What does Paul mean when he twice enjoins women’s quietnesss in 1 Timothy 2:11–12?
First, let’s look at the context:
2:1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. 8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman[or wife] should learn in quietness and full submission…. 12 I am allowing a woman[or wife] neither to teach nor to authentein a man [or husband]; she must be quiet.
Paul begins by talking about what applies to everyone—male and female. He wants men and women to pray for all people, including those in authority. Why? So all people can come to know the truth. Prayer (which God answers) for all people, including those with social power, will allow believers to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (v. 2, CSB). Something was getting in the way of tranquility, which created an obstacle to others knowing God through Christ.
Next, Paul gets specific with the men (or husbands—in Greek, one word covers both): “Therefore I want the men [or husbands] everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing” (v. 8). Apparently, men’s anger and disputes were getting in the way of the quietness needed for the gospel to thrive. The instruction suggests that something about the group prayer time in Ephesus caused some males to lash out emotionally, resulting in arguments during worship.
Next, he addressed the women (or wives, one Greek word covers both). They were apparently being disruptive, too. Here’s the sentence in wooden English so you can see where the emphasis falls: “A woman/wife in quietness let learn with all submissiveness.” Notice that “a woman…let learn” is the only imperative in the passage. Often readers miss its significance, focused as they are on the limitation that follows. But women had often been excluded from learning contexts in the apostle’s world. In contrast Paul insists that they be allowed to learn.
The word for “quietness” he uses is not referring to absolute silence. He’s talking about a demeanor. Paul uses a form of this word a total of three times in his argument, so it is a primary emphasis. He started by saying he wants prayer for government leaders so believers can live peaceful and quiet lives (2:2); and twice he stresses the demeanor he wants learning women to have: “quietness” (vv. 11, 12). That Paul emphasizes this quality in relation to women suggests the opposite was happening. Elsewhere, translators have rendered the word as “settled down” (2 Thess. 3.12). And, again, the quiet he envisions it is the same “quiet” to which he was calling all believers to live (v. 2).
Paul is not saying women as a class talk too much and they need to shut up. He is addressing a problem in the Ephesus church and telling everybody to settle down: To one group: Calm down and pray; to the other: enter a state of quietness and learn with a teachable attitude.