Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

1 Timothy 2:12, women in ministry

Timothy Knew Paul’s Teaching and Methods of Ministry

During his second missionary journey, Paul travelled to Lystra and met Timothy (Acts 16:1-3). When the apostle moved on, Timothy joined him, and the two became close friends and life-long colleagues. Timothy saw firsthand how Paul handled ministry and he must have heard Paul speak and teach on ministry countless times (2 Tim 2:2; 3:10).

Furthermore, Timothy had been personally trained by the apostle and was frequently sent as an envoy to churches Paul had founded. We know Timothy had been sent to the Christian communities at Thessaloniki and at Ephesus and that Paul planned on sending him to Philippi (1 Thess.  3:2; 1 Tim. 1:3; Phil. 2:19). There were undoubtedly other occasions, not recorded in the New Testament, where Timothy ministered in churches as Paul’s representative.

Timothy knew and understood the apostle’s message, and Paul trusted him. Paul regarded him as a son and as a faithful minister (Phil. 2:22). To the Corinthians, he wrote,

“Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:18-19, italics added; cf. 1 Cor. 16:10).

Perhaps no one knew Paul’s views on theology and church practice better than Timothy. This included Paul’s attitude to women ministers. Moreover, Timothy personally knew Paul’s female friends and fellow ministers, such as Priscilla, and probably worked with them (2 Tim. 4:19; cf. Acts 18).

Paul’s Words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

With the close association between Timothy and Paul in mind, Craig Keener writes about the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12ff (“I do not allow a woman to teach or to control a man …”):

What is most significant about the wording of the passage, however, is that Paul does not assume that Timothy already knows this rule. Had this rule been established and universal, is it possible that Timothy, who had worked many years with Paul, would not have known it already? Paul often reminds readers of traditions they should know by saying, “You know,” or “Do you not know?” or “According to the traditions which I delivered to you.” In his letters to Timothy Paul appeals to “we know” (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:15), “faithful sayings” (e.g., 1 Tim 1:5), and he cites Timothy’s knowledge of Paul’s own life (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He does give general moral counsel relating to Paul’s situation in Ephesus, but quite clearly not all his admonitions to Timothy are directly applicable universally (1 Tim. 5:11-14a, 23; 2 Tim. 4:13). Since this passage is related so closely to the situation Timothy was confronting in Ephesus, we should not use it in the absence of other texts to prove that Paul meant it universally.[1]

In his letters, Paul sometimes frames his teaching in timeless concepts to do with Christology and salvation, but much of his letter to Timothy, including verses 2:11-15, was written in response to particular issues in Ephesus. We need to be careful about applying certain verses in 1 Timothy more broadly when, in fact, some verses addressed specific issues and specific people such as angry men (1 Tim 2:8) and inappropriately attired rich women (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Moreover, it is possible that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 applied to just one couple in the Ephesian church.[2]

Paul’s Teaching about Ministry in his Letters

Paul includes Timothy as a co-sender, and perhaps co-author, in the opening greetings of several New Testament letters, and he mentions Timothy in the closing greetings in his letter to the Romans.[3] It is unlikely that Timothy was ignorant of the contents of Paul’s letters, especially the letters that mention him by name. Paul does not forbid women from teaching or leading in any of these letters. In fact, he acknowledges that women were involved in vocal ministries, such as prophecy, and he does not silence them (1 Cor. 11:5).[4]

In all of Paul’s more general discussion on ministries—in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Ephesians 4:4-13—he says nothing at all about gender (cf. Acts 2:17-18). Rather, he mentions gifts, grace, and faith as being the means and prerequisites for ministry. Furthermore, Paul uses the same ministry descriptions and terminology for male ministers as he does for female ministers.[5]

Paul’s general theology of ministry is this: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have given people various gifts that they should use in ways that build up the church. In other words, “You have a gift, use it.”

Conclusion

Timothy knew Paul’s views on ministry well. So it doesn’t make sense that 1 Timothy 2:12ff represents the apostle’s general teaching on women in ministry, a teaching that Timothy needed to be told or reminded of. It’s more likely that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is advice that refers to a specific, local situation that Timothy had not dealt with before.

