The Lord’s Day Morning
August 1, 2004
I Timothy 2:8-15
”Women in the Church”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to First Timothy, chapter two. We have said all along as we’ve been studying the first of the Pastoral Epistles, these letters from a veteran pastor to a younger pastor about pastoral matters, matters that pertain to the local church—we’ve said as we have studied this pastoral letter that we find here a pattern for ministry, a divinely appointed set of directives for how we are to live and minister as God’s people and among God’s people in the local congregation.
And last week as we were looking at I Timothy 2:1-7, we saw important matters pertaining to the church’s prayer addressed by Paul. Paul was speaking to the church about its posture towards the world. In verses one and two of First Timothy two, Paul urges the church to be praying for all kinds and classes of people, including the rulers, which are so often in opposition to them.
The church could have been tempted to pray against the rulers who were so pressing down on Christians in Ephesus. Or, they could have simply been tempted not to pray for them at all. But Paul says, “No, you pray for your rulers, for kings, for those who are in high places, those who are persecuting you. You pray for all kinds and classes of men.”
And then in verses three through six he explains why. He gives them an expression of God’s desire to see all kinds and classes of men, women, boys and girls, come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He reminds us that there is one mediator, there is one ransom, there is one atoning sacrifice for sin. And there is only one hope for the world; and if we have been saved by that hope, by grace, then we also must pray. If we are going to really love humanity, we must pray that humanity would come to know that one hope savingly in Jesus Christ.
Paul concludes in verse seven by reminding us that he himself is an apostle to the Gentiles. He’s been appointed not simply to go to Jews, not simply to go to one small ethnic group on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, but he’s been appointed to go to the peoples of the world. And that, too, stands as testimony for the reach of God’s work.
And so, Paul continues this emphasis on prayer in the passage we’re going to read today. But today we also come to some issues that are even more controversial than some of the matters that we touched on in verses one to seven—at least, more controversial in the modern mind. That is especially the subject of the roles of men and women in the church.
Paul’s words would have been controversial in his own day, in that he would have been seen as “liberal” and progressive. In our day, however, these words cause people to respond in horror to the Apostle Paul. They cannot believe that he would be so backward, narrow, closed-minded—even chauvinistic. And so this is a very controversial topic in our own day.
Paul, in various places, addresses both male and female roles in the Christian home, and in the Christian church. And this is one of those passages where he addresses male/female roles and responsibilities—distinctive male and female roles and responsibilities—in the church. And there are, frankly, few areas in the church today more fraught with controversy than the role relationships between men and women in the home and in the church. You don’t have to turn on the television today to know that there has been an explosion, for instance, of female ministers in the Pentecostal and Charismatic world. Many of you perhaps have caught Joyce Meyers from time to time on television, pounding the pulpit and preaching away. Well, she’s just typical of a new wave of female preachers in the Pentecostal and Charismatic world. On the other hand, you don’t have to look very far in the liberal and mainline denominations to see very different expressions of male/female role relationships in terms of leadership, teaching, and preaching in the church.
Well, why does First Presbyterian Church do like we do, when they’re doing like they do? Why is it that the PCA does things as we do, when others are doing it a different way? Why is it that conservative evangelical Christians all over the world have a different view of male and female roles and responsibilities in the life of the church, when we see many churches doing it differently?
In part the answer will be found in a passage here, like I Timothy 2. There are other passages as well: I Corinthians 11; I Corinthians 14; and others. But this is one of the important passages for answering why we do as we do. I want to remind you as we look at this passage that Paul speaks very clearly to this matter. This is not waffling language that Paul gives us. This is very clear, unequivocal language. He’s not the politician, who studied the overnight polls to see how things were leaning and then he wrote in that direction...or he tried to straddle the fence so that you couldn’t figure out what he was saying. Oh, he is painfully clear with what he has to say!
And I also want you to see that Paul thinks that this issue is important. Sometimes we say, “Look. With half of the world never having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, why are we squabbling about this?” Well, Paul thought this was important enough to write down in a pastoral epistle inspired by the Holy Spirit for the instruction of the church in all ages. Clearly, he thought this was an issue very significant for the life of the local congregation. And so we’re going to pause and take some time to consider it.
