A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:8-15. 2). Sexual roles in public worship.
The topic of public worship, which Paul began to address in the first half of this chapter, he continues in the second. But now he turns from the priority and scope of the local church’s prayers to the respective roles and appropriate behaviour of men and women whenever the church assembles for worship. He outlines the duties of the men in relation to prayer (8) and the duties of the women in relation first to dress, hairstyle and jewellery (9, 10), and then in relation to men (11-15).
These are probably the most controversial verses (especially verses 11-15) in the Pastoral Letters. They have been much studied and discussed, not least in the recent church debates about the ordination and ministry of women. Moreover, the conclusions we draw from the text will depend largely on the hermeneutical principles we bring to it. Before we look at the details of these verses, therefore, it is necessary to consider the two principles which seem to be of paramount importance.
a) Hermeneutical principles.
The first may be called the *principle of harmony*. Those of us who believe the Bible to be the written Word of God also believe that when God spoke, he did not contradict himself. Therefore, although we gratefully acknowledge Scripture’s rich diversity of both theological emphasis and literacy style, we also expect it to possess an underlying consistency. This does not mean that we shall be guilty of artificial manipulation, but we shall seek a natural harmonization, interpreting each text within the total biblical context. So, as we approach these verses about the place of women in the church, we shall not isolate them from Scripture’s fundamental assertion of the equal value and dignity of men and women by creation and redemption (Gn.1:26ff.; Gal.3:28). There is no difference between the sexes either in the divine image we bear or in the status as God’s children through faith in Christ. Every idea of gender superiority or inferiority is ruled out from the start.
Secondly, we must seek to apply *the principle of history*. That is, God always spoke his word in particular historical and cultural settings, specially of the ancient Near East (the Old Testament), Palestinian Judaism (the Gospels) and the Graeco-Roman world (the rest of the New Testament). No word of God was spoken in a cultural vacuum; every word was spoken in a cultural context. It is, in fact, the glory of divine revelation that, in order to communicate with his people, God did not shout culture-free maxims at them from a distance. Instead, he stooped to their level, entered their history, assumed their culture and spoke their language. Yet this divine condescension also creates acute problems of interpretation for us. For Scripture is an amalgam of substance and form, of eternal truth which transcends culture and its transient cultural presentation. The former is universal and normative; the latter is local and changeable. But how shall we distinguish between them? More particularly, how are we handle the cultural element in Scripture? Three main answers are given, and it seems to me that disagreement on this issue lies at the root of disagreement on the interpretation of the text before us.
First, there are some who *enthrone* the cultural form, and invest it with the same normative authority which they attribute to the truth it expresses. Because it belongs to the Word of God, they feel unable to tamper with it in any way. So they adopt a rigid literalism, and regard other approaches as evasions of ‘what the Bible plainly teaches’. If they are consistent in interpreting 1 Timothy 2:8-15, they will then insist that men must always lift there hands when they pray (8), that women must never plait their hair or wear jewellery (9), and that in no circumstances may women teach men (11-12).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles – (continuation of Sexual Roles in Public Worship).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.