Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Certain interpreters of those verses in the title have restricted women’s full participation in the teaching ministry. But are these restrictions truly biblical? Let’s take a deeper look at the verses in the title.

Should women Christian youtube teachers announce that their channels are only for young women, so men and older women should not click “like” or “subscribe” but immediately click out?

Christian Post reports in August 2022:

Most pastors responded that women at their churches may teach coed adult Bible studies (85%) and serve as deacons (64%). In comparison, a slight majority (55%) stated that women can become senior pastors at their churches.

Only 1% of the sample led churches that forbid women from serving in all of those roles. (Source)

These results tell me that things are changing, yet certain pastors and teachers with large ministries tell us these results are unbiblical. Women are not allowed to teach men or become pastors in any circumstance. Some of the pastors and teachers must belong to the one percent, yet they are influential and vocal, claiming that only they have biblical warrant.

As usual, I write to learn for my own growth and clarity.

If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.

If you would like to see the larger context (as I see things), please go here:

Women Teachers: New Translation and Reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2

At that link, I explored whether the target verses are in the domestic sphere: husbands and wives. Here I assume that men and women generally are in view.

This post is divided into these main sections:

TRANSLATION

COMMENTARY

REPLIES TO POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

CONCLUSION

Let’s get started.

TRANSLATION 

1 Timothy 2:11-15

Greek Text

My Translation

11 Γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ· 12 διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ. 13 Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη, εἶτα Εὕα. 14 καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη, ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν· 15 σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης· 11 Let a woman learn in quietness, in all submission. 12 But I do not permit a woman to teach nor dominate a man, but to be in quietness, 13 for Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was deceived, became transgressive. 15 But she shall be preserved through childbirth, if they remain in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

COMMENTARY

Let’s take it verse by verse.

11:

The Greek adjective “quiet” (hēsuchion) in v. 2 is related to the noun (hēsuchia) found in v. 11 and v. 13. In vv. 1-2, the church is supposed to pray for Greco-Roman leaders, so Christians may lead a “quiet” life. This does not mean a closed mouth, 24 / 7 / 365, in the world (1 Cor. 5:10). It is impossible to believe that a Christian shopkeeper would never say one word when a customer walked into his shop–the public domain. To me, it sounds like Paul is telling Christians not to raise a ruckus or stir up social turmoil, as seen in the earlier riot in Ephesus, including shouting for two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:23-41). The adjective speaks of a quiet and calm demeanor in the middle of a loud, pagan society.

Likewise, women remaining quiet in the church means their demeanor, not their vocal cords. No aggressiveness. And Paul did not say, “I never permit a wife or woman” […]. Linda L. Bellville suggests that the present tense of “permit” should be translated as “I am not [currently] permitting women to teach. After all, women can pray and prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor. 11:5). So their silence cannot be absolute. Maybe so.

Recall that 1 Cor. 14:34-36 says that women should remain quiet in the assembles and not to speak in the sense of being disruptive, but to ask their husbands at home, so in those verses the context is both ecclesiastic and domestic, just as it is in vv. 11-12. This is not verbal silence every minute during the gathering in a house. How could women be expected not to say one word in a setting with which they were so familiar, the household, especially when they could pray and prophesy in the assembly?

What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches

12:

In v. 12, the verb authenteō is rare, and in some contexts it could mean “murder” (!). It did not mean this in Paul’s epistle here, but it surely must have startled the original readers of his letter or Timothy himself. Paul had another broader verb available to him, exousiazō, which he did not take. Louw and Nida in their lexicon say that Paul had twelve verbs to choose from, for “exercise authority” and forty-seven verbs for “to rule” or “to govern” (Linda L. Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, rev. ed. ed. James R. Beck, Zondervan, 2005, p. 83). Paul chose none of them. Also, Louw and Nida put the verb in the semantic range of “to control, restrain, domineer” and define the verb as “to control in a domineering manner” (p. 85). Therefore, Louw and Nida suggest translating the verb and its object “men” thus: “I do not allow women […] to dominate men” (p. 85).

