Silence or quietness? What does submission call for?

Bible studyWe saw in the last post that Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, was instructing Timothy about encouraging prayer in the church. He especially wanted the men to focus on praying instead of arguing and wanted the women to not focus on their outward appearance, but to focus on doing good things.

That discussion leads him to a related matter, still concerning men and women:

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:11–15)

The ESV does a good job with the word they’ve translated “quietly” and “quiet.” For some reason, the KJV translators used the word “silence,” but that’s not a good reflection of the word. A different form of the word is used in verse 2 of this chapter to describe the lives that Christians are to seek; the KJV uses the word “quiet” in that instance and should have in this one. Paul isn’t telling women that they can’t speak at all; he’s telling them to be respectful.

The concept of submissiveness is still here. I know that we wrestle with that word, particularly because of modern connotations. We think of someone forcing someone else to submit, but that’s not the picture the New Testament paints. I think Ephesians 5 gives us a good idea of what submission looks like in a loving relationship. Mutual submission does not rule out some sense of hierarchy; it merely leads each party to seek the interests of the other.

Paul also warns against letting women teach or “exercise authority over a man.” There is controversy over the meaning of the second verb in that set (it’s a unique word used only here in the New Testament). I think it helps to see the contrast: she is to seek quietness. Her actions should not bring into question her submission.

Paul expresses this as a personal view, yet it’s a personal view based on theology, not merely culture nor pressing concerns. Even as we wrestle to understand his theological point, it’s foolish to argue that he doesn’t have one.

And then comes the enigmatic statement: “she will be saved through childbearing.” It’s a difficult statement to interpret (as Laymond noted, even Peter said some of Paul’s sayings were hard to understand). There are several possibilities. The only one that would really change our interpretation of these verses would be a strict literalist position that says that a woman is saved by giving birth.

I think Paul’s concluding words get overlooked. They seem to be the point of the whole thing: women are to continue in faith, love and holiness, and to do it in a proper way. (“temperate” is a good translation here, but we rarely use that word any more)

This passage fits well with Paul’s other teachings about men and women, even Galatians 3. There’s no need to pit one passage against another. Paul maintained the system of male leadership/headship that is seen throughout the Bible, giving much freedom to women, but cautioning them to use it within the framework of that system.

18 thoughts on “Silence or quietness? What does submission call for?

  1. Nick Gill

    Mutual submission does not rule out some sense of hierarchy; it merely leads each party to seek the interests of the other.

    Or, to paraphrase Orwell, “All creatures are under submission, but some are under more submission than others.”

  2. Nick Gill

    Wright translates this passage like this:

    “So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.”

    Of course, there’s been pushback.

    Wright’s position:

    A piece fairly representative of the pushback:

  3. Tim Archer Post author


    It’s hard to call that a translation, except in the loosest sense of the word. It might be helped if he could do like some translations and put his insertions in italics. Take verse 11 for example. There’s no textual basis for “to God,’ yet inserting those two words changes the whole meaning of the text. It’s a possible interpretation, but not a good translation.

    Again in verse 12, he changes “I don’t allow” to “I’m not saying.” Big difference in meaning.

    Let’s just say that Wright is presenting a paraphrase, not a translation.

    And do I need to reply to the snarky Orwell comment? ;-) If mutual submission doesn’t allow for some hierarchy, then Paul was in serious error in Ephesians 5.

  4. Nick Gill

    I think we have to wrestle with the implications which are drawn into sharp contrast by the Orwell comment, Tim.

    Because that’s how it sounds to many people: that in Christianity, men practice mutual submission by making decisions for the church, while women practice mutual submission by obeying those decisions.

  5. Tim Archer Post author


    But why are so few people willing to wrestle the implications of Paul’s statements? So many people say “we want a mutual submission relationship,” yet ignore the description of how that works, description written by the very man that coined the phrase? Many people would prefer that Ephesians 5 ended in verse 21. But it doesn’t. Paul’s writings didn’t stop with Galatians, much to the dismay of many.

    I recognize a need to be sensitive to how things sound to others, but we can’t play to the crowd, either. There’s a fine line between contextualization and syncretism. We express our message in ways the culture can understand, but we don’t change our message to things our culture will accept.

    There may be a time when most people will say, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?” and they’ll walk away. But we have to stay, because we know who has the words of life.

