In 1 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts the men and women in the church and reminds them of their spiritual responsibilities. In Part 1, we saw a spiritual responsibility of men in the church: praying. Today, we will look at a spiritual responsibility of women.
The Women—Submitting (2:9–15)
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 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. 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.
In these days of women’s rights and other feminist movements the word “submission” makes some people angry. Some well-meaning writers have even accused Paul of being a “crusty old bachelor” who was anti-women. Those of us who hold to the inspiration and authority of the Word of God know Paul’s teachings came from God and not from himself. If we have a problem with what the Bible says about women in the church the issue is not with Paul (or Peter—see 1 Peter 3:1–7), but with the Lord who gave the Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
The word translated “submission” in 2:11 (also Eph. 5:21–22; Col. 3:18) literally means “to rank under.” Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows “rank” has to do with order and authority, not with value or ability. A lieutenant is higher in rank than a private, but that does not necessarily mean he is a better man than the private. It only means the lieutenant has a higher rank and, therefore, more authority.
“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40) is a principle God follows in His creation. Just as an army would be in confusion if there were no levels of authority, so society would be in chaos without submission. Children should submit to their parents because God has given parents the authority to train their children and discipline them in love. Employees should submit to employers and obey them (Eph. 6:5–8). Citizens should submit to government authorities, even if the authorities are not Christians (Rom. 13; 1 Peter 2:13–20).
Submission is not subjugation or enslavement. Submission is recognizing God’s order in the home and the church, and joyfully obeying it. When a Christian wife joyfully submits to the Lord and to her own husband, it should bring out the best in her. (For this to happen the husband must love his wife and use God’s order as a tool to build with, not a weapon to fight with—Eph. 5:21-33.) Submission is the key to spiritual growth and ministry: husbands should be submitted to the Lord, Christians should submit to each other (Eph. 5:21), and wives should be submitted to the Lord and to their husbands.
The emphasis in this section is on the place of women in the local church. Paul admonishes these believing women to give evidence of their submission in several ways.
Modest dress (v. 9). The contrast here is between the artificial glamour of the world and the true beauty of a godly life. Paul does not forbid the use of jewelry or lovely clothes, but rather the excessive use of them as substitutes for the true beauty of “a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:1–6). The word translated “modest” simply means “decent and orderly.” Woman’s clothing should be decent, orderly, and in good taste. A woman who possesses this quality is ashamed to go beyond the bounds of what is decent and proper, but a woman who depends only on externals will soon run out of ammunition! She may attract attention, but she will not win lasting affection.
Ephesus was a wealthy commercial city, and some women there competed against each other for attention and popularity. In that day, expensive hairdos arrayed with costly jewelry were an accepted way to get to the top socially.
Paul admonished the Christian women to major on the “inner person,” the true beauty that only Christ can give. He does not forbid the use of nice clothing or ornaments. He urged balance and propriety, with the emphasis on modesty and holy character.
“It’s getting harder and harder for a Christian woman to find the right kind of clothes!” a church member complained to me one summer. “I refuse to wear the kind of swimsuits they’re selling! I simply won’t go swimming. Whatever happened to modesty?”
Godly works (v. 10). Paul did not suggest good works are a substitute for clothing! Rather, he was contrasting the “cheapness” of expensive clothes and jewelry with the true values of godly character and Christian service. “Godliness” is another key word in Paul’s pastoral letters (1 Tim. 2:2, 10; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:1). Glamour can be partially applied on the outside, but godliness must come from within.
We must never underestimate the important place godly women played in the ministry of the church. The Gospel message had a tremendous impact on them because it affirmed their value before God and their equality in the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28). Women had a low place in the Roman world, but the Gospel changed that.
