Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

ordination, authority, Twelve Apostles, priests, women ministers

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 1 Timothy 2:12 is not about female ministers who know God, who know the Bible, and 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 (“men” is plural in verse 8)
2. overdressed rich women (“women” is plural in verses 9 and 10)
3. a woman or a wife (the Greek word for “woman/wife” is singular in verses 11 and 12, and the Greek “saved” verb is singular in verse 15; it is correctly translated as “she will be saved.” Cf. 1 Tim. 2:15 CSB).

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is about a woman in the Ephesian church who needed to learn. (Presumably, she needed to learn scripture and Christian doctrine.) Furthermore, she was not allowed to teach and was not allowed to domineer a man, probably her husband. She needed to chill.

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 a correction to the woman’s faulty teaching of the Law (Torah), particularly a corrupted version of Genesis 2 and 3 that favoured Eve (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.)

Paul is addressing problem behaviour of both men and women and offering corrections in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. He also gives directives about problem behaviour of both men and women in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 which contains the verses 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 wholesome, edifying ministry.

Paul does not prohibit edifying ministry from anyone

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 CSB, 1 Corinthians 12:28 CSB, and Ephesians 4:11.

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 CSB; Col 3:16 CSB). 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 or women in either 1 Timothy 2:8-15 or in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, or in any other verses 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 or preachers or any other kind of church leader or minister.

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Related Articles

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in a Nutshell
All “in a Nutshell” articles here.
An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 than joins the dots of 2:11-15
All articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 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

8 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.

        1. Thanks, Dana.

  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 be, 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.

      Also, 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.

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