We are preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings, and I’ve been working on these notes for the benefit of our lay preachers. Given the effort involved, I thought I’d post them here.
As before, the key to preaching/interpreting this section of 1 Timothy is to set it in the context as a whole. Overall, this is the command to be given through Timothy in 1:3 that ‘certain men’ (undoubtedly, people in the Ephesian church) should cease teaching false doctrine that, according to 1:7, had something to do with the Old Testament law.
This false doctrine was imperilling the spiritual lives of individuals (1:6;19, cf 6:21). It was leading to ‘speculations’ (1:4 —NIV “controversies”), rather than encouraging faith in the gospel and the love which flows from it, and “meaningless talk” (cf 6:20, “godless chatter”), instead of true teaching and the testimony of the gospel.
The heart of this gospel is given in the ‘trustworthy saying’ of 1:15: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and the fact that one of the sinners saved was Paul, saved when he was persecuting the church, shows that it is all of grace.
Meanwhile, the false teaching was disrupting the church, and an internally disrupted church becomes a socially disruptive church, known for its faults, and disturbing the local community rather than acting as salt and light.
Thus at the beginning of chapter 2, Paul recalls the church to what it should be like: a community of prayer for the salvation of all people, because this is what God wants (2:4). They are saved through the mediatory death of Christ, which is itself the testimony born by Jesus (2:6 —which he upheld publicly before Pontius Pilate, 6:13, cf the kings and those in authority of 2:2). And from this flowed Paul’s (true) commission to preach the gospel of grace to the Gentiles — the gospel which Paul now wants re-emphasised in Ephesus.
The men, specifically and in particular, should be giving the lead here, not quarrelling amongst themselves but praying as Paul has instructed all should pray.
But why has Paul picked on the men? (The word in v 8 is anēr, which can be an adult male or a husband, but only rarely ‘people’, and certainly not here.)
He now goes on to address ‘women’ (NB, not ‘the women’). Clearly, therefore, there is something about the men as men that matters to what he is saying, and equally there is something about women as women.
The genders, however, are not treated by Paul in isolation but in relationship to one another. Almost invariably, where Paul speaks about or to men as men, it is in relation to women as women.
And so here: we must assume Paul speaks as he does to the men and the women because he has something to say about their relationship with one another — as indeed is born out in 2:12. But still, why this concern here?
The answer lies, I suggest, in the subject matter which begins in chapter 3 with the same words as began 1:15, “This is a trustworthy saying ...” It would be very easy to overlook the importance of this, and also its positioning in the flow of the text.
In 1:15 it introduces the central tenet of our faith. In 4:9 it introduces another fundamental statement about our faith (given in 4:10). In 3:1, then, it cannot merely be an aside, or a ‘please note’ comment. Rather, it is central to the points he is making.
He is writing the letter because false teaching is disrupting the church. How is the false teaching to be eliminated and replaced with true teaching which will stabilize the church and restore it to its proper role and function towards the world?
Overall, what he is writing is about “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” (1 Ti 3:15). Central to this will be the “noble task” of the overseer. This is why he draws attention to this aspiration. But what should the overseer be like? The qualities to which Paul refers in chapter 3 are familial, relational, qualities (beginning with being “the husband of but one wife” — Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, gives examples of polygamous marriages around this time). And this is why Paul has first had to deal with the individual qualities of men and women, addressing their weaknesses and failings.
Significantly, Paul did not go straight from the false teachers of chapter 1 to the ‘noble overseers’ of chapter 3. If he had, then those who thought of themselves as possible candidates to replace the false teachers might not have seen the faults prevalent throughout the whole church and, no doubt, affecting themselves. First, he has to recall the church to its true task of seeking the salvation of all people — this is why Christ died for sinners (1:15), and this is what God wants for everyone (2:4). The aspiring bishop must first know that is purpose behind the task to which he aspires.
The discussion of men and women is introduced first in this context. Before Paul can talk about the households from which the leaders should be drawn, he must talk about the failings of the men and women who individually and collectively comprise those households.
The failings of the men were addressed in 2:8 by the command to them to be leading in prayer, not taking up their time in the business of disputing amongst themselves.
The instructions to the women begin in 2:9 with a call to ‘clothe themselves’ appropriately. The English translations treat this first of all as a literal instruction about dress: “I also want women to dress modestly ...” (NIV). However, the section ends with an instruction which is clearly metaphorical: “... [dress] with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (2:10). 2:9, referring to the mode of dress also uses a word which is used at the end of v15 with reference to the manner of life: “propriety”.
Moreover, the verb translated “dress” elsewhere means “adorn”, “make oneself beautiful”:
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. (1 Pe 3:5, NB Peter refers to the godly qualities of the women as the means to this beautifying.)
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Re 21:2)
I would suggest, then, that Paul begins his admonition to the women by calling on them to beautify themselves with the qualities of modesty (NIV “decency”) and propriety (not to ‘dress down’ with ‘modest clothing’) and to compliment this with outward “good deeds”. It is these qualities, not expensive clothing and hairstyles, which the women of the church should ‘display’ to the world, because they ought to accompany a profession of godliness (2:10). In other words, Paul does not encourage ‘dowdiness’, but he does encourage personal qualities as the thing which should be most sought after and most noticeable amongst the Christian women.
Secondly, what women are learning about the gospel should also not lead to them being a ‘disruptive’ force. In those times women sometimes did learn ‘esoteric’ subjects, such as religion and philosophy (see Cohick, op cit). As we see later, however (5:13), some were not putting this new learning to good use.
Such instruction and learning, however, generally took place in the home or homes of disciples (see 2 Tim 3:6), and would have been much more personal than the situations we tend to envisage when we think of ‘teaching’. And one thing Paul does not allow is that (at very least in that context) a woman should instruct a man.
Why not? Modesty and propriety might have something to do with it, but so too does the fundamental relationship of men and women. It is possible that Paul means no woman should instruct any man. It seems more likely, however, that he means no wife should instruct her husband (NB the change from plural to singular: “a woman to teach or to have authority over a man”), or perhaps (also?) someone else’s husband.
For Paul, Adam and Eve are the archetypal ‘couple’ (compare 1 Cor 11:3-12; Eph 5:31). In the creation order, Eve was formed as the companion to Adam and (as Eph 5 indicates) their relationship ought to have modelled or imaged that of Christ and the Church, just as every marriage ought to now. The Fall, moreover, entailed some reversal of this ordering. Adam “listened to” (ie obeyed) his wife (Ge 3:17) — and apparently was silent when the encounter with the snake took place (Ge 3:6). There is thus not only an impropriety in a woman exercising authority over a man but a danger in the man being on the receiving end of this.
In the context, we should, I suggest, see this as addressing the issue of what godly families should be like, and indeed Paul ends with a reference to such. The meaning of ‘being saved through childbearing’ is difficult, but most likely it refers to the life of the godly household and partnership. In 5:10, the godly widow is “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children (teknotropheō, compare 2:15, teknogonia)”.
In short, we have here instructions for the example women should set in the community and the life they should lead in the family.Anonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.