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Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:9-14.


Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:9-14.

James Dodson


Martin Luther.

[taken from Commentary on 1 Timothy.]

9. Let the women be sensible. Here Paul seems still to be speaking about public prayer. I have no objection if anyone takes it to refer to private prayer, but it is better to take it as public prayer. The women should be properly arranged, correct in their apparel. It is a Hebraism to speak of “adorning oneself in clean garb with modesty and propriety.” Here the passage is the same. There are some who treat this passage in the following way: they allow no cleanness to mere women. Rather, women ought to walk in squalor. This they say against those who want them adorned. As we see below (1 Tim. 3:2), a bishop must be a man who is κόσμιος (“dignified”).[1.] The word κόσμιος is applied not to property but to one’s way of life. The bishop’s deportment, ought to be pure. This refers to his way of life, not to his property. He denies any adornment of property. This is not a matter of silver. He is adorned, then, in regard to his behavior, lest it offend or harm someone. As Scripture has spoken about the purity of hands,[2.] so women ought to walk that they may not offend someone with their adornment. Rather, as we say in the proverb: Zucht der Weiber ist der schönste Schmuck.[3.] Simple garb and adornment is more fitting for a woman than a wagonload of pearls. I do not want to interpret this too scrupulously—that rich clothing is forbidden to women. Here we must make exceptions for weddings. I have seen a marriage which intended to be Christian. Here Paul is speaking about a woman’s everyday life. He condemns those women who parade in luxury, who wish to be dressed in the most beautiful clothing to allure lovers day after day, who go about everyday as if it were Easter. As for the fact that a woman adorns herself in honor of her groom but goes about in common fashion otherwise, etc., Scripture commends the adornment for a spouse, etc. He is saying that it is superstition to wear rags at a wedding; it is contrary to the ritual of the area and to the custom of the people with whom we live; provided, of course, that no excess occurs, if this has been the mode of dressing for weddings or festivals. Rather, Paul forbids the surrendering of self to elegance, the pompous pursuit of adornment. He does not demand the rigor of superstition. After all, a queen must bedeck herself, as did Esther. If she clothes herself with care and good taste, she is not decorating herself but acting in accord with the custom of and allegiance to the people with whom she lives. If it were the custom, then it would be a matter of choice for her so to adorn herself or not. In allegiance to her groom, in honor of her wedding and husband, she should dress otherwise than one dresses in church, where one ought to wear proper clothing. There is one way of dressing for a dance; another way for church. Paul is speaking out against pomp and excess, a passion for fashion with which so many are so affected that they cannot fill their eyes. If they see adornment today that they did not see yesterday, etc.—this is to desire dress because of pleasure or passion. Such are the little ladies who are not acquisitive, etc., but they do have a passion in dress. If that were to come to the Sacrament today, I would not permit it, so am I against the pleasure of and passion for dressing. Whatever there is in clothing, food, drink, homes we can keep with good conscience. “In the church.” How? Not for passion or pleasure but for “apparel,” that is, edifying apparel, which offends, entraps, or scandalizes the eyes of no one. He does not want them to wear filthy clothes. Filthiness is not religious scrupulousness, as St. Francis says. A Christian can have clean and pure clothing, as the Jews do. He explains the term modestly, that is, that there be modest and temperate dress. Sensibly does not speak about filth when one reads what he ought to read. Formerly women walked about with neck bared all the way to the middle of the back. This was immodest dress. Elsewhere half the breast is seen. They have high-heeled shoes, etc., so that they can show off their bodies. Rather, they ought to have clothes to conceal themselves, to cover the neck. Our women walk about with their faces nearly veiled and everything covered very neatly, with their furs, so that almost nothing of their limbs or skin is seen. All this ought to be hidden in church in order that they may walk modestly. Monastic garb comes in here. In this everything is concealed. This is very modest dress. Thus I praise long coats and furs highly. Also young unmarried women ought not wear their locks braided but have a veil when they participate in the Sacrament. I find no fault in our women. I could bear that young women come with their hair veiled, but this is contrary to custom. There should be modesty in dress. Otherwise, in public, modesty is the rule. Clothing should not be too expensive, with too much gold or pearls; a woman should be clothed and adorned with proper modesty and chastity. Let her walk thus at home. He explains not in tresses,[4.] “braids.” Paul wants women to veil their braids. Here [5.] there is no need to prohibit this practice. In France they wear their hair unbound and with open braids so that no one knows who is married or unmarried. Perhaps this is how Greek women wore their hair. Among our people married women veil their hair and braids. When they do this, they veil their locks chastely and modestly, so that it may not become material for watchers to think shameful thoughts.

