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Why 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are not universal regulations

Why 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are not timeless regulations: epitrepo

I do not believe 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a universal injunction designed to permanently silence women in church gatherings. I also do not believe the intention of 1 Timothy 2:12 was to prohibit every woman from teaching any man for all time. One reason for my (dis)belief is because of a particular word found in both verses: epitrepō.

Epitrepō is consistently used in the Greek New Testament in the context of giving, or asking for, permission by making an exception or a temporary allowance, limited in scope. Conversely, the word is also used in the context of withholding permission in an ad hoc, or specific and limited, situation. You can check this for yourself. I’ve used the NASB translation in the following, which is every New Testament verse that contains a form of the word epitrepō.

Matthew 8:21: . . . “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”
A disciple makes this request for a one-off allowance. But Jesus does not give permission and responds to the request with, “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).

Matthew 19:8: [Jesus] said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
Divorce is permitted as an exception, but is not the ideal or the norm.

Mark 5:13: Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine . . .
The demons, or unclean spirits, had begged Jesus not to send them out of the country, which may have been a more usual practice in exorcisms. The demons asked instead that they be sent into the swine. Jesus granted this permission as a one-off.

Mark 10:4: [The Pharisees] said, “Moses permitted [a man] to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
As in Matthew 19:8, Moses’ permission was a concession; it is not the ideal. So Jesus counters the Pharisees’ statement with “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9 cf. Mark 10:5-8).

Luke 8:32: . . . [the demons] implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission to enter.
See note for Mark 5:13.

Luke 9:59: . . . “Lord, permit me first to bury my father.”
See note for Matthew 8:21.

Luke 9:61: Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”
Another would-be disciple asks Jesus for a temporary allowance, one which Jesus does not approve. Jesus is not allowing an exception from his overarching call of “Follow me . . . and don’t look back.”

John 19:38:  . . . Joseph of Arimathea . . .  asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission.
Pilate’s permission was a one-time allowance for a specific request.

Acts 21:39-40: But Paul said, “. . . I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect . . .”
As with the other occurrences of epitrepō, Paul’s request, and the permission he receives, is for an action very much limited in duration and location.

Acts 26:1: Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.”
Paul is permitted to speak at a particular moment during the hearing. Herod Agrippa is not giving Paul broad permission to speak at any time.

Acts 27:3: . . Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.
Julius kindly allowed this as a concession.

Acts 28:16: When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
Paul is given special treatment and is permitted to stay in his own accommodation rather than in prison like most other prisoners.

1 Corinthians 14:34: The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves . . .
Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul acknowledged that women pray and prophesy aloud in church meetings, without asking them to stop or be silent (1 Cor. 11:5; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26). So Paul’s call for silence in 14:34 cannot be about a complete, universal and lasting silence from all women. Rather he is referring to a specific kind of speech in a specific situation.

1 Corinthians 16:7-8: For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost . . .
As an itinerant preacher, Paul was hoping for divine permission for a particular visit, but not for a permanent situation.

1 Timothy 2:12: But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man . . .
With the other occurrences of the word epitrepō as a guide to its meaning, Paul’s lack of permission in this instance is related to a limited and specific situation, rather than a universal situation. This one verse must not be used to overturn or nullify Paul’s previous teaching on ministry, which he gives without respect to gender.

Hebrews 6:3: And this we will do, if God permits.
In Hebrew 6 we learn of some immature beliefs that were somewhat unique to the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. With God’s permission these particular Christian will progress and mature in their beliefs.

From these verses we can see that the word epitrepō is commonly used in contexts of localised situations, exceptions, and concessions, rather than contexts of universal norms and regulations. Accordingly Andrew Perriman notes that the use of epitrepō in the New Testament “is in every case related to a specific and limited set of circumstances . . .”[1]

Paul’s use of epitrepō in 1 Timothy 2:12 is especially marked when compared with the language he uses elsewhere in First Timothy, including, for example, 1 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge (or, command) them not to be haughty . . .” Paul uses this “command” word (verb: paraggellō and noun: paraggelia) seven times in 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3, 5; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17, 18, NIV). But there is no “command” word or force in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the Greek.

The Greek word epitrepō was not the word typically used when making broad and definitive statements or universal injunctions. This is one reason why I believe the restrictions in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 were ad hoc stipulations addressing local problems.[2] These verses really should not be used to deny the speaking ministries of godly, gifted women.


