1 Timothy 2:12 as a Proof Text
A proof text is a verse or passage that someone feels is the definitive statement on a certain theological subject, so this verse is used, often without context, as proof to establish a doctrine. For many people, 1 Timothy 2:12 is the proof text and the starting point on the issue of Women in Ministry, and all other scripture is seen through the lens, or the filter, of this one verse in particular.
When a single verse (or even a couple) is used to formulate and argue beliefs, there is a danger of ignoring other Bible verses which may seem to say something different or even contradict the desired premise. The significance of other passages might be downplayed, or their meaning distorted or obscured. This has happened in the Women in Ministry debate. Many New Testament verses which reveal that women did function as ministers and leaders have been simply overlooked and ignored, and even altered.
Also, when relying on a proof text, the meaning of other verses may be skewed or taken out of context to make them agree and fit in with the desired premise, even though the real meaning of these other verses may be unrelated. This has also happened in discussions and debates about Women in Ministry as we will see later. In this series, I will argue that, for several reasons, it is unwise to use 1 Timothy 2:12 as a proof text. One reason is the unique situation the Ephesian church was facing.
Reading Scripture in Context
When reading scripture, it is helpful to have an understanding of the background and culture of the recipients who the book or letter was originally written for or to. In this case, it is helpful to have an understanding of the culture of Ephesus where Timothy was ministering as Paul’s envoy.
We must also try to understand the concerns the book or letter is addressing. Each book of the Bible was written for a reason, or several reasons, so it is important to ascertain the author’s aim, where possible. When trying to understand the New Testament letters, in this case, 1 Timothy, it is vital.
Furthermore, it is important to read and comprehend the entire book or letter, and not just read a verse or passage in isolation from the rest of the text. In other words, we need to view verses of scripture within the context of the book or letter it comes from, and indeed within the context of the entire Bible.
This series looks at 1 Timothy 2:12 within the context of the entire letter of 1 Timothy, and it will look at the cultural setting of the Ephesian church. This, hopefully, will help us to better understand what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:12.
© 8th of December 2009, Margaret Mowczko
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1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Part 2 – Artemis of Ephesus and her Temple
Part 3 – The Heresy in the Ephesian Church
Part 4 – 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Phrase by Phrase
Part 5 – 1 Timothy 2:13-15: The Creation and Salvation of Woman
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.
6 Reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
The Prominence of Women in the Cultic Life of Ephesus
New Testament Church Culture: Sexual Licentiousness
The Bible and “Plain Sense” Reading
Women, Teaching and Deception
7 thoughts on “1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (1): Introduction”
Here is some extra info on my approach to 1 Timothy 2:12.
I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know the real meaning, force, scope and intent of 1 Timothy 2:12. This difficulty is evidenced by the numerous interpretations and explanations that have been put forward to help unravel the mystery around this verse–about how it should be understood and applied.
My first inkling of a possible interpretation on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 began when I was watching a video shown at my church about ancient Ephesus. In the video, a man was walking around the ruins of Ephesus and talking about some of its culture and history, including the cult of Artemis, while quoting Scripture from the book of Ephesians. The Scripture quotations from Ephesians seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the setting. But I was reading 1 Timothy at the time and a whole lot of little things that I had been reading in 1 Timothy seemed to be making more sense as I watched the video. (Paul wrote his letters to Timothy while Timothy was stationed in Ephesus.)
I put forward my interpretation as a suggestion. While I am inclined to believe my interpretation has merit, I cannot say with certainty that it is the correct one. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is, in fact, far from straightforward in the Greek.
If you do read the series, please don’t stop at the end of part 4. My site statistics show that most people read parts 1 to 4, but few people read part 5 which pulls it all together.
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are here.
I don’t think 2 Tim. forbids all women at all times from exercising authority over men nor that it should be used as a proof text in the women in ministry debate. I find it hard to stay calm when I hear the verse because it has been used to restrict women for so long, and I feel both angry and helpless because the other side is so sure of their interpretation, sure of being in the majority in the church and unconcerned with hurting anyone with that passage while I am trying to be fair, look at context and other passages — all of which takes time in a discussion, but in many conversations I have exactly three seconds to come up with a rational and polite (!) response before the topic moves on. So I’m still working on desensitizing myself to these clobber passages in order that I can skip the emotional turmoil and get to a response in time.
Maybe simply asking “What makes you think that this verse is the definite verse on women in ministry that all other verses should be subordinate to?” is a good starting point.
Hi Karin, I understand the “angry and helpless” bit.
I have strong misgivings about the idea that 1 Tim 2:12 is about exercising authority.
There are so many assumptions and assertions about this verse that I think are just untrue.
This is a good article. I appreciate the primary source citations. I was quick-searching the web for some good Ephesian background material for this passage and found your site. I think I may end up agreeing, generally, with your interpretation of this Scripture in light of its historical context and audience. NT Wright (http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm) corroborates your view, which is always good company to be in.
However I tend to agree with the complementarian viewpoint on the essential difference of men and women. I believe this is very biblical and the point of gender in the first place. It is a very slippery slope to insist that we strive for gender equality, if by that you mean that we should not make any differentiation between men and women, since they are both generally “adam” and married couples are “one flesh” I’ll tell you, my wife and I are very different, and our biological composition has a lot to do with it. minimizing the essential unique qualities of men and women leads to the permissiveness of gender confusion, hermaphrodites, and homosexuality, which Scripture is not endorsing.
If by “equal” You mean given a fair shot in serving in the church in areas of gifting, then I see your point. Bottom Line: I appreciate the primary sourcing, and the background on the city of Ephesus itself. I may end up doing more extensive study on the city itself and the related texts in the early church (Ephesians, Rev. 2, 1&2 Tim, Iranaeus, etc). God Bless.
Thanks for your comment, David. I certainly see that there are differences between men and women, boys and girls. I have a two-year-old grandson and he often says “lady” when he sees a woman on television, and “man” when he sees a man on television. He notices the differences in gender even if the people are essentially doing the same thing (e.g. reading the news).
Men and women are different, we are not the same, but we also share many similarities. However, I also note that women differ from each other, and men differ from each other. We are all unique.
My view of equality is that our gifts and abilities, and not our gender, primarily determines what our ministries are.
I also believe that husbands and wives are equal partners in marriage. I do not believe that a gender hierarchy is a dynamic of the New Creation. I am a non-hierarchical complementarian.
Here are some article I’ve written about gender:
Are the sisters free to function?
An Exploration of Paul’s Concerns in 1 Timothy 2:11-15
by Jon Zens http://www.searchingtogether.org/free-to-function.htm
Hi RIC, I have read this article. Jon Zens is one of my favourite writers. I hope you will read my article too.