Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

I’ve stated several times on this website that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse that presents genuine challenges as to how it should be interpreted. Despite these challenges, many Christians primarily rely on this text to restrict the ministry of women. In this post, I look at one possible context of 1 Timothy 2:12 and its surrounding verses, and at how this context affects interpretation.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 ESV

The switch from plural to singular words in 1 Timothy 2:8-15

I have thought for a while that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 may concern a specific couple in the Ephesian church who are spoken about anonymously.[1] The main indicator that Paul is speaking about a couple, and not men and women more generally, is that he switches from “men” and “women” (plural) in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 to “man” and “woman” (singular) in verses 11-12. This switch from plural to singular must be noted and factored into interpretations.

Importantly, verse 15 makes better sense if we understand that verses 11-12 are speaking about one woman and one man, and possibly a particular couple. 1 Timothy 2:15 contains a singular verb meaning “she will be saved” (referring to the woman) and a plural verb meaning “they continue” (referring to the couple). That is, “she (the woman in verses 11-12) will be saved . . . provided they (the man and woman in verse 12) continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Unfortunately, many English translations do not translate the verbs with the correct singular and plural meanings. This demonstrates that some translators have been unable to precisely understand 1 Timothy 2:15 themselves, so they have broken grammar rules in an attempt to make some sense of the text (e.g., NIV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, NET, GNT). A few translations, however, accurately convey the respective singular and plural meanings of the verbs in verse 15 (e.g., CSB, CEB, NRSV, ESV, KJV).

No definite article for “man” and “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12

The fact that there are no definite articles for “woman” and “man” in verses 11-12 has led some to assume that the man and woman are generic examples and not an actual couple. However, the rules about using or not using a definite article are different and more complex in Greek compared with English. And there are no indefinite articles in Greek.

Unlike English, it is common in Greek to use a definite article when making a generic statement about a generic person (e.g., Mark 7:15). This is explained by Dr Rob Plummer in this 2-minute video from Daily Dose of Greek.

Conversely, there are Greek texts where a specific (named or unnamed) person is mentioned without the use of a definite article. (See the postscript here for examples of specific New Testament women introduced as “a woman.”) So the absence of a definite article in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 for “woman” and “man” does not mean that “women” and “men,” more generally, are necessarily in view in these verses.[2]

Here are two examples of ancient letters written in Greek in which the sender is writing about a person known to both sender and receiver, but the unnamed person is mentioned cryptically and without a definite article.

P.Oxy.  3.351; Trismegistos 28371 This second-century letter is from a father named Cornelius to his son. Cornelius writes, “Regarding a man of whom you write about to me so often, claim nothing until I come . . .”

Princ. 2.69; Trismegistos 25169 This letter was written sometime in the first or second century, perhaps around the same time First Timothy was written. It is from a woman named Theano to her brother. Theano states, “About a person you indicated to me, we have not found out what he did . . .”

In each of these examples, the anonymous person being spoken about is a real individual and yet no definite article is used in the Greek; the person is referred to simply, and cryptically, as an anthrōpos (“a person”).[3] In English translations of these letters, a definite article is usually added (e.g., “the man” or “the person”) because that is how we speak about individuals in English. But this is not necessarily the case in Greek.

How would it change our understanding if 1 Timothy 2:12 was translated into English with definite articles: “I do not permit the woman to teach or authentein the man”? (Cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12 KJV.)[4]

Privacy and Anonymity in Ancient Letters

I suggest the woman and man were specific people in Ephesus who are deliberately unidentified by Paul in his letter to Timothy. Letters in the ancient world, even private letters from one individual to another, were not as private as we might think. Firstly, most people, rich and poor, used a secretary to write their letters. Then, secondly, they were delivered by a letter carrier.

Cicero once complained about letter carriers to his friend Atticus. He wrote, “There are so few who can carry a letter of any substance without lightening the weight by perusal” (Att. 1.13.1). And Cicero was a person who had more opportunity than the average person of finding and using reliable carriers than people further down the social ladder. Unlike Cicero, the average person in the Roman world could not use the state-run postal system which was primarily used for government and military purposes.

Sometimes, the letter carrier delivered the letter by reading it aloud as well, as handing it to the recipient. This was necessary if the recipient could not read. But even if the recipient was literate, carriers might still read the letter aloud and pass on comments and side notes from the sender.

Letter carriers were usually people chosen for their high level of integrity, but sometimes there were issues that needed to be kept secret from them. If there was something especially private, personal, or sensitive contained in a letter, it was written in a circumspect way so that the secretary, letter carrier, and any other go-between, would be left none the wiser about the identity of any people being written about. The truly private information was written in a way that only the sender and recipient understood who was being referred to.

The Anonymous Man and Woman in the Corinthian Church

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he addressed the scandalous situation of a man “having” his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5:1ff; cf. 2 Cor. 2:6ff).[5] (Notice that I wrote “a man” and yet it is understood that I am speaking about a particular person, not a generic person.) The Greek phrases used in relation to this Corinthian man are unlike those mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the papyrus examples given above. Nevertheless, Paul refers to the man circumspectly in 1 Corinthians 5:1b and again in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7.[6]

There is no doubt the Corinthians knew exactly who Paul was referring to, yet the identities of the man and woman are completely unknown to us today. Paul wrote that this unwholesome affair was “being reported”—the rumours were spreading—but because Paul doesn’t name names, he doesn’t add to these rumours.

