When I meet a couple wishing to get married, the first thing I have to do is ascertain that there are no impediments. I am required to ask them a series of questions. How old are you? Where do you live? Have you been married before? Are you related to one another? In the reading of the banns and at the very beginning of the marriage service we ask publicly if anyone knows of any reason why these persons may not lawfully marry to declare it now. You will be relieved to know that I don’t ask them about their foundation, mascara, lipstick, cosmetic surgery or hair colouring. In 1770 things were very different. In that year the British Parliament passed an Act which specified additional impediments to marriage which applied not only here but throughout the British Colonies including America:
“All women, of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids or widows, that shall, from and after such Act impose upon, seduce or betray into matrimony, any of his Majesty’s subjects by virtue of scents, paints or cosmetics, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron-stays, bolstered hips or high-heeled shoes, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft, and like misdemeanours, and that the marriage upon conviction shall be null and void.”
And had you attended a church in that generation you would have heard clergy warn that the use of lipstick was of the devil, used to seduce men into marriage by witchcraft. I hope the Act was repealed but so far my searches have not brought any assurances.
The controversies surrounding what hairstyles, clothing and makeup are acceptable for Christians today goes way, way back before the very birth of the church and the cultural values of Roman, Greek and Jewish society. For example, the Jewish Talmud contains this ruling:
“A woman may not go out on the Sabbath [in the courtyard of her house only] wearing plaits of hair, whether of her own hair or of another woman or of an animal; or with frontlets or other kinds of ornaments sewn to her headgear; or with a hairnet or false curl, or with wadding in her ear or shoe…”
But in Ephesus, immoral and pagan Greek and Roman values were also influential. Young believers, Jewish and Gentile, were confused about how to express their new found freedoms in Christ.
The controversies were dividing the Christians and scandalising their witness. So Paul is inspired to write to Timothy two letters to help regulate the life of the church in Ephesus. As we have already seen, he begins with doctrine in chapter 1, urging Timothy to confront false teaching and to remain loyal to the apostolic faith.
In chapter 2 he turns to the conduct of public worship. First he considers its scope, and emphasizes the need for a global concern in public worship (1–7). Second, he addresses its conduct and the respective roles of men and women in public worship (8–15)[i].
1. Global Priorities in Public Worship
Notice the primacy of prayer and the motive in evangelism. They flow one from the other. The Church is to pray for the salvation of all people so that their community may enjoy shalom. Observe the universal range of the church’s responsibility.
The Gnostic heretics restricted salvation to those who had been initiated. In contrast Paul stresses that God’s plan and therefore our duty concerns everybody. Four times the same truth is emphasized. First, prayers are to be offered for everyone (1). Second, God our Saviour wants all people to be saved (3–4). Third, Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people (6), Fourth, Paul was a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles (7), that is, to all the nations or to everyone. There can be no doubt that this repetition is deliberate. It is because God’s desire and Christ’s death concern everybody that the church’s prayers and proclamation must embrace everyone too.
1.1 The Church’s prayers should concern all people
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Paul uses four words to describe prayer. John Calvin admitted “I do not completely understand the difference” between them, “I myself do not go in for subtle distinctions of that kind”.
G. W. Knight offers the most succinct interpretation: “petitions” = making requests for specific needs; “prayers” = bringing those in view before God; “intercession” = appealing boldly on their behalf; and “thanksgiving” = thankfulness for them’ – for God’s provision. The emphasis is on the fact that we should pray for everyone – This immediately rebukes the narrow parochialism found in some church services. John Stott writes, “Some years ago I attended public worship in a certain church.
The pastor was absent on holiday, and a lay elder led the pastoral prayer. He prayed that the pastor might enjoy a good vacation (which was fine), and that two lady members of the congregation might be healed (which was also fine; we should pray for the sick). But that was all. The intercession can hardly have lasted thirty seconds. I came away saddened, sensing that this church worshipped a little village god of their own devising. There was no recognition of the needs of the world, and no attempt to embrace the world in prayer.” That is why we hold a prayer meeting on the first Wednesday of each month specifically to pray for world mission. Join us this Wednesday 7.30 for refreshments. 8:00 start.
