Tonight we come to 1 Timothy 2.8-15 in our evening studies in Paul's first letter to Timothy and our study is called ADAM AND EVE TODAY. One commentator says that these are "probably the most controversial verses (especially 11-15) in the Pastoral Letters - [that is the name we give to the two letters to Timothy and the one letter to Titus]." So let me, therefore, give you three principles that should help tonight.
First, you need to read verses like these in the immediate context of the book in which they are written. That is just common sense.
Secondly, you need to read such verses in the context not only of the book they are written in, but also in the context of the Bible as a whole. This is a much neglected principle. Let me quote from Article XX of the Church of England's Thirty-nine Articles. It says:
"It is not lawful for the church to ... expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another."
That doesn't mean you must work out some false harmonization. But it does mean you can't say, "this bit is simply wrong because it seems to contradict that bit (and as a matter of fact I like that bit and I don't like this bit - so I am going to reject this bit)." That is a strategy many people use regarding the verses we are looking at tonight. They say, "Paul just got it wrong". Well, tonight that is not going to be our strategy. Rather we want to be like the great evangelical leader at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, Charles Simeon of Cambridge. He said that when he went to the Bible he was ... "content to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles, and ha[d] no ambition to teach them how they ought to have spoken."
Then the third principle is to make sure you distinguish what is primary from what is secondary, or what is of permanent significance from what is culturally conditioned and relevant only for a certain time. Of course there is much in the Bible that is "time conditioned". But that is either made clear by your reading the Bible as a whole. That shows, for example, that the Old Testament teaching on the ceremonial law and the sacrificial system is no longer applicable after the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. Or it is made clear as you read a given passage in its immediate context. For example, the foot washing by Jesus in John chapter 13 was a sign of servanthood in a day of open shoes but no sewers. But today in the West such an action is irrelevant. Servanthood would be more expressed by unblocking someone's drain or toilet.
So you need to keep those three principles in mind as you look at this passage. And tonight I have two main headings, first, TWO WANTS and secondly, ONE COMMAND.
First, TWO WANTS
Let's look at the first want that you have in verse 8:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.
Paul in this epistle is writing to his young friend Timothy with instructions for his leadership of the church at Ephesus. In chapter 3 verses 14-15 Paul tells us ...
"I am writing you [Timothy] these instructions so that ... you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God."
The problem was that some people were not conducting themselves as they should. There were, on the one hand, "men behaving badly" and, on the other hand, "women behaving badly". Now we know from chapter 1 verse 3 that there was false teaching in the church. Paul says to Timothy:
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer."
And among other things there were three elements in this teaching. One, it made secondary matters into primary matters and "promoted controversies" (chapter 1 verse 4). Two, it stressed asceticism as a means of spirituality. These false teachers were "forbid[ing] people to marry and order[ing] them to abstain from certain foods" (chapter 4 verse 3). And, three, it seems to have made some women ignore the traditional female role of marriage, child rearing and managing their own homes, but instead (1 Timothy 5.13-14) they had got ...
... into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I [Paul] counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
In fact this false teaching in Ephesus sounds a bit like the false teaching you have in the church in Corinth that we have been studying last session in the mornings. In both places there was a denial of a future, real resurrection of the body, but only a present "spiritual" resurrection. And in Corinth there were similarly wrong attitudes to sex and marriage. And women were ignoring their appropriate roles. You get that in 1 Corinthians 11. I haven't time to go into 1 Corinthians 11, but I preached on it on 23 June (last) in the morning. You can get a tape or a transcript from the tape desk; or you can download the sermon from the JPC website "Women in the Church (1 Corinthians 11.2-16)" - Sunday morning, 23 June 2002 (David Holloway)". If you are serious in studying this issue of women in the church you must read that. I simply haven't time to repeat what I said then.
So here you have a heresy - a dangerous heresy - and it looks as though it comes from the false belief that Christians are already in the fullness of God's kingdom now; and that heaven has totally come now. That leads to the view that (spiritually) you are released from this world of space and time. And aspects of God's creation like sex, marriage and male/female distinctions are no longer relevant. But the New Testament teaches that is wrong. For at the moment there is a fight to be fought, and a race to be run. The great hope is for the future when Christ will come again. Well, something like that seems to be the context for these two wants and this one command.
And when you look at this first want, it is clear what is primary and what is secondary. From the rest of the Bible we know that there were all sorts of postures people used in prayer - standing, kneeling, sitting or being prostrate. So the posture is secondary. What is primary is that men should not be unholy, angry and disputing when they came to pray.
Now this may have a reference to the heresy going around. Alternatively it may be meant to be taken at face value. When you pray you need to seek forgiveness first of all because we all sin and are unholy. That is why we usually begin our services at JPC with the confession. And when you come to prayer you ought not to be angry, or in a dispute, with your fellow Christian but in a good relationship.Paul may have been happy for Timothy, the Ephesians and subsequent readers to take these words either way. So that is the first want.
The second want is there in verses 9-10:
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
As in Corinth some women seem to have taken their freedom to extremes. It is quite possible that some women in the church in Ephesus were dressing up like temple prostitutes with their posh clothes and special hair-do's. So this is not a verse to encourage Christian women to look dowdy. The new English Standard Version (ESV) translates it more literally as: "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel with modesty and self-control." There is, therefore, a positive requirement for women to "adorn themselves", but they need to be respectable.
So here what is primary is being respectable. What is secondary or time conditioned are the fashion details. For what counts as respectable or modest depends on the culture. I saw one of those Pathe News documentaries on Friday on sport from 1900-1920. It recorded that there was uproar in the 1910's when women were allowed for the first time to figure skate. The uproar was because they wore "short shirts". But short skirts were what we today would call long skirts. They were short because they revealed women's ankles with the skirt about one foot off the ground!
So what is permanent here is not a rule for women not to look good. After all Esther had make up; and the "bride" in the Song of Solomon had ornaments, strings of jewels and necklaces. Rather, it is on the one hand to keep things in proportion and be decent; and on the other hand to realize that sexual morality is important for the Christian. We are not yet in heaven where marriage is transcended. So sex is to be reserved for marriage and men and women have to relate accordingly. So "women who profess to worship God" are not to dress provocatively. And their priorities are to be different. They are to be concerned with "good deeds" (verse 10). And in chapter 5 verse 10 "good deeds" (for a married woman) are defined in addition to being faithful to her husband, as ...
"bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds."
This is so important. For Paul's concern with the women in the church is not that they should primly and modestly just sit at home. No! He expects them to be engaged in ministry.
First, they have to be faithful in marriage and aren't to go around seducing men - as many of the pagan women in Ephesus were doing (and as many women do today). Then they are to be committed to those good deeds. And they will go on inside and outside the Church, presumably. You simply have to interpret that into 21st century terms. Paul teaches the ministry of everyone in the church and that includes women. But is every ministry open to women? That is the question. It seems that these false teachers said, "yes". For they seem to be teaching that there is no difference between the sexes apart from the plumbing. Paul and the Bible teach otherwise.
That brings us to our second main heading, the ONE COMMAND
You see, Paul was teaching that the Church is "God's household" as we saw in chapter 3 verse 15. You can translate that as "God's family." And Paul taught that there are to be "family type" relationships in the church. I Timothy 5.1-2 says:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
We are to relate to one another as if we were a family together. So conduct in the Church, must take into account not just the general obligation to "love", in a woosey, vacuous sort of way. But you must take into account the concrete distinctions of being different kinds of Church-family members. It is obvious that you love your wife (if you are married) or your husband in a different way to the way you love your son or daughter. And your love for your parents is different again - there needs to be that honour and respect even if you think they are wrong. So there is a family structure to the Church.
And the New Testament is quite clear on male headship - I cannot go into that now as I did on 23 June. But 1 Corinthians 11 verse 3 shows that "male headship" is clearly not cultural. It is rooted in the divine Trinity:
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
So the man is not a little dictator; he is under Christ, and Christ is under God. And as the Father and the Son are equal, so headship cannot mean any inequality. It speaks of difference and a difference that means (for men) responsibility, service and self-sacrificial Christ-like love. Biblical headship is not fundamentally about control but about order. And therefore there has to be "sub-order". But that is not servility. There is to be a mutuality.
A very imperfect illustration is Manchester United Football Club (Newcastle fans will forgive the illustration but they have just acquired Rio Ferdinand a few hours ago for £30,000,000 from Leeds). You there have Peter Kenyon, the Chief Executive; Alex Ferguson, the Manager; and now Rio Ferdinand, possibly the best central defender in the world. But Ferguson is subordinate to Kenyon; and Ferdinand is subordinate to Ferguson and Kenyon. Equality is not the issue. It is all about function. Each is necessary. But each is different and has to be different for the effectiveness of the club. And so it is with the male-female relationships in the family and in the family of the church. So Paul says in verse 11:
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Now it is important that we read this in the context of the "whole Bible". In the same way as some ignore this passage and only read Galatians 3.28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Others only read these verses and forget that this is not an absolute prohibition on women teaching. For they are to teach or train other women (Titus 2.3-5) and children (for Lois and Eunice taught Timothy, as we heard this morning). And, in some situations, they are to teach men (like Priscilla alongside her husband Aquila taught Apollos). And so women need to be learning and studying just as much as men. Indeed, "a woman should learn" says Paul in verse 11, "but in quietness and full submission".
