Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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A woman must learn quietly and in full submission (or, with complete self-control).
But I am not allowing a woman to teach, or to dominate a man, rather she is to be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11-12

1 Timothy 2:11-12 are verses I’ve looked at long and hard. I’ve looked at the original language used in these verses and compared them with other Greek texts within and outside of the New Testament. I’ve also delved into several different scenarios that may help explain the verses’ 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).[1] 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.

More information: 3 reasons why it’s a woman, not all women, in 1 Timothy 2:12, and The Anonymous Man and Woman in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

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.

More Information: 1 Timothy 2:13: Another reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems

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 permanent singleness for the widowed—was seen as an act of piety. Furthermore, 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 lifelong virginity (for the never-married), and celibacy within marriage and not having children (for those already married). See, for example, the Acts of John 63.[2]

More information: Authentein (in 1 Timothy 2:12) in a Nutshell and Celibacy, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15

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 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 [a/the woman] will be saved through childbearing if they [a/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 gives accurate summary statements 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”).[3]

So, 1 Timothy 2:12 may be interpreted as,

But I am not allowing a woman to teach (a flawed or heretical version of Genesis 2-3), nor to bully her husband (by refusing sex because of false notions of piety) …

Furthermore, 1 Timothy 2:15 can be understood as:

But she (a/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. if they practise Christian virtues without the unnecessary and extreme demonstrations of piety or asceticism).[4]

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 perhaps, 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 somewhat loosely as we cannot know with certainty the exact circumstance being addressed in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.


[1] 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.

[2] 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 early Christian 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.

[3] 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 of gods or astronomy where full power was acceptable or expected), the Greek word authentein, which is unrelated to the English word “authority,” did not refer to the exercise of ordinary, healthy, or acceptable authority in texts written before the 300s. (More on authentein here.)

[4] 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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Explore more

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
Why 1 Timothy 2:12 shouldn’t be used to ban women ministers
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)

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

51 thoughts on “An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11-15

    1. Thanks, Paul.

  1. Thanks for all you do, Marg. I have in the past reached similar conclusions, though I took “saved” as “restored” to her former teaching position once she had sat down to learn, per Paul’s earlier statements about himself and the fact that his former status as a Pharisee did not mean he could walk right into Christianity as a teacher; he first had to sit and learn. I also took authentein as “dominate/control”, but this idea of insisting on remaining a virgin after marriage makes a lot of sense in regards to a mistaken notion of spiritual purity.

    1. Hi Paula, It’s lovely to hear from you.

      The Ephesian woman is most likely married, so I don’t think she’s a virgin. Rather, she’s decided to become celibate without her husband’s consent. This seems to be the scenario Paul addresses in 1 Cor 7:1-7.

      This scenario is plain in Acts of John 63 which recounts that a Christian woman named Drusiana refused to have sex with her husband even though he locked her away as punishment and threatened her with death.

      Other texts emphasise not having children as a way of defeating death. (And the only sure way of achieving that is by being celibate.) Many of the non-canonical, ancient Christian texts reveal some alarming beliefs among early Christians.

  2. Marg,

    I have done a fair amount of reading different scholars on this text and what you propose related to the specifics of the situation is fascinating! It sure sounds like a reasonable explanation. I don’t think we will ever be able to declare with certainty the details of the situation at Ephesus, but yours is a very well thought-out possibility. Regardless of whether Paul was addressing one woman or several, it seems clear this restriction was not meant to be universal for all women and all churches. I appreciate your work immensely!

    1. Thanks Jeanette.

      I agree that, until we get to ask Paul, we will never know with certainty exactly what he was getting at in 1 Timothy 2:12ff . . . presuming Paul was the author.

  3. Hi Marg,

    After reading about 1 Timothy 2:12ff in several articles, I began to wonder how people can us those verses to essentially “blame Eve” for sin coming into the world; especially when Romans 5:12-21 clearly places that indictment solely on Adam. Christ, as the ‘second Adam’, provides God’s grace to overcome the death and judgment brought into the world by Adam’s offense. Indeed, if Romans 5 is limited to “all men”, where is the ‘second Eve’ to provide grace for all women?

    No, if the teaching of Scripture is to be consistent (which we both insist upon), the reference to Genesis in 1 Timothy must be for some other reason than supporting the idea that ‘women shall not teach men’. Correcting Gnostic errors, as you suggest, makes much more sense.

    1. Even if “the fall” was all Eve’s fault and solely Eve’s sin, surely Jesus’ death has paid the price for that failure and sin.

      The Bible does not put all the blame on Eve, but it does give her reason for failing. I wish it had also given Adam’s reason for failing. Then, perhaps, we in the church would be having quite different discussions.

      1. I would say Adam’s failure was standing by watching the interaction between the woman (Eve was not yet named by Adam until after the fall) and the serpent instead of stepping in as her husband (head of the house) and allowing her to eat the fruit. God told Adam in Genesis 2:16 “You are free to eat…” before woman was created. So, in Genisis 3:6. It says, “she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Then, in verse 12 Adam basically throws her under the bus when he says, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”
        Instead of listening to God(verse 17), stepping in to prevent the situation with the serpent from going any further, Adam stood by and allowed the woman to be deceived by the serpent. It is after this, in verse 20, Adam sees the woman differently and changes her name to Eve. Thereby demoting her. Notice God did not change Adam’s name, but Adam changed her name to Eve.
        From this point forward, woman were seen bought and sold. They became one of 2 wives, 10 wives and even 700 wives to men.
        That’s my take on Adam. He knew they were not supposed to eat the fruit and still, he stood by and watched/allowed his wife to be deceived instead of protecting her and then turned around and blamed her for giving him the fruit to eat.

        1. Hi Laurie, Both Adam and Eve knew they were not supposed to eat the forbidden fruit.

          If Adam’s failure was not stepping in, the Bible does not mention it. The narrator of Genesis 3 isn’t interested in that detail. He only mentions Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit.

          I hold to the view that neither Adam nor Eve passed the buck when God questioned each of them. When I read Genesis 3:12-13, I see that they answered God honestly. They tell the truth and admit to their own actions: “and I ate.”

          These admissions from Adam and Eve are preceded by a short statement of truthful extra detail which has the effect of reminding those listening to the story of important elements in the story: God did give Adam a woman to be with him, and she did give him some fruit from the tree; the snake did trick Eve. (Genesis 3:12-13.)

          Several plot points are repeated once in Genesis 2-3 (e.g., the position of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Gen. 2:9 and 3:3). Other biblical narratives also use repetition, often in dialogues, as reminders of important plot points.

          To say “from this point forward, women were bought and sold” is an unhelpful generalisation and overstatement. Marriage customs in bronze-age Israel were very different from modern western customs of marriage, but women in ancient Israel were typically not treated like livestock.

  4. Marg! This is wonderful! More to chew on and through. It seems like you are saying….and I just want to make sure…that where Paul writes she will be saved through childbearing that it isnt that the act of childbearing saves her, but rather she retains her salvation should she bear children……having a kid doesn’t impact her salvation….do I have it right?

    1. Thanks, Apryl.

      There is a well-documented heresy that circulated widely in the early church that if you had children you perpetuated death, death being the opposite of salvation and life. But Paul teaches that having children doesn’t jeopardize a couple’s salvation.

      1. Thank you! This is fabulous!

  5. A nice explanation but if I explain it to anyone they can’t believe it

    1. Hi Nissi,

      I totally understand. Some people don’t believe it when I explain it.

      It is very hard to explain to someone who has been brought up with the idea of male-only authority in the church and family to see that the Bible really doesn’t teach that it must be this way.

  6. I’ve read several sites discussing this and many of the sites authors seem to be doing linguistic and logical backflips to get to their position that these passages dont really mean what they simply say. Many arguments go with these were letters for people in a different culture and time with different attitudes and it doesn’t apply to today’s people’s. If that is the case couldn’t that reasoning be applied to every sentence of the bible? Maybe I love adulterizing and could justify it by saying well, the ten commandments were brought down the mountain to a people long ago with a different culture so it doesn’t really apply to me because I don’t want it to. Or parse every word of a certain few chapters or sentences that I disagree with and study them and conclude something like this: well, this and that word were translations and the original words don’t really mean what the translations mean to us so I don’t really have to go by that. Seems it should either mean what it simply says or the whole bible is open to whatever meaning we wish to give it and we can act however we wish. Also if it is the divinely inspired word of God wouldn’t he forsee people in the future reading it and make it perfectly clear? Seems it either means exactly what it says or the whole compendium that is the bible has no weight or authority to what it says because anyone can interpret whatever meaning they want so that it conforms with how they believe or feel. Usually the simplest explanation is the correct one. These long explanations to get to an opposite meaning than the plain meaning appear to erode the whole foundation of Christianity in doing so, at least to me. And disclaimer I’m actually more of an agnostic deist so im not saying I find this passage correct. My core belief is that we are all gods children and most if not all people will find their way to heaven either by rebirth to further learn or some other way than eternal torments because if we are all children of God would he really throw his kids to eternal torment for being born in the wrong place that has a religion other than Christianity? Could you throw your children into fire where they would suffer forever? I couldn’t and if my love if that much how much greater would gods love be? I think people don’t give the creator enough credit as our father. He’s better than most people think he is. I also believe he is more distant and doesn’t work in this world as much as most think to preserve his children’s free will. Otherwise we’d just be automatons running on a program than independent beings that have the choice to accept him or not. But I’m going off topic so what does everyone think of that?

