Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. I don’t allow a woman to teach or to domineer a man; instead, she is to be quiet. . . But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, and love, and holiness with good sense. 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 15

Many Christians believe 1 Timothy 2:12 contains general teaching that applies to all women, forever restricting their ministry. But for a while now, I’ve come to believe that this verse may be about a particular married couple in the Ephesian church and is limited in scope.

One reason for my belief is Paul’s switch from the plural “men” and “women” in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 to the singular “man” and “woman” in verses 11-12. There is a reason why Paul switched from plural to singular, and we need to pay attention to the apostle’s choice of language.[1]

The second reason I believe 1 Timothy 2:12 is about a particular couple is because of the singular verb sōthēsetai in 1 Timothy 2:15. This verb is correctly translated as “she will be saved” and refers to a woman, not plural women. The plural verb meinōsin “they continue” in the same verse probably refers to the couple: “she [a woman] will be saved . . . if they [the couple] continue . . .) [2]

The third reason I believe 1 Timothy 2:12 is about a particular couple, and not referring to all women in general, is because the context of the second half of 1 Timothy 2 is the problem behaviour of particular people in the Ephesian church.

~ In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul addresses the problem of specific men. He is not speaking about all Christian men, only those who were praying with unresolved anger issues and quarrels, and Paul offers correction to their behaviour.

~ In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul addresses the problem of specific women, certain rich women who were wearing luxurious hairstyles, jewels and clothing. These two verses do not refer to all Christian women, only to those who were showing off their wealth, and Paul offers correction.

~ In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul narrows his focus to the problem behaviour of one of these rich women.[3] This woman was not ready to teach—she needed to learn quietly—and she was acting in a domineering or controlling manner (Greek: authenteō) towards a man, most likely her husband. Her controlling behaviour may have stemmed from a concern about the effects of sex and procreation on salvation, a not uncommon concern in the early church.[4] Her controlling behaviour may also have stemmed from piety or holiness but without good sense or moderation: sexual asceticism or renunciation.

Paul offers corrections (1) to the woman’s behaviour in verse 11-12, (2) to her teaching in verses 13-14, and (3) to her concern about salvation in verse 15.

All these verses in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are about specific people and specific problems in the Ephesian church. These verses are corrective. They are not general teaching. This doesn’t mean that principles cannot be derived from these verses, but we need to understand Paul’s intent here before we work out any principles and apply them more broadly.

Understanding Paul’s intent is not straightforward, however; and we need to acknowledge that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear in the original Greek as in most English translations. For instance, is there one prohibition or two in verse 12? That is, should we understand Paul as saying I am not allowing a woman to teach a man in a domineering fashion (one prohibition)? Or was Paul saying, in effect, I am not allowing a woman (1) to teach, nor am I allowing her (2) to domineer a man/husband (two prohibitions)?[5]

And why did Paul provide Timothy with an accurate summary statement of Genesis 2 and an accurate summary statement of Genesis 3 in 1 Timothy 2:13-14? Paul makes his statements without explaining why he brings up Adam and Eve. I suggest it was to guide Timothy on how to correct the woman’s faulty teaching about Adam and Eve.[6]

Paul did not seem to consider the ministries of his female coworkers a problem. Paul makes no mention of restrictions regarding the ministries of Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Nympha, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis and others. Rather, he offers warm commendations and greetings. And in his general teaching on ministry—in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11, Colossians 3:16—Paul gives no hint that some of these ministries are only for men.

I believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15 probably refers to a particular couple. Nevertheless, two principles we can take from verses 11-12 are that (1) people who are lacking in Bible knowledge and still have basic theology to learn should not teach (cf. 1 Tim. 1:6), and (2) no one, man or woman, should dominate (authenteō) their spouse or a fellow believer.[7]

Footnotes

[1] The Greek words translated as “man” and “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:12 can also be translated as “husband” and “wife.” Some argue that the lack of a definite article for “woman” indicates a generic woman, not a particular woman. I discuss this here. And see the postscript below. It is also possible that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 refers to a few married couples in the Ephesian church.

[2] Unfortunately, the singular verb (“she will be saved) is mistranslated in several English Bibles (CEV, NASB, NIV, NLT, etc) seemingly because the translators haven’t understood what Paul was saying. The GNT, HCSB, NET, etc, mistranslate the plural verb (“they continue”). The translators of these Bibles appear to have second-guessed Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:15 rather than allowing the apostle to speak for himself.

[3] In 1 Timothy 2:11, Paul uses the rhetorical device of asyndeton, that is, he does not use a connecting word to begin verse 11. Many Greek sentences begin with a connective word, a conjunction, but in verse 11, after writing about certain wealthy women in Ephesus, Paul writes, “Woman (gynē) . . . ”
Asyndeton is sometimes used to quicken the pace of a written work or speech in Greek, whereas it is the usual way of constructing English sentences.
In his book Discourse Features of the New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on The Information (Dallas: SIL International, 2000), 119, Stephen Levinson notes that asyndeton may be used in Greek as the text moves from generic to specific. A conjunction is used in 1 Timothy 2:8 (about men), oun, and in 1 Timothy 2:9 (about women), kai. I suggest Paul is moving from addressing the problem of some wealthy women in verses 9-10 to addressing the problem of one wealthy woman in verses 11-15.