Cranmer was quite wrong in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) Communion service to limit asking God ‘to save and defend all Christian kings, princes and governors’. Paul instructs Timothy to pray for pagan ones too. The reigning emperor Nero’s vanity, cruelty and hostility toward Christians was widely known. The persecution of the church was becoming systematic, and Christians were very apprehensive. Paul is quite specific in directing why the church should pray for national leaders. It is first and foremost that we may live peaceful and quiet lives. For the basic benefit of good government is shalom – peace, freedom from war and civil strife. The Church’s prayers should concern all people, because second,
1.2 God’s desire concerns all people
“This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
The reason the church should reach out and embrace all people in its prayers is that this is God’s will. True, he is accurately named God our Saviour (3b), but we must not attempt to monopolize him, since he wants not only us but all people to be saved (4a). In affirming this, Paul may have had in mind those nationalistic Jews who believed themselves to be God’s privileged favourites and forgot God’s original promise to bless all earth’s families through Abraham. Alternatively, Paul may have been thinking of élitist Gnostics who reserved initiation into gnosis (knowledge) for a select few.
In our day there are other versions of the monopoly spirit of which we need to repent, e.g. racism, nationalism, tribalism, classism and even Anglican parochialism, along with the pride and prejudice which cause these narrow horizons. The truth is that God loves the whole world, desires all people to be saved, and so commands us to preach the gospel to all the nations and to pray for their conversion.
Does this emphasis on ‘all people’ lead us out of élitism (only some will be saved) into its opposite extreme of universalism (everybody will be saved)? No of course not. But remember, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11), therefore neither must we. God is patient “not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), and so must we.
That is my gospel and I hope it’s yours. How people come to faith and indeed who eventually comes to faith is in God’s hands. We are to pray for everyone and take the opportunities God gives us to tell everyone who will listen.
The Church’s prayers should concern all people, because God’s desire concerns all people, because:
1.3 Christ’s death concerns all people
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people–the testimony given in its proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
The apostle moves on from the one God, who desires all people to be saved, to the one mediator between God and human beings, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. Wherein does his uniqueness lie, that we dare to say he has no competitors and no successors?
His unique qualifications as mediator are to be found in his person and work, in who he is and what he has done. First, the person of Jesus is unique. He is the man Christ Jesus (5b). Secondly, the work of Jesus is unique, in particular what he did when he died on the cross. He gave himself as a ransom for all people (6a). The implications are unambiguous. A ransom was the price paid for the release of slaves or captives. Still in our day hijackers hold people to ransom.
The word implies that we were in bondage to sin and judgment, unable to save ourselves, and that the price paid for our deliverance was the death of Christ in our place. The Church’s prayers should concern all people, because God’s desire concerns all people, because ultimately Christ’s death concerns all people. So, by implication:
1. 4 The church’s proclamation must concern all people
“And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle–I am telling the truth, I am not lying–and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” (1 Timothy 2:7)
Although there are no ‘apostles’ of Christ today, comparable in inspiration and authority to the writers of the New Testament, there are ‘heralds’ (or evangelists) and ‘teachers’. It was the task of the apostles to formulate, defend and commend the gospel. It is the task of heralds to proclaim it, and of teachers to give systematic instruction in its doctrines and ethical application. In summary, the first half of this chapter begins and ends with a reference to the church’s world-wide responsibility. The local church has a global mission and it must not be deflected by parochial concerns or contaminated by worldly values. According to verse 1 the church is to pray for all people; according to verse 7 it is to proclaim the gospel to all people. It is because there is one God and one mediator that all people that the church’s primary duty concerns all people too, reaching out to them both in earnest prayer and in urgent witness.
In verses 8-15 Paul turns to gender roles and appropriate behaviour when the church assembles for worship. He outlines the duties of the men in relation to prayer (8) and the duties of the women in relation to dress, hairstyle and jewellery (9, 10), and then in relation to men (11–15). How we understand these verses will depend in part on our upbringing – the cultural norms prevailing in our community, our church and above all our home – the role model of our parents. It will also depend on the study tools we use (called hermeneutics) and weight we give to the biblical, historical and cultural context. As we approach the question of sexual roles in worship, lets consider principles we need to interpret any passage:
2. Bible Study Principles
2.1. The Principle of Harmony: The Biblical Context
We believe the Bible to be the written Word of God and that when God spoke, he did not contradict himself. Therefore, although we gratefully acknowledge Scripture’s rich diversity of both theological emphasis and literary style, we also expect to find consistency and therefore we look for a natural harmonization, interpreting each text within its wider biblical context. So, we should not isolate these verses from the fundamental assertion in Scripture that men and women are equal in value and dignity by creation and redemption.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
There is therefore absolutely no difference between the sexes either in the divine image we bear or in our status as God’s children through faith in Christ. Every idea of gender superiority or inferiority is abhorrent to Scripture. The Principle of Harmony.
