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Topics: 1 Timothy 2, Complementarianism

Say What, Paul? Six *More* Things That 1 Timothy 2:8–15 Does Not Mean

March 16, 2023

In a previous article, I listed six things that 1 Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean. In this article, I list six more. That post and this one complement Sunday’s message on 1 Timothy 2:8–10 and anticipate the coming message on 1 Timothy 2:11–15.

While any of these posts/sermons can be read or heard on their own, they are intended to be considered together. For if we are to understand what Paul means in these verses, it will take a fair bit of work in the text of Scripture and the history surrounding the church in Ephesus. For that background, I recommend the book Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15.

For now, here are the next six things that 1 Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean. Yesterday, the list focused on 1 Timothy 2:8–10. Today, it focuses on the next four verses (vv. 11–15). If you know the passage, you know these are the more difficult ones.

7. First Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean women must be absolutely silent in church.

When Paul says for when to learn in gathering of the church, he qualifies it with two prepositions—”with quietness” and “with all submissiveness.” Removed by language, culture, and 20 centuries, it is easy to misread Paul’s words. And in fact, both of these prepositions need to be clarified for our understanding and application.

First, “with quietness” does not mean for women to be mute in church. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13 that women are to pray and prophecy in the church service. In this same letter (1 Cor. 14:34–35), he tells wives not to speak in service, but this has more to do with retaining the dignity of husbands and wives in the church service—not the absolute denial of women speaking. Combined with 1 Corinthians 11, it is clear that women have a place to read Scripture and pray today.

First Timothy 2 does not deny this; it may even be implied that women were praying in the public service. This would find support 1 Corinthians and it would make sense that when men are called to pray in verse 8. Also, verse 9 begins, “Likewise also . . .” The likewise may include women praying. This is not explicit, but it is also not out of the question.

More persuasively, the word itself, “in quietness,” does not mean absolute silence. As Robert Yarbrough observes, “Hesychia (quietness, rest) rarely refers to blanket prohibitive policy against spoken expression.”¹ Instead, in comparison with the other two places where it is used (Acts 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12), we are led to the conclusion that the word has the idea of “attentive silence for the sake of giving someone a hearing.”²

Moreover, because 2 Thessalonians 3:12 relates to working and 1 Timothy 2:10 gives us a context of “good works, the word is best seen as calling for an “orderly, industrious, and self-responsible” listening.³ In short, the word “in quietness” does not lend itself to not speaking, but to learning with diligence and attention. This passage calls women to theological inquiry, not mute indoctrination.

Second, “with all submission” lacks a direct object. This means we must be cautious about assuming who women must submit too. In Paul’s earlier letter to the Ephesians, he instructs women to submit to their husbands, and only their husbands (5:22–24). There is no blanket call for women to submit to men! And any application like that from 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is a misuse of the text.

In context, it seems better to assert that women are to submit to the Lord and/or his teaching. Ultimately, all men and women are called to submit to God and his word. This statement here is not special to women. Instead it esteems them as full disciples of Christ and affords them the same place as all other disciples, In this way, the movement of Paul’s words is an invitation for women to come into the temple of learning, not to exclude them in silence.

All in all, women are capable of learning, studying, and understanding all that God has revealed. In fact, there are some women who are far more skilled in the things of Scripture then men. Men would be fools not to learn from them. Moreover, young men especially are called to learn quietly, even being subject to the elders (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5). For all Christians, we are called to submit to all God has revealed in Scripture. Thus, Paul is not relegating women to a lower status; he is affirming the place of women in the gathered church.

Last thing, if women are to have a place in the gathered church, they are to be welcomed (by men!) into a community of learning. Whereas the temple in Jerusalem had a court for the women, separate from the men, the new covenant temple of God joins men and women together, even as it retains a place for men to be spiritual teachers of the congregation. This does not mean women have no place for teaching; it means God has an order to the way teaching is done in the church.

8. First Timothy 2:8–15 does not deny women the gift, the place, or the need for teaching.

Many interpreters of 1 Timothy 2:12 have suggested that “false teaching” is what Paul is denying here. However, this implies that teaching is negative here. Such a rendering lacks explicit textual warrant and doesn’t match the rest of the Pastoral Epistles. Teaching is bad, except when false. And this passage clearly does not assert that teaching is bad. Therefore, Paul is not suggesting that teaching or authority are bad in themselves. Rather, upholding the pattern of male leadership in the the home, he does not permit women to teach or have authority over men.

Such restriction could equally be applied to unqualified men in the church. Indeed, the only people in the church who have authority to teach are the elders, recognized by the congregation as spiritually fit for service as 1 Timothy 3:1–7 explains. In practice, the elders may appoint other, non-elders to teach—and some of these may be women who teach children or who share who share from their biblically-informed experience. Still, the main point of this verse relates to the organization of leadership in the household of God.

In 1 Timothy 3, elders are godly men who model and teach the faith. Such restriction to eldership, however, does not deny the important place of female teachers in the church. In truth, women are gifted to teach in the church. As Titus 2:3–5 states,

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Similarly, Acts 18:24–28 includes an example of Priscilla teaching Apollos with her husband Aquila. In most cases she is named first, which may indicate her leading role in teaching. Significantly, however, she is never recognized as an elder or teaching in the gathered church. Acts 18:26 is a wonderful example of how she and her husband instructed Apollos privately: “[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”

Accordingly, we can see that Paul’s words to women in 1 Timothy 2:12 do not wholly deny women the place of instruction. Rather, for men and women in the gathered church, elders are the ones who give direction to biblical and theological vision of the church. The reason for this relates to the household imagery of the church. In marriage, husbands are to be the spiritual leaders of the home. Likewise, in the household of God, elders are proven husbands and fathers, whose godliness prepares them to lead the church.⁴

9. First Timothy 2:8–15 does not state or imply men are better than women.

Starting in verse 13, Paul traces a brief biblical theology of men and women from creation (v. 13), to the fall (v. 14), the salvation of women across the ages (v. 15). He includes these verses to explain why he does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men in the church.

