Truth, Humility and Peace: The Hard Work Of Church Community (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

In 1 Timothy, Paul keeps coming back to two things: orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (righteous action). Pretty much everything in the letter relates to these two things in some fashion. Before Paul moves into a discussion of ecclesiology (church structure) in Chapter 3, he addresses a dynamic happening in Timothy’s church where men and women were being influenced by bad teaching and responding in troubling ways.

Paul’s solution may sound odd to us, but it made sense to his audience, and there are implications for us today. Here’s the passage:

So here’s what you tell them; here’s what I want to see: Men, pray wherever you are. Reach your holy hands to heaven—without rage or conflict—completely open. Women, the same goes for you: dress properly, modestly, and appropriately. Don’t get carried away in grooming your hair or seek beauty in glittering gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Instead, as is fitting, let good works decorate your true beauty and show that you are a woman who claims reverence for God. 

It’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly in complete submission.  Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly. This is because Adam was formed first by God, then Eve. Plus, it wasn’t Adam who was tricked; it was she—the woman was the one who was fooled and disobeyed God’s command first.

 Still, God, in His faithfulness, will deliver her through childbearing as long as she remains in faith and love and holiness with self-restraint. (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

Can we just acknowledge right up front that this is an odd passage? Christian theologians and Bible scholars have wrestled with this passage for as long as it’s been around. Is this about some specific dynamic in Timothy’s church or in Ephesus? Is this a timeless comment about women and men?

What I’m going to attempt to do this morning is show why this was important for them to do what we talked about last week: ‘lead quiet and peaceful lives, with holiness and godliness, for the sake of the spread of gospel.’  Then I want to challenge us with how this might apply in our lives today.

A historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, wrote about an apparently well known “nation ruled by females”:

“They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbors, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.”

“The mother of the gods,” Artemis, was worshipped in Ephesus. The priesthood was dominated by women. Men could become priests after renouncing their masculinity and going through ritual castration. They also abstained from certain types of food.

Josephus recorded that some of the Jews had incorporated some of these traditions into their brand of Judaism. They shunned marriage and often avoided women altogether. They abstained from meat and wine (it might stir their passions like the ladies did).  They also thought this gave them a special ability to interpret the Mosaic law in unusual ways, which they justified by referring to seemingly endless genealogies through which they claimed to be the descendants of Zadok, who was the first High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem.

So, note what we are dealing with so far:

  • A rejection of marriage by Gentile women and Jewish men;
  • A worship of the mother goddess which empowered women and emasculated men literally and figuratively;
  • A belief that denial of pleasure (in this case sex and certain foods) led to spiritual power. This was fueling self-righteousness and judgment.
  • A fascination with genealogies meant to place people in a line of spiritual authority, both in Judaism (Zadok for the men) and in the local temple cults (Artemis for the women). This was leading to a sense of superiority and arrogance.

Remember: Paul just said, “Lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness…” So how do they accomplish this as they are facing these challenges? 


The solution for the men was to lift up holy hands in prayer – not just pray like Paul wrote just a couple paragraphs earlier, but to pray with hands uplifted. Why the more specific command?

  • The Jews apparently stood and turned open, empty palms toward heaven. Perhaps it was a way of asking Him to put something into the empty hand, like a beggar who has nothing and holds out his hand.
  • It shows a relationship where the one raising his hands is lowly with respect to the other.
  • It also symbolically raises hands that are supposed to be clean, and uncovers a heart that is supposed to be pure (according the Psalmist – Psalm 24:4). That stance reminds men that they have nothing to bring to God on their own merit, not their self-denial or their lineage. They are in submission, not having authority over God; and they are exposed, offering their lives for God’s inspection. If they take that seriously, that’s a sobering thing.  


Women were gravitating toward a style of temple worship in which were some pretty wild temple priestesses who were publically loud and immodest and generally disdainful of men. The general public did not like them, and Roman authorities were greatly concerned because this was upsetting a divinely ordered family structure and would displease the gods.

The immodest and showy dress that accompanied this often signaled a woman’s loose morals and independence from the responsibility of her family. That was not a signal the church wanted to send.