As Craig Keener stated, we should not use 1 Timothy 2:12 “in the absence of other texts to prove that Paul meant it universally.” Especially as other biblical texts show that godly women did teach and guide men, with no hint in these passages that either the women or the men were acting improperly.[6]

Rather than disallowing women from being ministers and teachers, Paul’s letters show that the apostle welcomed female ministers in his mission and in the congregations he founded. My hope is that more churches today will recognise Paul’s attitude to women ministers and adopt it as their own.


Footnotes

[1] Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990), 112.

[2] Paul uses the singular “man” and singular “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which is in contrast to the plural “men” and plural “women” in 1 Timothy 2:8-10. More on this here.

[3] Timothy is mentioned as co-sender with Paul in 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Phm. 1:1 (cf. 1 Cor. 16:10).

[4] In his lists of ministries, Paul lists prophets and prophesying before teachers and teaching. He regarded prophecy as an important and influential ministry. See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and Ephesians 4:11.
Paul silenced unruly women and men in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 14:28, 30, 34-35) and a misguided, misinformed woman in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 2:11-15). He did not silence women generally.

[5] E.E. Ellis has observed that “The designations most often given to Paul’s fellow workers are in descending order of frequency as follows: coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Apphia and Phoebe], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).” E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (eds) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 183-189, 183. More on Paul’s terminology for male and female ministers here.

[6] See 1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women

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19 thoughts on “What Timothy knew about Paul’s theology of ministry, and 1 Timothy 2:12

    1. This is such a refreshing perspective. I love it, and I completely agree. Anyone joined to God through the Holy Spirit will accept this reasonable explanation. I’m always so glad when the misunderstood passages of scripture are cleared up. Thank you soo much for the time and effort you take to write these great articles.

      1. Thanks, Tony and Nick.

  1. 1 Timothy 4:1

    Fundamentally, there are two possibilities here. Either the modern philosophy (largely biased by changes driven by secular society) is correct about the role of women as ministers in the Church, in which case all the previous church leaders throughout history were wrong in their interpretation – or vice versa.

    Matthew 11:15

    1. Sweeping flawed statements, statements that aren’t actually responses to the content in the article, are not helpful to anyone. I reject your either-or proposition and suggest you read what Chrysostom had to say about Pricilla, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe, etc. Or Hatto of Vercelli . . .

      And citing single Bible verses with no context at all is a poor practice. Odd choices too.

      Here’s a little bit of context to 1 Timothy 4:1:
      The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

      And to Matthew 11:15:
      And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 11:14-15

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful and gentle argument.

    I have always understood 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the broader context of chapter 3:14’s purpose statement

    “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

    My mind instantly jumped back to this verse as I read your article because while you make some very helpful points (Timothy did know Paul and his ministry really well!), it is striking that Paul seems to have written this letter in order to help Timothy understand things about the church in general, which he did not already understand.

    I can see 2 plausible explanations of Paul doing this,

    1- There were genuinely some areas of ministry/church oversight (perhaps what elders should be like, how to care for widows, role of men and women) that Timothy needed more instruction on.

    2- Perhaps Timothy already was deeply acquainted with Paul’s teachings but the church in Ephesus did not know Paul’s teaching about elders, widows, money, women’s ministry, etc… and by writing this to Timothy, Paul is communicating not just with Timothy here, but with the whole Ephesian church (his words at the end of the epistle “grace be with you all” may be suggestive that this was a letter to be read to the congregation as Paul’s other letters were.

    Do you think those are fair explanations? (bearing in mind that Paul instructs Timothy in many things that we could assume Timothy should have known in this epistle)

    bless you,

    1. Hi David,

      I agree that Paul expected Timothy to read his letter aloud. I believe, however, the issues raised in 1 Timothy 2:8-15–angry men, opulently dressed women, and a misinformed, controlling woman–reflect local issues.

      There is a question about whether 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (and the household of God, the church, being the pillar and foundation of the truth) refers back to preceding verses about the moral qualifications for supervisors and deacons, or if it introduces Paul’s teaching about heresy found in the remainder of 1 Timothy 3 and chapter 4. Perhaps it refers to, and ties together, both sections. Still, the whole letter is pretty much about behaviour or conduct of those in the Christian community at Ephesus.

      1. Thanks Marg,
        for the moment we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether 2:8-15 is specific or general although I acknowledge my reading may be wrong.

        As I have continued to reflect on your argument in this post however I still think the point stands that Timothy should have been expected to know that Paul believed in one God and one mediator between God and men (2:5), what the qualifications of elders and deacons were (3:1-13), that food and marriage are good gifts from God (4:1-5), etc…
        I just don’t think your argument in this particular post holds up, because there are plenty of things Paul instructs Timothy on in the epistle that Timothy should have known. This of course doesn’t prove or disprove either of our positions, I just don’t believe this particular argument is correct.

        God bless, thanks for taking time to respond.

        1. Hi David,

          I mention in the article that “Paul sometimes frames his teaching in timeless concepts to do with Christology and salvation.” Furthermore, while Timothy would have known that there is one mediator between God and humanity, and he would have known that food and marriage are good gifts, he may not have known that these truths made for useful and pertinent counter-arguments to the faulty ideas circulating in the Ephesian church. So Paul mentions them.

          I truly believe that God has no problem whatsoever with a godly woman teaching good doctrine to a man (or men) in a sensible, wholesome manner. Conversely, I believe that authentein is a behaviour that has no place in the community of God’s people, whether it is done by a brother or a sister.

          God bless you too, David. 🙂

  3. Thanks again Marg,

    yep you are a very open egalitarian and I had no doubt of your sincere belief in women teaching.
    As I’m an open complementarian and have a different view as a matter or church order.
    I’m sorry if I was not as obviously and openly complementarian as you are egalitarian.

    I can’t agree with you on authentein because of the exceptional work of Andreas Kostenberger and co. in “Women in the Church.” https://www.bookdepository.com/Women-Church-Andreas-J-Kostenberger/9781433549618?ref=grid-view&qid=1536894524377&sr=1-1

    Their scholarship (3 editions in now as they continue to engage with scholarship) arguing that authentein be taken as a positive verb I find just blows me away, they have worked so hard at this. And many evangelical feminists have particularly affirmed Dr. Kostenberger’s work (while still remaining egalitarian).

    I find this particular post of yours less and less convincing (although this is not to write off your other posts which I have not read- btw I see you have quoted Craig Keener and I really appreciated reading his arguments for egalitarianism some years ago,) I certainly respect your view as serious about scripture and one held by genuine evangelicals. But I believe Claire Smith and many others are right that God designed men and women equal with different ministry roles.

    Thanks for being so up front re. your views as I have sought to be here as well. I realise that stating our views will convince no one, but it is a kindness to be upfront.

    grace and peace

    1. Hi David,

      I’ve read Köstenberger’s chapter closely and have quoted him a few times on this website.

      I briefly discuss Köstenberger’s and Wolter’s idea that authentein has a positive sense, here: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/

  4. I have studied the verse 1 Timothy 2:12 and from what I gather the Greek translation authentein has a stronger meaning to the usual Greek translation of the word authority which is exousia. Authentein carrries the meaning domineer, murder and can even have a sexual vibe possibly seduce. Many believe that Paul was referring to the Artemis cult that taught false doctrines including that Eve was created first and when she ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil it enlightened her and gave her wisdom . Also the cult believed in female superiority and therefore female dominance. Paul was correcting that but warning against teaching women are to dominate men and that it was Adam who was created first and Eve was deceived when she ate from tree. But I agree that Paul wasn’t forbidden women from actually teaching or preaching to men, despite many complentarians views on this verse. God Bless.

    1. Hi CT,

      Authentein (from the verb authenteō) did have a stronger sense than the noun exousia; it also had different nuances than exousia. Authentein is more similar to the verb exousiazō than the noun exousia, but the two different verbs do not correspond well. (More on exousia here.)

      I strongly doubt that ancient writers who were familiar with Koine Greek ever used the verb authenteō (or authentein) to mean “murder.”

      The noun authentēs could mean “murder”– in Classical and Atticistic Greek, authentēs often referred to the murder of kin. A different cognate noun, authentia, which was coined around the same time as the verb authenteō, referred to supreme authority. More on authent– words here: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/

      According to some Artemis myths, the goddess was born before her twin brother Apollo, and some suggest this order of female first and male second is alluded to in 1 Timothy 2:13. But I don’t know of any myths related to Artemis that can account for 1 Timothy 2:14. That is, I have not come across any myth that connects Artemis of Ephesus with eating forbidden fruit or with being deceived. If you have an ancient source that does link Artemis of Ephesus with deception, etc, I’d love to know about it. That would be great!

      On the other hand, we have several ancient texts that teach strange accounts of Adam and Eve, and I suggest that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are given as correct summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3 to correct a warped gnostic, or pre-gnostic, teaching that an Ephesian woman was teaching. You can access and read some of these accounts here: https://margmowczko.com/adam-and-eve-in-gnostic-literature/

      Also, while the Amazons (superior women) are part of the mythology of Ephesus–in fact, the Amazons come up in the mythology of several ancient cities and cults–I have found no evidence that women were generally considered superior to men in first-century Ephesian society. It is true that the high-priest of the cult of Artemis Ephesia was sometimes a woman, but more often than not, the high-priest was a man. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/the-prominence-of-women-in-the-cultic-life-of-ephesus/

      There is plenty of evidence that Artemis was a goddess of childbirth, and she may have something to do with 1 Timothy 2:15. Nevertheless, I suspect ascetic teachings which were widespread in the early church, including Ephesus, are behind Paul’s correction in verse 15 (cf. 1 Tim 4:2-3). I have more about this here: https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/

      But we agree that, whatever the actual situation behind 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul was not prohibiting good teaching from a godly woman.

  5. Marg, I have read many sources over the few years from those who support women’s ordination in the church that have stated that the Artemis cult during that time in Ephesus supported the idea that Eve was created first and women was superior to men thus engaged in female dominance over males. They also believed the the city was founded by the legendary all women warrior tribe, the Amazons and that when Eve ate the forbidden fruit it gave her knowledge. Paul was simply correcting them against such teachings using the word authentein instead of the typical word for authority which is exousia. I also read is that King James translation used used the word authority instead leaving many to believe Paul was teaching women having any authority over menin the church. I can only name a few sources right now that includes Pastor Wade Burelson’s blog Istoria’s Ministries’ Blog in his post titled “Artemis and the End of Us, the Evangelical Errors Regarding Women”. Others include a blog by Jim Reynolds who is professor of s biblical studies in his post titled “The Artemis Cult A.D. 62 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and Women Today”. The Junia Project website “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb” by Gail Wallace. The Christian for Biblical Equality International website(CBE) has a couple of articles one which is a printed essay by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Ronald W. Pierce which was taken from their book “Discovering Biblical Equality” called “Exegetical Fallacies In 1 Timothy 2:11-15” which Linda L. Bellville is mentioned as the author. Another is an article from the God’s Word To Women website (https://godswordtowomen.org) by David Fees. Other articles worth mention is “The Truth About Women in Public Ministry” by Don Rousu in the Revival Mag website published in 1997 and “Can Christian Women Have Authority?” by Amy David Abdallah in the Redbud Writer’s Guild. God Bless.

    1. Hi CT,

      I’ve read all the articles and chapters that you mention. And plenty more too. But I still haven’t seen actual evidence that connects Artemis of Ephesus with forbidden fruit or deception. If I’ve missed it, can you point it out to me? Because that would be important information.

      I’ve written about the goddess. Here is just one article about her: https://margmowczko.com/regalia-artemis-ephesia/

      1. All I can tell you is that from all the sources I’ve read, it was mentioned that the false gnostic teachings of the Artemis cult was taught that it was good that Eve ate from the tree of good and evil, that it have her special knowledge which could be passed on to others and she was called the illuminator and that she brought Adam to life. Paul was correcting those teachings in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Many egalitarians support this information as factual but I can’t give you 100% evidence. Sorry. God Bless.

        1. I just don’t know of any myth about Artemis (a pagan Ephesian goddess) that references Eve (a figure from the Hebrew Bible) or forbidden fruit. It is entirely possible that new ideas were developing that mixed Jewish and pagan elements related to Artemis. Still, I have not seen ancient evidence that supports this idea.

          Is there such a thing as gnostic teaching of the Artemis cult? This sounds like the conflating of two different ideas. I just can’t imagine that Gnosticism was an element in the first-century cult of Artemis. Or am I misunderstanding you? That Artemis ideology infiltrated the Ephesian church is plausible, that Christian Gnostic heresy infiltrated the cult of Artemis is improbable.

          I fully acknowledge that many egalitarians support some of what you are saying. Nevertheless, they are supporting these ideas despite there being no ancient evidence for it. I’m not saying they are wrong ideas; I am saying that they have no historical basis as far as I have seen.

          There are too many false ideas being circulated among Christians that have no basis in fact, such as bald prostitutes in Corinth. So, I prefer to stick with what we have actual evidence for: gnostic myths about Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim 2:13-14), and evidence of the renunciation of sex and procreation in the early church (cf. 1 Tim 2:15).

          If there is literary or epigraphical, etc, evidence that connects Artemis with forbidden fruit or Eve, I really want to know about it. However, I have just scanned Gary Hoag’s thesis The Teachings on Riches in I Timothy in light of Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus which focusses on the Ephesian culture, the Artemis cult and rich women in the Ephesian Church, and he never mentions Eve once, or forbidden fruit, in the entire 300-odd pages. I also reread Aída Besançon Spencer’s paper Eve at Ephesus which concentrates on the Jewish culture that may be behind 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and I didn’t see that she mentions Artemis at all.

          I also reread Linda Belleville’s chapter in Two Views, and the section on culture in her chapter “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15” in Discovering Biblical Equality, and while she discusses Artemis, and mentions in passing that Apollo came second (cf. 1 Tim 2:13), she says nothing about fruit or an Artemis myth that mentions Eve. Linda Belleville does suggest that the cult of Artemis may have emboldened women to think they were superior to men, but she tempers this suggestion with alternate views.

          Anyway, I appreciate this discussion. And I appreciate the work that you do. I don’t think it’s a problem to see the background of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 differently. God bless. 🙂

  6. These are very interesting insights about these verses! It is interesting that they are placed in a context that is addressing specific situations rather than general ones. One thing I wonder, though, is about 1 Timothy 3:14-15. Is it possible for this to be a purpose statement for the whole letter? I have heard that these verses state the purpose of the letter many times, and I don’t know Greek, but I’ve always wondered if 1 Timothy 3:14-15 is phrased in such a way that it could be about the whole letter?

    1. I think the major issue being addressed in the letter, “other doctrines,” is articulated at the beginning of the letter (1 Tim. 1:3-7; cf 1 Tim. 4:1ff). But there are several issues addressed in the letter (rich people not being arrogant and not placing their confidence in wealth; the moral qualifications for ministers; care of widows; etc).

      1 Timothy 3:14-15 seems to refer back to 1 Timothy 3:1b-13. The Greek word for household (oikos) occurs four times in chapter 3, in 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12, 15. [Oikos occurs one other time in 1 Timothy, in 1 Tim. 5:4. A closely related word is used in 1 Tim. 5:13.]

      In a way, every New Testament letter is about how people who belong to “the household of God” (the family of God) and to the church (the community of the redeemed) should behave. The NT letters are also about what Christians should believe which also affects behaviour.

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