Recently (see here) I wrote a blog addressing Ben Witherington’s defense of Evangelical feminism. One of the comments to that blog asked about feminist explanations of 1 Tim 2:11-15 and mentioned some articles which could be read. I did not find the explanations given to be persuasive. However, rather than interact with those articles, which primarily focused on extrabiblical material and not the actual text, I will simply walk through the text and show how the feminist interpretation is contrary to the plain sense of what Paul wrote.
Verses 1-7. Verses 11-15 are part of a context. That context, all of chap. 2, concerns the weekly meeting of the local church. Verses 1-7 concern prayers which are offered during the church service (what I’d call the Lord’s Supper meeting). Paul wants prayers to be offered “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all goodness and reverence.”
Who is to offer these prayers? Paul answers that in vv 8-10.
Verses 8-10. Paul starts v 8 with the words, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands…” When Paul refers to the men, he uses the Greek word for adult males (anēr/andros) not the generic word for men or mankind (anthrōpos). BDAG says this word means “an adult human male, man…in contrast to woman” (p. 79).
There is no question but that Paul is saying that males should pray. Not males and females. Only males.
Paul does refer to women in v 9: “the women [should] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation…” His discussion of women goes from v 9 down to v 15.
Paul is not talking about what women should wear at home or in the marketplace. He is talking about what women should wear in church. All of 1 Timothy 2 concerns the meeting of the local church. That is missed by the feminist interpretations.
Verse 11. “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” Paul is talking about women. They are to learn in church in a particular way: “in silence with all submission.” “In silence” in Greek, en hēsuchia, means in silence. The Greek word hēsuchia is used four times in the NT, twice in this context (vv 11-12) and once in Acts 22:2 and once in 2 Thess 3:12. It means “silence” (or “quietness” in 2 Thess 3:12). I went to seminary for seven years to learn such difficult exegesis. Well, it isn’t difficult, unless we reject the teaching of the Word of God as being out of step with our culture (which it is time and again).
Verse 12. Still talking about women in the church meeting, Paul says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” While feminists reject (futilely in my estimation) the translation to have authority (authentein), there is no getting around the fact that Paul says he does not permit a woman to teach, but to be in silence in the meeting of a local assembly. That is crystal clear.
If a woman cannot pray (1 Tim 2:8) or teach in the church meeting, then she certainly cannot be an elder, for elders must be apt to teach, and elders were required to pray and speak in the meeting of the local church. Of course, in chap. 3, Paul says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife” (3:2). Only a male can be the husband of one wife.
Verses 13-14. By linking his teachings to the creation account, Paul now proves that this is not merely his opinion, but this is God’s desire, rooted in creation itself. These verses support young earth creation (YEC) too. As many of you know, that is one of my strongly held beliefs. But since that is a tangent, I return to the present matter.
Adam was formed first, then Eve. Paul sees in the creation account a special relationship between a husband and wife and also a special relationship in the meeting of the local church. When he says, “Adam was not deceived,” this is a surprising statement for most readers of Genesis 3. We know from the text of Genesis 3 that the serpent deceived Eve. But it is easy to think that the serpent also deceived Adam. The text of Genesis 3 is not clear on that point.
Paul, writing under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, enlightens us. Adam knew what he was doing! He knew that it was wrong to eat the forbidden fruit, and he knew that God had indeed promised that he would surely die if he ate of it. Paul’s words here are not kind to Adam. While both sinned, it seems worse to disobey God intentionally as opposed to doing so by being deceived.
In any case, the human race was not plunged into sin because of Eve’s sin. It was Adam’s sin that plunged the entire race into slavery to sin (see my blog on Rom 5:12-21).
Verse 15. I am shocked at how commentators leave the context and discuss v 15 as though Paul were going off on a tangent about how women are born again (or how women are saved by the virgin birth of Jesus).
The meeting of the local church is the background of v 15. The salvation of v 15 is not salvation from eternal condemnation. For men and women, salvation is by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). That is not at all what Paul says here. Paul is not saying that women are regenerated by being good mothers.
The salvation of v 15 is salvation from the situation women find themselves in in the meeting of the local church. How do they handle being silent during the meeting of the local church?
Often overlooked is that Paul speaks of just one woman in v 15: “she [third person singular] will be saved in childbearing.” She. Not they. But then he uses a third person plural after that: “if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” Who are they? They are the children of the woman in view.
A woman is required to be silent in the church meeting. But at home she is everything but silent. She is the primary teacher of the children. While her husband was off at work all day, the woman was teaching her children about faith, love, holiness, and self-control. Of course, today, unlike in Paul’s day, many mothers work full time. But they still have a vital role in the instruction of their children.
If a woman’s children continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control, then she will be delivered—or saved—from becoming frustrated about not being able to speak in the church meeting.
Susanna Wesley had 19 children. Nine died in infancy. She never preached a sermon. She never was an elder in a local church. She was silent in church. Yet she spent time each week individually with each child, training up each to serve the Lord. Two of her boys, John and Charles Wesley, became world famous for their preaching and song writing.
Here is something she wrote her husband that captures her attitude:
I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles (Wikipedia.org).
Recently at our conference I asked a woman how her four adult children were doing. Tears welled up in her eyes as she said, “Three of my four are not walking with the Lord. While I rejoice that one is, I grieve over the three who are not.” She takes 1 Tim 2:15 to heart. Her fulfillment in life is indeed tied to the perseverance of her children in the faith. That is not to say that her children’s spiritual health is her only source of joy and fulfillment. She is a pastor’s wife, and she has a very robust ministry in her church (though she never speaks in the meeting of the church). But the spiritual welfare of her children is certainly at the front of her prayer list.
The text of 1 Tim 2:11-15 is clear. Let’s stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word.