With gold. A woman ought not display gold in her clothing or coat. Here it becomes very clear what custom Greek women had. They were haughtily resplendent in all of these adornments. I don’t want them to wear these things in church. Weddings are something else, that is, where it is a matter of some expense, as when a lady wants to wear a velvet gown. This indicates not a Christian woman but a brash one as she goes to the Word, Sacrament, and prayer. She does not want to submit.

10. But in that which befits. Here he explains what he means by clean and decorous clothing. They dress in such a way to be the sort of women who have a zeal for piety and who practice good works. If they overdress, it means they are self-seekers, they feed their own eyes, they irritate others. This is to be eager for the vanity of this world and to desire a badge for praise. Our women ought to dress so that one can recognize that not one of them is seeking clothing. She goes about, covered everywhere. She does not dress expensively. Whatever is left she spends on the poor. So it appears that they are concerned about God and their neighbor and do not seek their own praise. This is one rule about controlling women in public. We need not fear that they overdress when they go into the kitchen but when they go out in public, when they gather for prayer, and when the Word is about to be taught. Against the superstitious, the pompous, the brash, Paul condemns overdressing both in public and in private. I am not against dressing up in honor of one’s bridegroom, but not in church, which is another matter. In the former case it is a custom of the person or of the people with whom we live, and it is done in honor of the bridegroom. But in church they should be covered. Good people have held to the middle ground. Brash and superstitious women must not be admitted. Now follows another rule—about teaching in the church.

11. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. [6.] I believe that Paul is still speaking about public matters. I also want it to refer to the public ministry, which occurs in the public assembly of the church. There a woman must be completely quiet, because she should remain a hearer and not become a teacher. She is not to be the spokesman among the people. She should refrain from teaching, from praying in public. She has the command to speak at home. This passage makes a woman subject. It takes from her all public office and authority. On the other side is the passage in Acts (8:27) about Queen Candace. We read many such examples in sacred literature—that women have been very good at management: Huldah, Deborah, Jael, the wife of the Kenite, who killed Sisera. [7.] Why, then, does Paul say here that he deprives them of the administration of the Word as well as of work? You should solve that argument in this way. Here we properly take “woman” to mean wife, as he reveals from his correlative phrase (v. 12) “to have authority over man,” that is, over her husband. As he calls the husband “man,” so he calls the wife “woman.” Where men and women have been joined together, there the men, not the women, ought to have authority. An exceptional example is the case where they are without husbands, like Huldah and Deborah who had no authority over husbands. Another lived in Abela. [8.] The evangelist Philip had four unmarried daughters, etc. (cf. Acts 21:9). He forbids teaching contrary to a man or to the authority of a man. Where there is a man, there no woman should teach or have authority. Where there is no man, Paul has allowed that they can do this, because it happens by a man’s command. He wants to save the order preserved by the world—that a man be the head of the woman, as 1 Cor. 11:3 tells us. [9.] Where there are men, she should neither teach nor rule. She rules in the home and says: “Be quiet,” but she is not the master. This maxim was spoken against Greek women, who have been and now are more ingenious and clever than those in other countries. The Jews and Arabs do not honor their women in this way. The Turk considers women as beasts. Not so with the Greeks and us. Miriam seemed wise to herself; she rose up against her brother and her “man” (cf. Num. 12). They should be with all submissiveness. Then comes the teaching, and Paul does not entrust the ministry of the Word to her. He considers this the greatest thing that goes on in the church. You must always understand this with the condition that men are present. Paul says this that there may be peace and harmony in the churches when the Word is taught and people pray. There would be a disturbance if some woman wished to argue against the doctrine that is being taught by a man. The method of 1 Cor. 14 has now perished. I could wish it were still in effect, but it causes great strife. Where a man teaches, there is a wellrounded argument against a man. If she wishes to be wise, let her argue with her husband at home.

