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Topic 11: 1 Timothy 2:8-15: Part 5: “…learn in silence…”


This is the fifth in a brief series unpacking the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.  The writer is seeking to apply pastoral wisdom to a difficult situation in the church in Ephesus.  Christian growth is always a process.

Paul’s pastoral concern is for the women in the congregation to be solidly grounded in the faith so they would not easily be swayed or corrupted by the tenants of Artemesian cult theology.

(A) False doctrine which appealed especially to women is the problem Paul addresses here: “… swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

(B) “The learning of wrong ideas and behavior had threatened the faith of the Christian community at Ephesus.  Heretical elders had promoted an officious and intellectualistic piety that had attracted women.  Female believers were learning deceptive teachings.  Those women converted from the Artemis cult brought to the worship setting a noisy boisterousness that did not conduce to learning.  Between their own former cultic patterns of behavior and the encouragement of wayward elders, these women represented a problem for Christian worship done decently and in order” (Gritz, page 129).

(C) “[vs 11] …let a woman learn …”:

(1) That the Scriptures counsel women “to learn” is a radical departure from Jewish culture.   This would be new for a Jewish convert: women in the synagogue culture did not engage in formal Scripture study:

(2) The verb μανθανω implies “to learn by study.”  “Μανθανειν takes place when God’s will is learned from Scripture and taken up into one’s own will” (TDNT, IV, 408).

(3) The verb μανθανω here is a present imperative (μανθανετο), which is best translated “let a woman continue learning” (Kroeger, page 103).

(D) Women were already participating in public worship and teaching.

(1) Otherwise Paul would not have tried to correct the abuses.

(2) Men were the first to assume authority in God’s church, and in other aspects of life.

(3) Women were new to this; when they had “learned” then they would also assume any such positions (Galatians 3:28).

(4) “… let women keep on learning …”:  The contrast is learning as it relates to teaching.  The implication is that women must learn and hold correct content before being allowed to assume a teacher’s role.  Paul does encourage the opposite of synagogue custom: “let women keep on learning.”  This positive position of Paul is often lost in arguments over this passage.

(E) In “1 Timothy 2:9-15  … Paul says, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent’ (v. 12 NIV).  The imperative verb, however, is in verse 11: “A woman must be taught …[‘… must learn …’]”  The prohibitions cited in verse 12 [to teach and to have authority] follow and are subordinate to it [the learning].  But the problem is that few pause to listen for the reasons given in verses 13 and 14 where Paul tells us why he ‘would rather not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority.’  It is mainly because Eve had been tricked, deceived, and easily entrapped (v. 14)” (Kaiser, page 12-I).  In short, Paul uses a biblical example from the Old Testament to illustrate and give an example for his reasoning.  He is not laying down “principles.”

The verse, “[11] Let a woman learn in silence…,” refers to the process of learning and does not establish qualifications for pastoral office.

(A) The word esuxia (here translated “silence”; cf. 1 Timothy 2:2) does not mean “always keep your mouth shut.”

(B) The primary meaning is manner, attitude, demeanor; compare other usages of the word:

1 Thessalonians 4:11 (“… to aspire to live quietly…”);

2 Thessalonians 3:12 (“ do their work in quietness…” not as the “busybodies” in verse 11);

1 Timothy 2:2 (“…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…”);

1 Peter 3:4 (“…a gentle and quiet  spirit…”)  (cf. Dinda, “WORD STUDY: 1 Cor. 14:33-35 and 1 Tim. 2:8-12,” pgs. 25-26).

(C) Compare Acts 11:18: Here Peter is confronted by the apostles and others, and he tells of a teaching he received from the Lord in a vision.  The apostles, having heard Peter, then esuxasin, “held their peace” (King James Version).  The word of truth struck home as true.  “The verb doesn’t mean the apostles did not speak; it probably meant they were paying attention to what some one else was saying” (Perales, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage, pg. 104).

(D) Not just women, but the the “whole church is exhorted to this kind of quiet lifestyle with the same word in this very context ([1 Timothy] 2.2)” (Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, pg. 108).

(E) Since esuxia means “quietness” and “rest” in addition to “silence,” this phrase is better  translated, “Let a woman continue learning with a quiet demeanor in an attitude of receptivity.”  Or, “… learn with a quiet demeanor, with respect for the teacher and the teaching.”

(F)  That women should learn with an attitude of receptivity would imply that the opposite was happening (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

(G) Compare 3:6 for the same application to men who are learning: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil…”  In the context the implication of this statement of Paul’s is that women, due to exclusion from the synagogue and from learning experiences, are playing “catch-up.”

(H) “The phrase silence and submission is a Near Eastern formula implying willingness to heed and obey instruction — in this case that contained in the Word of God”  (Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, pgs. 75-76).

(I) The focus here is on behavior, not on qualifications for ecclesiastical office.

(J) The focus here is on training, learning, and behavior, not on excluding women from teaching men or participating in or leading worship.