The following are my notes from a talk I gave on the 28th of June 2014 and 21st of March 2015 at public meetings hosted by the Sydney chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. The talks took 45 minutes to deliver, and that was speaking at a quick pace. It will probably take longer to read at a leisurely pace.  (I plan to provide a pdf of this talk once I am satisfied that I’ve discovered and fixed all the typos.)

The audio recorded on the 21st of March is available here.

The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12

Introduction

This morning I’m speaking about 1 Timothy 2:12. I’m going to address the first part of my topic, which is the consensus or agreement of 1 Timothy 2:12 with other Scripture, and then I’ll spend most of my time looking at this verse within the context of the entire letter of 1 Timothy, and in the context of the Ephesian church in the 1st century, because the letter of 1 Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy while Timothy was ministering in Ephesus as Paul’s envoy.

Some of you will immediately notice that I am taking the traditional view that the apostle Paul was the author of 1 Timothy. Whatever your view on its authorship, 1 Timothy is part of the canon of Scripture and needs to be taken seriously. I want to state up front that I hold to an evangelical hermeneutic and approach to Scripture which includes the belief that the canon of Scripture is the uniquely inspired and authoritative word of God. I also have a firm belief that it is important to have an understanding of the literary, social, and cultural contexts of biblical texts if we want to comprehend what the biblical authors were saying to their original audience. With that understanding we can then determine how the passage applies to us today.

After I’ve looked at the broader context of 1 Timothy and the context of Ephesian society, I will then go through 1 Timothy 2:12 pretty much word by word.

There’s a lot I want to get through this morning, so let’s dive straight in.

 

A. The Consensus of 1 Timothy 2:12 with the Rest of Scripture

1 Timothy 2:12 as a Proof Text 

I’m sure you agree with me that no verse is brought up more often in discussions on Women in Ministry than 1 Timothy 2:12. Many Christians seem stuck on this one verse and it influences how they view all other verses in the Bible that mention, or allude to, women in ministry situations. 1 Timothy 2:12 has effectively become for many the proof text on this subject. That is unfortunate as there are many verses in the Bible which mention women in ministry, and these other verses are sometimes downplayed, explained away, or just plain ignored in the light of 1 Timothy 2:12.

Let’s have a look at this verse. In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul writes to Timothy saying, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”.

Does this verse represent what the whole counsel of Scripture tells us about women teaching and exercising authority in ministry, including, or especially, ministry to men? Do we know of godly Bible women whom God used to teach and lead men? Yes, yes we do.

Bible Women who Led and Taught Men 

The standout example is Deborah. Everyone knows Deborah. She was a prophetess and judge who led Israel, and very clearly led Barak, the general of the army. In fact Barak seems quite dependent on her (Judges 4:1-5:31).

Huldah is another prophetess who exercised authority in her ministry. This is what John Dickson says about her in his book “Hearing her Voice”: Huldah is “a particularly curious example of spiritual leadership. Not only did she deliver an authoritative message to King Josiah concerning all Judah, but she also validated the authority of the newly rediscovered ‘Book of the Law of the LORD’. One contemporary scholar has remarked that Huldah’s endorsement of the document ‘stands as the first recognizable act in the long process of canon formation.’”[1] (See 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28.)

One woman who is often overlooked in examples of women who taught is King Lemuel’s mother. This woman taught her son, a grown man and a king, with an inspired message that is contained in the sayings of Proverbs 31. (She is another woman with a prophetic ministry.) Because her words are recorded and included in the Canon of Holy Scripture, the teaching of King Lemuel’s mother has the authority of Scripture. (Many Christians believe that Scripture has the highest level of spiritual authority.) By being a part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings. As do other words of women that are recorded in Scripture.[2]

We hear about Anna the Prophetess in Luke 2:37-38 where it says that she never left the Temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer, night and day.” It also says that Anna also spoke about God “to all those who were looking for the redemption (or deliverance) of Jerusalem.” Surely this “all” included men as well as women. Did the men have a problem with the fact that a woman was speaking to them about theological things to do with the redemption of Jerusalem? Apparently not.

