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.”


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.


[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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