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.
© Margaret Mowczko 2016
All Rights Reserved
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)