But I am not allowing a woman to teach, or to dominate a man, rather she is to be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse I’ve looked at long and hard. I’ve looked at the original language used in this verse and compared it with other Greek texts in and outside of the New Testament. I’ve also delved into several different scenarios that may help to explain the verse’s meaning.
In this article, I provide an interpretation that I believe “connects the dots” between 1 Timothy 2:12 and surrounding verses. This interpretation also takes into account known issues in the first and second-century church, issues alluded to in First Timothy.
I’ve tried to keep this post as short as possible. So I’ve listed interpretative decisions as brief statements, supported by a one or two-paragraph rationale. I also provide links to an article or two where there is more in-depth information discussing the ideas given in the rationales. You’ll find my overall interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 towards the end of this post.
1. The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 concerns a woman and a man in the Ephesian church, perhaps a specific couple.
Rationale: The singular for “woman” and “man” is used in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and is a marked difference from the plural “men” and “women” used in previous verses (1 Tim. 2:8-10). Note that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not say “I am not allowing a woman (or women) to teach … men (plural) …”
The understanding that a woman and a man is being spoken of in 1 Timothy 2:12 fits well with 1 Timothy 2:15 and the singular verb, which is correctly translated as “she will be saved”, followed by the plural verb meaning “they continue.” “She” refers to the woman; “they” refers to the couple.
2. The teaching that is being disallowed in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a corrupted version of Genesis chapters 2-3.
Rationale: Several ancient Jewish writings contain strange elaborations and interpretations of the Genesis 2-3 story (e.g., Life of Adam and Eve and some of Philo’s writings). In some later documents, Eve, or a powerful feminine force, gives life to Adam, and Adam is the one deceived. The various versions of these distorted creation stories were taught by some Christians, including Christian Gnostics and their forerunners. A woman in Ephesus may have bought into a faulty understanding of Genesis 2-3, so 1 Timothy 2:13-14, which summarises Genesis 2-3, is given as a correction.
More information: Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature
3. The conjunction translated as “for” in 1 Timothy 2:13 is used to introduce background information relevant to the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12.
That is, verses 13 and 14 are not necessarily the reasons for the prohibition in verse 12.
Rationale: While the Greek word gar (typically translated as “for” in 2:13) is often used in the New Testament to introduce a reason, it is also used in other ways. Gar is also commonly used in the New Testament to introduce verses and background information from the Old Testament. 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is additional background information from the Old Testament.
Here is a small sample of New Testament verses where gar introduces background or additional, clarifying information, and not a reason: Matt. 3:3; 15:27; John 4:8, 44; Acts 13:36; 15:21; 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Tim. 2:5. In a few reputable English Bibles, gar is translated in these verses as “now” rather than “for”, or the word is left untranslated. Occasionally an entire sentence where gar occurs is placed within parentheses because the word can indicate parenthetical information.
4. The Greek word authentein (“to usurp authority” in the KJV) can mean “to dominate, coerce, bully” and may have been used in 1 Tim. 2:12 in the context of a woman permanently withholding sex from her husband against his will.
Rationale: In the early church, sexual renunciation—celibacy within marriage and not having children, as well as lifelong virginity for the unmarried, and lasting singleness for the widowed—was seen as an act of piety. Sexual renunciation was connected with salvation, the defeat of death, and the resurrection. Verses in 1 Timothy that address celibacy in some way (other than 1 Tim. 2:15) are 1 Timothy 4:3 and possibly 1 Timothy 5:11 & 14.
Note that in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, Paul addresses celibacy in the church in Corinth. Some Corinthians believed the resurrection had already taken place and so had renounced sexual relations and were leaving marriages. In Ephesus, Hymenaeus and Philetus (male false teachers) were teaching that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim. 2:16-18; cf. 1 Tim 1:19-20). Furthermore, there are many passages in early Christian literature that extol celibacy within marriage, lifelong virginity, and not having children. See, for example, the Acts of John 63.
5. Salvation is in view in 1 Timothy 2:15, and not safety during childbirth or Mary’s delivery of Jesus, etc.
Rationale: The phrase “this is a trustworthy saying” (pistos ho logos) is used several times in the (so-called) Pastoral Epistles, three times in 1 Timothy, and it is always used in connection with statements about salvation. “This is a trustworthy saying” occurs immediately after 1 Timothy 2:15, at beginning of 1 Timothy 3:1:
“But she [the woman] will be saved through childbearing if they [the couple] continue in faith, and love, and holiness with moderation. This is a trustworthy saying …” (1 Tim. 2:15-3:1a).
