Is Paul's writing about women in 1 Tim 2 gender discrimination?

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Readers Question / Comment - Is Paul's writing about women in 1 Tim 2 gender discrimination?

Praise the Lord

I am a very good beneficiary of JPN website for more than 4years.

Sir I really appreciate and thank you for your generous sharing of God's word in detail and free.
I am from India, we friends had a little prayer group in college days where we discussed and learnt Judges mainly and some other topics too.
After graduation I have a prayer cell in my home where we deeply discuss Daniel, Hebrew, Ruth , Esther etc...
Its really helpful to understand the depth of God's word. Thank you once again.

I have a little doubt and I hope I can get a correct answers from you. I was once engaged in a conversation with an atheist who asked me about Paul's advice on women in not talking in church. He claims it's a gender discrimination. As a woman I happened to feel the same . But I strongly believe there must be some details that I am missing in understanding the passage.(1 Timothy 2:12)
I request you kindly help me in understanding the actual meaning. I am hoping a reply

With prayers

JPN Reply:

Hi Anjelin,

thanks for the email. I appreciate you writing in and its great to see that you have used the site for 4 years. Great! Hope it has helped.

Concerning your question, it is true that 1 Tim 2:11-15 is a tricky passage. But we can make some sense from it when a few facts are taken into account. I'm going to quote a couple of Christian teachers that I appreciate on this if that is ok. I'll highlight a few of their points which I think will help.

First off is Ray Stedman on the first part of the passage:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11-14 RSV)

Here is the area of great controversy: "What part can a woman play in a church service, in its leading, its speaking, and its teaching?" According to this translation, women should be "silent" in church. That word occurs twice in this passage: that a woman should "learn in silence" (Vs. 11), and, she is to "keep silent" (Vs. 12). I have been in churches where this was taken so literally that women were actually prohibited from even saying "Hello" to anybody in the auditorium; they could not even open their mouths, literally, when they entered into the sanctuary or auditorium.

But that is obviously a very extreme and wrong translation. The reason I say that is because the same word that is translated "silent" here occurs also in adjectival form in Verse 2 of this same chapter. There we read that we are to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." The word "peaceable" is the same word which is translated "silent" here. But surely Verse 2 does not mean that we may lead lives of absolute silence. It clearly means that we are to live an undisturbed life, i.e., without a great deal of hassling, etc., but a "peaceable" life. That is a good translation for this word, which, if carried over here to this section we are studying, changes the thought entirely.

Furthermore, if you look at Second Thessalonians 3:12, the apostle uses this same word again. He says of certain persons who were busybodies, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness." There is the same word which is translated silent here. Paul is not telling people to work silently but to be peaceful about it, to not make a big to-do about it, to work privately, without a lot of public notice. So when we read this translation in that sense, then all that Paul is saying is, "Let a woman learn in a 'peaceful' way; she is to keep herself 'peaceful' and 'peaceable.'"

What Paul is really talking about, of course, is her attitude. Just as he has all through this section, the apostle is dealing with the attitudes which men and women are to have when they pray. Women are not to have an attitude of argumentative aggressiveness, assertiveness, or stubborn insistence on having their own way or their own view recognized. Rather, their attitude is to be one of reasonableness, patience, and a willingness to listen to others.

Now when Paul says, "let a woman learn in peace [or peaceableness] with all submissiveness," he does not mean to imply that women are always and only to be the learners, while men are always and only to be the teachers. These are very artificial understandings of this verse. Rather, he means that when women are learners, they are to learn in a spirit of quietness -- as are men. But women are not always learners. We have a great many well-taught women in our congregation here, some of whom have learned a lot more than many men have. (In an ultimate sense, of course, all Christians are always learning and are always learners.) All the apostle means by this is that when women are in the role and position of learners, they are to do so without aggressive reaction and challenging in a loud and assertive way. (It may be that this reflects something of the cultural pattern of Ephesus. In those great Greek cities women often participated in government. They perhaps carried this over into the affairs of the church and were aggressive and vociferous about their points of view. This is what the apostle is correcting here.)
Verses 12-14, however, are the key verses:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:12-14 RSV)

As we have already seen, this is not an absolute prohibition against teaching. Paul does not say, "I permit no woman to teach, anywhere, anytime, to anyone, period!" -- although this passage has been taken to mean that. It is clear from other passages in the New Testament that women did teach. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells the older women to teach younger women how to love their husbands and rule their children, etc. So women were expected to teach. Also, there are instances in Scripture where women taught men.

