[In this situation and with this authority, Timothy,] I am able to insist that in prayer the men in every place lift up their holy hands [and hearts] without anger and doubt.
     Likewise, also that women clothe themselves in modest apparel, with respect and sound judgement; this is not a matter of braided hair [styles], or gold, or pearls, or an expensive wardrobe. But rather [we are concerned with] what is appropriate to a women of good works for her reverent and obedient way of life. And so, leaving women [free] to learn in all discipline, mine is not to permit a woman to teach and to thereby usurp a man's authority, but to allow her to learn in silence. All this since Adam was formed first, then Eve and Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived [inadequately taught by Adam] fell into [the way of] transgression. Nevertheless she [too] will be saved [and also] through her child-bearing, if they [as parents] remain in faith and love with an earnest sanctification. - I Timothy 2:8-15/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne


What sort of gathering? PICTURE: Nicola Honeywill/Unsplash.


"As a teacher of the Good News, [Paul] is expecting the reception of both, male and female, the female as much as the male, receiving the Good News in the quiet attentiveness of the student."

Paul here speaks of his task as teacher of Gentiles. It is almost as if he is telling Timothy that this calling is in some ways attached to the Jewish synagogue worship even as the Good News may bring forth responses that require a perspective that goes beyond that social setting.

How is he expecting men and women to conduct themselves when he, as preacher, proclaims the Good News to the nations? How are men and women to gather together when the Good News is proclaimed? They have come to hear him and be taught. He will show what kind of a teacher he is by the kind of gathering he convenes. At this point he recognises the limits placed upon him in his apostolic office. These limits mean that he must think about appearances but they are the appearances of holiness that look to heaven - and the men are expected to lead in prayerfulness and, unlike the “teachers of the law”, there is to be no meeting in order to generate anger and disputation. This is before the Lord and not a gathering to organise public concern (even if such gatherings are not ruled out). This is not an Areopagus.

The men are the ones who, with their voices, lift up holy hands in the praying Paul has said is quite appropriate. He is expecting the women to also be present so that they too can be taught. This is no men's only gathering. And for such a public convocation, where the Good News is taught and proclaimed, it is a place of prayer and prayerful teaching. It is not a party; it is not a celebration where everyone gets decked out in their finery, where one's dress is chosen to draw attention to one's presence. Modesty, quietness and sobriety are enjoined. It is good works that are promoted by such a convocation; they “speak for themselves” and do not require loud clothing.

Paul does not seem to want to intrude upon the taken-for-granted customary style of such gatherings of men and women. The one who proclaims Good News is not there to change the customary division of labour between men and women, still less to intrude upon the way husbands and wives conduct their marital conversations. And though he is a man, a male, having been set in office as teacher of Gentiles (male and female) in this convocation, he is certainly eager for women to be taught. In this class-room all gather as Jesus' disciples – all are one in Christ Jesus. It is a gathering of the Body of Christ.

Here is a passage that brings forth so much incredulity among “moderns”. In fact, if we read this carefully with Paul's reference to context, it will not be too difficult to see that he is adopting a self-critical mode. It is not his office to elevate women to the teaching role, and thereby, in some respects, to intrude into the husband-wife, brother-sister, father-daughter relationships and thereby usurp the social status of others.

As a teacher of the Good News, he is expecting the reception of both, male and female, the female as much as the male, receiving the Good News in the quiet attentiveness of the student. The appeal is to a pedagogical submission; the male (formed first - subject to God's creational working with his “plasticity”) should also be reckoning with his responsibility to rightly meet the matters raised, in quietness and thereby to make himself fit to meet any question of the female.

Is Paul asking himself: am I to be like Adam here and overstep my bounds as a teacher? Did not Adam fail to explain God's strict prohibition?

Here we are reading of Paul's appeal to the Biblical teaching of how male and female are complementary. And this is confirmed by the use of the plural “they” as those to be saved by the woman's childbearing, "if they remain in faith and love, in holiness and sobriety".

The term “sobriety” is earlier used to describe the woman's appearance in the “class-room” where men and women gather together to be taught the Good News. This then confirms the complementarity.

And in context we can expect that this matter, as raised, is not unrelated to the “ministry of contention and swerving away” of the self-proclaimed “teachers of law” mentioned at the outset of the letter where Paul explains his purpose in writing this letter. He, however, is not primarily a teacher of the law, but a teacher of Gentiles, sent to proclaim and expound the Good News.