His first reason is grounded in creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” As Genesis 2 explains, God made Adam first and Eve to be Adam’s helper (Gen. 2:18). This was God’s good design in the beginning and Paul grounds his instructions to the new covenant community in the creation of male and female in the beginning. As believers created new in Christ, it makes sense that the roles established in creation would be reaffirmed in the church.

That being said, the order of creation does not mean or imply men are better than women. Though some like Philo argued for a principle that said “first is better,” this is not the biblical worldview. Men and women are equally valuable, equally dignified, equally important for God’s purposes in the world (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2–16). And the restoration of created roles in the church, does not mean men are better than women. It means that in Christ men and women are able to fulfill (with difficulty and only by the Spirit) the roles assigned to them in creation.

10. First Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean women are more easily deceived than men.

In Paul’s next move, he goes from Genesis 2 to Genesis 3 and he recounts the fact that the Serpent came to the woman, deceived her, and she led the man into sin. As Genesis 3:17 reports, Adam is cursed “because” as God said, “you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it.’”

In Romans 5 Paul assigns sin and death to Adam and 1 Timothy 2 does not change the culpability of the man. For as Genesis 3 also tells us, God came to Adam and addressed him for the transgression of the first couple. Still, in 1 Timothy 2:14 Paul picks up the point that even after the first sin, the pattern in creation remains, men are the spiritual teachers in the home—in their immediate family and in the larger family of faith. In Israel fathers served as spiritual heads of their homes, and now in the household of faith God’s children are still led by godly men.

Affirming the ongoing place of “elder brothers” to lead the family, we should not see Paul saying that women are more gullible then men. In 1 Timothy 1:18, the false teachers are all men. In church history, it has been men who have been deceived and the deceivers. While occasionally a woman has led the church astray, far more often it has been men.

From Scripture and the testimony of history, therefore, we cannot make a blanket and gender-biased statement that women are more easily deceived. This does not seem to be the way Paul is grounding his argument. Rather, through the fall, the pattern of creation remains—men are to be the teachers in the family of God; women are to be godly, gifted helpers.

This passage does not teach that women are weaker. Rather, it adds to the whole of the letter—godly elders are needed to be spiritual leaders in the church.

11. First Timothy 2:8–15 does not teach that redemption erases gender roles.

Galatians 3:28 is the egalitarian verse: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It is argued that this verse obliterates the gender-distinctions brought about by the curse. However, such a reading fails to recognize the gender distinctions in creation (and new creation), and it does not see how inheritance (given only to firstborn sons of Israel in the Old Testament) is in view. Paul’s point in Galatians 3:26–29 is that the blessings given to Israel’s sons are now available to women, Gentiles, and slaves. There is not status in the world (e.g., sex, ethnicity, socio-economic standing) which can deny a believer a share in Christ’s inheritance. Conversely, salvation doesn’t erase gender roles.

First Timothy 2:15 affirms the same reality. The woman who trusts in Christ is saved by faith. Such faith produces love, holiness, and self-control. Importantly, however, this salvation does not need to run counter to who she is as a woman. She neither needs to give up her role as a wife, a temptation that may have been present in Ephesus by those denying marriage (4:1–6), nor does she need to fear that her domestic focus on children keeps her from serving the Lord.

Indeed, raising up godly offspring is what God desires. Malachi 2:15 actually says, “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.” The context of Malachi is situated under the old covenant, but the principle remains—the role of godly women in the home, bearing children is pleasing to the Lord. Salvation does not come through having children, but neither does salvation destroy God’s good design for men and women in the home.

12. First Timothy 2:8–15 is not a passage women should fear, but one women and men can embrace for their flourishing.

As with all of Scripture, the goal of God’s word is human flourishing. Situated in 1 Timothy, these verses are just one of the places Paul is instructing women how to walk in faith, love, and holiness. Indeed, the overarching purpose of these verses are meant to include women in the gathered church. They emphasize the positive good works that women contribute to the church. And they esteem the place for women to learn and serve in the body of Christ.

Though Paul’s words stand outside and against the egalitarian promises of women’s liberation, they offer a greater kind of liberation. Namely, they encourage women to celebrate what makes them women; they validate the life-giving bodies that God has them; they esteem the roles women often have in the home; and they free women from the burden of having to lead the household of God.

Certainly, to those who have a vision of human flourishing cultivated by an egalitarian culture, these words will sound oppressive. But to those whose minds have been formed by the story of Scripture and the goodness of being made in God’s image as a female, these words should be incredibly encouraging. Men and women are called to be servants in God’s house; men and women are invited to pray, learn, and worship in God’s house; men and women will have places to teach in the body of Christ—though only some men (elders) will teach and have authority in the local church; and women who spend years bearing and rearing children should not feel second-class citizens of God’s kingdom.

Paul’s concluding words esteem women who are unable to serve in the church because life circumstances (having children) make it impossible. Service to their children is a vital part of God’s kingdom purposes, and as Paul will say later to older women, their years of obscurity serving their children and helping their husbands will actually prepare them for valuable service in God’s household when their children are grown.

In this way, Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 provide a compelling vision for women to follow Christ and to do so as women who embrace their God-given role as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. For these reasons and more, we should not shy away from Paul’s words. We should rightly understand them and apply them, for in them we find life-giving words for women and men.


[1] Robert Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, PCNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 172.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] While I do not take marriage to be a prerequisite for eldership, all elders should have “sons” in the faith. If a single elder is not pouring his life into disciple-making, he is not qualified to be an elder.

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