Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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This blog post is the continuation of a talk I gave at a conference on February 11. Part 1, with an introduction and discussion on 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is here. In part 2, I look at 1 Timothy 2:12 within its immediate context and within the context of First Timothy.

The conference talks are posted as audio files here. My talk starts at the 13.45-minute mark in session 2.

Here is an English translation of 1 Timothy 2:11–12.

“A woman should learn in quietness and with full submission.[1] I don’t allow a woman to teach, or ‘to domineer a man’ (authentein andros), rather she is to be in quietness.”

First Timothy and 1 Timothy 2:12

My approach to 1 Timothy 2:12 is similar to my approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. So, as we did with 1 Corinthians, let’s see who 1 Timothy is addressed to and why the letter was written.

The first few verses of chapter 1 tell us that the letter was written by the apostle Paul to Timothy when Timothy was ministering in Ephesus as Paul’s representative.[2] And straightaway we can see Paul’s concern―we can see the reason why he wrote this letter. In the Ephesian church, some people were teaching strange doctrines and some of this teaching involved the Law.

The Law here, as it does in most of Paul’s letters, probably refers to the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Some people in Ephesus were teaching from the Law but doing it badly. And I’m going to suggest that some of this faulty teaching had to do with Genesis chapters 2 and 3.

Also, as we did with 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, we’re going to look at 1 Timothy 2:12 by zooming out a bit and looking at the whole passage in 1 Timothy 2, from verse 8 to the end of the chapter in verse 15.[3]

What is happening in 1 Timothy 2:8–15?

In all these verses, Paul addresses and corrects problem behaviour from various people in the Ephesian church.

In verse 8, he addresses the problem of angry quarrelling men.
In verses 9–10, he addresses the problem of overdressed rich women.
In verses 11–12, which is a unit (these two verses are written as an inclusion),[4] he addresses the problem of a woman who needed to learn and not teach, and not domineer a man.

Plural and Singular Language in 1 Timothy 2:8–15

Paul switches from plural “men” and plural “women” in verses 8–10 to singular words for “man” and “woman” in verses 11–12. And the verb “she will be saved” in verse 15 is singular too. Unfortunately, this singular language is pluralised in some English translations. But we need to trust that Paul used his words carefully and that the switch from plural to singular was deliberate in these verses.

There are two ways we might explain the change from plural to singular in verses 11–15. It may signify that Paul is, 1. narrowing his focus to a particular couple in the Ephesian church, or 2. narrowing his focus to a few married couples in the Ephesian church with similar issues.[5]

The idea that these verses referred to married couples is not new. Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther gave a lecture and stated that Paul was talking about married couples. He said, “Here we properly take ‘woman’ to mean wife . . . As he calls the husband ‘man,’ so he calls the wife ‘woman.’”[6]

I suggest 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is about a wife in the Ephesian church who needed to learn. Presumably, she needed to accurately learn scripture (such as Genesis 2 and 3) and Christian doctrine. As someone who still needed to learn, this woman was not ready to teach. So Paul tells Timothy she is not allowed to teach. That makes sense.

Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12

Paul also says a woman was not allowed to domineer a man who is most likely her husband. The Greek word authentein refers to a kind of behaviour that is unacceptable from any person, especially Christians. (I have a few articles looking at this word, here.)

Chrysostom (died 407), a respected church father, used the same Greek verb in a comment on Colossians 3:19 and said that a husband should not authentei his wife. In a well-known English translation of Chrysostom’s sermon, this Greek verb is translated as “act the despot.”[7]

Authentein is not related to the ordinary word for authority. In ancient texts, authentein was typically used to refer to someone, or something (such as deities or planets), exercising full power. In human relationships, the word was used for coercive, controlling, dominating, even despotic behaviour which is unacceptable from a woman or a man, from a wife or a husband.

As I’ve said, 1 Timothy 2:8–15 is Paul addressing problem behaviour. These verses do not contain his general teaching on ministry.

But then it gets a little bit more difficult.

1 Timothy 2:13–14 and Adam and Eve

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.” 1 Timothy 2:13–14

Paul goes on, and in 1 Timothy 2:13–14 he gives summary statements of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. It is not clear why he mentions Adam and Eve. Paul doesn’t say why he brings up this couple.

Many people understand that the word translated as “for” at the beginning of 1 Timothy 2:13 means “because” and that verses 13 and 14 are Paul’s reasons why a woman cannot teach. However, the Greek word behind the word “for,” and that Greek word is gar, is usually not translated as “because” in English New Testaments.

Out of the 60 odd translations of 1 Timothy 2:13 on Bible Gateway, only 6 include the word “because.” There is a different Greek word that usually means “because” (oti) and Paul did not use it here.