Priscilla is another woman who taught a man theology. Priscilla, and her husband Aquila, explained “the way of God” (i.e. theology) more accurately to a Christian minister named Apollos. Apollos was an educated, well-spoken, up and coming apostle (1 Cor 1:12; 3:4-6, 21-22; 4:6, 9), but he did not know about Christian baptism. Priscilla and Aquila, seeing this lack, explained to him the doctrine of Christian baptism. Neither Aquila, Apollos, nor Luke (who records this event in Acts) seem to be at all concerned that Priscilla apparently took the lead in this conversation and, with Aquila, explained “the way of God more accurately” to a man. (See Acts 18:24-26.) It is interesting to note that this event happened in Ephesus, the same place where Paul sent his letters to Timothy. In fact, Priscilla and Aquila led a house church in Ephesus (and later in Rome.) Priscilla would have had many opportunities to minister and teach in this house church setting where, presumably, men and women gathered (1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

Some people argue that Priscilla did not teach but explained, and at the moment there is a big discussion among some Sydney Anglicans about what “teaching” meant in the Apostolic church. This discussion centres on the Greek verb didaskō which is usually translated as “teach”.  The Greek verb for “explain” in Acts 18:26 (used in connection with Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry) is not didaskō but ektithēmi.  This word is used three times in Acts to mean “explain” or “exhort”.  As you can see by the two other occurrences of this word, in Acts 11:4 and in Acts 28:23-24, ektithēmi is used in the context of some weighty theological instruction by some authoritative teachers.

 

The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12

 

There are still other women that I would love to mention such as Philip’s prophesying daughters who are barely mentioned in Scripture but are mentioned in significant ways by other early church writers such as Eusebius who associates the prophetesses with apostolic gifts, teaching, and foundational ministry.

The overall consensus of what the Bible says about women speaking to men, instructing men, and leading men does not support the idea that wise, godly and prophetic women are prohibited from teaching men. The consensus does not support the prohibition of women in ministry. So where does that leave 1 Timothy 2:12? For one thing, it takes some of the heat off this one verse. Or, it should take some of the heat off, when we realise and acknowledge that there were women who taught and exercised authority in ministry to men, that their ministry was valued and appreciated, and that men even sought out the ministry of certain women (e.g. Huldah). If we are honest we need to acknowledge this and not use 1 Timothy 2:12 as leverage to somehow diminish what the Bible actually says about these women ministers.

The Agreement of 1 Timothy 2:12 with 1 Corinthians 14:34 

There is one verse which has some similarities with 1 Timothy 2:12, and that verse is 1 Corinthians 14:34. Yet this verse is not mentioned much anymore in debates about women in ministry. Why is that? Why is this verse rarely mentioned, but 1 Timothy 2:12 continues to be a sticking point for many?

There are many approaches to interpreting 1 Corinthians 14:34, but most Christians, complementarians and egalitarians alike, have come to understand that, in this verse, Paul was not prohibiting godly, well-behaved women from speaking, prophesying, or praying aloud in the Corinthian church. For instance, Wayne Grudem, who holds to a hierarchical complementarian ideology, believes that this verse is about women being prohibited from evaluating prophecy.[3] Craig Keener, who holds to an egalitarian ideology, believes that this verse is about uneducated women being prohibited from asking too many nuisance questions in church meetings.[4] Many Christians acknowledge that the real meaning and intention of 1 Corinthians 14:34 is not as plain as it appears in English translations, yet many of these same Christians maintain that the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12  is as plain as it appears in most English translations.

 

B. The Context of First Timothy 

The Profane Teaching in the Ephesian Church 

So let’s now have a look at Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Paul had a reason for writing to Timothy, and we find his reason most clearly expressed right at the beginning and at the end of the letter.  In chapter 1, verses 3-8, Paul writes to Timothy:

“. . . stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations . . . Some . . . have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, [probably the Old Testament Law or Torah] but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

Paul is writing to Timothy because there are people in the Ephesian church who had strange, false teachings. In 1 Timothy 4:3 we read that some were forbidding marriage and demanding abstinence from certain foods. In 1 Timothy 4:7 we get a further inkling of what the false teaching involved when Paul writes, “Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales.” Some English translations are slightly different, but I’d like to highlight the words “profane” and “myths” that are used here. There was something profane (heathenish and pagan) about this heresy,[5] and it had to do with myths or mythology.

