Updated: Jul 18, 2019
“Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”
This section is probably the most controversial portion of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Up to this point things have been very straightforward. Paul tells Timothy to instruct false teachers in the errors of their ways (1:3-7) and everybody says, “Amen!” Paul clarifies to Timothy the necessity and validity of the Mosaic Law (1:8-11) and people say, “Thank you!” Paul reveals the glory of Christ in the gospel (1:12-17) and folks reply with, “To Him be the glory forever!” Paul reveals that the first priority of the church is to pray for the lost and the proliferation of the gospel (2:1-7) and everybody is on board. But then Paul comes down and suggests that men are commanded to lead the church, women are prohibited from leading the church and everybody loses their minds.
Why is this such a sensitive issue? Because we’re sinners and rebels who would prefer to do things our way rather than the way Almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth, has designed and ordained things to be.
This is not a new problem. This is not a 20th or 21st century problem. Understand that Eve’s sin in the garden was naked rebellion. She attempted to usurp her husband’s role as her head and she attempted to usurp God’s role as…well… as God. Likewise, Adam failed to lead his wife and then partook in the coup that was aimed to dethrone God (more on that here). Nothing much has changed in human history. Passive men and rebellious women are a part of our culture to the point where these traits are recommended, promoted, and exemplified by the God-hating world.
It should come as no surprise that righteousness grinds against our natural and evil instincts. Since when has the Word of God revealed our hearts to naturally fall into line with God’s will? Of course a biblical view regarding the roles of men and women within the church chafes us. But all that means is that we must repent.
Dividing the Text
Before coming to any passage of Scripture for the purpose of deep exegetical study, we have to discover the breaking points. Where does the author conclude his point in order to advance his argument? Where are the paragraph breaks? Because we are after the author’s intention, we must know where the dividing lines are that separate one thought from another. But if you were to look around you would notice that few people agree on the best way to divide 1 Timothy chapter 2.
How does Paul advance his point?
Does v. 8 belong with vv. 1-7?
Should vv. 9-10 be read in the same breath as vv. 11-15?
How have other preachers divided the text in order to preach it?
As you begin to ask these questions you will notice the lack of agreement. Some assume that Paul’s desire for men to pray in every place (v. 8) is the conclusion to his exhortation to pray for all men (vv. 1-7). Some view the command for women to remain silent and not teach (vv. 11-12) concludes the thought began in v. 8. Some preach literally verse by single verse and so it is difficult to tell (without listening to every single sermon) how they understand the text’s divisions. But there is a conclusive way to divide these verses and understand Paul’s argument.
I’ve separated vv. 8-10 as an individual thought for the following reasons:
2:8 Begins a New Argument
In the NASB, the word then in 2:1 translates the same Greek conjunction (οὖν) that we find in v. 8 (therefore). If we say that the conjunction in v. 1 indicates a logical break and the beginning of a new section (and it does) how can we ignore the exact same conjunction in v. 8. Would not this also indicate a logical break and the beginning of a new thought?
2:8 Begins a New Context
Many read vv. 1-7 and the exhortation for the church to pray on behalf of all men (humanity/mankind) and see a natural connection with the men who are to pray. But the connection is not what you think it is. It is not reflected well in the English, but the “all men” (ἄνθρωπος - anthropos) in vv. 1-7 is a completely different term than “men” (ἄνδρας - andras) in v. 8. The term in vv. 1-7 is root or our English word “anthropology” (the study of mankind) and is used (at times) generically for humanity. But the term here in v. 8 specifies men as opposed to women (males). The thoughts are not completely unrelated, but a new context has been introduced by looking at men in the congregation as opposed to women.
v. 9 must be read with v. 8
In the Greek text there is no controlling verb in v. 9. The text, if woodenly translated, would read: Likewise also, women in respectable clothing with modesty and moderation to adorn themselves… This makes it very difficult to translate into English unless we supply the same verb used in v. 8 (I desire/want). This is exactly Paul’s point. He desires two things:
For the men to pray with holy hands
For the women to adorn themselves with modesty/moderation/good works
You cannot separate v. 8 from v. 9 because you will completely loose Paul’s line of thought.
There is a break between v. 10 and v. 11
If you are to look closely, you’ll notice that Paul changed from speaking about women (plural and generic) in v. 10 to a singular woman in v. 11 (specific use as an example). The change from the plural to the singular indicates a break. But even more compelling is the imperative found in v. 11. Paul has not given a command with an imperative yet in this letter. One would think that the first imperative given would indicate the beginning of a thought rather than coming in the middle of a thought.
This discussion may have become more technical than the reader would prefer, but it is important to understand how Paul is communicating. If we truly desire to understand the text, we must understand the author’s flow of thought. I hope this technical reasoning becomes helpful as we back up and view the text of 1 Timothy as a whole.