The Greek word gar is frequently used in the New Testament to introduce additional, background information. This information is sometimes from the past and occasionally from the Old Testament. Sometimes this background information with the word gar is almost parenthetical, it’s given as an aside. (I give a few examples of these uses of gar in an article here.)

Paul may have brought up Adam and Eve to provide Timothy with a correction to a woman’s faulty teaching of the Law, particularly a corrupted version of Genesis 2 and 3 that gave Eve superiority over Adam. There were some strange interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 in the first century and in later centuries.[8]

Paul could have been simply setting the record straight in verses 13–14: Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not the one deceived, Eve was. This is what Genesis chapters 2 and 3 tell us. Paul isn’t saying anything new here.

There’s more I can say on verses 13–14, but I need to move on to verse 15.

1 Timothy 2:15 and Holiness with Moderation

“Yet she will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, and love, and holiness with moderation.” 1 Timothy 2:15 (Italics added)

1 Timothy 2:15 is a difficult verse to decipher but it may be about a woman’s domineering behaviour towards her husband. She may have been refusing sex and avoiding childbirth for reasons of piety. We know from Paul’s letter that some in the Ephesian church were forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:3).

Sexual renunciation was not uncommon in the early church and it started early. It was a feature of the early church and we see the beginnings of it in 1 Corinthians 7 and other New Testament passages.[9] The author of Hebrews, for example, felt it necessary to make the statement, “Marriage is honourable among all people and the marriage bed (or, marital sex) is pure” (cf. Heb. 13:4 KJV).

Permanent singleness and celibacy were esteemed virtues in the early church. There are quite a few existing early church documents (see here) about Christian women refusing sex and leaving their husbands, or choosing to live as life-long virgins. Some Christian men were also choosing celibacy. It was a kind of purity culture on steroids. Disturbingly, sexual renunciation was linked theologically to salvation and the resurrection.

I take 1 Timothy 2:15 as Paul reassuring a woman (or group of women) that their salvation would not be jeopardised if they have sex and have babies: “she (singular) will be saved through childbearing.” And he adds, “if they (plural: the couple) continue  in faith, and love, and holiness with moderation.”

I think the phrase “holiness with moderation” is key. I suggest a woman, or a few women in Ephesus, were taking the notion of holiness too far.[10]

There are only a few tenuous clues in First Timothy that hint at the backstory of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11–15.[11] But what is certain is that Paul, from verses 8 to 15, was addressing the problem behaviour of men and women.

In both 1 Timothy 2:8–15 and 1 Corinthians 14:26–40 Paul addressed and corrected problem behaviour and offered encouragement. These two passages were about issues in the Ephesian church and in the Corinthian church. We can and should draw principles from these passages but, overall, they do not represent Paul’s general thoughts about ministry.

In part 3, I look at 1 Timothy 3 and the phrase “husband of one wife” and Paul’s preferred ministry terminology.


[1] In part 1, I stated that the sense of “submission” in 1 Corinthians 14:32 and 35 may be that the prophets and the women are to be “in control” of their speaking so that they don’t cause a disturbance and behave disgracefully. I suggest “submission” in 1 Timothy 2:11 has a similar sense: “with full submission” may mean, in effect, “with full control of herself.” (All my articles on submission are here.)

[2] Some New Testament scholars don’t think the apostle Paul really wrote 1 Timothy, but I’m assuming that he did. I’m taking the words on the page of the letter as fact.

[3] I actually take this passage as starting at the beginning of verse 8 and ending with the phrase “This is a trustworthy saying” in 1 Timothy 3:1. In a footnote, here, I explain my reasoning for including this phrase.

[4] The two-word phrase “in quietness” (en hēsychia) occurs right near the beginning of 1 Timothy 2:11 in the Greek and is repeated at the end of verse 12 forming an inclusion.
A woman (or a few women) who belonged to the Ephesian church needed to chill. The repeated phrase “in quietness” (en hēsychia), in the emphatic positions (at the beginning and at the end) of 1 Timothy 2:11–12, suggests a woman was causing some kind of disturbance or confusion. (I look at how “quietness,” hēsychia, was used in some early Jewish texts in postscripts here.)

[5] There is a rhetorical device in the Greek at the beginning of verse 11, called asyndeton, that may indicate this narrowing of focus too. It is common in Greek for sentences to begin with a connective word, but verse 11 does not begin with such a word.
In his book Discourse Features of the New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on The Information (Dallas: SIL International, 2000), 119, Stephen Levinson notes that asyndeton may be used in Greek as the text moves from generic to specific.

[6] This quotation is from a lecture given on February 11, 1528, and it is in Luther’s commentary on 1 Timothy. (Online at Internet Archive, p. 276.) While I agree that Paul is speaking about a wife or wives in verses 8-15, I disagree with almost everything else Luther says about men and women in his commentary on these verses.

