Ray Van Neste 1 Timothy

When I first began my journey as a Christian towards egalitarianism, I expected to come across an insurmountable scriptural roadblock. I expected to find a Bible verse that clearly states God really only wants men to be the leaders in the church. I still haven’t found this verse. But for many, 1 Timothy 2:12 is it. It is the sticking point that stops them from seeing other verses that show that women did minister and lead in Bible times, and that women can minister in whatever capacity God has called and gifted and equipped them for.

In this post, based on a talk I gave on the 3rd of November 2018,[1] I address 1 Timothy 2:12 by critiquing the notes found in the ESV Global Study Bible.[2] They are essentially identical to those in the ESV Study Bible. The author of these notes is Ray Van Neste. To be fair, I should point out that commentary in a Study Bible needs to be concise, and these notes do not represent Ray’s best work.[3] Yet, they are probably read by, and inform, many people. Rays comments are given in bold and in quotation marks.

I do not permit . . .”

Ray begins by quoting the first four words of the English translation of 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit.” “I permit” is a translation of the Greek verb epitrepō. This word is consistently used in the Greek New Testament in the context of giving, or asking for, permission by making an exception or a temporary allowance limited in scope. It is also used in the context of withholding permission in a specific and limited situation. You can check this for yourself. I’ve typed out every NT verse that contains epitrepō here.

Paul’s use of epitrepō in 1 Timothy 2:12 is especially marked when compared with the language used elsewhere in First Timothy, including, for example, 1 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty . . .” “Charge” is a strong word (verb: paraggellō  and noun: paraggelia), and Paul uses it seven times in 1 Timothy.[4]  But not in 1 Timothy 2:12. I believe Paul’s language is somewhat diplomatic in verses 11-15, though not without some force to it.

Ray’s first statement is a comment on “I do not permit.”

“Paul writes with the authority of an apostle. He does not simply offer an opinion.”

I’m not going to discuss whether Paul the apostle wrote 1 Timothy or not. Most, but not all, New Testament scholars say Paul didn’t write this letter. I’m keeping my options open on this but I will refer to the author as Paul because that’s what the author of 1 Timothy calls himself.

What I find interesting about Ray’s statement is that Paul’s authority as an apostle, whatever that authority entails, surely applies to every verse in every letter Paul wrote. Why doesn’t Ray mention Paul’s apostolic authority in his note on 1 Timothy 2:8 where Paul states he wants men to pray “lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling”?

Ray knows there’s a lot riding on 1 Timothy 2:12 and he doesn’t want this verse easily dismissed, so he cites Paul’s authority. I don’t want to dismiss this verse either, but I also don’t want to overemphasise or exaggerate the magnitude and scope of this one verse beyond what Paul intended.

“This statement is about how the church should operate when assembled together.”

Is it? I’m not convinced 1 Timothy 2:12 is about how a church should operate. It seems to me to be about a woman and a man, not a church. [More about the idea that a particular couple are spoken about in 1 Tim. 2:11-15, here.]

If we look at the whole of 1 Timothy chapter 2, we can see that a few verses are about how the church should operate when assembled, especially in respect to corporate prayer. But other verses in chapter 2 do not refer to the assembled church.

For instance, at the beginning of chapter 2 Paul writes,

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV

It is fair to say that the first part of this sentence refers to prayers when the church is assembled, but the second part about leading quiet lives (which I’ve put in italics) does not refer to church meetings. As a side note, there are echoes of peace, quiet, godliness and dignity throughout chapter 2.

Further down Paul says,

“Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 CSB

A church setting is probably in view in verse 9, but not necessarily in verse 10. The Greek term “good works” (kalōn ergōn) is often used as an idiom that refers to acts of benefaction. These good works were not usually done when the church was assembled for prayer and worship. They were what the relatively wealthy people did at other times during the course of the week.

Then in verses 11-12 Paul writes,

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain [or more literally, to be] quiet.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12 ESV

As in the other examples of paired verses, the first part, verse 11, probably refers to a church setting, this is the place a woman most likely will learn,[5] but a church setting is not necessarily the case in the second part, verse 12. Furthermore, “childbirth/childbearing” mentioned in the last verse of 1 Timothy chapter 2 is not referring to a church setting. There is no clear evidence in the text that 1 Timothy 2:12 is indeed a statement about “how the church should operate when assembled together.”

Verse 11

Ray doesn’t comment on verse 11, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness,” but I will say a few things about it.

