Pexels 26980

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.

1. 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.

2. 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 teacher. Anna the prophetess can be added to this list of women who taught men, as can Huldah, Deborah, and other Bible women gave advice to men. Men even sought out the advice of these wise women.

3. 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? This 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 (or, applies) to any capable woman minister.

4. Is a certain type of teaching being prohibited?

Some scholars suggest that the word didaskein “to teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 is tied to the word authentein in a hendiadys.[2] If so, it means 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 was teaching in a domineering or controlling manner.

It is difficult 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. A related noun does appear, however, in the Septuagint to describe parents who murder their children (Wisdom 12:6). This noun, authentēs, is most definitely not the usual word for “authority” used elsewhere in the New Testament. Rather, it frequently means “murderer” in Classical Greek as well as in literary Koine Greek of the first and second centuries BC and AD. The verb authenteō, however, is not a “literary” word. It occurs mostly in non-literary papyri with the sense of “domineer” and “control”. (1 Timothy was written as an occasional, non-literary, papyrus letter.)

Cynthia Long Westfall writes,

“In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō [which includes the infinitive authentein] refers to a range of actions . . . . 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.”[4]

Australian scholar 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.

5. 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. I suggest the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 is not in the context of a church meeting 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.[5] And some churches met in homes led by wealthy women (e.g. Lydia, Nympha, and probably Chloe, etc).[6] 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.[7] [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.]

6. Was the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 temporary?

Some people believe the wording in the Greek of 1 Tim 2:12 indicates the prohibition was temporary or limited in scope. 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 notes that the use of epitrepō in the New Testament, in every case, is “. . . related to a specific and limited set of circumstances . . .”[8] 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?

7. 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.

8. Are women prohibited from teaching men because of the “created order”?

Some Christians believe 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[9]; 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 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 the 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.]

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

Some argue that because teaching and exercising authority in the church are functions of elders, what is implied in 1 Tim 2:12 is that women cannot be elders.

Perriman poses the questions:

If Paul was thinking simply of women being in positions of authority (as presbyters, for example), would it not have been more logical to have placed that prohibition first, rather than the emphatic injunction against teaching? Does not the order of the sentence suggest that authentein is logically subordinate to, or consequent upon, didaskein [‘to teach’]?[10]

Moreover, authent- words do not refer to a legitimate or wholesome authority. The verb authenteō typically meant “domineer”, something unacceptable for men and for women. 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 fairly free from a gender bias in the Greek.  [More on Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders here.] Also, women elders are mentioned in 1 Timothy, and Priscilla appears to have functioned as an elder when she corrected the visiting minister Apollos. [More on women elders and Priscilla here.]

10. 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 “covering” of male authority. Thankfully the specious doctrine of “covering” has fallen 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, he 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.

11. 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 1 Timothy 2:11. (The related adjective is used in 1 Timothy 2:2.) Paul wanted the woman (or women) to learn quietly and behave with decorum. Learning quietly and submissively was (and is) the usual behaviour 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 to 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 don’t precisely know what authentein means in 1 Tim 2:12, and considering we don’t know what the original parameters of Paul’s ban were, and considering we see such diversity in the way this verse is applied in church life today, 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, Abigail, 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. I am inclined to believe 1 Tim 2:11-15 is about a particular couple.

[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. 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 a syncretistic heresy, perhaps an emerging form of gnosticism. It is likely that the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12 was designed to curb the spread of an early Christian heresy.

[4] Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.

[5] 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 people speaking for God. 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.

[6] 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).

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

[8] Andrew C. Perriman, “What Eve Did, What Women Shouldn’t Do: The Meaning of Aὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 (1993): 129-142.

[9] None of the creation accounts of humanity—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.

[10] Perriman, “What Eve Did,” 135.


Related Articles

The meaning of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 with a brief history of authent– words
6 reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems 
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
The Prominence of Women in the Cultic Life of Ephesus
Women, Teaching and Deception
Women, Eve and Deception
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
The Complementarian Concept of the “Created Order”
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi