As a woman, how should I feel about 1 Timothy 2?


For the most part, I’m at ease about the role of women in the church. Jesus appointed men specially for the priesthood, and I’m cool with that. Priests being icons of Christ, therefore male. Men and women are different, complimentary, and equal in the eyes of God. Even if God reserves a special calling for men to serve His Church in a certain way, that doesn’t make women any less important. After all, we’ve got an exclusive extra special role to play in parenthood. Etc. Etc. I can mostly attribute my passive qualms about Church teaching on this to my conditioning by a culture plagued by political correctness.

Then I come across scripture passages like this:

1 Timothy 2:11-15
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.


We have so many examples of Jesus pushing cultural buttons when it comes to the treatment of women. We’ve got women being the first witnesses to the Resurrection. The Apostles saw tons of both men and women receiving the Holy Spirit in their ministry. But all of a sudden we have our beloved Paul in no uncertain terms blaming women for the Fall, and citing that as reason they have to be submissive to men? Even if this phrase is just meant to be in a “spiritual leadership” or priesthood context, it really seems like Paul thinks that women aren’t just not called to teach, but ill-equipped by nature, or “just not smart enough.”

That last sentence also sounds very much like, “Women can be saved only by making lots of babies” which is bad news for me if I’m right about God calling me to stay single.

Now, I know that the Church doesn’t view women as babymakers, second-class citizens, or intellectually inferior to men because, you know, nuns and Mary. So how do I reconcile that knowledge with some of the things scripture and some Saints say outright about women? I can’t help the sexism alarms going off in my brain. Someone please help me come to terms with statements like these.


Why are the sexist alarms going off in your brain?

Where did your sex-related beliefs come from that are so offended?

Maybe you should re-evaluate that aspect of your dilemma rather than question the Church.


Well, first of all, St. Paul wasn’t saying all the things you are saying here. These ideas are gross misinterpretations put forward by secularlists, inside and outside Christianity, who are putting words into St. Paul’s mouth. :slight_smile:

St. Paul no where says that women are inferior to men. Indeed, he was the one who wrote:

Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul is talking about spiritual authority not worthiness. In another place he writes that the Father (God) is higher than the Son of God–not in essence, but in authority. Jesus said that he came to do his Father’s will. Was Jesus less worthy than the Father? Certainly not, but he was under his Father’s authority.

Women are equal to men in every respect: dignity as human beings, loved as people for whom Christ died, as saints in heaven, etc. St. Paul is alluding to the hierarchy of authority given to men, as you mentioned.

I don’t have enough biblical expertise to comment further. I hope others will have more substance to offer. But I wanted to correct your basic misconception, so the discussion goes well and we can’t get issues out in the open in a reasonable way.


Notes in the NABRE say this section is strictly pertaining to liturgical celebration and the purpose of service/authority in respect to the church, not in everyday life. If you read in context with the preceding verses about the role of men it becomes more clear. And the thing about babies, etc seems to really be saying not only that women should not be in the role of men of the church, but also that they do not even have to worry about doing such things to attain salvation. In a really small nutshell my sense of the thing is that its not saying “you must make babies and have good works, be faithful/loving/charitable” it’s saying “you don’t have to do more than make babies and be faithful/loving/charitable!”

Please someone correct me if they think this is wrong, I have been spending a lot of time contemplating the letters so I am really interested…I am finding that in every place that women feel that they are placed in a situation beneath men, what is actually happening is in a way that men have additional responsibility and effort in the eyes of the church then women…


I have to say your comments sound awfully patronizing, and not very helpful to the OP. She isn’t questioning the church, she has a valid question regarding the interpretation of a certain scripture passage.

I went to the Haydock Commentary and it says

Ver. 12. St. Paul only means in public. See note on ver. 11. of the next chapter. It would appear from this regulation of the apostle, as well as from the writings of the earliest fathers, that the practice and condemnation of women interfering at all in spiritual affairs, in not new. Tertullian says: We do not permit a woman to teach, to baptize, or to arrogate to herself any part of the duty which belongs to man. (De Veland. Virg. cap. 9.) — The woman has tried once to teach, when she persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and has woefully failed. Let her now be content to remain in silence, and subjection to man; (St. Chrysostom on this place) as appears also from the order of the creation. See ver. 13. Seduction began with Eve, a subject of profound humiliation for women; but this ought not to deprive them of confidence in God’s mercy, nor take from them the hope of salvation. (Bible de Vence)

Ver. 13-14. Adam was first formed…and was not seduced. That is, was not at least seduced first, as the woman. (Witham)

Ver. 15. She shall be saved by bearing children, &c. and performing other duties of a wife, with a due submission to her husband, taking care to serve God, and bring up her children in the faith of Christ, in piety, &c. (Witham) — This would perhaps be more properly rendered, from the Greek, by the bringing up of her children in faith, charity, and holiness. This is the duty of the woman; upon the faithful discharge or neglect of which she must expect her salvation, or reprobation, to hang. Thus repairing the evil which the first of all women brought upon man, by seducing him to evil. (Bible de Vence)

I like the previous posters’ take on this, it seems to align very well with how the church views women. But I have to admit, it’s hard not to read into this passage (and others) the idea that Paul is saying women have no place in the church because of Eve’s role in the fall. Tertullian actually says “The woman has tried once to teach, when she persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and has woefully failed.” Haydock says “Thus repairing the evil which the first of all women brought upon man, by seducing him to evil.” If there are more contemporary commentaries on these verses I’d like to see them.


Yes, this is it. In essence St. Paul is saying that women have enough on their plate just fulfilling their obligations as wives and mothers. A woman is the heart of the home–not withstanding the notions of modernists who need to deny this reality to feed us to the economic machine that spits out products instead of molding the character of children.

A woman is truly free in her own home, while those who go out into the world to work are wage slaves–G. K. Chesterton has a lot to say about this. The woman in her home does what she does out of love and devotion. While the man must earn his bread whether he wants to or not. That women should want to be put in that position is what is skewed in our modern world. Anyway, it’s simply not true that St. Paul is belittling women, rather he is recognizing women’s unique place–an exalted place–in God’s plan of salvation.




The important thing here is to remember what Paul knew very well about Timothy –

Timothy the bishop learned the faith from his mother and his grandmother.

If you turn to 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul says straight out:

“Calling to mind that faith which is unfeigned in you, which also dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice; and I am certain that it is in you also.”

In the same letter, Paul passes along greetings from Claudia, and most of his letters pass along greetings from women. So it’s hardly a case of “All you ladies, shut up and stay out of the way.”

Moving along… most Catholic interpretation says that “saved through childbearing” is a discussion of how Mary’s obedience of God is the opposite of Eve’s disobedience of God, and how Mary and the Church both “bear Christ” (because the Church makes new little Christs, ie, new baptized Christians).

(Paul seems to talk around and about Mary without actually mentioning her, always in a respectful sort of way. (Some people suggest it’s because she was still alive at the time, and Paul didn’t want her arrested or harassed; some people say it’s because it was a big mystery.)

So “the woman” Eve, who is also Israel and the members of the Church here on earth, messed up through sin. But “the woman” Mary helped save us through childbearing of Jesus; and the members of the Church (male and female) all have to “continue in faith and love and sanctification, with sobriety.” This goes right back to what Paul already said about everyone in the Church, male and female, and why we should pray for secular earthly leaders: “So that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity.” Women aren’t the only ones supposed to be quiet and chaste. That’s everybody.

(Why, yes, Paul’s letters tend to be very “stream of consciousness.” And if you think he’s bad, try St. Augustine, the king of ADHD and making side comments. :slight_smile: )

What’s generally told to us is that a lot of women (and men, but apparently women did it more often) who were prophets would sometimes start prophesying right in the middle of Mass, at the top of their lungs. This was a no-no. There’s also a lot of men mentioned in the letters who went off and started preaching weird stuff, and they get a talking to, because you can’t go around preaching and ordaining yourself when the Church hasn’t appointed you, and because they say weird stuff. Some women apparently also did this, and they get an additional talking-to because women can’t be ordained, much less ordain themselves. (Because Paul’s already talked plenty about people preaching blasphemy and weird stuff.)

