August 20, 2020

Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Apply Today?

Nathan W. Bingham & Matthew Dudreck
Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Apply Today?

The Apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 can be confusing for readers today. Is Paul instructing women to remain totally silent in church? Today, Matthew Dudreck helps us rightly understand this passage.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on the campus of Reformation Bible College joined by their associate professor of New Testament, Dr. Matthew Dudreck. Dr. Dudreck, does 1 Timothy chapter 2:11-12 apply today?

DR. MATTHEW DUDRECK: Donald asks a good question. And, like you mentioned, it's 1 Timothy 2:11-12. And this passage often is misunderstood by different groups of people. Sometimes a revisionist approach to this text says that the facts are cabined to the situation at hand in Ephesus for various different reasons. And then another camp might say, "Yes, even so, women can't speak. They can't ask a question. They can't verbalize anything in church." And I think that all comes down to a misunderstanding of this passage.

In one sense is that it's not cabined to its facts. It's clearly talking about an enduring instruction that Paul's giving to Timothy here. You can see that clearly in the chapter. In chapter 2 verse 1 or a little bit earlier, it says that all people in all places"prayers should be made, in verses 1 and 3. And later on in verse 8: "I desire that in every place the men should pray." So, the context is clearly saying that everywhere for everybody in the church globally should be following this certain instruction. So, it doesn't give any contextual reason to think that this somehow cabined to its facts.

On the other side, what we don't see here is some neo-patriarchal "women must be absolutely silent in every possible way during church." And usually it comes to a mistaken understanding of what Paul means here when he says, "Let a woman learn quietly" (v. 11) or "She's to remain quiet" (v. 12). This word quiet sometimes is understood as being absolutely silent. And that's not how Paul is using the word. He actually uses this word in one other place in his writings. It's actually in 2 Thessalonians 3:12, where he talks about, "Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living." Obviously in that context he's talking about being a peaceful person, not causing disruption, not causing controversy, or any usurpation. That's the word that Paul is using here.

Now, the question might come, How do we know that in this context that's how Paul is using this word? Well, earlier in the context, Paul uses the same word group to explain a similar idea. Back in chapter 2 verse 2 he says, ". . . for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life." So, the same word group again is explaining not being silent but it's not being disruptive. It's not being, in a sense, argumentative. It's not being, in a sense, a problem, so to speak. So, when it says here, "Let a woman learn quietly," it's saying that women should not seek to learn in a disruptive way.

And it's very important that we see that Paul is saying here, that the main command that Paul is making here is not, "Women, be quiet." If you look at this verse, it's actually saying, "Let a woman learn." That's the main command that Paul's giving here. So, he's saying actually, in the context of an environment and culture that may discourage female learning, Paul is actually saying, "Let the women learn, but let them do it quietly, not disruptively, not in a way that would seem to take away from what's going on." It's the same reason why he's instructing how the women should dress, how they should present themselves. It's the same reason why Paul instructs how the men should behave as well. So, Paul's, in a sense, in this section of 1 Timothy, trying to explain, How should the church conduct itself? It should be an orderly, peaceful manner that puts focus on the preaching and teaching of the Word.

Now, in this passage, he also says, now "I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man" (v. 12). Again, clearly it's linking to the fact that these are activities that are pertaining to the office of overseer or elder. And he clearly stipulates that further on later in chapter 3. And he makes it clear that he wants women to learn. He wants them to be active in the discipleship and learning process of the church, albeit making it clear that they are not to exercise the tasks of an overseer. But they are to be peaceable learners. And that's what Paul's getting at here in this passage.