Was 1 Timothy 2 written to the church?

Was 1 Timothy 2 written to the church?

Complementarians claim that 1 Timothy 2:12 is universally applicable because they say it was written for the church to know how to behave.  According to John MacArthur, in God’s High Calling for Women part 1, 1 Timothy was written to “set the church in order”.

First Timothy 3:14-15 gives us the overall intent of the letter: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. ” First Timothy was written to set the church in order.

MacArthur appears to deny that Ephesus had godly women as he states that the Ephesian women were “desecrating” the worship service.

First Timothy 2 focuses in on another problem involving women.  Under the pretense of coming to worship God, they were flaunting themselves and desecrating the worship service.  Their dress and demeanor betrayed an evil intent rather than a heart of worship.

While John MacArthur’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:9ff is about women with an “evil intent”, a statement completely foreign to the text, yet he claims that the prohibition that follows in verse 12 is all about the “biblical role” of all women in the church.

From his discussion of the problems women were causing in the worship services, Paul branches out into a discussion of the biblical role of women.

In the “biblical role of women” given universally for the church, the apostle Paul, according to John MacArthur, states that women must come to church with a “proper sense of shame”.

A.  Godly Fear

The Greek word translated “godly fear” (aid[ma]os) refers to modesty mixed with humility.  It connotes a sense of shame–not shame in being a woman, but in any way inciting lust or distracting others from a proper worship of God.  A woman with a proper sense of shame will dress in such a way as not to be a source of temptation.

While Mr. MacArthur says that women are to come to church with “a proper sense of shame”, this meaning is foreign to 1 Timothy 2:9 where the meaning is that of reverence.  The WordStudy dictionary says:

It implies reverence for the good as good, not merely as that to which honor and reputation are attached. Only in 1Ti_2:9; Heb_12:28, reverence, veneration.

Is John MacArthur right that Paul was writing 1 Timothy 2 to the Church universal to set the Church in order and this “order” calls for women coming to church with a sense of shame?  Let’s look at the verse that he and other complementarians quote:

1 Timothy 3:14  I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;
1 Timothy 3:15  but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 in the Analytical-Literal Translation renders this verse:

(ALT)  But if I delay, [I write] so that you shall know how it is necessary to be conducting yourself in [the] house of God, which is [the] Assembly [or, Church] of the living God, [the] pillar and foundation of the truth.

The Greek is singular.  It is written to Timothy so that Timothy will know how to conduct himself in the house of God.  Timothy is to know how to conduct himself with false teachers (chapter 1), how to chose godly leaders (chapter 3), how to pay attention to his own spiritual gift and not to pay attention to those who look down on his youth (chapter 4), how to rebuke elders and how to honor them as well as how to treat widows (chapter 5), and chapter 6 highlights what things Timothy is to pursue as well as what Timothy is to flee from (chapter 6).

While Paul made it clear that he was writing Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3; 3:14, 15) so that he (Timothy) should know how to act in the church that Paul had left him behind to care for and set in order, we cannot take everything that Paul writes to Timothy and make the entire letter universally applicable.  It is not written universally but it was written to an individual.  The fact is that Paul writes no letter to the church in general where he stops women from teaching men.  Paul was perfectly capable of creating a universal prohibition against women teaching the congregation if he wanted to.  There is no universal prohibition against women teaching in any of the letters that Paul wrote that were written to the churches.  Isn’t this odd if 1 Timothy 2:12 was a universal prohibition?  There is also no record that Paul stopped Priscilla from teaching even though it is recorded in the book of Acts that she participated in teaching Apollos.  It is also important to note that Paul never gave a warning of a consequence for women who taught men nor did he give a reprimand for churches who allowed women to teach men.  Should women be kicked out of the church for teaching?   How should women teachers be disciplined and how serious a matter is this?  There is no instruction for disciplining women teachers and there is no list of “teaching” in any of the “sin” lists.

The fact is that those who claim that 1 Timothy was written to the entire audience of the church are wrong.  1 Timothy is a personal letter written as a personal instruction to Timothy, a young man left behind in Ephesus.  It was written to Timothy in order to instruct him how to carry out a very serious work with a church that had many unique problems.  While we may pull out many wonderful applications from the book of 1 Timothy, we do not have the liberty to take Paul’s instruction to Timothy about “a woman” and make it applicable beyond Timothy and the church at Ephesus.  There is no verification in any other book of the bible which would verify verse 1 Timothy 2: 12 as having a universal application.  We simply cannot change a private instruction into a universal prohibition without a second witness.  Where is the second witness?  There is no such witness because 1 Timothy 2 was not written to stop one half of God’s bride from having the ability to minister in their gifts for the benefit of the entire body.

16 thoughts on “Was 1 Timothy 2 written to the church?

