It is easy in any important study of what the Bible teaches to get caught up in the discussions of the day and start looking for ways to defend what we already believe. I am trying hard to examine the texts that relate to the whole theme of what God’s woman is to do in God’s church. I realize there are worlds of ideas. But what does the Bible really teach. Certainly, one of the most important Scriptures to look at is I Timothy 2:9-16. This letter was written from Paul to Timothy while Paul was in the Roman dungeon and Timothy was in Ephesus where Paul had left him to try to work through some problems the church was facing. In chapter one Paul laid a foundation for what he was going to tell Timothy and beginning in chapter two he laid out ways to deal with the specific problems they were facing. It’s obvious that Timothy was well aware of the specific problems. So, Paul doesn’t go into any detail to lay out what the problems are but most of the time goes right to how to handle it. It is important to remember this is Paul as an older man writing to his young friend offering advise on how to work with an established church and deal with problems, when some of those problems were arising from the leadership itself.
To arrive at a right interpretation of the later verses it must be seen through the context of the whole chapter. Paul started the chapter with “First of all” thus beginning with his plan of action. That first charge was “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Notice he didn’t appeal to what the Spirit said or what Jesus said, but “I urge”. That is the pattern all through the chapter. Why was it important to pray for these authorities for us to have a quiet and peaceable life? Because it pleases God and because God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth that there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. If there is war, wrangling and persecution all the time it hinders the ability of the church to lead people to Christ and salvation. Christ paid the ransom in his death for all people to be saved. So let’s keep praying that circumstances in the world will be such that the good news of Christ can be spread around the world and many be saved.
His second charge, even though he doesn’t say it is number two is, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Focus again on “I desire”. Why do you want men to pray without anger or quarreling? Because God wants all people to be saved. When the folks in church start fussing, quarreling and turning their prayers into some selfish endeavor to defend their territory it kills the mission of saving the lost. Since the word for “men” here isn’t the generic word for mankind but the word for the male sex it is obvious that in Ephesus when the church gathered it was the men praying. They were raising their hands in their prayers. Paul’s challenge was to make certain those hands they raised were holy hands. Just in passing, it is worth noting how extremely silly it is for someone today to argue that raising hands is wrong when they were raising their hands in prayer and Paul’s charge wasn’t that we all do that or not do it, but that when hands are raised to make them holy.
In the same way, he said, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” Why did he want the women to dress in this way in the worship gatherings at church? Because God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. When a person’s dress draws all the attention away from worship to God and the ransom Jesus paid for our sins then people are left in a lost condition rather than hearing the gospel and turning to God. By the way, it is important to notice that we all recognize there are some things in this passage that were local, temporary or having to do with their culture. If you deny that, then please look again at the part telling them not to wear braided hair, gold, pearls or expensive clothes. If you preach or teach today that it turns people away from God when a woman or girl has her hair braided or has a wedding band on or wears a pearl necklace or has on an expensive dress, then you are not only misinterpreting Scripture but actually doing the very thing that Paul was pleading with them not to do and that was to conduct themselves in a way that kept people from being saved and coming to the knowledge of the truth.
He moved from that to discuss the conduct of the godly woman in doing good works in the church or in the gathering of the church. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Notice again, why was this important? Because God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It wasn’t some arbitrary command drawn from a woman hating preacher or savior. Even this last verse that says the woman will be saved in childbearing demonstrates the theme has remained the whole way through that it is because God wants all people to be saved. It was certainly true that there were some things that would have hindered people from hearing the gospel and being saved by the Lord that today wouldn’t be a hindrance at all and might even open some doors for more people to hear that good news. In Ephesus at that time it was the case that a woman taking a leadership role in the worship time would draw so much attention to it that it would hinder people being saved. Would it do the same thing today in Little Rock? In some places it certainly would and in some others it likely wouldn’t. The point is that the salvation of a person is more important that folks getting to wear what they want to wear or argue about what they don’t like, or for the woman to stand up and say exactly what she would like to say.
Notice in this point like the others, it is Paul saying, “I do not permit.” The constant use of “I” seems to me to matter. Was he speaking by inspiration? Without a doubt! But it is significant that when he reaches chapter four he will say, “Now the Spirit expressly says.”
In this passage Christian women were told to learn quietly and submissively and not to teach or exercise authority “OVER A MAN.” There is a huge difference between saying a woman isn’t to teach a man or exercise authority and in saying she isn’t to teach or exercise authority OVER a man. It was certainly true in that culture that a woman in public rebuking a man or putting him down would have been unacceptable and would likely have closed the ears of anyone listening to the gospel of Christ. Instead of leading people to be saved it would have turned them away.
What matters most is people being saved and coming to the knowledge of the truth. By all means we must not allow arguing over what a woman can and can’t do to cause someone to not hear the gospel and not be saved when Jesus paid the ransom for us and God’s desire is for all to be saved. It matters more that one be saved than that we get on board with whatever movement may be swinging in our time and place.