There were devoted women who ministered to Jesus in the days of His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). They were present at His crucifixion and burial, and it was a woman who first announced the glorious news of His resurrection. In the Book of Acts, we meet Dorcas (9:36), Lydia (16:14), Priscilla (18:1–3), and godly women in the Berean and Thessalonian churches (17:4, 12). Paul greeted at least eight women in Romans 16; and Phebe, who carried the Roman epistle to its destination, was a deaconess in a local church (v. 1). Many believing women won their husbands to the Lord and then opened their homes for Christian ministry.
Quiet learning (v. 11). “Silence” is an unfortunate translation because it gives the impression that believing women were never to open their mouths in the assembly. This is the same word that is translated “peaceable” in 1 Timothy 2:2. Some of the women abused their newfound freedom in Christ and created disturbances in the services by interrupting. It is this problem that Paul addressed in his admonition. It appears women were in danger of upsetting the church by trying to “enjoy” their freedom. Paul wrote a similar admonition to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34), though this admonition may apply primarily to speaking in tongues.
Respecting authority (vv. 12–15). Women are permitted to teach, depending on the setting. Older women should teach the younger women (Titus 2:3–4). Timothy was taught at home by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). But in their teaching ministry, they must not “lord it over” men. There is nothing wrong with a godly woman instructing a man in private (Acts 18:24-28), but she must not assume authority in the church and try to take the place of a man. She should exercise “quietness” and help keep order in the church.
Paul gave several arguments to back up this admonition that the Christian men in the church should be the spiritual leaders. The first is an argument from Creation: Adam was formed first, and then Eve. (Paul used this same argument in 1 Cor. 11:1–10.) We must keep in mind that priority does not mean superiority. Man and woman were both created by God and in God’s image. The issue is only authority: man was created first.
The second argument has to do with man’s fall into sin. Satan deceived the woman into sinning (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:3); the man sinned with his eyes wide open. Because Adam rejected the God-given order, he listened to his wife, disobeyed God, and brought sin and death into the world. The submission of wives to their own husbands is a part of the original Creation. The disorder we have in society today results from a violation of that God-given order.
I do not think Paul is suggesting women are more gullible than men and thus more easily deceived; for experience proves both men and women are deceived by Satan. On one occasion, Abraham listened to his wife and got into trouble (Gen. 16). Later on, she gave him counsel and God told him to obey it (Gen. 21). In my own pastoral ministry, I have benefited greatly from the encouragement and counsel of godly women, including my wife; but I have tried not to let them usurp authority in the church. In fact, the godly women I know have no desire to “run” things in the church.
The creation of humans and their fall into sin both seem to put the woman in an inferior position, but she does have a ministry from God. There was probably a close relationship in Paul’s mind between what he wrote here and what Moses wrote in Genesis 3:16—the promise of the Savior who would be “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4). It was through a woman that the Savior came into the world. (Keep in mind Jesus had an earthly mother, but not an earthly father—Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:34–35.)
Paul teaches a practical lesson. He promised the woman would “be kept safe through childbirth” if “they” (both husband and wife) continued in sincere dedication to the Lord (v. 15). Does this mean Christian mothers will never die in childbirth? History and experience both tell us they do. God has His purposes and His ways are far above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8–9).
Paul laid down a general principle that encouraged the believing women of that day. Their ministry was not to “run” the church, but to care for the home and bear children to the glory of God (1 Tim. 5:14). Their “home congregation” would give them abundant opportunities for teaching the Word and ministering to the saints (Rom. 16:1–6).
Godly women do have an important ministry in the local assembly, even though they are not called to be teachers of the Word in a pastoral sense. If all is done “decently and in order,” then God will bless.
To think about and discuss
1. Why does Paul focus on women’s fashions? How should Christian women apply the dress code given in 1 Timothy 2:9–10 today?
2. Identify which ministries are open to women in the local church by applying the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11–13. Think about areas of leadership in which they may or may not be involved, according to the principles set out in these verses.
3. Many churches have gone to extremes in the area of women’s involvement. Some open up every area of ministry to them, including preaching and the eldership, while others have consigned them solely to the tasks of catering and cleaning. Discuss how a biblical approach to this issue can be reached.