I recently listened to a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:12 given by a man who is a pastor of a relatively large church near where I live. Right at the beginning of his sermon, the man stated that 1 Timothy 2:12 is “fairly straightforward” and “uncomplicated.” He gave no indication, let alone an explanation, of the genuine interpretative difficulties of this and the following verses. Nor did he attempt to provide some kind of explanation of the context of 1 Timothy 2:12. Rather, he based his thoughts on an English translation:
“I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” 1 Timothy 2:12
The problem is, however, that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as plain and simple as it appears in many English translations. This post looks at the language of 1 Timothy 2:12 and at six factors that should be considered when interpreting it.
First, epitrepō, which is typically translated as “allow” or “permit” in 1 Timothy 2:12, is consistently used in the Greek New Testament in the context of giving or asking for permission in an ad hoc, or specific and limited, situation. Similarly, the word is also used in the context of withholding permission in an ad hoc, or specific and limited, situation. Epitrepō was not the word typically used when making broad and definitive statements or universal injunctions.
Paul uses the word epitrepō just once in First Timothy. This occurrence is marked when compared with the language he uses elsewhere in this letter, including, for example, in 1 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge (or, command) them not to be haughty …” Paul uses this “command” word (verb: paraggellō; noun: paraggelia) seven times in 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17 KJV). Paraggellō can also be translated as “prescribe” or “instruct” with a strong sense.
There is no “command” word or imperative force in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the Greek. Verse 11 is written as a command, but verse 12 is not.
A second factor in interpreting 1 Timothy 2:12 is the question of why there is a switch from the plural for “men” and “women” in verses 8–10 to the singular “woman” and “man” in verses 11–12, along with the singular verb in 1 Timothy 2:15 CSB that is correctly translated as “she [a woman] will be saved”.
Some suggest that Paul is speaking about a married couple (or married couples) in verses 11 and 12 and 15. This may well be the case. Or, perhaps verses 11 and 12 and 15 are speaking about an anonymous woman like “Jezebel” who was teaching and leading astray Christians in the church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:20ff). Whether a wife or not, Paul’s remedy is that a woman must learn … quietly (1 Tim. 2:11).
Third, the fact that there is no definite article for “woman” or “man” in the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 makes these verses slightly ambiguous. A definite article might make it easier to understand if, or that, Paul had been writing about a specific woman and man in these verses.
The fact that there is no article in Greek, however, does not rule out the idea that these verses are about a specific woman and man in Ephesus. (More on this here and here.) The functions of the definite article in Greek are more varied than in English; the implications of not having an article are also varied. (There is no indefinite article in Greek.)
Fourth, I maintain that we cannot be sure why Paul chose to use the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12, and what precisely he meant by it. This word occurs nowhere else in the Greek New Testament. Authentein is not related to the more common Greek word for authority (exousia). And authentein is not etymologically related to the English word “authority” despite a superficial similarity.
Authentein can mean “to dominate” or “to control” in ancient Greek (See Louw and Nida §37.21). Early church father John Chrysostom used the word (exact form: authentei) in his tenth homily on Colossians where he wrote that husbands should not act this way towards their wives. This verb is translated as “act the despot” in the English translation of Chrysostom’s homily 10 on Colossians. (I have more on Chrysostom’s use of authentein here.)
Authentein is unacceptable behaviour for a man or a woman. It has no place in Christian marriage or in the church.
Furthermore, unlike what some assert, there is nothing in 1 Timothy 2:11–15 that indicates Paul was somehow referring to ordination and prohibiting a woman from holding a leadership office in the church at Ephesus. (Note also that a word meaning “over” is absent in the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12, but is included in many English translations/ interpretations.)
Fifth is the question of whether the words didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein (“to dominate”) are tied together to form a hendiadys. A hendiadys is where two words or two phrases combine to form one idea. Hendiadyses are common in the Old and New Testaments.
If 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a hendiadys, then Paul was not simply prohibiting a woman from teaching a man; rather, he was not allowing a certain kind of teaching from a woman. Perhaps he was not allowing a dominating kind of teaching. Perhaps he was not allowing the kind of teaching Jezebel of Thyatira was engaged in. (Revelation 2:20, which mentions “Jezebel,” contains a hendiadys: “teaching and leading astray.”)
If, on the other hand, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not contain a hendiadys, then didaskein (“to teach”) is not grammatically connected to the word for “man”; only authentein is connected to “man.” This is because didask– verbs typically take an accusative object, while authent– verbs take a genitive object, and the Greek word for “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is in the genitive case, andros. (More on authentein here.)
Note further that didaskein (“to teach”) occurs at the very beginning of the first clause in 1 Timothy 2:12, in the Greek, while authentein andros occurs at the end and is separated from didaskein by five words:
διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός.
If 1 Timothy 2:12 does not contain a hendiadys and “to teach” is not connected to “a man,” then the prohibition of a woman teaching has nothing to do with the idea that women can’t teach men. She cannot teach anyone. This makes sense grammatically, but it also makes sense contextually. In the previous verse, 1 Timothy 2:11, Paul says a woman must learn. I believe this woman (or, such a woman) who needed to learn was not ready to teach men, women, or children.
Whether 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a hendiadys or not, there is nothing to suggest Paul was disallowing sound teaching from an educated and well-behaved woman.
Sixth is the issue of translating the Greek noun hesuchia (ἡσυχία). This word occurs near the beginning of verse 11 and at the end of verse 12, forming an inclusion. (Note, the related adjective of hesuchia occurs in 1 Tim. 2:2.)
γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ·
διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός,
ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ (1 Tim 2:11–12).
There are two Greek verbs commonly used in the New Testament for “be silent” (siōpaō and sigaō) but the word in 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is not related to them. Hesuchia refers more to a disposition of calmness, of tranquillity, and of being settled. It does not mean total silence. Nevertheless, several English translations use the word “silence, silent” in their version of 1 Timothy 2:12 (e.g., CEV, DR, HCSB, KJV, NIV 1984, NKJV, NRSV).
The repetition of the phrase ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ (en hesuchia: “in quietness”), and the fact that it occurs in the emphatic positions (at the beginning and at the end) of 1 Timothy 2:11–12 in the Greek, suggests there was an unsettled and noisy woman who was causing a disturbance in the Christian community at Ephesus. Nevertheless, Paul was not saying she should be completely silent. Rather, he wanted her to settle down, to learn in a submissive manner (the usual conduct of a good student), not to teach, and not to dominate or coerce a man (probably her husband).
Paul gave the instructions and advice contained in First Timothy to his young envoy Timothy who was looking after the congregation in Ephesus. The instructions and advice contained in 1 Timothy 2:8–15 are specific and corrective, rather than general. These eight verses address bad and unseemly behaviour among some Ephesian Christians: anger and arguments from some men, expensive and inappropriate clothing from some women, and, I suggest, faulty teaching and coercive behaviour from a woman.
1 Timothy 2:12 was written with a specific and local situation in mind. Nevertheless, a broader principle of this verse might be “bad teaching and bossy behaviour is not allowed.”
Tragically, many have applied a flawed understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 to all women and all men for all time, with crippling consequences for women and men and the church. The faulty understanding that no woman may ever teach any man does not take into consideration the broader biblical context. The Bible provides several examples of men who were guided and taught by godly women, without any hint of censure. Apollos the teacher was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus (possibly in the couple’s house church in Ephesus), and this does not seem to have been a problem. Rather it was a good thing.
Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:12 is not plain and simple, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. The verses following 1 Timothy 2:12 contain even more exegetical challenges. We must not let a simplistic and faulty understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12—one that ignores the broader biblical context and New Covenant principles—stifle the ministry of women and the mission of the church. This was never Paul’s intention.
 In his famous Word Pictures (1930–1933), Greek scholar A.T. Robertson made this observation about 1 Timothy 2:12: “One feels somehow that something is not expressed here to make it all clear.” (Source: Study Light) Indeed!
 The rhetorical device of asyndeton is used in 1 Timothy 2:11 where Paul narrows his focus. And the first word in verse 11 is the Greek word for “woman” without an article. I’ve written more about this in a footnote here.
Some suggest that “woman” without an article in 1 Timothy 2:12 is an anaphoric reference to Eve who is mentioned in the next verse. But I’m not convinced and I don’t find the suggestion helpful.
 Vol XIII of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 304. (Also on New Advent here.) See also Scr. Eccl. vol 62, page 366, line 29. Source: TLG.
More examples of authentein used with the senses “to domineer” and “to prevail over” are given in Cynthia Westfall’s paper, “The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2.12,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10.7 (2014). A useful summary of Westfall’s paper is given on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange here.
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1 Timothy 2:13: Another reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
Why 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 are not universal regulations
3 reasons why it’s a woman, not all women, in 1 Timothy 2:12
Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet
Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
The meaning of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12, and a brief history of authent– words
Authentein as Bad Behaviour in Ancient Texts
An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11–15
My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
My articles on authentein are here.
My articles on Priscilla are here.
Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament Greek, touches on several interpretative issues of the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12 here. Overall, it’s a useful article. I don’t find his points on authentein, andros, and en hesychia especially helpful, however.
Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb by Gail Wallace (The Junia Project)
48 thoughts on “6 reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems”
Wow! There is some new learning for me here, about some of the Greek terms. I’m going to need to update that post you referenced! How hard was it to sit through that sermon? A sermon like that was what compelled me to start writing on this passage. Thanks for your persistent commitment to biblical scholarship.
I listened to the sermon because a local friend asked me for my opinion on it. I was disappointed and dismayed with the sermon. There was so much to disagree with, especially the whole angle that 1 Timothy 2:12 is counter-cultural. I can’t see that 1 Timothy 2:12 is at all counter-cultural. And his way of addressing 1 Timothy 2:15 was getting his wife up on stage to say that she had given up her career to care for her children. What on earth has that got to do with verse 15 and the church at Ephesus?
I truly wish 1 Timothy 2:12 was not the beginning and end of discussions on women in ministry, as it is for many people. It’s one verse that, when taken to apply to all women, contradicts several other verses.
Hi Gail, How would you address Tim: 2:12 in relation to Tim 2:13-14? Your knowledge and wisdom is very much appreciated. Thanks!
One of Gail’s articles is here: https://juniaproject.com/defusing-1-timothy-212-bomb/
My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12, including some on verses 13 and 14, are here: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/
I really appreciate all of your work on this. Lots of great information to absorb. My question is: which translation or translations would you suggest for someone who does not have the knowledge you have. I’m willing to learn but need to begin simply. Hope this makes sense.
Hi Gloria, the question about English translations comes up all the time.
For many reasons, no translation can perfectly capture the original author’s intent. This is one reason why it is good to read and interpret the Bible in a community, even an online community.
Most of the well-known and more recent translations are excellent. The NRSV and NIV 2011 are very good, but I don’t like how the NRSV renders 1 Timothy 2:12, it has the word “no/t” in the wrong place.
Thank you for your post. I too question the position of the “not”. Can you explain why the first word epitrepō is not translated just I entrust, or entrusting. Why does the sentence have a negative sense in the beginning?
I’m not fully understanding your question, Linda. Epitrepō means “I am permitting/allowing.” It doesn’t mean “I entrust.”
In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul is not (Greek: ouk) allowing a woman in Ephesus to teach; she needs to learn (1 Tim. 2:11), and he is not allowing her to domineer a man, probably her husband.
Paul’s statement has a negative because he is not allowing a woman to teach (didaskein) or to dominate (authentein).
The NRSV, however, connects ouk with the noun for “woman”: “I permit no woman to teach …” (NRSV) But ouk is connected with the verb epitrepō, not the noun: “I am not allowing/permitting a woman to teach …” Thankfully the NRSV is the only English translation I know that renders 1 Tim 2:12 this way. The NRSV very much alters the sense of Paul’s prohibition. You can compare English translations here.
I’ve written about the verb epitrepō here:
My overall interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 is here:
I appreciate you dealing with the problem of backgrounds and “pretty straight forward” texts. NOTHING older than 1,000 years written in three languages and from a variety of Ancient cultures is straight forward!) 8^)
Simplicity is great as a life style and all, but being simplistic is just not appropriate for ancient texts.
Actually, I think there is something else going on here. Gnosticism was a second century phenomenon and I believe Paul isn’t dealing with it–or even a proto-gnositicism (we could get into the whole “is this a letter of Paul debate” but let’s not–just for argument’s sake, ok?).
Your previous post discusses Artemis (which was an excellent post, too). Remember this is Ephesus and what is the major cult in Ephesus?
Dr. Gary Hoag suggests–when paired with the “immodest apparel” (1 Tim 2:9, 10) this fits with Xenophon’s Ephesiaka (now recognized as a first century document) which describes participants of the cult of Artemis. Paul is saying, you’ve come out of that culture, quit carrying it into the assembly–ladies, don’t try to take it all over.
(Also, Katherine Kroegen posits that the noun authentes means to originate–however, there are several Greek scholars who might be sympathetic but disagree. I am not a Greek scholar so I’ll just leave it there).
The salvation in child bearing relates to the fear that if you denied Artemis (goddess of birth) that you would die in child-birth.
As I mentioned I’m no scholar and Greek is very rusty, so I won’t attempt to read Xenophon, but I’d love to find a decent English translation (any suggestions?).
Hi Darryl, I’ve only read Ben Witherington’s posts where he discusses Gary Hoag’s book. So far I have been unable to borrow the book in Australia.
I’ve read Ephesiaka, and it does make a difference to our understanding of first century Ephesus if we regard it as a first century novel, rather than a later work.
There certainly were some strong and prominent women in the first century. We can see that in the book of Acts (Acts 13:15; 17:12; etc). (The apocryphal Acts also has several strong female characters in it.)
I have thought long and hard about the influence of Artemis on the the Ephesian church. For a long time I was inclined to believe that Artemis was behind the reference to salvation, or safety, in childbirth. It is a possible explanation, but I now hold, somewhat tenuously, to a different view. I discuss this different view here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/
I’m reluctant to use the word “Gnostic” and “Gnosticism” for syncretistic heresies before the second century. However, Wolters regards Cerinthus (late 1st century) as a Gnostic. Wolters notes that the cognate nouns of authentein are used in writings about Cerinthus and Saturninus of Antioch (early 2nd century). We have at least one piece of evidence that Cerinthus visited Ephesus, but I don’t know how reliable this information is, even if it is repeated by Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caesarea. I think “gnostic-like” is a reasonable description of the heresy in Ephesus.
I read Ephesiaka online, but I can’t find the source just now. If/when I find it, I’ll post the link below.
Hi Marg, Good article. I appreciate your humble approach to this subject and investigative spirit, only in this way can we come to a better understanding of certain verses which has been hindered by a complementarianist mindset. I recently did a lesson on Acts 2 and one of my points was ‘The announcement of gender and racial equality’, Acts 2:17-18, 39.
God bless, Warwick
The first ‘announcement’ of humanity (in Genesis 1), and the first ‘announcement’ of ministry the church (Acts 2) sound very egalitarian.
In Genesis 1, men and women have the same status, the same authority, and the same function. In Acts 2, men and women have the same Holy Holy Spirit who equips us and qualifies us for ministry. 🙂
I suggest this is a strained way to approach v. 12. There is no such strain in reading it in conjunction with the remainder of 1 Timothy, also Titus, as a simple, direct prohibition of women teaching men and exercising authority over men (which is a simple implication of the supporting argument in vv. 13-14).
The questions I ask of these verses are whether they are consistent with other Pauline report and talk of women involved in teaching and speaking ministries (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11, 14; Priscilla, etc) and whether the supporting argument in vv. 13-14 is actually an argument that anyone, including complementarians, wish to stand up and proclaim. I answer No to the first question and hope the answer to the second is No (on the grounds that, again, a straightforward reading of the argument in vv. 13-14 is that all women are inherently gullible and prone to deceive men).
Accordingly, cutting to a conclusion, 1 Tim 2:11-15 represents either a late Paul or an interpreter of Paul reneging on the (early) Paul of mutual gendered ministry and leadership, and possibly also responsible for the intrusion of vv. 34-35 in 1 Cor 14. The NT does not resolve a tension between a vision of the kingdom in which the true equality of men and women in creation according to Genesis 1:27-28 is redeemed and restored according to Galatians 3:28 and a vision of the kingdom in which men are ordered above women in both creation (Genesis 2) and in the new creation (so 1 Timothy 2).
Somehow we need to live together this side of glory!
Hi Peter, I am a huge advocate in reading verses within their context. I maintain that 1 Timothy 2:12, and the following verses, are tricky even when read within the context of 1 Timothy and the other Pastorals.
The instructions and advice given in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are corrective and specific, rather than general. These verses address bad and unseemly behaviour among the Ephesian Christians: anger and disputing, expensive and inappropriate clothing, and, I suggest, heretical and/or unruly teaching. (I’ve just now added this paragraph to my main post.)
Christians have always had differences of opinions on certain matters. I think we need to be able to express these differences, discuss them fairly, and listen. I do not see that differences, unless unkindness and injustice is involved, or outright heresy, is a problem.
By the way, I suspect a later date to the Pastoral Epistles than is usually given by those who strongly believe Paul is their author.
Also, I have heard, on dozens of occasions, people assert that the supposed innate gullibility of women (their interpretation of 13-14) is the reason for their understanding of verse 12. Even Guthrie, in his commentary, gives female gullibility as his reason for the prohibition in verse 12. This is despite the fact that nowhere in the (Protestant) Bible are women, as a group, described as gullible or somehow less capable than men.
Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts, even if I mine don’t match yours in every detail.
“faulty understanding that no woman may ever teach any man”
Aside from the utter belief some have that this is the true understanding of a man’s place in the church it is neither historically true nor logically possible.
Women have continually taught men from the beginning, in both word and action. Women have taught as role models as well as by example as well as by word, writing and action. There are many ways to skin a cat and teaching is the same. In fact, it is simply impossible for women NOT to teach men.
To apply the generally understood and faulty understanding to formal instruction alone in the church and college is therefore ridiculous and if it were not taken so seriously, amusing in its childishness. Today women are also teaching by ‘leaving’ churches in large numbers. I guess if the men don’t learn by that instruction then the future churches will have more of a mens’ club atmosphere than they do today. I for one have no more interest in the mens’ clubs of today they call churches, where I am not a part, aside from functioning as a silent donor.
In the end, I have been weaned from all churches by the further ongoing insistence on pagan practices that result in sitting in a closed hall silently allowing one person to hold sway while many restlessly wander in their minds or sleep. It has finally become apparent to me that fellowship is not possible in the church of today on the level of the early church, and I mean to put it right by having my own fellowships 3-4 times a year as the Spirit leads, in my home, each person having equal part in leadership…and it really works well…but very differently.
“. . . it is neither historically true nor logically possible.”
Yep, pretty much.
Thanks for this summary.
On “a woman” a noun without an article is called an anarthrous moun and has about 50 pages in Wallace’s Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. “A woman” is one possible translation, but there are 2 others.
I think it would be useful to go thru each word in 1 Tim 2:12 and show the translation choices.
I’ve looked at Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1996) and his information on the gnomic present verb where he mentions 1 Timothy 2:12 (pp. 523-525).
Wallace states “there are two predominant semantic situations in which the gnomic present occurs”: (1) in a statement that is true all the time (e.g., statements about God); and (2) in a statement that is true any time. He also states “the action or state continues without time limits” in statements which include a gnomic present verb.
How does this fit 1 Timothy 2:12? Paul is the subject of the verb in 1 Timothy 2:12 (epitrepō: “I am not allowing” or “I do not allow”), and he is deceased and no longer able to deny permission at any time.
The following snippets, all taken from examples given by Wallace (I have not omitted any) illustrate the universal or general nature of the subject of supposed gnomic verbs: everyone who divorces (Matt.5:32); no one (Mark 2:21); every tree (Luke 3:9); every person (John 2:10); the wind (John 4:38); The Most High (Acts 7:48); God (2 Cor. 9:7); every house (Heb. 3:4); everyone (1 John 2:23); everyone (1 John 3:3); God (1 John 3:20). Wallace also cites 1 Cor. 9:9 and Gal. 3:13 which are statements quoted from the OT and are gnomic in nature. Even 1 John 3:6, 9, given as debatable examples have the generic idea of “everyone”.
Given the pattern we see in these examples, it is hard to understand why Wallace includes the verb epitrepō (“I am not allowing”) in 1 Timothy 2:12 as a debatable example of the gnomic present. Paul does not qualify as a universal or generic subject. He is not everyone, or no one, or God, or the ubiquitous wind. Strange. And “woman” does not qualify either.
Hey Marg, I’m curious what you meant when you stated, “Paul is deceased and is no longer able to deny permission at any time.” I have Wallace’s book as well and on page 525 he states, “The normal use of the present tense in didactic literature, especially when introducing an exhortation, is not descriptive, but a general precept that has gnomic implications.” Obviously just because Paul is long dead does not mean that his commands have no meaning now. Otherwise, when Paul states in Romans 12:2 (another gnomic present) “Do not be conformed by this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” we would have to say that since Paul is dead he can’t be here to tell us to no longer be conformed by this world. What would we do? I could be wrong, but it seems that this is what you are saying. But I am more than willing to be corrected if that is not what you meant to imply.
Also, what do you mean that Paul does not qualify as a universal or generic subject? Wallace states on page 523 that the gnomic can take a generic subject or object (in 1st Tim 2:12 the object is gunaiki) Again, maybe I’m misunderstanding you here as well. I don’t mean to ask so many questions, but I was a little confused by some of your statements. Perhaps more room to clarify is what’s needed.
It’s the use of the verb in the first person with the implicit “I” that is behind my statement about Paul being deceased.
1 Timothy 2:12 is worded very differently to most of Paul’s directives where he tells people what they should or should not be doing. In 1 Timothy 2:12, he’s not saying “this is the way things should be”, in a general sense. He is not directly saying “do this” or “do that” as in the example you gave: Romans 12:2 has plural verbs, and they’re imperatives, and there is no “I”. Paul is not saying “I …” in Romans 12:2, but he does in 1 Timothy 2:12. The “I” is an important consideration in analysing and understanding the text.
Paul is the subject, one person. So he cannot be a universal or generic subject. I know that some take “woman” in a generic way, but then you have to ask why the switch from plural “men” and “women” in previous verses where the instructions are worded in a straight forward manner. (See my remark below about verse 15.)
Yet, even if 1 Timothy 2:12 is somehow taken in a gnomic sense, with a universal application, it is no longer Paul who is not allowing a woman to teach or to domineer a man. Paul is gone. It is other people who are the ones disallowing. (This is just common sense, but, considering Paul’s choice of wording, “I am not allowing”, it needs to be stated and understood.)
However, as you can see in my previous comment, Timothy 2:11-15 with it’s singular “woman” and singular “man”, is very different in scope to the “every/all” gnomic verses which Wallace provides. Considering the context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, I can’t see how verse 12 can be taken in a gnomic sense. And Wallace, himself, says that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a debatable example. (Paul did not plainly say “every woman” and “every man” in verse 12.)
I suggest 1 Timothy 2:12 is worded carefully, indirectly, and diplomatically to minimise any offence, so that when Timothy read Paul’s letter aloud, a likely scenario, a certain high status Ephesian woman would know that verses 11-15 are about her.
A couple of other comments:
(1) Any interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 must factor in verses 11-15. I strongly believe verse 15, and the singular verb (“she will be saved) followed by the plural verb (“they continue”), is key to understanding that the woman and man in verse 12 is a couple. We must heed Paul’s choice of the singular and plural verbs in verse 15.
(2) In no way am I implying that 1 Timothy 2:12 has no meaning to us today. Every verse in the Bible has meaning. And we must ascertain, the best we can, what the meaning is.
Thanks for the response. If you don’t mind, I have a few more questions. From looking at the text, I do think that Paul’s use of the word “I” is a command carrying absolute authority. Mounce states that Paul uses “I” throughout his writings, often speaking with absolute authority. Romans 8:38 being one of about 25 examples that he gives on page 121 in his commentary. Mounce goes on to state that “Paul can mix the indicative and imperative and both carry full authority (2 Tim 4:1-2)” An example he gives is that it does not matter if Paul states, “I do not want the rich of this world to be haughty “or “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty” (1st Timothy 6:17) Paul states that his authority carries the same weight as a command of the Lord (1st Corinthians 14: 37-38). Now this isn’t always the case. Paul does give us an example of when his authority is not to be considered binding for us (1st Corinthians 7:25), but this is due to the context of the passage.
It seems that what you are implying that Paul is only restricting the Ephesian women from teaching and that since he is gone we no longer have to follow his directives. If this is the case, does that mean that we should understand the surrounding passage in the same way? In other words, would women no longer have to adorn themselves with respectable apparel, as Paul speaks about in verse 9? Where from the text would we get this idea?
As far as the difference between Paul using the plural and singular of “woman” I believe that mounce provides a great explanation from the text. On page 143 he states that Paul,
“Begins by addressing the women and men (plural; present tense) in Ephesus and how they are to pray (v8) and dress (vv9-10). He then states a general principle, shifting into the singular for woman and man (vv 11-12). In order to give this principle scriptural backing, Paul shifts to talking about Adam and Eve (vv 13-14; aorist tense). Finally, in order that his last statement not be misunderstood, he shifts back to the present tense in making the necessary qualifications.(v 15) But this final shift takes place in two steps. In the first half of the verse, Paul is discussing the singular Eve, (“she will be saved”; future tense, from the time perspective of Eve). However, he is discussing Eve not in isolation but as the representative of the Ephesian women. Therefore, Paul shifts to the plural (present tense) in the clause “if they remain”, in order to make this clear.”
Lastly, I noticed you said this about the gnomic “Yet, even if 1 Timothy 2:12 is somehow taken in a gnomic sense, with a universal application, it is no longer Paul who is not allowing a woman to teach or to domineer a man. Paul is gone. It is other people who are the ones disallowing. (This is just common sense, but, considering Paul’s choice of wording, “I am not allowing”, it needs to be stated and understood.)”
If that is the case, then how are we to understand this text universally? I would note that Wallace states that the debate has to do with if people believe that this verse has a descriptive present. He shows how this couldn’t work when compared to other commands that Paul gives such as Ephesians 5:18. This is a gnomic present.
I’ve enjoyed thinking about these issues as I’m responding to you. I appreciate the civility in this discussion that we have had thus far.
I’ve started a new thread and left a comment below, as we’ve run our of room here.
Thanks for the insights. I have always questioned the reasons for the claim that this verse is simple to understand and also the claim that one verse/statement in the NT should be taken as being totally authoritative for the way the Church runs. My answer has always been that it is entirely based on the male desire to dominate.
I think 1 Timothy 2:12 does read fairly simply in English translations, especially if what has become the traditional interpretation is played out every Sunday in church services. What we see and experience often has more influence on our ideas than words on page, even pages of the Bible. But I do wonder why people can’t see that the traditional interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12 is not supported by many other verses where we read of a godly and capable woman leading and directing men.
I think many Christians hold to their view of 1 Tim 2:12 because they believe it is the right one, and that they are pleasing God if they hold to this belief. I understand this. What I don’t understand is men who push their point of male-only authority quite aggressively with no feelings of discomfort or embarrassment.
“What I don’t understand is men who push their point of male-only authority quite aggressively with no feelings of discomfort or embarrassment.”..
Hi Marg…yes that is strange to a woman, but likely less strange to a man…we take authority with respect, men often take authority as if they are entitled to it…but why no feelings of discomfort or embarrassment?
Well my theory is that, as Christians, they have missed the message, period. They don’t know that “you have one master, even Christ and all ye are brethren”…they don’t know that we are told to “in honour prefer one another”…they don’t know that we are to “submit one to another in the fear of God” and they don’t know that God said “Is not My way equal, is not your way unequal?”….they simply only know their tradition and have missed much of the Bible in the teaching they have received. In fact they don’t know that Jesus said “it shall NOT BE SO AMONG YOU”. They simply need to go back to Bible school…a good one that teaches the Bible contextually and REALLY comparing scripture with scripture…not just saying they do…’for they say and do not’…and we know about whom Jesus said that!
I think a reason that some push it so aggressively is that they have formed a gender caste system where they are on top and they want to stay on top, in other words, for power seeking reasons. However, this can NEVER be admitted as the reason, as once admitted it would need to be repented from. In other words, complementarian teaching is a form of sanctified sin, the sin of sexism is at its core, but it is wrapped up in Scripture (supposedly) and so seems holy to those that believe in it.
I think this is why so many complementarians turn to 1 Tim 2:12 first when checking out a new translation, they want to see whether they can use this translation to continue their gender caste system or not. The NIV 2011 was not good enough, as it sought to allow for both complementarian and egalitarian readings, a translation must only allow for a complementarian reading or it must be attacked as untrustworthy (for their purposes).
Here are some issues that I don’t understand concerning the thinking of those who hold dogmatically, unflinchingly to the doctrine that women cannot teach or minister to men.
1. Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China. One of the greatest Christians ever, in my opinion. Her missionary ministry in China began with her and the older woman she worked with running an inn and taking in mule drivers who regularly passed their inn. These mule drivers were all men. Gladys and the other woman would feed these men, take care of their mules, and after the men had eaten, tell them stories from the bible and teach them about Jesus Christ. So here were two women teaching men. Why was that allowed if God forbids it? Gladys led many, many people to the Lord, including many men.
2. My pastor when I lived in Virginia was a woman. Hands down, one of the most anointed preachers of the Word I’ve ever heard. She regularly travels to both India and the Philippines to minister and to train church leaders. This is at God’s leading, not because she loves traveling. The men in those countries absolutely soak up her teaching. They love when she comes to teach and minister in their churches. Why are they okay with Cyndi being a woman and teaching them? Why does it mainly seem to be men in Western churches who have a problem with it?
Banning gifted women from any ministry they are capable of doesn’t make any sense.
Nowhere do I say that Paul does not have authority. I also regard the scriptures as having authority. Authority is not the issue.
Nevertheless, you acknowledge that not all of Paul’s statement carry the same level of authority, and that it depends on context. Everything depends on context. It’s Paul’s meaning and the parameters of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, within their context, that are the issue.
The issue is not whether Paul had the authority to write that verse, he did. The issue is not whether this verse has authority. It does.
Reading every word
We need to read Paul’s words carefully, as I believe he words his letters carefully (e.g., the shift form plural to singular for men/man and women/woman in 1 Tim 2:8-15). Also, Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 was relevant to only a small subset of the Ephesian church. Very few women in the Greco-Roman world (including women in the Ephesian church) could afford elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Only a few rich women could.
Why isn’t the church discussing 1 Timothy 2:9-10 more? Does it have less authority than 1 Tim 2:12? Are verses 9-10 no longer relevant to our rich women? When was the last time we heard someone write or preach on prohibiting women from wearing expensive clothes? Why so much focus on 1 timothy 2:12 and almost none on the previous passage? (I have an article on 1 Tim 2:9-10 here.)
Still, even though Paul addresses the rich women directly and he tells them what he wants, he does not tell them directly what to do in the Greek of verses 9-10. Every word is important if we are to ascertain Paul’s intent and parameters in passages in his letters, and 1 Timothy 2:8-10 is given under Paul’s over-arching boulomai.
About “I” and Romans 8:38
The example you gave in Romans 8:38 is about an understanding that Paul has come to personally, a wonderful understanding. It is a declaration of his own convictions. Still, he gives no directives here. In Romans 8:38, Paul is not saying that everyone else must have the same conviction as him. Rather he is encouraging people. Encouragement is his intent. Moreover, Christians who have trouble accepting Christ’s love to the extent that Paul has are not necessarily being disobedient. Perhaps Paul’s declaration to the Roman church in Roman 8:38-39, where he doesn’t speak of any direct course of action, does make a useful comparison for 1 Timothy 2:12. But I’m not convinced.
About Paul’s Directives in 1 Timothy 6:17, Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Ephesians 5:18
1 Timothy 6:17 is an instruction given directly to Timothy. Paul is telling Timothy to do something. But Paul does not tell Timothy, or anyone else, to do anything in 1 Timothy 2:12. There is no valid comparison between 6:17 and 2:12. In fact I highlight 1 Timothy 6:17 in my argument in my article above because of the different language Paul used. Did you not see this point?
Imperatives and indicatives can be mixed, and sometimes indicatives can be used as commands. I mentioned imperatives in my previous comment because you mentioned Romans 12:2 which contains imperatives, and thus it is not a useful example in explaining what Paul is doing in 1 Timothy 2:12.
In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul, again, he is directly telling Timothy to do something, two things actually. But there is no direct instruction in 1 Tim 2:12. There must be a reason for Paul’s indirect turn of phrase here. In 1 Tim 2:12, Paul is not telling Timothy what to do, which is what is happening in 1 Timothy 6:17 and 2 Timothy 4:11.
Allow me to repeat what I wrote in my article above, and note, it mentions Timothy 6:17 and 2 Timothy 4:11:
(Excuse the bold font. Quotations are automatically formatted in bold.)
Also, Ephesians 5:18, another verse you brought up, is addressed to the church in Ephesus, or, more likely, the letter’s audience was even bigger. Many Scholars believe Ephesians was written as a circular letter to be distributed in Asia Minor. Context informs us that Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:18 had a broad and general audience. Furthermore, Ephesians 5:18 contains plural verbs including an imperative verb meaning “be filled”. In this verse, Paul is telling his readers directly what not to do (get drunk) and what to do (be filled with the Spirit).
Unlike what you say, I am not implying that the Ephesian women cannot teach. You have not read what I said carefully enough. You seem to be just asking questions, which I hope I have answered. And you’re quoting verses where, with a couple of exceptions, Paul gives direct instructions to people.
Paul does not give a direct instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:12, he does not tell Timothy or anyone else what to do. The only direct instruction in the passage 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is “A woman must learn . . .”
I love meaningful discussions where there is the opportunity for both parties to learn and grow, but this isn’t a discussion.
If you wish to comment again, can you please try to answer a couple of my questions. And please ponder Wallace’s examples of gnomic verbs. And try to keep comments to less than 300 words.
I have read so many of your articles now and have really been enjoying them and learning so much with each one! Thank you 🙂
(I have especially been pondering more about “Kephale” which we’ve spoken about on another thread).
One question I did think of and I’d love your opinion on-
Regarding “I do not permit” being a temporary arrangement: how does that fit with the “to dominate over a man” part (once the woman HAS learned). Once she has quietly learned it makes sense for her to be permitted to teach but the same cannot be said of her being permitted to dominate.
I hope I’m making sense. What I mean is that the permission doesnt seem likely to be temporary in relation to the domineering?
Hi Sarah, I don’t think “temporary” is the best way to describe Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:12.
While epitrepō (“permit, allow”) is often used regarding permission for a temporary, short-lived situation, it’s also used regarding permission for local, limited, and one-off situations which is what’s have in 1 Timothy 2:12: an Ephesian woman who needed to learn was not allowed to teach, nor to domineer a man (probably her husband), she needed to settle down.
It’s not acceptable to domineer another person. However, Paul is not making a general statement in 1 Timothy 2:12; he is referring to the behaviour of a specific woman (or perhaps a group of women) in Ephesus. I also think the kind of control the woman (or women) was doing was very specific. See point 4 here: https://margmowczko.com/interpretation-of-1-timothy-212/
Hypothetically, if the woman did learn, the prohibition against teaching would no longer apply. And hopefully, she would have also stopped controlling her husband, so the prohibition against domineering would have no longer been necessary. So the relevance of the prohibition may have been short-term. But I still don’t think “temporary” is the best way to describe the prohibitions.
I briefly discuss the question of what happened if the woman learned (and other questions related to 1 Tim 2:12) here:
That helps greatly. So the idea is that “I do not permit” is relevant in a local, limited, once-off situation, rather than “temporary.” And, we are hoping that the person/s did learn and then the limitation no longer applied. I will have a read of those other articles you linked, thank you.
In the same way that the Lord in the parable “not permitting a disciple to go and bury his father” was not “temporary” but it was “relevant” only to that man in his specific situation at the time. He is not refusing anyone else to go to a funeral or perhaps even this man once his situation changed (e.g. Jesus went to heaven). (I know this was a parable but I’m just using it as a literal to try and wrap my head around it).
I think soon I will be able to discuss with others what I have been learning about women in the bible but I want to ensure I understand as best I can so I can answer many of the questions I’m sure they will have. (I come from a strict complementarian background). Thank you for answering all my questions!
You’re welcome, Sarah.
Have you seen this article where I look at every verse in the New Testament that contains epitrepō (“allow, permit”), including Matthew 8:21-22//Luke 9:59?
Also, “bury my father” is an idiom. It doesn’t mean the person’s father was dead and needed to be buried (especially as Jewish people bury their dead on the day of their death, soon after death occurs). Rather the person wanted to be a good son and care for his father while his father lived. He wanted to follow Jesus after he had fulfilled his family commitments.
Here’s a footnote in the The Complete Jewish Study Bible: “This does not mean that this would-be talmid [i.e. disciple] is traveling with Yeshua while his father’s corpse is waiting at home, stinking in the sun. The son wishes to go home and live comfortably until his father dies in the future.”
The son may have simply been trying to get out of giving up everything to follow Jesus, but I think there’s more to it than that. There are a few verses where Jesus shockingly tells his disciples to put following him above family relationships and responsibilities. Jesus knew that the time for his ministry, including the training of disciples, was now, not in a few years.
I’ts been put to me that the idea of to teach is always in the Greek in the positive and if “authentien” is claimed to be in a negative sense then the connecting word “nor” in the Greek doesn’t work.
Is there examples in the bible where something in the greek positive sense is joined by the word “nor” (whatever that is in the greek) to something in a negative?
Hi Sarah, I appreciate how carefully you are looking into this topic.
Paul uses didask– (“teach”) words about 20 times in the Pastoral Epistles, in the context of both good and bad teaching or instruction. Bad teaching was one of Paul’s main concerns when writing to Timothy in Ephesus and to Titus in Crete.
I’ve written more about this in a comment to Kia here:
Regarding oude (“nor, and not”), see my comments to James here:
Note that the conjunction oude itself has a negative sense. It is made up of the words ou/ ouk + de: ou/ ouk means “no, not.”
Why would Paul prohibit something good? Rather, he was disallowing poor teaching from an Ephesian woman who needed to learn and he was disallowing poor behaviour (1 Tim 2:11-12).
Furthermore, 1 Tim. 2:13-14 might be a correction of her poor teaching and 1 Tim 2:15 might be addressing the root cause of her poor behaviour.
Hi. I’m sorry. But if the only hope we have of understanding day scripture whatsoever required this degree of deconstruction snd intellectual utilising of words we would all be bound for hell in a handcart. All translations of scripture were overseen by the Lord himself. We quibble with His authority and abilities at our own expense, as we can clearly see with the resultant confusion ( which God is NOT the author of) within our churches today.
Maggie, No one is quibbling with God’s authority or abilities, but did you really mean to say that all translations of scripture were overseen by the Lord himself? There are several translations of scripture that I won’t touch.
The fact remains that we don’t know the back story for 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with any certainty, and there are several challenges with understanding Paul’s actual words.
Daniel Wallace lists even more interpretive issues with 1 Timothy 2:12ff than the 6 I’ve mentioned in this article. If you’re interested, see “Further Reading” above.
Yes Marg. ALL translations …. even the appalling Message Bible. If this translation doesn’t teach us the absolute sacredness of Gods truth and absolute sincerity in warning us to neither add nor take away from His Word, then nothing will !!
God oversaw an appalling translation? That doesn’t sound like God to me.
There are worse Bible translations than the Message, and the Message isn’t really a translation, as such.
My point is that God allowed the appalling translation because of our disobedience.
And Marg. Please understand that it is not just the inky markings on paper ( I.e. words). Understanding scripture ( or not!) is about how our hearts and minds interact with it. The more earnestly we seek God, and the more we purify our lives thro obedience, the clearer scripture becomes to us.
Maggie, “allowing” and “overseeing” are not synonymous.
Are you saying we are to trust translations even the appalling ones that God has allowed? You may be comfortable with doing that, but it’s not for me.
Words have meaning, and I want to understand the words that Jesus and Paul used, the words that are recorded in the Greek New Testament. To do that, I use my intellect (my mind) and the skills I’ve learned in studying the Greek language and first-century Greco-Roman culture, and I rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I do not rely on any translations, including English translations.
And none of this has to do with deconstruction. I take Paul’s actual words in 1 Timothy 2:12 seriously and literally–the actual Greek words that he wrote to Timothy almost 2000 years ago. But if you want to trust translations, including the appalling ones, that’s up to you.
My whole aim in devoting myself to studying the first-century world of Jesus and Paul, etc, and the original language of the New Testament, is so that I can understand and live by their teachings more faithfully. It’s all about devotion and obedience and using the gifts God has given me, including my mind.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
Don’t you see hiw your ‘arguments’ are simply going to stretch into infinity with no conclusion whatsoever ?? That’s because it is a lie. St. Paul taught truth, and thankfully knew what a full stop was !! Unlike yourself, it seems.
Of course not !! I certainly wouldn’t trust all translations. God has given me discernment. I do not quibble about words. I believe what I read in the Bibles I’ve been weaned on and do everything in my power to be obedient. I do not understand why you argue continuously about words. You k ow full well what Paul has taught us about women not being allowed to teach men, and he even explains why, but your heart refuses to submit. Why is that ?
Maggie, Paul does not say that women cannot teach men. That is an interpretation of one verse, one verse in the entire Bible.
The fact that you have said “you know full well” to me indicates that you think I’m being disingenuous. That is unfortunate and judgemental on your part. I write what I genuinely believe. You don’t have to accept what I bring to the discussion of 1 Timothy 2:12, but it does you no credit to assume that I’m being disingenuous.
Your gift may not be words, but it is mine. And thankfully, I don’t answer to you but to my master (Romans 14:4).
Believe what you want, Maggie. but don’t be too hasty in silencing your sisters. God really has no problem if a gifted or godly woman teaches anyone, and neither did Paul. He valued his female coworkers in the Gospel. Paul only silenced problem speaking from men and from women.
Goodbye Maggie. I wish you well.
Margaret. Don’t be too hasty in assuming you’re my sister ! Goodbye Marg. You also feel free to believe what you want. To infinity ….. and beyond !!
Hello Marg – I wanted to start with a compliment for I believe you are very gifted with reasoning and careful with your study. I see that you are taking flak with equanimity; you represent the noble Bereans who searched the scriptures to test what is true. I read Cynthia Westfall’s Paul and Gender, which turned me from anxiety to falling in love with Paul’s writing. In the past, I have read 1 Timothy 2 feeling spiritually slapped as if Paul were angry at all women to receiving his words word with the grace he intended and how men and women have more similarities in expected behavior than differences. I also have distanced myself from some egalitarians that seem to go beyond the text without providing thorough interpretive support. In reading your analysis thus far, you are careful to keep it text centered and I respect the search for truth.
I have two questions (not a Greek scholar). Your understanding of authentein differs from Westfall. She pondered that this word my indicate misusing sexuality in teaching to coerce men through sensuality, perhaps like the pagan shrine prostitutes and priestesses (the cultural milieu that these early Christians had to be left behind). Whereas, you indicate elsewhere that it may have been a type of celibacy in marriage. A very interesting consideration and perhaps a type of false ascetism that ran contrary to Paul’s teaching on the interdependency of husband and wife and not to refrain from intimacy for too long and exclusiveness from his statement, let the marriage bed be undefiled. What are your thoughts about Westfall’s interpretation of authentein?
Second is a simpler question. It really was an eye opener to me that there is a shift from plural to singular in 1 Timothy 2 9-15. Westfall helped me understand that the antidote to Eve’s gullibility is learning (and elsewhere we see that false teachers worm their way into homes of weak women). My question centers on the use of “a woman” and “a man”. Elsewhere you have indicated this could be read a wife and a husband. My question from ignorance is whether it could be translated “the wife” and “the husband”, indicating Paul is answering Timothy’s question about a particular couple mentioned in a letter to Paul. Can the Greek be read this way in the passage where it is singular?
Thank you so much for your time and sharing your knowledge!
Hello El. My basic understanding of the word authentein is similar, perhaps identical, to Dr Westfall’s understanding, and I quote her a few times on the topic of authentein. I agree with her on the basic sense of the word.
However, as you say, I think 1 Timothy 2:12b and 15 refers to a woman or a group of women in Ephesus who were domineering, or controlling, their husbands by refusing to have sex. There’s lots of evidence that early Christians were renouncing sex: they were leaving marriages, staying single, and giving up on procreation (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). I discuss this here. https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/
I don’t see the connection between using sensuality and childbirth. But Paul doesn’t give us the context of 1 Timothy 2:15, so we can’t be pedantic about it.
Dr Westfall is one of the people behind the translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in the Common English Bible, and she has translated this passage using the words “wife” and “husband.” Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, the singular for “woman” and “man” occasionally refers to “wife” and “husband,” but he also uses the plural in a few passages.
I agree with almost all of the CEB translation of this passage:
11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. [I prefer a comma after “teach.”]
13 Adam was formed first, and then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife [I prefer “woman” here] became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived.
15 But a wife will be brought safely through childbirth [I don’t think safety is the issue here], if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control. [I prefer to not have a comma separating “holiness” from “self-control.”]