[7] Chrysostom’s Homily 10 on Colossians is on the New Advent website. I look at more examples where Chrysostom used authentein here.

[8] In the first century BC or AD, an unknown author wrote the Life of Adam and Eve. This work of fiction greatly embellished on the Genesis 2–3 account but may have been taken seriously by some. The Jewish author Philo (died c. AD 50) interpreted the story of Adam and Eve allegorically. And around this time, we see the beginnings of gnostic-type interpretations of Genesis 2–3. It is in some gnostic texts that Eve is superior to Adam. I quote from several of these gnostic texts here.

[9] Most of 1 Corinthians 7 only makes sense when we understand that unmarried people were choosing to stay single, and married people were renouncing sex and even leaving their spouses. I have more on this context of 1 Corinthians 7 here.

[10] The LSJ entry on the Greek word behind “moderation” is here.

[11] These clues include strange teachings involving the Law mentioned in 1 Tim 1:7ff  (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13–14) and ascetic teaching forbidding marriage mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:3 (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15).
In his famous Word Pictures (1930–1933), A.T. Robertson made this observation about 1 Timothy 2:12: “One feels somehow that something is not expressed here to make it all clear.” (Source: Study Light) Indeed!

© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Orthodox iconography of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is pulling Adam and Eve up out of their graves as he tramples down the gates of Hades (death). This fresco is in Chora Church in Istanbul. I love this iconography of the resurrection (anastasis)!
Source: https://orthodoxwiki.org/File:Anastasis-chora1024.jpg

Explore more

Part 1. Paul’s Theology of Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35
Part 3. Paul’s Theology of Ministry: “Husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2) and Priscilla
1 Timothy 2:12, in a Nutshell 
1 Timothy 2:13 and Gar
The Created Order, in a Nutshell
Celibacy, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15 
What Timothy Knew about Paul’s Theology of Ministry
My articles on authentein are here.
My articles on Artemis and ancient Ephesus are here.
All my articles related to 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
바울 사역의 신학: 디모데전서 2:12

13 thoughts on “Paul’s Theology of Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:12

  1. This is wonderful. When I have been pushed too far on the idea of women not domineering men, I often ask if it is OK for any Christian to domineer any other Christian at any time. It is nice to see that someone has taken on that view about men not domineering women.

    This has been a different view of the way Greek works than I have seen before. Thank you for more insight on a verse that is so much more complicated than most people an imagine.

    1. Hi Ann, it seems many Christians have a faulty understanding of what is acceptable behaviour among fellow believers. Jesus warned his followers against having authority over others, but authentein is, arguably, an even stronger or more self-centred behaviour.

      Any authority we have from God is an authorisation to serve. It’s not an authority over other capable followers of Jesus.

  2. Thank you, again! Question: Why do we interpret the idea that Eve was deceived and Adam was not as a negative comment toward Eve. It appears to me that Paul was excusing Eve (notice in Genesis 2 that she was not there yet when God gave the command about the Tree) because she, in her innocence was deceived. HOWEVER, Adam knew better and yet, he still ate from the tree. (Worse, if he was present, he did not stop Eve from doing it.)
    I read that Paul was giving an example of a man doing a bad job of teaching a woman. (Of course, I still believe that the text was tampered with early on and that there is some mss evidence of a slightly different sentence.)
    Many blessings on you and yours!

    1. Hi Dan, It seems I read Genesis 2-3 very differently from you. Here are a few quick comments.

      Being deceived is never a good thing and everything about the Genesis 3 account of eating the forbidden fruit is negative. However, I don’t take Paul’s comments in 1 Tim 2:13-14 as being especially negative towards Eve, as such; I see these verses as an accurate summary of Genesis 2-3.

      I don’t think Adam knew better than Eve or more than Eve. Eve’s reply to the snake indicates that she knew the rule about the forbidden fruit. I’ve written about her reply here:

      There is no hint in the text of Genesis 2-3 that Adam was Eve’s teacher, or that he was meant to be Eve’s teacher.

      Neither Eve nor Adam was innocent. Eve and Adam ate the fruit knowing it was forbidden.
      They were both questioned individually by God for their own actions.
      They each replied honestly to God and admitted to their own actions.
      They each will suffer with “sorrowful toil” (Hebrew: itstsabon) for their own actions.
      In short, I see no differentiation between Eve’s and Adam’s guilt in Genesis 3.

      We are clearly told that Eve was deceived. We are not clearly told why Adam ate the fruit, but I offer a suggestion based on Genesis 3:12 here.

      Unlike 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, there are no textual variants of 1 Timothy 2:11ff that I am aware of. And I’ve looked. I do not believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15 has been tampered with. But I’m happy to be corrected on this.

