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First Timothy

A Question of Authority

1 Timothy 2

Lesson audioA note of warning: it is the pattern of this teacher to take the Scriptures as they come. This passage does not give us a complete picture of the concept of authority in general, nor does it give us the complete picture of a man’s authority over (and responsibility to) his wife. The concept is one which deserves some detail, and a single lesson will not deal with it. So please understand that the general framework of authority in Christian thought is NOT what is spoken of here – a point which we hope to make clear shortly.

First of all

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

(1Ti 2:1-3 NASB)

Note the word “then.” This refers back to the last chapter, in which Paul has given his charge to Timothy. This, then, is the beginning of the specific instructions which Paul has for Timothy. In other words, the details.

For those in authority

Paul takes four words to describe prayer for those in authority. They have varying meanings, but in combination it is clear that Paul wanted every type and style of prayer to be made for those in authority.

Not only every type of prayer, but Paul asks prayer for every type of authority – at all levels. He asks prayer for all men – the Greek is anthropos, which means people in general. Then, having covered everybody, he asks us to pay particular attention to kings. In Paul’s time these would have been the Roman Emperors – who were in general not the most moral and friendly of men. Then, in case he missed anyone – it’s all in authority.

So, with all types of prayer, for all mankind in authority, we are to pray. What is the object of this prayer? We should not be like the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof, who said the proper blessing for the Czar was, “God bless and keep the Czar – far away from us.” No, we have these objectives as we pray for those in authority:

So that we might lead a quiet and tranquil life. Think about that; what does it say to those around us? Not rabble rousers, not revolutionaries, not those constantly in conflict –but the salt of the earth.

It is a life of godliness, or piety. Those about us should see this; they should know who the Christians are.

It is a life of dignity – not pompous stuffiness, but the seriousness of one who knows himself to be an ambassador of Christ.

We are told that this is “good and acceptable” – a phrase often used of sacrifices. The pleasures of sin for a season are to be given up; we are to live as godly people – and pray that we may do so unhindered.


Why? What difference does it make?

who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

(1Ti 2:4-8 NASB)

To build the church

We see it clearly here: this is to build the church. Look at it this way – the church is built two ways:

First, in evangelism. God desires all men to be saved.

But that is not the end of the matter: we must make disciples, not just emotional converts. They must come to the knowledge of the truth.

See it now? This is Timothy’s charge: build the church.

Because of who He is

One thing I know about prayer: it is not my good works or holiness that causes God to hear this poor sinner. It is nothing less than the atonement of Christ that gives me both standing and courage to go boldly before the throne of grace. Our petitions stand on the rock of Calvary. We can pray, because He is who He is.

God is one – and he wants us to be one also. He wants us to be one with Him in Christ.

There is only one mediator; only Christ is the way. His one-ness is shown, for there is no other.

There is one Ransom. The world needs to know that he gave himself. Gave – voluntarily. Gave Himself – all that He had, including life itself.

He is the testimony at the right time. Like the Ark of the Covenant, his sacrifice is evidence that we are sinners – else why the sacrifice? Like the ark as well, his atonement covers our sins.

The man with the mission

Let’s get down to brass tacks, Timothy. All this high and holy writing comes down to the fact that someone has to do the work. Paul tells us his work – so that we might understand that he is serving the cause of God which he has just so well outlined.

He is a preacher – the word means herald – one who proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is an evangelist.

He is an apostle – the word can mean ambassador – the one who is given the task of putting the authority of God and the church on papyrus.

He is a teacher – so that once converted disciples will grow strong in the faith.

And therefore

Having proclaimed God’s purpose for these prayers and his authority in the matter, Paul gives his command:

First, that men pray for those in authority.

Then, that they do so without wrath or dissension.

In other words, all the men of the church are to agree in Christ, praying for those in authority over us.

It must be pointed out: the word used for men is not the one used for mankind. It is the one for adult males. Prayer is a man’s work.

So what are the women supposed to be doing?

Women’s work

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

(1Ti 2:9-15 NASB)

Likewise. What does he mean by “likewise?” Obviously, he means that for the same high and noble objectives which he has laid out for men, women have duties for the same reasons. That those duties are different is no surprise; the Bible is clear that our modern idea that men and women are interchangeable parts, that sex means nothing in authority – these things are absurd. So let’s look at what he has to say about women.

What women should be

Let us begin with what women should not be – which is a very good description of what most Christian women accept as being obviously true. You think not? Look around; do you see women in fine clothes? Perfect make up? These women accept the idea that women are what they look like. This is a great curse for women; it condemns them to become less and less valued as they grow older. Women, please: you are not just a body or play toy. You are a child of God. Your clothing should not be in the style of the world, for a child of the world. Your appearance should be clear: it’s not my short skirts but the kindness and charity which I give. These should be apparent to one and all. It matters how you dress.

Do you see the parallel? The men are to be grave and dignified, praying for those in authority, salt of the earth types. The women are to be known for their good works. Why? So that those around you may see the truth of Christ lived out in your lives, and be given salvation as well. Does that make it important to you? I hope so.

A curious passage

So what’s this business about Adam and Eve, and child-bearing, and so on? Well, there is a bit of translational difficulty here. Do you see that last verse, where it says “women shall be saved” (NASB)? Note the italics. The word is supplied, but it’s not in the original. That is an interpretation. The King James has “she shall be saved” – note there are no italics. But who is “she?” Parse the sentences and you will see that this refers not to women in general but “Eve”.

Eve? Now it makes even less sense. But if you refer to the original passage in Genesis, you will see that God tells Eve that she will bear the one who will crush Satan. Eve – in this instance – represents womankind. Which is different that women in general. For it is from woman – Mary, the theotokos – that the Holy One came – who defeated Satan at Calvary.

This is one interpretation. Another, perhaps still as common, is that this has to do with pain in childbirth. Pick as you please.

A question of authority

Though this passage is often cited in the debate over the place of women in church and society, Paul’s point here is somewhat limited. He has begun with the idea that honor, in the form of prayer, be rendered to all to whom it is due – those in authority over us. Roman Law would have forbidden a woman to teach or speak at a public meeting. It was considered disgraceful. As Paul’s purpose is to spread the Gospel, it is not surprising that he tells the women to behave this way.

What is surprising to modern feminists is the argument for it. Having no use for Adam and Eve, we feel that Paul’s a fossil who should be ignored. Isn’t he the guy who has been oppressing us all this long? Paul would reply, simply, that indeed throughout the history of the church, women have played a greater role there than in any other part of society until the 20th century. But he would also insist upon the authority of men over women, particularly of husbands over wives.

This should not distract us from the main point. Women are being told to behave so that the pagans will know a good thing when they see it. Christianity should look as God intended it, not as bad as we can make it.

Our attitudes have changed. Matthew Henry, in the 17th century, commented upon these verses thusly: “Women must learn the principles of their religion, learn Christ, learn the scriptures; they must not think that their sex excuses them from that learning which is necessary to salvation.” You see the point, of course. His argument on this same passage is that it prevents women from shirking their duty to study the Scriptures just because that was a man’s job.

It is not possible to lay out the general argument of authority of a man over his wife. It might be sufficient to point out that the Scripture describes the church as the bride of Christ. Women no longer promise to obey their husbands. Is it not also the case that the church, by and large, has ceased to obey the Christ revealed in the Scriptures and rather follows its own imaginings? Perhaps it is not St. Paul who is so misled.

[1] It is necessary to give my standard disclaimer. If I knew all about women, I would be one very rich Bible teacher. I’m not; therefore I don’t. Or is it I don’t, therefore I’m not?

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