Evidence in 1 Timothy of Concerns over Gnostic-Like Beliefs 

It is in his closing that Paul nails the heresy that was being taught in Ephesus. With one final exhortation, Paul identifies it:

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding profane chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (Underline added.)

The Greek word for knowledge is gnōsis and it’s from this word that we get the word Gnosticism. The heresy in the Ephesian church was an emerging form of Gnosticism, or Proto-Gnosticism.[6] Gnosticism rapidly grew at the same time, and in many of the same places, where the Gospel was growing. It would develop into highly complicated mythological systems during the second and third centuries, and it posed a huge threat to the church at that time. However Gnostic-like beliefs are evident in the New Testament. Several later New Testament letters address problems caused by proto-Gnostic heresies (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter and John’s letters).[7]

Several early church writers saw in 1 Timothy the beginnings of Gnostic beliefs. Irenaeus wrote a five-volumed work in around 180 AD in which he identified and refuted several strains of Gnosticism. This work is commonly called “Against Heresies”; however its true title is, “On the Detection and Overthrow of the Falsely-called Knowledge”. (Underline added.) Irenaeus exactly copied Paul’s expression from 1 Timothy 6:20 for the title.[8] Not only that, Irenaeus begins his works by remarking on “endless genealogies”, a phrase he copied from 1 Timothy 1:4. Irenaeus recognised certain traits of Gnosticism in 1 Timothy, and so did Tertullian. Tertullian (who died in 220) described and denounced the heresy of Gnosticism using Paul’s own expression of “myths and endless genealogies”, and he added, “which the inspired apostle [Paul] by anticipation condemned, whilst the seeds of heresy were even then shooting forth.”[9] Tertullian recognised the seeds of Gnosticism in 1 Timothy. Eusebius (263-339 AD), the Early Church historian, also used Paul’s phrase of “falsely-called knowledge” when describing the Gnostic heresy that threatened the church in the second century.[10]  Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Eusebius used Paul’s own words to refer to the Gnosticism that they knew in the second and third centuries, and that they saw early signs of in 1 Timothy.

The “endless genealogies” that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:4 could well refer to the complex series of emanations, or aeons, in Gnosticism.[11]  These aeons were seen as a series of links between the distant creator god of Gnosticism and humanity. Rather than numerous aeons, Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5 that, “There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity—the human being Jesus Christ.” This verse, 1 Timothy 2:5, is another piece of evidence that Paul was concerned about Gnostic-like, or proto-Gnostic, beliefs in Ephesus.[12]

So what was this proto-Gnosticism in the Ephesian Church all about?

Gnosticism and Adam and Eve

Gnosticism is about possessing secret and mysterious knowledge that leads to salvation. Christian Gnostics borrowed elements from all over the place, including Greek philosophy and pagan faiths, and they syncretised these elements, or meshed them together, with Christian beliefs. It is possible that, in Ephesus, the heresy incorporated pagan beliefs from the pervasive cult of the Ephesian goddess Artemis (we’ll come to Artemis in a minute). Moreover, the Christian Gnostics incorporated aspects of Judaism and the Jewish Law into their beliefs. I believe that Paul alludes to this in 1 Timothy 1:6-11 where he writes that some “have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm . . .”

Many Gnostics were fascinated by the Genesis accounts of the Creation and the Fall, and Adam and Eve, because of the myth-like elements of a talking snake and trees with special properties, etc. Several Gnostic texts found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 show that the biblical Creation accounts were interpreted very freely and allegorically, to say the least. “Gnostics often depicted Eve—or the feminine spiritual power she represented—as the source of spiritual awakening.”[13] Eve was frequently seen as “spirit” and Adam as “soul”, and Eve, as “spirit”, brought life to Adam when united with his “soul”.

In several Gnostic texts Eve precedes Adam.[14] Moreover, Eve was a heroine to the Gnostics as she desired knowledge (gnōsis) (Gen. 3:6). Adam, on the other hand, appears hapless and, in one account, is deliberately deceived. The Gnostics completely corrupted the biblical story in Genesis 2 and 3.

Where does Artemis fit in with this?