  1. “Stopping half the Bride” is a huge point the comps continually ignore. While Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”, these men would cut the workforce in half. They mutilate the Body out of pride in their flesh.

  2. The last word in the last verse of 1 Tim is y’all or you plural. As far as I know, this is the only indication that 1 Tim MIGHT be for eyes beyond Timothy’s.  In any case, we know since we actually have the letter’s text that Timothy did not “burn upon reading” or even let it be lost in time, rather it was considered precious by the church at Ephesus and kept.

    The more I hear about MacArthur’s teachings, the less I respect him as a teacher.  I do not even know why anyone sees him as a teacher, he seems more a teller of tales.  He makes up a story, which might even be possible, and just assumes it is what happened.

    Being sure when one should be unsure is a way to be a false teacher.

    Timothy is acting as Paul’s agent at a church Paul planted as an apostle to the gentiles, a church that has trouble.  This gives Timothy tremendous authority.  However, there is lots of context to the letter that we simply do not know, and therefore it avails itself to varying possible interpretations. 

    My take is the only book that is harder to interpret than the pastorals (1 Tim, 2 Tim and Titus) is Rev.  This makes it imperative to get to these 4 books LAST when doing a subject teaching, such as the gender debate.  It is simply too easy to misunderstand something in these 4 books, especially without a thorough grounding in the counsel of the rest of Scripture.

  3. Paula,

    Mutilating the body of Christ is a very strong word picture that I’ll bet many people have never thought about, but in many instances this is what some people are in actuality doing.


    The last word in the last verse of 1 Tim is y’all or you plural.

    This phrase is a typical end blessing but it doesn’t imply that Paul is speaking to many people.  Paul says that same thing at the end of each of his letters to individuals including 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.  It is kind of like saying, Grace be with you and yours.  When you see how Paul ends letters written to the church and not merely to individuals one has an opportunity to see that Paul ends these letters differently.  Paul ends 1 Corinthians with “My love be with all of you (plural)”

    Paul ends 2 Corinthians with “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

    Paul ends Galatians this way “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren (plural). Amen.”

    Ephesians ends with “Peace be to the brethren…”

    Philippians ends with a greeting to the plural “you” and the same goes for Colossians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.  All of the letters to churches have either the words “you all” or several instances of the plural you.  The letters to individuals do not have the term “you all” or the plural “you” except for the colloquial greeting.

    I do appreciate John MacArthur in his standing strong for the gospel, but I also have noticed his propensity to stretch his exegesis into what could only be labeled fictional story telling.  His classic story about why men were not to wear the head covering (taken from 1 Cor. 11) saying that it was forbidden because it would make men look like women just as if men today were wearing an Easter bonnet, is stretching a tale beyond credulity.  Also his statements that biblical women wore a head covering because it showed they were in submission to men is without historical evidence.  The head covering was worn for modesty not for submission and John MacArthur’s lack of historical facts for his assertions, I am afraid, do not represent him well as a reliable teacher.  While he may be really good in other areas, if he cannot be trusted because of his story telling, he will lose credibility because who will be able to trust him in areas that are not so easy to check the facts?

  4. I was not saying 1 Tim was for the congregation.  I do think it was for Timothy but was pointing out that some point out the last verse.

    My guess about what happened is Timothy tried to act as Paul instructed and if Timothy needed to do so, he might show the letter to selected people, to show he was acting as Paul’s agent.  Then when he died, he either gave the letter to the church as a treasure or it was found among his papers and treasured.  So the church at Ephesus was the source for Ephesians, 1 Tim and 2 Tim (maybe Rev?), like the church at Colossae was the source for Colossians and Philemon.

    My take is Paul in realizing this potential for exposure would have reason to be circumspect on the woman in 1 Tim 2, as a dink from Paul would be ministry limiting.  I find this scenario far more plausible than MacArthur’s.

  5. I should clarify as well.  I am not saying that 1 Timothy or all the other letters written by Paul to specific individuals are not valuable to the church.  They are very valuable, very insightful and they are the inspired word of God.  The important point that I was trying to get at is that they need to pay attention to the context and who the letters were written to.  If we want to ignore the specific problems mentioned by Paul in 1 Timothy and take the temporary prohibition to “a woman” in 1 Timothy 2:12 as a universal prohibition for all women and for all of church history, we are going to have a problem.  The big problem is that we do not have anything to verify that Paul was making a universal prohibition.  Since Paul said “I want…” and told his wants to Timothy in a personal letter about specific problems in one congregation, and this “I want…” is never confirmed as a prohibition given to every situation in every congregation, when men stop women from teaching because of one verse taken out of its context, they become accountable to God for making an improper application.  No woman was ever stopped from teaching God’s word in the Old Testament and for men to stop women in the church age from teaching God’s word, this should be a huge red flag that we need to rethink our doctrine on universal laws.  If this “case” were sent to a judicial court, it would be thrown out for lack of evidence.

