Counselling lecturer Lynn Rhodes writes on chapter 2 on our series on 1 Timothy. He talks about the need to understand the Bible not as a rule book. In this essay he tackles the controversial sections that deal with women in the church, and also men. The suggestions he offers will be helpful for us as we move along life trying to understand God’s Word. Be blessed.
When it comes to understanding and following God’s Word, all of us have a desire to do it correctly. No one wants to stand before God and have him question why we did not obey him. That makes it easy for us to fall into the trap of reading the Bible primarily to look for rules. In understanding the Bible, we must always begin with the meaning any given passage had for the first people who read it. How did it fit into their culture and their view of the world? The scriptures are applicable in all times, but must be first of all understood in the context and time in which they were written.
One passage that can easily yield itself to rule making is 1 Timothy 2. This chapter deals with the importance of and the propriety of men and women in prayer. But, the question must be asked, “Is the apostle Paul giving rules or guidelines for prayer”? As we go through this chapter, one danger is that we will pick and choose based on our own preferences or comfort and make some things rules and some things guidelines.
If 1 Timothy 2 is laying down rules for prayer or worship, here are some possible rules:
- All prayers must include requests, intercessions and thanksgiving for everyone.
- All prayers must include kings and people in authority.
- When men pray they must lift up their hands.
- Those hands must be holy.
- Women must dress modestly.
- Women must not braid their hair or wear jewellery.
- Women must be silent in church.
If these are rules coming from God, then in the church they must be followed for all time.
Or, if Paul is giving guidelines based on our relationship with God, here are some possible guidelines:
- In our prayers we should be concerned about all people.
- We should be grateful to Jesus Christ for ransoming us through his death.
- We should petition God to influence those in authority over us in such a way that we can live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
- When people pray, they must come before God in holiness rather than in anger and disputing.
- Women need to avoid finding their beauty in displaying their physical attributes or in showing their wealth, but rather display the beauty of women who worship God with lives filled with good deeds.
- Women should show proper respect to the men in the church.
If Paul intends for this passage to give guidelines, then they should lead us into a deeper and deeper relationship with God and produce lives that are daily becoming more holy and sacrificial.
The wording that Paul uses may help us know whether he is giving rules or guidelines. In the New International Version and the Amplified version, the words “urge” (from the Greek parakalo) and “want” (from the Greek boulomai) are used in 2:1 and 2:8. The English Standard Version uses the words “urge” and “desire” in those verses. Paul says in 2:1, “I ‘urge’ (NIV, ESV, Amplified), then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…” In 2:8 as he addresses men about prayer, he says, “I ‘want’ (NIV, Amplified) men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” The ESV uses the word “desire” rather than “want.”
Alford argues further that the usage of the Greek word aner in 2:8, which can mean a man or can mean a human being, as well as the Greek order of words here indicates that Paul is not separating men from women in giving instructions about prayer but is talking about both men and women. In 2:11-12 Paul uses the words “quietly” and “quiet” (ESV, Amplified, NIV) as he describes the way women are to interact in the church. The old NIV uses the words “quietness” and “silent.” The same Greek word, hasuxia, is used in both verses. The word “quiet” conveys a very different meaning from the concept of absolute silence that is sometimes assigned here.
I believe, based on Paul’s words here and his statements elsewhere that he is giving guidelines on how we need to approach God, how we need to conduct our lives and how men and women are to interact in worship. If our culture and tradition is so inclined, it is easy to say Paul is ordering that only men lead the church in prayer during worship and that women must be completely silent during worship. But, that becomes an interpretation rather than a translation. (Would making this a rule about only men praying also require them to lift their hands to God?)
In addition, it does not fit with his guidelines for men and women in worship in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 where he depicts men and women as both praying and prophesying in the church. In our exegesis of scripture, we must look at all the passages that talk about the same thing and find an interpretation that incorporates all of them.
What is the meaning of all this for churches in Africa? Some African churches do not allow women to say or do anything but sing. Others ask women to lead prayers. It is not unusual for churches to have women who start songs from their seat during worship whereas some have women that stand in front of the church and lead songs. Which church is right? Can I have fellowship with all of those churches or must I only fellowship certain ones? It all depends on whether 1 Timothy 2 is giving rules or guidelines.
God has given rules in some aspects of our Christian lives. We must follow those rules absolutely. In some areas, God has given guidelines and left us to work out the best ways to follow those guidelines in our culture and in our time. May God always give us the wisdom to know which are rules and which are guidelines. May he empower us to have the grace to enable us to avoid binding rules on people that God has not bound. We also need the courage to follow the things that are rules even when they go against the thinking of the present time.