    1. I take 1 Timothy 2:12 literally and at face value. 1 Timothy 2:12 means exactly what it says in the Greek New Testament: Paul is not allowing a woman/wife to teach or to control/bully a man/husband, rather she is to settle down/be tranquil.”

      1. Precisely the difficulty I have with the more “traditional” interpretation is that it DOESN’T take the words at face value. It seems to attempt to cram the text into a preconceived doctrine, rather than deriving doctrine from the passage.

        As Marg pointed out, there’s a notable shift from the plural to the singular in these few verses. And then there’s the need to explain the “she” and “they” in the line about how “she” will saved in childbearing if “they” continue… Most teaching I’ve heard on this passage pretty much just says this is confusing and unclear. But if we acknowledge the singular “man” and “woman” instead of pretending it’s plural “men” and “women,” then it makes sense precisely as Marg has specified — “she” is the woman/wife in the passage and “they” is the couple.

  7. As Paul was writing he tried by all means to use a milky way of writing but Peter afterward said Pauls writing sometimes was hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Jesus once said Moses permited men to divorce their wives because men had hard hearts.
    It seems Paul had hard time trying to stop what was spreading in Ephesus, Especially Hymenaaeus and Alexander opposite teaching, whom he said I have delievered unto Satan (1tim 1:20).
    By the way this letter was sent to Timothy, the man with authorite at that Church, to allow or not to. Paul equipped Timothy with solution for the way forward. And he used the most quilty past party to solve the currently problem and reminded the women that God said be fruitful, fill the earth as part of the first blessings (Gift of life, having power for salvation) (Genesis 1:28) and continued to say, this Salvation should be kept in your hearts or can be achieved by way of having a continous faith, love, holiness and sobreity. Remaining in what man and woman was at the beginning.
    Fo me, it was an extraordinary solution taken for extraodinary problem because the situation was worsening. Childbearing alone is not said will make a woman saved far from it, rather supported by having faith and lot more that includes teaching by now…. I have enjoyed your view and have added much in me…

  8. You are awesome

  9. This is a very interesting interpretation of the passage and one I had not honestly considered prior. I appreciate the way you really laid things out and tried to deal with things in an honest way.

    Possibly outside the scope of your post; however, I am wondering, how does this then fit within the larger narrative of the passage which is focusing more on the larger relational aspects of life. That is to say, Paul seems to a lay out a framework which would run counter to your (assumed) egalitarian approach. He discusses kings (2:2), slaves, rulers and then church leadership roles in chapters 3 and 5. All of these seem to endorse a more complementarian approach.

    3:11 leaves open the possibility of women as deaconesses. But otherwise, the roles seem to be fairly delegated.

    Would love to hear your thoughts if you have time, thanks!

    1. Hi Joel,

      Here’s how I break down the parts of the second chapter of 1 Timothy.

      1 Timothy Chapter 2

      1 Timothy 2:1-2
      Paul talks about prayer being made for kings and all those in authority. Paul’s reason is that he wants Christians to live peaceful lives without raising the attention of authorities, or being the recipients of harassment (or worse) from authorities. While the principle of praying for leaders can and should be applied broadly, verses 1-2 are primarily talking about secular authority which in first-century Ephesus was Roman rule and authority.

      1 Timothy 2:3-7
      Paul then diverts from the topic of prayer and enthuses about Jesus as the saviour and mediator for all humanity including the Gentiles.

