The Attitude of Evangelistic Prayer
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (2:8)
Therefore indicates that this verse goes with the preceding section, not with what follows. The change of subject comes in verse 9, as the word “likewise” shows (cf. 3:8, 11). Having stressed the importance of evangelistic prayer, Paul now tells us with what attitude we are to pray. Want is from boulomai, and could be translated “I command,” or “I purpose.” Men is from anēr, and means men as opposed to women. Men are the leaders when the church meets for corporate worship. When prayer is offered for the lost during those times, the men are to do it. In the synagogues, only men were permitted to pray, and that was carried over into the church. The phrase in every place appears four times in Paul’s writings (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 2:14; 1 Thess. 1:8). All four times it refers to the official assembly of the church.
Some might argue that this teaching contradicts 1 Corinthians 11:5, where Paul permits women to pray and proclaim the Word. That passage, however, must be interpreted in light of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, which forbids women to speak in the assembly. Women are permitted to pray and proclaim the Word, but not “in church”—that is, when the church meets for its corporate worship services. That in no way marks women as spiritually inferior (cf. Gal. 3:28). Not even all men proclaim the Word in the assembly, only those so called and gifted. (For a further discussion of this issue, see my book Different By Design [Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994].)
The Old Testament saints frequently prayed lifting up their hands (cf. 1 Kings 8:22; Neh. 8:6; Pss. 63:4; 134:2; 141:2; Isa. 1:15). But Paul’s emphasis here is not on a particular posture for prayer. The hands symbolize the activities of life, thus holy hands represent a holy life. That is a prerequisite for effective prayer (cf. Ps. 66:18). Holy translates hosios, which means “unpolluted,” or “unstained by evil.” Those who pray for the lost must not be characterized by wrath and dissension. They must be holy in heart and deed.
The greatest example of evangelistic praying is our Lord Himself. Isaiah 53:12 tells us He “interceded for the transgressors.” On the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God answered those prayers with three thousand converts on the Day of Pentecost, and countless thousands more through the centuries.
Do we pray for the lost like that? Do we have the passion that inspired John Knox to cry out, “Give me Scotland or I die”? Is our attitude that of George Whitefield, who prayed, “O Lord, give me souls or take my soul”? Can we, like Henry Martyn, say, “I cannot endure existence if Jesus is to be so dishonored”?
God honors evangelistic prayer. Standing among those who killed Stephen was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. Could it be that the great apostle’s salvation was in answer to Stephen’s prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”? Evangelism begins with evangelistic prayer.
8 Paul now moves past his first main point (the offering of all kinds of prayer, vv. 1–2) to his second (related) injunction (oun, “then,” here [untranslated in NIV] and in v. 1). He wants the “men” in the congregation to unite in prayer (proseuchomai, GK 4667; cf. v. 1 and 5:5) without any hint of “anger” (orgē, GK 3973) or “disputing” (dialogismos, GK 1369). Just as ritual purity was essential for Jews, NT believers were to pray with their hands cleansed from all spiritual defilement or impurity (“holy hands”). The plural seems to reflect a plurality of men leading the congregation in prayer and worship (cf. 2:12; 3:2, 5; 4:11–16; 5:17).
The immediate reference of “everywhere” (lit., “in every place”) is to the various house churches making up the Ephesian church (so Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” in Women in the Church, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995], 113), though ultimately the scope is universal (Barrett, 54: “in every Christian meeting place”; Kelly, 65: “wherever the gospel is preached”; cf. 1 Co 1:2; 2 Co 2:14; 1 Th 1:8; cf. Mal 1:11 [LXX]; see Quinn and Wacker, 208–9).
The lifting up of hands in prayer was practiced in OT times and is attested in Jewish intertestamental, Greco-Roman, and Christian literature (cf. Knight, 128–29). By this time, lifting up hands in prayer may have become a figurative expression similar to “washing the feet of the saints” (5:10). In this congregation devoted to prayer, there must be neither “anger” (cf. Eph 4:31; Col 3:8) nor “disputing” (cf. Php 2:14). The apostle’s teaching here mirrors that of Jesus (Mt 5:22–24 cf. 6:14–15; 18:21–35; Mk 11:25).