Paul has been speaking about men (plural) and women (plural) in 1 Timothy chapter 2 verses 8 to 10—and note that this advice about men and about women is not general advice, but is specific to certain issues that may have been unique to the Ephesian Christians; and also note that this advice is not about all men and about all women in Ephesus, but applies to men with “anger issues” and to the few rich women who could afford gold and pearls and were perhaps flaunting their wealth—but in verses 11-15, “woman” and “man” is singular. Note also that the verb in 1 Timothy 2:15, correctly translated as “she will be saved,” is singular.

Why the change from plural to singular?

When we closely examine texts, any texts, such changes in language are usually considered significant. But Ray, in his note on verse 12, uses plural language: “men” and “women.” He doesn’t use the kind of singular language that the author of 1 Timothy uses in verses 11 and 12. And he doesn’t mention the switch from plural to singular language.

Quietness

I also want to make a comment about the word “quietly” or “quietness. [6]

Paul is not using a Greek word that refers to silence as the KJV, for example, translation puts it. If I was a Greek-speaking teacher in ancient Ephesus and I wanted my class to be completely silent for an exam, for example, I would use a different word. If I wanted them to settle down and behave better, I might use the word Paul uses here. And, in fact, Paul uses a related word earlier in the chapter, in 1 Timothy 2:2, where he wants the Ephesians to pray so that they might lead a quiet life.

Quietness is a keyword in our text. It occurs twice in verses 11-12, at the beginning and very end, to form what is called an inclusion, a rhetorical device. So we mustn’t separate verse 11 from verse 12, they belong together.

¹¹Gunē en hesuchia (in quietness) manthanetō en pasē hupotagē
¹²didaskein de gunaiki ouk epitrepō, oude authentein andros,
all’ einai en hesuchia
(in quietness)

Scholar Andrew Perriman, among others, suggests the real issue in these verses is not teaching or authority but about learning quietly.[7]

“In that context [i.e. the context of a church gathering], two things are prohibited: (1) Women are not permitted to publicly teach Scripture and/ or Christian doctrine to men in church (the context implies these topics), and (2) women are not permitted to exercise authority over men in church.”

Unfortunately, Ray doesn’t tell us why the context is a church gathering or why the context implies the topics of publicly teaching Scripture and Christian doctrine. He doesn’t tell us what he sees in the text as giving indications of either of these contexts.

Now, unlike quite a few egalitarians, I also suggest, like Ray, that there are two prohibitions in verse 12 and not one. Where I disagree with Ray, is what precisely those prohibitions entail.

Let’s look at the first one.

Paul says, I do not permit a woman to teach. That’s it. That’s the first prohibition. The Greek word for “man” (andros) which is at the very end of the phrase, is not grammatically connected to the Greek word for “to teach” (didaskein) which is the very first word in the phrase. Rather, the Greek word for “man” is grammatically connected to the Greek word authentein, which I’ll translate for now as “to domineer” but which the ESV translates as “to exercise authority.” (More about the grammar in endnote [8])

¹²didaskein (“to teach”) de gunaiki ouk epitrepō,
oude authentein 
(“to domineer”) andros (“a man”) . . .

So Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12 may be: “(1) I am not allowing a woman to teach, (2) nor am I allowing a woman to domineer a man . . .”

Some people, however, believe “to teach” and “to domineer” are joined together to form one prohibition. So that Paul is saying, “I am not allowing a woman to teach in a domineering manner.” If so, then it can be argued that “to teach” is linked to the word “man” through the word authentein.

To simplify, there are two options that are grammatically plausible. Either “to teach” and “to domineer” are joined together to form one prohibition of one kind of activity, or there are two prohibitions and “to teach” is not connected to the word “man.” This has huge implications in how to understand our text.

It’s difficult to prove that 1 Timothy 2:12 contains two prohibitions and that the word “man” is grammatically linked to both, which is what Ray asserts.

“Women teaching other women, and women teaching children, are not mentioned here, and both are encouraged elsewhere (2 Tim. 1:5; Titus 2:4).”

I find this statement and, in particular, the verses Ray cites unhelpful. Ray thinks 1 Timothy 2:12 is about women not being allowed to “publicly teach Scripture and/ or Christian doctrine to men in church.” But Titus 2:4 is not about this kind of teaching; it is about older women teaching young wives the basics of being a respectable wife and mother in first-century Crete. Furthermore, the teaching given in Titus 2:4-5 is indistinguishable from similar advice written by non-Christians in the ancient world. It’s not Christian doctrine.

And while 2 Timothy 1:5 states that Timothy had the same faith as his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, it does not indicate that these women were the ones who taught scripture to Timothy. It is a stretch to cite 2 Timothy 1:5 as a verse that supposedly encourages women to teach scripture to children.

In fact, it is much easier to make a case from actual examples in Scripture that women can teach and instruct men than it is to make a case that women can teach and instruct other women or children, especially on matters of theology and God’s will. However, any capable, godly person can teach another person scripture or doctrine, publicly or otherwise (e.g., Col. 3:16).