[1] Andrew C. Perriman, “What Eve Did, What Women Shouldn’t Do: The Meaning of Authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12″, Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 (1993), 130.
Philip B. Payne writes, “the verb ‘to permit’ (ἐπιτρέπω) never refers to a universal or permanent situation in any of its uses in the LXX or NT. Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 395.

[2] I. Howard Marshall concludes that the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 “is in fact meant for a specific group of women among the recipients of the letter.” The Pastoral Epistles (International Critical Commentary) (London, T & T Clark, 2004), 455.

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Posted December 22nd, 2015 . Categories/Tags: 1 Timothy 2:12, Equality and Gender Issues, The "Difficult" Passages, , ,

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22 comments on “Why 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are not universal regulations

  1. Rob Crompton says:

    Interesting argument but I wonder what word do you think would have been appropriate if it was intended to make a ruling that applies for all time?

    • Marg says:

      Paul usually just says something like “This is that way it is.” He also uses lists of good behaviours and ministries, as well as lists of vices to be avoided. Occasionally he gives instructions and directives directly: “do this” or “don’t do that”. Sometimes he says, “I urge/exhort you to do . . .” Some of his instructions and advice can be indirect (e.g. some verses in 1 Corinthians 7).

      Apart from the use of the word epitrepō, there are usually other indications in the text which tell us if biblical writers are conveying timeless principles or giving local, ad hoc advice and instructions. But to answer your question properly would take a lengthy essay which still wouldn’t satisfy most Christians or take into account every Bible verse.

      • John N says:

        My way out: 1 Cor 14:34 (and 35) is not by Paul but is a later interpolation. The interpolation helped bring Paul’s thinking up [or down] to the thinking about women in the later era of ! Tim.
        This close to Christmas, I don’t have time to produce arguments. But see, e.g., the (…) used in NRSV and its note to the same effect.
        In addition, I do not consider 1 Tim to be an authentic letter of Paul’s: this is a standard view.
        I recognise that many do not like the idea of ‘interpolations’ and ‘pseudo’ letters – thinking that such manipulative arrangements are incompatible with the sacred nature of the text.

        • Marg says:

          Even if the Pastoral Letters, including First Timothy, were not written by Paul, they are considered as sacred texts by practically all Christians.

          • John N says:

            Yes, of course, Marg. I meant to add to my brief comment on 1 Tim that, in my view, the document (with its restrictive comments on women’s role in the community) originated at a later period than Paul’s life when Christians had already attracted hostile attention from imperial authorities and seemingly decided not to parade women any more as holding public roles in the Christian sect and thus attract further hostile comment or retribution from the public as well as from the authorities.

    • judy says:

      Psalm 68:11 (ASV) ” The Lord giveth the word: The women that publish the tidings ARE a great host.”

      Now that is a good verse for all time. But I guess you could say, on reading this, that the Lord gives the word, but ironically specifically leaves out “men” regarding publishing His tidings. Was this intended for all time do you think? Have men usurped God’s choice of women? ☺

      How desperately tragic that when the word of the Lord offers salvation and good news to all mankind some allow their ambition to keep them more concerned with silencing women on the matter than that souls should be told of the Heart of God for their eternal condition! This kind of ‘PUTTING ON THE BRAKES’ from certain kinds of men makes me want to spit and wonder at the kind of human heart that is more concerned with hiding God’s word rather than letting a female foot in the door!…sorry Rob…why is it so important to try to find loopholes that keep women down and not for one time but “FOR ALL TIME” as you seem to be asking?

      How about a word from Jesus to begin with on the matter? Why is it always Paul? Is it because Paul’s ” epistles,…in which are some things hard to be understood, (enable) them that are unlearned and unstable (to)wrest (his words)…unto their own destruction?” Would you like to contend with Jesus’ choice of women as well, like the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene, two of several he CHOSE to proclaim His word?…We would have to contend with the choice of Hannah and Mary as well as others, whose words are recorded in the Bible.

      Oh but there are scriptures on silence that apply to all time, Rob: “Be silent , O ALL flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.” and this: ” the LORD is in his holy temple: let ALL the earth keep silence before him.”

      On the opposite drift we find:”Oh clap your hands, ALL ye peoples; Shout unto God with the voice of triumph.”

      Which is it then…?

      Silencing people is very destructive :” When I kept silence , my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.”

