We’ve started dealing with 1 Timothy 2 in a few blog posts. Some days ago, we tackled why the phrase “Adam was first formed, then Eve” has nothing to do with church leadership. Yesterday, we discussed the referent for the prohibition against women in 1 Timothy 2: that is, married women, not unmarried single women. After all, Paul would never encourage unmarried, single women in childbearing because to have children outside of marriage is fornication — and God judges fornicators (Hebrews 13:4).
Today, we’re back to target another important factor in assessing the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: that is, context. For there’s something wrong in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The issue at hand is not what some would expect me to write: that is, that “Paul didn’t write it,” as non-inerrantists claim. A number of feminists would expect me to write that “Paul is misogynist and that he’s against women,” but that doesn’t make sense in light of Paul saluting Priscilla and “the church that is their house” in Romans 16. It also doesn’t make sense in light of the fact that Paul salutes Euodia and Syntyche in his letter to the Philippians where he says that “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord…help these women who labored with me in the gospel” (Philippians 4:2-3).
What is the issue with 1 Timothy 2:11-15? The issue pertains to the context. What is the context? Chaos in the church. Unfortunately, doctrine was at the heart of the chaos, which is why Paul gives the prohibition he does.
My assessment, no matter how valid, means nothing without Scripture, so let’s get right into the heart of the context and the heart of the prohibition.
Chaos in the church (1 Timothy 2:1-10)
Paul begins 1 Timothy 2 by lifting up “for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). He prays for those who are in authority, those who are in charge, no matter where they exercise control — whether in society (political, such as a king), or church officials (such as church leadership: teachers, preachers, pastors, deacons, elders, etc.). So Paul says that we should pray for those in charge “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” Being a leader and being in authority often leads to more chaos and headache than most leaders can stand, but Paul prays that the experience be quiet and peaceable. And he encourages the church to pray for its leaders, whether political, secular, or spiritual. For, as Paul would go on to say in Romans 13, God has ordained the powers that be. Those that are in charge are where they are because of God.
It is no surprise, then, that he goes on in 1 Timothy 2 to write about the problems in the church. The church leaders, those in authority in the church, are having anything but a quiet and peaceable time. Paul desires that men praying and lifting up holy hands do so “without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 1:8). The fact Paul calls out the “wrath and doubting” shows that the worshippers are angry at one another and doubting God even in the midst of prayer. “In like manner,” Paul says, the women are to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (1 Timothy 2:10). When the women dress, they should dress in moderation, in decency, not “braided hair,” which was likely a sign of prostitution in the first century. By the middle of the first century, hairstyles of matrons and prostitutes had become so intertwined that one couldn’t tell them apart. This is why Paul writes to prohibit godly women from wearing provocative hairstyles that would make outsiders speak ill of Christianity and Jesus, its Founder.
Gold, pearls, and “Costly clothing” allude to wealth and status, and some women were displaying their opulence in worship. Worshipping God isn’t about showing one’s opulence and displaying one’s possessions but about giving one’s all to God. “Sunday Best” is designed to give God glory, not draw attention to ourselves, but some believers in the church at Ephesus were bringing glory to themselves (and only themselves) in worship. Paul says that worship is not designed to draw attention to us, but give attention to the Lord. These women in Ephesus should be doing that “which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (1 Timothy 2:10).
In other words, gaudy, opulent clothing designed to draw attention and give sex appeal shouldn’t be the aim of Christian women; rather, they should be doing “good works,” or, as Paul says it at the end of 1 Timothy, “rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18). If there is any opulence, it should be in doing things that bring glory to God, not flexing one’s financial muscles.
And it is this statement on good works that propels Paul into his discussion of why he isn’t allowing women to teach.
Putting 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Context
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says “I do not allow a woman to teach…” The question comes down to, “Why would Paul say such a thing?” If context matters, then the issue at hand has been the chaos in worship with anger, doubting, opulent clothing, and braided hair (a sign of promiscuity).
When we arrive at Paul not allowing women to teach, we see that there must be an issue with their doctrine or teaching. If chaos is happening in the church service, and teaching is included in the worship service (it is), then the teaching time and doctrine itself in the church could have, must have, been affected by the chaos.
In other words, Paul isn’t writing a letter to just give advice on church leadership (though he does give advice on church leadership in 1 Timothy 3). Rather, he’s writing 1 Timothy 2 in particular to set things straight, bring order into the house of God, where chaos had ensued and affected everything about church worship — including the doctrine.
I’d love to get into the specifics of the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, but we’ll do that in part 2 of our mini-series on “1 Timothy 2 In Context.” Stay tuned.