Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Is 1 Timothy 2:12 a universal statement?

Primarily because of one Bible verse, 1 Timothy 2:12, many churches do not permit women to preach or teach when there are men present.[1] 1 Timothy 2:12 has been interpreted and applied by these churches as effectively prohibiting all women from teaching any man for all time, especially on theological and doctrinal topics.

Many of these churches believe Paul gave the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 because women are supposedly more susceptible to deception than men.[2] They see in 1 Timothy 2:14, where it says “it was the woman who was deceived,” a reason for Paul’s words in verse 12. Yet, even though Eve admits in Genesis 3:13 to having been deceived, the Scriptures never state or show that women are more likely to be deceived than men.

Prohibiting women from teaching men but not from teaching children is illogical.

Churches that do not allow women to preach or teach in a church service, where many people, including “non-gullible” men, can hear and assess what is being taught, often allow women to teach young impressionable children in settings where, typically, very few adults can hear and assess what is being taught. These same churches also often allow women to teach other women.[3]

If these churches truly believe women should not teach men because women are more easily deceived, logic would suggest that they should not be trusted to teach vulnerable children and other, supposedly gullible, women. Yet women are often encouraged to teach children and other women, but remain barred from teaching grown men. This simply doesn’t make sense. Surely Paul was suggesting something other than the idea of “female deception” when he brought up Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14.

The problem was in Ephesus.

I do not think Paul restricted a woman from teaching and domineering a man in the Ephesian church[4] because the first woman Eve was deceived or because he thought women were more easily deceived than men. As I have stated in my series on 1 Timothy 2:12, I propose that Paul mentioned Adam and Eve to correct a false teaching that was circulating in the Ephesian church which claimed that Eve was created first and that Adam was the one deceived. There are several Gnostic texts that present this false, topsy-turvy thinking. (Early church fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian quoted from 1 Timothy and identified the heresy in Ephesus as an early or incipient form of Gnosticism.)

Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word meaning “to teach” can be read as being tied to the Greek word authentein which means “to domineer.” This is an important consideration. Paul may have been addressing the problem of false teaching done in an overbearing or coercive manner.[5] Moreover, Paul’s instructions were written in response to a particular problem in a particular congregation, and they may have been about a particular woman and man in the Ephesian church. All of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is Paul addressing and correcting problems unique to Ephesus; these verses are not general teaching.

Paul valued women such as Priscilla who taught men.

If Paul’s prohibition was meant to be universal and timeless then there is an implication that no woman, ever, has anything of vital spiritual or theological importance to teach any man.[6] Paul did not think that way. He valued women, such as Priscilla, both as ministry colleagues and as trusted friends. The instruction of Priscilla with her husband of Aquila was well received by Apollos, an up and coming apostle and teacher (Acts 18:26). They even corrected Apollos.

I am dismayed that some Christians are perpetuating the dogma that women are not permitted to teach in church meetings when men are present. I do not believe that Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 was universal or timeless. I do not believe that Paul’s intent was to institute a rule that restricts capable Christian women from teaching in any setting or situation.

I’ve only touched on some elements in 1 Timothy 2:12 in this article. I’ve written more about this verse and surrounding verses here.


Footnotes

[1] It is unwise for churches to make strong doctrinal statements based on one or two Bible verses, especially verses that are addressing problems in specific churches.

[2] In the Genesis account, Eve thinks about the serpent’s advice before being ultimately deceived, whereas Adam seems to take the fruit without hesitation (Gen. 3:1-6). Surely, being impulsive and thoughtless are undesirable traits in church leaders. Yet men are not stereotyped with these qualities to the same degree that women are associated with the trait of deception. Why is that?

[3] Titus 2:3-6 is used by some Christians to affirm that women can teach other women; however, this verse is not about doctrinal or theological teaching. [More on Titus 2:3-5 here.]
The Greek verb in Titus 2:4, sōphronízō, does not typically mean “teach.” In texts outside of the New Testament the verb can mean “to bring to one’s senses.” In Titus 2:4, and in other literature, it has the sense of training or instruction in “prudence or behaviour that is becoming and shows good judgement” and can be translated as “encourage,” “advise” or “urge.”
Walter Bauer, “σωφρονίζω,” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 986.

[4] Paul wrote 1 Timothy when Timothy was working as Paul’s envoy in Ephesus. One of the main reasons Paul wrote this letter was to give Timothy advice about how to deal with the problem of a syncretistic or proto-gnostic heresy that was causing problems in the church (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-4, 6:20-21).