It seems like this was coming into the church through the women because at least the single women and the widows were being actively recruited (this idea comes up later in 1 Timothy). They were bored and restless; they had no family responsibilities (which left little to do in Ephesus); because women were not formally educated in Greek, Roman or Jewish culture at the time, they didn’t know enough about their faith to be discerning when faced with false teaching (1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).

In addition, it was considered a shame for women to speak in public venues. Aristotle wrote in Politics, “Silence is a woman’s glory.”  The Greek ecclesia (which was also used for church assemblies) was a man’s domain. The few times we have record of women giving speeches, they brought shame on their family even if the speech was praised. [1], [2]

They were buying into false beliefs, and their public immodesty and boldness were undermining what was seen by everyone as respectable.[3]  We noted last week that the early church wanted “to make the heathen rulers sensible that they were good subjects. For thus they might expect to be less the object of their hatred.” – from Biblehub’s commentary on 1 Timothy[4] On a practical level, Paul was giving instruction on how to be ‘good subjects’ in the eyes of the state even while educating them on the biblical foundation for his commands.


In the religious culture of Ephesus, life had its origin in Cybele (Artemis), a woman, and sin originated with various male gods. Paul reminds them how this clashes with the biblical narrative: it was Adam, a man, who was the source of life; it was Eve, the woman, who introduced sin.[5] Once again, there is a lot of discussion about the implications of this, because Adam’s not off the hook either: “By one man sin entered into the world” (Romans 5:12). Jesus is called the New Adam, not the New Eve.

The broader theological implications (and I’m sure there are many) are not my focus this morning. Whatever Paul is saying theologically, I think he is making the same practical point to the women that he is making to the men: There is no room for men or women to claim a religious superiority because of their lineage from Zadok -  or Artemis.


Honestly, there is no real consensus on what this means. It’s the only time this word is used in the New Testament. I favor the idea that Paul is talking about how spiritual formation looks in the lives of women living in Ephesus. We think of salvation as a moment; Paul thought of salvation as an ongoing process, including what we would now call sanctification.[6]

I suspect what he is saying is contrasting what happens when women in his culture were not married and raising families in a church community. They were bored, distracted, easily manipulated by false teaching, even drawn into pagan worship. Those who stayed in the church were succumbing to false teachers. This was going to lead them away from Christ. Being married, raising a family in the church, being focused and purposeful and being under the instruction of true doctrine and the spiritual leadership of godly husbands would build their faith; this would be the means by which they would experience God’s process of sanctification (‘deliverance’) through the raising of the family in the broader context of church life. [7]

Several things stand out to me in this particular section: A healthy church will be characterized, by truth, humility, and peaceful community.[i]

Truth: look at how the false teaching within the church and outside of the church were destroying fellowship and shipwrecking faith. Ideas have consequences. There are other places where Paul says that preachers with bad motives are still preaching the gospel, and that’s what’s important (Philippians 1). Here they aren’t teaching the gospel, and it’s tearing the church apart. The anger among the men, the subversion of decorum and even worship among the women – that is not a quiet and peaceful life lived in godliness and holiness. That is not a game plan for furthering the good news of the gospel.

It’s a reminder that we must be a people that embrace and defend truth, specifically solid doctrinal teaching, or it will tear us apart. We hear talk about living in a ‘post-truth’ world; now more than ever, we must be students of truth. It’s a daunting thing to challenge someone’s doctrine, but we must be bold (and gracious) defenders of truth, while being humble recipients of whatever challenges we receive.

Humility: We must stand with our spiritual arms uplifted to let God examine our hands and our hearts. And we must see that grime on what we have to offer so that we can appreciate what Jesus has done for us. There was no room for them to be proud because of their lineage, their self-denial, or because they were a man or a woman.

How boldly do we pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me.” (Psalm 139:23).  We’ve been coming back to this idea a lot lately, but it’s there in the text a lot lately.