The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12

Illustration of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Artemis of Ephesus 

The Ephesians were well known across the Greek world for their enthusiastic devotion to the goddess Artemis, and for their magnificent temple dedicated to her. In one of its forms, the Artemis temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple attracted many thousands of visitors each year, bringing prosperity to the city.

The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12The Ephesians regarded their goddess with deep devotion and warm affection, and she influenced every aspect of Ephesian life in ways that are difficult for us to imagine. In the Greco-Roman world, religious beliefs and practices were tightly interwoven with social customs.

Many aspects of the cult of Artemis are unclear but she was worshiped as the patron and protector of Ephesus, and regarded as a midwife and a virgin. Artemis was known by many lofty titles, including “saviour”; however she was most commonly referred to as “The Mother of All!” Does that sound familiar?

Artemis of Ephesus was a saviour goddess, but also regarded as the universal mother of all life. She was believed to have the power to bring new life into the world and to take life away. As a midwife, it was also believed that Artemis helped women and animals in labour. Ephesian women would call on Artemis during childbirth to speed up the labour and ease the pain; or, in dire circumstances, they would call on her to bring about a quick death to end their suffering.
Image: First century statue of Artemis, displayed in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Artemis was also the champion and protector of virgins—both male and female—and virginity and celibacy were highly esteemed virtues among some Ephesians. As I read out earlier, some people were forbidding marriage in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 4:3a), a sign of asceticism.

Paul visited Ephesus several times. His effectiveness and success in spreading the gospel there meant that many people were turning away from the cult of Artemis and converting to Christianity. (See Acts chapter 19.) A strong church was established in Ephesus, but it was difficult for some Ephesian Christians to completely let go of some of their pagan beliefs.

Wherever the Gospel has gone, many new believers have found it difficult to quickly and completely let go of long-held beliefs and superstitions. These difficulties were due to the fact that beliefs were often interwoven with local culture and customs. In Roman Catholicism, for example, most of the “Madonnas” and “Our Ladies” started off as local pagan goddesses which were later morphed into “Marys” when Christianity came. I suggest that some Ephesian Christians were trying to fit Eve into the mix as well. In Gnostic texts Eve, like Artemis and Mary, is a celebrated virgin. And in Genesis 3:20, Eve, just like Artemis, is called “The Mother of All Living”. [More on Artemis here.]

I’ve spent a bit of time explaining the Proto-Gnostic heresy, which perhaps incorporated elements of the Artemis cult. I’ve taken this time because 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who needed to deal with this heresy and its effects. At times, when reading 1 Timothy, I even feel that Paul was concerned for Timothy’s own salvation: Paul mentions salvation several times in this letter. I believe the influence of the heresy in Ephesus was strong.

 

C. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Line by Line 

Let’s have a look at 1 Timothy 2:12 within the context of the verses immediately around it.

“Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over 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 [or kept safe] 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. (NIV)
In the previous verses in chapter 2 (which I haven’t read out) Paul was addressing the conduct of men and women, plural. But in verse 11 he changes tack and suddenly begins to talk about a woman (singular). And he says a woman must learn. Why does he abruptly say a woman must learn? Paul must have seen a need there; and hopefully that need will become apparent as I continue.

Verse 11 is the only verse in this passage (verses 11-15) that contains a clear command: “A woman should, or must, learn.”  In Verse 11 we also have the word “submission”. This is a common word in the New Testament and it is used in a variety of contexts. Here Paul is commanding that a woman should learn in a quiet, respectable, and submissive manner – the usual conduct of a good student.

Verse 12

Note that in verse 12 the word for “woman” here, again, is singular and not plural. This verse, in its most literal sense, is not saying that women cannot teach men, unless “woman” and “man” are understood generically as applying to all the Ephesian women and men . . . and it is taken that way by many people. It is important to note, however, that (as I’ve already mentioned) in the verses immediately preceding verses 11-12, Paul gives instructions to men and to women (plural). Why the shift from plural to singular? Is Paul speaking about one particular woman in this passage? Or is he speaking about an activity where one man and one woman are involved?

 Epitrepō

Unlike in verse 11, Paul does not use an imperative verb in 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul does not use any of the usual Greek command tenses in this instruction. Instead he uses the present active indicative epitrepō with the negative ouk: “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 . . .”[15]  John Toews notes that the use of epitrepō in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), is likewise almost always related to a specific and limited situation rather than a broad or universal one.[16] The Greek word epitrepō was not the word you used to make broad or definitive statements or commands. It is usually used when making concessions or ad hoc stipulations (e.g. Matt. 19:8). [More on epitrepō here.]