      1 Timothy 2:8
      Paul then resumes the topic of prayer and addresses the problem of (some) Ephesian men who were praying with anger issues.
      “I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

      1 Timothy 2:9-10
      Possibly still on the topic of prayer, Paul then addresses the problem of (some) rich Ephesian women who were dressing opulently.
      “Likewise, [I want] also women [to pray] in respectable apparel with modesty …” (Literal word for word translation from the Greek with implied words in square brackets. See here for more on “missing” verbs in Paul’s letters.)

      1 Timothy 2:11-3:1a
      Paul then narrows the focus and diverts from the topic of prayer; he addresses the problem of one of the rich women who needed to learn. Due to her ignorance, she was to stop teaching and to stop controlling her husband. This section ends with 1 Timothy 3:1a: “This is a faithful saying” referring to the woman’s salvation.

      Frances Young, and others, connect pistos ho logos, which can be translated as “this is a faithful saying,” with salvation.
      The pastoral epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1 (referring back to 2:15); 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8) are “punctuated by ‘faithful sayings.’ Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the standard phrase ‘faithful is the saying’ refers to what has gone immediately before or what follows immediately after, but what is evident, I submit, is that the formula is invariably attached to a statement about salvation. This would suggest that the phrase does not simply signal a reliable Pauline tradition, or a secure doctrine but rather heralds an assurance of the gospel.”
      Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 56.

      Paul delineates no hierarchy among believers in 1 Timothy chapter 2. Rather, most of the chapter is devoted to addressing and correcting problems specific to the Ephesian church.

      1 Timothy Chapter 3

      Paul also gives no hierarchy among believers in chapter 3. Rather, he outlines the basic moral requirements for two or perhaps three kinds of ministers. Paul says nothing whatsoever about the authority or status, etc, of these ministers. In fact, he uses quite mundane words, without any sense of prestige, for them: episkopos (“supervisor”) and diakonos (“agent”).

      Further, I do not regard the listing of qualifications for episkopoi and diakonoi as laying out a neat or fixed framework or pattern of ministers and ministry, especially as still more ministers are mentioned in 1 Timothy chapter 5. (It has been suggested that 1 Timothy was written, in part, as a chiasm and that chapter 3 and chapter 5 “belong” together and inform each other, with chapter 4 bringing up different topics.)

      I have articles about 1 Timothy 3 here: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-3/

      Christian Slaves and Masters are Brothers

      As for your mention of slaves, I see no indication that Paul is encouraging or enforcing a hierarchy between believing slaves and believing masters. But neither does he say that slaves should rebel against their masters or disobey them. That would have been utterly foolish, and that kind of seditious speech was a capital crime. Paul tells slaves to respect their masters. He plainly gives a reason for slaves to respect their non-Christian masters: “so that God’s name and his teaching will not be blasphemed” (1 Tim. 6:1 CSB).

      In the case of slaves with Christian masters, Paul encourages not only respect but also affection. And he refers to slaves and Christian masters, literally, as “brothers.” This is not the language of hierarchy!
      “Let those who have believing masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brothers, but serve them even better, since those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved” (1 Tim. 6:2 CSB).

      Paul took the highly stratified society of Roman culture as a given; he did not attempt the impossible task of changing it. But within the community of believers, the church, he encouraged brotherly affection and mutual respect. Paul states that people have different gifts and different ministries, but he does not advocate for a hierarchy among brothers and sisters in Christ.

  10. I have yet another question: if Paul asks the women (who have false teaching) to not preach, then why does Paul not do the same for men (or does he)?

    1. Just to be clear, Paul doesn’t ask the women, or a woman, anything. Rather, Paul is addressing Timothy, even if there is an expectation that the letter will be read aloud at church gatherings in Ephesus. And the word “preach” isn’t used in these verses. We need to be careful that we don’t distort what Paul actually says.

      [When Paul does mention “preach/preaching” (kērussō, euaggelizomai, kataggellō), it usually refers to proclaiming the gospel to people who have not heard it before. And in the New Testament, only the apostle Paul and Noah are actually called “preachers.” The Greek noun that means “preacher”, kērux, literally means “herald” (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:5). I’ve written more about this here.]

      Paul tells Timothy, “A woman must learn” before he then says that he is not allowing a woman to teach. This can be understood as meaning that a woman was not ready to teach and still needed to learn.

      One of Paul’s main reasons for writing 1 Timothy was because some people in the Ephesian church, both men and women, were teaching rubbish (cf. 1 Tim. 5:13, 15).

