1 Timothy 2: 8-15
8 Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 9 Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. 15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.
Before beginning our discussion of the content of this passage and what Paul is instructing about women, I want to address some more foundational questions. In verse 12, Paul says, “I do not allow” or “I am not allowing.” It is fair to ask the question, “Is this just Paul’s opinion?” Did he intend this instruction to apply to all churches in his day? Did he really intend for us to continue to follow his instructions until Jesus returns?
If we read chapter 2 in context with the entire letter to Timothy, we learn that these were Paul’s instructions for how churches are to be run. In Chapter 3:14-15, he tells us why he has written this letter to Timothy, including instructions for silencing false teachers, how men and women function, who may hold office in the church, how widows are to be treated, etc.
14 I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. 15 But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
In another letter, Paul gives similar instructions to Titus (Titus 1:5, 2:15), and he also instructs the church at Corinth to adhere to his teaching on church order. For example, when he gives instruction about men and women’s clothing in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, he finishes that passage with verse 16: “If anyone wants to argue about this, we have no other custom, nor do the churches of God.” Later in 1 Corinthians 14, when he is regulating worship, he uses the phrase “As in all the churches of the saints” in verse 33, and then later in 14:36 rebukes the Corinthian Christians for acting in an independent way: “Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?” He invokes the command of the Lord as his authority to correct and instruct them in 14:37: “…recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. “ Earlier in the letter, when he is correcting them on something else, he makes reference to coming to visit that church and to discipline it (1 Corinthians 4:21). Paul does not write in any of these instances as though this is just his opinion. He writes with authority, as if he has seniority. I believe it is safe to say that Paul intends his instructions to the churches to be the norm for his time.
Where does Paul get this idea that he has authority over the churches?
Paul is an apostle. What does that mean? It literally means “a sent one.” It is a term applied to a small group of men consisting of Jesus’ twelve disciples (including the one who takes the place of Judas in Acts 1 following his suicide), Barnabas, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul. Paul identifies himself as an apostle in 10 of his 13 letters. In two of those cases (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1) he says he was “called” as an apostle, and in two others (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11) he says he was “appointed as a herald, apostle and teacher.” If we know his story, we know that Jesus himself called or appointed him. (Acts 9:15) In Ephesians 2:20, Paul writes that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. A foundation is what determines the shape of the building which is constructed on top of the foundation. The foundation is begun by Christ, the cornerstone, but it is only Jesus Christ who is more authoritative than the apostles and prophets. The bulk of the New Testament is written by the apostles – Matthew, John, Peter, Paul and James. Jesus speaks to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19) about being the rock upon which He will build his Church and He gives His Twelve authority to bind and to loose things on earth. He commissions them to teach and make disciples in his name (Matthew 28:18-20). An apostle is not a self-appointed authority, but one who is appointed by the Lord. Paul claimed authority to instruct regarding church structure only because he was appointed by Christ to have that authority. He was under obligation to preach the Gospel (Romans 1:14-15), and he identified himself multiple times as a servant of Jesus (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 4:5, 6:4, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1). What he allowed or did not allow was a function of our Lord’s command, not his own opinion. That was true of all of the apostles. Peter claimed that what he wrote was not his own opinion but was the result of the moving of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). Peter referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Jesus had spoken of the Old Testament Scripture as something which could not be broken (John 10:35). Paul in his second epistle to Timothy referred to the Scriptures as breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). All of these references show how the apostles viewed their authority over the Church and the normative nature of their writing.
In partial answer to whether his letters apply today, it is also worth noticing that the reason Paul gives for his instructions about men and women in 1 Timothy 2 is the order of Creation (verse 13). Paul is writing this letter in the 60’s A.D. or CE. The creation events to which he is referring happened many centuries earlier – God created Adam first and Eve second more than 2000 years before the time of Paul’s instructions. Yet Paul teaches that the creation order still impacts the roles of men and women in the Church in 60 CE, even though their culture had changed so much from the time of Creation. Now approximately 2000 years later in the 21st century, it is plausible from a biblical point of view that Paul’s letter still applies to us…. that Creation events still apply to us, even though our culture has changed so much from the time of 1 Timothy.
Finally, when Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations (Acts 1:4-8, Matthew 28:18-20), and to teach them to observe all that He had commanded them, He promises his presence with them (and, by implication, with subsequent generations of followers of Christ) to the end of the age. Jesus therefore intended his commandments to be proclaimed and taught to and by all of his followers to the end of time. We have in the New Testament the apostolic writings, a foundation for the Church deriving its authority from our Lord and Savior. As such, I believe we remain under the authority of these writings even when they teach contrary to the values of our present culture.