Now, Paul, the Bible, Christianity, and conservative evangelical Bible-believing Christians have all been the objects of much derision from modern secularists in terms of our approach to male/female role relationships in the church. For instance, one current Mississippi writer has in fact taken direct aim at us in this congregation on this issue. He protests that “the exclusively white male elders of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson believe in the Pauline precept that women should be silent in the church.” Now he, of course, thinks this is utterly ridiculous and irrational in the extreme, and he makes no bones about that. But I want you to see that that brand of mindless mudslinging is precisely the same kind of mindless mudslinging that gets Paul tarred and feathered as a misogynist—as a woman-hater.
Now, that’s patently untrue. Paul, throughout his ministry, was supported by significant women. Did they think that Paul was a woman-hater and they still supported him? Paul often found the greatest reception for his gospel preaching amongst godly women. Think of Lydia, the businesswoman that he met from Thyatira, who responded to the preaching of his gospel and became the core of the disciples in a new particular quadrant of ministry that he was developing. Look at the greetings of Paul in his letters, and the final salutations and messages at the end of his letters in the New Testament. They are filled with greetings to women who were near and dear to him. Look at how Paul responds and relates, for instance, to Priscilla, the wife of Aquila. Everybody else calls her by her diminutive name, but Paul calls her by her full and formal name. I suspect that it reflects the great respect and esteem in which he held her. So there is no concrete evidence for Paul being a woman-hater. Secularists just don’t like the position that Paul states here regarding male/female role relationships in the Church, and so they call him names. Consequently, they call anybody who follows his teaching those same names.
But there is, of course, a different kind of tack on this issue. Many mainline Christians want to vindicate Paul from the charge of being a woman-hater, and so they do this by saying, “He did not teach what you think that he’s teaching.” And they do that in three different ways. The idea is to say, “No, Paul was not a woman-hater, but it was not the intention of his teaching...or it is not the result of his teaching...to restrict the teaching and ruling functions and offices of the church to qualified males.”
And there are three ways in which this argument is made. First, the argument is made that Paul did not mean what he seems to be saying here in I Timothy 2, in I Corinthians 11 and 14. The argument goes something like this: whenever Paul puts a restriction on the role responsibilities of women in the church, it is only because of a specific, temporary situation in a local congregation, but his general ethic is egalitarian. And an appeal will be made to an important passage. Turn back with me to Galatians 3. If you’ll look at Galatians 3, verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.” And the argument there is, in that passage Paul makes it clear that his ethic is egalitarian. There are no differences between male and female.
Now I want to just pause there. Can you get from that verse that there are no differences between male and female in Paul? Well, only if you take Ephesians 5 out of the Bible; only if you redefine marriage. By the way, once that you argue that a passage like that means that there are no differences between male and female, then you really have no ground for arguing that marriage ought to be between one man and one woman—if there are no differences between male and female.
So Paul clearly doesn’t believe that his statement in Galatians 3:28 means that there are to be no differences in the way males and females relate, the roles that they play, the responsibilities that they have in the local church. But the argument is from these mainline Christians, “Well, Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 trump whatever he says somewhere else.” So that’s one way that they argue.
The second way that they argue is like this: Paul is inconsistent on this issue, that he contradicts himself. Sometimes he says one thing, and other times he says another. When he says that the roles of women are restricted in the church, there he’s caving in to the prevailing traditionalist Jewish culture. When elsewhere he speaks an egalitarian ethic, there he’s speaking in the spirit of Jesus. And therefore, we go with him when he’s speaking the egalitarian ethic, because he’s inconsistent and self-contradictory, and the best position that he articulates is that there are no male/female role relationship distinctions in the church. That’s the second way that people argue.
And the third way that people argue is this—and this is becoming more and more popular. Intervarsity Press has just published a book articulating the position I’m about to describe. It says that the New Testament ethic is incomplete in this area. It is deficient, but that if we follow the trajectory from the Old Testament to the New Testament and then extend it out, we can come to a better ethic than the ethic of the New Testament. In other words, if women’s roles were restricted even more in the Old Testament, and broadened in the New Testament, but not broadened enough, we can follow that trajectory to broaden them even more and come to a better ethic than the New Testament.
