The Glory of Modesty (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

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We come now to a passage that has suffered much at the hands of expositors. I have no desire to take my turn at this, but the reason the passage has suffered is not because it is one of those parts of the apostle Paul’s writing that is hard to understand. The passage has been greatly abused and twisted because it is easy to understand.


“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:8-15).


In every place where God is worshiped, the instruction is for men to lift up undefiled hands in prayer. Two possible defilements are mentioned—anger and doubting (v. 8). Just as men approach God in a certain way, so the women are to do the same—but they are given some extra instructions. They are told to adorn themselves in a seemly way. They are to do so with a sense of decency (aidos) and good sense. They are not to deck themselves out like a circus horse (v. 9). Instead of ostentatious display, women are to dedicate themselves to good works (v. 10). The next command is that women are to be allowed to be learners, disciples, but they are to do so with a demeanor of submission (v. 11). The apostle then prohibits women from being teachers, or exercising authority over men in the church (v. 12). The reasons follow: the first is the creation order (v. 13). The second is that the woman was deceived, while the man was not deceived (v. 14). Neither reason is grounded in the Greco/Roman cultural context. And last, she will be saved through the childbirth, if they continue in in faith, love, and holiness with sobriety (v. 15).


The Bible gives us many examples of different appropriate postures of prayer, and this is one of them. Standing, kneeling, prostrate, and hands extended are all commended to us. The key thing in this passage is that men pray in public worship with holy and undefiled hands. One defilement is wrath—irritation or anger at your fellow man. Another is doubt—wavering in your conviction that God is good, and keeps His promises.


The original King James Version rendered the Greek word aidos as shamefastness. This was mistakenly edited over to the years to shamefacedness, which is quite a different thing. Shamefacedness is the way you behave when you have done something wrong. The word aidos refers to someone with a robust and healthy sense of shame—one that prevents them from acting foolishly. “And why won’t you do this with us?” comes the question. The answer should be, “I am not shameless.” So when women adorn themselves for public worship (and they are told here to adorn themselves for public worship), certain things should come immediately to mind. The first is that they are adorning themselves. The verb is kosmeo, and means “to set in order, arrange, make ready.” We get the word cosmetics from it. Secondly, they are not to be sexually provocative, and I would add as a corollary that they are not to play dumb when someone tries to talk to them about it. But if you put a quarter in your pocket and everybody can tell if it’s heads or tails, then your jeans are too tight. Third, women are urged to have a sense of shame, a sense of decency, of self-respect. Fourth, they are not to weave gems and gold droplets into their hair so that everyone at church will stare. This is not “culturally conditioned.” This kind of vulgar and ostentatious display would be as offensive today as it was then. And fifth, women who profess godliness should adorn themselves by being publicly useful, through fruitful good works.


We want to be careful here. We must affirm what the Bible plainly teaches here (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35). The form of the imperative here indicates more than just a one-time event. Women are not to be teachers. Now the context here is public worship, and so this indicates that women are not to be ordained to the function of teaching in the church. This is not the same as saying that men must never learn from women, which would be ludicrous. That would collide with what the Bible says elsewhere. Women are co-laborers with the apostle Paul in the work of the gospel (Rom. 16:1,6-7; Phil 4:3). And Luke is clear in Acts 18:26—Priscilla helped to straighten Apollos out. So women are excluded from two activities—ordained teaching and exercising of authority over men.

The apostle appeals to the story of creation and fall as it is described in Genesis. He does not appeal to the prevailing customs of Ephesus. It is too often said that the ancient world could not stand too much liberation of the womenfolk, and so all this stuff in the New Testament is an accommodation. But it is not an accommodation at all—it is a challenge. This challenge is directed at contemporary paganism, of the feminist variety. It is also directed at the ancient paganism of Ephesus—that city was a center of Diana worship (Artemis in Greek), and in that massive temple, the priests were all women. The apostle Paul did not require Christian women to be shrinking violets so that they would blend in.


The last verse in this chapter is somewhat cryptic. Some take it as a relegation of women to the task of childbearing. But as lofty a calling as this is, the problem is in the verb St. Paul uses here. Sozo means to save. It can mean preserve or deliver, but here in the pastorals that would be an odd use. In addition, what are we to do with the godly women who have died in childbirth.

A better explanation here is to see how Paul is tying this to the Genesis account. The woman was deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). The serpent deceived me (Gen. 3:13). She will be saved through the childbirth (1 Tim. 2:15). I will put enmity between you seed and her seed (Gen. 3:15). And the upshot is that women are not saved through child-bearing; they are saved, just as the men are, through “the childbirth,” the Messiah of God, born of a woman, born under the law. Paul makes it general again by shifting to the plural halfway through the verse—”if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (v. 15).

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