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

We can be fairly certain that Paul intended Timothy to read his letter aloud in a church gathering.  (We are still reading his letter aloud.) I believe that one particular woman in the Ephesian church, hearing what was being read, would have understood that she was being addressed here. . . and that she was being addressed diplomatically.

What is not clear in English translations, is that the whole tone of 1 Timothy 2:12 is light and non-confrontational. Compare it, for instance, with what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge (or, command, paraggellō) them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches . . .” Paul uses this “command” word (noun: paraggelia and verb: paraggellō) seven times in 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3, 5; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17, 18). But there is none of this “command” force in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the Greek. The word order in the Greek of verse 12, which is different to that in most English translations, also indicates that Paul is speaking diplomatically here. Even cautiously. It does make me wonder who this woman, or possibly group of women, are.

We know that there were wealthy women in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 2:8-9); and wealth usually brings some level of influence.  Furthermore, we know from inscriptions found in Ephesus that fifteen women were chief priests of the cult of Artemis. We also know that twenty-eight women attained the influential position of prytanus during the first three centuries of the common era. A prytanus is very roughly equivalent to being the city’s mayor.  Some women were prominent in the cultic and civic life of Ephesus, but it is not clear whether this dynamic of prominent was causing problems in the Ephesian church. While there were wealthy women in the Ephesian church, I do not want to overstate their influence, as some egalitarians have done. We just don’t have enough information to make decisive statements about this. [See my article The Prominence of Women in the Cultic Life of Ephesus for more information, including citations of sources mentioned in this paragraph.]

Didaskō

I am not going to be discussing the word “to teach” (didaskein) this morning even though this one word has generated a couple of books, numerous blog posts, and vigorous discussions lately among Sydney Anglicans. I am content to believe that the meaning of “teach” is much the same today as it was in first century Ephesus, even if the methods and customs of teaching were quite different.

Oude and a Hendiadys 

So we move on to the next part of 1 Timothy 2:12 which is usually translated into English as, “nor exercise authority over a man”.

The first word I’d like to look at is the conjunction (oude) translated here as “nor” or “or”. This word joins “to teach” (didaskein) with “to exercise authority over” (authentein). Many scholars believe that these two words form a hendiadys, that is, two words or phrases that express one main idea.

A usual example given to illustrate how a hendiadys works is “Don’t eat and run.” In this example the prohibition is not about eating, in fact eating seems to be recommended. What is being prohibited is eating and then running.

So we have this conjunction which joins didaskein with authentein. We have some idea of what didaskein means (i.e. “to teach”), but what does authentein really mean? That is a whole other story.

Authentein

The following is a table of summaries from lexicon entries of the verb authenteō.

authentew Baldwin

Table 2.1 in H.S Baldwin’s chapter “An Important Word in 1 Timothy 2:12”
In Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.[17]

From the lexical information we can see that the verb authenteō means to have sovereign power over, or full power and control over, or perhaps to exercise independent power and authority.[18] I’d like to suggest that, though this kind of authority and power was common in the Greco-Roman world, it has no place in the church whether wielded by a man or a woman. The gifting and authorisation to minister, that ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit, is not a domineering authority over another person, but an authority to function in a ministry. As Christians we need to stop using words such as “over” and “under” when describing healthy relationships among fellow believers.

I do not believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 is prohibiting a healthy kind of authority that was being exercised by a woman.  That is why Paul chose not to use the usual Greek word for authority (exousia), but an unusual word authentein. A word that appears nowhere else in the New Testament, in any form.

The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12

This table is taken from Aida Besancon Spencer’s commentary on 1 Timothy.[19]
It shows other, less rare, Greek words that have a meaning of authority and are used many times in the New Testament.

Authentein (the infinitive) is mentioned only nineteen times in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (a data base of all known Ancient Greek words and their sources.) Of these nineteen, fifteen are quotes of 1 Timothy 2:12, or allusions to the verse. So we don’t have much to go on when working out what the infinitive might mean.

