Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, April 10, 2023

Submissive to Whom? (1 Tim 2:11)

When talking about women in Ephesian leadership, Paul starts by saying, “A woman should learn in quietness, in all submissiveness (ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ).” The application is that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to be in quietness.” But submissive to whom?

I was on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast the other day and I don’t know if it was something he said or just that I have been away from this issue for several years, but a thought popped into my head that is making me rethink my conclusion.

In my commentary, I focus on the object of the women’s submissiveness. Submissive to whom?

  • Submissive to her husband?
  • Submissive to every man — absolutely not. Robin (my wife) is never required to be submissive to any one man.
  • Submissive to all men — absolutely not.
  • Submissive to the elders (as a group)? That was my conclusion

I was always uncomfortable with that conclusion since it isn’t what the text actually says. I could support it exegetically since leadership is the topic of the next chapter, and it does make sense and can be applied.

But maybe what Paul is requiring is a submissive character. Many (if not most) of the other instructions to women have to do with character, using words like “respectable” (which does not refer just to their clothing but also to their deportment, see my commentary), “modesty,” “moderation” (2:9). They are to be “committed to godliness” (v 10) and to “remain in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” (v 15). In fact, the majority of the requirements for elders have to do with character and not activities.

I haven’t had time to think through any implications this might have, but it is worth reflecting on.