Paul does tend to talk more to women about how they dress and how they fix their hair. (Although he does talk about this to men in some of his letters. Greek men really liked long hair and perfume and stuff.) But that’s because the standards of dress for rich, adventurous Roman and Greek women who wanted to explore a new religion were really, really different from how Jewish ladies or poor Roman and Greek women would dress. It was wasteful to have too much luxury in how men or women dressed, and it caused envy and distress among the poorer members if you showed off too much.

It could also give people the wrong idea (and did!) about these sexy dressed men and women, both going to those secret meetings that Christians were always attending. (Yeah, a lot of people thought a nice agape dinner was the Christian way of saying “orgy.” After all, there were all these women hanging out with men! And all these sexy long-haired Greek guys wearing perfume!)

It was a period of big social change and some religious cults did have orgies! So Paul had to lay down the law a bit, not that it really helped once the urban legends about Christians had gotten started. (But he hardly regulates anything at all, if you compare his stuff to the intricate regulations laid down by Jewish rabbis for Jewish women. Hokey smokes!)

Paul had high expectations of women. We know that his teacher, Gamaliel, had a learned daughter who is quoted in the Talmud. Nor was he apparently shy of working with women in the Church. I’ve never felt he was against me, as a Catholic woman.

Finally, if you read one of the pagan sneers against Christianity, you will quickly find out just how appalled they were by all the freedom and niceness and favorable attention given to women. (And kids. And slaves. And barbarians. Boy, those Christians.)

Paul doesn’t have anything against women, or men, or anybody. If anything, he seems a bit uncomfortable with telling people what to do, because they should ideally already know how to act “in the house of God.”

PS. There’s a bit more about women at 1 Tim. 3:11, and you’ll be able to see there that he’s talking about the wives of people getting picked as deacons (or bishops). Obviously it’s what all Christian women were ideally supposed to be anyway; but if you’re going to have a guy working all the time for the Church in a position of responsibility and discretion, his wife has to be trustworthy too. (The deacons handled going around the city and giving out the alms money to the poor, and their wives gave it out to poor women who didn’t have men in the household. Occasionally a deacon’s mom or sister did it, or an old church lady. Depended on the individuals chosen, and whether they had wives or not.)


I wouldn’t fret too much.
Behind every successful parish is an army of women doing the heavy lifting.
Think of the early women martyrs. They are certainly revered and valued by the Church.


Way good responses

I’ve been reading a lot of sociologist Rodney Stark, such as How the West Won. While Mr. Stark is not, to my knowledge, a Catholic, he’s actually pretty darn friendly to Christianity and Western Civilization and delights in exploding a lot of secularist myths.

However, because he finds those verses in Timothy troubling, Stark uses the “special pleading” of some NT scholars who say that these “anti-women” verses are so unlike Paul, that they MUST be a later insertion–as well as claiming women deacons MUST mean they were on a liturgical par with male deacons (additionally he claims that because James was the brother of Jesus and the bishop of Jerusalem he, rather than Peter must have been the head of the Church)

Otherwise, I recommend Mr. Stark’s works highly


It was a different time, and a much different culture. Nothing to be concerned about.


You can pray for St. Paul to help you understand what he meant. Does that help?


Sorry for wall of text! There’s a lot to say!

Anyway, the verse you were looking at was a little higher.

1 Tim. 2:8-14 –

"Therefore, I will that in every place men pray lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention.

“In like manner, women also; in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety (not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire, but, as it becomes women professing godliness - [adorning themselves] with good works).”

So you see that women are expected both to pray and do good works, not just sit quiet. Men are not supposed be angry or contentious, and women are supposed to be modest and sober. These are closely related vices and virtues, so Paul has men and women tied together.