      Paul told Timothy to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:3-4).

      Paul also wrote that some people in Ephesus “want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim. 1:7).

      The “law” (or, Torah) refers to the Old Testament, especially the first five books of the Old Testament. The story of Adam and Eve occurs in the “law,” and I suggest that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is a correction on the faulty teaching of the Ephesian woman referred to in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

      Paul also refers to false teaching in 1 Timothy 4:3: “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods …”

      Paul did not allow false teaching from men or from women. Some male false teachers were so stubborn that Paul had them removed from the church (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). He mentions by name Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus who were three men leading the Ephesian Church astray. Paul denounces these men but does not say, “I am not allowing men to teach.” He uses different words, but clearly, he doesn’t want them to teach.

      Here is why I believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is about a woman and a man in the Ephesian church, and not women and men:

      1. Oops … I meant “teach”. On a similar note, did Paul also forbid men from teaching false doctrine (am I repeating myself)?

        1. Hi Anon.
          Again, I think we need to stay with Paul’s language. Paul did not “forbid,” rather he says, “ I do not allow” (ouk epitrepō). There is a slight difference in tone and intention between “forbid” and “not allow.” Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are diplomatic and constructive. He doesn’t denounce and criticise, but provides correction and hope.

          Paul was against the spread of false teaching. It’s a familiar theme in several of his letters. For example, he speaks scathingly against the Judaisers in Philippians 3:2). And the second chapter of Colossians contains warnings against false ideas and arguments. Paul did not allow false teaching.

          There isn’t a verse where Paul says, “I do not allow a man to teach [false doctrine].” Nevertheless, I believe I have answered the question, “did Paul also forbid men from teaching false doctrine?” See my comments above, especially those after the line: “Paul told Timothy to ‘command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies’” (1 Tim. 1:3-4).

  11. I noticed in the info section at the end of one of your articles the description that you cite Galatians 3:28 as evidence in support of ending existing hierarchies in the church. Just wondering where you find Paul ever addressing ecclesiology in the rest of the book of Galatians?

    1. Hello Mark,

      Some of Galatians is about ecclesiology (concerning the activities and membership of the church), but not as some understand ecclesiology today (leadership ministry structures).

      Paul gives brief advice about a few ministries (Gal. 6:1-6), and he writes about the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians who are the church, that is, the Christian community, the ekklēsia of God, the new creation, the new Israel of God (eg., Gal 6:15-16).

      Galatians 3:28 is part of Paul’s discussion about relationships within the church, the Christian community, the ekklēsia. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are one in Christ. We share the same inheritance.

      There are not different levels, or hierarchies, when it comes to being a follower of Jesus.

      I write about Galatians 3:28 here: https://margmowczko.com/galatians-3_28-identity/

  12. Hi Marg,
    Interesting insights. Have been battling with this text for a while. I read commentaries from other author, preacher, etc. What is your view of some churches that stick to “forbidding” woman to teach adult men?

    1. Hi Paul,
      My hope, rather than my view, is that these churches take another look at 1 Timothy 2:12 with an open mind and a heart open to the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor. 12:1-31). Equality, or mutuality, is a fruit of the Spirit.

      I hope they would realise that a literal reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 gives the understanding that Paul is not allowing a woman/wife from teaching and not allowing her to domineer a man/husband. And I hope they would acknowledge that Paul never hints in Romans 12:6-8 CSB, 1 Corinthians 14:26 CSB, Ephesians 4:11 CSB, Colossians 3:16 CSB, etc, that some ministries, including teaching and leading, are only for men.

      Some churches fail to see these things in the scriptures for a variety of reasons, and so I have no general view of such churches.

  13. Fascinating and provocative.

    It is both interesting and frustrating that there is so much difference of opinion even among those on the “same side.” If we lined up you, Craig Keener, Phillip Payne, Ben Witherington, Cindy Westfall, Linda Belleville, and David Instone-Brewer, I wonder if we would find more differences or more agreement between any two.

    1. There’s a big difference of opinion all round. Paul doesn’t reveal the backstory of his prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12, so we have to look for clues in the text. And some people think some clues are significant and relevant, while others think other clues are significant and relevant. I personally think there’s no way we can be 100% certain that any interpretation is the correct one, but some make more sense than others.