One notable case was when Aquila and his wife Priscilla took Apollos, the eloquent orator of the early church, aside and instructed him further in the doctrines of Jesus. Priscilla is linked with her husband as one of those instructors. So clearly, women did teach. Paul is not saying they cannot teach, period.
The key to this passage is the word translated, "to have authority over." It governs both the teaching and the attitude of the woman. This Greek word, authentein, means "to domineer, to usurp authority, to take what is not rightfully yours," and to do so (is the implication) by the process of teaching. In other words, women are not to take over in a church and become the final, authoritative teachers.

Many churches today are unbiblical in that they have a single pastor or a single elder in final authority. The churches in the New Testament knew nothing of that. They always had pastors (plural) and elders (plural). No one person was ever given a final voice of authority. Elders reached unanimous decisions after much prayer and deliberation as to what the final teaching of the Scriptures meant. It is that role which is denied to women by the apostle here.
There are two reasons why. Notice that Paul does not take these reasons from culture, but from creation. This is a very important point. Many of the comments you read on this passage will make it appear that Paul is prohibiting women from this kind of authoritative teaching because of the cultural patterns of that day. That is not true. Paul says there are things that stem right from creation that are different about men and women, and which have application to this problem here.
One: "Adam was formed first, then Eve." That is all he says, but evidently that prior creation of man before woman is very important in his mind. In the account in Genesis it was obviously also important in the mind of God. He deliberately formed a male first and gave him a job to do before the woman ever came along. Adam may have been living for a considerable period of time before Eve was taken from his side and brought to him. The task Adam was given was to name all the animals, which means that he was involved in a research project. He had to investigate all the animals, because in the Bible names reflect nature. This was a long task, as there were many animals (later, the ark was filled with them).

So Adam had a large task at hand. How long he took we do not know, but we do know that while he was working at this task, he was looking for something; Scripture tells us he was searching. He noted that the animals came in pairs; that there were two kinds of each species -- a male and a female kind -- and that they seemed to belong together. He was looking for that for himself all through creation. When he had finished he had not yet found anything to correspond to himself.
At that point God performed the first surgical operation, complete with anaesthesia. He put Adam to sleep and took a rib from his side, made of it a woman, and brought her to Adam. The first word Adam said was, "At last!" (Men have been saying that about tardy women ever since!) But what Adam meant, of course, was, "Finally, I have found that which completes me, corresponds to me, is equal with me, is sent to help me fulfill the task which God has given me to do."
The implication the apostle seems to draw from this is not that men are always the leaders (because I do not think they always necessarily are), but that when they lead they are to do so in a certain "male" way, while women, when they lead, are to do so in a certain "female" way. The two complement one another, but that peculiar quality which is given to the male is that of initiation. That is why he was sent first into the world; he had something to do first.
The remarkable testimony of history is that males have a strange restlessness to discover, to explore, to climb to the highest mountain, to plumb the depths of the deepest sea, to get out into space, to find something. Very rarely do you find names of women among the great explorers of history. It is almost always men who do so, because that is their nature. Occasional individual examples of women who have an urge to explore may be found, but in general this is not true.
Paul carries that over into the church. He says, in effect, that in this realm of discovery, of investigation into the mind and the thinking of God, and the hidden mysteries of Scripture, the male is the one who is to make that initial venture. The woman is to be there to fulfill, to console, to comfort, to complete. Women do have a part in this, but in the ultimate role of decision making in the realm of theology the male is given this task.

Paul's second argument comes also from the difference created in nature. He says, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." Paul implies that the reason woman was deceived was because her nature made her more vulnerable in this area.
We ought to remember that Adam was more culpable, he was a worse sinner than Eve, because, not being deceived, he still deliberately sinned, while Eve thought she was doing the right thing, something which would benefit her husband and herself. The apostle seizes on this as an indication of a difference between man and woman, suggesting that this is not a matter of inferiority at all, rather, it is just a difference.
It is the glory of woman that she is more responsive than man to what is around her. That is what makes life beautiful. How dull and cold and barbarous life would be if only cold-blooded men were here to confront the world of creation! Women add that quality of tenderness, softness, empathy, sympathy and comfort to the world. They add something that no man can give, and yet, because of that role in life they are prohibited from making final decisions in the church. Paul is not talking here about secular life. He is talking about the church and of this final role of investigation of the mind and thought of God.
The difference Paul is referring to is the difference between a knife and a fork. They do not perform the same functions, yet we use them at the same time while we are eating. But we do not insist that they be employed the same way. (Although some people do use knives to pick up food. I remember a little jingle that goes:

I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!

I have met people who do eat their peas with their knife, but that is not what knives are for; forks are for that.) Yet we do not get upset because people use their knives and forks in distinctive ways. We do not claim the knife is inferior to the fork or the fork is inferior to the knife. Neither should we with men and women. They are made to do different things. Today, after a lot of discussion and controversy in this whole area, even secular thinking is coming around to recognizing that there are these distinctive, created differences between men and women.

What the apostle is saying, then, is that women are not given the role of final decision on doctrinal issues. They are not to be the authoritative teachers of the church. They are to teach, they are to pray, they are to prophecy. They can fill these roles in very helpful and wonderful ways since they have been given spiritual gifts the same as men; they can add ingredients and qualities that no man can give. But as for the final determiners of teaching, they are to leave this to the male, because a woman's empathy and natural tendency to respond is sensitive at this point. The major problem of the church, as we see in this letter, is to detect error and not to be deceived by it. We are up against a clever, skilled and ruthless Deceiver, who presents truth in ways that look right and real. Men can be deceived too, but the apostle's argument is that they men are less likely to be deceived than women."

Concerning verse 15 I like what Pastor David Guzik says in his commentary:

Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

a. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing: Many people regard this as one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible. On the surface, it could be taken to mean that if a woman continues in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control, that God will bless her with survival in childbirth - which was no small promise in the ancient world.

i. Yet this interpretation leaves many difficult questions. Is this an absolute promise? What about godly women who have died in childbirth? What about sinful women who have survived childbirth? Doesn't this seem like just a reward for good works, and not according to God's grace and mercy?

b. Saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self control: Some approach this passage saying saved refers to gaining eternal life. Yet this interpretation is even more difficult. Are women saved eternally by giving birth to children - but only if they continue with godly virtues? What about women who can't have children? Are they denied salvation?

c. She will be saved in childbearing: Some say that Paul "Has mostly in mind that child-bearing, not public teaching, is the peculiar function of woman, with a glory and dignity all its own." (Robinson) The idea is that one should let the men teach in church and let the women have the babies.

d. She will be saved in childbearing: A better way to approach this passage is based on the grammar in the original Greek language. In the original, it says she will be saved in "The childbirth". This has the sense, "Even though women were deceived, and fell into transgression starting with Eve, women can be saved by the Messiah - whom a woman brought into the world."

i. Probably, the idea here is that even though the "woman race" did something bad in the garden by being deceived and falling into transgression, the "woman race" also did something far greater, in being used by God to bring the saving Messiah into the world.

ii. The summary is this: Don't blame women for the fall of the human race; the Bible doesn't. Instead, thank women for bringing the Messiah to us.

I know I have quoted a lot - more than I usually do. But it is a difficult passage and I thought you would benefit from reading a bit more on this passage.

Hope it helps, God bless!


Readers Reply:

Thank you so much for your response Mr. Ian.
I am overwhelmed on seeing your email.
God bless you abundantly, I mean it.
I read your email carefully,
It's a relief to know Paul's advice to women doesn't meant to be a discrimination but it's because her soft nature, tender heart and responsiveness. And the translation changes is useful too peaceful instead of silent. And finally it's clear to know the difference by the fork and knife illustration.

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