This is a passage that there can be the temptation to skip the context and hurry to verse 12 to understand what it means. But we cannot understand these passages properly without the context. So the intention of the lesson today is not to go through all the possibilities of how to understand this passage. Rather, I want to not lose sight of what Paul is teaching. If we can keep the context in mind, I believe the text, even the questionable ones, will be far easier to understand.
The apostle Paul is laying out foundations for their faith. He has taught them to stay focused on the gospel, not diverting to endless speculations or fruitless discussions. He has taught that God’s people are a praying people, praying to be able to live quiet and peaceful lives, being godly and honorable in every way, so that the gospel can be spread in that atmosphere. Now Paul has not left this idea as we come to verses 8-15 of 1 Timothy 2. Paul wants living lives that are godly and dignified in every way. So Paul is going to give us a picture of what that looks like.
Praying Men (2:8)
Paul begins by saying that he wants the men in every place praying. We noted last time the importance of being a praying people. Verse 8 emphasizes this idea further. Men are spread throughout the world representing God through the fact that they are praying in all places. Paul has already told us the content of these prayers in verse 1. We are making petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for all people. As these prayers are being made, men are lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. The apostle Paul hits the men hard here, causing them to really evaluate their lives and what they are reflecting to the world.
First, men are to pray with holy hands lifted. This is not the apostle Paul telling men that this is the only prayer position for men. This is clear from other places in scriptures where people are praying while on their knees along with a variety of other positions. Rather this is a picture representing our spiritual lives. The picture of holy hands is one that means your hands are not stained with sins. That these hands are lifted to God means you are proclaiming before God that you have nothing to hide. It is a picture reflecting the sincerity of the men. There is nothing hidden in their lives. They live open and honest lives, hands exposed before God. This point goes back to 1 Timothy 1:5. We are declaring that we are coming to God with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Remember that the apostle Peter warned the husbands that their prayers are blocked if they are not living with their wives in an understanding way and showing honor to them (1 Peter 3:8). So the same idea rests here. We must come to God with a pure and sincere heart as we offer our prayers to God.
Second, Paul identifies potential trouble areas for the men. Godly men are praying, not fighting and not full of anger. This is just an important question to ask ourselves. Am I an angry person? I think most men need to be careful about answering this question because we would all like to think that we are not. If you are not sure, you should ask your wife, your children, or your friends. Am I an angry person? Do I get angry easily? This is not the way of a godly man. Further, do I fight or quarrel with people verbally? Am I someone who likes to start a fight? Do I like to argue? This is not the way of a godly man. Anger and quarreling reveal our lack of holiness. Do not get angry. Instead, pray. Do not fight or argue. Instead, pray. Our society needs much more of this. We need more men praying to God for themselves and for others, with sincere hearts, without anger or arguing.
Godly Women (2:9-12)
The apostle Paul turns to the women and gives them a picture of what it means to be godly women. Godly women dress themselves in a way that shows a devotion to God. The attention is not to be drawn to your clothing or to your body, but to your good works that you do for the Lord. This is hard to do in our society where women are so extremely sexualized. God does not want that. God wants women to wear good works. God wants women to wear self-control. The point of verse 9 is that a godly woman does not draw attention to herself by what she wears for clothing, or how she does her hair, or her jewelry. Her goal is not for people to look at her for that. Rather, her goal is to have people look at her because she is working for the Lord, showing through actions a devotion to the Lord.
Now as we come to verses 11-12 we need to understand the world that Paul is speaking in. We cannot come into this text with our culture. I am disturbed by how often people misunderstand what the first century world look like in the Roman Empire and the Jewish culture. If you watch some of the tv shows or movies about the first century, you will repeatedly see the women arguing with the men, demeaning them, criticizing them, and acting against their wishes. Friends, that was not the world back then. That is our culture being imposed on their world. Let’s hear what the world look like back then from their own mouths.
The Jerusalem Talmud said, “It would be better for the words of Torah to be turned, than that they should be entrusted to a woman.” The Babylonian Talmud said, “The men came to learn, the women came to hear.” In the Roman world, women were considered to be intellectually second class. It was widely accepted that females were academically inferior. The education system was designed primarily for men, not women. By the way, even our country had the same thinking. Do not forget that women were only allowed to vote about 100 years ago. Women in the Roman Empire had an inferior legal status to the men. Women in the Roman Empire were to bear and raise children. This is just a small taste of the life of a woman in the Roman world. So listen to what Paul says in verse 11.
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” The Roman world said a woman was intellectually second class. The Jewish teachers said that women are not to learn. Women played a very small role in the public life of the synagogue. But Paul says she is to learn. Let the woman receive spiritual instructions and teachings. She is not second class in God’s economy. She is in the image of God. Paul is not subjugating her position or status but elevating it. We come along and read this as restrictive because we live in such a different world than theirs. But Paul is saying for the women to learn but to continue to maintain her modesty, self-control, and not drawing attention to herself. She is learning in quietness and submissiveness, which is in contrast to rebelling against one’s role given by God. Paul is elevating her but does not want this to mean that godliness and living with dignity are thrown out the window (2:2). It is important to remember that submissiveness is a spiritual quality that is commanded of all Christians (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 16:16). The point for bringing it up here is while elevating the woman to learn the scriptures and receive teaching, she is not to neglect what is commanded of all men and women. Maintain our submissiveness to God and to one another.
We struggle with the picture of submission. Here again is the problem with our culture colliding with the first century culture. To the Greco-Roman world, the idea of submission was not so much about obedience to another person, but about keeping one’s place so as to ensure stability and order of the whole, whether that we in the world, in the city, or in the home (Witherington). Submission was not “do what I say” but fulfill the roles that God has given to you. This is where Paul is going in this text.
But women are not learning to teach, take control, or exercise authority (2:12). The point of the learning is not to take charge, but to be what God has called you to be, as we looked at in verses 9-10. A woman’s learning is not part of a rebellion with the goal of being a leader or teacher. Her learning is part of her growing in understanding what it means to be a woman who professes godliness. Notice the contrast between verses 11 and 12. Learning is contrasted with teaching. Submission is contrasted with exercising authority. One thing we see in the scriptures, like in 1 Corinthians 14, is that teaching is not just giving information but is a way in which authority is exercised. While males and females are created together in the image of God and enjoy the same status in Christ as heirs of eternal life, they exercise different responsibilities as the people of God. Paul does not want women taking those positions of teaching authority or exercising spiritual authority (which will be more clearly seen in chapter 3). So the big question is why. Paul explains in verses 13-15.
Why Different Responsibilities? (2:13-15)
Paul explains by pointing back to the creation and to the sin that happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Why does Paul use this? This is when we saw Eve step out of her God-given role and Adam stepped out of his God-given role. She took charge and he followed her. This is an inversion of the order God created. Remember that the curse describes the battle that will exist between men and women over their responsibilities and roles. The curse reveals men and women undermining each other and fighting for control. But God has given us our proper positions to be maintained before God.
Now consider how important it is that we want to match what God says and not our culture. Why would we want to match our culture? How well is it going for male and female relationships in our culture? Look around at the abuse, subjugation, sexualization, and manipulation that is going on between men and women. The media glorifies the battle between men and women rather than encouraging a working together. The media glorifies an overthrowing of our roles and responsibilities. Why would we want to copy what the world is doing? This would be like copying Hollywood as an example for marriage. Why would we do that? It is important that Paul does not ground this truth about men and women in this passage on the culture but on Genesis. This makes this teaching permanent for all generations.
Verse 15 pictures the reversal of the curse. Remember we noted that the Roman world said that a woman’s value was in bearing children only. Paul wants to elevate this as well. Bearing children was part of her creation purpose and joy. Sin brought death into the world. But the woman reverses this curse by bringing life into the world. It is so special what a woman is able to do to nurture, protect, and bring life into the world. She is pictured as being saved through her unique role given to her. This is not saying that women are confined to the home nor declaring that women are only good for childbearing. Rather, God is glorifying and proclaiming praise for the special work given to women. We must also remember that from woman would eventually come the child who was born to save the world. So Paul proclaims a unique role for the man and a unique role for the woman, neither of which are to be denigrated. Women are pictured as givers of life. So the life of the Christian woman is to be lived out in faith, love, and holiness. Paul returns to verse 10 that she lets her good works for the Lord be on display.
So what is the picture that Paul is giving us a faith foundation? Men are to show holiness, dignity, and godliness by having sincere hearts, praying in every place, free from anger and arguing. Women are to show holiness, dignity, and godliness by not drawing attention to their clothing but to their good works in the Lord. Rather than trying to look like our culture, both men and women accept their responsibilities before God in how they show God to the world. We show God to the world by looking different than the world, not by modeling the world. We represent God which means we cannot do what we want or what we think is right or best. We represent God by listening to his directions and his will for our lives. Men, ask yourself if you are full of anger or arguing. Ask yourself if you have holy hands lifted to God. Ask yourself if you are reflecting God by being a person who prays everywhere. Women, ask yourself if you are drawing attention to yourself or attention to God. Are you reflecting God by being full of good works showing your devotion to God? Are you learning the will of God and implementing his will in your life?