(It also sounds like Timothy’s parish tends to be full of fighting and wild talk from both men and women, which is exactly what 2 Timothy and 1 Timothy both make it sound like. Not to mention the stuff in the Book of Revelation about the same church, a little later on.)

So we lead straight from talk about how the women, like the men, should not be nasty people who are always fighting, into:

“Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.”

Well, yeah. The Church needs to listen up, both men and women.

The Greek word 'hypotage" gets used in 1 Timothy in the next chapter, too. A deacon has to have “hypotage” over his kids and his house. That’s not really “subjection” or “submission” or “rule,” but something more like “control” or “management.” Paul also uses this word in Galatians 2:5, when he says that he didn’t knuckle under to the “false brothers” who wanted Titus circumcised and Christians “enslaved” to the parts of the Law that no longer applied; “not even for an hour did we yield in subjection” to them.

So “hypotage” is supposed to be your attitude toward somebody who has a right to have authority over you, not some random somebody whom you don’t have to listen to.

So yeah, the Church always needs to listen to the Word and to the sermon with an attitude that God is in charge, not us. Even if the guy giving the homily is full of BS personally, God can and will talk through him. (Even if only in tiny snippets.) So it’s our business to listen up, so that we will be able to hear what God wants us to hear.

“But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed; then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression.”

Okay, first off, obviously Paul knew perfectly well that Adam also fell. So what does this mean?

Just like “the woman” means Eve, and Israel, and the Church on earth (and Mary), Adam isn’t just Adam here. Adam means “earth” and “man.” Jesus is “the man” Who was not seduced by the devil. (The translation words it this way to make the New Adam part clearer.)

So sure, “a” woman doesn’t have authority over Christ or His Body, the Church. Women aren’t ordained, and we don’t teach by giving homilies in Church, like a priest.

(You can also get more complicated by considering that “man” also means “husband” in Greek, and “woman” also means “wife,” as is true in many Indo-European languages. For example, “the Lamb’s wife” in Revelation is also “the Lamb’s woman.” So you could argue that a lot of this is talking about public disputes at Mass between individual husbands and wives about what the bishop is saying in the homily… and yeah, that sounds like a lot of early Christian parish fights that we know about! Especially since we know Timothy’s parish was having troubles about differences in belief.)

But remember, Paul is totally okay with women teaching anybody about Christ, as long as it’s not during Mass. Timothy’s mom and grandma are great with him. He talks about Christian women making their non-Christian husbands holy and saving them, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. There are hardly any texts from the ancient world that talk about as many named women (and all of them doing different stuff!) as Paul does.

So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff to think about in Paul’s letters, and you usually have to think about all of it in relationship to each other. Because he was trained as a rabbi, and rabbis try to connect everything together. (And let’s not even think about all the references to Bible quotes!)

The best thing to do is to dial down your blood pressure and look around a lot, instead of taking things the worst way.


God bless you, and thank you for your loving and faithful witness. I love Chesterton’s essays on the subject of women and domestic life. He is absolutely a prophet for modern times.


I struggle too with this line of thought. We are in the year 2015, much has changed, so it’s difficult to think how we keep 2,000 year old thoughts alive regarding women in the church.

If one accepts the revealed truth that women were the cause of the fall, then there is no problem in accepting that 1 timothy 2 is revelation from God and must still stand today.

I’m not saying the church is wrong, I’m still learning myself.


Well, actually the Devil was the cause of the Fall. :slight_smile:

But no, Christian teaching has always taught that both Adam and Eve were responsible for the Fall. Always. Every so often you get some guy blaming Eve more, and then the theologians jump on him.

So the point of what Paul said is that you’re supposed to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute!” It’s Paul saying something weird that is your clue to look and see what crazy stuff he’s pulling.

You get this several other places. Like you get a Bible writer quoting a well-known passage from a different prophet, and then saying it’s from Isaiah. So you say to yourself, “Hmm, why is he connecting prophet X to prophet Y? What do their sayings have in common?”

