Considering 1 Timothy 2:8-9

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It is written:

1 Timothy 2:8-9-I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9  in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,

When the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistles to the young preacher Timothy, there were many issues that he discussed. Several of these issues dealt with situations located at Ephesus where Timothy was living and ministering:

1 Timothy 1:3-4-As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4  nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.

Fee and Stuart point out:

“On the other hand, that the passage in 1 Timothy might be culturally relative can be supported first of all by exegesis of all three of the Pastoral Epistles. Certain women were troublesome in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 5: 11–15; 2 Tim 3: 6–9), and they appear to have been a major part of the cause of the false teachers making headway there. Since women are found teaching (Acts 18: 26) and prophesying (Acts 21: 9; 1 Cor 11: 5) elsewhere in the New Testament, it is altogether likely that the 1 Timothy passage spoke to a local problem. In any case, the guidelines above support the possibility that this singular (uncertain) prohibition is culturally relative.” (Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Fourth Edition, 89 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

Indeed, there are many reasons from 1 Timothy to remind us that Paul was writing Timothy about specific situations at that location. For example, Paul wrote:

1 Timothy 2:11-12-Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

Commenting on the grammar of this passage, Keener writes:

“A more important reason Paul may not have wanted these women to teach is that much of the false teaching in Ephesus was being spread through women in the congregation. This is not to say that women are more prone to lead others astray than men—the false teachers themselves seem to have been men. But in that culture the uneducated women seem to have provided the network the false teachers could use to spread their falsehoods through the congregations (1 Tim. 5: 13; 2 Tim. 3: 6–7). This is probably because the women were not as well learned in the Scriptures as men were, as we pointed out in the preceding chapter. Presumably, Paul wants them to learn so that they could teach.[ 94] If he prohibits women from teaching because they are unlearned, his demand that they learn constitutes a long-range solution to the problem. Women unlearned in the Bible could not be trusted to pass on its teachings accurately, but once they had learned, this would not be an issue, and they could join the ranks of women colleagues in ministry whom Paul elsewhere commends.[ 95] Some readers believe that Paul’s wording also shows that this passage was meant only for the specific situation in Ephesus. The present indicative verb in the clause “I am not allowing a woman to teach” is contrasted with the more forceful command that follows, “let her learn.” These readers take the first clause, forbidding a woman to teach, as situationally conditioned in contrast to the second clause, ordering her to learn, which they read as a universal command.[ 96] What is most significant about the wording of the passage, however, is that Paul does not assume that Timothy already knows this rule. Had this rule been established and universal, is it possible that Timothy, who had worked many years with Paul, would not have known it already? Paul often reminds readers of traditions they should know by saying, “You know,” or “Do you not know?” or “According to the traditions which I delivered to you.” In his letters to Timothy Paul appeals to “we know” (e.g., 1 Tim. 1: 8), “faithful sayings” (e.g., 1 Tim. 1: 15), and cites Timothy’s knowledge of Paul’s own life (2 Tim. 3: 10–11). He does give general moral counsel relating to Timothy’s situation at Ephesus, but quite clearly not all his admonitions to Timothy are directly applicable universally (1 Tim. 5: 11–14a, 23; 2 Tim. 4: 13). Since this passage is related so closely to the situation Timothy was confronting in Ephesus, we should not use it in the absence of other texts to prove that Paul meant it universally.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, 2110-2134 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

It is with this background in mind that we come to consider Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 2:9 regarding women and prayer.

The first thing to notice is the context of Paul’s exhortation. The word “everywhere” (NKJV) in verse 8 was used quite often in the first century as a technical term and expression for “in the worship assembly.”

“These words about women learning but not teaching are hardly applicable to home and private settings (Titus 2: 3-5). The conclusive point to my mind is the phrase “in every place” (1 Timothy 2: 8). Although it is often taken to mean “everywhere,” there is another Greek word that means “everywhere” (pantachou), and this phrase “in every place” often appears in Jewish and Christian usage with an almost technical meaning of “in every place of meeting” (1 Corinthians 1: 2; 2 Corinthians 2: 14; 1 Thessalonians 1: 8). 20 This phrase would be equivalent to the phrase “in church,” or “in assembly” in 1 Corinthians 14.” (Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church: Biblical and Historical Perspectives, 488-493 (Kindle Edition); Abilene, TX; Desert Willow Publishing)

So the passage is addressing specifically prayer in the public worship of the church.

Second, in verse eight, Paul wants the men (specifically, the males) to conduct public prayer in a very specific way: lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. The idea of lifting hands is an Old Testament allusion to a person raising their hands towards Heaven while praying.