Perhaps the anonymous woman in the church at Ephesus was engaging in unwholesome behaviour.[7] Perhaps she was behaving in a way similar to that of a woman in the church at Thyatira. Jezebel of Thyatira, a woman recognised as a church leader, was teaching and deceiving people in a particularly unwholesome manner (Rev. 2:20). Despite her flagrant immorality, she doesn’t seem to have been expelled from the church community, but was given time to repent (Rev. 2:21).

Note that this woman in the church at Thyatira, like the Ephesian woman, is anonymous. “Jezebel” is a pseudonym. By not revealing the names of the couples in the Corinthian and Ephesian churches, or the true name of Jezebel, these people had a real opportunity to repent, be restored, and have their disgrace minimised.[8]

Conclusion

I strongly suspect that the instructions in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 were given to men and women (plural) in the Ephesian church, but that verses 11-15 were about a particular couple, probably a married couple, who were engaging in unacceptable behaviour instigated by the woman.[9]

Paul may have wanted to protect the privacy of this couple, and he has achieved this. Timothy no doubt knew their identity . . . and knew what the examples of Adam and Eve (another couple) meant. On the other hand, we still have no idea who this Ephesian woman and man were and what exactly was unacceptable about the woman’s teaching.

Rather than signifying some universal, timeless prohibition, it is likely that Paul’s advice to Timothy contained in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 refers to a specific couple in the Ephesian church engaged in an activity which involved teaching, the particulars of which remain unclear.


Footnotes

[1] I also suggest that the couple is being spoken about circumspectly or diplomatically. More about this in the section entitled Epitrepō here.

[2] 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.

[3] The genitive anthrōpou is used in both letters.

[4] I have omitted an English translation of the Greek word authentein, but I include this explanation from Cynthia Westfall:

“In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō [which includes the infinitive authentein] refers to a range of actions . . . . However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden, because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”
Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.

More about the meaning of authentein here.

[5] 1 Corinthians 5:1b in Greek is ὥστε γυναῖκά τινα τοῦ πατρoς ἔχειν. A fairly literal translation of this phrase is, “so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife” (NET).

[6] Peter Marshall has shown that Caesar Augustus, and Larry Welborn has shown that Cicero, each used the rhetorical device of not naming their opponents and enemies in their writings. Marshall and Welborn state that ‘non-naming’ adds to the invective and insult, and that Paul regularly used this device when denouncing his enemies in his undisputed letters (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:17; 4:18-19; 2 Cor. 2:17-19; 5:12). However, Paul does not regard the Ephesian woman as an enemy and even provides hope in 1 Timothy 2:15.
Peter Marshall, Enmity in Corinth: Social Conventions in Paul’s Relations with the Corinthians (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1987) 341–348. L. L. Welborn, An End to Enmity: Paul and the “Wrongdoer” of Second Corinthians (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2011) 212–230, 287.
Many thanks to Lyn Kidson who pointed out these books in her comments below.

[7] I suggest the woman was behaving in a controlling or domineering manner towards her husband. More on this here. I further suggest that this woman was from an elite family and that Paul addresses the situation with diplomacy and discretion. We know Paul had friends in Ephesus from elite, powerful and wealthy families (Acts 19:31). He would want to avoid shaming his friends. And we know there were wealthy women in the Ephesian church. Only wealthy women could afford the gold and pearls and the slaves to do their elaborately braided hairstyles. Paul mentions these women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and then narrows his concern to one of them in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

[8] In collectivist societies, such as those in New Testament times, it is bad form to directly and openly criticise someone in your own group. Criticism is avoided or done circumspectly. On the other hand, Paul seems to have had no problem with publicly denouncing Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus, perhaps because these men were no longer part of the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-19). (Paul’s criticism of Cephas (i.e. Peter) in Galatians 2:11 is astonishing.)

[9] The CEB translates 1 Timothy 2:12a as: “I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband.” “Wife” and “husband” are perfectly acceptable here because the Greek word anēr (which occurs in verse 12) can mean “man” and/or “husband”, and the Greek word gynē (which occurs in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 & 14) can mean “woman” and/or “wife”. It may be that the scenario addressed in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 has nothing to do with the setting of a church service, but marriage.


Related Articles

3 reasons why its a woman, not all women, in 1 Timothy 2:12
6 reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11-15
Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet
Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature

41 thoughts on “The Anonymous Man and Woman in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

  1. I am happy to learn of the switch of the plural to the singular in I Timothy 2 that you talk about here. Makes sense. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Craighton. I’m glad it makes sense.

      1. Hi Marg, I’m really enjoying your writings so thank you for them.

        One thing that stood out to me the first time I read 2:12 as a Christian was that Paul was very specific that it was him (as opposed to the Lord, as he writes in at least one other of his writings) who is prohibiting women/a woman from teaching. For this reason, I always understood the passage as only to apply to the church under Paul and assumed he had good reason to give the limitation to the church at the time.

        What is your view of Paul saying “I” instead of “The Lord” in this passage? Should it influence how we apply it today?

        1. Hi Sara, Paul often uses first-person “I” verbs when giving instructions and advice. For example, in chapter 2 of 1 Timothy he opens by saying “I urge …” In verse 8 he says, “I want …” And in verse 12 he says “I am not permitting/allowing …”

          The fact is that the whole of 1 Timothy was written with a particular church in mind, experiencing its own issues. We need to understand Paul’s concerns and then work out what the abiding and universal principles are.