Or you get stuff like what Jesus did in some places, where He deliberately mashes two different Bible quotes together. That’s supposed to get your attention, too.

Rabbinic and Biblical figures of speech can be weird. :slight_smile:


Cultural context is important in exegesis. :shrug:

It* is *something to be concerned about when people take these passages, or any other passage, in a literalist sense. And that happens a lot, with both fundamentalists and atheists looking to discredit Christianity.


Humans haven’t changed much in at least 25 thousand years.

I am still interested in the inner workings of your “sexist” alarm- how was it constructed?


I haven’t been able to check this thread until now, and this is a lot of good responses. Thanks guys. :slight_smile:

A lot of the responses point to other examples of how Paul does in fact respect women and their intelligence and their ability to teach God’s word to others. I suppose that should be enough for me to just accept that the comments I’m fixating on probably don’t mean what they seem to mean to a modern ear out of context. I feel like my heart accepts this but my brain just still isn’t satisfied… So forgive my playing a bit of devil’s advocate from now on.

My issue is that Paul here is not celebrating what a woman’s role IS, he’s pointing to what a woman’s role is NOT. I’m no scripture expert, but can anyone think of an instance where the men of Israel or of early Christianity were instructed to NOT do something that women WERE allowed to do? We don’t have scripture passages claiming that men ought not to care for their children or bring them up in the faith. Sure women have a special place in the home, but men aren’t told to “step aside and let the women raise the family”… At least not in my experience.

I also don’t think this passage was only referring to priestly teaching authority… There’s another passage I’ve read recently in 1 Corinthians 14. It’s about the gift of prophecy, and though It’s a little hard for me to follow, this is what it seems to say (in a very secular tongue):

“Prophecy is an awesome gift of the Holy Spirit. Wouldn’t it be so awesome if everyone in a parish had the gift of prophecy? Hey guys, when you get together and everyone’s bringing their psalms and interpretations and spiritual gifts, make sure everyone takes turns talking so everyone can listen and learn at once, and everyone has their revelations heard. It’ll be great. Unfortunately if your gift happens to be speaking tongues and there’s no one there to interpret for you, you’re gonna have to just sit quietly 'cause that would be a little awkward and not too helpful. Sorry. Oh, and if you’re a woman too. If you want to learn anything you should go home and ask your husband about it afterward.”

Paul just spends the entire first part of that segment talking about how awesome a parish-wide gift of prophecy would be, and celebrating the exchange of revelation and learning and teaching in church, not just on the part of the priest but of “the entire church.” And then all of a sudden at the end he specifically states that women can’t take part. Not just in teaching, but in LEARNING and ASKING QUESTIONS.

1 Corinthians 14:35
“If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

Obviously this doesn’t make sense, because as we said before, Paul thinks it’s great that women spread the Gospel too, to their children and to others, and in order to do that properly they first need to learn. And where else would one learn about the faith than at church? We also have other examples of Paul talking about women prophesying. So if that’s not what Paul meant… what DID he mean?? Or did I read that passage entirely wrong? Or are some people right when they say that those two verses were inserted into the text later?

You can pray for St. Paul to help you understand what he meant. Does that help?

Yeah, I should do that too.


It was constructed by living in a society where I enjoy the right to vote and yet know that not too long ago in history I wouldn’t have, mostly because of the stereotype that women are inherently less logical than men.

And by reading a letter sent by Disney to an aspiring animator in the 1940s or 50s saying that they weren’t hiring women to their animation department, but that she should look into the ink and paint department instead. (I and many of my close female friends are artists in the animation industry)

And by knowing that throughout time many cultures and governments have treated women as property.

And hearing my friend tell me that her mother who worked for the archdiocese was fired from her job last year because she talked with HR about some misogynist harassment she was getting from her boss.

There do exist people in the world that don’t appreciate women as equals. I’m sure you have a misogyny/sexism alarm too, set to go off at the phrase “shut up and make me a sandwich.”

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