      1. Thank you, Marg. You are so amazingly disciplined about answering anyone’s question!
        I think I wrote to you once before that there is one text critical question on 1 Timothy 2:12. I found this variant listed in the SBLGNT
        ΠΡΟΣ ΤΙΜΟΘΕΟΝ Α΄ 2:12
        SBL Greek New Testament
        12 [a]διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

        Read full chapter
        ΠΡΟΣ ΤΙΜΟΘΕΟΝ Α΄ 2:12 διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ WH Treg NIV ] Γυναικὶ δὲ διδάσκειν RP

        It’s just a case of word order, but I cannot understand why the word order would be changed. Was it just a scribal error? Perhaps. Did someone think there should be more emphasis on the word gunaiki?

        However, no need for you to answer me again on this.
        The other thing that strikes me in Genesis 2 is that Eve was created after God gave Adam the command not to eat of the tree. What does that suggest?

        Hope this Lentin Season is full of blessings for you!

        1. Hi Dan, yes, it’s just a change of word order.

          The Textus Receptus (1500s) and Robinson & Pierpont’s Majority Text, which are both a kind of critical edition, have the word gynaiki first, instead of didaskein, but the meaning, if not the emphasis, is exactly the same.

          But I don’t know what specific ancient manuscript(s), if any, these variants are based on.

        2. Eve was well aware of the rule of the Tree of Life as she said it to the serpent.

  3. What Adam was not deceived about, was not necessarily eating from the tree of knowledge. That would – in my mind at least – be a strange thing to say, since both he and Eve ate from it. An alternative understanding is that he was not deceived about being created first.

    1. Hi Knut, that’s an interesting idea, especially as the “forbidden fruit” is not plainly mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:14.

      Nevertheless, I see Paul’s statement, “And Adam was not deceived,” as being directly contrasted with Eve’s deception and transgression regarding the forbidden fruit.

      I am inclined to believe that Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 were designed to counter teachers in Ephesus who were saying the opposite; namely, that Eve was created first, and that Adam was deceived and transgressed.

      The Bible doesn’t mention a deception surrounding the created order. But in another letter, Paul plays down any significance of the created order in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

      1. My point is that a deception about the created order could have been part of the false teaching. I agree with you that Paul is refuting false teaching in verses 13–14 (and some more false teaching in verse 15). If so, then this false teaching must have been something that
        (1) ran contrary to verses 13–14, and
        (2) justified the woman’s or women’s behaviour.
        At the same time, the Genesis version would also be there, and the false teaching would have to relate to that, so that it
        (3) would somehow refute the Genesis version.
        It could do the latter by saying that the Genesis version was a deception, perhaps created by a false god.

        A story that would fit these requirements could be:
        Eve was created first. She ate from the tree of knowledge; and this was no error, but something that gave her divine knowledge. Later, Adam was created. But a false god put Adam to sleep; and when Adam woke up again, the false god showed him Eve, and said that she had been created out of a part from him while he was asleep. However, Eve, with her divine knowledge, was able to teach Adam the truth and enlighten him about what had really happened.

        The woman or women Paul is thinking of would have inherited divine knowledge from Eve. Perhaps it lay latent and could be «awakened» through some mystic ritual. By this divine knowledge these women were likewise able to teach the adams of their day. They were superior to men in knowledge, and didn’t need to be taught, but could do the teaching themselves.

        «Adam was not deceived» is certainly contrasted with Eve’s deception, but that doesn’t mean that the deceptions have to be the same. It could be: «Adam was not deceived about being created first, but Eve was deceived about gaining divine knowledge by eating from the tree.» (Genesis 3:5).

        And it would fit this story that «authentein» – in this context – meant something like ‘act as knowledgewise superior’.

        1. I’m inclined to believe that there was an alternate view of the created order being taught in Ephesus and that this is behind Paul’s correct statement in 1 Tim. 2:14. We have accounts in gnostic literature that Eve (AKA Zoe), both words mean “life,” gives life to Adam.

          And we have an account of the Archons deliberately trying to trick (or, deceive) Adam.

          However, I think Paul’s summary statements are referring to the Genesis 2-3 creation accounts as we have them in our Bible, and these accounts don’t say anything one way or the other about Adam being deceived.

  4. Hello Marg!
    I’m not sure that I can post on an old conversation such as this, but I’ll try.
    I remember reading an article somewhere by Craig Keener in which he wrote that “if a man and woman are alone together for more than 20 minutes, fornication has occurred.” He suggested that this was the view of the culture of Paul’s day.
    Are you familiar with that comment? And if not, do you agree with that concept?

    1. I haven’t heard that statment, Dan. I googled it, and came up with nothing.

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