Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

There are over two dozen articles about 1 Timothy 2:12 on this website. Some of them are fairly lengthy, but in this one I get straight to the point of why Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 are not about, or aimed at, female ministers who know God, who know the Bible, and who are able teachers.

1 Timothy 2:8–15 is addressing problem behaviour

I take 1 Timothy 2:12 literally, and it says nothing about whether competent women can be pastors and preachers, or not. This becomes clearer when we pull back from this one verse and look at its immediate context.

In 1 Timothy 2:8–15 Paul addresses and corrects problem behaviour from various people in the Ephesian church:

1. angry quarrelling men (the Greek word for “men” is plural in verse 8)
2. overdressed rich women (the Greek word “women” is plural in verses 9 and 10)
3. a woman who needed to learn and not teach, and who needed to not domineer (authentein) a man/ husband, she needed to settle down (the Greek words for woman/ wife and man/ husband are singular in verses 11 and 12. Also the Greek verb for “saved” is singular in verse 15 and is correctly translated as “she will be saved.” See 1 Tim. 2:15 CSB).

I suggest 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is about a woman in the Ephesian church who needed to learn. Presumably, she needed to accurately learn scripture (such as Genesis 2 and 3) and Christian doctrine. As someone who still needed to learn, this woman was not ready to teach. So Paul tells Timothy she is not allowed to teach. Paul also says she was not allowed to domineer a man who is most likely her husband.

She needed to chill. The phrase en hesuchia (“in quietness”) is repeated and occurs in the emphatic positions (at the beginning and at the end) of 1 Timothy 2:11–12 in the Greek. This suggests the woman was unsettled, noisy, and causing some kind of disturbance.

Paul goes on, and in 1 Timothy 2:13–14 he gives correct summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3. It is not clear why he mentions Adam and Eve, but it may have been to provide Timothy with a correction to the woman’s faulty teaching of the Law (Torah), particularly a corrupted version of Genesis 2 and 3 (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3–4 & 7).

1 Timothy 2:15 is a difficult verse to decipher but it may be about the woman’s domineering behaviour towards her husband. She may have been refusing sex and avoiding childbirth for reasons of piety (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3a). Sexual renunciation was not uncommon in the early church. (Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 7:1–6 to address the issue of both married and single Corinthian Christians who were choosing to become and remain celibate.)

What is certain is that Paul is addressing problem behaviour of both men and women and offering corrections in 1 Timothy 2:8–15. He also addresses problem behaviour of both men and women in 1 Corinthians 14:26–40 which contains 1 Corinthians 14:34–35: “women are to be silent in the churches …” These two passages, about issues in the Ephesian and Corinthian churches, are not Paul’s general thoughts about ministry.

Paul did not bar anyone from edifying ministry

The apostle’s overall theology of ministry was, “You have a gift use it,” and he doesn’t exclude women from his general statements about ministry, including leadership and teaching ministries, in Romans 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11. There is no hint in the lists of ministries in these verses, in the Greek, that some of these ministries are only for men.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that church meetings in the first century were different from most church services today. Paul encouraged participation in ministry and even welcomed spontaneous contributions during church meetings (1 Cor. 14:26; Col 3:16). He did not prohibit gifted and orderly speech, only nuisance, unedifying speech and wrong teaching.

Paul did not silence or limit the ministries of capable, gifted, and well-behaved men and women in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, or in any other passage in his letters (cf. Phil. 1:18). So I repeat, 1 Timothy 2:12 has nothing to say, one way or the other, about whether competent women can be pastors, preachers, or any kind of church leader or minister.

© Margaret Mowczko 2020
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Explore more

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in a Nutshell
All my “in a Nutshell” articles are here.
An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11-15
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
A few of these 1 Timothy 2:12 articles look at the language of this verse, a few look at the historical context of ancient Ephesus, a couple look at the popularity and problems of celibacy in the early church, and others look at verse 12 in the literary context of First Timothy.

New Testament, apostle Paul and women, gender roles
artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

13 thoughts on “1 Timothy 2:12, in a Nutshell

  1. Thank you for your article; worth reading as always. I do have a question about the singular ‘woman’ and ‘man’ in v. 12. In English to say, ‘I don’t permit a woman to teach a man’ would be perfectly understood as a general application to all men and women, even though the ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are in the singular. Are you saying that this usage does not exist in the Greek?