Now, I think you see, my friends, that all three of these approaches to Paul create problems with your view of Scripture. You have to denigrate Scripture. Can we say that we can come up with a better ethic than God in Scripture? Can we say that Scripture contradicts itself, and so we’re going to pick and choose the parts that we think are best? Or can we say that passages where Paul says that he “intends his words to be practiced in all the churches and everywhere” are only for some churches? You see, each of these three explanations require you to undermine the authority of Scripture in the life of the church. None of these approaches is acceptable to the Christian with a high view of Scripture. What the Bible says, we believe and practice joyfully.
Now, I want to say as well, that we’re not taking up this subject to take an aim at someone, or a potshot. I don’t do that in sermons. There’s never a time when there’s a person in the congregation that I really want to speak to, so I preach a sermon to them and the rest of you are along for the ride. That’s not how I operate. We’re preaching through the book of First Timothy, and we’re to this passage. If I were not to preach this, I would be unfaithful. So my job is to preach to you as faithfully as I can, the word of God. We’re not following or advancing a hidden agenda. We’re just following the text of the word of God. So let’s hear God’s word. Let’s pray and ask His blessing before we read it.
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Thank You that Your word makes us uncomfortable. If Your word always said what our preconceived notions of the way things are, or ought to be, then we would be suspicious that Your word was not Your word, because You so often come in and show us that the way we think is not the way we ought to think. We recognize that these are not the words of men, but this is the very word of God. Teach us by that word. Help us to receive it joyfully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Hear the word of God:
(8) “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 befits women making a claim to godliness. Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Paul is writing in a cross-cultural situation here. He’s writing in a situation where the Gentiles do not know the long-standing practices of the Jewish tradition. In a Jewish synagogue, the women would have sat on one side, or stood, and the men on the other. In a Jewish synagogue, the men alone would have prayed. The women would have remained silent. And Paul is speaking to church life where some Gentiles don’t know the standing practices of the Jewish synagogue.
But you will notice that Paul is neither saying “we’re going to do it just like the synagogue” nor “we’re going to scrap everything that the synagogue did and start over and do it ourselves.” He’s saying, “No, some of these things we do; some of these things we don’t do. But all that we do, we do in accordance with God’s word.” He is explaining to these Gentiles, who don’t know Jewish worship practice, what proper Christian worship practice is and what Christians take over from Judaism, and what they don’t take over from Judaism.
And so, because these Gentile men didn’t know about the long-standing Jewish practices, and because they didn’t know what the Old Testament had taught about their leadership, some of these men were failing to exercise leadership in a very important area of the church’s life: prayer. And so the very first thing Paul has to say about male/female role relationships and responsibilities is to the men, who were apparently falling down in their responsibility to lead in prayer.
Now he does this, again, because he’s in a cross-cultural setting. The woman’s new-found freedom in Christ may well have tempted those Ephesian Christian women to do things that they ought not to do. Remember, in the New Testament, Christian women, in fulfillment of Joel, chapter two, were involved in Christian gatherings in prophesying as well as prayer, and there may have been many Christian women who said, “Hey, if we can prophesy and pray, then we ought to be able to preach, too. And we should be rulers, and preachers.” And Paul is saying, “No, I want to tell you what you can do, and what you ought not do, and why.” And so Paul is speaking to these various kinds of specific practical questions in a cross-cultural setting.
Then, for the rest of this section he turns his attention to the ladies in the congregation. Remember now, women in the Christian gathering, in the Christian assembly, in the local Christian church, were able to do something they had never been allowed to do in the synagogue: pray out loud. We know that from Acts 2 and from I Corinthians 11. It never would have been allowed in the synagogue. But in the Christian church, one of the freedoms of the Christian woman was to be able to pray. Paul, because of those new-found freedoms, knew that there were also temptations for women, Christian women, to do things that they shouldn’t do in the congregation. And where the culture around them was tempting them also, to do certain things in Christian worship that they ought not to do. And so Paul speaks to them.
In fact, in this section of Scripture, Paul speaks about four topics, from verse eight to verse fourteen. Let me just outline those topics for you. First, he speaks about prayer; then he speaks about clothing; then he speaks about discipleship; and then, he speaks about teaching. Let’s look at each of these together.
I. Christian men are to take the lead in the prayer of the church.
First of all, let’s look at verse eight. Here’s where he speaks to men about prayer. “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” Paul is saying there that he wants men to take the lead in the public prayer of the church. He sees a particular responsibility for men leading in the prayer of the church. He uses not the generic word “man”—our English word “man” can sometimes refer to humans, whether they are male or female, and sometimes it refers to a male human—but in this passage, he uses the very specific Greek word which refers to a male human. “I want men—male humans—in every place to pray.” All are to pray. We’ve seen this from Acts 2 and I Corinthians 11. But especially, Paul says, he wants the men to take the lead in prayer. As we’ve already said, Paul’s instruction would not have seemed strange to anyone familiar with the synagogue worship. But now he’s having to speak to Gentiles in a new situation. And so he calls on these men especially to lead in prayer.
On Saturday nights in Scotland, at the Holyrood Abbey church, they have their prayer meeting, and they pray for about two hours—from seven-thirty to nine-thirty every Saturday night. About a hundred members of that congregation will typically gather for prayer meeting. And I’ll never forget, maybe my second year there, after prayer meeting had gone on for an hour, a succession of godly women had gotten up to pray and not one man had prayed. And
Dr. Philip just stood up in the middle of the prayer meeting, and he castigated the men for not leading in prayer. Now I can thankfully say, at First Presbyterian Church in prayer meeting it’s usually the other way around. We’re usually having to encourage the sisters in Christ to feel free to stand and pray, and the men, in general, do a good job of leading in prayer. But Paul is speaking to that kind of a situation in Ephesus. He wants the men to be leading in prayer, and specifically, he wants them to be holy and he wants there to be no dissension in the congregation.
You see, there are three hindrances to prevailing prayer in the corporate prayer life of the church: male indolence (men not taking the spiritual initiative to pray); a lack of holiness upon the part of the men who are praying; and bitterness and divisions that exist in the congregation. And Paul knows that each of those three things can rob the power of the corporate prayer of the church, and so he says, “Men, I want you to pray; I want you to live holy lives so that when you pray, you’re not putting on your ‘Holy Joe’ robes (and you’re living like a pagan the rest of the week); and I want you to pray in such a way that it flows out of healthy relationships, without bitterness and division in the life of the congregation.”
Friends, those are very practical things for us today. It’s easy for us to get crossways with one another. It’s easy for us to live parallel lives, and Paul says, “Men, take the initiative; pray; live holy lives; and be at peace with one another.” Be at fellowship with one another in the local church.
You know, in a society like ours today, suspicious of conservatives, they might expect conservatives to experience more domestic domination and abuse from men to women than in a liberal and open-minded society out there. In fact, there are new statistics from the University of Virginia (a Brad Wilcox survey) that shows practically the opposite. Christianity Today this week has released a report that says the least amount of domestic abuse amongst any professing Christians in America comes from conservative, active, Bible-believing, evangelical Christian men. And the highest level of abuse is in nominal, mainline, liberal Christian circles--the men in those circles.
But what I find interesting is that as I talk to women, not only in this congregation, but in other evangelical congregations, the complaint that I have them say to me most frequently—maybe eight out of ten times, when I talk—is not that their husband is authoritarian and domineering, but that their husbands will not take spiritual initiative and leadership in the home. Now, that’s shocking. You wouldn’t expect that. The culture would say that it would be otherwise. And Paul is saying to the men, “Brothers, take initiative! Pray! Lead this congregation in prayer!” That’s a clarion call to us all. There’s the first thing that we see. What are men to do? Especially, they are to take a lead in praying in the church.
II. Christian women are to aspire to modesty in dress/godliness in demeanor.
Then he turns to the ladies, and speaks to them about clothing. You’ll see it in verses nine and ten. “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. This is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” Paul is telling Christian women here that they are to aspire to modesty in dress and godliness in demeanor. That they are to long to clothe themselves outwardly modestly, but also they are to clothe themselves with godliness. He is calling for them to think about a different kind of outward adornment when they come to church.
