The Problem with Prayer in 1 Timothy 2:9-15

The Problem with Prayer in 1 Timothy 2:9-15

If we interpret 1 Timothy 2:9-15 through the lens of the context of the entire letter which is to correct false teaching, then we can understand that the restrictive measures Paul takes against these Ephesian women corrects some blatant error at that place and time. Theextreme” limitations Paul placed on the women of Ephesus is contrary to his customary practice. The mixed-up, no-good, spirituality that was being taught in Ephesus led people astray from the true faith. Extreme measures were needed that solved the problem. Paul’s instructions concerning women must be understood in context of the dangerous false teaching found in Ephesus.

They were praying wrong.

Prayer is the immediate topic beginning in 2:1. The false teaching in Ephesus was affecting who the church prayed to and how they went about their petitioning. We see this is a church-wide problem for Paul urged everyone  to pray for peaceful and quiet lives (2:2). He linked quiet, peaceful, godly living with achieving God’s evangelistic goal of bringing all people to a knowledge of the truth (2:4). Paul urged prayer correlating to the sound doctrine he taught them. We are to pray to the one true God our Savior (2:3), through His mediator, the man Christ Jesus (2:5). Here is the heart of the corrective teaching on prayer, which resulted in the practical instructions to men and women. Prayer directed to the one true God should be marked with peace and propriety, unlike prayer to idols.

Posture in prayer

In verse 8, men were instructed to lift both hands in prayer. This may indicate that a particular posture was in vogue that reflected idolatry. Most certainly, it was contentious, as Paul warned them against anger and arguing.

Verses 9-15 continued Paul’s flow of thought on prayer in verses 1-8, as he connected the prayer of men to the prayer of women with hĂłsautĂłs, or “likewise/also.”

…I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women… (2:8-9a) NIV

As in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, Paul assumed both men and women would be praying in the church community. And, according to 1 Timothy 2:4, men and women were both to pray in a fashion that would not detract outsiders from knowing the true gospel.  Hesuchia, translated as “quiet” in verse 2, is the same Greek word Paul used to describe the desired attitude for women verse 12, often translated as “silent.” Regardless of how hesuchia is glossed in translation (as silent or quiet), Paul applied it to both genders in Ephesus (2:2), with special insistence that the women comply (2:12).

Apparel in prayer

Praying posture and emotion was affecting prayer for the men. For women, it was their apparel and attitude (2:9-10). Paul asked for modest dress, which he defined as decent and proper – without a show of wealth. Our modern mind equates modest apparel with more fabric, but Paul’s context reflected the idea of simplicity.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes… (2:9) NIV

Sandra Glahn argues that in Greco-Roman society, braids, gold, pearls and expensive clothes were a mark of affluence, “associated with a person’s rank.”[1] This suggests that the women of Ephesus were entangled with the love of money (3:3; 6:5-10) and status, and this was evident in their arrogant attitudes and ostentatious attire. Paul distinguished good works as the apparel of those who worship God (2:10), in contrast to the ostentatious display of rank and wealth associated with idolatry. [2] (The next article on Artemis will provide explanation for Paul’s emphasis on apparel in worship.)

The attention given to praying women at the end of chapter 2 correlated with a particular Ephesian problem Timothy needed to correct. We get a clearer picture of what these women were doing with their voluble and interfering ways in chapter 5.  Some women were in danger of judgment (5:12), “saying things they ought not to (5:13),” followers of Satan (5:15), and exploiters (5:6, 16). This painted a picture of women who were not only disturbing the households of the church, but were demanding monetary support, and were implanting teaching that Paul calls “satanic” (5:15). We must not isolate Paul’s instructions in 2:9-15 from the problems he described with the Ephesian women in chapter 5. These women were undermining faith in Jesus Christ, especially when it came to who and how they prayed for help.

The motivation for prayer

If we find prayer as the context for Paul’s instructions introducing 1 Timothy 2:9-15, then we find the motivation for the context at its conclusion. Verse 15, which has been a debated enigma for millennia, states the concern that drove the Ephesians to pray in error.

Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (2:15) ESV

David Scholer calls verse 15 the climax of the passage and links its positive assurance for women with the negative mandate prior in verse 12.[3]

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man. (2:12a) NIV

The main puzzle to solve in verse 15, to address Paul’s meaning for the entire passage, is the type and method of salvation promised to women. In verse 15, Paul declares that “she (a singular pronoun inherent in the singular verb) will be saved through childbirthing, if they (a plural pronoun inherent in the plural verb) continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.” While there are many explanations for Paul’s switch in grammatical numeric value in this verse, Sandra Glahn suggests a simple explanation. Paul is borrowing a popular, local saying.[4]

“She will be saved through childbirth”

Scholars have identified that Paul often used popular sayings and quotes as a springboard to his teaching, but they are sometimes missed due to the limitations of Greek punctuation and historical context. Greek writing did not have a set way to indicate quotations, so many times archaeology and historical study reveals what could be a quote after years of research. That is the case for  1 Tim. 4:8-9 NASB; 1 Cor. 6:12 NIV; 1 Cor. 7:1-2 NIV; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12, and Acts 17:24-29. Here is a modern example of how this works.

Be all that you can be if they sign up with the right mindset and willingness to work hard.

This quotation, without the quotes to indicate a popular saying, would be lost on anyone not watching American TV in the 80’s and 90’s. But put in the proper punctuation, and voila. “Be all that you can be” if they sign up with the right mindset and willingness to work hard. This indicates a context for us to interpret through.

If the phrase, “She will be saved through childbirth,” was a local slogan, Paul borrowed it to make a specific point, not to present an alternative salvation for women. This would be a simple explanation for the switch of numerical value in his subject. And it is a reasonable assumption for two reasons. Paul was known for using common sayings, and the famous, local deity of Ephesus was Artemis, the goddess of childbirth. We will detail her worship in the next article.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Titus 3:5 says salvation is not by works, but by God’s mercy. Paul is consistent that all people are only saved by faith in Christ alone.  We can be confident Paul was not teaching women have a special method of eternal salvation by giving birth. Instead, Paul used a local saying to assure women that they would survive the dangerous ordeal of childbirth.

Why is this particular assurance about surviving childbirth necessary contextually in the flow of Paul’s logic? It must have something to do with the instructions and teaching Paul gave immediately prior to this promise.

Understanding verses 11-14 in context with Paul’s promise to women in verse 15, gives us a glimpse at the false teaching Paul was correcting. In verse 11, Paul uses the only imperative verb in this passage to command the women to learn.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. (2:12) NAS

Certainly, they must learn in order to correct the superstitious and fictional notions that had deceived them. What is the best posture for learning? Paul agrees with one hundred percent of teachers, everywhere. A student must keep their mouths shut, and be willing to learn! Apparently, the Ephesian women were talking too much and instead of submitting to learn proper doctrine, they refused to listen.

Not only did these women with false notions refuse to learn, they insisted on teaching and controlling men with their false ideas (2:12). This false teaching most likely had its roots in a creation myth, because Paul proceeded to correct these ideas in verses 13-14. Adam was created first, not Eve. Eve instigated transgression because she was deceived. This was a simple correction of the facts, which the women in Ephesus apparently had not learned or disagreed with.  The refusal to learn (11), the dominating insistence of women (12), and the incorrect teaching about the creation order and fall (13-14) were all bound together in these women’s fear of dying in childbirth (15), according to Paul’s flow of argument.

What is not written in Paul’s words is the specific error his instructions corrected, because Timothy already knew them. For the modern reader to deduce what contemporary error these instructions addressed, a survey of what we know of the Ephesian religion and culture blended with the specific instructions Paul gives, is helpful. Read more about it.


[1] Sandra L. Glahn,”The First-Century Ephesian Artemis: Ramifications of Her Identity,” Bibliotheca Sacra 172, no. 688 (2015): 450-469. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed November 29, 2017), 456.

[2] Ibid., 457.

[3] David M. Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed.  Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 196.

[4] Glahn, 466.


Going up alone

Going up alone

In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney lists out the multitude of passages that prioritize solitude and silence; not just the clichéd, “Be still and know that I am God” verse from Elijah’s storm. Jesus was led into the wilderness. He went to the mountain alone to pray. He went early to a desolate place, many times to be alone. Worship of God is often silent. Zephaniah 1:7 says the earth is silent before Him. David, Isaiah and Jeremiah describe waiting on the Lord in silence (Psalm 62:1-6, Isaiah 30:15, Lamentations 3:25-28). Zechariah was struck mute to prepare him to raise his son, the prophet John. Closing our mouths and shutting out sound draws us inward and focuses our self on God and His perspective.

I also took a long hike up a local mountain, in the rain, completely alone. (I only passed two other wet souls on the trail.) It was the absolute solitude that frightened me at first. Being alone on Rattlesnake Mountain was a daunting thought, but one I embraced. I have had many thoughts of the solitude of death recently, and the complete aloneness of dying is frightening. I thought that I could face this fear in a small way by taking this four-mile hike, in the rain with all the bears and cougars and no cell phone reception! Because, after all, I have been promised that I am never alone, even in death. (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5)

At the beginning of the climb, my thoughts were stilled by the great, green forest around me. But as my doubt-addled brain is oft to do, I began to question God. The hike was steep and I stopped for breath leaning onto a drippy, moss-covered tree. I opened my inner ear and listened for answers. Hearing nothing but my thumping heart, I asked to the tree tops, “Are you there?” And heard, “I am.” Now, I didn’t actually hear anything. But, I knew that His name was the answer, and I began to marvel at the revelation.

Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Jesus. They all spent time climbing a mountain to meet with God. And so did I. At least, this was my meditation and motivation to keep climbing. I was climbing to fight my tendency toward personal indulgence and comfort. It was cold and exhausting. Jillian Michaels has a saying, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That is a worthy goal not just in physical training, but in spiritual. I meditated on the link between the two. When I stopped for breath, I realized that the harder the climb the more I needed to stop and rest than in the flat bits. This too connected in spiritual ways that encouraged my steps.