          All of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is Paul addressing problem behaviour from angry men (v.8) from overdressed women (v.9-10) and from a woman who needed to learn and not teach, etc (v.11-15).

          Paul rarely says, “The Lord says …” or something similar. (I’m not sure the exact number.) But even if Paul had said, “The Lord does not permit a woman …” the issue is still, as I see it, the behaviour of an Ephesian woman who was not ready to teach and should not have been domineering her husband.

          Does that make sense?

  2. I think this is right on the mark, Margaret.

    It is my observation that Paul gives some grace to false teachers by not naming them, giving them the opportunity to repent, correct their errors and be restored to the community without being directly shamed. The only instance I can think of where Paul “names and shames” false teachers is 1 Tim 1:20, where Paul refers to two men who have “suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith,” Alexander and Hymenaeus, “whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” These two men have done/taught something so incredibly beyond the pale that Paul has essentially washed his hands of them and regards them as beyond redemption. In other instances, Paul is still hoping for the false teacher’s restoration, and I believe this to be the case in 1 Tim 2.

    1. I wish we all could take a leaf out of Paul’s book in how we interact with Christians who hold to different ideas. We can be kind and generous without compromising our faith and convictions.

      I’d still love to know precisely what he was referring to when he used the word https://margmowczko.com/tag/authentein/, though.

  3. Hi Margaret,

    Hope you are well my sister! Thank you so much for your text criticism and for shading light of the plural and singular usage of the words. During 2016 EFOGE international conference in Kenya, another scholar tried to explained that 1 Timothy 2 was not originally written by Paul but were house codes written by house church member but were inserted as Paul’s writing. That this house church members were new converts who were struggling to understand the goodnews/Gospel of Christ.

    Can I rely on this approach beside your singular/plural concept?

    1. Hi Domnic,

      Hope you and your wonderful ministry are going well!

      There are many reputable scholars who do not believe that Paul was the author of 1 Timothy, or of any of the Pastoral letters. Nevertheless, 1 Timothy is in the canon of holy scripture.

      Almost no one suggests that 1 Timothy 2:12 is an interpolation, that is, was added later.

      Several scholars such as Philip Payne and Gordon D. Fee, because of compelling evidence, suggest that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was added later to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. But I have only heard Marcus Borg make a similar suggestion about 1 Timothy 2:12. And I’m not a fan of his work.

      Unlike Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1 and 1 Peter 2:18-3:8, 1 Timothy 2 doesn’t neatly fit the pattern of domestic household codes. But 1 Timothy 2 is concerned with behaviour in church gatherings, the household of God, especially behaviour related to prayer.

      Whether 1 Timothy 2:12-15 is about conduct in church gatherings is debatable, however. Paul may be digressing in verses 11-15 (after his statement in verse 10)–as he does in 1 Timothy 2:5-7 (after his statement in verses 3-4)–before returning to the issue of what to pray, in what manner men should pray, and what women should wear when they pray, in church gatherings.

      I’d be wary about dismissing 1 Timothy 2:12 as an interpolation. On the other, the singular “man” and “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11ff is clear for anyone to see, even if relying on English translations.

  4. I’ve always wondered why so many people believe that a loving God would keep women at a distance. Common interpretations of certain passages is scripture places men closer to God and with control over society by default – simply because they are men.
    Oh, how I wish the letters Timothy wrote to Paul had been preserved, so we would know why Paul wrote what he did to Timothy!

    1. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Then we would all know the true context of 1 Timothy.

      In the New Creation, which we are already a part of, discrimination on the basis of gender should have no place. Otherwise, we get the situation you’re describing: Christian communities owned and operated by men only, with women on the sidelines. And that’s not right for many reasons.

  5. The Greek word authentein or authenteo seems to not only mean “authority,” but also “to murder,” and “to act like a temple prostitute.” The word seems to convey a sense of dominance, to over-power, to render helpless a person. Knowledge is power, and the power of teaching / knowledge naturally places a person in a position of authority. Ever been a freshman in college? Why are women considered a weak vessel? Try a male ego in a room full of loud opinionated women. Quite a few teachers are also mentors to their students. There was a lot of bonding and time spent among The teachers / Rabbi’s and their students in the biblical world. Female mentors to males in Paul’s day was unheard of. I am taking a wild guess and believe this is what Paul was thinking?

    1. Hi Alison,

      The noun authentēs is used in Classical and Atticised Greek literature for a person who commits a violent act against another person, sometimes in the context of violence against family members.

      The verb authenteō can mean control or dominate in Koine Greek. (The verb probably did not exist in Classical times.) Chrysostom uses the verb in his commentary on Colossians 3 and warns husbands not to act this way.

      I have not come across an authent– word in a context where it means “act as a temple prostitute.” Have you got a source for this? (The way I see it, evidence for temple prostitution in the Roman Empire is flimsy and debatable.)

      On the other hand, authentia, another noun cognate of the verb authenteō is used in gnostic or pre-gnostic literature, including that of Cerinthus who lived in the late first and early second centuries AD. Does the word in 1 Timothy 2:12 have some gnostic sense? Or does it has a sexual sense, which is suggested by a few writers? Or does it simply mean to domineer?

      Whatever its meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12, it is unlikely authentein refers to a healthy kind of authority. I have written more about authentein in these articles: https://margmowczko.com/tag/authentein/

      1. From my notes I have this reference for the Greek word authentein referring to “act as a temple prostitute.” I just realized after all these years I have never looked up this source to verify the above. Here is the source: Catherine C. Kroeger, “Ancient Heresies and a Strange Greek Verb,”Reformed Journal 29 (March, 1979),12-15; “1 Tim 2:12-A Classicist’s View,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, p.225ff. Let us know what you find.