2.2 The Principle of History: The Cultural Context
God always spoke his word in particular historical and cultural settings, specially of the ancient Near East (the Old Testament), Palestinian Judaism (the Gospels) and the Graeco-Roman world (the rest of the New Testament). No word of God was spoken in a cultural vacuum; every word was spoken in a cultural context.
It is, in fact, the glory of divine revelation that, in order to communicate with his people, God did not shout culture-free maxims at them from a distance. Instead, he stooped to their level, entered their history, assumed their culture and spoke their language. So what was the cultural context into which Paul wrote this letter? Ephesus was dominated by the worship of Artemis which had strong sexual connotation associated with fertility and prostitution. The cult was led by Eunichs and women, and it seems some of these cult leaders had become believers.
Dick France also points out that some strands of Gnostic teaching turned Eve from a weak and gullible victim into a heroine, standing for the liberation of humanity from superstition. Some even taught that she was created before Adam. Some even worshipped the serpent as the source of enlightenment. Added to that in contrast to the sobriety and simplicity of Jewish attire, the latest fashion among the liberated Greek and Roman women was for expensive cosmetics, provocative clothing and elaborate hairstyles. The Roman satirist Juvenal describes women whose hairstyles involved numerous tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head, braided with layers of jewels and gold.
In their new found freedom in Christ some of these liberated ladies were not only distracting the men in services, they were setting themselves up as teachers without any grounding in biblical truth. And that is was not necessarily their fault since in neither Greek, Roman or Jewish culture was it deemed appropriate to educate girls.
The chauvinistic Rabbinical opinion expressed in the Jerusalem Talmud was that it would be better for the words of Torah to be burned, than that they should be entrusted to a woman. In Jewish law a woman was not a legal person; she was a thing, entirely at the disposal of her husband or father, forbidden to learn the law, having no part in the synagogue service. For her even to read the Scripture in that place would be to “lesson the honour of the congregation.” Jewish women were not allowed to teach the smallest children, even their own. Jewish men prayed daily thanking God that he had not made them a woman, a Gentile or a Samaritan. So much for the cultural context.
2.3 The Principle of Application: The Relevance Context
Scripture is a mixture of substance and form, of eternal truth which transcends culture and application which is transient. The former is universal and normative; the latter is local and changeable.
So how shall we distinguish between them? How are we to discern the cultural element in Scripture? And how are we to apply Scripture today? Three main answers are given, and it seems that disagreement on this issue lies at the root of disagreement on the interpretation of the text before us. First, there are some who enthrone the cultural form, and invest it with the same normative authority which they attribute to the truth it expresses. Because it belongs to the Word of God, they feel unable to tamper with it in any way. So they adopt a rigid literalism, and regard other approaches as evasions of ‘what the Bible plainly teaches’. If they are consistent in interpreting 1 Timothy 2:8–15, they will then insist that men must always lift up their hands when they pray (8), that women must never plait their hair or wear jewellery (9), and that in no circumstances may women teach men (11–12). Others go to the opposite extreme and instead of enthroning both, they dismiss both.
As John Stott says “Instead of upgrading the cultural expression to the level of eternal truth, they downgrade the eternal truth to the level of its cultural expression. Instead of investing both with divine authority, authority is denied to both.” I hope no one here tonight takes that view. But is there an alternative? Yes there is. Between the extremes of ultra-literalism and of liberalism is what John Stott terms ‘cultural transposition’ . What does this mean? We have to discern in Scripture between God’s essential revelation (which is changeless) and its cultural expression (which is changeable).
Then we are in a position to preserve the former as permanent and universal, and transpose the latter into contemporary cultural terms. Thus, in response to Jesus’ command to us to wash one another’s feet, we neither obey literally and go round washing people’s feet, nor dismiss the passage as having no relevance to us, but discern what is intrinsic (no service will be too menial if we love one another) and then transpose it into the realities of today (we will gladly wash the dishes or clean the toilet). With these tools in our hands lets apply them to the actual text:
3. Gender Roles in Public Worship
Following John Stott, I believe ‘cultural transposition’ is the most helpful way to interpret the instructions regarding men’s prayers (8), women’s adornment (9–10) and women’s roles (11–15).
3.1 Men and their prayers
“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)
The application here is not difficult. Always and everywhere the men are to pray in holiness and love. But their bodily posture as they do so (standing, kneeling, sitting, clapping hands or raising arms) may vary according to their culture.
