Don Carson, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, and Tim Keller, a well-known and respected American pastor recently had a conversation where they briefly discussed 1 Timothy 2:12, the verse that says, “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to domineer a man, she is to be quiet.” Their conversation was posted on YouTube and I was asked about it.

In this post, I give short responses to some of Keller’s and Carson’s off-the-cuff comments, and I include links to more information on my website. I’ve tried to keep this post short because I’ve already written about most of the points brought up on the video.

1–minute mark: Two Limitations and Authority

I agree with Dr Carson; I also read 1 Timothy 2:12 as syntactically containing two limitations, but I think they are distinct.[1] I read 1 Timothy 2:12 as containing a prohibition about (1) teaching, and a prohibition about (2) domineering a man.

Also, authentein, which is a rare verb, does not refer to ordinary or healthy authority. For example, Chrysostom used this same verb in his sermon on Colossians 3 and warned husbands not to do this to their wives.[2] (I have much more on authentein here.)

1.20–minute mark: Authority and the Word

The scriptures that were taught in New Testament churches were from the Old Testament.[3] Is Dr Carson referring to the Old Testament when he refers to “the Word” and authority? Or does he mean the message of the gospel? This point is unclear.

I don’t see any evidence for a word-based authority in New Testament churches, but I do see evidence of (spiritual) gifts-based ministry. When writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul stated, “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance. (1 Thess. 1:5; cf. 1 Cor. 2:4).

Paul invited participation in ministry, including the ministry of teaching, without any mention of authority (e.g., Col. 3:16 CSB; 1 Cor. 14:26 CSB).

Furthermore, I see no evidence of a magisterial authority attached to teachers. Most first-century churches were smallish house churches. Visiting apostles, prophets, teachers, and ministers (diakonoi), as well as local members, could bring a teaching. According to 2 John, individual churches had the authority to welcome or reject visiting teachers (and other ministers) and their message (2 John 1:10f).

What verses does Dr Carson allude to when he says there are New Testament verses that prohibit women from having a word-based magisterial authority in the church? I can’t think of any verse that mentions such an authority and also prohibits women.

2.40–minute mark: Not just “something”; more things

Paul is disallowing more than just “something.” If we pull back from 1 Timothy 2:12, we see that Paul is addressing problem behaviour from several people in the Ephesian church: angry quarrelling men (plural) in 1 Timothy 2:8; rich overdressed women (plural) in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and then a woman (singular) in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The whole passage, verses 8-15, is Paul addressing problem behaviour and offering corrections.

2.53–minute mark: Church offices?

Healthy, or normal, authority is not mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and neither is any church office.

3.08–minute mark: Transcultural Principles

There are transcultural, lasting principles we can take from Paul’s words about the angry men, the overdressed women, and a woman who needed to learn and not teach, and not domineer a man/husband. There is something for us today in this passage. Perhaps: “uneducated or ill-informed (i.e. ill-equipped) people should not teach.”

On the other hand, it is reasonable to acknowledge that we do not have a clear picture of the situation behind 1 Timothy 2:11-15, including the phrase “she will be saved through childbirth.” (My article on a possible backstory to this phrase is here.)

4.20-minute mark: Creation and the Fall

In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul provides correct summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3. We do not know why Paul brings up Genesis 2 and 3,[4] but it may have been to provide a rebuttal to the faulty teaching of a woman in Ephesus. (In the NT, additional information from the OT is sometimes introduced with the Greek connective gar (“for”), as in 1 Tim 2:13. More on this use of gar here.)

Paul is not saying here that women are more easily deceived than men. The Bible nowhere expresses the idea that women are gullible. So why does Eve being deceived and becoming a transgressor mean that all women for all time are prohibited from teaching? Adam also transgressed when he ate the forbidden fruit.

There are biblical examples of women speaking and teaching with no hint of censure, except when their words are unsound. The songs, prayers, praises, and teachings of some women are included in the Bible where their words continue to teach with the authority of scripture.[5] (See here and here.)

5.58-minute mark: Is the created order and Eve’s deception transcultural?

How can Eve being deceived be regarded as “massively” transcultural, as stated by Dr Carson, and have something to do with whether capable women in the first century or today can teach? This question is worth pondering.

And did Paul really think that Adam being created first gives men permission to teach and at the same time disqualifies all women? The created order is mentioned in only two passages in the Bible after Genesis 2: in 1 Timothy 2:13 and in 1 Corinthians 11:12. Paul plays down its significance in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 and highlights mutual interdependence between men and women instead.
_________

I don’t have a “problem” with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I don’t think they should be as controversial as they are; Paul corrects and silences both men and women a few times in his letters.

Paul only silences disorderly and unsound speech. (See 1 Cor. 14:26-40). And his overall theology of ministry does not limit gifted women and might be summarised as, “You have a gift; use it to build up others.” (See Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.)

Neither Paul or any other author of the New Testament books and letters indicate that they had an issue with good teaching and ministry from godly men or women.


Footnotes

[1] Unlike Dr Carson, I believe there are two distinct prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:12, and that the Greek word for “man/husband” (andros, which is in the genitive case) is connected only to the verb authentein (“to domineer”) which takes a genitive noun. The verb didaskein (“to teach”) usually doesn’t take a genitive noun. (More on this here.)

[2] In his tenth homily on Colossians, Chrysostom uses the verb authentein (the exact form is authentei) where he comments on Colossians 3:19. He writes that a husband must not act this way towards his wife. This verb is translated into English as “act the despot” in volume 13 of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 304. I suggest the verb has a similar meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12.

[3] The books and letters of the New Testament were still being written, copied, and passed around in the first century, and it would take another century (very roughly!) before they were regarded as scripture, that is, Holy Writ.

[4] Scholar and complementarian Douglas Moo admits, “These verses offer assertions about both the creation and the fall, but it is not clear how they support the commands in verses 11-12.”
Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance”, Trinity Journal NS (1980), 62-83, 68.

[5] The inspired songs, prayers, praises, and teachings of Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in scripture.

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Related Articles

Various articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
1 Timothy 2:12 in a Nutshell
6 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by women
Women, Eve, and Deception
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworker
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?