A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (verses 11-15)
What a difficult passage!
I have heard people claim it’s not difficult at all, that it simply needs to be taken at face value. They say its teaching is straightforward, precluding a woman from any vocal participation in services of worship, specifically any preaching or teaching ministry. But this is completely blind to the passage’s complexities. For instance, taken at face value we would assume that any woman who did not bear children would have no hope of heaven. Clearly that doesn’t align with New Testament teaching. There is a need to dig deeper if we’re to truly understand Paul’s meaning.
On the other hand, I’ve heard some claim that Paul is misguided and wrong – that this teaching is hopelessly dated and simply needs to be ignored. That viewpoint devalues God’s word and appoints us as divine editors who get to cut and slash the text as we see fit.
Neither point of view grapples adequately with the context and with the intent of Paul’s instructions to the church in which Timothy was serving. The first holds strongly to the authority of God’s word, but too easily assumes a simplistic meaning; the second undermines biblical authority and discounts the passage entirely.
I grew up in a church that held to the first viewpoint. I continue to value that strong affirmation of the Bible’s full authority. Therefore, I can’t embrace the second point of view. But I no longer view this passage as forever curtailing women from taking part in preaching, teaching, and leadership ministries in the church. (We don’t have room to go into the details here, but if you’d like a helpful “deep dive” into this passage see Gordon Fee’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles – it provides insightful understanding from a scholar who takes biblical authority seriously.)
For the moment, I want to simply notice two words that are applied to women, both of which needlessly raise our hackles. Both come in the opening verse above: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”
“Quietness.” The same root word is used at the beginning of the chapter when Paul wishes that all the believers (men and women alike) “may live peaceful and quiet lives.” Paul now applies that same concept to women specifically (both in verse 11 and 12). It has much more to say about attitude of heart – indeed peacefulness – than it does about “shutting up” (to put it crassly). It’s the spiritual posture that all of us are meant to embrace – settled, at peace, anxious for nothing.
The second word is “submission,” which is not exactly a popular concept. But it is, in fact, a posture that every believer is meant to engage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul says in Ephesians 5:21.
Why Paul gives these particular instructions to the women of this particular church at this particular moment is a further question worth exploring. But for the moment I want to simply invite you to take these two words and apply them, whether female or male.
Pray, as did Paul, for “quietness” of life, that you may live in all godliness and holiness. Pray for that same “quietness” to take up residence in your very soul, putting aside strife and contention and anxiety.
And embrace this good word “submission,” not lording it over others, or putting yourself forward, but rather in humility, serving and caring as did our Lord himself.
Quietness. Submission. May it be.
Lord Jesus, I place this whole scripture before you, acknowledging it as difficult, asking for your wisdom and grace in understanding it well.
In the meantime, please work true “quietness” in my circumstances and in my soul – let me have the peace you yourself exhibited on Galilee in the midst of storm-tossed seas. And strengthen me with humility and grace, that I may live a life of true “submission” to brothers and sisters. For your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Which concept do you most need to embrace at the moment: quietness or submission? Ask the Lord. Follow his lead. Seek his strength to live it.