        1. Thanks so much. I have read Catherine Kroeger’s paper before. I’ll take another look.

          1. Your welcome

        2. The paper is online here. And a pdf is here.

          While I respect the late Catherine Kroeger, she makes too many points in this paper (and in her book I Suffer not a Woman) which I believe to be slightly askew and misleading.

          This statement in her paper, for example, is not backed up by references, and I have not heard any scholar of first-century Ephesus say such a thing: “In Ephesus, where a great multitude of sacred courtesans were attached to the shrine of Diana, women had much to unlearn.” And I’ve read quite a bit on first-century Ephesus. [Some of the information I’ve read I have used in articles about Artemis and about 1 Timothy 2:12 (e.g., The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia).]

          In either her paper or in I Suffer not a Woman, Kroeger does not give “to act like a temple prostitute” as a possible meaning of authentein. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to rule out that something akin to this behaviour is behind 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

          1. Thank you for clarifying this point of view.

  6. Hi, Marg – I have been enjoying your articles for a couple years now, but kept that a secret from you till now 🙂 I don’t know Greek, so that may be why I am having trouble understanding how “no woman” in v 12 might refer to a specific woman. The negative in addition to the singular/plural aspect confuses me. Can you help me see what you see in the words? (I’m not asking you to convince me Paul permits women to teach – I already believe that. It’s just this pesky verse 🙂

    1. Hi Patricia,

      Nice to meet you.

      I’m guessing that you’re using the NRSV, RSV, or other translation in this family. If you are, then I can understand why you’re having trouble. (And it doesn’t help if provide the NRSV translation. I’ve changed it to ESV.)

      The only Greek word for “no/not” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is more likely connected to the word for permission than to the word for woman/wife: “I do not permit a woman …”

      Here is an exhaustive list of English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12. As you will see, “no woman” is a peculiar translation of the RSV family. https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Timothy%202%3A12

  7. Hi Marg, I pretty much agree with everything that you’re saying here.Verses 12-15 are definitely addressing wives,for all the good reasons that you outline. Although I know that you are arguing for a couple, I have to part ways with you on this and say that it is addressing particular wives in the congregation.

    You are quite right that the writer is using the tactic of not identifying the people he is aiming his commands at. This is a well known and widely used rhetorical device, as your papyrus evidence suggests. For more about this rhetorical device see L. L. Welborn, An End to Enmity: Paul and the “Wrongdoer” of Second Corinthians (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2011), 212—230 and Peter Marshall, Enmity in Corinth : Social Conventions in Paul’s Relations with the Corinthians (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1987)., 344 (this is a superb thesis well worth consulting). The most important thing in interpreting any passage in 1 Timothy is the recognition of the letter’s purpose. The writer is writing to command ‘certain men’ (1 Tim 1:3)not ‘to teach the other instruction’. Everything addressed in the letter is related to this purpose. The ‘certain men’ are addressed repeatedly throughout the letter- this is one of the keys to understanding how the letter operates as a literary unit (most commentators struggle to see how this happens). Another thing that the writer does is that he repeatedly returns to topics, tackling them from different perspectives. This gives the letter a certain circularity to it (noted by some commentators eg I.H. Marshall). So in my opinion it is not much use trying to interpret the instructions to women at 2:9-15 without considering what is said about women in the rest of the letter.So it is important to note that the rhetorical device we have identified is applied to young widows in 1 Tim 5:15 ‘for some (exactly the same word used for the certain men at 4:1; 6:21) have already turned aside to follow Satan’. What he is referring to here is the teaching taught by demons in 4:1-2. Therefore the command not to teach and ‘rule over a man/husband'(1 Tim 2:12) is a command to certain wives not to pressure their husbands into taking up the ‘other teaching’, which is what the letter is about. Therefore Margaret, I agree with you that the instructions to women in 1 Tim 2:12 are not to every believing woman for all time, but to certain women in the congregation at Ephesus.

    I don’t know about you Marg, but if we can figure out what is going on in 1 Timothy what have evangelical scholars been doing for the last 25 years? I agree with you about Catherine Kroeger. I couldn’t find any reference to ‘act like a prostitute’ when I did a search of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG). I think,if my memory is right this reference disappears in the book??

    You have to be careful with the word authente-o since the noun and verb have divergent meanings. The noun authentes refers to an action that a person performs under their own authority or initiative. So this word is used in relation to something a person creates or the action of murder- usually of one’s relatives or to suicide. The verb on the other hand, authente-o appears much later in the literary record and refers to the exercise of authority one legitimately possesses or to the exercise of authority illegitimately. There are very few surviving instances of the verb authente-o, and one must exercise exceptional care in its interpretation. An appropriate philological method must be considered before even making a tentative suggestion as to the meaning. This is where I think Catherine Kroger fell down and as far as I can tell no one identified let alone done anything about rectifying the problem. The attempts I have seen go some way but methodology flawed like Kroeger’s work. This is not to say she hasn’t made a significant contribution because just identifying a problem and starting an investigation off is stellar work.

    Thanks Marg for a very stimulating article!

    1. Hi Lyn,

      I’m pretty excited to hear that anonymity is a recognised rhetorical device in such situations. I’ll take a look at those books once I get my new MQ library card sorted.