    1. Hi Abby, You can use the singular “woman” and “man” in Greek with a general application (often with a definite article), but this brings up the question, Why does Paul switch from the plural in verses 8-10 to the singular in verses 11-15?

      Also, while the Greek verb meaning “she will be saved” is singular, the verb meaning “they continue/remain” is plural. So 1 Timothy 2:15 may mean the woman from verses 11-12 will be saved if both she and her husband (“they”) continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense. I’ve written about 1 Timothy 2:15 and “she will be saved” here: https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/

      Having said this, the particular behaviours addressed in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are quite specific. Surely not all the men in the Ephesian church were angry and quarrelling, and it’s only the rich women who could have afforded the clothes and jewellery that’s described in verse 9 and the benefactions (“good works”) mentioned in verse 10. Paul is not talking about men and women generally. I believe Paul then narrows the focus to one of the rich women in verses 11-15. All these verses are talking about specific people with specific behaviours and are not general teaching with a wide application.

      I’ve written more about why I think “woman” and “man” is a particular couple in the Ephesian church here:
      https://margmowczko.com/a-woman-not-all-women-1-timothy-212/
      And here:
      https://margmowczko.com/anonymous-man-woman-1-timothy-2/
      These articles discuss the grammar of not having a definite article, the practice of critiquing someone anonymously in ancient letters, and there is a list of specific women who are mentioned in the New Testament without a definite article and other stuff.

      1. Based on what I was reading in the church fathers I see that this passage connects with spiritual maternity. I think that a big part of the connection between the problematic behavior mentioned and Eve is that bad leaders e.g. physical and spiritual mothers are like Eve they bring death to their children.

  2. I have and still do felt that the verse 1 Timothy 2:12-15, that Paul was referring to a group of women not just one singular woman. These women were influenced by the worship of Greek Goddess Artemis which believed in female superiority and were being domineering to the men and teaching false doctrines that Eve was created first and that by eating the fruit from the tree of Knowledge gave her enlightenment. As it was mentioned before the Greek word authentein is used rather than the normal word word for authority which was exoursia. Authentein means to domineer or act like a tyrant. Paul was reminding these women that Adam was created first and that Eve was the first to be deceived when she ate the forbidden fruit. Unfortunately many have mistaken this verse to be against women teaching men within the church, or being pastors/preachers altogether which I don’t believe was the case. Another interesting topic. God Bless.

    1. I have not found any actual ancient evidence that the Ephesian cult of Artemis taught or encouraged female superiority and the domination of men. None. For starters, there were more male high priests than female high priests in the cult, and the goddess was highly regarded in the Roman world. It was a respectable cult by Roman standards, whereas female domination was not respectable in Roman society.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, many pagan cults had goddesses; the Greco-Roman world was full of both gods and goddesses. And many cities claimed to have been founded by the Amazons. Furthermore, many cities had a goddess as their tutelary or patron god. Many cities chose Agathe Tyche (“Good Fortune”), for example, as their patron goddess. But these things didn’t inspire female boldness.

      Also, the Greek Artemis and the Ephesian Artemis are not identical. There were many versions of Artemis in the ancient world. The Ephesian Artemis is unique. A quick look at her appearance is evidence of this. She retains Anatolian features and looks nothing like representations of the Greek Artemis who is part of the Olympian Pantheon.

      I suspect the only reason the idea has ever been floated that the Ephesian Artemis encouraged bossy women is because of people trying to make sense of 1 Timothy 2:12. This idea has been spread by well-known ministers and speakers and has taken hold, but I have yet to see ancient evidence for it. And we have a ton of evidence (inscriptions, coins, letters, reports, literature, etc) from ancient Ephesus.

      If there is any ancient evidence that the Ephesian Artemis encouraged women to feel and act superior to men, I really want to see it! I don’t want to spread information that has no basis.

  3. Hello Marg. I’m sure I’m late to this conversation and you have most likely addressed much of what I’m about to ask, so thanks for your patience. I have done some reading on the artemis cult, though there is little out there with much helpful information aside from a doctoral thesis I came across.