Viewing the Text
We must understand where we’re at in the letter. All of chapter one serves as an introduction. Paul has given some general commands, but nothing specific. All of that changed in 2:1. This is a letter written to the leaders of the church on how to go about their God-given task of leading the church. There is a logical progression that flows through 2:1 all the way through 3:13. This flow begins with a general understanding of the corporate gathering to worship and progressively gets more specific; from the purpose of the assembled body to the purpose of specific positions and roles. Chapter two functions like a funnel that begins with a wide concept of the gathered assembly and works down to a narrow neck of specific roles and functions within the assembly in preparation for chapter three.
1 Timothy chapter two should be read as three separate yet linked paragraphs advancing a single thought. The first paragraph (vv. 1-7) gives an exhortation for the assembly to consider the purpose of their gathering. The second paragraph (vv. 8-10) examines the attitude of the congregation when they are gathered. And the third paragraph (vv. 11-15) sets up chapter three and begins the discussion of specific roles of the congregation within the gathering.
Understanding the Text
Paul’s Desire for the Men
“Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.”
As we’ve already stated, the men refers to males as opposed to females. This verse is addressing only those with both an X and a Y chromosome within the various churches. In every place does not refer to every man in every place on earth, but to every gathering of saints where men pray. Paul’s desire is focused on the men, but specifically the men of every congregation and not only a single assembly.
What is it that Paul desires/wants/wills the men in every church to do?
To pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension
Paul’s desire for the grown males within the churches in every place is to pray. This general term assumes everything that could possibly be said about the four synonyms in v. 1. We need to notice a few things about Paul’s desire.
First, his desire is for the men to pray. The mention of men here distinguishes them from the women. In other words, the task at hand is for them and them alone. The context is restricted to the gathered assembly. The early church was lead (as the modern church must also be lead) by multiple elders. These elders would take turns reading Scripture, leading the congregation in prayer, and expounding the Scripture (preaching). This could mean that several men were leading the congregation in any given assembly or that the elders would rotate leaders from week to week. The point is that there is nothing here that prevents/prohibits women from praying in general. But within the gathered assembly of saints for the purpose of worship, men and men alone will lead the assembly.
Second, while the text clearly identifies only men to lead worship (preaching and praying) that is not the main thrust of the verse. Paul assumes that men are the ones leading, and will press the need for that later (2:11-3:13), but he is more concerned with the manner or the way in which they come to fulfill their duties.
Lifting describes the manner or the way (even the attitude) in which Paul desires the men to pray. The lifting up of hands during prayer is not prescriptive. We can pray in a biblical manner with hands up, down, folded, pocketed, or whatever else you want to do with them. The lifting of the hands is an expression of innocents. Hands that are unstained, unblemished, holy are lifted up as evidence for God to see. The men who lead and pray must do so as holy men.
Without wrath and dissension
If the men in question are truly blameless in the manner with which they pray and lead the congregation in worship, then they will be free from sinful conflict with their fellow men. They must pray with innocent hands (blameless of guilt) and without sinful/unrepentant conflict between themselves and others.
That men and men alone are to lead the congregation is assumed while the manner/way/attitude with which they lead is at the forefront.
Paul’s Desire for the Women
“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness”
If men are to pray with an attitude of holiness, then women should also exemplify godliness in their conduct. Paul desires the women to adorn themselves. The word means to decorate, to make attractive. From my personal observations, this is what women do. They paint their faces, dangle and drape chains and ornaments about their necks and ears, and in many other ways decorate themselves. Paul’s desire is for women to adorn, make attractive, and decorate themselves. But he is very specific as to how to do that and what to decorate with.
There’s a three-part comparison within these two verses. Paul gives the desired decoration, and then gives the undesired ornaments, only to return to the positive. Take a look for yourself.
… with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works …
There are several things to say here, but I don’t want to lose sight of Paul’s main point. Is there teaching here about modesty? Yes. Are there lessons to be learned about vanity? Absolutely. Yet just like the men, the point here looks at the heart of the issue. Paul’s point is that the women decorate themselves with what they do (good works) as much as what they wear.
To teach that Paul is speaking against vanity, immodesty, and peacocking is to only get part of his argument. The men are to pray. But they are to pray as holy men. The women are to make themselves attractive. But they are to adorn themselves with good works. Paul desires for the quality of men and women’s character.
The men must be seen as those made holy by the blood of Christ. The women must be seen as those made beautiful by the gospel and through their good works. In other words, Paul’s focus is more on attitude than on action in these verses.
The verses ahead will certainly address the different roles of men and women within the church. Those roles are not absent from these verses, but the roles themselves are not the main focus. Before embarking on that quest, Paul first establishes the proper attitude with which men and women come to their roles.
Here’s something to think about. Men cannot stand before a congregation with holy hands unless they confess and repent prior to the gathering. Likewise, the women cannot adorn themselves while at the assembly, but must make it their business to do so before hand. Both men and women must come to the assembly prepared to worship.