3.2 Women and their adornment
“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
Similarly in verses 9-10. Always and everywhere women must adorn themselves with modesty, decency, propriety and good deeds, but their clothing, hairstyle and jewellery may vary according to their culture. I suggest this is how we should interpret verses 11-12 and women’s roles also. To those who insist there is nothing in the text to distinguish between the universal and the local, or between what is eternal and what is temporary, the same is true of verses 8-10.
If you wish to exclude women from teaching, why men do you not stand and raise your hands whenever we pray? Why do you not insist women forego hairstyles and not wear jewellery in church? Perhaps we should have a new ministry team on the door to inspect women as you arrive – much like the modesty police of Saudi Arabia and Iran. I don’t see many nods in favour….
3.3 Women and their roles
“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. 14And 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. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
Let me make a few observations about these verses.
1. Verse 12 contains no command. There is no imperative addressed to Timothy, to the women, or to the churches about women teaching or having authority. The imperative comes in verse 11. “A woman should learn…” Paul’s restriction on women teaching comes after his insistence that they be given the opportunity to learn.
2. The phrase “to have authority over a man” is more accurately translated ‘dictate to’ or ‘domineer over’. Originally it meant an independent actor but came to indicate an autocratic personality. In the synagogues, upon which the house churches were modelled, only ordained Rabbi’s could teach. And within Hebrew tradition, Rabbi’s not only interpreted Scripture, they were authoritative, creating precedent derived from Scripture which carried an authority equal to Scripture. Their decisions had the power to bind or loose the lives of those who recognised their authority. Within Judaism there was no possibility of a woman gaining such a role. Paul is speaking to those who, without education were enthusiastic to claim such a role.
3. The phrase “in quietness and full submission” simply describes the process by which they best learn and follows the household codes of behaviour common in Greek and Roman culture. The word “quietness” does not mean “silence”. It is in contrast to the behaviour of those who were “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Timothy 5:13). It is also precisely the same instruction given to male students training to become rabbi’s, so it has nothing intrinsically to do with gender. Dick France writes helpfully “To submit is to recognise your place within the God-given order of society, and to act appropriately to that place, by accepting the authority of those to whom God has entrusted it.”[ii] But in verses 12-13, Paul cites Genesis as the grounds for these instructions. Surely that means these principles apply to all churches through all time?
1. Adam was formed first, then Eve.
2. Adam was not the one deceived but Eve.
Is this not a creation ordinance forbidding women from teaching. Then lets consider a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.[iii] How does Paul use Scripture here to reinforce his argument for head coverings? In this passage Paul is similarly concerned about honour and shame in public worship. He insists it is important for women to express a proper attitude to their husbands by keeping their heads appropriately covered. But notice Paul here employs a barrage of biblical allusions to support his instruction about women’s heads:
1. the head of every man is Christ
2. man is the head of the woman
3. the head of Christ is God
4. man is the image and glory of God
5. woman is the glory of man
6. man did not come from woman but woman from man
7. man was not created for woman but woman for man
8. don’t forget the angels are looking too.
So…. When we compare these two passages on the same theme, it is clear there is a much greater biblical and theological support offered in 1 Corinthians for why women should wear head coverings than there is offered in 1 Timothy for why women should not teach. Is it not a little hypocritical to restrict women from teaching today on the basis of two allusions to Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy, while ignoring the eight truths in 1 Corinthians 11 that require women to wear head coverings? Let’s be specific – husbands, if you insist women should not teach, I invite you to ask your wives politely before next Sunday if she would consider wearing a hijab or burqa… OK I won’t go there. Do you get my point?
Lets look at Paul’s reasoning from Genesis in a little more detail: If his first argument was derived solely from the order of creation (Adam was formed first, then Eve, verse 13), then animals would be superior to man.
His second was derived from the fall (Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner, verse 14). The popular explanation of this is that the woman was shown up in the fall as constitutionally prone to deception and that on this account she should not teach. But there is a fatal objection to this.
If women are by nature gullible, they are disqualified from teaching anybody, not just men, whereas Paul gives explicit instructions elsewhere for women to teach both children and younger women (Titus 2:1-5). Similarly, women teaching men does not necessarily symbolize taking authority over them. Public prophesying by women was not regarded as an improper exercise of authority over men (1 Cor. 11:5). Rather it was to be expected in fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people, your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). And were Philip’s four daughters who had the gift of prophecy only ministering to women? (Acts 21:8-9). Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos was clearly acceptable.
