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The Dignity of Sisters

A Maunder, Cardiff

1 Timothy 2.9-15

There are two main sections in these verses:

Verses 9-10, in which the key word is "sobriety" (v 9). The sisters are charged with Manifesting Sobriety.

Verses 11-15, in which the key word is "subjection" (v 11). The sisters are charged with Manifesting Subjection.

In each section Paul gives the positive, then the negative, and then the ideal situation.

Manifesting Sobriety (vv 9-10)

The Positive Situation: "In like manner also, that women …". Paul turns from the behaviour of men in public prayer (vv 1-8), to the conduct of women in the assembly. A vital part of the spiritual atmosphere in the gathering of the saints is established by the demeanour of the sisters. The word "adorn" means 'order', and refers to the external appearance of the sisters. Generally, dress is an expression of taste, and often displays character. Paul emphasises that the outward adornment should be "modest", with each sister dressing in a manner that is decent and becoming. Such modesty will result from "shamefacedness"; a sense of shame at what is base and unseemly. It will also result from "sobriety", describing sound judgment and self-control, which will stop her from going to extremes. The sister should not adorn herself like women of the world who seek, by their dress, to draw attention to themselves. She will not attend the assembly gatherings dressed in an inappropriate manner. Her shamefacedness and sobriety will provide balance in these things.

The Negative Situation: "not with broided hair". The reference is not to simple plaiting of the hair, but to the habit of women in the high society of that day, who would do their hair up with jewelled combs, pins of ivory and silver, and jewelled beads. Nothing would be spared to make them a glittering sight. As to the "gold, or pearls or costly array", the godly sister will not wear jewellery or clothing of extreme expense which will draw attention to herself.

The Ideal Situation: "professing" means 'to announce boldly', 'to proclaim'. It is inconsistent for a woman to proclaim a reverence for God and, at the same time, adorn herself immodestly or with a show of extravagance. Instead, her adornment should be that "… (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works". Sisters should show by their deportment that God is to be had in reverence, and their dress must be consistent with this. Godly women please God with "good works" that are beneficial to other people. There is a beauty in the life of a Christian who seeks the welfare of others. Phebe was "a succourer of many" (Rom 16.2), giving help and assistance to believers in their time of need. Dorcas (Acts 9.36), and Lydia (16.15), were women of a similar kind.

Manifesting Subjection (vv 11-15)

Once again Paul follows the same pattern; the positive, the negative, and the ideal situation.

The Positive Situation: "Let the woman learn in silence" does not refer to her being forbidden to speak, but to her attitude of heart. "Silence" means 'tranquillity' or 'stillness', and the word is used with this sense in 2 Thessalonians 3.12, where it is translated "quietness". "With all subjection" indicates 'complete submissiveness; not under duress'.

The Negative Situation: "But I suffer not a woman to teach" is in the context of assembly gatherings. Older sisters are encouraged to teach younger sisters privately (Titus 2.4). "Nor to usurp authority over the man" means a woman is not to govern, nor seek to dominate the man, nor assume a place that does not belong to her, "but to be in silence". Some suggest that Paul is condemning the fact that the sisters sat apart from the brethren in the gatherings, and that they were prone to chatter but, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addressed the matter of the sisters not speaking in the assembly, and he used a different word for "silence". In verse 28, the tongue-speaker was to "keep silence" if no interpreter was present, and the prophet was to "hold his peace" if the Spirit revealed something to one who was sitting by (v 30). The women were commanded to "keep silence in the churches" without any conditions (v 34), that is, they were not to take any public part in the gatherings. The clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 is that women should not lead the company in any of its collective activities, and Paul's instructions to Timothy bear that out. The women are not to pray audibly in the assembly prayer meeting (1 Tim 2.8), nor to ask questions in the assembly Bible study (v 11), neither are they to teach in the assembly ministry meeting (v 12). In summary, the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 is in relation to the women not speaking in the assembly gatherings, but Paul's instruction to Timothy concerns the attitude of heart with which the sister should observe that prohibition. Her "silence" in 1 Timothy 2 describes the submissive spirit with which she obeys the instruction "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man …" (v 12).

In verses 13 and 14, Paul sets out the two reasons why the woman is not to teach publicly in the assembly. We should note that no prejudice against women is implied, neither is the prohibition to do simply with local conditions in Ephesus or Corinth. The two reasons why women are to be silent in the gatherings go right back to the beginning: to creation (Gen 1 and 2) in verse 13, and to the fall (Gen 3) in verse 14. The first reason is to do with creatorial order; "For Adam was first formed, then Eve." God created Adam and, later, he made the woman. She was made from Adam, and she was made for Adam. The word "first" not only indicates chronological order, but it also has the idea of rank. God vested Adam with headship and authority in His creatorial order. The second reason why the woman is not to assume the role of the man is that "Adam was not deceived [beguiled], but the woman being deceived [thoroughly beguiled] was in the transgression." "The woman" (not "Eve", but "the woman" – her gender and position are being emphasised) was directly assailed by the tempter. In doing what she did, she "was in the transgression", and she went beyond the bounds that God had set for her. What we have here is role reversal. Eve took the place of authority and decision making, and Adam submitted to the decision she had made. Thus God said to her "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Gen 3.16). What was before a voluntary subjection now became a matter of command: "as also saith the law" (1 Cor 14.34).

The Ideal Situation: "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing …". There are several ways in which this expression is interpreted, one of which connects it with the birth of Christ. However, the word "saved" does not always refer to salvation from sin, and there is no suggestion in the context that the birth of the Lord Jesus is in view.

Another view is that the woman who continues in faith and love and holiness with sobriety will be physically preserved in the process of giving birth to a child. Sadly, down through the generations since this was written, there have been many godly women who have died in childbirth, so that interpretation would mean that God is not true to His promise.

The most balanced interpretation is that the woman will be preserved from the errors dealt with in the context of the chapter, that is, seeking to take a place in the assembly that does not belong to her. "Through childbearing" indicates not so much the process of giving birth, but the subsequent rearing of the child. It could be translated "through childrearing", where the duties of motherhood are implied. The expressions "if she hath brought up children" (1 Tim 5.10) and "keepers at home" (Titus 2.5) come from the same Greek word. Thus we understand that the woman's place is in the home and, if she keeps to her God-appointed place, she will be preserved from seeking a prominence that does not belong to her in the assembly.


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