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.


Endnotes

[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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