Paul’s concern (similar to that of Jesus) is the removal of barriers to ensure effective prayer (1 Co 7:5; Eph 4:26–27; 1 Pe 3:7; cf. Did. 14:2). The apostle’s main emphasis is on the adjective “holy” (hosious, GK 4008; cf. Tit 1:8; Heb 7:26). The picture painted here is that of a church submitted to authority and united in prayer for the salvation of all.
8 At this point, Paul engages the congregation according to gender groups. In this adaptation of a household code, he takes the men first and speaks to them authoritatively, enlarging on the instruction about community prayer22 initiated at 2:1. There are several issues to be addressed. First, in Greek the term “men” is ambiguous and could mean “husbands” or “men.” Typically either a standard modifying possessive pronoun or similar device will clearly indicate “husband” (e.g. 3:2, 12; 5:9; Titus 1:6; 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1; Eph 5:22), or something else in the context will specify the meaning. The absence of such a signal might support the more generic reference, but the context nonetheless suggests the husband/wife relationship is largely in view (especially when discussion of the women is considered, see below). On the one hand, the norm for men and women was marriage, and this is the assumption in reference to the women and childbearing in v. 15. On the other hand, the language and content of the proscribed “sumptuousness” of wealthy women in 2:9–10 has in mind mainly a trend among wealthy married women (and widows; see on 5:6, 11–15) to adopt a new liberated lifestyle of dress and sexual promiscuity (see below). If this is the case, the generic categories of “men” and “women” are almost certainly intended to express more precision.
Second, Paul is specifically concerned about the holiness and demeanor of men when they pray. This is set out in positive terms first by reference to the symbolic gesture of raising the hands in prayer (coupled with allusion to the rite of hand washing to signify purity). The background is the biblical tradition in which prayers in various contexts (invoking God’s intervention, pronouncing blessing on others) were accentuated by the raising or extending of hands. Within Israel’s cultic regimen, the actual outward act of washing the hands was a fundamental preparatory step for priests to enter the Tent of Meeting (Exod 30:19–21). The visible public act of purification signified the presumed inward condition of purity/holiness of those about to engage in ministry. From the act and its significance, the image of “purified hands” acquired metaphorical status in its reference to moral purity (e.g. 1 Clement 29:1; LXX Pss 25:6; 72:13) just as the image of “bloody” or stained hands signified metaphorically the reverse (Isa 1:15). The combination of the adjective, “holy/pure,” and the symbolic gesture depicts one who is completely (outwardly and inwardly) ready for ministry.
Measured negatively, the holiness that facilitates acceptable prayer is devoid (“without”; 5:21) of attitudes and actions that put relationships at risk. Here Paul highlights two such things. First, the presence of “anger” indicates the absence of patience, kindness and forgiveness, all of which are requisite to the maintenance and fostering of relationships. Consequently, refusing to harbor anger (and related feelings) towards other people (Eph 4:31; Col 3:8), along with taking the positive step of forgiveness (e.g. Mark 11:25), is a condition of effective prayer. Second, hostile feelings issue in hostile actions, and Paul illustrates this with a very relevant reference to “disputing.” This is an almost certain reference to the modus operandi of the false teachers, whose false doctrines and teaching style engendered disputes and division in the community.28 But in the nearer context a reference to some kind of volatile interaction between men and women (who teach) may also be in mind. For the thought that one’s moral condition will affect one’s prayer, positively or negatively, see James 1:19–20 and 1 Pet 3:7.
Third, a subtly inserted phrase often overlooked in translations and commentaries, “in every place” (“everywhere,” TNIV) initiates an OT echo designed to invite the readers/hearers to understand the significance of their entire worship activity in the eschatological framework of God’s redemptive promise to save the nations.29 In the NT the phrase is Pauline, restricted elsewhere to three occurrences (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 2:14; 1 Thess 1:8). Notably, in each of these instances either Paul’s prayer (1 Cor 1:2) or preaching mission (2 Cor 2:14; 1 Thess 1:8) is in view. Both of these features and the sense of universality suggest that the phrase originated in and consciously echoes Mal 1:11:
For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place (en panti topō) incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
Within Judaism, Mal 1:11 was associated in the Targumic tradition with prayer. Didache 14:3, perhaps influenced by the interests in 1 Tim 2:8 and certainly by those of Judaism, later conflated Mal 1:11 and 14 to construct a citation, attributed to the Lord, that instructed those quarreling to reconcile before praying. But in the OT context, “prayer,” that is, the offering of incense and declaring of God’s name, is not the sole topic; it is rather symbolic of the gracious outward turn of God to the nations and pronouncement of judgment on the corrupt temple-centered worship.
