The ground at the foot of the cross is level. One of the most profound results of Christianity is its liberating influence. It is the liberation of scripture that sparked the American Revolution. It is the liberation of the gospel that gave righteousness to the delivery of Africans from slavery. It is the liberation of the gospel that has been responsible for the elevation of every group of people that once were considered a "lower class."
In recent years, we've heard about the lower caste "Dalits" in India embracing Christianity because in it they recognized the level ground of equality at the cross.
From the beginning where we chose in Adam to be slaves of sin the Bible has been the unfolding record of God's path to freedom in Jesus Christ. But through it men with corrupt minds have used it's message of freedom to enslave. Very early on some of the first victims were women. One Rabbinic prayer reportedly1 prays, "I thank you that I am not a woman."2
That pretty much says it all regarding the early Jewish view of women. So what did Jesus do? He talked to the Samaritan woman at the well. He accepted help from several women who followed him in his ministry. He encouraged Mary the sister of Lazarus to sit at his feet and learn. That is the very injunction that we find in 1 Timothy 2:11. Please turn to that book and look at the verse in it's context with me. <Read 1 Timothy 2:8-15>
This verse, the eleventh verse, is a verse of freedom and not of bondage. As a preparatory note you should recognize that in verses 11-12 Paul is acting in the form of a standard Rabbinic practice of "binding and loosing". He releases or "looses" women to learning but "binds" them from teaching. This is the kind of behavior Jesus is talking about in Matt. 16:19; 18:18. Rabbis of the day would often provide restrictions and thus "bind" their disciples from doing something; and they would also provide new freedoms for their disciples and thus "loosing" or rather, releasing them to do something. That is the practice in verses eleven and following.
So what does Paul permit? He permits freedom from the man made bondage of ignorance.
Women are Free To Learn
"A Woman must learn…" Γυνὴ … μανθανέτω
If the men are called in verse 8 to participate in worship with holy hands lifted in prayer, the women are enjoined to quietly and submissively gain the same education as the men. The word "learn" is in the imperative, which is to say that learning is not optional – it's a mandate from God which must be obeyed.
This itself is a large departure from the culture of Paul's day. Prior to the church, Women were not permitted or at least not encouraged to learn the scriptures. But Christ has abolished the old fallacies and opened up God's intent that women also come and grow in communion with God. There is no difference between men and women in terms of access to God. Salvation and concurrently, discipleship are not for men alone but are here offered to women also. Paul broke the rules of society because he recognized that God's principles were greater. It is unfortunate that this passage is often interpreted as if it were restrictive in it's focus when in fact it was freeing to it's first century recipients.
But note please that the freedom is not an aimless one. Paul isn't just freeing women from the cultural curse, but he is binding you to learning.
Bound to Learning
Ladies you are required to be students of the Word of God. This verse emphasises that a woman must learn. The imperative is on the learning which is a large change from normal first century fair. It's a pity that this verse and those surrounding it are seen today as restrictive when in their infancy these verses were quite liberating. Men were only those permitted to learn in the Synagogues. This passage is another of many that elevated women into the equivalence of brotherhood.
It is especially notable that immediately after releasing (loosing) women – the apostle also binds or restricts. To put it another way, Paul releases women from the irresponsible bondage which men have put them under into the proper boundaries of God's freedom. Boundaries which will be explained in the following verse. It is good for women to be free and equal members in the body because they have free and equal access to Christ (Gal 3:28). But this freedom of Spiritual Equality does not negate the roles that God ordains, nor does it negate God's decrees, which are more binding than those of men.
So you have a sudden release from ungodly cultural shackles into the newly boundaried freedom of learning. Not only, ladies are you told to learn but there is manner in which you are supposed to learn. Paul uses two terms to describe it, first is quietness.
Learn In Quietness
in quietness (ἡσυχίᾳ (esuxia)). Quietness here does not mean mere silence as in making no noise. It is an extension of both "not meddling" and of "being at peace." You might say, it is "lacking an attitude of rebellion." It's a word used in the Greek version of the Old Testament three times. (1 Chr. 4:40; 1 Ma. 9:58; Prov. 7:9; Ezek. 38:11) Each time it refers to a lack of uproar. It speaks of people who are living in peace because they are not at war. In proverbs it speaks of the silence of nighttime when there is no one and no thing disturbing the peace.
Think about "The night before Christmas": "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… the children were nestled all snug in their beds While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap Had just settled down for a long winter's nap…"3
What Clement Clark Moore is describing is this kind of Quietness – that kind of "ahhhh, peace and quiet!". Have you ever awakened early in the morning and you kind of walk outside and watch the sun beginning to rise, the coffee in your hands is warm and the birds are starting to sing, and all over the world, there's this "holy hush" and you just know in your heart of hearts you shouldn't break that peace? Ladies, that is this quietness you are called to.
This is not a command to "shut up". It is a visible model of submissive, graceful, reserved behaviour – which may often reveal itself in silence. This reserved demeanor has already been alluded to in the manner of dress of v9. Just as appropriate clothing is an outgrowth of the right stuff in the heart, a peaceful spirit of quietness is the outward manifestation of what's going on in the heart. This is a lack of rebellion and fighting against God, and against His word as it is taught.
There is a second manner or attitude by which women must learn and that is submissively.
in all Submission (πάση ὑποταγῇ (hupotage)) caries the idea of willful obedience to the orders you receive from someone in authority. The inclusion of "all" indicates that this is a complete submission offered willingly to every extent.
It is necessary in our current cultural morass to reiterate that scriptural submission is not one lesser being pawing before a greater being. Biblical submission is almost exclusively presented as one who is equal willingly subscribing to the authority granted to another equal being. Thus God the Father is Head of Christ the Son. (1 Cor 11:3). The Son and the Father are equal in nature but the Son willingly submits to the Father. Headship Does Not Imply Superiority of Nature & Neither does Submission demand inferiority of Nature.
Even as this verse demands that women learn in the church – it also presents an attitudinal and behavioral role for that learning to take place in: "quietly…with entire submissiveness".4
But what about the applicable concepts?
The verse doesn't leave much to the imagination. There is an attitude (submissively) and an action (quietly/tranquilly) which describes the mandate for women to learn. It is to that mandate I want to call each of you women who claim to love God.
Come and sit at the feet of the master, learn from Him. Make it your purpose to become Scholars of Christ. In all submission and with a quiet spirit, learn from Him.
God has called you, ladies, to be learners in His kingdom. A godly woman can do nothing less.
1A similar prayer is recorded by Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Rev. Ed. of: Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary.; Includes Index. (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995).
- 2The ancient Jew prayed to God, "I thank Thee that I am not a woman". Even at the height of their culture, a low view of women existed in the Greek and Roman worlds and it was only in Greek art and poetry that women were heroines. Aristotle is said to have taught that women were inferior in every way, only a rank above slaves. Xenophon, the historian, recorded these prejudices and wrote that women were best confined to an "inside world".
- World Evangelical Fellowship. Theological Commission, vol. 6, Evangelical Review of Theology : Volume 6, "A Digest of Articles and Book Reviews Selected from Publications Worldwide for an International Readership, Interpreting the Christian Faith for Contemporary Living.", electronic ed., Logos Library System; Evangelical Review of Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000, 1982), 135.
3Moore, Clement Clark. The Night Before Christmas