Some Christians think that the prohibition of a woman teaching a man, mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:12, is clear and straightforward in meaning. Yet the various ways this prohibition is understood and implemented in churches seems to indicate otherwise.
The meaning of 1 Tim. 2:12 is, in fact, not clear. We can only guess at the original context, reason, intent, and parameters for this prohibition. And the original Greek of 1 Tim. 2:12 poses linguistic challenges that hinder our understanding of the author’s meaning, force, and scope. The uncertain context and unclear language of 1 Tim. 2:12, and that of the verses that follow, raise several important questions about how we should interpret and apply this verse. This article looks at some of these questions.
1. Is the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 aimed at wives, or at a particular woman?
The Greek word for man (anēr) and woman (gunē) is singular in this verse. In the New Testament, anēr and gunē are often translated into English as “husband” and “wife.” So it is entirely plausible that the prohibition is referring to an undesirable dynamic in marriage rather than in ministry.
Furthermore, the use of the singular in verses 11-12 is significant, as previous instructions in 1 Timothy chapter 2 concern “men” and “women” in the plural (1 Tim. 2:8, 9-10). (The Greek verb in 1 Tim. 2:15 meaning “she will be saved” is also singular.) Why this shift from plural to singular?
It is even possible that the prohibition is aimed at a particular woman in the Ephesian church. Perhaps the “man” is also a particular man known to the Ephesian church? I suggest 1 Timothy 2:11-15 refers to a specific couple in the Ephesian church.
2. Can an informed or educated woman teach?
A woman (singular) in the Ephesian church is commanded to learn in verse 11. Was the prohibition in verse 12 aimed at an ignorant or ill-informed woman (or women)? Could a woman who had successfully learned then be permitted to teach?
The Bible shows that godly women taught men important lessons. The words of Lemuel’s mother to her son (who was a grown man and a king) still teach men and have the authority of scripture. And Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, explained the doctrine of Christian baptism to Apollos, who was himself a well-educated teacher. Anna the prophetess can be added to this list of women who taught men, as can Huldah, Deborah, and other Bible women who gave guidance to men and even spoke on God’s behalf. Men even sought out the advice of these wise women.
3. Did the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 apply to Priscilla?
Priscilla and her husband Aquila led a house church in Ephesus sometime before, or perhaps when, First Timothy was written (2 Tim. 4:19; cf. Rom. 16:3-5a). Did the prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12 apply to Priscilla? Or to a woman like her? This is highly unlikely, considering Paul’s high opinion of Priscilla as a ministry colleague, his warm affection for her, and the fact that she corrected the teacher Apollos without any hint of wrongdoing. Furthermore, I suggest it is unlikely that this prohibition applied (or, applies) to any capable female minister.
4. Is a certain type of teaching being prohibited?
Some scholars suggest that the Greek word didaskein (“to teach”) in 1 Tim. 2:12 is tied to the Greek word authentein (“to bully, to coerce”) in a hendiadys. If so, it means the prohibition was not against a woman who was teaching sound doctrine in an agreeable manner, but against a woman (or women) who was teaching in a domineering or controlling manner.
It is difficult to know precisely what authentein means in 1 Tim. 2:12. The word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament in any form. A related noun does appear, however, in the Septuagint to describe parents who murder their children (Wisdom 12:6). This noun, authentēs, is most definitely not the usual word for a person exercising authority. Rather, it frequently means “murderer” in Classical Greek as well as in literary Koine Greek of the first and second centuries BC and AD. Authentein, however, is not a “literary” word. It occurs mostly in non-literary papyri with the sense of “domineer” and “control.” (1 Timothy was written as an occasional, non-literary, papyrus letter.)
Cynthia Long Westfall writes,
“In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō [which includes the infinitive authentein] refers to a range of actions … However, 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.”
Australian scholar John Dickson believes that 1 Tim. 2:12 is prohibiting a distinct type of teaching. John believes didaskein referred to the initial laying down of foundational apostolic teaching which would become doctrine, tradition, and, finally, scripture. Once this apostolic doctrine had been preserved in scripture by men, John argues that women may teach it to both men and women. More on John Dickson’s view here.
5. Does the prohibition apply only in certain types of church services?
Many people assume the prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12 is about a woman teaching men (plural) in a worship service. This may not be the case. Not every activity mentioned in 1 Timothy chapter 2 occurs during a church meeting. The activities of women doing good works (1 Tim. 2:10) and bearing children (1 Tim. 2:15) do not usually take place during congregational meetings. I suggest the prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12 is not in the context of a church meeting but in the context of a relationship between a woman and a man.