1 Kings 8;54-And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, that he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.

Psalm 63:4-Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.

Psalm 141:2-Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

The emphasis of lifting up hands seems to be especially on the word “holy.” Paul is saying that the men in the church who lead prayer in public worship must be men who are leading lives devoted to God. The idea of “holy” here is not sinless perfection (1 John 1:8). Instead, it is the difference between a Christian who sins, and a Christian who lives in (unrepentant) sin. In other words, it is not appropriate to have a man in the church who is living in known public sin to lead in worship.

“The standard posture of prayer in Judaism is standing (Matt 6: 5; Mark 11: 25; Luke 18: 11), arms raised, with palms turned upward (1 Kgs 8: 22, 54; Ezra 9: 5; Pss 28: 2; 63: 4; 134: 2; 141: 2; Lam 2: 19; 3: 41; Isa 1: 15; 2 Macc 3: 20; 1 Clem. 29; cf. Str-B 2: 261; 4: 645; references in Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, 123 nn. 16, 17). Other positions, such as kneeling and lying prostrate, are also described in Scripture (1 Kgs 8: 54; Ps 95: 6; Dan 6: 10; Matt 26: 39; Luke 22: 41; Acts 9: 40; Rev 11: 16; cf. C. W. F. Smith, IDB 3: 866). But the emphasis here is not on the posture of prayer but on the hands being ὅσιος, “holy,” meaning that the conduct of the person praying should be acceptable and appropriate to God (cf. Ps 24: 3–5; cf. Stott, 82). This is confirmed by the final phrase, “without anger and dissension,” which makes best sense if Paul’s emphasis is upon holiness and not the mode of praying (i.e., with lifted hands).” (William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Comemntary; Pastoral Epistles, 108 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

This is further exemplified by the idea that the Christian men lead lives that are without “wrath and doubting.” The idea of without “wrath” is especially noteworthy in context here about the Christians who pray for their civil leaders so that we may lead “quiet and peaceable” lives in the sight of God. Facing persecution as God’s people, we must not give in to wrath and revenge since vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:16-21), and we must allow our faith in God to lead us during these times.

Third, notice verse 9 begins with the phrase “in like manner.” The Greek word used here is housautos, and means “in just the same way or manner,” likewise” (Mounce, Strong, Thayer). The word has reference to doing something in the same way (Matthew 20:5; 21:30, 36; 25:17; Mark 12:21; 14:31; Luke 13:3; 20:31; 22:2-; Romans 8:26;1 Corinthians 11:25; 1 Timothy 2:9; 3:8, 11; 5:25; Titus 2:3, 6). In all of these passages, the thing being introduced ties back to the main verb of the preceding statement.

This phrase could mean two things. It could modify the verb “I want,” or it could be modifying the verb “praying.” So this could be translated in this fashion:

1 Timothy 2:9 (TPT)-And that the women would also pray with clean hearts, dressed appropriately and adorned modestly and sensibly, not flaunting their wealth.

The phrase could be modifying either of these verbs.

“The text is ambiguous regarding the connection between vv. 8 and 9. Is Paul saying, “Likewise I want the women to pray with respectable adornment,” or, “Likewise I want the women to adorn themselves with respectable adornment”? Some scholars favor the idea that the infinitive “to pray” (προσεύχεσθαι) follows the implied verb “I want.” 444 In support of this view is the “likewise” (ὡσαύτως) linking vv. 8 and 9. Just as Paul wants the men to pray in a certain manner (“ lifting up holy hands without wrath and disputing”), so too he wants the women to pray with respectable deportment. More likely, however, the infinitive “to adorn” (κοσμεῖν) completes the implied verb “I want.” 445 The word “likewise” is a loose transition and does not indicate that the exact same activities are in mind (cf. 1 Tim. 3: 8, 11; 5: 25; Titus 2: 3, 6). The connection between v. 8 and vv. 9–15, then, is as follows: In v. 8, Paul considers the problem men have when gathered for public worship (anger and disputing in prayer), while in vv. 9–15, he addresses two issues that have cropped up with the women in public gatherings (adornment and teaching men). One should not conclude from the calls to men to pray and to women to adorn themselves properly that only men should pray in worship. 446 First Corinthians 11: 5 clarifies that women are allowed to participate by praying in public meetings. 447” (Andreas J. Kostenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church: An Interpretation And Application Of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 176-177 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway)

As noted, several scholars have laid their support behind their understanding that this text is authorizing women in the church assembly to lead public prayer.