The function of the echo in the Pauline texts is to explore the implications of this prophetic promise in the new eschatological reality of the church. Viewed within this line of OT promise, the churches’ prayer (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Tim 2:8) and Paul’s apostolic ministry (2 Cor 2:14; 1 Thess 1:8; 1 Tim 2:7) become signs of the fulfillment of God’s promise to offer salvation to “the nations.” Equally, the church in its proclamation and prayer becomes the vehicle by which promise is fulfilled. This is exactly the eschatological perspective Paul had of his ministry (Rom 9–11; 15:9–13; Gal 1:15–16), so it is hardly surprising to find it extended here to a discussion of the church’s prayer responsibility within the Pauline mission.33 Within the broader context of 1 Tim 2:8, this echo of Mal 1:11 resonates with the theme of universality and prayer in support of Paul’s mission (2:1–6) and Paul’s self-understanding of his calling to the Gentiles (“herald, apostle … teacher of the Gentiles”; 2:7) to underline the intrinsic place of prayer within the gospel ministry and the ministry of this church. Paul’s audience would have been sensitive to the thematic cue. But equally this missiological frame forces the conduct both of Christian men (holiness) and women (modesty) to be evaluated in terms of its effect on observant outsiders.
2:8 / This sentence is tied to what precedes by the conjunction oun (“therefore”), untranslated in the niv (probably because it was understood to be transitional). “Therefore,” Paul says, “while we’re on the subject, as the people gather to pray be sure it is for prayer and not in anger or disputing.” That is, the instruction is neither that men should pray nor that only men pray nor that they should do so with uplifted hands, but that when at prayer they should do so without engaging in controversies.
This is to be so everywhere, that is, “in every place where believers gather in and around Ephesus” (the house-churches). To lift up holy hands while in prayer is the assumed posture of prayer in both Judaism and early Christianity (see note). The imagery is that of ritual purity, hands cleansed before praying, and here refers to their not being “soiled” by anger or disputing, the particular sins of the false teachers.
8. I will then that in every place the men offer prayer.
Paul, exercising his full authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, continues to give directions. The translation of the A.V. “I will” fits the context and suits the word that is used in the original. The word then (either loosely inferential or continuative; cf. N.T.C. on John, Vol. II, p. 386, footnote 246) connects this paragraph with the preceding. Prayers must be offered in behalf of all people (verses 1–7); hence, let these prayers be offered; not, however, by the women but by the men (verse 8). It is clear that the verb offer prayer or simply pray must here be taken in the broadest sense, including every form of invocation mentioned in 2:1 (see on that passage).
Such prayers must be offered “in every place” of public worship. Often a large room in the house of one of the members would be used for that purpose. There were probably several places of worship in Ephesus and surroundings. In order and manner of worship the customs prevailing in the synagogue were followed as far as possible. The idea that the men should lead in prayer cannot have surprised those who were used to the synagogue, except in so far as Paul’s emphasis on the equality of the sexes “in Christ” (Gal. 3:28) may have caused some to wonder whether this spiritual emancipation of women might not imply a change in their position in public worship. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that many of the converts had been gathered from the Gentile world. And the church was still very young, with new centers of worship being established right along. Moreover, the possibility that false teachers had been spreading erroneous ideas with respect to the respective roles of men and women “in church” must not be entirely dismissed. However this may have been, Paul knew, at any rate, that instruction was necessary with respect to this point. He emphasizes that the Christian faith does not call for a complete break with the past. The presence of women in the religious assembly is, of course, assumed. Paul’s point is that these women should pray as Hannah did, “She spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard” (1 Sam. 1:13).
As for the men, they should offer prayer, lifting up holy hands without wrath and evil deliberation. Posture in prayer is never a matter of indifference. The slouching position of the body while one is supposed to be praying is an abomination to the Lord. On the other hand, it is also true that Scripture nowhere prescribes one, and only one, correct posture during prayer. Different positions of arms, hands, and of the body as a whole, are indicated. All of these are permissible as long as they symbolize different aspects of the worshipper’s reverent attitude, and as long as they truly interpret the sentiments of the heart. Note the following Prayer Postures:
(1). Standing: Gen. 18:22; 1 Sam. 1:26; Matt. 6:5; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13. (Note the contrast between the last two passages. It makes a difference even how and where one stands.)
(2). Hands Spread Out or/and Lifted Heavenward: Ex. 9:29; Ex. 17:11, 12; 1 Kings 8:22; Neh. 8:6; Psalm 63:4; Psalm 134:2; Psalm 141:2; Is. 1:15; Lam. 2:19; Lam. 3:41; Hab. 3:10; Luke 24:50; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 4:8. (Compare the “Orantes” of the Catacombs. And see A. Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East, translated by L. R. M. Strachan, fourth edition, New York 1922, pp. 415, 416.)
(3). Bowing the Head: Gen. 24:48 (cf. verse 13); Ex. 12:27; 2 Chron. 29:30; Luke 24:5.
(4). The Lifting Heavenward of the Eyes: Psalm 25:15; Psalm 121:1; Psalm 123:1, 2; Psalm 141:8; Psalm 145:15; John 11:41; John 17:1; cf. Dan. 9:3; Acts 8:35.
(5). Kneeling: 2 Chron. 6:13; Psalm 95:6; Is. 45:23; Dan. 6:10; Matt. 17:14; Mark 1:40; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Eph. 3:14.
(6). Falling Down with the Face Upon the Ground: Gen. 17:3; Gen. 24:26; Num. 14:5, 13; Num. 16:4, 22, 45; Num. 22:13, 34; Deut. 9:18, 25, 26; Jos. 5:14; Judg. 13:20; Neh. 8:6; Ezek. 1:28; Ezek. 3:23; Ezek. 9:8; Ezek. 11:13; Ezek. 43:3; Ezek. 44:4; Dan. 8:17; Matt. 26:39; Mark 7:25; Mark 14:35; Luke 5:12; Luke 17:16; Rev. 1:17; Rev. 11:16.
(7). Other Postures: 1 Kings 18:42 (bowing, with face between the knees); Luke 18:13 (standing from afar, striking the breast).
As is clear from this final reference, the indicated postures and positions of members of the body may occur in various combinations. In Luke 18:13 (1) and (7) are combined. 1 Kings 8:22 (Solomon) combines (1) and (2). Neh. 8:6 combines (1) and (3). John 11:41 (see verse 38) links (1) with (4). In addition to being combined with (1), number (2) may also be combined with (5), “Solomon arose from the altar of Jehovah, from kneeling on his knees, with his hands spread forth toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:54; cf. Ezra 9:5). Moreover, the bow (3) was often so deep that the person would fall prostrate upon the ground (6). See, for example, Num. 22:31. In fact, a favorite method of prostration among Orientals has always been falling upon the knees (5), then gradually inclining the body, bowing the head until it touches the ground (3), which may become (6). And even in most cases where Scripture does not definitely indicate this, it may be gathered from the context that the man who spread out or lifted up his hands was standing. That is the case also in our present passage (1 Tim. 2:8).
Now all these postures were appropriate. The standing position (1) indicates reverence. The lifting up or spreading out of the hands (2)—arms outstretched, with palms upward—is a fit symbol of utter dependence on God and of humble expectancy. Bowing the head (3) is the outward expression of the spirit of submission. The lifting heavenward of the eyes (4) indicates that one believes that his help comes from Jehovah, from him alone. Kneeling (5) pictures humility and adoration. Falling down with face toward the ground (6) is the visible manifestation of awe in the divine presence. Striking the breast (7) beautifully harmonizes with the feeling of utter unworthiness.
The present custom of closing the eyes while folding the hands is of disputed origin. Though unrecorded in Scripture and unknown to the early church, the custom may be considered a good one if properly interpreted. It helps the worshipper to shut out harmful distractions and to enter the sphere where “none but God is near.” It is, at any rate, far better than some postures of the body that prevail among moderns when prayer is being offered.