The first thing that he says is that they are to clothe themselves properly, with modesty and discretion. And those three words are very important for our own assessment of our dress in our own day and time: properly, modesty, and discretion.
Paul’s circumstance in Ephesus was this: there were many wealthy women in Ephesus who often showed off that wealth in the excess of their clothing. We know from history that the women of that town were given to wearing very flashy clothing. And apparently the culture had influenced the Christian women. And so their clothing was not modest and discreet. It was very ornate, as you can see by the very description of the jewels and gold and other things that were with it. And so Paul says, “Look. Your by-word for your dress ought to be modesty and discretion.” The congregation is to be made up of men and women, and boys and girls, of all kinds and classes and stations of people in life. There should not be one part of the congregation flaunting its wealth against another part of the congregation. There should be a desire to minister to all in the church, and to embrace and accept all in the church. James talks about this in James, chapter two. Well, Paul’s speaking to that.
Now friends, we hear this word in a very, very similar, and different, cultural situation. Similar from the standpoint that we have the temptation, too, in our Sunday dress to show off the lavish blessings of material wealth that we have. And we need to be careful about that. But especially in this culture, there is a tendency to immodesty in female dress.
I trust that my sisters in Christ will not be offended by my speaking directly to this issue. We have a culture that is not helping our women in terms of dressing modestly and discreetly. Now, I want to assure you that it is not my goal to be named Ayatollah Duncan, nor the Session to be named the Taliban, nor to order that you all wear burkas to church every Sunday. This is not our goal. It would be easy to write it off. And, as I’ve spoken about this in the past, I’ve gotten some rather snippy responses on the subject of modesty. But sisters, bear with me as I address this question. Paul is concerned that Christian women, especially when they’re gathered in the assembly of God’s people, dress modestly and discreetly.
Now, I want to tell you that at least twice a week, the ministers of our church have calls from young men in our congregation who are trying to be godly in the way they look and think about women, and in the things that they look at—whether it be on the internet, or in print media, or out in the world—and they tell us that they have a hard time with some of the clothing that they see at First Presbyterian Church on our women. Sisters, it is those brothers’ responsibility to be pure with their eyes. I’ll never let them off that hook. But sisters in Christ, we should not be stumbling blocks to brothers in Christ. I want to urge you to think long and hard about what you wear: blouses that are skin-tight and reveal everything; midriffs bared; diving necklines; skirts that are way too short or worn way too low. We need to think about dressing modestly and discreetly. It starts, Dad and fathers, with you. You should say to your wives, or to your daughters...they’re getting ready to go out in something they ought not go out in, and you’ll know, dad and father, “You’re not going out in that.”
On the other hand, wives and daughters, it ought to be a desire on your part—perhaps it’s with your husband, perhaps it’s with other godly friends whose judgment you trust—to ask them the question: “Is this modest and discreet?” I want it to be beautiful and attractive, but I also want to be modest and discreet. Does this fit the bill? You ought to be approaching your husbands and fathers, instead of dreading them sharing their opinions. You ought to be inviting them, because it ought to be your desire to dress modestly and discreetly.
We have a huge problem with sexuality in our culture. It is entirely too free and too flaunted. Sexuality is a beautiful thing. Within the context of marriage, the ability of the husband to enjoy the wife and vice versa is one of the greatest privileges that God has given us. But God did not expect that to be shown and shared with every human being who you pass in the hall. You are to be modest and discreet in the way you dress. Invite godly friends, sisters and brothers in Christ, to help you dress in such a way that you honor the Lord. Paul is saying that there is a right way to dress and a wrong way to dress. He’s not saying that it’s all just subjective and in the eye of the beholder. There is a way that a person can dress, and it sends one message, and there’s a way that a person can dress and it sends another message. Paul is saying in this passage, “instead of aspiring to be seductive and provocative in the way we dress, let us adorn ourselves instead with a beautiful character and life.”
You know, oftentimes we hear that women today do not want to be treated as objects, but they want to be treated with dignity as persons. Well, let me ask you this: “Do you think that a woman who is dressing as if she were a streetwalker is going to evoke a response of being treated as a person worthy of esteem, respect, a person of substance and dignity, or do you think that the woman who adorns herself with the character of hard work, diligence, trustworthiness, and good works?" Which of those two women do you think will be treated more as a person, with more dignity?
Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the woman of character, the woman who has adorned herself with good works. She will be treated as a person worthy of respect.
Paul is perhaps even meditating on the characteristics of the woman in Proverbs 31. You remember how she is described? She works hard, she has her husband’s trust; she advances his reputation; she cares for the poor; she speaks with wisdom; she’s a person of strength and dignity, and she has the praise of her family. Now I want to ask you a question: who is the woman who is being treated more as a person of worth and value and esteem? A woman who is described like that, or a woman who is described as a sexy tart? Paul is saying, “Women, that’s how I want you to be known. Not because you dress provocatively; not even because you’re the most gorgeous thing that ever walked the planet.” You see, Proverbs says that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” And that’s exactly what Paul is saying here in First Timothy, chapter two. He’s saying that Christian women ought to aspire for beautiful character and life, and that we ought to avoid anything that is improper and immodest, and indiscreet in terms of our clothing. Help your brothers in Christ, sisters in Christ. Help them to treat you the way they ought to. Ask yourself: “What is this clothing drawing attention to about me? Is it making a man look at my face, or is it drawing a man to look somewhere else? And if it is, why do I want a man to look somewhere else; and what will be the result in the way he looks at me?” Do you want to be treated as only a sex object? Or do you want to be treated as a person of substance and dignity?
Paul wants you, as a Christian woman, to be treated with substance, esteem, respect and dignity. Help his goal be realized, sisters in Christ, and help one another. Fathers, husbands, you help your wives, too. It’s so easy to create a climate where you think everybody is judging you, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. But you ought to be approaching others that you respect, and with whom you are already in relationship, to get their help, instead of having to have them come to you and say, “Ummm, you shouldn’t have worn that.” You should be saying before it’s ever off the rack: “Is this something that I should wear?”
III. Christian women are to be
receptive and respectful in their discipleship in the Church.
The third thing that Paul speaks of here is in verse eleven, and it has to do with female discipleship. He tells us that women are to receive instruction in a submissive manner in the public assembly. When the people of God are gathered for preaching and worship, Christian women are to be receptive and respectful in their discipleship in the church. Now something is probably going to be lost on you as you read this verse. Paul says, a woman must “quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.” In our culture, a culture in which women have attained unparalleled freedoms, the three words that jump out at us are: quietly, entire, and submissiveness. Those three words jump out and they kind of grate, because it seems like a put-down. But don’t miss something here.
But there is a hidden blessing in this verse. Notice that Paul says a woman must receive instruction. Forget “quietly” and forget “entire submissiveness” for a second. Paul is once again affirming exactly what we see in Jesus’ ministry, that women are disciples. Now, that’s revolutionary, my friends. Jesus’ pattern was for women to be part of His disciples, but for men to be doing the teaching in that circle of discipleship. And Paul is simply saying in verse eleven, “that’s exactly how I want it in the church, just like Jesus ordained it. Women are disciples.”
Unlike the rabbis who prayed according to the Talmudic liturgy every morning, “Lord God, I thank You that I am not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Now, that was the prayer that the liturgy instructed every Jewish male to pray when he got up in the morning. Women were not included in the discipleship of the rabbinic circles, but in Christian circles Christ had made women to be disciples, and Paul is affirming that. Women are to receive instruction. They are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are to be taught. And elsewhere Paul also makes it clear that they have a role in training and teaching. In Titus 2, the women are going to be helping to teach and train the other women, and there are going to be some cases, even in private, where women with greater Scripture knowledge are going to help some men who don’t know the Bible as well as they ought to—such as Priscilla and Aquila instructing Apollos in good Bible teaching.
And so there’s a tremendous esteem for women as disciples in Paul, but here he’s just articulating what Jesus had done in His own ministry. “Let a woman quietly receive instruction, with submissiveness.” Paul is calling on women to be receptive in their discipleship. They’re not to be handing it out in the church publicly as the church gathers for worship, and they’re to be respectful of that teaching. The headship of men in the home and the authority of the elders in the church, Paul is saying, is not to be tested by women in the public assembly. Instead, they are to receive that teaching submissively.