[5] If “to teach” and authentein are not tied together to form one idea (a hendiadys), then “to teach” is not tied to the word “man,” only authentein is qualified by “man.”
Didaskō (“teach”) verbs take a subject in the accusative case; authenteō verbs usually take a subject in the genitive case, and the word “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is given in the genitive case.
Also didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein are not positioned together in the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12. So “to teach” and “to dominate a man” may be two separate prohibitions. If two ideas are being given in 1 Timothy 2:12, and “to teach” and authentein are not combined, I suggest Paul is effectively saying, “(1) I am not allowing a woman to teach false doctrine to anyone (this false teaching is then addressed and corrected in 1 Timothy 2:13-14); and, (2) I am not allowing a woman to domineer a man (this is then addressed in 1 Timothy 2:15). I explain 1 Timothy 2:15 here.

[6] A further implication of this faulty dogma is that the most ill-informed, spiritually immature man has a greater right to teach in church services than the most well-informed, godly women.

© 18th of February 2011, Margaret Mowczko
All Rights Reserved
This article is also available in SpanishUrdu, and Sindhi.

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Related Articles

Women, Eve, and Deception
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Why 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are not timeless regulations
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.

7 thoughts on “Women, Teaching, and Deception

  1. Great article Marg, keep on trooping,Warwick

  2. It’s really jarring that there are a few verses in the NT that seem, at least in the surface, to be less charitable about women than anything in the OT.

    If God had actually intended men to rule over women, then the Law of Moses would have reiterated it multiple times, as it does with commandments against murder and treachery. This is the most compelling evidence that what God said in Genesis 3 is a prognosis — not a commandment.

    As I agree, when Paul’s household code is taken to its logical end, a man will no longer want to hold onto male privilege. The code says, in the strongest possible terms, to treat his wife as he wishes to be treated. The NT does not directly attack the existing system — but it attacks the heart behind it.

    If 1 Corinthians actually commands women to wear head coverings when praying or prophesying, then it doesn’t logically follow from the OT, which has no such thing. And that passage certainly contradicts the OT for denying that men and women are equally in God’s image. It’s a corrupted reading of the Genesis account.

    In conclusion, I believe that passage in 1 Corinthians 11 is corrupted or fake. The clues just don’t fit together with the rest of the canon. Same with that passage in 1 Corinthians 14. They sound like misogynistic additions or distortions, which got accepted without question for a long time.

    It was hard work sorting through which books are canon and which are not. Even those books that are canon cannot be assumed to be immune to tampering, by people with their own delusions of theology.

    Perhaps that passage in 1 Timothy 2 is such an embellishment. Or, given that it was a letter, maybe we just lost the social context … but are now recovering it.

    1. Hi Michael, I appreciate your thoughts. I agree with your take on the household code in Ephesians 5, etc.

      I don’t think there are additions or embellishments in 1 Corinthians 11 or in 1 Timothy 2. However, there is some slight textual evidence that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 might have been added by an anonymous scribe after Paul wrote and sent his letter.

      1 Cor. 11:2-16 addresses a specific issue unique to the Corinthian Church, and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 addresses problem behaviour unique to the Ephesian Church. So far we haven’t been able to uncover the social contexts of these issues with certainty or detail. Paul’s words in these passages don’t need to match instructions and advice elsewhere, including his gender-inclusive instructions about ministry in his letters (e.g. Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:28; 14:26; Eph 4:11; Col 3:16).

      I do not think these passages are misogynistic. Paul addresses the appearance of men’s heads as well as women’s heads in 1 Cor. 11:2-16, and in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul addressed problem behaviour of men and of women. The same goes with 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 where three groups of people are told to be silent, not just wives who wanted to learn but needed to keep their questions for home.

      I’ve written more here.
      A shortish article on 1 Cor. 11:2-16.
      https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-112-16-meaning/
      All my articles on 1 Cor. 11:2-16.
      https://margmowczko.com/category/1-corinthians-11-2-16/

      A short article on 1 Tim. 2:12.
      https://margmowczko.com/1-timothy-212-in-a-nutshell/
      All my articles on 1 Tim. 2:12.
      https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/

      A short article on 1 Cor. 14:34-35.
      https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-1434-35-in-a-nutshell/
      All my articles on 1 Cor. 14:34-35.
      https://margmowczko.com/category/1-corinthians-1434-35/

      1. Recently, I’ve started to understand that the word for “head” is not a strong word for “authority” in ancient Greek. Whatever it means is limited by the Bible’s own context.

        The best I can tell, the NT metaphor has two senses at the same time: One is the sense of beginning or source. The other is how a real head relates to a real body.

        As we would agree, a real head and body have to inform each other equally. The head-body metaphor always conveys mutuality and humility, one part not treating itself as more important than the other.