Also, we need to be cautious about drawing a hard distinction between public or private teaching. First-century churches were often smallish groups that typically met in homes. In such settings, private and public merged. And many people contributed and participated in worship and teaching, at least in churches founded by Paul.

Ray’s ideas and concerns about public teaching and church settings are not applicable to many expressions of first-century church life.

 “This passage also does not address the role of women in leadership situations outside the church (e.g., business or government).”

Michael Bird has written about inconsistent attitudes to women leaders and teachers held by some complementarians. (Complementarians are Christians, such as Ray Van Neste, who believe certain leadership ministries are out of bounds for women.)

Michael observes,

 “. . .  some complementarians allow a woman to teach men indirectly through books, radio, and websites but will not permit them to teach men in person. A woman can write a commentary on Hebrews to be read by men but cannot preach or teach men on Hebrews. A woman can be president, a prime minister, a CEO, a general, or a police officer, but she cannot serve as a pastor.  A woman can teach men French or piano lessons but not the Bible or theology. A woman can teach Bible and doctrine to unbelieving men but not to Christian men. The problem I have here is that some complementarians appeal to Genesis and the order of creation [mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:13] to show that it is inherently wrong for a woman to be in a position of authority over a man, and yet they only apply that restriction to church life or Sunday worship.  But that is like saying that it is okay for someone to commit adultery as long as they do not do it on Sunday or in the church auditorium. Or it is like saying that it is okay to commit adultery as long as you do it with an unbeliever. If it is such a clear violation of God’s ordering of creation for a woman to have authority over a man, then this should apply to all spheres of life whether it is business, government, politics, civil service, or church because God is sovereign over all institutions, and all of life is lived before God and under God.[9]

“The word between ‘to teach’ and ‘to exercise authority’ indicates two different activities, not a single activity of “authoritative teaching.”

The Greek word Ray is referring to, oude, is sometimes used in the New Testament to connect two aspects of one activity.[10] However, as already discussed, there are other factors in 1 Timothy 2:12 that make it plausible two activities are being spoken of and prohibited.

“The phrase ‘exercise authority’ occurs only here in the NT. Examples of this word used outside the NT clearly establish that the meaning is ‘exercise authority,’ not ‘usurp authority’ or ‘abuse authority.’”

I agree that the Greek verb authentein doesn’t mean to usurp authority or abuse authority, but the definition of “exercise authority” is equally inadequate. However, first I want to say that Ray’s claim that the meaning of authentein is “clearly established” is a huge overstatement. The fact is we only have a handful of papyri that contain the verb and date to roughly around Paul’s time, and many of these papyri are damaged and incomplete so we don’t have a good sense of the context. (Context gives meaning.) And one of the papyri is damaged where the actual word occurs, so we can’t even be sure of the exact word or exact form used. [More about these papyri here.]

Some lexicons of New Testament Greek give a meaning of “authority,” but other lexicons do not.[11] Liddell and Scott’s An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon is a lexicon with no theological axe to grind and it translates authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 as “to have full power” over someone. Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains gives the meaning of the verb as “control.” Neither of these definitions is of a healthy kind of authority.

Early church father John Chrysostom, who admittedly is writing later than Paul, used the verb in his sermon on Colossians 3 where he wrote that husbands should not act this way towards their wives.[12] Authentein is unacceptable behaviour for a husband, and I believe Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2:12 it is unacceptable behaviour for a woman, probably a wife.

Cynthia Westfall, who has examined all the available ancient documents that use the word, writes,

“. . . 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.”[13]

Furthermore, if all Paul had wanted to say was “exercise authority” there are much more common Greek words he could have used that mean precisely that. [More on authentein here.]

“The role of pastor/ elder/ overseer is rooted in the task of teaching and exercising authority over the church. Thus, this verse excludes women from serving in this office (compare 1 Tim. 3: 2).”

These two statements are problematic in a couple of ways. For starters, the second statement does not necessarily follow on logically from the first. “Thus” is unwarranted

The other problem is that in the first century, ministry roles, ministry positions and ministry terminology were not clearly defined or fixed. And different churches had different ways of organising and leading ministries.[14] Also, there is no mention of church leadership in 1 Timothy chapter 2. Paul has not got to that yet. The only references to church life in this chapter have been two references to corporate prayer and one mention about the appearance of a few wealthy women.

But let’s say for a minute that 1 Timothy 2:12 does mean that women cannot hold the church offices of pastor, overseer or elder, does that also mean women cannot be Bible translators or write notes for Study Bibles?