  • “Lord, did I represent truth this week?”
  • “Did I do it with love and compassion, speaking boldly but gently, or did I do it with sarcasm and bitterness?”
  • “Lord, did I pray for my friends and my enemies? Did my heart break for the things that break your heart?”
  • “Lord, did I call on you for help, knowing that unless you build everything in my life it will be in vain?”
  • “Lord, did I praise you as I should, seeing your presence in every moment, acknowledging that it’s not by my might, and it’s not by my power, but it’s by your Spirit that all good things happen?”
  • “Lord, have I repented of my sins as I should? Have I forgiven others as you have forgiven them?”

There is no room for arrogance or self-righteous judgment in God’s kingdom. We are called to honest introspection and surrender to God, and to do so with openness and in humility.

Peaceful Community: The solution for both the women and the men was that they followed Christ into deeper Christian community. It is in the fellowship of other Christians that we find stability, refinement and purpose.

God often uses our walk with others as a means of our sanctification.

Karl’s been working with kids in this church for almost 10 years, and he noted last week how being in that ministry has built and stabilized his faith. He teaches big concepts to kids. He interacts with them, their parents and other workers, which will build character.  He gets to know most of you in the process.

I think what has happened in Karl shows an important principle: purposeful involvement in church community makes a difference. Our community of influence that we give and receive makes a difference. A responsibility for the spiritual nourishment of others makes a difference. Being forced into situations where you are challenged, or criticized, or praised all are part of your spiritual formation.

We need each other. We need to plug in to God’s kingdom. Purposeful service accompanied by good Christian fellowship is often a key means of our sanctification.


Some Recommended Resources (with varying opinions)

Saved Through Childbearing.  Andreas Kostenberger. http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2-4.pdf.

Should Women Teach in Church?  Greg Koukl http://www.str.org/articles/should-women-teach-in-church#.WIJ7KneZOb8.

Was Paul For Or Against Women In Ministry? Craig Keener http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/082_paul.cfm

“Made – In Complementary Community.” https://clgonline.org/madein-complementary-community-part-1/

Commentaries at biblehub.com. They were instrumental in helping me in this sermon, as were the other articles.


[1] Several Roman writers instruct women to just go home and be quiet. One ancient inscription that read, “Theano [the wife of Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, ‘A lovely arm.’ ‘But not for the public,’ said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.” Juvenal, a Roman poet, wrote: “Wives shouldn’t try to be public speakers; they shouldn’t use rhetorical devices; they shouldn’t read all the classics-there ought to be some things women don’t understand. . . If she has to correct somebody, let her correct her girl friends and leave her husband alone.”

[2] No wonder Paul warned against a woman teaching and practicing something he called “authentein” against “a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), a word which means to dominate , exercise dominion over, or wrench authority away from a man. In his 2010 book, “Insight into Two Biblical Passages: The Anatomy of a Prohibition, 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church,” Wilshire notes that authentein had the following meanings: “doer of a massacre”; “author of crimes”; “perpetrators of sacrilege”; “supporter of violent actions”;  “murderer”;  “slayer of oneself”;  “perpetrator of evil;  “one who murders by his own hand.”  http://juniaproject.com/1-timothy-pauls-language-original-context/

[3] “Here Paul also forbade women to "teach," something he apparently allowed elsewhere (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,3). Thus he presumably addressed the specific situation in this community.” – Craig Keener

[4] Some scholars have pointed out that in the letter to Corinthians Paul identifies the men as “husbands”; Craig Keener and Greg Koukl have suggested that the men in this letter to Timothy may be better translated as “husband” in accord with the letter to Corinth.

[5] In a culture where typology or archetypes mattered (one person stands in for a whole group of people), this distinction mattered. 

[6] Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. From the same as teknogoneo; childbirth (parentage), i.e. (by implication) maternity (the performance of maternal duties) -- childbearing.

 [7] For what it’s worth, women had great leeway in the ‘private’ sphere of their own homes – business, education and raising of the children, social connections, etc. They were very skilled and capable, and among their circle of female friends there were often thriving businesses. There was decent money to be made through manufacturing and trade, and plenty of women (including some prominent members in the early church) did this. Read Proverbs 31 to get an idea of how productive, valued and impactful women were.