        (Ironically, ascetics might do violence to their own bodies, which can cause them to read the analogy the opposite of what was intended. Moreover, most of the talk that glorifies celibacy seems to come from men who don’t appreciate the companionship of women — as if God made her to be a snare for men, rather than a gift.)

        I read at least some of the material you’ve pointed me to, but I’ve gone through the main articles again just the same. Still, it makes no sense to me that 1 Corinthians 11:7 would be phrased in such a confusing way. I believe this article sums it up best: https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/man-image-and-glory-god-and-woman-glory-man.

        I used to think that God would never allow a corruption to our surviving manuscripts like the ones I propose. However, we already know that different manuscripts do not have all the same integrity. Even in the early church, as we have seen, the most orthodox teachings were not immune to the effects of false doctrine.

        Moreover, as we know, most Christians in history have not had access to the best documentation, or the best translations. Therefore, many Christians were not given as much light as modern Westerners are. The more the people have been ready to learn, the more light that God has given.

        (As a counterexample, I see nothing in the Bible that allows for same-sex marriage. From beginning to end, it is clear that woman was meant to be man’s most intimate companion. Ironically, most church tradition in history has not presented wives as good companions — instead teaching hate and fear of women. The church has largely failed to appreciate the sexual bond, commonly presenting sex as little more than an animal pleasure. And this slanders the goodness of Christian sexual morality, which is supposed to be about compassion like everything else — not asceticism for the sake of suffering.)

        As we know, the authority of the first five books of the Bible is the basis for accepting the rest of the OT. And the OT is preserved by both Jews and Christians, along with the Septuagint. Therefore, the documentation for the OT is actually more foolproof than that for the NT. In turn, the OT is the basis for accepting the books of the NT.

        By asking myself why we accept certain books as canon, it lets me ask harder questions about whether parts of books have been corrupted — as opposed to either accepting or rejecting entire books. This is how I approach the integrity of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, along with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

        When it comes to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, I really feel it says that it’s disgraceful for a woman to speak in church just because of her sex. I find that conclusion unavoidable, given that blanket statement to explain why they should be silent. Fortunately, the evidence suggests that it’s one of those small passages that did not belong in the original text.

        Again, a few corruptions might have easily slipped through simply because of the prevailing bigotry against women, something that neither the OT nor the thought of “no man and woman” would suggest.

        Ultimately, the thought that God would diminish the voice or strength of weaker people (which is what most women are compared with most men) … that flies in the face of everything he says about lifting up those with less power. In the end, it’s my desire for friendship that is my guiding light to understanding what the Bible was meant to convey.

        1. Hi Michael, Paul silences three groups of unruly, unedifying speakers in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. But none of his calls for silence was a “blanket ban.” And Paul bookends 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 by encouraging orderly edifying ministry without excluding women. I have a shortish article on this here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-1434-35-in-a-nutshell/

          Paul acknowledged that women prayed and prophesied in Corinth and he doesn’t silence them in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Rather he advised the men and the women who were praying and prophesying to have socially respectable appearances in regard to their heads. It was disgraceful what some Corinthians were doing, there’s no doubt about that, and for women, their inappropriate speech or appearance could disgrace their husbands, or fathers, or other men in their families because that’s how society worked back then. Women’s behaviour was more heavily scrutinised than men’s in the ancient world, and could more easily bring disgrace.

          We are reading someone else’s mail when we read any of the New Testament letters. The Corinthians, however, would have understood 1 Corinthians 11:7. Lucy Peppiatt may be correct in her approach to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, but I have a different approach. I think it’s all Paul’s words. I’ve written about 11:7 here. https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/

          I completely agree that God would not diminish the voice or strength of weaker people. And neither does Paul, though he makes a few concessions to culture which were necessary for the survival of the fledgling church in a hostile world. Paul wanted the weaker people in the Corinthian church to be honoured, not diminished. https://margmowczko.com/honour-for-underdogs-1-cor-12_12-31/

          If you’re interested, I’ve also written on Paul’s varied use of the Greek word kephalē (“head”). https://margmowczko.com/tag/kephale/

          Friendship is a great lens to read the Bible with. Kindness and commonsense (as well as language and social-historical context) are part of my hermeneutic.

          1. Just to be clear, I read the “In a Nutshell” articles before replying. I also had read some of your other material. I just want it to be clear that I was listening to you, despite my disagreements.

          2. Thanks, Michael. I was wondering if you had read the 1 Cor. 14:34-35 Nutshell article when I linked to it again.

            I totally appreciate there are other views. In my mind, some have more merit than others.

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