    God has never before lacked evidence on sin issues.  If this is the only “case” where evidence is lacking and no second witness is available in the entire 66 books of the bible, those who are real truth lovers must stop and ask themselves what is going on.  Have we misunderstood Paul’s letter to Timothy?  Why have we forged ahead and forbidden women to teach the bible in the congregation without a true biblical “case”?  There is much to think about for those who sincerely want to follow God’s way.

  6. Here is how I would word it.  What we have is an underdetermined problem due to lack of context.  It is possible that the comp scenario for 1 Tim 2-3 is approximately correct and it is possible that the egal scenario is also.  What are we to do in this case, since one cannot be 100% sure?  Neither scenario can be proven wrong but this means neither can be proven correct.

    My take is that given there are multiple plausible possibilities, this by itself is enough to caution against making rules from it for all time.  That is, unless the comps can show that their scenario is the ONLY playsible one, then it is a standoff.  A standoff means it is questionable to derive too much doctrine from these verses.

  7. What are we to do in this case, since one cannot be 100% sure?  Neither scenario can be proven wrong but this means neither can be proven correct.

    What can we be 100% sure of?

    At the very least Paul stopped only 1 woman, and since more cannot be proven meaning that he used the singular ‘woman’ genericaly for all women therefore we are left with what only can be proven at the very least which is that Paul stopped 1 woman from teaching, and not all women. Now this we can be 100% sure of that is, this scriptural boundary that we’ve no right crossing.

    It can be proven that Paul stopped at least 1 woman, but it cannot be proven that he stopped more than 1. Therefore there is no way to get from the least being 1 woman to ‘women’, that’s the impossible. So there is a scenario that can be proven correct and it’s the only one given in the passage.

  8. Yes, an egal scenario is that there was 1 woman that Paul was referring to.  However, Paul did not use the definite article, so we cannot be sure it was ONLY 1.

  9. pinklight,

    We certainly can be sure that Paul stopped one woman from teaching.  The interesting thought that goes with this, is that Paul didn’t need a “law” to stop one woman from teaching.  If there was a problem person or a problem situation, Timothy was to deal with it.  One doesn’t need to create a brand new law to deal with such a situation.  It makes far more sense that 1 Timothy 2:12 is about the specifics of a situation in Ephesus that than it was a universal law for all times.


    Paul did use the definite article in verse 14 and the grammar shows that the problem was on going so that would eliminate Eve.  Complementarians have a huge hurdle in verses 14 & 15 with the grammar in both verses.  I have yet to hear an explanation from that camp that didn’t have huge holes in their argument.  The fact is that verse 12 cannot be taken without verse 15 since verse 15 is directly connected with “but” and gives the expected outcome from the prohibition.

    My challenge to anyone who thinks that verse 12 is very “clear” that it is a universal prohibition, is to tell me how verse 15 universally completes the prohibition if “all women” is in view.  I do ask anyone who wants to take the challenge to be very careful to not disregard any piece of the inspired grammar from verses 11-15.  There are more than one red flag in this passage that should effectively stop us from using it as a universal prohibition for all godly women using their gifts in the church.

  10. Yes, an egal scenario is that there was 1 woman that Paul was referring to.  However, Paul did not use the definite article, so we cannot be sure it was ONLY 1.

    But it stops at 1 (the least) because there is no way to go further from 1 (the least) and this is reason why we can be sure that we cannot make the prohibiton for the least out to be a universal law for all (women).

  11. I was referring to 1 Tim 2:12 not having an article, later text does as Cheryl points out, but it is always a question on how one puts the pieces together.  I agree that Cheryl’s insight on those later verses is the best “fit” I know.

    On 1 or many in 1 Tim 2:12, gune/woman might be specific (egal) or generic (non-egal).  It is underdetermined when considered by itself.

  12. Don,

    It is underdetermined when considered by itself.

    That’s why we should never take the verse by itself.  I like when Greg Koukl says “Never read a bible verse!”  What he means is that we should never read “a” bible verse.  We should always read the context instead of just one verse.  This simple principle would clear up most of the problems that have caused some to go off into false doctrine.

  13. I agree the MINIMUM to read is a pericope.  In Proverbs that might be 1 verse, but almost nowhere else!

  14. Tanx Jennifer. 🙂

    I found a term since then that’s even better, one that someone coined for being thrown out of a church: dismembered. I think that sums up better than anything what’s being done to the Body via the oppression of women.

  15. I just wanted to say how much of a bessling you are! I love this blog, especially now that so many teenagers are straying away from God. Thank you so much for these posts, and God bless you all!

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