[4] Some Christians were forbidding marriage in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 4:3). Furthermore, we know that some Christians were renouncing sex within marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-7). This was because of faulty beliefs that associated virginity and celibacy (or continence in marriage) with salvation and the resurrection. See my article Chastity, Salvation and 1 Timothy 2:15 here.

[5] Given the structure of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the Greek, I think the two-prohibition interpretation is more likely. The word didaskein (“to teach”) is the first word in 1 Timothy 2:12 and is not grammatically linked to the word andros (“man”) which is the seventh word; these two words are separated by five words in the Greek:
didaskein de gunaiki ouk epitrepō, oude authentein andros.
I suggest that in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul is not allowing an ill-informed woman ‘to teach’ (didaskein) anyone, and he is not allowing her ‘to dominate’ (authentein) ‘a man’ (andros).

[6] See my article Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature, here.

[7] In his tenth homily on Colossians, Chrysostom commented on Colossians 3:19 and wrote that husbands should not domineer (authenteō) their wives. Authenteō in Chrysostom’s comment is translated as “act the despot” in Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. More on the meaning of the word authenteō here.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!


Postscript: Specific women mentioned in the NT without a definite article

This article has raised questions about the absence of definite articles with the words “woman” and “man” in 1 Timothy 2:11 and in 2:12. I wanted to keep this post short, especially as I have previously discussed the absence of definite articles, here, but I’ll leave a few extra notes.

~ The rules about using or not using a definite article are complex, and they are not exactly the same in English as they are in Greek.

~ Definite articles are often used in the New Testament in verses that apply generically or broadly to men and/or to women. Also, there is no indefinite article in ancient Greek, but we add them in English translations when necessary.

~ In First Timothy, the occurrence of definite articles is quite light in comparison with some other books of the New Testament. Stylistically, Paul just doesn’t use many definite articles in this letter.

~ Immediately preceding 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul uses a definite article for the men in 1 Timothy 2:8, but he doesn’t use a definite article for the women in 1 Timothy 2:9 or in 1 Timothy 2:10. Nevertheless, two groups of specific people—1. angry quarrelling men and 2. overdressed rich women, not men and women in general—are in view.

Furthermore, a couple of people have said to me that the New Testament never mentions a specific woman without using the definite article. This is incorrect. Here are a few examples of verses about  specific women, or one woman, where there is no definite article in the Greek. I have a simple objective here despite the complexity of the grammatical issue: it is to show that “a woman” without the definite article in Greek can refer to a specific woman.

The woman in the parable of leaven: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven [yeast] that a woman took and mixed into fifty pounds of flour until all of it was leavened” (Matt. 13:33 cf. Luke 13:21).
While this is a parable and doesn’t record an actual event or a real person, we are meant to envision one woman, not women in general.

The woman of Canaan: Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out . . . (Matt. 15:22) . . . “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want” (Matt. 15:28).
This woman is introduced without an article but is identified by her place of origin. In verse 28 Jesus addresses her directly as “woman” in the vocative case (and therefore without an article).

The woman with the alabaster jar in Mark 14:3ff: . . . a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on [Jesus’s] head (Mark 14:3).
In this passage, this woman is never identified as “the woman” with the definite article.

The widow of Zarephath: “Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them except to a woman, a widow, at Zarephath in Sidon” (Luke 4:26).

Timothy’s mother: . . .  there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman . . . (Acts 16:1).

Prominent women of Thessalonica: Also, not a few women of the foremost [families] (Acts 17:4).  

Damaris of Athens: However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them (Acts 17:34).

Several other New Testament women are initially introduced as “a woman” without a definite article, but definite articles are used in the following verses in reference to them. Here is a small sample: The bleeding woman (Matt. 9:20ff; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43); the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25ff); and the Samaritan woman (John 4:7ff).

Only one of the women in these examples is named, Damaris. A few are identified by where they lived. A few are identified by their actions. However, just as the men and women in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 did not need to be named, the woman in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 did not need to be named. Both Paul and Timothy, as well as the church at Ephesus, knew who she was. Furthermore, she did not need to be identified by where she lived; she lived in Ephesus. And her actions were that she was teaching without being qualified (1 Tim. 2:11; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) and she was domineering a man. Paul was not writing a narrative with characters like the Gospel writers and the author of Acts; he was writing a letter to Timothy who knew the people and the situations Paul was referring to in verses 8-15.

I have no desire to push my proposed interpretation of this tricky passage of scripture. And I have no problem with fellow believers who have doubts or who outright reject my interpretation. Rather I present it here and in other articles to anyone who is interested.

Image Credit

Photo taken by Matheus Viana via Pexels (cropped).


Related Articles

All articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.
All articles on The Created Order here.
The Anonymous Man and Woman in 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Chastity, Salvation and 1 Timothy 2:15
An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Paul’s Instructions for Modest Dress in 1 Timothy 2:9
6 reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
Paul’s Female Coworkers
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?
Faith and Feminism podcast

Podcast

A few months ago I was interviewed by Meghan Tschanz for her podcast Faith and Feminism. Our topic was “Do Biblical Gender Roles Exist?” I had a great time. The interview was posted online on the 27th of August on Meghan’s website here and on Apple Podcasts here.