      1. Thanks Marg to taking out time to share your thoughts in this very controversial verse. I admire the wisdom with which you put it and your humility in answering questions. More grace. Shalom.

  14. Its easy to read and re-read this scripture and not notice the change of singular “woman” and the pluralized version “women”. What is clear is that this passage is still being used in some places to prohibit women from being involved actively in work in the church. Teaching, preaching and the like seem reserved for men.

    Whatever the “true” interpretation, we can perceive that Paul’s intention was noble. Can’t imagine that he would be instructing women to be silent and learn at home only.

    1. Yes, Paul encourages the speech of gifted people. 🙂

  15. What translation of the Bible does I Timothy 2: 12 start out saying ” I am not allowing a…..?

    1. Hi Charles,

      Sorry, I don’t know of any English Bible that begins 1 Timothy 2:12 that way. Here are some English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 to compare.

      The Greek verb Paul uses, epitrepō, is present active indicative. It has a present and continuing sense. “I do not allow” or “I do not permit” is shorter than “I am not allowing,” but the present and continuing sense remains the same.

      I do not believe epitrepō has a gnomic (universal) sense, for reasons outlined here. So I, as well several scholars (Ben Witherington springs to mind), prefer “I am not allowing” or “I am not permitting” to make the immediate sense clearer.

      Ben Witherington makes this further point:
      “As Philip Payne has shown, there is not a single instance of the use of this verb [epitrepō] in Greek literature where this form means ‘I am permanently banning ….’ This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach. Paul could have said ‘I will never permit women to teach ….’ but he did not, and for a good reason.”

      I discuss this verb here.

      All the situations Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are about poor behaviour from specific people in the Ephesian church: 1. men praying while angry, 2. overdressed, rich women, 3. an ill-informed woman who was domineering a man, probably her husband. We can draw principles from Paul’s corrections to these people, but Paul’s corrections are not gnomic or universal statements.

      “I do not allow/permit/suffer a woman …” might be understood as being a universal statement, so I prefer “I am not allowing/permitting a woman …” It captures the present active indicative sense, as well as the sense of the Greek verb, very well.

      1. Do you know of ANY translation of the Bible that I Timothy 2:12 starts out saying “I am not allowing a woman…?

        1. Charles, I’ve already replied to your question.

          I’ve answered your question directly and I’ve answered it in detail. But in case you’ve missed my meaning I’ve edited in the word “any” to my original response.

  16. Thanks Marg for your patience in explaining this.

  17. There is something else to consider in the whole of this discussion and that is right division of scripture. Paul writing to Timothy, a jew who was saved from his youth, raised by his Jewish mother and grandmother under the old program, and thereby not a member of the Body of Christ, as many of us have presumed. Salvation requirements then were that professing believers endure until the end to be saved; that their faith without works (evidence of their faith) was dead; we of course are saved by grace through faith, WITHOUT works of any kind. So then one question to ask is the “A” women under the law [most likely] then Paul stating what was normative under the law of Moses does not sound odd at all, and the statements made above about a particular woman teaching false doctrine seems to fit well and the question of salvation also is resolved.

    1. Hi Michael, it seems we have different understandings regarding Timothy and his mother.

      Timothy’s Jewish status was uncertain until Paul had him circumcised. Because he was not circumcised, Timothy could not have been a full member of the Jewish community previously.

      Why do you think Eunice and Lois were not members of the Body of Christ? Luke in Acts and Paul in 2 Timothy indicate otherwise.

      Timothy’s mother Eunice is described in Acts 16:1O with two adjectives: Ioudaia, which means “Jewish,” and pistē, which can mean “faithful” or “believing” depending on the context. “Believing, Jewish woman,” as in the CSB translation, makes good sense of the Greek if we think Luke is trying to convey that she is both Jewish and a Christian believer. But if he is contrasting Eunice with her Greek husband, which is possible, “faithful Jewish woman” may be the intended meaning.

      Practically all the first Christians were Jewish, however, and because of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:5, there is no reason to doubt that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were in fact Christians. (Requirements for salvation through Jesus have not changed, and I have little doubt that the two women “endured to the end.”)

      Paul even indicates that the women became Christians before Timothy:
      “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” 2 Timothy 1:5 CSB (italics added). Paul made this statement when Timothy was a Christian serving as the apostle’s envoy in Ephesus.