With regard to "quietness", Paul is not insisting that a woman is to be "wordless" in Church (as we shall see later). But she is not to be interrupting the preacher and contradicting and questioning him critically, as some seem to have been doing, if Corinth is anything to go by. With regard to "full submission", submission is the appropriate response of Christians to those in authority. But remember, no submission is absolute. When an authority commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, the Bible teaches you have to obey God rather than man. Generally, however, there is to be order, not disorder. Then we come to verse 12 where Paul says,
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."
What is being ruled out here is "authoritative teaching". For the teaching Paul has in mind is authoritative and senior authority in the church is to be through teaching God's word. Of course, if we define "teaching" broadly as the communication of Christian truth through conversation and discussion, well, everyone is to teach.
But it is clear from the Pastoral Epistles and the New Testament in general that the word "teaching" usually refers to authoritative doctrinal instruction. So in 2 Timothy 2.2 Paul writes:
the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
It is apostolic teaching and that is authoritative because it comes from God. And that teaching we now have in the Bible. And the communication of this authoritative teaching is the duty of the senior leaders of the church who are to be male. And sometimes this teaching and leadership involves taking people to task. In 1 Thessalonians 5.12 Paul writes:
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.
So teaching involves discipline and that says Paul, is to be for the male senior leaders. What then does all this mean in practice.
There are grey areas and different churches will draw the line in slightly different places. But in the Church of England it means, surely, that women should not be ordained. For ordination to the presbyterate (or priesthood or eldership) is ordination to senior leadership exercised through preaching and teaching. And women, surely, should not be consecrated as Bishops as is now being proposed. Yes, women can be in full time church work as they in this church, but not in these ordained roles. And as a domestic rule in this church we have only men as Home Group leaders. They are not "presbyters" as those who are ordained are presbyters, but they have a responsibility to see that their groups keep true to the Bible, even if others without a teaching authority lead the discussion.
So does all this mean a woman must never speak to men in the main church gathering? No! For it all depends what she is doing. The New Testament makes it clear that women can prophesy. And whatever else prophecy may be, according to 1 Corinthians 14.3 it is
"speaking to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort."
Indeed, 1 Corinthians 14.6 distinguishes prophecy from a "word of instruction". I can remember Helen Roseveare many years ago in this church talking of her terrible experiences in the Congo. That was remarkably strengthening and, in its way, encouraging. But it wasn't authoritative teaching.
But someone says, "Wait a minute! Why are you assuming that this teaching about women not being able to be authoritative teachers is not just culturally conditioned?" That is an important question. The answer, of course, is there in verse 13:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Paul roots this teaching on women in the created order of things. Adam was formed first, then Eve. Notice, he is not rooting it in the fact that women are more prone to error as some say. If that were the case, women should not be teaching other women or children or men informally as Priscilla taught with her husband Aquila.
No! The issue with Eve was the nature, not the fact, of the deception. Eve was deceived into taking the spiritual initiative over Adam. She didn't refer to him. She just made up her mind without discussing it with Adam and then led him on.
No! Paul is rooting this command in the fact of male headship and female helpership that is made so clear in Genesis chapter 2. So this teaching is not time conditioned. It relates to the created order. Finally, you ask, "What does verse 15 mean -
... women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety?",/i>
Some say that "childbearing" refers to Mary and the birth of Jesus. More likely it means that women (obviously this just refers to married women) should work out their salvation (or live out their Christian lives) as they bear children and all that goes with that - being faithful in marriage, managing their homes and doing all those good deeds. The false teachers were probably claiming that women could only truly experience God if they abandoned their homes and became actively involved in teaching and senior leadership roles in the church. Paul is saying they are wrong.
I must conclude.
As I said at the beginning, these verses are controversial, but if they are God's word we must obey them. But remember, these three things - and with this I finish.
One, God made us. So he knows best what is best for us.
Two, it is not that women are on one side and men on the other in a battle for opportunities for ministry. For most men are also prohibited from being authoritative teachers in the church. That is because they are not called to that ministry. But they, and all women, have other callings that are vital.
And, three, as verse 15 reminds us, it is far more important to be safe for all eternity through faith and obedience to Christ, than to follow the fashion of this world which undoubtedly, in time, will change.