      Interestingly, Philip Payne says most early church fathers were unaware of the existence of “1 Cor 14:34-5” and that there is some doubt as to the authenticity of this portion.

      1 Cor 7 – end is a reply from Paul to numerous questions, beginning with 1 Cor 7:1…if Chptr 14,vs 34-35 is authentic I suggest it is a reply to a questions such as this from the Judaizers. After all in a mixed religious community (pagan etc.) this comment from Paul makes no logical sense at all (asking their husbands at home). This alone makes it hard to believe Paul actually wrote it.

      But in the end the Bible teaches women to speak out and records that they always have spoken out and that God approved…and those who did are recorded by God…Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Mary, etc. Yes God shows that He has no desire for women to be silent but to show forth the praise of His name…and to be fierce warriors for the Kingdom (chayil Prov 31)…so it really doesn’t matter to God’s women, whom He has called, whether or not “some men think” these verses are silencing them…they know, as they know God, that they are ‘ordained’ to speak for Him…whatever you may or may not think!

      Permission comes from God and He is the one who ‘gives the word’.

    • Isaiah-White says:

      Rob that is a very interesting question. Sounds like extreme counter apologetics

  2. Andrea says:

    Interesting argument. Guess Paul should have added something like “and by the way, this is not for a group of women among the recipients of the letter but it is a timeless rule for all churches…”. He may have been too busy or, perhaps, economy of words is an essential function of scripture.

    • Marg says:

      I don’t think Paul knew he was writing scripture when he wrote this letter to Timothy. Nevertheless he would have expected the letter to be read aloud to the Christian in Ephesus, and I have no doubt that the woman (or women) that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 applies to would have understood. Or maybe not (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

      The Greek word authentein is another hindrance to fully understanding the scope and meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12.

  3. Peter Carrell says:

    While I agree that the two verses do not apply for all situations through all of time, your argument is not one I would make. Some of the instances you cite have permanent effects and some have very long lasting effects. It could be argued that the lack of permission in the two verses is only for the life of this world and not for the world to come. Besides which, all such arguments as you offer here are weak because they presume a universal definition from 98/100 instances and do not allow (!!!) that 2/100 instances might be reason not to presume what the universal definition is.

  4. judy says:

    God called Huldah the prophetess to instruct Josiah the King as to His will. That alone shows the heart of God regarding women teaching and leading with His authority. That one precedent should settle it all, exception or not.

    What one man wrote on one day in a personal letter that managed to survive to this day cannot refute God’s calling on Huldah and His positioning her in authority over the King Josiah.

    This alone ensures that Paul’s instruction cannot be timeless.

    • Marg says:

      I agree, Judy. There are too many godly women in the Bible leading and teaching men to think that 1 Tim 2:12 represents God’s overall view on women in ministry.

      Josiah and his all-male delegation, Barak, David, King Lemuel, Apollos, and others, respected certain women and accepted their teaching and prophesies. Gender was not an issue.

      • judy says:

        Yes, and Marg, why are two or three phrases out of all the teaching of Paul so much more important than all the Bible teaching put together? Paul said some things that counter them, however.

        …” Conscience , I say , not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?”

        With Paul I say that too! and Peter concurs somewhat:”While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” As to bondage:”Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Where is this glorious liberty if gender rules it out? I want the full teaching of the Gospel, not some man made interpretation that ties my hands and muzzles my mouth…does it exist or not?

        I maintain with Paul:”And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage”. So what was Paul’s response to those who tried to take his liberty? He said, “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Yes ladies, these who spy out our liberty in Christ we WILL GIVE PLACE BY SUBJECTION, NO NOT FOR AN HOUR; THAT THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL MIGHT CONTINUE WITH US.” The Judaizers Paul fought against have not gone away and they are a cancer to the spread of the gospel.

  5. Excellent study. Thank you.

  6. Bob Lawther says:

    I am indebted to the Kroegers for the book “I Suffer not a Woman…” For the possible interpretation of the Greek word “authentein” as to be responsible for, as well as publishing, gnostic writings in which Eve gave life to Adam. This is not allowed to be taught! Once this is realized it is made clear that the entire passage is devoted to a denial of gnostic doctrine. This was whole reason Timothy was left in Ephesus. Apostolic authority was needed there and Paul provided it through Timothy. This understanding eliminates the contradiction of women preaching (1 Cor 11:5) and clarifies 1 Tim 2:15.

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