    What I have gleaned is that worship of artemis included elaborate dress, and that she was considered to be some sort of “patron goddess” of childbirth. Worship practices included rituals performed to ensure survival of mother and child. Could it be that Paul was admonishing a particular woman that artemis should not be appealed to for a successful labor and delivery? It would be a difficult thing to suddenly cast off cultural liturgy for an utterly new one. Could it have been hard to see how this “male” God related to women? Was there a midwife, perhaps, dealing with a fearful pregnant woman, or a difficult pregnancy? One moving others to appeal to artemis for the safekeeping of life, instead of God? Fearful that if artemis was not appeased, the mother/child might die?

    1. Hi Alex, I’ve explored the cult of Artemis of Ephesus too, and have wondered if she is behind 1 Timothy 2:15. She was regarded as a midwife and there’s ample evidence that women prayed to her and gave her offerings for safe and quick deliveries. I can’t rule out her influence, but my preferred backstory is that celibacy is the issue. There’s just so much evidence that sex and procreation were frowned upon in some sectors of the church.

      I think I know what paper you’re referring to. The description of elaborately braided hairstyles, gold and pearls, and expensive clothes in 1 Timothy 2:9 can apply to numerous well-dressed wealthy women in the late first-century Roman empire, not just the wealthy devotees of the Ephesian Artemis. I write about this here.

      Also, there were plenty of male gods (and male priests) in Ephesus and throughout the ancient world. Artemis’s father Zeus and twin brother Apollos were male. And there were temples, shrines, and statues honouring male deities including deified emperors. The Ephesians were not monotheists! Individuals and households usually honoured several gods, not just their patron goddess Artemis.

  4. I heard that one of Chin old pastor said women should be ordained. Bible never mentioned about women pastor or Men pastor and The bible not mentioned ordained should be men. I comment them… The old testament mentioned priest.Not pastor at all. Pastor mean shepherd to cared the sheep as well pastor have to cared and feed food. Therefore, there is men should be a pastor or women should not be pastor at all.Even women can be a pastor or ordain in chin churches in Myanmar. There is bible verse women should quiet and keep silent. Pual not talked about all women should quiet and silent but some of women are not quiet and talkative everywhere.
    Therefore, one of pastor said women should not ordain or pastor .. Becouse they were noisy and preaching one hours. He did not agree to be pastor and ordain. However we women ordain 100 person
    In Myanmar.

    1. Hi Lydia, I see you got your PhD! Congratulations on your hard work and all you do for the church in Myanmar. God bless you! And I agree with your comments here. Many Christians today have ideas and practices of ministry that are not found in the Bible.

      1. Blessings, Meg.

        I have been going back in forth in my spirit regarding 1 Timothy 2:12 for two years. I believed I was called to preach, specifically plant a church until a pastor I admired told me plainly multiple times and preached multiple sermons as to why women cannot be pastors. Please, tell me plainly, can women pastor a Church? Was Paul only talking of women in Ephesus in Timothy’s Church? If so, why bring up creation?

        This video has encouraged me but I am still starting to believe I am disobeying Scripture.

        https://youtu.be/tpmtq-ZsqC4

        Are there any Church Father’s that believed in women pastors?

        Humbly,
        Angela

        1. Hi Angela, Yes, capable, godly, and gifted women can pastor churches. The church, the Christian community, needs women and men to care for congregations as pastors.

          “Pastors” isn’t a word that was commonly used for church leaders in the early church. Chrysostom and Atto of Vercelli believed that some New Testament women were church leaders. However, they didn’t believe women should be church leaders, in the same way as men, in their own day. Having said that, the priestly ministry and hierarchical structure of church leadership in their day had almost nothing in common with first-century ministry.

          I’ve written about Chrysostom here:
          https://margmowczko.com/chrysostom-new-testament-women-leaders/
          I’ve written about Atto of Vercelli here:
          https://margmowczko.com/atto-of-vercelli-female-priests-elders-early-church/

          It’s important to note that many church fathers got some things abysmally and harmfully wrong. And their overall views on women do not match with what God thinks of his daughters.
          https://margmowczko.com/misogynist-quotes-from-church-fathers/

          Paul never silences sound speech or sound ministry from anyone! But we tend to only focus on the verses that mention women. This is unjust.

