We 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.