“When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26).
Although they served as a husband and wife team, it is significant that Paul names Priscilla first. In Romans 16, Paul identifies them both as his ‘co-workers’ while Junia is identified as a fellow apostle (16:7) and in Philippians, Euodia and Syntyche have contended at Paul’s side for the gospel (Philippians 4:2). I don’t think Paul meant in terms of cooking his meals. So women in leadership? Certainly. It is more probable, therefore, that the essence of Eve’s part in the fall was not that she was deceived, but that she was dependent.
She may not have been instructed by Adam about the commandment in the first place because she wasn’t around when it was given, she took an improper initiative, usurped Adam’s authority and thus reversed their respective roles. The emphasis of Paul’s instructions are consistent with Jewish and Roman culture – women did not normally teach because girls were not normally taught. Paul doesn’t want the behaviour of the women in the church in Ephesus to undermine the work of the gospel. But neither is Paul content to leave the women in ignorance, hence the command that they be educated.
Paul wanted Timothy to break the chain. How tragic that church leaders have consistently refused to do so. You know when the first college dedicated to the higher education of women was founded in the UK? Bedford College was founded in 1849? What was the church doing for 1800 years? Suppressing women from teaching by refusing to educate them. And we look down on the Taliban for closing girls schools in Afghanistan. We have just been a little bit more sophisticated. The first priority was for these new believers to receive Christian instruction, concentrate on inner beauty, and cultivate a healthy marriage relationship through faith, love and holiness. Then they would be able to demonstrate their salvation and be an effective and fruitful witness to other women.
In the end, our decision whether women may ever teach men, or be ordained to the pastorate, or exercise other leadership roles in the church, will depend on our understanding of the nature of pastoral leadership. If we belong to the Reformed tradition and see the local presbyter as essentially a one man authority figure, responsible both to teach the congregation and exercising pastoral discipline, then we are likely to conclude that it is inappropriate for women to occupy such an authoritative position. Supposing, on the other hand, we begin our thinking about Christian pastoral leadership with the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:35ff., where he drew a distinction between two human communities whose leaders operate on different principles. In the world, he said, ‘officials exercise authority over them’. But, he added, ‘Not so with you.’
“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
In Christ’s community, greatness would be measured by service. Why should it be thought inappropriate therefore for women to exercise such servant-leadership? They have done so throughout biblical history. Besides, there are now no authority figures in the church, who can teach like the apostles in the name and with the authority of Christ. The New Testament is now complete, and all Christian teachers are called to teach humbly under its authority. Today when anyone teaches the Bible, that person is not a lone authority, but may at any time be challenged or corrected by anyone with an open Bible. In the pulpit neither male nor female preachers have authority in themselves.
The authority is in the Word of God they proclaim and under which they stand. If then a woman teaches others, including men, under the authority of Scripture, in a meek and quiet spirit, and as a member of a pastoral team whose leader is a man (and that is a topic for another sermon), it is entirely, in my opinion, legitimate for her to exercise such a ministry, and be commissioned (ordained) to do so. Jim Packer helpfully concludes, “the man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible … This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.’ Instead we should he insists ‘theologize reciprocity, spiritual equality, freedom for ministry, and mutual submission and respect between men and women.”
That is why at Christ Church, men and women, suitably qualified and authorised, have for decades, been leading services and preaching on Sundays, leading the Church as Wardens and Council members, teaching in our mixed Bible study groups and CBSI and in our youth and children’s programme. We have no plans to change this pattern. As a church family we welcome a diverse range of ethnic groups, denominational backgrounds and theological perspectives that allow those who hold different views on these matters to feel welcome and contribute to the growth of our church. Our desire, as both men and women, must be to so order our church that our behaviour does not compromise our witness but that we be enabled to experience the answer to our prayers and live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Lets pray.
[i] I am deeply indebted to John Stott and his commentary, Guard the Truth : The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), on which I rely heavily in this sermon. I have also drawn heavily on Dorothy Pape’s brilliant book In Search of the Ideal Woman: A Personal Examination of the New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1976), and Walter Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999).
[ii] Dick France, Timothy, Titus and Hebrews: The People’s Bible Commentary (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2001).
[iii] For this illustration I am indebted to Phil Towner and his commentaries, 1-2 Timothy and Titus: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994) and The Letters of Timothy and Titus: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006). Phil was for some while a member of our Church in Virginia Water.