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


First of 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:

This is 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 Timothy 2:3-4)


Problems Caused by Behaviour of the Men in Ephesus

After this general instruction on prayer, Paul in verse 8 gave more specific detail.

I desire that in every place the men (andres) should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling.                              (1 Timothy 2:8)

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.[1] 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.

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain.                            (1 Timothy 3:8)


Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths.     (1 Timothy 4:7)


Do not 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 riches....                                   (1 Timothy 6:17)


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 it.[2]

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[3] 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 “bishop”.

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.

... also 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.

                                                                        (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

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 dress                   modestly....”

Most English translations choose (a) but (b) is possible, and several commentators consider it preferable.[4] The Dibelius and Conzelmann Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles offers the following translation:

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....[5]

The Jewish New Testament translates:

Therefore, 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

dressed modestly and sensibly ....

                                    (Jewish New 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 Disputing.

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:

I wish 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” (Philippians 2:3).

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.[6] 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.


[1] For 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.

[2] The fact that the second part is connected by a participle (“lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling”) does not diminish the likelihood that this is where the real point lies. The Greek language is fond of participles (verbal adjectives, such as words ending in “-ing” in English, e.g. “lifting”). The important teaching in Romans 12:9-13 is given in a string of participles. So too in 1 Peter 3:7.

[3] “in every place” On the basis of the use of the same phrase in passages like 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul may mean “in all ecclesias throughout the world”, but as already noted, Paul stated that he was addressing a specific situation. In Crete there were ecclesias in each town, but in a large city like Ephesus it is likely that there were several ecclesias, such as the one that met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila (1 Corinthians 16:19). Further evidence is suggested by the comment in 2 Timothy 3:6 about those “who make their way into households”. Ecclesias at this time met in houses. When therefore Paul said “in every place” an alternative and likely possibility is that he was being more specific and meant “in every one of the assemblies in Ephesus” – of which he had received such alarming reports.

[4] “When men pray, they should do so in the absence of contention or anger; when women pray they should dress modestly. The reference to women praying is often missed by male commentators but it should be noted. In v. 9 the words addressed to women lack a verb which must be supplied from v. 8. In v. 8 there are, however, two verbs ‘to desire’ and ‘to pray’, which the adverb at the beginning of v. 9, hosautos (= in like manner) shows are both carried over (so Chrysostom, Calvin, Spicq, Barrett, Dibelius and Conzelmann).”  The Bible and Womens Ministry.

[5] The Pastoral Epistles, by Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, (Fortress Press, 1972).

[6] Bruce W. Winter in Roman Wives, Roman Widows, (Eerdmans, 2003).

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