I believe the chapter division between chapters 2 and 3 has been put in the wrong place, and that “this is a trustworthy saying” refers to a woman’s salvation in 2:15 and not to what follows in chapter 3.
More information: What does “saved through childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15) mean?
Putting it Together: A Cohesive Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15
I suspect that 1 Timothy 2:13-14, which is an accurate summary statement of the creation and fall as recorded in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, corrects the faulty teaching of a woman in the Ephesian church (as per didaskein, “to teach”), and that 1 Timothy 2:15 corrects her faulty exercise of control of a man, most probably her husband (as per authentein andros, “to coerce/ bully a man”).
So, 1 Timothy 2:12 may be interpreted as:
But I am not allowing a woman to teach (a heretical version of Genesis 2-3), nor to bully her husband (by denying him sex because of false notions of piety) …
Furthermore, 1 Timothy 2:15 can be understood as:
But she (the woman mentioned in verses 11 and 12) will be saved (i.e. she will keep her salvation and not lose it) through childbearing (contrary to teachings about the perceived virtue of celibacy and childlessness), if they (the couple) continue in faith, and love, and holiness with moderation (i.e. they practise Christian virtues without extreme piety or asceticism).
Instead of teaching wrong ideas about Adam and Eve and instead of coercing her husband against his will because of faulty notions of piety, a woman is to quietly learn good doctrine (as per 1 Timothy 2:11).
I have discussed elements of this interpretation in more detail elsewhere on this website. I hope you’ll take a look at the other, longer articles before rejecting or accepting my suggested interpretation. (Or, better still, reserve judgement and simply keep this interpretation in mind.)
My interpretation makes sense of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and takes into account well-known, documented heresies that circulated in the first and second centuries, and later. Still, I am holding my interpretation loosely as we cannot know with certainty the exact circumstance being addressed in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
 The word for man in 1 Timothy 2:12 (andros from anēr) is often used in Paul’s letters, in singular and plural forms, for husbands. See here: Rom. 7:2 X3, 7:3 X4; 1 Cor. 7:2, 3 X2, 4 X2, 10, 11 X2, 13 X2, 14, 16 X2, 34, 39 X2; 14:35; 2 Cor. 11:12; Gal. 4:27; Eph. 5:22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 33; Col. 3:18; 3:19; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:9; Titus 1:6; 2:5.
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul uses anēr for man (namely Adam who, accordingly to Gen 2, was the first man and the source of Eve) and for men. Anēr is used in contrast to woman (Eve) and women (1 Cor. 11:3 X2, 4, 7 X2, 8 X2, 9X2, 11 X2, 12 X2, 14). 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 refers to men and women who were prophesying and praying in Corinthians assemblies. It doesn’t refer to marriage as such. (More on this passage here.)
In 1 Corinthians 13:11 and Ephesians 4:13, Paul uses the word anēr to refer to mature adulthood without respect to gender. (More on anēr referring to maturity here.)
In Romans 4:8 and 11:4, it occurs in quotations from the Septuagint.
In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul uses anēr when referring to a problem that only involved (male) men. In the following verses in 1 Timothy 2, he addressed problems involving women.
 More examples: Acts of Paul and Thecla 6-7; Gospel of Thomas, sayings 22 & 79; Gospel of the Egyptians (quoted in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata 3.9.66); Tertullian, To His Wife (Ad Uxorem) 1.7-8. Here are some texts that regard sexual renunciation as the teaching of heretics: Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 33; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.2; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.6.45 cf. 3.6.48.
 Because of the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 with its senses of bully and control, and because of the singular “man,” it is unlikely this verse is prohibiting a woman from exercising a healthy authority in church meetings. Not everything mentioned in 1 Timothy chapter 2 happens in church meetings (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:10, 15). Furthermore, this verse cannot be taken to mean that a woman was being prohibited from being an elder. In the context of people (and not gods or astronomy where full power is acceptable), the Greek word authentein, which is unrelated to the English word “authority,” did not refer to the exercise of ordinary, healthy, or acceptable authority. (More on authentein here.)
 Note that several English translations do not translate 1 Timothy 2:15 accurately; words are added such as “women” and the senses of the singular verb meaning “she will be saved” and of the plural verb meaning “they continue” are altered. The CSB translates the verbs in 1 Timothy 2:15 accurately.
© Margaret Mowczko 2017
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All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
6 reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
3 reasons why it’s a woman, not all women, in 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
What does “saved through childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15) mean?
A woman has no authority over her own body? (1 Cor. 7:4)