I cannot give you a clear, precise definition of authentein, and I suggest that, at this point in time, no one can. Since we do not have a precise meaning of one of the main words, it is extremely unwise to use 1 Timothy 2:12 as a proof text on the issue of women in ministry.

So how will we interpret 1 Timothy 2:12?

Keeping in mind the hendiadys, perhaps this phrase may be interpreted as: “I am not allowing a woman to teach in a way that domineers a man.” Or: “I am not allowing a woman to teach a man with Gnostic beliefs and practice.” Complementarian Andreas Köstenberger 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.[20]

More information on authentein is here: http://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/

Sexual Licentiousness

There is one more, rather unpleasant, point that I need to mention. The Proto-Gnostic teaching in the Ephesian church may have involved sexual licentiousness. I remember coming across this suggestion years ago and reacting with disbelief, and I completely dismissed this idea. But the more I read about the problems in the Early Church and elements of Christian Gnosticism, the more I am inclined to believe that a woman in the church at Ephesus may have been teaching, or spreading, heresies in a sexual manner. Clement of Alexandria, and others wrote about the problem of promiscuous women in the early church, but even in the Bible we have an example of a female Christian leader who was promiscuous: “Jezebel” was a female false prophet and teacher who was teaching (didaskei) and seducing (planâ) her followers in the church of Thyatira (Rev. 2:20ff KJV).

It is important to note that there is nothing in the passage about Jezebel which suggests that, because she was a woman, she should not have been teaching.  Jezebel was not given time to repent of the fact that she, as a woman, was teaching. Instead, the Bible says that she was given time to repent of her immorality. It was the content of her teaching and her immoral, idolatrous practices that she needed to repent of.

As I said, it may be difficult for us to imagine, but sexual promiscuity was not an uncommon problem in the early church. And sex may be the reason why “woman” and “man” are singular in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, that is, authentein in verse 12 may refer to a sexual relationship between one woman and one man.

So what is Paul’s remedy for a woman who teaches and “authenteins” a man? She is to learn . . . learn good doctrine, and she is to be a quiet, good student. Quietness is mentioned three times in 1 Timothy chapter 2: in verses 1, 11 and 12. Quietness was a virtue for men and for women in the Greco-Roman world. The Greek word for “quiet” (hesuchia) in 1 Timothy 2 does not mean silence but a respectable calmness.

Let’s move on to the next few verses.

Verses 13-14

“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.”

One of the most important words in this verse is the little word “for”, translated from the equally little Greek word gar. Gar can be used in a variety of ways and has various meanings.[21] In English the word “for” sounds as though Paul is giving the reason for his prohibition in verses 13 and 14. I suggest, however, Paul is doing something else.  

I suggest that in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 Paul is not giving a reason, or reasons, for his prohibition in verse 12 but is giving his correction of the false teaching in the Ephesian church. Instead of the Gnostic teaching that Eve came first and gave life to Adam, Paul writes, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Instead of the Gnostic teaching that Adam was deceived and Eve was a heroine, Paul writes, “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

Contrary to what many hierarchical complementarians teach, being made first has nothing to do with authority in the church. (I see nothing to indicate a gender hierarchy in any of the Pre-Fall creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1, 2 or 5.) Moreover, the idea that a person who is first has more authority than a person who is second flies in the face of what Jesus taught. In Jesus’ kingdom the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, the last are first, and the first are last. We still haven’t grasped and applied these basic kingdom principles; and we corrupt these principles when we try and make primacy and hierarchy a part of relationships in Christian communities.

Moreover, Paul addressed a faulty notion of male primacy attached to the created order, a faulty notion that was held by some in the Corinthian church. He wrote, “Nevertheless, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Paul did not believe in complementarian concept of “the created order”.

Being created, made, or born second does not disqualify anyone from ministry, but being in a deceived state does. Yet Eve didn’t stay deceived, and she was not the only transgressor. Adam ate the forbidden fruit too. They were both transgressors.