You know, the authority of a teacher can be easily tested, even with a question. Any of you who have ever been a teacher have probably heard a question after you have just taught about a particular view. Someone stands up in the class, or somebody raises a hand in the class and says “I’d like to ask a question.” And the question doesn’t turn out to be a question, it turns out to be a monologue! And Paul’s saying to the women, “Don’t test the authority of the teaching offices of the church. Respectfully receive that teaching.” The great New Covenant blessings for women in discipleship—women are involved in the prayer life of the church, in the discipleship of the church—was a tremendous advance over their own tradition. In fact, I would argue this: there is no world religion that has done more to advance the position of women than Christianity. There’s nothing even close. And Paul is affirming that, but he’s also saying, “We’re not going to be bound by our current culture or our past culture; we’re going to be bound by Jesus and by the word of God. And Jesus says women are disciples, but I appointed twelve men to be the teachers. And that’s how it’s going to be in the Christian church.” Paul makes it clear that there are still role distinctions and relationships in the way that men and women are to relate to one another.
IV. Christian women are not to be preachers or elders.
And he goes on and he elaborates that, fourthly, in verses twelve to fifteen, where he talks about teaching. In verses twelve to fifteen, Paul says that Christian women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the public assembly. They are not to be preachers or elders, in other words Paul here is restricting the teaching and ruling functions of the church to qualified males. Paul’s not saying that males only can teach and lead. He’s actually saying something less than that. He’s saying qualified males only may teach and lead in the church, and he will give those qualifications in I Timothy 3 in the very next breath, as we begin to study next week. But his point here is that women are neither to teach in the public assembly of Christians as we gather to worship, or to hold authority over men in the church.
Now, let me say that this has been one of the things that has gotten Paul more bad press than anything he’s ever said. Paul has been called a misogynist, a woman-hater, and a chauvinist. But you know what? So has the Bible; so has Christianity; so have conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing Christians who have attempted to implement Paul’s teaching in their churches. All of them have been called, from one time or another, by modern secularists and pagans, woman-haters, chauvinists, backwards, fundamentalists, and various other names that I won’t mention from the pulpit here.
Against those charges, let me remind you of just a few things from Paul’s own teaching and ministry. We have already mentioned the prominent role that women had in Paul’s ministry, from those who financially supported the Apostle, to specific women such as Pricilla and Lydia who labored along with Paul.
Paul, in Titus, chapter two, speaks of the role that women have in discipling one another. And elsewhere in his writings, in Second Timothy, chapter one and chapter three, he speaks of the important role of women in discipling the children of the church. There is a vast role for women in discipleship in the church, so Paul is not motivated by being a woman-hater, or being a chauvinist. Paul has no question about the abilities of women.
I grew up around intelligent, educated women. I’ve never met a liberal female who was half as intelligent as my mother. My father could not keep up with my mother, when it came to theology and education. But Mother always respected his role in the home, and the role of the elders and the pastor in the church. And it didn’t bother her. As long as they didn’t get in her way, she didn’t get in theirs! She went about doing her business, and she did not feel the need to claim some status or office that was not hers. It was a great witness to me, and I’ve always enjoyed being around women of energy and intelligence.
Paul is speaking to this kind of a circumstance, and he says this: “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Paul’s prescription is functional. And you notice he doesn’t just say, “You can’t give them the title, but you can let them do the work.” He says, “No, you’re not to do the work.” They’re not simply denied the title or the office, but the function.
And Paul gives us a rationale. If you look at verses thirteen through fifteen, he gives you three reasons why this should be. Why is it that First Presbyterian Church practices “qualified male-only eldership” and “qualified male-only pastors”? Well, because of what Paul says here.
First of all, Paul says that men are to be the teachers in the church because Adam was created first. Now, secularists and pagans mock this. What does it matter? That’s a myth, anyway. Well, Paul thinks it matters a great deal. First of all, he doesn’t believe that the story of the creation of Adam and Eve is a myth. Secondly, he believes that there was something of great significance that God was saying about the nature of the created order and the relationships between male and female in the fact that Adam was created first. Adam’s priority in creation expresses a complementarian relationship between man and women in marriage and in the church. He’s pointing to Adam’s priority in creation, and he’s saying that that reveals something about the structure of family and Church that God wanted to be reflected and respected in every situation and culture.