For those who believe that the prohibition was made with a church meeting in mind, it is important to remember that such meetings in the early decades of the church looked very different from most of our church services today. In those days, especially in churches associated with Paul, people could participate in ministry, even spontaneously, when the congregation met for worship (1 Cor. 14:26: Col. 3:16). We know women prayed and prophesied aloud in Corinthian assemblies, for example. And some churches met in homes led by wealthy women (e.g., Lydia, Nympha, and probably Phoebe). It would have been strange indeed, and against cultural expectations, for a wealthy woman who was the householder not to have a say in what was happening in the congregation that gathered in her own home, especially as most of the members of the church would have been part of her extended household and include her relatives and slaves.
Some churches today allow women to teach in some services when men are present, but not in other services that are more formal. For example, many churches reserve the ministry of Sunday morning sermons as a ministry for men only. This “ranking” of church meetings and ministries, which excludes women from “higher-ranked” ministries, has no biblical basis whatsoever. [More on this in my article Wayne Grudem on What Should Women do in the Church here.]
6. Was the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 temporary?
Some people believe the wording in the Greek of 1 Tim. 2:12 indicates the prohibition was temporary or limited in scope. The prohibition in verse 12 is given in less direct and less forceful language than other instructions and directives in First Timothy. There is no use of any of the Greek command tenses, for instance. Instead, there is the present active indicative verb epitrepō, with the negative ouk, which may be translated as: “I am not allowing …” Andrew Perriman notes that the use of epitrepō in the New Testament, in every case, is “related to a specific and limited set of circumstances …” [More about epitrepō here.]
All of Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:8-15 addresses problem behaviour of certain people in the Ephesian church. 1 Tim. 2:11-15 may well be about a local problem in the Ephesian church that warranted a short-term, ad hoc prohibition. Or, was the prohibition really meant to be universal and timeless and effectively ban every woman from teaching any man for all time? If so, why?
7. Are women prohibited from teaching men because they more easily deceived?
I have addressed this question in other articles on my website. I’d like to make three brief comments here, however, in response to this persistent idea.
~ The Bible nowhere states that women are more easily deceived or more deceptive than men. [More on this here: Women, Eve and Deception]
~ Churches that genuinely consider women to be gullible and deceptive should not let women teach anyone, especially vulnerable and impressionable children or other supposedly gullible and deceptive women. Better still, they should reconsider their opinion of women. [More on this : Women, Teaching and Deception]
~ Importantly, Jesus died for all sin for all time; this includes Eve’s momentary failing. Women, and indeed men who are the sons of Eve, should not be held responsible, or considered culpable, for Eve being deceived and sinning.
8. Are women prohibited from teaching men because of the “created order”?
Some Christians believe the reason women can’t be leaders and teachers of men is because Adam was created first and then Eve. These Christians believe that implicit in the creation order is a leadership order. Yet neither leadership nor submission is acknowledged or even hinted at in any of the biblical creation accounts, and I do not believe this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Tim. 2:13. I suggest that Paul mentioned the created order in 1 Tim. 2:13 to correct a false teaching in the Ephesian church that Eve was created first (and Adam was the one deceived). Such ideas are found in ancient documents that still exist. (See here.)
To say that Paul is using the creation order of male first and female second to assert a chain of command is entirely missing the point of the creation narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 which shows the equality, affinity and unity between the first man and woman. Moreover, this concept entirely ignores Jesus’ teaching that the last are first. [I have written about Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel here. And I have written about the created order here.]
9. Are women prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 from being elders?
Some argue that because teaching and exercising authority in the church are functions of elders, what is implied in 1 Tim. 2:12 is that women cannot be elders.
With this in mind, Perriman poses the questions:
If Paul was thinking simply of women being in positions of authority (as presbyters, for example), would it not have been more logical to have placed that prohibition first, rather than the emphatic injunction against teaching? Does not the order of the sentence suggest that authentein is logically subordinate to, or consequent upon, didaskein [‘to teach’]?
Moreover, as mentioned above, authent– words do not refer to a legitimate or wholesome authority. The verb typically meant “domineer,” something unacceptable for all Christians, men and women. People who believe that 1 Tim. 2:12 is essentially a ban on women elders are reading much more into the verse than is warranted. Furthermore, women elders are mentioned in 1 Timothy, and Priscilla appears to have functioned as one when she corrected the minister Apollos when he visited Ephesus. [More on women elders and Priscilla here. More on Paul’s qualifications for church leaders here.]
10. Are women prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 from being the senior pastor?
Some churches allow women to have speaking, teaching, and leadership ministries in the church as long as there is a male leader “over” them. They believe that as long as there is a man in charge, a woman is not usurping authority. However, there is absolutely no scriptural reason to assume that a female minister needs a “covering” of male authority. Thankfully the specious doctrine of “covering” has fallen out of favour in many churches.