 

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

55 thoughts on “3 reasons why it’s a woman, not all women, in 1 Timothy 2:12

  1. Another thought-provoking article. Thank you for your work. My question/observation is that the antecedent of “she” in 2:15 is “the woman” of v.14? The woman in question is Eve. The article with τεκνογονίας literally translated implies one specific birth. It seems strange but isn’t it possible that Paul is showing that even Eve can be redeemed?

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’ve looked at the antecedent (anaphoric reference) idea, but was ultimately unconvinced. Also, in Greek, the definite article is often used with abstract nouns but is left untranslated in English as it doesn’t always have a “definite” sense as we understand it. Also, the verb of τεκνογονίας is used later in 1 Timothy 5:14. I don’t think Paul’s concern was Eve’s redemption but a woman’s behaviour.

      While I can’t be 100% certain, I am inclined to think that a certain woman in Ephesus believed that sex and procreation threatened her salvation. We know this idea circulated in the second century and we see signs of it in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/

  2. I will often ask people if it is ok for a man to usurp authority. Funny how no one will answer that.

    1. I’ve said similar things. 🙂 Authentein (“to domineer”) is unacceptable behaviour for all followers of Jesus.

      1. I am not convinced that the proper translation is about authority at all, but I am willing to play along to make people think about what they are saying!!

        1. I often use the KJV’s “usurp authority” when I’m speaking generally about this verse and don’t want to go into detail.

  3. Marg, I appreciate and learn much from your thoughtful deconstruction of biblical texts. This is the first time, though, where it feels a little like you are forcing the text to conform to your agenda. In other words- the argument seems a little weak in the way it’s presented without a nod to the dozens perhaps 100’s of scholarly scribes and editors over the centuries who had to discern the text and its meaning. I am not convinced that so many people who handled the responsibility of editing would have glossed over the difference between Paul making a general statement using the term: a woman should… ; versus specifying: that woman should…There is simply too much in debate regarding this letter to assume Paul is being specific.

    For example, early manuscripts don’t even include the word ‘Ephesus’ so there is no certainty about Paul’s intention to identify specific people or couples in that congregation. Also, in researching the greek translation of the word ‘woman’ or ‘a woman’ , as a reader, I am inclined to feel it’s a general reference rather than Paul implicating a specific woman or wife. I believe it would have been preserved over the years and many translations as ‘that woman’ rather than ‘a woman’.

    Paul alludes to texts that only well-read Jews would prick their ears up to. Isaiah 3 for example is being alluded to in 1 Tim 2:9 when he talks about how women are adorned. A Jew reading this letter in Paul’s day would immediately be reminded of Isaiah’s description in part of the signs of Israel’s downfall…the way in which women are adorned. Paul’s words are telegraphing directly onto Isaiah. That is very intentional, and makes me wonder if indeed the original audience were Jewish believers.

    And, I query your unconditional acceptance of Paul’s Genesis reference in as much as he fails to mention that while Woman’s salvation is through childbirth, it is the Ezer’s curse. Paul, in Timothy makes it sound like a blessing. in Genesis, the word ‘Ezer’ is woman’s identity at the time of her curse of increased pain in childbirth. So- childbirth is presented to the Ezer as a curse- – not her salvation; even though it technically was her salvation in comparison to death, the original punishment God warned about.

    I believe Paul and subsequent editors of his writing intentionally avoided a precise reference to the wording of Genesis because Ezer is a loaded term that means (among other things) ‘salvation’. My read of this passage is an example of Paul twisting scripture in order to make his point….just like it feels a little like you are forcing your agenda onto Paul’s writing in order to justify women taking on a teaching/preaching role in the church.

    I believe women can and should teach and preach. In the case of Paul’s letters to Timothy, though, I don’t find it….yet.

    Forever an unfailing fan of your work. It just happens in this case: I want to agree with you, but the textual argument did not make the case for me.

    1. Please reread Gen 3. Neither the Man or the Woman was cursed. The serpent was and the ground was cursed because of what the man did. But the woman was not cursed. Having multiple conceptions and hard work to bring forth offspring was not a curse.

      1. YES, Cassandra Wright!!

      2. You are right increased pain in childbirth was not given as a curse but rather a consequence. God did not say, “cursed are you” to the woman.

    2. Hi Therese,

      I admit these are my own ideas and I admit I don’t agree with how past scholars have understood 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The fact that several English translators have chosen not to translate the singular and/or plural senses of the verbs that Paul used in verse 15, is an indication they did not fully understand Paul’s meaning.

      I am not implying that I fully understand Paul’s meaning in these verses, I don’t, but the ideas presented here, though they may sound forced to you, make good sense to me. I make no claim that my interpretation of these verses is “the” correct one. Not at all. Rather, I am contributing my interpretation to the discussion.

      Are you mistaking the letter to the Ephesians when you say “early manuscripts don’t even include the word ‘Ephesus.’” I’ve just checked and there are no textual difficulties with 1 Timothy 1:3 when Paul says to Timothy, “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” I believe most of 1 Timothy refers to specific issues within the Ephesian church.

      “A woman” (or “a wife”), or simply “woman” (or “wife”), is a literal translation of gunē in 1 Timothy 2:11 and in 1 Timothy 2:12, not that literal translations are always the best. What “a woman” or “woman” means to us (without the definite article) may not be what Paul meant to convey to his Greek-speaking audience. (I discuss that in another article.) The KJV translates gunē as “the woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11 KJV. Past English translations, however, are not my guide, nor are modern translations. The NLT does a terrible job with these verses! The biblical text itself, in Greek, is my guide.