  6. Nick Gill

    It is precisely because of my wrestling with the implications of a woman being required to render phobos unto her husband who is quite happy to ignore everything in the passage that goes before “the wife must fear her husband,” that I find myself leery of understanding Eph 5 as the controlling passage for male-female relations.

  7. Tim Archer Post author

    But let me add, don’t let “phobos” be a hang-up for you. It’s used many times to describe our relationship with God. I understand that “fear” sounds bad in a relationship, yet it’s not meant to be negative. That’s why most modern translations prefer “reverence” or “respect.”

  8. Nick Gill

    There’s no way around it, Tim. Commands come into conflict with each other, as you’ve already addressed in the posts on 1 Cor 11 and 14, and as I pointed out a while back on the matter of the singing commands vs. silence commands.

    Does 1 Tim 2 control how we understand what happened when Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside (in which case Priscilla must be understood to have been a silent partner, because “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,”


    does the Priscilla/Aquila/Apollos event control how we interpret 1 Tim 2 (in the same way that the singing commands and the 1 Cor 11 passage on public prayer and prophecy control how we understand 1 Cor 14:34-35)?

  9. Nick Gill

    But let me add, don’t let “phobos” be a hang-up for you. It’s used many times to describe our relationship with God.

    That’s exactly why it is a hangup, Tim. God expects complete, total, immediate, and whole-hearted obedience. God doesn’t ask my opinion.

    In fact, the ideas here seem to have the two greatest commands hovering behind them. Husbands are to love their wives as they love their neighbors (treat them like human beings) and wives are to have the same relationships with their husbands that they do with God.

  10. Tim Archer Post author

    My point is, we can’t let any one passage “control” the others. They can shed light on one another, but I believe each has a valid seat at the table of this discussion.

  11. Nick Gill

    My point is, we can’t let any one passage “control” the others. They can shed light on one another, but I believe each has a valid seat at the table of this discussion.

    Command 1: Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, sing and make music from your heart to the Lord

    Command 2: Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

    Two commands, given without built-in limitations. A woman cannot obey both at the same time. Whatever they do, they will be disobeying one of the commands (like the priests and Levites in the temple who labor on the Sabbath).

    Which is the greater command?

  12. Tim Archer Post author

    Nick, if your point is that strict literalism will force you into a catch-22 situation, I’m in full agreement.

    I would appeal to the principle of form vs. function to help in that situation.

  13. Nick Gill

    But that’s not how Jesus addresses dilemmas like the one above, and between 1 Tim 2:12 and Col 3:16.

    Command: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

    Statement: I do not permit a woman to teach a man.

    Why are the priests blameless? This was a huge point of conflict between Hillel and Shammai. Both the Sabbath law and the morning and evening sacrifices exist for the same function — to honor God. The functions are the same, but the forms come into conflict. How can the priests work on the Sabbath (believe me, wrangling yearling lambs is work) and yet be blameless?

    Because the greatest command (for Hillel and Jesus) is to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. For Shammai, the second greatest command was Sabbath. Which is more neighbor-loving? To rest on the Sabbath or to offer the morning and evening sacrifices on behalf of all your neighbors? Thus, the priests violate the Sabbath and yet are blameless.

    In our churches, women violate the “Be Silent” and “Do Not Teach a Man” passages every Sunday, and yet we hold them blameless. Why? Because we follow Jesus in upholding the first and great command as controlling how we implement the other commands.

    That’s what I mean by “controlling passages” — not that the other passages don’t have valid seats at the table, but that in a religion with commands that come into conflict (where not all the commands can be obeyed simultaneously), how do we discern which commands to obey when?

  14. Tim Archer Post author

    Hmm… but doesn’t it seem that working out the fulfillment of Mosaic Law is different than learning about church practices that cross multiple cultures? I’m not sure if the same interpretive rules would apply.

    I’m not ready to put obedience to “commands” like Colossians 3:16 on the level of ordinances of the old Law.

  15. laymond

    Wendy, I wouldn’t take what is said about authority to seriously,– Gen 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
    Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
    Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
    God made “MAN” not a man he made both genders of “MAN” for a reason, and he made them to work together not one ordering the other around, I believe the Jews invented that part. God gave “MAN” dominion over earth, not just the male of the species.

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