Part 4: 1 Timothy 2:11-12—Phrase by Phrase

So now we come to the passage that has been used by most of the church for most of its history to prohibit women from any ministry that involves teaching and leading men.

Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or domineer a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was created first and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But she will be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity and self- restraint.  1 Timothy 2:11-15  

Verse 11: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

Verse 11 is the only verse in this passage that contains a command:  “A woman should learn.” This verse is wonderful and revolutionary, considering many women at that time were not well educated and were not encouraged to learn. Note however, Paul is not saying here that women must learn. Woman is singular and not plural in verse 11. It could be that Paul is writing about a woman, that is, one particular woman who was not quiet and who was misbehaving in the Ephesian church.

Verse 11 includes the word “submission”. This is a common word in the New Testament and it is used in a variety of contexts. The concept of women being submissive has been greatly over-emphasised by many Christians, but submission is simply the opposite of rebellion. In verse 11 Paul is simply instructing a woman to learn in a quiet, respectable manner—the usual conduct of a good student—and not to be loud, offensive or rebellious. [My article on Submission here.]

Verse 12a: I am not allowing a woman to teach . . .

Note again that the word for “woman” in verse 12 is singular and not plural. This verse is not saying that women cannot teach men, unless “woman” and “man” are understood generically as applying to all the Ephesian women and men.[1] It is important to note, however, that in the verses immediately preceding verses 11-12, Paul gives instructions to men and to women (plural). Why the marked shift from plural to singular?

Another point to consider here is that Paul does not use an imperative in 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul does not use any of the Greek command tenses in this verse. Instead he uses the present active indicative epitrepō with the negative ouk: “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 . . .”[2] Perriman goes on to say that, because of Paul’s choice of words, the instruction in verse 12 is more about [local] church governance and practise than theological authority. Moreover, Perriman believes verse 12 to be parenthetical and that Paul’s real concern is not with women teaching, but that the Ephesian women (or woman) should learn in such a way that they will not be deceived by false teachers. Perriman’s suggestion that Paul’s real concern was about women learning is worth considering; however, I am not fully convinced by it. [More on the use of epitrepō in the New Testament here.]

John E. Toews (1983) notes that the use of epitrepō in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), is likewise usually related to a specific and limited situation rather than a universal one (Gen. 39:6; Est. 9:14; Job 32:14; see also Wis. of Sol. 19:2; 1 Macc. 15:6; 4 Macc. 4:18-18). (Epitrepō in 4 Maccabees 5:26, however, is an exception and is not necessarily used in a limited sense.)

It could be that Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12 was related to a specific, limited, local situation. The instruction may even have been limited to a particular woman in the Ephesian church.

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context: 1 Timothy 2:11-12 Phrase by Phrase (authentein)

Screen shot of the word AUTHENTEIN in 1 Timothy 2:12 as it appears in Codex Sinaiticus,  online here.

Verse 12b: . . . nor authentein a man . . .

Understanding the word authentein is vital to understanding 1 Timothy 2:12. It is not related to the ordinary word for authority (exousia) which is a fairly common in the New Testament. Authentein is used only once in the New Testament, but a related noun, authentēs, is found in other ancient Greek literature where it is used in reference to violent crimes including murder, suicide and even child sacrifice.[3] “The Greek orator Antiphon used this word in his legal briefs four times to refer to murder and one time to refer to suicide. Dio Cassius, Thucydides, Herodotus, Euripides, and Philo all used the word in this way.” (Braun 1981)  In the Septuagint, the word (in the plural) is used to describe murderous parents (Wisdom 12:6).

But the noun may not be helpful in understanding the verb. The noun authentēs was used in Classical Greek and later in Atticistic Greek, which was used in “posh” literature of the Hellenistic period, and it was used in literary Koine Greek, but the verb, which includes authentein, was used in non-literary Koine Greek. This is a factor we need to keep in mind when trying to interpret authentein. First Timothy was written in common Koine Greek.

Cynthia Long Westfall (2016:292), who has studied authent– words for many years, observes:

“In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō refers to a range of actions that are not restricted to murder or violence. However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden, because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”

This is a helpful explanation of meaning of the verb.

Importantly, Paul chose not to use any of the many Greek words which can mean “exercise” authority” or “govern.”[4] He chose to use authentein. What Paul meant by this word is difficult, if not impossible, for us to fully grasp. For this reason, caution must be taken when interpreting and applying 1 Timothy 2:12. Yet most churches interpret and apply 1 Timothy 2:12 as though its meaning, and Paul’s intention, are perfectly plain.

More on authentein here.