The people responsible for the ESV translation and for their range of Study Bibles seem to take this verse further. The translators of the ESV are all, and only, male. And of the 95 scholars who contributed to the ESV Study Bible not one of them was a woman. Not one! They were all men. This is unlike all other major modern English translations which have women in their teams.

The fact is that many Christians apply this verse broadly and in ways that are not supported by scripture. And I can’t see that Ray’s specific claim that women cannot hold certain church offices is supported by scripture either.

quiet. Paul means ‘quiet’ with respect to the teaching responsibility in the assembled church. Paul elsewhere indicates that women do speak in other ways in the church assembly (see 1 Cor. 11:5).”

As already discussed, verses 11 and 12 both contain the exact same Greek word that means “quietness”, hesuchia. To suggest that the quietness has to do with “teaching responsibility” doesn’t fit well with the sense of hesuchia. People can teach, and people can lead, and still be quiet in the sense of the word used in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. It is about a disposition. And how does a woman needing to learn quietly, as per verse 11, fit with Ray’s interpretation?

I do not agree with Ray’s claims about of the context of the verse. I believe Ray’s interpretation is based on too many suppositions. I believe that, just as 1 Timothy 2:8-10 addresses local issues, the same is true for 1 Timothy 2:11-15. I believe a woman was teaching faulty ideas which Paul corrects in v 13-14 and that she was behaving in a domineering or controlling manner towards a man, most likely her husband, which is corrected in verse 15. [An explanation of my interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is here.]

Paul’s general teaching on ministry includes women (e.g., Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:4-13). Moreover, Paul mentions several women by name in his letters and gives them the same ministry descriptions or titles as his male colleagues (Rom. 16:1; 16:7; Phil. 4:2-3; etc). And yet this one verse, 1 Timothy 2:12, that may well be about a woman and a man, a particular couple in Ephesus, has been used to silence countless women and dissuade and hinder them from ministering, and not just as pastors, overseers and elders.

I’ll finish by quoting two verses that come from Paul’s letters. It’s a pity these verses have not been given the same emphasis as 1 Timothy 2:12. This is how Paul did church.

What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26 CSB (italics added)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you (plural) richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 ESV (italics added)


Endnotes

[1] This article is based on a talk I gave in Sydney on the 3rd of November entitled Unravelling Patriarchal Interpretations of Paul: 1 Timothy 2:12.

[2] The ESV Global Study Bible was free on Kindle in October 2018.

[3] I don’t mean any disrespect by referring to Ray by his first name.

[4] 1 Timothy 1:3, 5; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17, 18.

[5] Cynthia Westfall, however, argues that “a woman’s education typically took place in the home” and she states, “The domestic sphere and teacher-student relationship is understood in 2:11, and so in 2:12, the prohibition to teach is in the same household context.” Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 306 & 307.

[6] Hesuchia, a noun meaning “quietness/stillness,” used in 1 Timothy 2:11 and 12, is also used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:12: “to do their work quietly” (ESV), “to settle down and earn the food they eat” (NIV).
Hesuchios, the related adjective, is used in 1 Timothy 2:2, the same chapter as 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (ESV).
Hesuchiazo, the related verb, is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (ESV); “to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” (NASB).

[7] Andrew C. Perriman, “What Eve Did, What Women Shouldn’t Do: The Meaning of Aὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 (1993): 129-142

[8] There is quite a distance separating the Greek words for “to teach” and “man,” but what is more significant is that the Greek noun andros is in the genitive case. This fits grammatically with authentein as authentein needs a genitive or accusative noun as its direct object. But “to teach” (didaskein) needs a noun in the accusative case as its direct object which we don’t have in 1 Timothy 2:12. There is no object noun directly connected to “to teach” in this verse.

[9] Michael F. Bird (2012-12-25) Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) (Kindle Locations 516-526)

[10] Here are few examples from Matthew’s Gospel: “They do not toil nor spin” (Matt. 6:28); “he will not quarrel or cry out” (Matt. 12:19); “They do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13). And Paul uses the word in Galatians 4:14: “you did not scorn or despise me.”

[11] For example, BDAG give the general meaning, “to assume a stance of independent authority.” They believe the sense in 1 Timothy 2:12 is, “tell a man what to do.” Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, (BDAG) revised and edited by F.W Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 150.

[12] Scr. Eccl. vol 62, page 366, line 29. Source: TLG. This verb is translated as “act the despot” in the English translation of Chrysostom’s homily in Vol XIII of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 304.

[13] Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.

[14] For example, many of the first overseers were people who hosted and managed house churches, and may not always have been responsible for teaching, but Ignatius, writing around 110 AD, uses the same word for a different kind of ministry, the oversight of a network of house churches in a city. Recognised church offices, for the most part, probably began in the late first century, and they were mostly different in nature to the church offices we have today.


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