Eve’s deception is never mentioned again in the Old Testament after Genesis 3, nor is it mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels. None of the Old Testament or Gospel writers felt it necessary to bring up or remember Eve’s momentary failure. Eve’s deception is not picked up again in the Scriptures until Paul, who mentions it on two occasions. (In 2 Corinthians 11 he uses it to describe the gullibility of both men and women.) But I don’t think Paul mentioned Eve in 1 Timothy 2 in order to imply that women are more likely to be deceived and therefore all women should be prohibited for all time from teaching and leading men. The Bible nowhere states or implies that women are more easily deceived or deceptive than men. And I don’t believe Paul thought this either. He greatly valued his female ministry colleagues.

Verse 15

“But she [possibly the woman addressed in 1 Tim. 2:11-12] will be preserved through the bearing of children if they [possibly the woman and man in 1 Tim. 2:12] continue in faith and love and sanctity and self- restraint.”

One suggestion for interpreting verse 15 is to take into consideration that some Ephesian women may have continued their habit of looking to Artemis for safety and help during childbirth. Interestingly, the name Artemis may be derived from the Greek verb artemeō which means “be safe and sound”.[22] Moreover, Artemis is sometimes called “Saviour” (sōtēr) “and inscribed records of prayers to her for safety/salvation and healing have come to light.”[23] However, it is not through Artemis that women are kept safe or “saved” (sōthēsetai) through childbirth, but by remaining in faith, love, and moral purity with self restraint – godly behaviour. The problem with this idea is that godly, Christian mothers can die in childbirth, even in this day and age.

It is more likely that Paul’s real meaning here was that he wanted the Christian women of Ephesus to know that getting married, having sex, and having children (a clear indication that a woman has had sex) would not jeopardise their salvation.[24] Paul cleverly associates having children with moral purity and self restraint. He associates moral purity with childbearing because some people in the Ephesian church were forbidding marriage and teaching that celibacy was a necessary moral virtue (1 Tim. 4:3a). Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:14, Paul encourages young widows to get married and have children, which they couldn’t do if they held to the ascetic ideal of virginity and celibacy.[25]

Different strains of Gnosticism emphasised either sexual licentiousness or asceticism. Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:15 in effect, cleverly corrects both Gnostic extremes. One one hand, he doesn’t want the Ephesian women to become ascetic and then be concerned if they slip up and have sex and become pregnant. On the other hand, he doesn’t want couples to be promiscuous; he wants them to have self restraint.

 

Summing Up

1 Timothy was written to a minister regarding specific problems in a specific church. Yes, we can garner important principles from the letter, there are plenty of them, but we must keep in mind the original audience of the letter and their situation, as best as we can reconstruct that situation.

• I hope that I have given you some insight into the local situation at Ephesus, and into the particular heresy in the Ephesian Church.
• I hope that I have shown you that Paul worded his prohibition in verse 12 carefully and diplomatically, and that it was possibly aimed at one woman.
• I hope I have shown you that “to teach” is tied to authentein in a hendiadys, but that we really can’t be sure what authentein means. For this reason, it is very unwise to use 1 Timothy 2:12 as a proof text on the subject of women in ministry.
• I hope I have shown you that verses 13-15 are not reasons why godly women cannot teach or lead men, especially when we have so many examples of Bible women who did just that, including Priscilla who taught a man in Ephesus.  Rather, these verses contain Paul’s corrections of a Proto-Gnostic heresy.
• Finally, I hope that I have shown you that, just like 1 Corinthians 14:34, it is unwise to take Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 as applying to all women, in every place on the planet, for all time. As the esteemed scholar F.F. Bruce has said, “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah.”[26]


Endnotes

[1] John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons (Zondervan, Kindle edition 25.12.2012) Kindle Locations 145-149.

[2] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture.

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today  (Westchester, IL: Crossways,1988) 220-221.

[4] Craig S. Keener, “Women in Ministry” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, James R. Beck and Craig L. Blomberg (eds) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) p.50.  [More interpretations of Cor. 14:34-35 here.]

[5] Paul uses a particular Greek word for “profane” (bebēlos) a few times to describe the false teaching in the Ephesian church (1 Timothy 4:7; 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:16.  See also 1 Timothy 1:9).  Bebēlos is only used five times in the New Testament, four times in the letters to Timothy and once in Hebrews 12:16.

[6] C.K. Barrett states that the heretical Christianity of Jewish Gnostic Christians “lurks in the background of the Pastorals.” The Pastoral Epistles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963) 15.