Another important consideration in interpreting and understanding 1 Timothy 2:12 is the conjunction oude which joins didaskein (“to teach”) with authentein. In New Testament Greek, words joined by the correlative conjunction oude may join to make a single point. They may even share and blend their meanings to some extent.[5] So Paul may well have been prohibiting a kind of teaching that was unacceptable in some way.

Andreas Köstenberger (2000), who staunchly believes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a universal and timeless prohibition of any woman authoritatively teaching Christian doctrine to any man, 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.

In his book Man and Woman, One in Christ, Philip Payne has argued strongly that 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a hendiadys and that didaskein (“to teach”) is connected in meaning with authentein. Andrew Perriman (1993:141 fn28), however, believes that didaskein should be taken as absolute (and therefore not connected to the word “man”) and that “oude authentein andros [is] itself something of a parenthesis: [though] authentein would still presuppose didaskein.

Verse 12c: . . . she must be silent (NIV 1984).

The Greek word hēsuchia which is translated in the NIV (1984) as “silent” really means “calmness” or “quietness”, with the implication of “keeping one’s seat.” This same word is more correctly translated as “quiet” a few verses earlier in 1 Timothy 2:2 and 2:11. Paul wants the woman (or women) to learn quietly.

As well as strengthening the meaning of hēsuchia by translating it as “silent”, the NIV 1984 adds the unwarranted qualifier of “must”, as in “she must be silent  There is no “must” in this verse, there is no command in the Greek. Why did the translators overemphasise this phrase? Is this an example of bias when translating passages about women? (The NIV 2011 retains “must” but replaces “silent” with “quiet”.)

I suggest that Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were a correlation of his censure of a badly behaved and ill-informed woman (or perhaps, women) in the Ephesian church who was teaching, or spreading, a heresy with some similarities to Christian gnosticism, perhaps even in a sexual manner much like Jezebel of Thyatira who was “teaching and seducing”  (Rev. 2:20KJV).[6]

If you have read all four parts of this article, please don’t stop now. Part five helps it all to make much more sense.


Endnotes

[1] New Testament verses which speak about a singular man and a singular woman usually refer to a husband and wife. In the Greek, the same word is used for an adult male and for a husband. Similarly the same word is used for an adult woman and for a wife. 1 Timothy 2:12 may be referring to an activity that involves one man and one woman, a couple.

[2] For example, the use of epitrepō is used in Matthew 19:8 and Mark 10:4-5 indicates that Moses’s permission for divorce was a concession with limitations. All the occurrences of epitrepō in the New Testament are listed and briefly discussed here.

[3] In his book, Insight into Two Biblical Passages, Leland Wilshire concludes that authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 means “to instigate violence.” (2010:37, 38) Considering that the authent– words did mean “murder” and “suicide”, if this kind of violence was the issue in the Ephesian church, I imagine Paul would have used much stronger language than he does in 1 Timothy 2:12 and surrounding verses. Wilshire (2010:30) does mention the possibility of “outspoken women” in the Ephesian church, but being outspoken hardly qualifies as violence, even if hyperbole is used in 1 Timothy 2:12, as Wilshire suggests.

[4] Linda Belleville (2004:211) notes, “Within the semantic domain of ‘exercise authority,’ the biblical lexicographers, J.P Louw and Eugene Nida [in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains  #37.35-47; #37.48-95] have twelve entries and forty-seven entries of ‘rule,’ ‘govern.’ [Authentein is absent from both of these domains.] Yet Paul chose none of these. Why not? The obvious reason is that authentein carried a nuance (other than ‘rule’ or ‘have authority’) that was particularly suited to the Ephesian situation.”

[5] More on 1 Timothy 2:12 and oude here The Early Christians at Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius, by Paul Trebilco (2004:513) [More info on this in the comments section below.]

[6] The teaching of heresy may have involved sexual practises. I remember coming across this suggestion years ago and reacting with disbelief. I completely dismissed this idea. But the more I read about the problems in Early Church and incipient Christian gnosticism, the more I see a possibility that a woman in the church at Ephesus was teaching, or spreading, the heresy in a sexual way. Or conversely, that a woman (or women) was withholding sex from her husband. Celibacy, even in marriage, was considered a virtue by many early Christians (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15). [More on celibacy in the early church here.]

© 8th of December 2009, revised 12th of June 2011, Margaret Mowczko


« Part Three: The Heresy in the Ephesian Church

» Part Five: 1 Timothy 2:13-15 – The Creation and Salvation of Woman


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The meaning of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 with a brief history of authent– words
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Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
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New Testament Church Culture: Sexual Licentiousness
Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet
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