godfather and sponsor at his baptism prior to his becoming not only my son in God, but my son-in-law. These uses of the title are licit on the gounds of copious Biblical pattern and precedent. Finally, ‘father’ is the proper way I am addressed by members of my own ecclesial communion, or by others outside it who respect its customs.

    “If you are one of those who blanch at the use of the title ‘father’ because of what Jesus taught in Matthew 23:9ff, I will not hold it against you if you address me as ‘Bill.’ I receive the application of the title to myself with joy from those who understand its blessedness and its compliance with our Lord’s teaching.”

    As to the toxicity of egalitarianism, I am encouraged by Grudem’s latest work, which I survey briefly here:


    I wish he had come forth with this analysus a decade ago. The evidence for what he lays out today was all there back then, and before then.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:01 am

    My apologies, Fr. Bill. I do not meet with too many Anglicans who take the name “Father.” Assumptions, assumptions. I’m glad that Grudem has written that book. Letham really demolishes Bilezekian in an appendix to his book.

  11. Fr. Bill said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:22 am

    “I do not meet with too many Anglicans who take the name “Father.” ”

    I guess you and I travel different paths through the Lord’s vineyard! I never met one who did not use the title. FYI, many conservative Lutheran pastors use the title as well, indeed, all whom I’ve ever met.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Well, that shows you how many Anglicans I know! :-)

  13. Angie Welch said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Your blog is on the very high level and includes a lot of very interesting information and was very useful for me.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    March 9, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Thank you Angie. Praise the Lord that you have found it helpful. Welcome to my blog.

  15. September 15, 2007 at 9:36 am

    […] the Church, or Roman Wives, Roman Widows, or the commentaries by Ryken and Barcley) is on my blog here, here, and here. If anyone wants the revised version, shoot me a private message with your email on […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: