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Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12

Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12

Some Christians think that the prohibition of a woman teaching a man, mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:12, is clear and straightforward in meaning, yet the various ways this prohibition is understood and implemented in churches seems to indicate otherwise.

The meaning of 1 Tim 2:12 is, in fact, not clear. We can only guess at the original context, reason, intent, and parameters for this prohibition. And the original Greek of 1 Tim 2:12 poses linguistic challenges which hinder our understanding of the author’s meaning, force and scope. The ambiguous context and language of 1 Tim 2:12 (and the verses that follow it) raise several important questions about how we should interpret and apply this verse.  This article looks at some of these questions.

Is the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 aimed at wives, or at a particular woman?

The Greek word for man (anēr) and woman (gunē) is singular in this verse. In the New Testament, anēr and gunē are frequently translated into English as “husband” and “wife”. So it is entirely plausible that the prohibition is referring to an undesirable dynamic in marriage rather than in ministry.

The use of the singular in verse 12 is significant as previous instructions in 1 Timothy chapter 2 are given directly to men and women in the plural (1 Tim 2:8, 9).  Why this shift from plural to singular?

It is even possible that the prohibition is aimed at a particular woman known to the Ephesian church.[1] Perhaps the “man” is also a particular man known to the Ephesian church?  Some speculate that the man is Timothy.

Can an educated woman teach?

The woman (singular) in the Ephesian church is commanded to learn in verse 11. Was the prohibition in verse 12 aimed at an ignorant, uneducated woman (or women)? Could a woman who had successfully learned then be permitted to teach?

The Bible shows that godly women taught men important lessons: The words of Lemuel’s mother to her son (who was a grown man and a king) still teach men and have the authority of Scripture. And Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, taught the doctrine of Christian baptism more accurately to Apollos, who was himself a well-educated minister. Perhaps Anna can be added to this list of women who taught men. Huldah, Deborah, and other Bible women gave advice to men. Men even sought out the advice of these wise women.

Did the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 apply to Priscilla?

Priscilla and her husband Aquila led a house church in Ephesus sometime before, or even when, First Timothy was written (Rom 16:3-5 cf 2 Tim 4:19). Did the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 apply to Priscilla? Or to a woman like Priscilla? It is highly unlikely, considering Paul’s high opinion of Priscilla as a ministry colleague, his warm affection for her, and the fact that she corrected the teacher Apollos without any hint of censure. Furthermore, I suggest that it is unlikely that this prohibition applied to any capable woman minister.

Is a certain type of teaching being prohibited?

Some scholars suggest that the word didaskein “to teach” is tied to the word authentein in 1 Tim 2:12 in a hendiadys.[2] If so, it means that the prohibition was not against a woman who was teaching sound doctrine in an agreeable manner, but against a woman (or women) who was either teaching false doctrine or teaching in an unauthorized, domineering, or otherwise unacceptable manner, etc.

It is impossible to know exactly what authentein means in 1 Tim 2:12. The word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament in any form. The word does appear, however, in the Septuagint, to describe parents who murder their children (Wisdom 12:6). Authentēs (the noun form) is most definitely not the usual word for “authority” used elsewhere in the New Testament. In some contexts it has sexual as well as violent overtones.

Chrysostom used the word authentia to denote “sexual license” in his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:6. Clement of Alexandria also used the word authentia to describe Christians who were engaging in lewd sexual activity. While it may be difficult for us to imagine, sexual licentiousness was not an uncommon problem for the Early Church – especially in congregations where heresy was taught  – and so these problems needed to be addressed by church leaders such as Paul.

Albert Wolters (a Complementarian) has noted that the word authentēs played a prominent role in Gnosticism in the first and second centuries AD.[3] Authentēs is typically translated into English as “supreme power” in works by Early Church Fathers who addressed Christian Gnosticism. There is a clear link between the word authentēs and Gnosticism. [More on this in 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (4) here.]

The heresy of Christian Gnosticism was a huge threat to the Early Church; but I cannot see how allowing, and even encouraging, a godly and gifted Christian woman to teach sound doctrine where grown men are present could be considered a threat to the Church today.

John Dickson believes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is prohibiting another type of teaching. John believes that didaskein referred to the initial laying down of foundational, apostolic teaching which would become doctrine, tradition, and, finally, Scripture. Once this apostolic doctrine had been preserved in Scripture by men, John argues that women may teach it to both men and women. More on John Dickson’s view here.

Is the prohibition applicable only in certain types of church services?