      An important part of my suggestion that 1 Timothy 2:12 may refer to a couple is the singular and plural verbs in 1 Timothy 2:15. I can’t see how the grammar of verse 15 fits with the idea of wives and husbands. At this point in time I am inclined to believe verses 11-15 refer to one man and one woman.

      Also, since verses 9-10 address particular women (rich women), I would think the plural would also have been used if particular wives were being addressed in the following verses.

      I agree that the authent– nouns can have different meanings to the verb. This is one reason I want to be careful about assuming we know what authentein, an infinitive (“verbal noun”), means. But even if authentein does have an unambiguous meaning of “to dominate/control” in verse 12, this is unacceptable behaviour from a woman or man, from a wife or husband.

      I agree that Catherine Kroeger’s methodology is flawed. Considering that we want to understand late first-century Ephesus, she takes information from too wide a time and geographical range. And some of the information is questionable. Also, she does not always explain the genre, purpose, contexts, or the reliability of her literary sources, which can lead to misunderstandings. But I also value many contributions she has made.

      I think we’re going to have many more conversations over this passage. 🙂

      1. Hi Marg,
        I’m sure we will have many more conversations about 1 Timothy, which I look forward to since I always learn so much from you.
        BTW when I said ‘you’ I meant it in general way. Properly speaking I should have said ‘one’ – one has to be careful with the word authente-o…. Sorry if it sounded a bit accusatory. I was reflecting on Catherine Kroeger’s work.

        1. Hi Lyn,

          It’s all good. I didn’t take it as a personal “you”. 🙂

          And I learn heaps from you!!!

  8. The key to what the anonymous woman was teaching lays in the biblical revelation Paul offers as a polemic to her views. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

    We’d need to figure out how Paul conceived of the notion that Artemis worshippers adhered to a view that held the feminine to be the original and primary form of humanity, whose idyllic existence was ruined by consorting with foolish men. Pretty good summation, actually.

    “15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” This a direct refutation of the notion that Artemis was the deity who spared women from the high likelihood among pagan women of death during childbirth. Paul rejects that by showing how God does that for those who “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

    Paul doesn’t directly mention the pagan rites by which Artemis was supposedly entreated to do this. But, pagan rites usually involved distinctly immoral behavior.

    As an example, one speculative discussion of “authentein” I’ve read about took note of how the priestesses of Artemis would deliver divine oracles, which were whispered during (propriety alert!) orgasm, into the ear of her temple sexual partner.

    Yeah, I thought you might find that repugnant, and apparently, Paul decided not to get into the unseemly details.

    In any case, we’re miles away from Paul issuing a universal prohibition designed to keep all women from teaching theologically correct, orthodox truths. In fact, the adjuration to keep quiet and learn was even designed as a method for this particular woman to learn the truth, SO THAT she could become a disciple who would eventually be able to teach others that truth.

    1. Hi Guy,

      Some believe that sex played an important role in some gnostic-Christian sects, but I haven’t heard what you describe in relation to the Ephesian Artemis. I’d love a source.

      Also, we have some of the names, information, and family connections of priestesses of Artemis Ephesia from the first few centuries of the common era, and they were young single women (presumably virgins) from elite, wealthy families. (Their priesthoods were effectively purchased for them by their parents.) The young women functioned as priestesses for a year and then, typically, married. I haven’t heard of any sordid behaviour from these priestesses. But nothing about the ancient world surprises me anymore. If you have a reliable source, again, I’d love to know about it. (More about women priests in Ephesus here.)

      Epiphanius (circa 374) says some pretty provocative things about sex among the Jewish and Christian gnostics. He also says that an off-shoot of the Montanists revered Eve because she was the first to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But I take what Epiphanius says with a grain of salt. His work on 80 different Christian and Jewish sects, Panarion, is rife with angry, vile exaggerations and silly inaccuracies.

      Catherine Kroeger mentions invoking a divine name before sex but this, again, is in connection with a particular gnostic group, and one not necessarily associated with Ephesus. See her appendix “Gnostic Use of Sex” in I Suffer not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Baker Books, 1992) 213.

      I believe Adam and Eve are mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 to address a heretical teaching about the first couple. There were lots of weird and heretical ideas about them. A few ancient documents survive where Eve is a heroine and not a transgressor, and where she is created or alive before Adam. In some, she even enlivens Adam. (More on this here.)

      I used to think the reference to childbirth in 1 Timothy 2:15 was an allusion to Artemis, but the idea that sex and having children are sinful and antithetical to salvation comes up in several early Christian text. So, at the moment I’m leaning towards verse 15 as addressing an early Christian heresy. (More on this here.)

      Nevertheless, I think it is entirely possible that aspects of the Artemis cult made its way into church-life at Ephesus.

      Whatever the root cause of the heretical bad behaviour, as you say, the solution was for the woman to learn and become a disciple (1 Tim. 2:11). And for her to behave herself (1 Tim. 2:15)!

