A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).
It is my belief that the most helpful way to handle verses 8-15 is to apply to them this *principle of cultural transposition*, and to recognize its applicability to all three topics, namely men’s prayers (8), women’s adornment (9-10) and women’s submission (11-15). In the case of the first two, the application is not difficult. Take verse 8. Always and everywhere the men are to pray in holiness and love. But their bodily posture as they do so (standing, kneeling, sitting, clapping hands or raising arms) may vary according to culture. Next, verses 9 and 10. Always and everywhere women must adorn themselves with modesty, decency, propriety, and good deeds, but their clothing hairstyle and jewellery may vary according to culture.
Would cultural transposition be appropriate in verses 11-15 also? We note that verses 11 and 12 contain two complementary instructions to or about women. Positively, *a woman should learn in quietness and full submission* (11). Negatively, she is not *to teach or have authority over a man* (12). Further, the antithesis is double. On the one hand, she is to learn in quietness and not teach. On the other hand, she is to be submissive and not exercise authority over a man. Or, to express the double antithesis more sharply, a woman’s behaviour in public worship is to be characterized by quietness and/or silence, not teaching, and by submission, not authority.
This brings us to the key question: what is the relation between these two antithesis? Are they simply parallel and therefore equally normative? Is a woman both to be silent and not teach, and to be submissive and not wield authority, with no distinction between these instructions? This is what many commentators assume. But must submission always be expressed in silence, and ‘not exercising authority’ in ‘not teaching’? Or could it be legitimate to see the submission-authority antithesis as permanent and universal (because grounded in creation, see verse 13), while seeing the silence-teaching antithesis as a first-century cultural expression of it, which is therefore not necessarily applicable to every culture, but open to transposition into each?
Some readers will doubtless respond that there is no indication of this distinction in the text itself. For verses 11 and 12 contain just two prohibitions (teaching and having authority) and two commands (silence and submission). This is true. But the same could be said about verses 8 and 9. There is nothing in the text of verse 8 which requires us to distinguish between the commands to lift up holy hands and to be rid of anger and argument. Nor is there anything in the text of verse 9 which requires us to distinguish between the commands to women to dress modestly and to avoid hair-plaiting and jewellery. Yet a Christian mind, schooled in the perspectives and presuppositions of the New Testament, knows that its ethical commands and their cultural expressions are not equally normative and must therefore be distinguished. So it recognizes in verse 8 that holiness and love are ethical, but hand-lifting is cultural, and in verses 9 and 10 that decency and modesty are ethical, while hairstyles and jewellery are cultural. Why then should we not anticipate that the same distinction between the ethical and the cultural is to be found in verses 11 and 12? The context (with its three regulations about prayers, adornment and submission) should at least make us open to this possibility.
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.