A coherent interpretation of 1 Timothy 2.12

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; an interpretation that 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 to 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 . . .”

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 documents survive that contain strange versions of the creation of humanity. In these 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 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. (Verses 13 and 14 are not the reasons for the prohibition in verse 12.)

Rationale: While the Greek word gar (typically translated as “for” in 2:13) is often used to introduce a reason, it is also used in other ways. In the New Testament, gar sometimes introduces background information, sometimes from the Old Testament. This is what is happening in verses 13-14.

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 it is left untranslated, or the sentence is placed within parentheses.

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

4. The Greek word authentein, translated as “to usurp authority” in the KJV, can mean “to dominate/coerce/bully,” and may have been used in 1 Timothy 2:12 in the context of a woman permanently withholding sex from her husband against his will.[1]

Rationale: In the early church, sexual renunciation—celibacy within marriage and not having children, as well as lifelong virginity for the unmarried—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 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.[2]

More information: Authentein (in 1 Timothy 2:12) in a Nutshell and Chastity, 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” 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. I believe the chapter division 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: See endnote 17 in Chastity, Salvation and 1 Timothy 2:15.

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).[3]

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.


[1] Because of the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12, 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. The Greek word authentein (which is unrelated to the English word “authority”) did not refer to ordinary authority or acceptable authority before the fourth century AD.

[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 texts that regard sexual renunciation as the teaching of heretics: Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 33; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.2; Clement of Alexandria, Stomata 3.6.45 cf. 3.6.48.

[3] 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 the plural verb meaning “they continue” are altered.

Related Articles

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
A woman has no authority over her own body? (1 Corinthians 7:4)

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