What is stressed, however, throughout Scripture and also in the passage now under study, is not the posture of the body or the position of the hands but the inner attitude of the soul. The hands that are lifted up must be holy, that is, they must be hands unpolluted by previous crimes. A man who has just committed a murder or an act of adultery or a theft must not think that without pardon and restitution, when this “making good” is possible, his hands can now be lifted up in a prayer that is pleasing to God. See Psalm 24:3, 4; cf. Matt. 5:23, 24.
Moreover, this lifting up of hands must be done “without wrath and evil deliberation.” Wrath (cf. N.T.C. on John 3:36), that is, settled indignation against a brother, the attitude of the unmerciful debtor of the parable (Matt. 18:21–35), makes prayer unacceptable (see also, in this connection, Matt. 6:14, 15; Eph. 4:31, 32; Col. 3:8; Jas. 1:19, 20). And so does evil deliberation of any kind whatever. The word used in the original is related to our English word dialogue. The soul of man is so constituted that it can carry on a dialogue with itself. Thus a man can debate within himself whether he shall do this to his neighbor or that, balancing one thought against another (our word deliberate—from Latin de and libra—literally means to thoroughly weigh, libra being a balance). Although the word used in the original does not in itself brand the dialoguing as being evil (see Luke 2:35, in which passage the deliberations referred to are not necessarily evil), yet it is worthy of note (cf. Gen. 6:5; 8:21) that in almost every passage in which it is used the deliberation referred to is clearly of a sinful nature (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; Luke 5:22; 6:8; 9:46, 47; Rom. 1:21; 14:1; 1 Cor. 3:20; Phil. 2:14. In Luke 2:35 it indicates doubting, questioning). Here in 1 Tim. 2:8 the use of the word in conjunction with wrath makes this meaning certain.
The sum and substance, therefore, of the present admonition is that in public worship the men, not the women, should stand with uplifted hands and offer prayer aloud. The elders naturally would take the lead (1 Tim. 5:17). These hands, however, must be holy, and the prayer must be offered in the proper spirit. If the heart of a person is filled with wrath or malice against his brother, so that he is planning evil against him, prayer will not be acceptable.
Instructions for men (2:8)
Paul next turned his concern to orderly, proper worship. Though his comments were directed to particular disturbances and troubles within the Ephesian church, we can extract principles that are applicable to all times and cultures.
2:8. Paul wrote, I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. His first directive for worship was given to men. He did not use the generic word signifying mankind, but a word specifically targeting males.
In the original Greek text the sentence begins, “Therefore, I want men.” This connective word takes us back to the beginning of the preceding paragraph where Paul urged the congregation to pray especially for those in authority. He reasoned that if Christians could live in peace and harmony, this would create an environment for the spread of the gospel. With the salvation of the lost in mind, Paul looked at the men of the church and instructed them in effective prayer.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are encouraged to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16) and to come with the affection and security of a child, by the Spirit crying, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Even so, we must remember that in prayer we are approaching God himself. Along with reassurance comes warning: we must be in proper relationship with our holy God.
Paul’s emphasis was on holiness, not physical posturing. The most general demeanor for prayer in the ancient world, for pagans, Jews, and Christians alike, was to stand with hands outstretched and uplifted, palms turned upwards. The frescoes in the Roman catacombs provide vivid illustrations from the life of the early church. The Jews ceremonially washed their hands before prayer as a symbol of spiritual cleanness because the hands represented the condition of a person’s soul and heart. “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3–4). It was in the spirit of such understanding and practice that Paul instructed men to pray with holy hands—to pray out of a character of righteousness, of complete devotion to God, unpolluted with sin. The implication is that our standing before God must be right.
In addition, Paul called for proper relationship among believers: Prayers must issue forth to God without anger or disputing.
The Spirit of God promotes unity, harmony, and order; these are divine qualities. Any time we pervert our identity in Christ and become entangled in divisions, factions, and chaos, the church’s mission is compromised, and our prayers are hindered. Our standing with others must be right.
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 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 513). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (pp. 201–204). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 70–71). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
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