Gender Roles in 1 Timothy 2:8-15

I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing. In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works. Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: but she shall be saved through her child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety (1 Timothy 2:8-15).

We have witnessed a major change in attitudes regarding gender and gender roles in Western culture in the past few generations. Previous cultural consensus has been overthrown; everyone must attempt to come to grips with the new cultural consensus and sort out what is commendable from what is to be rejected. Christians must seek to understand how to manage gender roles in light of what God has revealed in Christ and in the pages of the New Testament (Colossians 3:17, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). The New Testament addresses gender roles in many passages. We do well to explore gender roles in 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Paul wrote to Timothy regarding conduct and expectations within the household of God, the church (1 Timothy 3:15); 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is part of that instruction. Men are to pray without continual forms of discord; they are to manifest unity (1 Timothy 2:8). Women are to display an attitude of modesty expressed in how they dress; they are to be notable for their good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul continued to provide instruction regarding women specifically in terms of instruction: they were to learn in quietness with subjection, and Paul did not permit or allow a woman to teach or to “have dominion” (Greek αὐθεντεῖν, authentein, to have authority or to be domineering) over a man (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Paul then explained the basis upon which he grounded his exhortation: Adam was formed before Eve, Eve was beguiled/deceived (Greek ἠπατήθη, epatethe), and not Adam (1 Timothy 2:13-14). Paul concluded by establishing that “she” (Eve) will be saved through her childbearing if “they” (women) continue in faith and love with a clear mind, pursuing holiness (1 Timothy 2:15).

1 Timothy 2:8-15 presents some textual and interpretive difficulties. Authentein is used nowhere else in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 2:15 poses far more questions than it answers: is “she” definitively Eve or is she an embodiment of women? What does childbearing have to do with rescue? How would Eve’s salvation be dependent on the faithfulness of later generations of women? Despite these challenges, however, Paul’s general premise is manifest and remains consistent with instruction given in other New Testament passages. Paul exhorted Timothy to encourage the Christian men in Ephesus to pray without manifesting division and disputation and the Christian women there to maintain modesty manifest in dress, and to learn quietly, for women are not to teach or domineer over men, and all on account of the order of creation and the consequences of the fall (1 Timothy 2:8-15; Genesis 2:4-3:22).

1 Timothy 2:8-15 proves to be the “ground zero” of so many of the arguments regarding the roles of men and women in the household of God and its assemblies. Many have suggested that Paul is not the author of 1 Timothy, and that it was written later, and will often appeal to this passage as evidence, as if it is in contradiction with Galatians 3:28. Others would not cast aspersions on Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 but suggest some sort of highly contextualized interpretation: perhaps Paul was speaking specifically about a situation in Ephesus without any intention of imposing such views on any other congregation, or perhaps Paul is just cautioning against the excesses of the local Artemis cult, in which the priests were all women. In this latter view Paul is restoring the equality of men in religious matters, and women are not to domineer.

Yet all of these arguments fail to consider the continuity between what is said in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and what can be found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. In all three passages Paul grounds his understanding of gender roles in the creation of man and woman and their fall (Genesis 2:4-3:22). It becomes very difficult to argue for a very narrowly contextually defined application when Paul appeals to the order of creation and gender roles since the fall, and makes many of the same exhortations to the Corinthians as to the Ephesians. Many times consideration of the historical context can illuminate a text, but on what basis should it be argued that the historical context should take precedence over the actual argument made by the Apostle? Paul could have made references to specific challenges in Ephesus; he did not. Paul could have mentioned contextually limiting details; he did not. We are given no reason to believe that what Paul taught Timothy in 1 Timothy would have applied only to Ephesus.

In 1 Timothy 2:8-15 Paul established expectations for conduct of men and women in the household of God. Men were to pray without divisiveness. Women were to manifest modesty in clothing, not exercise authority or dominion, but to learn in quietness, not teaching the men. Paul grounded these premises in the story of creation and the fall. To expect men and women to serve in different roles in the assembly need not mean that men and women are not equal in God’s sight; Galatians 3:28 is not inherently in conflict with 1 Timothy 2:8-15. May we adhere to the whole revealed counsel of God and serve the Lord as He has established!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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