1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (1)

Reading the Bible prayerfully

1 Timothy 2:12  as a Proof Text

A proof text is a verse or passage which someone feels is the definitive statement on a certain theological subject, so this verse is used, usually uncontextualised, as proof to establish a doctrine.  For many people, 1 Timothy 2:12 has been the proof text and the starting point on the issue of Women in Ministry, and all other Scripture is seen through the lens, or the filter, of this one verse in particular.

When a single proof text (or even a couple) is used to formulate and argue beliefs, there is a danger of ignoring other Bible verses which may seem to say something different or even contradict the desired premise.  The significance of other passages might be down played, or their meaning distorted or obscured.  This has happened in the Women in Ministry debate.  Many New Testament verses which reveal that women did function as ministers and leaders have been simply overlooked and ignored, or even altered.

Also, when relying on a proof text, the meaning of other verses may be bent or taken out of context to make them agree and fit in with the desired premise, even though the real meaning of these other verses may be quite unrelated.  This has also happened with the debate about Women in Ministry as we will see later on.

Reading Scripture in Context

When reading Scripture, it is always helpful to have an understanding of the culture of the recipients the book or letter was originally written to - in this case, the culture of the Ephesians.  (Paul wrote his letters to Timothy when Timothy was overseeing the church at Ephesus.)

It is also helpful to try and understand the situation and the concerns the book or letter is addressing.  Each book of the Bible was written for a reason, or several reasons, so it is important to ascertain the author’s aim in writing the book or letter, where possible.  When trying to understand the New Testament letters, in this case 1 Timothy, it is imperative.

It is also important to read and comprehend the entire book or letter and not just read a verse or passage in isolation from the rest of the text.  In other words, we need to view verses of Scripture in the context of the book or letter it comes from, and indeed in the context of the entire Bible.

This article will look at 1 Timothy 2:12 within the context of the entire letter of 1 Timothy, and it will look at the cultural setting of the Ephesian church.  This, hopefully, will help us to better understand what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:12.

Go to  Part Two - 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context: Understanding the Ephesian Culture.

© 8th of December, 2009; Margaret Mowczko

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1 Timothy 2:12 in Context:

Part 2 – Understanding the Ephesian Culture
Part 3 – Paul’s Reason for Writing to Timothy: Heresy in the Ephesian Church
Part 4 – 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Verse by Verse
Part 5 – 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Verse by Verse (continued)

Related Articles:

Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
New Testament Church Culture: Sexual Licentiousness
The Bible and “Plain Sense” Reading
Women, Teaching and Deception

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Posted April 17th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , , , ,

6 comments on “1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (1)

  1. Marg says:

    Some extra info on my approach to 1 Timothy 2:12:

    I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know the real meaning, force, scope and intent of 1 Timothy 2:12. This difficulty is evidenced by the numerous interpretations and explanations that have been put forward to help unravel the mystery around this verse – about how it should be understood and applied.

    My first inkling to a possible interpretation on 1 Timothy 2:12ff began when I was watching a video shown at my church about ancient Ephesus. In the video a man was walking around the ruins of Ephesus and talking about some of its culture and history – including the cult of Artemis – while quoting Scripture from the book of Ephesians. The Scripture quotes from Ephesians seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the setting. But I was reading 1 Timothy at the time and a whole lot of little things that I had been reading in 1 Timothy seemed to be making more sense as I watched the video. (Paul wrote his letters to Timothy while Timothy was stationed in Ephesus.)

    I put forward my interpretation as a suggestion. While I am inclined to believe my interpretation is true, I cannot say that it is the correct one. 1 Timothy 2:12-15 is, in fact, far from straight forward in the Greek.

    If you do read the series, please don’t stop at the end of part 4. My site statistics show that most people read parts 1 to 4, but few people read part 5 which pulls it all together.

  2. Karin says:

    I don’t think 2 Tim. forbids all women at all times from exercising authority over men nor that it should be used as a proof text in the women in ministry debate. I find it hard to stay calm when I hear the verse because it has been used to restrict women for so long, and I feel both angry and helpless because the other side is so sure of their interpretation, sure of being in the majority in the church and unconcerned with hurting anyone with that passage while I am trying to be fair, look at context and other passages — all of which takes time in a discussion, but in many conversations I have exactly three seconds to come up with a rational and polite (!) response before the topic moves on. So I’m still working on desensitizing myself to these clobber passages in order that I can skip the emotional turmoil and get to a response in time.
    Maybe simply asking “What makes you think that this verse is the definite verse on women in ministry that all other verses should be subordinate to?” is a good starting point.

  3. Marg says:

    Hi Karin, I understand the “angry and helpless” bit.

    I don’t even think this 1 Tim 2:12 is about exercising authority.

    There are so many assumptions and assertions about this verse that I think are just untrue.

  4. [...] Marg Mowczko, an Australian Bible teacher and grad student, recently posted a series on her blog looking at the cultural context surrounding Paul’s comments to Timothy about allowing “a woman to teach” (1 Timothy 2:12). As you can imagine, this is one of the most [...]

  5. […] And in addition to the translation difficulties of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, there are legitimate reasons to believe that this passage was written to address a specific situation in a specific church about a specific misuse of authority […]

  6. […] Endnote: The word “submit” is found in numerous contexts throughout the New Testament.  It is also found in the context of women speaking and learning in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12.  These other verses are not about wifely submission.  More on these passages here and here. […]

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