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, 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]

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? 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, Apphia, Nympha, 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 . . .”
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. 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.


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 here.

~ 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—angry, quarrelling men and 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 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 a 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.


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