Secondly, in verse fourteen, he speaks of the deception of the woman in the fall. There he says this: “It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman was deceived and fell into transgression.” Paul is not saying that women are more gullible than men, and therefore they can’t be trusted with leadership. Paul is saying that what you see in the fall is the classic example of role reversal. You look at Genesis three: where was Adam when Eve was being tempted? He was right next to her. Because when she gives him the fruit, she doesn’t have to go looking for him. She turns, and she gives him the fruit. Adam had stood there the whole time with his clap shut, and never said a word. He handed off authority. He never stepped in, and he let his wife do what he should have put his pants on and done. And Paul is saying, “This is what happens in the church when men fail to take their responsibility, and women have to step up to the plate to try and pick up what the men have dropped to the floor. Problems occur.” And so Paul says, because of the problems of role reversal, women are not to have this particular role in the life of the church.
Then, thirdly, in verse fifteen, and this is perhaps the hardest of the verses, he says it is for the well being of women that this order be attained in the church. We don’t have time today to do justice to the meaning of verse fifteen, and so be sure and look on the website and the bulletin next Sunday, and I’ll include all my notes on those passages.
But what I’m saying to you is that our practice at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, our practice in the Presbyterian Church in America, and, frankly, the practice of most Christian churches throughout the world today and in history, the practice of a male-only eldership, a male-only pastorate, is simply designed to be faithful to the Bible. If we had any other reason for this practice, it would be wrong. If we had any other justification, “Oh, it’s traditional,” that would be wrong. No, the reason for this practice is because it’s what the Bible says, and it’s because we want to be faithful to the Bible that we follow this practice. If you’re struggling in this area, if you find this hard to accept, please come talk to us. Talk to Donna Dobbs. Donna would be happy to talk with you about this, if you’d rather hear it from a godly woman. Come talk to me, or one of the other ministers or elders. We’d be delighted to talk with you about this particular facet of our church. But the main reason we do what we do is because we want to be faithful to Scripture.
Paul is exhorting us here, in our male and female role responsibilities, to do what God calls us to do in prayer, in the way we dress, in the way we go about our discipleship, in the way we respect His order in teaching in the church. And all of these things actually have a very significant impact on the health of the life of the local congregation. May God bless us to follow His word. Let’s pray.
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Teach us by it to walk in it, by Your grace and by Your Spirit, and build Your church as we are faithful to Your truth. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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This is a tough passage in which Paul teaches that Christian women are not to be preachers or elders [1 Timothy 2:12-15]. That is, Christian women, according to Paul, are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the public assembly of the Church. Paul says: “12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
What does Paul mean and what are the grounds of his teaching? First, Paul is restricting the teaching and ruling functions of the Church to qualified male elders. Thus, women are neither to teach in the public assembly nor to hold spiritual authority over men in the church. Note that Paul’s proscription is functional, not merely official! That is, both the function and the title or office of the eldership is restricted to qualified males, not merely the title or office.
Paul makes his rationale for this clear in verses 13-15. His reasons are biblical and theological, not cultural or temporary. He says that the ruling and teaching ministry of the church is to be provided by qualified, godly, male Christians because of : (1) Adam’s priority in creation [v.13] — this creational order, Paul intimates, reflects a permanent principle regarding male-female role relationships in the home and church; (2) the deception of woman in the fall: the results of the role reversal in the original sin [v.14], (3) the well-being of women [v.15]. This last verse is a challenge and there are at least four competing attempts to interpret it. Some suggest that it means that, in following God’s design of male headship in the church, women are (1) saved by the birth of Christ; (2) spared in childbirth; (3) literally saved by being a child-bearer; (4) women will find salvation and significance realized in performing their divinely assigned role (quiet respect and discipleship in the church and motherhood at home). Obviously, view three is wrong. The others have possibilities. Our practice at First Church on the larger issue of male spiritual leadership in the home and church is, thus, simply designed to be faithful to the Bible.