[7] Philip Schaff writing about what he called “the paganizing and Gnostic heresy” stated that “Plain traces of this error appear in the later epistles of Paul (to the Colossians, to Timothy, and to Titus), the second epistle of Peter, the first two epistles of John, the epistle of Jude, and the messages of the Apocalypse to the seven churches.” “§ 73 Heretical Perversions of the Apostolic Teaching” in History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100 at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.XI.73.html

[8] Ireneaus, Against Heresies or On the Detection and Overthrow of the Falsly-Called Gnosis at New Advent.  http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm

[9] Tertullian, Against the Valentinians, chapter 3, at New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0314.htm  A longer quote from chapter 3: “. . . as soon as he finds so many names of aeons, so many marriages, so many offsprings, so many exits, so many issues, felicities and infelicities of a dispersed and mutilated Deity, will that man hesitate at once to pronounce that these are ‘the fables and endless genealogies’ which the inspired apostle by anticipation condemned, while these seeds of heresy were even then shooting forth?”

[10] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, 32.8, at New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm

[11] Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, 33 at Early Christian Writings. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian11.html

[12] 1 Timothy 2:5 also corrects a Gnostic heresy called Docetism, which is the false teaching and belief that Jesus Christ did not really come in a human body of flesh, but only seemed to be human.

[13] Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 68. In some of the Gnostic accounts there are echoes of an ancient Greek myth in which Prometheus molds men (male humans) out of clay, and the goddess Athena brings them to life by breathing into the clay figures.

[14] Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi which give Eve primacy include: Apocryphon of John, Gospel of Philip, Hypostasis of the Archon, Thunder: Perfect Mind, and Apocalypse of Adam. More about these texts here.

[15] A.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.

[16] John E. Toews, “Women in Church leadership: 1 Timothy 2:11-15, a Reconsideration”, The Bible and the Church: Essays in Honor of Dr David Ewert, A J. Dueck, H.J. Giesbert, and V.G. Shillington (eds) (Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1983)

[17] The image is a screen shot of Table 2.1 in H.S Baldwin’s chapter “An Important Word in 1 Timothy 2:12” in A. J. Köstenberger & T. R. Schreiner (eds), Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005) 41.  I have not included the last lexicon entry of the Greek to Spanish DGE as I feel the information is misleading.

[19] The LSJ definitions for authentēs  and authenteō are here. Note that the Greek word authentein is not etymologically related to the English word “authority”. Rather, the English word “authority” comes from the Latin word auctor which means “master, leader, author”. (Source: Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary)
Chrysostom used the verb authenteō (the exact form is authentei) in his tenth Homily on Colossians where he wrote that husbands should not act this way towards their wives. (Scr. Eccl. vol 62, page 366, line 29. Source: TLG) This verb is translated as “act the despot” in Vol XIII of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979) 304.

[19] Aida Besancon Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary Series) (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013) 64.

[20] A.J. Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12” Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, Second Edition, A. J. Köstenberger & T. R. Schreiner (eds) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005) 74.

[21] There are several instances in the Greek New Testament where gar introduces a new thought that is only indirectly related to previous verses (e.g. John 4:44; Acts 15:20-21; etc). For instance, John 4:44 does not seem to be directly related to verses 43 and 45. The NIV translates gar as “now” in John 4:44, which fits the context rather well. “Now” could be a good translation of gar in 1 Tim. 2:13. The NRSV puts John 4:44 within parentheses. Perhaps Paul’s thoughts in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are parenthetical.

[22] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008) 14.

[23] Richard E. Oster, quoted by Rick Strelan, Paul, Artemis, and the Jews in Ephesus (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996) 51.

[24] Gnostic teachers such as Saturninus taught that “marriage and generation [i.e. procreation] are from Satan.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.2 at New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103124.htm

[25] The Greek word for “to have children” used in 1 Timothy 5:14 is the infinitive form of the verb teknogoneō. The cognate noun teknogonia is the word for “childbirth” in 1 Timothy 2:15. (It is in the genitive case and used with an article in 2:15: tēs teknogonias.)

[26] F.F. Bruce in a conversation with Scot McKnight, mentioned by McKnight in his book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008) 207.

© 28th of June 2014, Margaret Mowczko


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