Most people assume that the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 is about a woman teaching men (plural) in a worship service. This may not be the case. Not every activity mentioned in 1 Timothy chapters 2 and 3 occurred during a church meeting: the activities of women doing good works and bearing children, and overseers managing their households do not usually take place during congregational meetings. Perhaps the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 is not in the context of a church meeting at all, but in the context of a private meeting or relationship between a woman and a man.

For those who believe that the prohibition was made with a church meeting in mind, it is important to remember that church meetings in the early decades of the Church looked very different to most of our church services today. In the early days, many people contributed, even spontaneously, when the church met for worship, communion and prayer, etc (1 Cor 14:26). Women prayed and prophesied aloud.[4] And some churches met in homes led by wealthy women (e.g. Lydia, Nympha, and probably Chloe, etc).[5] It would have been strange indeed, and against the cultural expectation, for a wealthy woman who was the householder not to have a say in what was happening in the church gathered in her own home, especially as most of the members of the church would have been part of her extended household and include her relatives and slaves.[6] [More about The First Century  Church and the Ministry of Women here.]

Some churches today allow women to teach in some services when men are present, but not in other services that are more formal. For example, many churches reserve the ministry of giving the Sunday morning sermon as a ministry for men only. This “ranking” of church meetings and ministries, which excludes women from “higher-ranked” ministries, has no biblical basis whatsoever. [More on this in my article Wayne Grudem on What Should Women do in the Church here.]

Was the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 temporary?

Some people believe that, because of the wording in the Greek of 1 Tim 2:12, the prohibition was temporary. The prohibition in verse 12 is given in a less direct and less forceful manner than other instructions in 1 Timothy chapter 2. There is no use of any of the Greek command tenses; instead there is the present active indicative epitrepō, with the negative ouk, which may be translated as“I am not allowing . . .”

Andrew Perriman (1993) notes that the use of epitrepō in the New Testament, in every case, is “. . . related to a specific and limited set of circumstances . . .” Perriman goes on to say that, because of this choice of words, the instruction in verse 12 is more about [local] church governance and practice than theological authority.  [More about epitrepō here.]

It could be that there was a local problem in the Ephesian church which warranted a short term, ad hoc prohibition. Or, was the prohibition really meant to be universal and timeless and effectively ban every woman from teaching any man for all time?  If so, why?

Are women prohibited from teaching men because they more easily deceived? 

I have addressed this question in other articles on my website. I’d like to make three brief comments here, however, in reply to this persistent and irritating question.

The Bible nowhere states that women are more easily deceived or more deceptive than men.  [More on this hereWomen, Eve and Deception]

Churches which genuinely consider women to be gullible and deceptive should not let women teach vulnerable and impressionable children, or other supposedly gullible and deceptive women.  Or, better still, they should reconsider their opinion of women.  [More on this hereWomen, Teaching and Deception]

Jesus died for all sin for all time, including Eve’s sin. Women, and indeed men (who are the sons of Eve), should not be held responsible or considered culpable for Eve’s particular sin.

Are women prohibited from teaching men because of the “Created Order”?

Some Christians believe that the reason women can’t be leaders and teachers of men is because the man was created first and then the woman. These Christians believe that implicit in the creation order is a leadership order. Yet neither leadership nor submission is acknowledged or even hinted at in any way in any of the biblical creation accounts[7]; and I do not believe this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Timothy 2:13. I suggest that Paul mentioned the created order in 1 Timothy 2:13 to correct a Gnostic false teaching in the Ephesian church which was that Eve was created first. [See endnote 3.]

To say that Paul is using the creation order, of male first and female second, to assert a chain of command, is entirely missing the point of creation narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 which shows the complete equality, affinity and unity between the first man and woman. [I have written about The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order here.] Moreover, this concept entirely ignores Jesus’ teaching that the last are first.  [I have written about Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel here.]

Are women prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 from being elders?

Some argue that because teaching and exercising authority in the church is the function of elders, what is really being implied in 1 Tim 2:12 is that women cannot be elders. However, as I have previously argued, the word authentēs does not mean legitimate or wholesome authority. Authentēs had a sinister or negative meaning in Classical and early Koinē Greek. Authentēs is undesirable in any person, especially in an elder. People who believe that 1 Tim 2:12 is essentially a ban on women elders are reading much more into the verse than is warranted. Furthermore, the qualifications for overseers and elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are free from a gender bias.  [More on Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders here.]

Are women prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 from being the senior pastor/leader?

Some churches allow women to have speaking, teaching and leadership ministries in the church as long as there is a male leader “over” them. They believe that as long as there is a man in charge, a woman is not usurping authority. However, there is absolutely no scriptural reason to assume that a female minister needs a male “covering”.  Thankfully the specious doctrine of “covering” is falling out of favour in many churches.

The Bible contains many accounts where God bypassed male relatives and spoke directly to women. If God recognised that men were the spiritual authorities and “coverings” of their wives and daughters, it seems that God would have spoken to the men instead of the women in these instances. 1 Tim 2:12 cannot be construed to mean that women may teach and lead as long as a man, and not a woman, is the senior leader. Moreover it cannot mean that women cannot be senior leaders.

Are women prohibited from teaching because they must remain silent in churches?

The Greek word hesuchia, used in 1 Tim 2:12, means “calmness” or “quietness, with the implication of “keeping one’s seat.” This same word is also used in the previous verses, 1 Timothy 2:2 and 2:11. Paul wanted the woman (or women) to learn quietly and behave with decorum.  Learning quietly and submissively was (and is) the usual behavior of a good student. A calm, cooperative attitude rather than strict silence is what is meant here.  1 Tim 2:12 does not state that a woman is to remain completely silent in church meetings. [More about the Greco-Roman virtue of quietness in this book review here.]

Conclusion

The questions above are genuine. I can only guess at the answers for the first few questions. The answer to the last questions is “no”. Generally speaking, an educated woman is not more easily deceived than an educated man. And women were not silent in first-century churches; there is evidence that women participated in every Christian service and ministry. Finally, nowhere in the Bible, apart from 1 Tim 2:12, is any restriction put on a woman teaching a man.

Considering we really don’t know what authentein means in 1 Tim 2:12, and considering we really don’t know what the original parameters of ban were, and considering we see such diversity in the way this verse is applied in church life, why is this single verse so prominent and pervasive in rules and discussions designed to restrict the ministry opportunities of women?

Not only does implementing the ban in 1 Tim 2:12 in a universal way restrict women from leadership ministries, it has a flow-on effect of limiting, suppressing and diminishing women in other ways. Because, if the prohibition really was meant to be universal and permanent, it makes a strong statement about what God thinks of women and men: that the words of every woman have little or no importance or vital relevance to any man. Is that what God thinks? Do hierarchical complementarians really believe this? Do they really believe that women have nothing worthwhile to teach men, and, conversely, do they really believe that only men have worthwhile things to teach the whole congregation? Is this what God has ordained?

1 Tim 2:12, even if taken literally in an English translation, does not represent a biblical consensus on the issue of women teaching and leading men.  Let’s not forget Priscilla, Huldah, and Anna who advised and taught men. And let’s not forget Deborah, King Lemuel’s mother, and the other women whose words were considered important, relevant and worthwhile enough to be recorded in the Canon of Scripture where they still teach and instruct both men and women about God.


Endnotes

[1]  Wade Burleson believes that 1 Tim 2:12 is about one particular woman. He has an interesting article entitled, “The” Woman in Error in 1 Timothy 2:12 Shouldn’t Teach here.

[2] A hendiadys is when two words, joined by a conjunction, make a single point. “Don’t eat and run” is an example of a hendiadys. The prohibition is not about eating, but about eating and then leaving quickly. In fact eating is wanted and not prohibited.
In 1 Tim 2:12 didaskein (“to teach”) is joined with authentein by the conjunction oude. Some scholars believe that teaching is not being prohibited in 1 Tim 2:12, but rather teaching in a harmful way is being banned. Perhaps this phrase may be interpreted as: “I am not allowing a woman to teach in ways that domineer a man.” Or, “I am not allowing a woman in ways that influence a man with Gnostic beliefs and practice.” Complementarian Andreas Köstenberger (2000) concedes that a possible translation of this phrase might be: “I do not permit a woman to teach [error] or to domineer over a man.” (Köstenberger’s use of square brackets.) While Köstenberger rejects this translation himself, it actually fits the context of 1 Timothy with its concern of false doctrine, very well.

[3] In Part 3 of my article entitled 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context I point to several indications within First Timothy that the heresy in the Ephesian church was an early form of Gnosticism.  It is possible that the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 was designed to curb the spread of Christian Gnosticism.

[4] The ministries of praying and prophesying may be a summary for everything that happens in a worship service–praying is people speaking to God and prophesying is God speaking to people. Paul considered the ministry of prophesying as important and influential. He lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:28-30 and Eph 4:11.

[5] It seems that Lydia was the host and leader of the first congregation in Philippi. Chrysostom believed that Euodia and Syntyche, two women, were later leaders of the Philippian Church (Homily 13 on Philippians). Nympha seems to have been the host and leader of a house church in Laodicea (Col 4:15).

[6] Other members of a house church might include clients, work colleagues and others closely associated with the head of the household.

[7] None of the creation accounts of the first man and woman–Genesis 1:26-28; 2:4-25 and 5:1-2–state that the first man was the leader and the first woman was a submissive follower. There is no indication of any hierarchy between man and woman before the Fall. Articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3 here.


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Posted October 30th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

33 comments on “Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12

  1. Kristen says:

    This is an excellent analysis and overview of the issues. I have recommended it for the October Biblical Studies Carnival.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    I got the idea of “praying and prophesying” being a summary of everything that happens in a worship service from a book by Bruce Fleming which I highly recommend. It has a strange title “Familiar “Leadership” Heresies Uncovered” but a lot of good info.

  3. Marg says:

    Thanks Kristen. I’m wondering if there are other questions about how 1 Tim 2:12 could be applied.

    Haven’t heard of that book or author, Don. Could you give me a quick summary of his main points or angles?

  4. Marg,

    Terrific writing. Well stated. Too bad you and Peter are not in the United States. We are looking for a Pastor to Women at our church, a person who serves as a shepherd to the entire church, but focuses on ministry to women (similar to a Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, etc….). You would be an excellent hire! 🙂

  5. Marg says:

    Thanks Wade. Your comment has made my day–I feel very encouraged. 😀

  6. Hi Marg,

    Nice analysis, as usual!

    Perhaps you might have an interest in this. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Richard Clark Kroeger provide an exhaustive analysis of authentein in their book “I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Suffer-Not-Woman-Rethinking-Evidence/dp/0801052505

    I found it invaluable in my quest for information, and it was the only analysis I’d found that made sense. I think you would like it. Their translation and interpretation fit perfectly into the context of the letters to Timothy.

  7. Marg says:

    Thanks Heidi. I read it, or some of it, a while ago.

    I have a pile of books I’m hoping to read on my summer break. I’ll see if I can get this book from the library.

    God’s Word to Women have a paper by Catherine Kroeger on their site where she discusses authentein. I also discuss it here.

  8. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  9. […] In a related post, on equality and gender issues, Marg asks important “Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12.” […]

  10. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  11. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  12. […] The meaning of 1 Tim 2:12 is, in fact, not clear. We can only guess at the original context, reason, intent and parameters for this prohibition. And the original Greek of 1 Tim 2:12 poses linguistic challenges which hinder our understanding of the author’s meaning, force and scope. The ambiguous context and language of 1 Tim 2:12 (and the verses that follow it) raise several important questions about how we should apply this verse. This article looks at some of these questions.  (much more) […]

  13. […] I still don’t know for sure how to interpret it.  Judging by the variety of ways this verse is implemented in churches, I’m not alone in being unsure of what Paul meant in this verse and how he wanted it implemented. […]

  14. […] Piper says women shouldn’t teach men, a belief based on 1 Timothy 2: 11-15, the ONLY portion in the entire Bible that says anything of the sort, a series of verses that scholars admit is very difficult to interpret. If women should never lead men, then the Bible should be consistent and clear on this point, […]

  15. monica says:

    very helpful . . . learned a lot

  16. Joni says:

    My understanding of 1 Timothy Chapter 2, given the culture at the church in Ephesus, is that Paul did not allow a misinformed person to teach anything and he wanted everyone to worship in an orderly way. Paul did not allow the Ephesian women to teach false doctrine to their husbands or dominate them in the worship services. Paul wanted everyone to learn correct doctrine quietly. The Ephesian women at issue were teaching the wrong thing — that a goddess kept them safe in childbirth and that a woman was created first. Paul corrects those errors in verses 13-15. Paul’s concern was to put an end to false doctrine and a lack of mutual respect and submission to each other. Paul wanted the men to “pray in every place, lifting up kind hands, apart from anger and reasoning; in like manner also the women …” 1 Tim. 2:8-9. Thus, Paul is not forbidding women from participating, he just wants them to be quiet and learn the correct doctrine before they try to teach others. He was likely teaching the women to not “nag” or “browbeat” their own husbands about spiritual matters because it would turn them away from rather than towards God. Paul was giving advice to Timothy, who was young and was likely having to deal with older Ephesian women who did not respect him because of his age.

  17. Marg says:

    Hi Joni, My thoughts on the situation behind 1 Tim 2:12 are similar to yours. 🙂

    I strongly doubt that Paul was disallowing well-behaved women from teaching sound doctrine.

    I also believe that 1 Tim 2:13-15 present a corrected version of what was being taught in Ephesus by false, or ignorant, teachers.

  18. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  19. […] Bias in the NLT  Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers Working Women in the NT: Priscilla, Lydia and […]

  20. […] I suggest that the intent of 1 Timothy 2:13-14 has been misunderstood and misapplied.  […]

  21. Russ Davis says:

    I always find it pitifully, pathetically ironic that it is only in our day of rank worldly, Biblical illiteracy, sem profs & “scholars” being among the worst affected, whose pitiful exegetical and linguistic errors I, a janitor with a mere BA in Music, must correct, that we all of a sudden so conveniently can’t figure out what 1 Timothy 2 means in order to satisfy our sinful James 4 lusts by feminazis, like the woman’s sinful Gen 3:16 lust to lord it over her divinely ordained head God warned her & us about as He did Cain in the 4:7 parallel about how he was to resist sin’s attempt to dominate him (as his father Adam was to resist Eve’s to dominate him in 3:16). The great scholars of the past knew that men & women were to mind there places God has ordained for them, not to mention man’s lustful desires to reject His providential care to their own destruction. Soli Deo gloria!

  22. Marg says:

    Hi Russ,

    Nowhere in this article or on this website do I state that women can or should “lord it over” anyone, especially their husbands. I think you have misread something in the article. Moreover “lording it over” people is the antithesis of what Jesus taught. More on this here: http://newlife.id.au/christian-living/jesus-teaching-on-leadership-and-community-in-matthews-gospel/

    I do not see in the pages of Holy Scripture, however, that men and women have been given divinely ordained “places”?

    What was Deborah’s place and Miriam’s place? Leading Israel (Judges 4:1ff; Micah 6:4).

    What was Rahab’s place? Having faith in the true God and betraying her own people to help the Israelites and rescue her family (Joshua 2:1ff; 6:22-25).

    What was Sheerah’s place? Building towns (1 Chron. 7:24).

    What was Huldah’s place? Giving prophetic counsel to the king’s delegation, which resulted in revival (2 Chron. 34:19-33; 2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:1-25).

    What was Esther’s place? Being a queen, and therefore having considerable power and influence; and using that power to rescue the Israelites.

    What was Anna’s place? Her place was the Temple in Jerusalem where she worshipped, fasted, and prayed, and spoke to all – men and women- about the Messiah (Luke 2:36-38).

    What was Mary Magdalene’s place? Following Jesus and financing his ministry (Luke 8:2-3; Matt 27:55-56, etc.)

    What was Mary of Bethany’s place? At the feet of Jesus, which Jesus called “necessary” and “good” in comparison with worrying about domestic chores (Luke 10:42).

    What was Phoebe’s place? Being patron of the church at Cenchrea and taking Paul’s letter to Rome. (Romans 16:1-2).

    There are many more godly, Bible women I could have included in this list. The Bible is full of stories of men and women who do not fit the tidy but limited stereo-types of so-called gender roles that we have inherited from the Greeks and Romans.

    “The great fathers of the church in the late Roman and early Medieval period had built up a remarkable creative synthesis between classical [Greek and Roman] philosophy and Christian theology.”
    Christopher Forbes “The Historical Jesus” in “The Content and Setting of the Gospel Tradition”, eds. Mark Harding and Alanna Nobbs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 2010, p.247.

  23. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  24. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  25. […] Questions about how to interpret 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  26. […] Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  27. […] Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

  28. […] Questions about how to Implement 1 Timothy 2:12  […]

  29. Brian says:

    Is it truly that hard for women to submit themselves to God’s word? Regardless of women in the Bible that had a role of leadership, does the mean that we neglect the command in Timothy? Instead of continually questioning the word of God, how about submitting to it and obeying? The Bible has numerous verses supporting the leadership roles of men. It seems that almost every website tries to contort the Bible to please man(women in this case) instead of pleasing God.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Brian,

      I’m wondering why you say “Regardless of women in the Bible that had a role of leadership”. Are you suggesting we disregard the scriptures concerning female leaders and only pay attention to the scriptures concerning male leadership?

      Also, your observation that it seems hard for women to submit themselves to God’s word is entirely false and judgemental. My greatest joy is submitting to God’s will and his Word, as I partner with Jesus in his mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

      So what is your interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12? How would you answer some of the questions raised in the article? And how do you think your interpretation should be implemented?

  30. […] Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12 […]

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