The Bible contains many accounts where God bypassed male relatives and spoke directly to women. If God recognised that men were the spiritual authorities and “coverings” of their wives and daughters, he would have spoken to the men instead of the women in these instances. 1 Tim. 2:12 cannot be construed to mean that women may teach and lead as long as a man, and not a woman, is the senior leader. And it cannot mean that women cannot be senior leaders.
11. Are women prohibited from teaching because they must remain silent in churches?
The Greek word hesuchia used in 1 Tim. 2:12, means “calmness” or “quietness” with the implication of “keeping one’s seat.” This same word is also used in 1 Tim. 2:11. (The related adjective is used in 1 Tim. 2:2.) Paul wanted an Ephesian woman (or women) to learn quietly and behave with decorum. Learning quietly and submissively was, and is, the usual behaviour of a good student. A calm cooperative attitude rather than strict silence is what is meant here. 1 Tim. 2:12 does not state that a woman is to remain completely silent in church meetings. [More about the virtue of quietness (hesuchia) here.]
The questions above are genuine. The answer to some of these questions, especially the question about female gullibility, is a definite “no.” Generally speaking, an educated woman is not more easily deceived than an educated man. And women were not silent in first-century churches; there is evidence that women participated in a variety of Christian ministries. Finally, nowhere in the Bible, apart from 1 Tim. 2:12, is any restriction put on a woman teaching a man.
Considering we don’t know what the original parameters of Paul’s ban were, and considering we see such diversity in the way this verse is applied in church life today, why is this single verse so prominent and pervasive in discussions and regulations designed to restrict the ministry opportunities of women?
Not only does implementing the ban in 1 Tim. 2:12 in a universal way restrict women from leadership ministries, it has a flow-on effect of limiting, suppressing, and diminishing women in other ways. This is because, if the prohibition really was meant to be universal and permanent, it makes a strong statement about what God thinks of women and men: that the words of every woman are not as important than the words of men. Is this what God thinks? And do hierarchical complementarians really believe this? Do they really believe that women have nothing worthwhile to teach men, and, conversely, do they really believe that only men have worthwhile things to teach the whole congregation?
1 Tim. 2:12, even when taken literally in an English translation, does not represent a biblical consensus on the issue of women teaching and leading men. Let’s not forget Priscilla, Huldah, and Anna who instructed, advised, and taught men. And let’s not forget Deborah, King Lemuel’s mother, Abigail, and the other women whose words were considered important, relevant, and worthwhile enough to be recorded in the Canon of Scripture where they still teach and instruct both men and women about God.
 Wade Burleson believes that 1 Tim. 2:12 is about one particular woman. He has an interesting article entitled, “The” Woman in Error in 1 Timothy 2:12 Shouldn’t Teach here. I am inclined to believe 1 Tim. 2:11-15 is about a particular couple.
 A hendiadys is when two words, joined by a conjunction, make a single point. “Don’t eat and run” is an example of a hendiadys. The prohibition is not about eating, but about eating and then leaving quickly. In fact, eating is wanted and not prohibited.
In 1 Tim 2:12 didaskein (“to teach”) is joined with authentein by the conjunction oude. Some scholars believe that teaching is not being prohibited in 1 Tim 2:12, but rather teaching in a harmful way is being banned.
 Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.
 The ministries of praying and prophesying may be a summary for everything that happens in a worship service: praying is people speaking to God and prophesying is people speaking for God. Paul considered the ministry of prophesying as important and influential. He lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:28-30, and Eph. 4:11 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5).
 It seems Lydia was the host and leader of the first congregation in Philippi. Chrysostom believed that Euodia and Syntyche, two women, were leaders or chief (literally: to kephalaion) of the Philippian Church (Homily 13 on Philippians). Nympha appears to have been the host and leader of a house church in Laodicea (Col. 4:15).
 Other members of a house church might include clients, work colleagues, and others closely associated with the head of the household.
 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.
 None of the creation accounts—Genesis 1:26-28; 2:4-25 and 5:1-2—states that the first man was the leader and the first woman was the submissive follower. There is no indication of any hierarchy between man and woman before the Fall. Articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3 here.
 Perriman, “What Eve Did,” 135. In the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12, the word that means “to teach” (didaskein) is the first word in the sentence. The word that means “to domineer, to control” (authentein) is the seventh word in the sentence. There is an emphasis on didaskein. (The Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12 can be viewed here.)
© October 2012, Margaret Mowczko
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The meaning of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 with a brief history of authent– words
6 reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
1 Timothy 2:12 in a Nutshell
The Prominence of Women in the Cultic Life of Ephesus
Women, Teaching and Deception
Women, Eve and Deception
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman