“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” – 1 Timothy 2:8-14 (NKJV)
Observation and Research
My initial observation of 1 Timothy 2:8-14 is that it is a letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy offering instruction on female behavior within the church. To me, the emphasis is on dress (modesty) and conduct (behavior and activities).
I also observed that this epistle, or letter, was written to Timothy at Ephesus. I vaguely remembered something about Ephesus and the worship of Diana, so I did a little research.
Ephesus was, as it turns out, the site of the temple of Artemis (also called the temple of Diana) and a stronghold of goddess worship. Orgies are thought to have been part of this “worship” which was conducted by eunuch priests, virgin priestesses, and religious prostitutes. Like Inanna, Ashtoreth, Astarte and the Virgin Mary, Artemis was called the “Queen of Heaven.”
The book of Acts records Paul’s preaching at Ephesus and the subsequent conversion of many pagans to the faith. That some of these pagans were former followers of Diana seems likely. Maybe a few were even goddess worshipping subversives trying to stir things up within the church?
Either way, 1 Timothy begins with Paul urging Timothy to “remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” This leads me to think that some “other doctrine” was being taught. Given the location (Ephesus) this doctrine may have been related to the practices of the temple of Diana or the elevation of women in that religion.
Having said all that, this passage DOES have Paul saying that women shouldn’t do certain things. That cannot be debated.
For most people verse 12 which says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence,” is the linchpin of this passage. Not surprisingly this same verse is often used to define the role of women within the church.
Verse 12 is considered to be a difficult verse (N.T. Wright calls it the most difficult). It’s meaning has been widely debated by scholars.
I don’t really feel equipped to in any way enter into that debate but I do have some thoughts on context.
Context considers all verses in the passage – as well as difficult verses, like verse 12 – in order to better understand what the Bible is saying. In 1 Timothy 2:8-14, those verses include the specific mention of hair braids, apparel and jewelry (Vs 8-11) and fact that Eve was deceived (Vs 13 & 14).
Context also includes cultural context such as ideas about women in antiquity and the religious culture of ancient Ephesus. According to my Wesley Study Bible (which I love!) Ghis passage in 1 Timothy talks about female modesty as understood in antiquity.
I find it interesting that expensive dress and certain hairstyles weren’t appropriate for church in ancient times – but am not really surprised. Even in the present day of wearing jeans to church low-cut tops or short shorts are inappropriate. To me, that makes sense.
I’m less sure about Paul’s comment on Eve but I can’t help wondering if he is thinking about something specific that was happening at the church at Ephesus without coming straight out and saying it. If that is the case, the situation at Ephesus could impact our understanding of verse 12.
1 Timothy 2:8-12 (along with 1 Corinthians 14: 32-35*) has been interpreted to mean that women should not preach or teach or even question what they are taught. Some people go too far with this but I think that most Christians who feel that women shouldn’t do those things are sincerely holding to their interpretation of Scripture.
I do feel it’s unfortunate, however, that this interpretation has led many churches, such as the Baptist church, various non-denominational evangelical churches and others, to bar women from positions of authority within the church.
Oddly, those same churches have nothing to say about braided hair, fancy clothes or jewelry. Which I find inconsistent.
In for a penny, as my grandmother used to say, in for a pound.
I decided to study 1 Timothy 2:8-12 because verses from that passage were recently quoted to me in a social media discussion on the submission of Christian women. While this conversation was unpleasant, it did serve a purpose.
The more I thought about my role as a female Christian writer and podcaster the more unequipped I felt. This helped me realize that if want to really serve those who listen to my blog and podcast, I need to develop a deeper understanding of Scripture and doctrine.
And so, on Friday, I applied to an online Bible school in hopes that studying in a systematic way will make me better prepared to do that.
Stay tuned to see if I’m accepted!
Interestly, I had been studying the teachings of John Wesley for several weeks before this online discussion even took place. So my interest in Wesley had nothing to do with him allowing women to preach (although he did). Instead I started learning about him, sort of indirectly, because of a dream.
I had the dream in 2018. It was about a Free Methodist church and the fellowship I felt there. At the time, I didn’t know anything really about the Free Methodist church but I did remember that my father’s family had been Free Methodists so I decided to do a little digging.
Thanks to a quick internet search I learned that my great-grandfather was one of 5 brothers who answered a mid 18th century revival call to become a Free Methodist minister. While I found all of that interesting I did not feel called to become a Free Methodist (though I did look into it). Eventually, I forgot about the dream.
In early January I started reading the Bible again from the beginning. I read about dream after dream and, as I did, became more and more convinced that God speaks to us through dreams. I began to record and analyze my dreams and remembered the dream about the Free Methodist church.
It occured to me that the dream about the Free Methodist church might not have been literally about the Free Methodist church. Instead I thought, it might have been about doctrine.
I had already been thinking about sanctification, the gifts of the Spirit and the baptism in the Spirit quite a bit. So, when I began to study Wesley and learned that he had strong views on those topics, it made me wonder if providence was at work.
Recent events have been making me wonder more.
For more on the topic of women and discipleship, please check out the New Age To Christian Podcast Episode 22, “Spirit, Discipleship & Gender” at NewAgeToChristian.com or through the player in the sidebar of this blog.
For more on my Free Methodist Church dream please see Dream: Country Churches & Family Tradition. In the photo for this article, my great-grandfather is the tall blond holding his Bible high and tight. For more on dreams in general, please see Dreams as a Gift From God.
*For a discussion of 1 Corinthians 14: 32-35 as it relates to women in the church, please see “Women and the Call of God” by ordained Wesleyan Church elder Barbara Moulton.