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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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.