          Just as 1 Timothy 2:8-15 addresses problem behaviour from men and women in Ephesus, 1 Cor. 14:26-40 addresses problem speech from men and women in Corinth. But again, the church has focussed mostly on the “women” verses.

          Paul silenced unruly, unedifying speech in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 from three groups of people in the Corinthian church, not just the women who wanted to learn but could keep their basic questions for home. At the same time, Paul encouraged orderly, edifying speaking ministries without specifying gender.

          As I say in the article, in all of his lists of ministries, Paul doesn’t specify gender (in the Greek).

          Paul doesn’t explain why he mentions the stories in Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. But think about it? Why, or how, does Adam being made first, Eve second, disqualify every woman for all time from serving congregations as pastors?

          Genesis 2 is about how the first human in Eden needed a helper. It was not good for him to be alone and care for the garden, which some understand to be a sacred space, on his own. Eve was made from a side of his body. They were made from the same stuff. She was equal to him (Hebrew: kenegdo).
          https://margmowczko.com/kenegdo-equal-to-him/

          I think we are meant to imagine that the man and woman worked side by side in caring for the garden. This role was the only ongoing task given to the first human in Eden. The naming-of-the-animals exercise was completed. It had served its purpose in demonstrating that there was no animal that was a suitable or equal partner for the first human. And sex and procreation don’t seem to have part of the Eden experience (cf. Gen. 4:1ff).

          And in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Paul nullifies any significance of the created order: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man (cf. Gen. 2:22-23), so also man is born of woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). But everything comes from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NIV.

          Men and women need each other. We are mutually interdependent with God as our ultimate source.
          https://margmowczko.com/the-created-order-nutshell/

          If we want to apply Genesis 2 to church leadership (which is not what Paul was doing in 1 Timothy 2:13), then it shows that men and women should be ministering together and sharing responsibilities side by side: “it so not good for the (hu)man to be alone.”

          And why, or how, does Eve’s transgression disqualify all women from ministry for all time, but Adam’s transgression not disqualify all men? Unlike what some presume, nowhere in the Bible does it say that women are more easily deceived. And we have enough examples of women leaders in the Bible, doing a good job, to show that neither God nor the Israelites had a problem with this.
          https://margmowczko.com/the-propriety-of-women-with-authority/

          We don’t know why Paul brought up Genesis 2-3 and Adam and Eve, but it could be Paul reminding Timothy of these biblical stories as a correction to to a woman’s teaching. She needed to learn! (1 Tim 2:11). There were lots of weird interpretation and embellishments of the Adam and Eve story circulating in the first century. (Genesis 2-3 is part of the Law, and we know that some in Ephesus were saying wrong this about the Law: 1 Tim. 1:3ff).

          1 Timothy 2:8-15 is not about pastoring and definitely not about leadership, as such. Authentein andros (“domineer a man”) is bad behaviour whether you are a woman or a man, a wife or a husband. Chrysostom used the verb authentei in his sermon on Colossians 3 and he said that husbands should not do this to their wives. Authentei is translated as “act the despot” here:
          https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230310.htm
          All my articles on authentein are here:
          https://margmowczko.com/tag/authentein/

          Can women pastor a church? Yes, they can.

  5. Hi Marg,
    I wonder if Paul silencing women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a Corinthian Slogan. I believe Paul often restates an issue (Corinthian Slogan) before he gives his answer.
    I believe Paul is restating the Talmud or Tradition of the elders (“the law”) in verse 34 -35.
    I believe “church” is a dubious translation. Ecclesia can mean any gathering – church or synagogue?
    There was synagogue separation of men and women, Jew and Gentile and slave and free. Women were to remain silent and ask their husbands at home according to the tradition of the Jewish Elders. I believe Corinthian men asked Paul if this suppression of women was still the case in New Covenant gatherings. He gives a curt reply, “What!!!!! came the word of God out from you – or came it unto you only? (1 Corinthians 14:36).
    Let the daughters of the King arise!

    1. Hi Reg, Several respected New Testament scholars see 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 as a statement from the Corinthians which Paul then responds to in 1 Corinthians 14:36ff.

      This idea goes by the name of the quotation-refutation interpretation. I mention this interpretation, and others, in this article:
      https://margmowczko.com/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

      There is no evidence that men and women were separated in first-century synagogues. That came later. I also mention this in the linked article.

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