What about the verses on women in 1 Timothy 2?

I have had others ask that I go into more detail on some of the challenging passages, so here are some thoughts on 1 Timothy 2.  (If you are not interested in the details of this subject, I suggest you skip this post!)  I am no Greek scholar, but I have had an interest in the topic of women in ministry for many years. The book I wish I had written on this subject is called, "Why Not Women" by Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton.  Here is their take on 1 Timothy 2:8-15

 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

David Hamilton, who wrote his master's thesis on these difficult passages, describes the structure of the passage in 1 Timothy 2 as "particularization and chiasm using an A-B-A-B interchange" (two well known literary devices that Paul used on other occasions). "The overall principle is, God wants to save everyone. The particular examples are what God wants to do with men and women. Within the last example, women, Paul used a mini-chiasm. He began talking about women in general, then switched back to a particular woman, then switched back to women in general." David goes on to diagram this out, and to explain in considerable detail why he concludes this. 

Again I quote from him:
"The structure of Paul's communication has been very clear so far. Paul laid out the general principle–God's redeeming love for all humanity and our need to pray. Then he gave two examples of how redeeming love should look like when it's lived out: first for the men of the church and then for the women. In verse 10, Paul spoke to women involved in spreading the Gospel. As he did so, he remembered one woman who had perhaps played a prominent role in the church at Ephesus. So in verse 11, he stopped speaking in broad, general terms (everyone, men, women) and addressed the case of this one woman. 

How can we say that? This is based on a very clear grammatical shift in the Greek. From verse 11 to the middle of verse 15, the plural nouns are gone. They're all singular: "a woman." "she must be silent" and "she will be saved through childbearing." Then in the second half of verse 15, Paul returned to the plural, "if they continue in faith…" So as Paul spoke to the women again, his grammar formed a small chiasm:
verses 9 -10 "women" (plural)
verses 11-15a "a woman" (singular)
verse 15b "women" (plural). 

"Why did Paul make this dramatic switch from plural to singular and back to plural? I suggest he had a specific Ephesian woman in mind… The context suggests she was a vocal promoter of the false teaching troubling the Ephesian church. Perhaps she was one of the leaders of this heretical group.  

One of the major theses of this entire passage was stopping deception in the Ephesian church. Eve was deceived and so was this woman who was to be silenced.
Hamilton then goes on to describe Paul's response. Again I quote:
"Even though the woman was deceived and had deceived many, Paul gives wonderful, redeeming instructions on how to deal with her.
"Paul's first word was that "a woman should learn." This phrase would better reflect the original Greek if it were translated "must learn." It is not a suggestion but an imperative…the only direct command in this whole chapter. By implication, this woman must be instructed. Timothy was to make sure this woman was given an education.
"What a gracious response toward someone who had been causing so much harm. Paul realized the problem lay primarily in the fact that like all the women of her day, this woman… was at an educational disadvantage…Because Paul understood this, he extended more grace to her than he did to Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus who had sinned knowingly…. The antidote to deception is learning the truth. Therefore Paul demanded that this woman be taught…
Paul went on to say how this woman should learn "In quietness and full submission." Again, this qualification was not a rebuke. He was not saying she should just sit down and shut up. The noun used in verses 11 and 12 is related to the word used in verse 2 of this same chapter where Paul said that the goal of all believers was to live "quiet and peaceful lives." 

I highly recommend the book by Cunningham and Hamilton to anyone who is interested in understanding the issues involving women.

Another book I would like to highly recommend is a new one by Jon Zens called, "What's with Paul and Women?" Jon has been a great resource on this subject for years.  He takes a different tack to come to the same conclusions based on the word "authentein."

9 thoughts on “What about the verses on women in 1 Timothy 2?”

  1. I appreciate this topic as those verses have troubled me for years, given that there are many other examples of women in leadership roles in the Bible. Thanks!

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  2. thanks for addressing this! such an important issue that is shrouding by much misunderstanding in the church!
    i have taught classes on written articles on this subject and am always thrilled to see people grow and be set free (both men and women) in this area of truth and life.

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  3. Thank you Felicity for being persistent and kind against those who use their own understanding to limit and hinder the expression of God thru the body of Christ.
    It seems amazing to me that some want to find ways to limit God instead of ways to allow him to move. He wants to do so much in us, and thru each of us. You are helping to set many free.

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  4. Felicity –
    I so appreciate your contribution to the conversation about women in ministry. Years ago I found Sarah Sumner’s book, Men and Women in the Church, to be liberating for me as a women who grew up in a conservative evangelical church where women didn’t lead. Also, N.T. Wright, as always, has good things to say: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm
    I have discovered, however, that while there may be more freedom for women to minister in the house church environment, when the people in those house churches come from backgrounds where women don’t lead, or, maybe, don’t even speak up much, they don’t necessarily let go of their long-held beliefs about the roles of women in church.
    Do you have the same experience? If so, how have you responded? As a young woman who is growing into an understanding of how I’ve been misled about my role in the Kingdom, and limited in what my role can be, I often find myself feeling/acting defensive when I feel slighted or devalued. It’s an area where I want to grow and I find it helpful to me to hear about the journeys other women have taken.

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  5. April, thank you for the N. T. Wright article — it is excellent!
    I plan to cover the other points you mentioned in your comment in a future post. Sadly, we as women have become conditioned to expecting a man to lead. I’m very hopeful that your generation of women will break out of this more quickly than my generation has.

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