      I don’t know what you are referring to when you mention what is “normative under the Law of Moses.” But I will point out that honouring one’s mother is enshrined in Old Testament Law (Exod. 20:12, etc) and obeying one’s mother is mentioned in Paul’s household codes (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20). See also Proverbs 1:8-9 and 6:20.

      Are you trying to say that Eunice is the woman in 1 Timothy 2:11-15? If so let me point out that we know Eunice lived in Lystra, in the Roman province of Galatia; there’s no indication she was ever in Ephesus, in the province of Asia.

      Importantly, Paul endorsed the teaching of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. He did not prohibit it. See 2 Timothy 3:14-15.

      I have more about Timothy’s mother and grandmother here: https://margmowczko.com/lois-and-eunice-timothy/

      We agree that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is probably about a particular woman teaching false doctrine in Ephesus, but I don’t understand your point about salvation.

      1. Many preachers of the gospel have failed to understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12 and they are interpreting culturally without understanding the context of the verse.

        1. That is unfortunately true.
          The context is that Paul is addressing and correcting bad behaviour from certain Ephesian men (1 Tim 2:8), certain Ephesian women (1 Tim 2:9-10), and probably one of these women (1 Tim. 11-15). None of these verses contains Paul general teaching on prayer, on clothing, or on marriage and ministry.

  18. Great research and responses!! Yesterday I taught the first three chapters of this epistle to my church’s youth group. Tbh I skirted past this subject bc at 42 I’m much wiser than I was at 22. That and my wife was in the room lol. I’ve been on both sides of this subject and this research has solidified my experiences with faithful pastors, evangelists and workers within the church who are women.

    The verse I did touch upon was “For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.” Like how Boaz was attracted to Ruth’s character.

    One thing is certain is that the church of Ephesus was experiencing some major distractions that was meaningless and was steering them away from the good news of the gospel. When they couldn’t overthrow the truth by direct opposition, the goal was to neutralize it by misinformation. And it almost worked. Timothy and this letter couldn’t have come at a better time for the church at Ephesus.

    My question to you Marg is how old do you think Timothy was when this letter was received? I say 38.

    Thanks for your faithfulness!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jimmy. 🙂

      Timothy’s Age

      Because of the shorter life expectancy in the Roman world, anyone older than 35, and especially older than 40, was considered an older person. 38 was not considered young by ancient standards.

      Irenaeus (born around the year 130) makes this comment on “age.”

      Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, everyone will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age …
      Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5 (Source: New Advent)

      Since his youthfulness seems to have been an issue, my best guess is that Timothy was in his mid to late 20s (1 Tim 4:12 cf. 1 Tim. 5:1-2).

      Good Works

      The good works (erga agatha) of the rich women in the Ephesian Church may refer to benefactions rather than just having a good character. I’ve come across these Greek words (and also erga kala) in several ancient texts where the context is clearly benefactions. Paul wanted the rich women, who probably had time on their hands, to put their resources to good use and help others who were less well off.

      N.T. Wright makes this comment about “good works.”

      The phrase ‘good works’ in verse 10 sounds pretty bland to us, but it’s one of the regular ways people used to refer to the social obligation to spend time and money on people less fortunate than oneself, to be a benefactor of the town through helping public works, the arts, and so on.
      Wright, Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis, conference paper for the symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’, St John’s College, Durham, September 4th 2004. (Source)

      Unlike the rich Ephesian women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Ruth was poor and almost destitute. But she did use her strength to help Naomi.

      I’ve written about Paul’s words to the rich Ephesian women here:
      I’ve written about Timothy and his family background here:

  19. […] Authenteō (Authentein) in Greek-English Lexicons
    Authentein as Bad Behaviour (in Chrysostom, etc)
    An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11–15 […]

  20. […] Note that the verb sōthēsetai (“she will be saved”) is followed by the common conjunction de (in its usual post-positive position). This word often has the simple sense of “and”; but it can have a slightly adversative sense. I think the sense here is, “But she will saved,” or “yet she will saved,” and that this phrase follows on from the idea of “to domineer a man/ husband” (authentein andros) at the end of verse 12. I propose that a woman in Ephesus was domineering her husband by withholding sex for the sake of piety. I explain this further here: An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11–15. […]

  21. […] An Ephesian woman was behaving in a controlling or domineering manner towards her husband. More on this here. Nevertheless, Paul addresses the situation in 1 Timothy 2:11–15 with diplomacy and discretion. […]

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