In 1 Timothy 2:8 does “men” mean “males” or “mankind” in general? Does “lifting up holy hands” indicate something we should be doing?
The background of 1 Timothy 2:8 is the apostle Paul’s writing to Timothy concerning conduct in the local church and, specifically in these verses, giving rules about prayer and men and women. Verse 8 reads, “I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
To answer your first question, the word “men” (andras) here indeed means “males.” The phrase “the men” indicates this fact, and since the next verse addresses the women, there is a distinct contrast in the two verses. This distinction would be unnecessary if the word meant “mankind.” Also, we can compare verse 8 with others, such as verse 4. In verse 4 the word used in the original for “men” (anthropos) regards mankind in general. This verse is saying that God desires all mankind (both males and females) to be saved.
In verse 8 Paul was specifically commanding saved men to pray when local church believers meet for corporate worship. Interestingly, it was the men who prayed in the Jewish synagogues. I should mention, too, that the word “everywhere” would refer to local churches—everywhere they’re found. So male believers are commanded to be “pray-ers” in the local church, and this command is not just for pastors and deacons. All men are to pray or at least have the privilege of praying.
Inevitably the question arises, Can’t women pray at all in the local church? The answer is most certainly yes, whenever surpassing male authority isn’t an issue. The scene in this passage is the corporate worship service. It does not include prayer meetings, Sunday School classes (of today’s local church), or ministering to children and other women one-on-one through sharing the gospel, counseling, comforting, and the like. In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul instructed women concerning praying in the local church, so we conclude that women may pray in the local church in many situations.
Now to the lifting up of holy hands: Paul was using “holy hands” here to symbolize prayer that has the right posture of the heart, not a physical act. There is nothing intrinsically holy about hands; they are simply a part of the human body. Here they imply or depict a certain spiritual lifestyle or stance. So “holy hands” simply means “a holy life.” The men cannot pray effectively if they are not right with God. “Holy” then refers to the heart, not to a physical body part.
Some people have raised the idea that the Old Testament supported the literal raising of hands in prayer, citing passages such as 1 Kings 8:22: “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven.” But we have no proof that this was a usual practice. Further, other postures are recorded in the Old Testament and the early New Testament. Some people fell on their knees in prayer or bowed their heads; others fell on their faces or put on sackcloths. But there is no indication that any postures were or still are required or that the person secured some blessing by his or her posture, as some think.
Psalm 24:3 and 4 capture the idea of men having “holy hands”: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.” Verse 4 shows us holy hands are symbolic of a holy life.
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