12. To have authority. That is, she ought not take over for herself the heritage which belongs to a man so that a man says to her: “My lord.” She wants her own wisdom to have priority, that whatever she has said should prevail and whatever the man says should not. We say: Paul is saying with power what is to be said. He is not speaking about real physical domination, but about the authority of the word, that she should be right and have the last word, that in the church her word ought to appear wiser and more learned and thus of greater authority than that of her husband. So also in the home.

13. For Adam. Paul skillfully arranges this example of his that he may not appear to be speaking off the top of his head. This is the way God has ordained it. The principal role belongs to the man. Adam was first, etc. Therefore the greater authority lies in the man rather than in the woman. Then Eve, that she should be, etc. Secondly, this situation stands not only because of what God intended but also from the history of Adam and Eve.

14. And Adam was not deceived, that is, was not involved in the lie. Here Paul appears to gather arguments with considerable concern on behalf of man’s dominance. Yet they are true: (1) God Himself has so ordained that man be created first—first in time and first in authority. His first place is preserved in the Law. Whatever occurs first is called the most preferable. Because of God’s work, Adam is approved as superior to Eve, because he had the right of primogeniture. In human affairs it can happen that a later work can be better. It also happens that whoever does not do evil does good. In Scripture, however, this is not so. (2) Experience. Not only has God’s wisdom ordained this, but there was more wisdom and courage in Adam. And by this one sees who is wiser and rightly preferred. But Adam was wiser than Eve. Experience has been witness to this. Therefore Adam is approved according to God’s creation and man’s experience. These are the two arguments. Paul thus has proved that by divine and human right Adam is the master of the woman. That is, it was not Adam who went astray. Therefore there was greater wisdom in Adam than in the woman. Where this occurs, there is the greater authority. One point here indicates that Adam was not deceived. We do not know that Adam would have sinned had he listened to the serpent. Adam sinned knowingly, but he wanted to agree with his wife and please her. He thought that it was not so important a matter, etc., although Paul may seem to point to the fact that he wants to explain that Adam had not been addressed by the serpent, since Adam had received the command from God written in his heart. This, too, is an argument: God gave him the command directly, but to the woman through the man. He presses this idea, that Satan did not attack Adam. Therefore Adam was not deceived by the serpent. Yet this is a very simple statement. The serpent did not deceive Adam, because it did not tempt him by speaking with him. Therefore Paul is correct in saying that Adam was deceived not by the serpent but by the woman. He believed that this sin was an insignificant matter, not realizing that, if he fell, he was falling away from the command, from God, even from life. This he was not considering. He did not have that knowledge of good and evil. That is, he persevered in his dominion over the serpent, which did not attack him but rather attacked the weaker vessel. Therefore, etc. He has written quite carefully how cleverly Satan treated the fearless person and attacked the weak one, just as he does today. But the woman was deceived and became a transgressor, that is, she became the cause of transgression. There are three arguments here: (1) that Adam was formed [first]; (2) that he was not deceived; (3) it was not he but the woman who brought on transgression. Paul uses the argument which we have in Genesis (3:16): “Because you have done this, you will be under the man. In punishment for your sin and transgression, you must be subject to the man and suffer the pains of childbirth.” Thus that ordinance of God continues to stand as a memorial of that transgression which by her fault entered into the world.


[1.] The Vulgate translates this Greek word with ornatus (“well-ordered, adorned”).

[2.] cf. Ps. 18:20, 24.

[3.] “Decency is women’s most beautiful adornment.” cf. Prov. 11:22.

[4.] Luther quotes the older text non in tricis for the later non in tortis crinibus.

[5.] i.e., in Germany.

[6.] The lecture of Feb. 11, 1528, begins at this point.

[7.] cf. 2 Kings 22:14; Judges 4:14, 17.

[8.] The wise woman of Abel of Beth-maacah (2 Sam. 20:14–21).

[9.] The Weimar text reads “Cor. X.”