      I’m not sure what you mean by my unconditional acceptance of the Genesis references. 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are correct summaries of Genesis 2 and 3. (Genesis 2-3 refers to another couple.) How and why Paul used these statements, however, is debatable. Why would he avoid an allusion to salvation, as you suggest, when he mentions salvation in verse 15? And Paul does borrow language directly from Genesis 2 and 3 in the Septuagint. He is not twisting scripture, though in other letters he sometimes uses examples from the Hebrew Bible in new and “interesting” ways. Also, there is no evidence of scribes tampering with these verses. There is consistency in how these verses are rendered in old manuscripts. Anyway, I’ve written about 1 Timothy 2:13-14 in other articles, here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/1-timothy-213-14/

      I have no problem that some, perhaps many, people will not accept my interpretation. This is the nature of 1 Timothy 2:11-15; it is a genuinely difficult passage to work out.

      1. Thank you. I continually look to your work in order to learn and explore more in scripture.

      2. I looked up the Greek word used in both instances and it is the same word so how do you differentiate between one being plural and one not?

        1. I mention a few Greek words in the article. Which Greek words are you referring to, Adam? And in which verses?

        2. This may answer your question. I’ve partially parsed the “man/husband” and “woman/wife” nouns, and I’ve partially parsed the two verbs in 1 Timothy 2:15.

          1 Timothy 2:8-15 in the SBL Greek New Testament (Source)

          8 Βούλομαι οὖν προσεύχεσθαι τοὺς ἄνδρας [“the men” plural accusative noun] ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ, ἐπαίροντας ὁσίους χεῖρας χωρὶς ὀργῆς καὶ διαλογισμοῦ. 9 ὡσαύτως καὶ γυναῖκας [“women” plural accusative noun] ἐν καταστολῇ κοσμίῳ μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης κοσμεῖν ἑαυτάς, μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν καὶ χρυσίῳ ἢ μαργαρίταις ἢ ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ, 10 ἀλλ’ ὃ πρέπει γυναιξὶν [“for women” plural dative noun] ἐπαγγελλομέναις θεοσέβειαν, δι’ ἔργων ἀγαθῶν.

          11 γυνὴ [“woman” singular nominative noun] ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ· 12 διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ [“woman” singular dative noun] οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός [“man” singular genitive noun], ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ. 13 Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη, εἶτα Εὕα· 14 καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη, δὲ γυνὴ [“the woman” singular nominative noun] ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν. 15 σωθήσεται [“she will be saved” singular verb] δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν [“they continue” plural verb] ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης.

          How do I differentiate between plural or singular? I can read Koine Greek.

          1. Sorry the word for women in 1 Timothy. Please understand I agree with you so just trying to learn

          2. No worries. I hope the info I’ve provided makes sense and is useful.

          3. The transliteration of both words is the same in the “Dictionary of Biblical Languages. That may ne where the confusion lies

          4. I figured you might have used a dictionary or lexicon that only has the “lexical” form of the noun for “woman,” rather than all the different forms of the word, such as singular forms in the oblique cases and plural forms in all cases.

            Greek nouns have different case endings depending on whether the word is the subject, object, direct object, etc, of the sentence. [The lexical form of nouns is the singular form in the nominative (subject) case.]

          5. Unfortunately I don’t read Greek so I use the books in my Logos library

  4. Hello Marg, great article.

    The Timothy verses were part of my Thesis work (MA Theology). I came to similar conclusions with a slightly different tack. I too noticed the narrowing scope of the people being addressed. I also believe that, as with most of Paul’s epistles, doctrine and behavior are the issue.

    The Greek term αὐθεντέω — used in this case — is exceptional occurring only here in the NT (a parallel use can be found in an astrological treatise relating to the future social status of an unborn child). We commonly see the Greek word ἐξουσία in passages referring to authority, power, dominion, governance, jurisdiction, and ruling.

    I think your conclusions about 2:12 might be a both/and. Certain (wealthy) women, were exerting or taking unbestowed and unearned authority (αὐθεντέω) within the church setting (likely in their marriages as well). (Perhaps there was one woman who was particularly notable – an instigator). Not only was this spreading false teaching, but also disruptive and a poor witness to those within and outside the church body.

    I appreciate your work!

    1. Thanks, Leann.

      While I believe a particular couple is in view, I do recognise that these verses may refer to more than one married couple, that more than one wealthy woman needed to learn, was not to teach, and was not to domineer her husband. I’ve written a somewhat technical article on αὐθεντέω here: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/

  5. I have to agree with Therese regarding the 1 Timothy 2:11-15 verse. I don’t believe Paul was referring only to one particular couple. He words were “a woman” and “a man” which can be referred to in a plural sense. I have used the word “a man, “a woman”, ‘a child”, “a person, “a spouse” etc in a plural meaning even though the words were used in a singular word. As Paul’s other statements directed at the some of the people in the Ephesian church. It is true that he was focusing on certain people such as the women who were flaunting their wealthy fashion in a vain and conceited way dressing immodestly and possibly causing distractions within the church by telling them to to they should dress more appropriate for church and focus more on good deeds rather than their looks. But the principles behind these verses still could apply today for those who want to truly follow Christ. God Bess.

    1. Hi CT, I agree that the principles behind these verses in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 still apply today. I hope I have made that clear in the article.

  6. Great article, always a pleasure to read your work

  7. My take is that one can make valid possible interpretation choices to understand these verses so they align with patriarchy or one can make other valid possible interpretation choices to understand these verses to align with equality. That is the best I can do personally is to show that these verses are ambiguous. But I think that is enough, as long as comps cannot claim that these verses are straightforwardly clear in supporting patriarchy, then we need to look elsewhere. And they are anything but clear.

    Being egalitarian, my preferred reading is that Paul is discussing in some detail telling Timothy how to handle a small group of out-of-order women in Ephesus, possibly one woman (your preferred reading), but possibly a few. Why then does Paul shift from plural to singular and then back to plural? I think this is because in regards to a group, what each person does is up to each of them. Some once taught the truth (ala 1 Tim 2:11) may do the right thing and some may not; of course, the hope is that all do the right thing, but Paul cannot assume that or somehow invoke a group decision when it is each person’s individual decision.

    On the current application, I agree with you. 1) Before anyone can teach, they must first learn the truth. 2) No one should dominate another, as Jesus also said.

    1. I wanted to clarify why I may slightly expand your preferred singular woman at Ephesus to a small group (perhaps only one) of out-of-order women at Ephesus. This is in case you want to follow up on this idea.

      Daniel Wallace in his “Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics” has 85 pages on The Greek Article, including a big section on its absence and what that means. He gives 3 senses of what that absence might mean, in my terms in English: (1) it still might be definite (in English, the X) even thought the definite article was not used, (2) it might be indefinite, (in English, a/an X), or (3) it might refer to a previously specified group (including possibly one). It is this 3rd case that I think is happening in 1 Tim 2:11-12, referring back to 1 Tim 2:9-10. However, I could (easily) be missing something or misunderstanding something.

      1. Many English speakers assume the definite article in Greek works the same as in English, but this is not the case. I discuss the lack of definite article in 1 Tim 2:11ff in this article. https://margmowczko.com/anonymous-man-woman-1-timothy-2/

        Note also the definite article is used of the men in the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:8 but not of the women in 2:9 or 2:10.

        Also, stylistically, 1 Timothy is relatively light in its use of definite articles compared with usage in other letters of the New Testament, including 2 Timothy.

        1. Right. In Greek, it is fine to refer to “the Paul” although that sounds strange in English so it is dropped.

          I guess the point of my post is that I did not know the 3rd possibility was even possible until I read Wallace. One I understood that, I figured it was one way to address the change from plural to singular to plural.

  8. Insightful article. Thoughtfully written. You have given me much to consider, or reconsider. Thanks

  9. Marg, thank you very much for another thoughtful article. I am so glad I found your website.

    For quite some time I have tried to figure out this verse and I kept coming back to some other verses that Paul wrote. I find it interesting that he states that certain things he wrote about to the church were his opinions and not directives from God.
    1 Cor. 7:12, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.”
    1 Cor. 7:25, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.”
    2 Cor. 11:17, “That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting.”

    Like you, I believe Paul was speaking about a specific couple in the Ephesian Church. Couldn’t it be that in I Timothy 2:12 (like in the other verses), Paul was again giving his opinion on a matter, except he didn’t feel the need to clarify that it was his opinion? We have to remember that Paul wasn’t writing to us, he was writing to a specific group of people and they would have completely understood what he meant. This is not to say that we can’t gain understanding or insight from his writings, but I keep thinking, if it were truly a mandate from God, if there is something inherently wrong with all women that makes us unacceptable in a position over a man, then Paul would have made it absolutely clear that God didn’t want women teaching or being in authority over men. But he doesn’t say that, he says “I do not permit”.

    I’m sorry, but when I compare the rest of Paul’s writings about equality and love for all men and women and read the great praise that he gave to multiple women who worked alongside of him, the few verses that make him sound like a misogynist just don’t make sense. In fact, they seem to contradict his character. Isn’t it logical then to believe that he wasn’t speaking to all men and women for all time, but rather a specific couple, in a specific church, during a specific cultural period of time? And if that is the case, then we are the ones who have misunderstood the actual meaning of his words and have done a world of harm to the body of Christ.

    Shame on us. Really, is having a woman who is completely devoted to God and wants to lead others to Christ, in a teaching position over a man a bad thing? Why would God put restrictions only on women because of our biological sex? How does being a woman somehow make us inferior or not capable of being in a Pastoral position, especially if God is no respecter of persons? If my teaching aligns with God’s word and I am allowed to lead other women and children, then how would using the same biblical teaching to lead men somehow turn into an unacceptable thing? It doesn’t add up.

    I could be wrong, but if we all become sons of God the moment we put our faith in Christ, then as men and women we are considered equals in God’s eyes. There are no caveats.

    To my brothers and sisters in Christ, I would ask you to please consider the idea that we have taken these verses out of context. These verses do not change the message of the Gospel one iota. If you knew me, you would be assured that I have no desire to usurp anyone’s authority. I love God with all my being. He has forgiven my sins and saved me from death. I owe Him everything. My desire is to let God use me in all I say and do, so that as many people as possible will come to know Christ.

    This inequality in the church needs to end. If you can’t learn something from me simply because I am a female, then something is wrong. As Paul said in Colossians 3:15-16, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Let us teach one another and work together for God’s kingdom!

    1. I agree, Regina, all except for the bits about “over.” Ideally, no Christian brother or sister is over or under another person.

      The authorisation to minister, whether as a teacher or in some other ministry, which ultimately comes from God, is not an authority “over” another person. I write about this here.

      1. Thank you Marg! Yes, I agree, no Christian should be in authority over another Christian. It was a poor choice of wording on my part while trying to get my thoughts out.

  10. I believe the same thing! After reading many scholars on this passage I became convinced this was one woman, one couple. Otherwise the shifts between singular and plural don’t make sense. And also there is the difference in the way Greek uses “the.” You present this so clearly here! I appreciate the way you make this complex passage more clear.

    1. Thanks, Becky.

      It does make good sense to see the man and woman as a particular couple. I have trouble following both the logic and the grammar in interpretations that say “woman” and “she will be saved” applies generically to all women.

  11. Thanks for this fascinating interpretation. I am unconvinced – and I think the approach is dependent on treating every word, phrase, and sentence in the Bible as being so inspired by Almighty God to be eternally binding and applicable. I discuss a different approach in response here: https://liturgy.co.nz/i-permit-no-woman-to-teach

    Blessings

    Bosco
    http://www.liturgy.co.nz

    1. Hi Bosco,

      My approach treats every word, phrase, and sentence in 1 Timothy 2 as part of an actual letter.

      I read your article. I have no problem with people questioning and rejecting my proposed interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, it is to be expected, but I’m not sure how your points critique what I’ve written.

      Does it matter that 2:11-15 may refer to a woman and man not previously mentioned in the 1 Timothy? Does it matter, for example, that the problem with some young widows mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:13-15 is not previously alluded to? And are there any allusions in the letter, previous to 1 Timothy 2:8-10, to the men praying while angry or to the women opulently dressed?

      Also, I use the word “Paul” in my article because that is the name the author of 1 Timothy has put at the beginning of the letter (1 Tim. 1:1). My discussion on 1 Timothy 2, or on any passage in the disputed Pauline letters, is not dependent on it being written by the apostle Paul.

      Further, whether one takes the words in 1 Timothy as “inspired by Almighty God” and “eternally binding and applicable” or not, it doesn’t change the text of 1 Timothy, which is what I’ve interacted with. I mostly leave questions about inspiration, authority, and authorship to others. These things seem to be your main concern, but they are not mine. I prefer to take the text as it comes, taking into account its ancient context and genre, etc.

      There are various interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 held by contemporary scholars, some I disagree with strongly. But there is a growing group of scholars who believe that these few verses refer to a problem dynamic among some married couples in the Ephesian church. The CEB translation reflects this interpretation.

      Here’s a link to Gorden Hurgenburger’s 1992 paper that looks at several approaches to 1 Timothy 2:8-15 published in JETS 35.3 (September 1992) 341-360. His preferred interpretation is the fifth one which is not too dissimilar to mine. He also mentions scholars who hold to similar views, and this is almost 20 years ago. On page 350 he writes, “Such an approach to 1 Timothy 2, which would limit Paul’s advice to married persons in a domestic context, is by no means novel even if presently it is being largely overlooked.” He notes that Luther mentions this interpretation.

      Whether 2:11-15 refers to a couple, several married couples, or to Ephesian men and women more generally, I honestly can’t see how these verses can be interpreted as other than addressing problem behaviour. It is not general teaching, it is specific teaching addressing specific problems.

      You used the phrase “twist the text” in your blog post. Have I done this? If so, can you point to a statement where I misrepresent what the text says?

      By the way, I think the NRSV’s rendering of ouk and oude in verse 12 is not as accurate as it could be. That is, I think the “no/t” (ouk) is in the wrong place:
      It’s not, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” (NRSV); it’s “I do not permit a woman to teach nor to domineer a man . . .” Big difference!

  12. Thank you for your well-reasoned and very plausible interpretation of this controversial scripture. I appreciate your concise yet thorough basis for your conclusion — very informative.

    1. Thanks, G.

  13. Having just discovered your blog, I was pleased to find agreement that Paul was addressing a particular couple.
    It seems to me that Paul was saying the same thing as Peter in 1 Peter 3, that a *wife* should not teach her *husband*.
    A cartoon shows a preacher saying to his wife, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t punctuate my sermons with HAH!”
    For the wife to argue with her husband as he teaches in church is (I think) the reason Paul told certain women to be silent in the assembly. (1 Corinthians 14)

    1. Thanks, Jack.

      Peter doesn’t actually say that a wife is not permitted to teach her husband. What he does say is that an unsaved (literally, “unpersuaded”) husband is more likely to be won for over for the gospel if a wife’s behaviour is chaste, respectable and tranquil. Bad behaviour repels people from the gospel.

  14. I just found your blog last week and have spent hours on it.

    I have been trying to follow complementarian reasoning. If a woman is unsuitable for teaching a man due to, not only her created order, but her propensity for being deceived, I assume the fear is that she will teach incorrectly. The ongoing created order needs to be honored in the man exerting authority in the gift of teaching.

    If women are prone to deception, then they shouldn’t be teaching women or children either.

    Also, if the created order is only male and female (no mention that age is important), women should also not have authority over non-adult males. Why aren’t male children included? Does a male come into his manhood authority at adulthood? What definition of adulthood?

    How do complementarians handle these logical conclusions of their interpretations?

    1. Hi Crystal,

      You’re right. A person who is prone to deception, or is deceived, should not teach anyone. I believe a woman, who is being spoken of in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, should not teach anyone and, second, she should not domineer her husband.

      Also, in the ancient world of the Bible, and in some cultures today, it is expected that grown sons obey their mothers. I strongly believe the instructions for children to honour and obey their parents (father and mother) in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 are directed to grown children, not little kids. I mention this here. https://margmowczko.com/household-codes-power-not-gender/

      I have not read an adequate explanation from complementarians about your conclusions. Have you seen this article yet?: https://margmowczko.com/created-order-1-timothy-212/

      1. Thank you for that article. I think you have presented similar information elsewhere but I enjoyed it.

        I have this observation as well…one fruit of complementarianism in limiting women seems to be creation of artifice. For example, I heard Matt Chandler say that one of the best Bible teachers he knows is a woman in his congregation who has a teaching ministry of some sort but his congregation would not hear her speak from where he was speaking…so the stage in the sanctuary. (It was a video and there was no pulpit.)

        So essentially, he has determined that the only teaching involving authority is limited to the church’s stage…maybe even during a time slot on Sunday morning.

        It’s kind of a weird fruit…should we not incorporate good instruction happening “off the stage”? And what parallel would this have with early Body life?

        Other churches try to accommodate women speaking by calling it “updates”, it happening outside, or asking couples into leadership so that the woman would have her husband’s spiritual covering should she “lead” or “teach”. (Even if the man is extremely uncomfortable teaching or a newer believer.)

        All of this speaks to extrabiblical requirements invented by men (and unsound conclusions in elevating the Sunday sermon over other activity of God’s church) and types of things that Christ admonished the Pharisees for burdening God’s people.

        If you have to go to such lengths to apply a theology, doesn’t it make sense that the simple, organic meetings of the early church did not have these hairline distinctions?

        Anyhow, thank you for your insight that Paul was not a misogynist. It is freeing.

        I also appreciate your level-headed, respectful, instructive interaction in your comments with people who disagree with you. It is an illuminating witness.

        1. Thank, Crystal. 🙂

          When I first got started on my journey towards egalitarianism, I read an article written by a well-meaning and kind male pastor who let a woman preach/teach in front of the pulpit but not from the pulpit itself. Other churches let women teach during the week in halls and in homes but not in a church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

          Jesus and Paul taught in synagogues, in homes, by the seashore, in streets, and before dignitaries, before poor people, etc. Their level of influence or authority didn’t change depending on the setting or the audience. They were authorised and gifted to teach. Period.

  15. In essence, then the issue is whether interpreters believe that the NT letter have an original context or not. Paul addressed a church in which there were certain people (two men named at the end of Chap. 1 and the women who followed their teaching) who were teaching false doctrine. Whether the person Paul addresses in women in the church or a woman in the church does not really change the overall teaching…I do not permit that a deceived person teach or have authority. That explains the lengthy description of a leader fulfilling their obligations (chap.3) and also Paul’s lengthy description of the disciplinary process (chap. 5). The issue is deception, false teaching and not the gender of the teacher. Would those who deny this assume that Paul was saying I permit that a deceived man continue teaching?

    1. 1 Timothy is an original letter with original content.

      Paul does not permit deceived men or women, male or female false teachers, to teach (1 Tim. 1:20). And in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 he focusses on a woman.

      Also authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not mean “to have authority” in a usual or healthy sense. The word always refers to full power or control over someone else. It is a bad thing for a Christian man or woman to behave this way. Paul is disallowing the bad behaviour of a woman in 1 Timothy 2:12. (More on authentein here.)

  16. Not content, context. The area of disagreement is whether is telling the church that until the issue of the false teachers is resolved he does not permit all the women deceived by their teaching to teacher just one woman. I have read your previous posts about this.

    1. My apologies, Paul. I misread.

      Considering the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, especially the singular “woman” and singular verb “she will be saved,” I see no reason to assume that Paul is prohibiting all women in Ephesus from teaching, just a woman.

      Also, the woman is teaching things that are incorrect, things that Paul corrects in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, but it doesn’t mean that she herself was any more deceived than other people who have believed, taught, and acted on incorrect and false ideas.

  17. This is so excellent. One of the clearest explanations I’ve found. Your article on “Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15,” was so helpful, too. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the explanations offered on those verses in 1 Tim specifically. Yours, however, makes sense of the context and is more consistent with the thrust of the passage. Thanks, Marg!

    1. I’m so glad it makes sense to you. It makes sense to me, but many people baulk at my suggested interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-15 and its backstory.

  18. Dear Marg,
    Firstly I wanted to thank you for your amazing website and the wealth of resources you have made available. It’s really been an eye opener for me so thank you. I have had a look and you don’t see yet to have written much on 1 Timothy 5 and the instructions on widows (particular verses 11-13). I find this all rather confusing (sexist, ageist?) and my hunch is this could be addressing some of this specific issues in Ephesus? Would love to hear your opinion on this at some point:)
    Every blessing,
    Katie

    1. Thanks, Katie.

      I don’t think Paul was sexist or ageist because of his instructions at the beginning of 1 Timothy 5 which is correctly translated in the CSB:
      “Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
      All four groups are not to be rebuked but are to be exhorted as respected family members.

      I really must write a blog post on the widows. I’ve actually just been writing a paragraph on this for a book I am slowly working on. Here are some ideas.

      I think some kind of “grouping” of widows started early in the church, possibly following on from Jewish practices of caring for widows and orphans. For instance, the Greek-speaking widows in Jerusalem were missing out on some kind of ministry in Act 6, but the Hebraic widows weren’t. (I am fairly certain the ministry had nothing to do with food.) There is a recognition of two distinct groups of widows in the church at Jerusalem. Did the two groups of widows have their own premises or group homes?

      Also, I think it’s entirely possible that Tabitha housed a group of widows in Joppa and did not just provide clothes for them. I mention this here.
      __________

      There are three groups of widows in 1 Timothy 5.

      The widows in 1 Timothy 5:11-15 are young, relatively wealthy, and idle widows. And some have turned away to follow Satan.

      The widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-8 are in need, and Paul tells their families to look after them (cf. 1 Tim 5:16). Paul does not tell these poorer widows to get married, have children, or manage their own households.

      There is also another group of widows in the text. This group are enrolled in an early church order of official Widows. Paul gives the qualifications for such a Widow: “she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Tim 5:9-10 NIV).
      __________

      In 1 Timothy 5:9-12, Paul advised against enrolling young widows into an order of widows, but some churches permitted them. In Smyrna, even young virgins were being admitted. I write about these virgin “widows” in an article on the women in the church at Smyrna here.

      It is likely that some unmarried Christian women in Smyrna, especially young women of high status, could not find suitable Christian husbands and, instead of marriage, they became sanctified virgins who were called “widows.” (Finding a husband of equal status became a real problem for high-status women in the second and third centuries. See here.) Other churches, however, had separate orders for widows and virgins.

      Tertullian stated unequivocally that, in his opinion, it was wrong for virgins to be admitted into the order of widows. The Smyrnaeans, and others, did not always follow the pattern set by other churches in how they organised their ministries and used ministry titles.
      __________

      Virginity and celibacy were seen as important, almost vital, virtues by many early Christians, and for some women joining the orders of widows or virgins was an attractive option. Being a widow or a virgin gave a woman respectability within the church community. Furthermore, it gave women freedom from the responsibilities of family life and the dangers of childbirth.

      Widows and virgins were highly regarded official church orders. This regard is highlighted in this rhetorical question posed by Tertullian where he mentions two offices usually held by men, followed by two offices usually held by women:
      “But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor [i.e. a teacher], if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 3.
      __________

      Paul gives the minimum age for enrolled widows as 60. This is an advanced age, especially for the first century when the mortality rate was high. Most widows in the church at Ephesus would have been younger, probably much younger. Greco-Roman women often married as teenagers, being married at 14 was common, and their husbands might be a decade older, or more. Combine this statistic with the high mortality rate from disease and the incidence of men fighting in wars, and we realise that being a widow was not an uncommon state for youngish women.

      Paul puts the age limit quite high because there was a problem with young widows in the church. Some may well have been choosing not to remarry because of notions of piety. But enough of the young widows were misbehaving for Paul to counsels that they marry again, have children (cf. 1 Tim 2:15), and keep house like respectable Roman matrons (1 Tim. 5:14-15). The reason given is “to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.”

      In later church canons, the age limit for widows drops. But virgins and younger widows could join (and start) deaconess houses. Olympias and Marcella housed virgins and widows who functioned as deaconesses or nuns.
      __________

      Paul was wary about men and women who made vows of celibacy. He knew these vows were difficult to sustain. Celibacy is behind Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. More on this here. Asceticism, including celibacy, is an underlying theme of 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 2:15; 4:3). So Paul warns about admitting young women as “widows” and he presents a worst-case scenario to emphasise his point (1 Tim. 5:11-13).

      Paul also wanted families to take responsibility for the widows in their families. It seems some Christians were shirking their responsibility and letting the church care for them (1 Timothy 5:3-8, 16 CSB). So yes, idle rich widows who were going astray and who may not have been able to keep their vow of celibacy, as well as irresponsible families of poorer widows, has influenced what Paul tells Timothy about widows.

      __________

      Straight after mentioning the widows, Paul writes about elders (older men and possibly older women). Some see the mention of widows and elders in chapter 5 as a continuation of Paul’s teaching on overseers and male and female deacons in chapter 3, with Paul’s warning about false teachers and personal advice to Timothy in between in chapter 4. False teachings and unqualified teachers of the Law in the church in Ephesus is the major reason Paul wrote to Timothy.

      In at least one early church documents enrolled widows are called elders (prebytides) (Testament of Our Lord).

      All in all, Paul’s words about widows 1 Timothy 5 are not as clear as we’d like because we only have a rough idea about how the church at Ephesus functioned and what its own issues were.

      1. Wow thank you so much for the detailed and quick response. This is really helpful. I also don’t think that Paul is sexist or ageist but I’m aware that some translations can be a bit biased and our understanding of the situation is limited (and I know authorship is also questioned…) so thank you very much for your response. It’s very helpful
        Prayers for the new book.
        Every blessing

        1. I was thinking “out loud” and got a bit carried away. 🙂

          Thanks, Katie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Loading

Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?

Archives