Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy Prayer, Quarrelling, Dress
Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy Prayer, Quarrelling, Dress
In 1 Timothy chapter 1 (verses
3-7) Paul outlines what he wants Timothy to do: “... remain at Ephesus that you
may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine”. The aim of our
“charge”, he says is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience
and sincere faith”, in contrast to which “certain persons ... have wandered
into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding
either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions”.
1 Timothy chapter 2 begins with
the word “therefore” or “then”, following on from these declarations of purpose
in chapter 1. We are dealing with specific remedies against specific major
problems, but need to read between the lines since we are hearing, as it were,
only one half of a telephone conversation.
Problems in Prayer
all, then, I urge that supplications and thanksgivings be made for all men (anthropoi = “all people”).... (1 Timothy 2:1)
This instruction was necessary because the false teachers and the
quarrelling factions were not praying properly. What are the possible problems?
They were either not praying much at all, or praying against others, or praying
only for their own group. Whichever it was, Paul corrected it, stating:
good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men
(anthropoi) to be saved and to come
to the knowledge of the truth. (1
Problems Caused by Behaviour
of the Men in Ephesus
After this general instruction on
prayer, Paul in verse 8 gave more specific detail.
that in every place the men (andres)
should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling. (1
The word anthropoi is
used in 1 Timothy 2:1 and 2:4 (quoted above). The Good News Bible translates anthropoi as “all people” and
“everyone”. But in 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes andres, i.e. “men” as distinct from “women”.
Where does the emphasis lie in this verse? Is it on men (andres) or is it on the behaviour of the men when at prayer?
A traditional interpretation has
been that Paul was emphasising that men, not women, should offer public prayer
in the assemblies. If
this was Paul’s intention, it is surprising that he did not specifically state
“not the women”, but added “without anger or quarrelling”. Paul shows obvious
approval of sisters praying aloud in 1 Corinthians 11. It seems unlikely
therefore that Paul should be interpreted as now reversing the position. When
Paul wished to forbid a practice he was usually clear and definite, e.g.
likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not
greedy for gain. (1 Timothy 3:8)
nothing to do with godless and silly myths. (1
rebuke an older man but exhort him as you would a father.
(1 Timothy 5:1)
As for the
rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain
If, therefore, Paul wished to forbid sisters from praying, it is
strange that he did not say so precisely, rather than leaving people to deduce
Paul would not have given this command if prayers were being
offered in a Christ-like fashion. In 1 Timothy 6:4-5 he mentions “envy,
dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling”. He therefore specifically
ordered the men to pray in every place without anger or
quarrelling. The need to give such a commandment is reinforced in 1 Timothy 3:3
where “not quarrelsome” was one of the qualities essential in a
If it is asked “Why does he not instruct the women to pray without
quarrelling?”, it can be answered that this specific problem had been reported
to Paul about the men not the women. But some translations consider that Paul’s instructions also refer
to women praying.
Problems Caused by Behaviour
of the Women in Ephesus
Paul in verse 9 begins to deal
with the problems caused by the women at Ephesus.
that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not
with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire, but by good deeds as
befits women who profess religion.
The section begins with the word “also” or “likewise” and the verb
“I desire” has to be brought in from verse 8. There are two ways the verse
could be translated:
(a) “I likewise desire the women to dress modestly....” or
(b) “I likewise desire the women to pray [without quarrelling], to
Most English translations choose (a) but (b) is possible, and
several commentators consider it preferable. The Dibelius and
Conzelmann Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles offers the following
As far as
prayer is concerned, I wish that men everywhere would raise holy hands, without
a thought of anger and strife. And the women should do likewise, in modest
deportment with chastity and prudence, (and) should not decorate themselves
with braids and gold, (nor with) pearls or expensive clothes....
The Jewish New Testament translates:
it is my wish that when the men pray, no matter where, they should lift up
hands that are holy – they should not become angry or get into arguments.
Likewise, the women, when they pray, should be
modestly and sensibly ....
Testament by David H. Stern)
The Emphatic Diaglott (Greek text with English translation beneath
each word, plus an English translation where words considered emphatic in Greek
are capitalized) gives:
I appoint, therefore,
the MEN to pray in every place, lifting up Holy Hands without Wrath and
In like manner, the
WOMEN, also, in becoming Attire, with Modesty and soberness of mind, not
decorating themselves with Wreaths, or Gold, or Pearls, or expensive clothing.
(Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson)
The Latin translation by Jerome (c.347-420) called the Vulgate is
very similar. It, too, considers the verb “pray” applies to both men and women:
therefore that the men should pray in every place, raising pure hands, without
anger and dispute. Likewise also the women in modest dress, adorning themselves
with reverance and temperance, and not with twisted hair, or gold, or pearls,
or with expensive clothing. (Translated from the Latin.)
Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin at a time when New
Testament Greek was still a spoken language. Both he and the Greek-speaking
translators of the modern Greek New Testament consider that Paul refers to both
men and women praying:
I desire, then, that
the men should pray in every place of prayer, without anger and dispute, and I
desire that the hands which they raise to heaven should be pure. Likewise also
that the women should pray in modest dress.... (Greek Bible Society, 1989,
translated from modern Greek).
Why, then, is there this variety in translation? The verses can be
translated, as in most English versions, as two separate statements, the one
about men at prayer, and the other about women’s dress. But when the Greek is
read directly, the word “pray” seems most easily to apply to both men and
women, joined by the word “likewise”. That is the most natural way a Greek
would understand the words. It is interesting that the Greek speakers (Jerome
and the Greek Bible Society) both see it as referring to men praying, and women
praying. And this fits directly with 1 Corinthians 11 rather than appearing to
contradict it. Is it not, therefore, a better choice?
Whichever translation we follow, Paul’s instructions would have
been given because he had received adverse reports from Ephesus. The
instructions to men are that they should not quarrel when they pray. The
instructions to women are that they should not be showy or extravagant or
sexually provocative when they dress – whether when they pray in the meeting or
in everyday life, in contrast with the widows who “grow wanton ... gadding
about from house to house” (1 Timothy 5:13-15).
The common assumption that 1 Timothy 2:8
precludes sisters from praying in the assemblies is not justified. Paul’s
teaching here as elsewhere makes no distinction as to whether prayers in the
ecclesia are offered by brothers or sisters. His concern is to correct the
wrong spirit in which prayer was being offered.
Prayer, when properly practised,
is a great leveller. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew
6:12), “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In prayer before God,
there is no place for human pride. There is no place in prayer for looking down
on others, or for exalting ourselves. We are all guilty of sin, and need to
esteem our brother or sister as greater in God’s sight. “Do nothing from
selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves”
Recent studies suggest that some
women in the first century had more opportunities of independent thought and
action than before the Roman Empire spread to the east. This had a beneficial
effect in enabling the activities of women like Priscilla, but other women took
the opportunity instead to neglect family responsibilities and to pursue
extra-marital relationships. The comments about dress suggest that Christian
women in Ephesus were affected by the promiscuous attitudes in the world around
them. Their approach needed to
change if they were to pray acceptably.
Paul’s instructions on learning
and teaching follow on directly from what he has said about prayer and dress,
and in the same context of abuses which need to be corrected.
example, the footnote commentary in the Roman Catholic “Knox Translation of the
New Testament”, 1961 edition, page 218, says: “St Paul is probably teaching
here that women are to abstain from offering public prayer, as well as from
teaching (in the sense of giving instructions at public worship).”
Christadelphian commentators frequently say much the same, but tend to drop the
word “probably” and assert that Paul definitely
teaches that men should pray in the meeting, not women, despite Paul’s approval
of women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11.