For example:

“Although the grammar is not clear on this point, the “likewise” of 2: 9 probably suggests that Paul, who has just instructed the men how to pray, now turns to instructing the women in the same way.[ 20] As in 1 Corinthians 11, women are not silenced in church; they are permitted to pray. Since most synagogue prayers were offered by men,[ 21] this freedom is significant. But the fact that Paul’s exhortations to them are more detailed than those given to men indicates that there are some special problems relating to the women in the Ephesian congregation, and these problems break down naturally into two categories of exhortation, one concerning dress codes, and the other concerning teaching.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, 1931-1936 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)


“Grammatically this section continues the injunction in verse 8, i.e. it gives observations on women’s conduct in public prayer.” (Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Book 14), 88 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; IVP Academic)

More to the point, some of the early Christians clearly favorited this interpretation as well. :

“1 Timothy 2: 9 may read: “Likewise, I desire women to pray dressed modestly.” The main verb is unstated in 1 Timothy 2: 9. The text literally says: “likewise women in suitable clothing with modesty and decently to dress themselves . . .” Translations often supply the main verb as “Likewise, I desire . . .” It is grammatically possible as well as contextually appropriate to supply “to pray”—” Likewise, I desire the women to pray in suitable clothing . . .” Men should pray without argument, and women should pray dressed modestly. This is how John Chrysostom, the ancient Greek bishop of Constantinople, understood Paul’s language. In this way, verses 8–10 form a unit on prayer’s proper decorum. Most likely, as “likewise” suggests, Paul wants both men and women to pray—the former without arguing and the latter dressed modestly. Whatever we might say about the grammar and context, even if Paul only explicitly identifies men as the ones who pray, this does not exclude women from praying in the assembly any more than the fact that Paul only explicitly identifies women as the ones who should dress modestly excludes men from modest dress in the assembly. Paul tells men to pray without arguing, but this does not imply they are to pray instead of women any more than women are to dress modestly instead of men. As Nichol wrote in 1938, “No one should conclude that the passage is antithetic, and that because Paul says men are to pray in every place, the teaching is that women are never to pray.” Is not the exhortation to prayer in 1 Timothy 2: 1 directed to all, both men and women? If we include women in 1 Timothy 2: 1, it seems problematic that Paul excludes women from praying in 1 Timothy 2: 8–10.” (John Mark Hicks, Women Serving God: My Journey in Understanding Their Story in the Bible, 167-168 (Kindle Edition))

Again (as noted above), the Apostle Paul mentioned the women at Corinth were praying and prophesying, and only admonished them to wear their hair coverings when doing so:

1 Corinthians 11:5-But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

These instructions by Paul were given when the Corinthians were “coming together” (1 Corinthians 11:17) “as a church” (1 Corinthians 11:18), clear references to the public worship of the church.

Fourth, Paul also teaches that in the worship assembly, the women should “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,”

Why does Paul add this admonition for the Christian women of Ephesus?

The answer (again) goes back to the culture of that day and age.

“There is a large body of evidence, both Hellenistic and Jewish, which equated “dressing up” on the part of women with both sexual wantonness and wifely insubordination (see note). Indeed, for a married woman so to dress in public was tantamount to marital unfaithfulness (see, e.g., Sentences of Sextus513: “A wife who likes adornment is not faithful”). Given the close tie here between trumpery (vv. 9–10) and the need “to learn with all submissiveness” (v. 11, RSV), it is most likely that Paul is viewing the actions of some of the women from within this same general cultural framework (see esp. disc. on 2 Tim. 3:6–7). Thus women are to dress modestly, with decency and propriety. Inherent in this last word is the use of “good judgment” in the matter of dress. This is then specifically defined as not wearing braided hair (lit., “with plaited hair”; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3 and Juvenal, cited in the note) or gold or pearls (see Juvenal) or expensive clothes. Indeed, women who are believers are to be “clothed” in better things—with good deeds, which will later be defined as, among other things, “bringing up children” (5:10). The point is that “healthy teaching” (see disc. on 1:10) has to do with conduct that is appropriate for women who profess to worship God, not conduct that is immodest or indecent, as is characteristic of women intent on seduction.” (Gordon D. Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, 1680-1692 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)

Women in the first century context who dressed in such a flamboyant way were often considered advertising themselves sexually.

God’s people-men and women-are called upon to intercede on behalf of the world of sinful man so that we may go forth-together-and bring the Good News of Jesus to those around us.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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