Once I reached the overlook I was aiming for, there was nothing to see. How indicative of my journey with God recently! I was amused at the metaphor. But, all was well with my soul because I have seen the view before. On clearer days, the view of the valley and Mt. Si shock your senses and drop your jaw in wonder. Today, I trusted that the sight of the valley was still the same behind the cloud. I just couldn’t see it. It was nice to experience the intimacy of the cloud with the drizzle and the wind.


In a book about Fred Rogers, from The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth says that Fred “knew that silence leads to reflection, that reflection leads to appreciation and that appreciation looks about for someone to thank.” As I sat in the noisy silence of nature on top of that mountain, my reflections were calm, assured that I can trust that God is present even though I’m often surrounded by a cloud. He is there, even when I can’t see Him. And I spent time in gratitude.

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Why is it important that we start the discussion of God’s mother-love with an understanding of the Trinity? Because God IS love only in the community of His person. This love births a family to participate in His communal love. Mothers know a little something about loving others.

Metaphors of God

Jesus uses parables to describe his intimate knowledge of the invisible God. His parable of the “prodigal son” introduces one of the most important metaphors of God. God as Father is so pivotal to Jesus that he uses it to title the person of God that remains mysterious and unseen to His creation. The most important information about God as Father is that He is UNLIKE ANY FATHER this world has ever known. Jesus breaks all stereotypes of fathers in the ancient world by portraying a father who acts more like a mother than a father.  In what way? Social norms of that time required fathers  to be the disciplinarian, firm and aloof.  Yet Jesus describes his father as tender, compassionate, heartfelt, quick to overlook wrongs, not concerned with discipline but with hugs and kisses (Luke 15:20).

Father is a strong metaphor for God, but there are many others. Rock, bread, water, fire, baby sheep, bird. Jesus likened himself to a mother hen in Luke 13:34. His imagery mirrors an Old Testament metaphor of God in Deut 32:11 as a mother bird guarding and feeding her young.

God has no gender.

If you are unused to hearing God described in feminine imagery, it might startle you. Remember, God is Spirit, not gendered (John 4:24). In Hosea and Numbers, God says specifically that he is God and not a man (Num 23:19, Hos 11:9). So we mustn’t take any gendered imagery or metaphor too far. The Father title is modified as Heavenly to distinguish it from a too literal a meaning. We must be careful and on guard not to make God after our own image as male or female.

God is three persons, not one person acting in three different roles; such as the role of begetter or begotten. God is three persons, not one person acting in different capacities; such as judge or advocate or helper. God is three persons, one of whom took the form of a male human, but in whom all the fullness of diety dwelled. God is three persons who are more than unified  – they are perfect oneness. Yet, because He is three persons, He can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other.

It is this Love amongst the godhead that birthed a family…something we understand as a uniquely mother experience.

Next up: Part 4 explains the motherly metaphors of God.


References: Wade Burleson. Missing Metaphors Makes Men Mad.

Public Prayers

Public Prayers

A lot of emphasis has been given to praying in public the last decade. Not that more people are praying in public, but that Christians are complaining because some don’t like to hear it and want it to stop. Is it really so hard to imagine that some people don’t appreciate hearing someone else’s loud one-way conversation? To some, public prayer is a bit like those obnoxious bluetooth talkers – the ones who talk loudly into quiet public spaces forgetting that others share the hear-space. We call those people rude, and I can understand the arguments that call public prayer by the same adjective.

It seems to me that public prayer has become more an issue of grasping and demanding rights. Public prayers are getting louder and more strident in an effort to drown out the demands for silence.  I believe this to be mostly a American phenomena. We have enjoyed religious majority throughout our history. That means most of the time people do not have a problem when we talk to God in their hearing. But with the rise of globalism and the internet, we are having to share our public spaces with other belief systems, and it seems to me that Christians are not very good at sharing that space.

Thankfully, Jesus taught about prayer, so its easy to take our direction from him.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Mat 6:6

Public prayers for show (or political activism) are condemned. Long prayers are ignored. Communication with God that is hidden and private is encouraged (Mat 6:5-8, 16-18).

Can’t we stop the re-activism against those who don’t want our prayers to be public? Can we try listening to them and consider ways to do to them what we want them to do to us? Jesus says to not refuse someone who asks something of you (Mat 5:40-42).

NO ONE can stop you from praying, ever. But they can ask you be quiet.

The prayer closet beckons.


Saying your prayers

Saying your prayers

It can be simple, really.

I find myself perfectly content in a slow train that crawls through green fields stopping at every station. Just because the service is so slow and therefore in most people’s eyes bad, these trains are almost empty—I get through a lot of reading and sometimes say my prayers. A solitary train journey I find quite excellent for this purpose. (C.S. Lewis, Letters, edited by W.H. Lewis, (New York: Harvest Books, 1966), p.265. Link)

Slow down. Take the long way home. Say your prayers.