  9. We may need to imagine the kinds of imitative pagan ritual reenactments which may have been going on in Artemis’ temple. The teaching contained therein may have had something to do with the subject Paul covers by using “authentein.”
    Here’s some background. Could Paul be speaking of a woman “authorizing” a man to have sex with her, outside of marriage, upon being seduced under false pretenses, as in the following story? Is this just one particularly objectionable part of an Artemis adherents narrative regarding her story that Paul highlights, the others being the story of how, though Artemis was the twin of Apollo, she was born first, then assisted with his birth? Syncretistic scenarios tried to identify Apollo with Christ; was the result an assertion of ordinal superiority, which Paul refuted with the “Adam first” argument?
    “As a follower of Artemis, Callisto, who Hesiod said[8] was the daughter of Lycaon, king of Arcadia,[9] took a vow to remain a virgin, as did all the nymphs of Artemis. But to have sex with her, Zeus disguised himself as Artemis (Diana) herself, in order to lure her into his embrace. Callisto was then turned into a bear, as Hesiod had told it:

    …but afterwards, when she was already with child, was seen bathing and so discovered. Upon this, the goddess was enraged and changed her into a beast. Thus she became a bear and gave birth to a son called Arcas.

    Either Artemis “slew Kallisto with a shot of her silver bow,”[10] perhaps urged by the wrath of Juno (Hera)[11] or later Arcas, the eponym of Arcadia, nearly killed his bear-mother, when she had wandered into the forbidden precinct of Zeus. In every case, Zeus placed them both in the sky as the constellations Ursa Major, called Arktos (αρκτος), the “Bear”, by Greeks, and Ursa Minor. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callisto_(mythology)

    1. Hi Guy,

      There’s no doubt that by the first and second centuries AD, aspects of the Greek Artemis/Diana and her mythology were conflated with the Ephesian Artemis and her mythology.

      Both Artemises were said to be the twin of Apollos, and both supposedly acted as midwife in his birth, even though the goddess was supposedly born just 10 days before her brother.

      And increasingly, the Ephesian Artemis was portrayed as a huntress which had little bearing on her archaic Anatolian origin. Nevertheless, Artemis did retain some aspects of her heritage. I have an article which looks at the evolution and development of Artemis Ephesia here.

      The myth of Callisto doesn’t seem to have a direct bearing on the first-century Ephesian Artemis as far as I can make out. But I don’t discount the likelihood that aspects of the mythology and cultic practices of the Ephesian Artemis made its way into the Ephesian church.

      1. Callisto was a devotee of Artemis, sworn to chastity. Zeus, Artemis’ father, seduced Callisto while taking on the guise of his own daughter, only to reveal himself as he consummated his affections, so to speak. Callisto had acquiesced to those advances, and thus violated her vow to the very person she swore it to, only to find out she had been duped. Such were the moral lessons of the pagan temples. Paul comes along to pick various aspects of that teaching apart, offering biblical lessons instead, basically saying “stop with the Artemis nonsense” to this particular woman, including her teaching that it was okay to “authentein” a man, whatever that means (in retaliation for the kind of ethics on display in the myth of Callisto?). Don’t have all the pieces yet; just pointing in a direction. And, yes, it is well worth remembering that by this time, syncretistic views had led to a much greater identification with Diana, than with the simpler Anatolian figure of Artemis. With your mythological theomachy in such a jumble, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the aspects being emphasized in the myths which Paul countered in two short quips. Callisto’s seduction is a nearly perfect antetype to the views being repudiated by Paul, perhaps the archetype is not far behind.

        1. I wish Artemis Ephesia was simpler. Her development over two thousand years is complex and there are considerable gaps in what we know about her and her cult. Plus, there are conflicting myths about the archaic beginnings of her cult.

          My focus is to look at what myths were being celebrated in Ephesus in the first-century (and second century), and to look at what themes occur in Christian literature being written (especially on the east coast of Asia Minor) around this time. This gives us insight into what Ephesians and, in particular, Ephesians Christians, may have been thinking around the time 1 Timothy was written.

          I’m not sure that a myth of the Greek Artemis, who Hesiod wrote about, would have had traction in first-century Ephesus. I’m going to the library today. I’ll see if I can find any reference to Callisto in first-century Ephesian texts and inscriptions. Either way, I will keep the Callisto story in mind. I like looking at all angles and appreciate your comments.

  10. Hello Marg! As much as I appreciate your website overall, I think that here you are on the wrong track.

    You say that we can talk about specific persons without using definite articles, and in itself, that is certainly true. But I think it is very common when one wants to talk about a specific person or object to introduce that person or object with some kind of identifying description. I actually find it difficult to imagine doing anything else. I may for example introduce talking about a specific person by saying: «A friend of mine came to see me yesterday.» When I say this, those who are listening to me know that I am going to talk about a certain friend of mine who came to see me yesterday. There is an indefinite description that identifies and introduces the person I want to talk about.

    But in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 there is no description identifying a specific woman or couple. This is the main difference between these verses and the other examples you refer to. In the example where one Cornelius writes: «Regarding a man of whom you write about to me so often, claim nothing until I come …», the indefinite description «a man who you write about to me so often» serves to introduce and indentify a specific man. Likewise in «About a person you indicated to me, we have not found out what he did …», the indefinite description is «a person you indicated to me».

    Both of these examples identify the person to be talked about by referring to earlier communication. This is something that Paul too could have easily done if he really wanted to talk about someone specific without naming them. He and Timothy had been together in Ephesus for sometime before Paul traveled on, and they must have had several conversations about the situation there. He could have referred to such earlier conversation. But he doesn’t.

    Concerning 1 Cor. 5:1ff, the same thing is the case there: Paul identifies the man he wants to talk about as the guy who has sex with his stepmother.

    The lack of an identifying description is what makes it unnatural to think that Paul is talking about a specific woman or couple here. You try to switch to definite articles in english, as «I do not permit the woman to teach or authentein the man». To me at least, this makes very little difference. It still sounds rather generic, and the reason it does so is exactly what I have pointed out: There is no identifying description.

    As I see it, the only identifying description that can be defended here is «a woman receiving instruction». That would identify a group of women who were being educated about the christian faith. I can see nothing else. Either Paul is talking generally, or he is talking about such a group. Those are in my opinion the only options.

    The switch from plural in verse 10 to singular in verse 11 is natural because Paul is starting a new topic. The switch from singular to plural in verse 15 is a bit more mysterious, but I don’t think it need be very significant.

    Overall: Your idea here is not likely. It is highly UNlikely.

    1. Hi Knut AK,

      I can understand your reticence about accepting my suggestion, and I take your point about there not being identifying information. It’s a good point, though I can’t imagine there were too many couples engaging in the behaviour Paul prohibits. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the couple are identifiable if not identified.

      Also, we can’t compare how we would talk about a person (with or without using a definite article) to how an ancient Greek-speaker would.

      I don’t think the change from plural to singular is done because verse 11 marks the beginning of a new section. Rather, I think verse 11 flows from the preceding two verses which address the conduct of women, and that in verses 11-15 Paul narrows his focus to one woman.

      At the very least, if 1 Timothy 2:11-12 & 15 doesn’t refer to a specific couple, it does refers to the behaviour of couples. Accordingly, the CEB translates “woman” and “man” as “wife” and “husband”.

      I think we’ll have to respectfully disagree on this point.

  11. I offer my thoughts.

    1) The very first thing in reading Scripture, but especially a book like 1 Tim is to be humble in one’s interpretation, as we are not in the shoes of Paul or Timothy, therefore we lack information that they knew in terms of the situation at Ephesus. All of us are in the place of trying to do our best and trying to come up with a faithful understanding of the text we have. A corollary is that each of our understandings may be right or wrong in any particular.

    2) I think another example of an anonymized person is the woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11, which is often translated so one may not even suspect an actual person is being discussed. This is per DIB’s analysis, which I find persuasive.

    3) I agree that 1 Tim 2:11-12 is an anonymous ref. but I think it is plural rather than singular because of the following “they”. I see the anonymous ref. being to the “out of order” woman or women mentioned in 1 Tim 2:9-10. That is, a group of women is out of order, but each member of the group is to be taught and then each with decide for themselves whether to align with the truth or not. I see this being the reason why Paul uses both plural and singular nouns. Paul and Timothy knew the specifics, but we do not.

    1. Hi Don,

      I agree that we do not know the specifics. But from a purely grammatical perspective, I believe 1 Timothy 2:15 can be understood as “she (the woman in verses 11 and 12) will be saved if they (the man and woman continue . . .” If the “she” and the “they” (i.e. the singular and plural verbs) both refer to women more generally than this is very bad Greek, and 1 Timothy is not known for bad Greek.

      Paul prefaces his advice in 1 Corinthians 7:10ff by saying that it is “for/to the married”; these words are plural. I don’t think the people Paul is addressing are “anonymous”; rather, they are all “the married” in Corinthian church. But 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is good to keep in mind when discussing the grammar of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

  12. Hi Marg,

    This website is amazing! I really appreciate your thorough research and writing and all the effort you’ve put into this.

    I don’t know Greek so I need your help to deconstruct this argument!

    It is not convincing to me that a specific woman is being spoken to, largely because the singular expressions for woman is used (gynaiki, gynē) in verses 11, 12 and 14. Look at the English language – we do the same. When a young girl exhibits bad manners you can well expect her mother to say “A woman (singular) doesn’t do things like that!”, while also meaning “Women (plural) don’t do things like that!”, while also implying “Jesse, you shouldn’t do things like that!”.

    So is this something that may possibly be happening in the Greek as well? Why or why not?

    1. Thanks, Jandré.

      Greek Articles

      It is unwise to “look at the English” to determine how Greek grammar works. To use English to explain articles is especially problematic as Greek makes the definite article work much harder than the English definite article, and there is no indefinite article in Greek. (Did you watch the video?) So Paul (or the author of 1 Timothy) is not even saying “a woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 if we want to be word-for-word literal. (Note that I am not advocating for word-for-word translating.)

      Paul doesn’t use a definite article for the woman in verses 11-15, but he also doesn’t use definite articles for the women in verse 9-10. But he is talking about specific women in verses 9-10, wealthy women who were dressing inappropriately. On the other hand, he does use a definite article for the men in verse 8.

      We can’t put too much significance on the lack of an article in 1 Tim 2:9-15 for both the “women” and “woman.” Furthermore, I mention in a footnote, that stylistically, 1 Timothy is relatively light in its use of definite articles compared with usage in other letters of the New Testament including, for example, 2 Timothy.

      I’ll try and address your concerns by looking at three more aspects of the grammar of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

      Asyndeton

      In 1 Timothy 2:11, Paul uses 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 dives in and literally says “Woman . . .” There is no connecting word, no conjunction (and no article).

      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. (Again, we have to be very careful when comparing Greek and English grammar.)

      Stephen Levinson notes that asyndeton may be used in Greek as the text moves from generic to specific. Discourse Features of the New Testament Greek p.119. I believe Paul is moving from addressing the problem of some wealthy women to addressing the problem of one specific wealthy woman who needed to learn and needed to stop domineering her husband.

      Plural to Singular

      But the thing that really marks “woman” and “man” as referring to a particular woman and a particular man in verses 11-15, and not women and men in general, is the change from plural in verses 8-10 to singular 11-15. Why did Paul choose to change from plural to singular?

      The singular and plural verbs in verse 15

      The singular and plural verbs in verse 15 are especially crucial: “she will be saved . . . [if] they continue . . . ”
      It’s very difficult to argue that verse 15 can be applied generically to all women. The only way to make it seem like they apply generically to all women is to mistranslate one or both of the two verbs in verse 15 which is what many English translations have done (e.g., GNT, HSCB, NASB, NIV, NLT). Note that some English translations have even added the word “women” which is not in the Greek!

      Some translations that correctly translate the two verbs in 1 Timothy 2:15 are the CEB, CSB, ESV, and KJV.

      I believe “she will be saved . . . if they continue . . . ” means that “she,” a certain woman in the Ephesian church will remain saved if she has children, if “they,” husband and wife, continue with virtuous Christian living. Sex and reproduction were not seen as virtues by some Christians (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). Some even taught that reproduction and birth threatened salvation. I write about that here.

      Finally, when interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15, it is important to note that the contents of verses 8-15 are corrective in nature. Paul is addressing bad behaviour and offering solutions. Teaching, when one still needs to learn, is not a good thing. Authentein is not a good a thing!

      For all these reasons, I believe 1 Timothy 2:12 is about a woman and a man, rather than women and men generically. I hope this helps.

  13. Thanks for the Greek lesson. One question. Spiros Zodiates interprets the term gune as wife not woman or women. How do you respond?

    If wife is appropriate then your view is even more strongly made.

    1. I think 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is about a wife (gunē) and husband (anēr). I mention this briefly in footnote 7 and in a bit more depth in footnote 9. My overall interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is here: https://margmowczko.com/interpretation-of-1-timothy-212/

  14. Hi Marg, how do you interpret this in light of 1Tim3? Firstly could it be that the change in words to “a man”, “a woman”, not be very significant, since 1Tim3 also continues to use this singular word. Also how do you make sense of how Paul seems to say that only men can be bishops and deacons?

    1. Hi rach,

      If Paul switches from singular to plural, or vice versa, I take it as significant. Paul was careful with how his letters were worded.

      1 Timothy 3:1 is a new subjection of Paul’s letter. But in this new section, Paul also switches between singular and plural.

      A congregation usually only had one episkopos (supervisor/bishop), and “overseer” is singular in 1 Timothy 3:2. Other words about an overseer, words such as verbs, participles, pronouns, adjectives, etc, are also overwhelmingly singular in verses 1-7.

      But a congregation usually had more than one diakonos (minister/deacon). “Deacons” and other words describing them are all plural in verses 8-13.

      Paul indicates that women were deacons in 1 Timothy 3.
      https://margmowczko.com/phoebe-a-deacon-of-the-church-at-cenchrea-part-5/

      I’ve written about 1 Timothy 3:1-7, including the only phrase that uses the word “man.” See here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

      A big difference between 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is that the overseers and deacons are hypothetical. Paul is not referring to specific people but giving character qualifications for anyone (Greek word: tis) who wants to be an overseer or deacon. In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul is addressing specific problem behaviour being done by certain individuals in the Ephesian church.

      Paul was not speaking generally about women (plural) in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, but a woman who needed to learn and not teach, and also not domineer a man (singular), probably her husband. I suspect Paul was writing about one specific woman. This verse can be applied, however, in the case of a similar woman who needs to learn/not teach and is domineering her husband.

  15. Respectfully, I believe Paul meant exactly what he said. The real problem lies in giving Pauline doctrine equality with the opinion of God. The Word of God is in our hearts, not on paper. To explain away Paul’s doctrine on women presumptuously only confuses the reality of his statements. Not to fault Paul too much… women have been historically viewed as the lesser, weaker half of humanity. As a physician, I can assert that 1% of all babies born have some form of ambiguous genitalia; and up to 0.2% are so ambiguous that specialists are consulted. That equates to billions of people around us who may or may not be women and we would never know. Paul was not aware of this, but God is aware of this. Consequently, I think gender does not matter. Spirit matters and spirit has no gender. The Holy Bible is preserved by God for our benefit. It is historically accurate. We are to learn from it, take lessons in life from it, sometimes receive Rhema Word from it. We are not to use it as a legal absolute–a lesson that preachers who wield it such a fashion should learn. Our absolute relationship to God and the body of Christ is reserved for the Holy Spirit. Heaven is far greater than the 66 books comprised in the Bible. All creation speaks to the glory of God and his divine attributes so that men are without excuse. Again, the point I am making is that, through Christ, the new Covenant he have with God is of an eternal quality and it is written in our hearts.

    1. Hi James, I also believe Paul meant exactly what he said in Timothy 2:12, “I am not allowing a woman to teach …”

      And I see no disparity between God’s view of equality, or mutuality, and Paul’s (Gal 3:26-28; 2 Cor 5:16-17). More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/christian-egalitarianism-in-a-nutshell/

      I’m thrilled to be part of the New Creation and under the New Covenant, but I’m not understanding the relevance of your other statements.

      I’ve personally known three people who are chromosomally intersex, one was a close friend. But what does that, and heaven, and historical reliability, have to do with Paul’s statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:12 which was probably about a particular person and a particular situation in the church at ancient Ephesus?

      I’ve written more about why I think 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is about a particular woman (and man) here:
      https://margmowczko.com/a-woman-not-all-women-1-timothy-212/

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