The first definition in the Greek lexicon abbreviated BDAG, which is considered authoritative by many scholars, says authenteō means: “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to.” It is not simply “have / exercise authority.” And in the little dictionary at the back of my Greek NT, the first definition of the verb is “domineer.”

Prof. Belleville has done remarkable research into the verb. For example, In the Wisdom of Solomon (12:6) it means to commit the act of murder. In the Greek OT, twice used, it comes nowhere near “exercising authority.” In Greek writings before during and a little after the NT documents, the semantic range of its noun “includes not only murderer, but also sponsor, perpetrator, originator and mastermind of a crime or act of violence” (p. 83, emphasis original). She gives numerous examples, even with quotations from the writings (pp. 82-87). Then she circles back around to offer more examples (pp. 95-97). She concludes with a hint of righteous indignation and frustration against the traditionalists or restrictionists (my word): “‘Committed an act of violence,’ ‘had my way with,’ ‘author,’ and ‘dominates’ — what warrant, then, do traditionalists have in persisting to translate authentein as ‘to exercise authority’ and to understand Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 to be speaking of the carrying out one’s official duties?” (p. 97).

Further, I like what Larry J. Perkins, after reviewing the literature, says of the surprising and rare verb. It functions transitively (it must have a direct object: “men”). In any case, the verb “probably means ‘to compel, ‘to influence’ or ‘to control or dominate.'” Further, “a domineering or controlling exercise of authority exhibited by some women in teaching may be the activity prohibited in this verse” (p. 44). This makes sense because of the rare and startling definition of the verb authenteō. (Larry J. Perkins, in The Pastoral Letters: A Handbook of the Greek Text, Baylor, 2017).

In Paul’s use of the verb, something out-of-the-ordinary is happening in the household or public assembly or house church; that is, something stronger is going on here than just “exercise authority.”

Some interpreters say that the verb “to teach” and the verb “to dominate” are two different actions and should not be interpreted together, as in “teaching in a domineering way.” They say this because of the intervening words between the two verbs in Greek. One scholar says the two actions were “related” but “distinct.” But what does that mean? That’s called having your cake and eating it too. But I see the verbs working together because of the cultural context. Rich Ephesians converted to Christ (1 Tim. 6:17-19). No doubt the church met in their houses (see 1 Tim. 5:13; 2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19). I believe the two actions (teaching and dominating) went together because they were done in the household. And there is nothing grammatically to keep the two verbs apart. (No, we don’t need a formal hendiadys to keep the two verbs together.) In my exegesis, as noted, The verse joins them together because the culture and immediate textual context join them, and the syntax does not forbid it.

Prof. Belleville once again comes through with startling research on the syntax (sentence structure) of “not … nor” or “neither … nor” in v. 12. After her research, she writes, offering a translation based on the cultural context and Greek syntax at the end of the following excerpt:

Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand (not teaching per se.). A reasonable reconstruction would be as follows: The women at Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by false teachers) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatorial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing. This interpretation fits the broader context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul aims to correct inappropriate behavior on the part of both men and women (vv. 8, 11). It also fits the grammatical flow of verses 11-12: “Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor.” (p. 89)

You may certainly choose her translation at the end of that excerpt, if you wish. It is better than the traditional ones (and mine) because of the cultural context and sentence structure.

Further, I cannot believe that Priscilla, married to Aquila, who taught the great Apollos in private (Acts 18:26), never said a word of instruction in public. In fact, since a church met in her house (1 Cor. 16:19), it is difficult to separate the public and private. But Priscilla and Aquila evidently saw Apollos’s great skill and did not want to point out his deficiencies and complete his teaching, in front of everyone. Yet why would she attach an invisible “clothespin” to her mouth when the church met there? I believe it is because “quiet” means “demeanor,” not a complete lockdown on spoken words.

The churches met in houses. It is easy to believe that the public and domestic spheres merged. We can’t draw a broad, bright line between them. So yes, I believe some  married women did teach in the household / church assembly. For all we know, they may have even taught in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, following Paul’s example (Acts 19:9b). And yes, any woman who had been involved (in varying degrees) with the temple of Artemis before her conversion may have taught in a dominating way, and Paul was telling her to drop the superior attitude. A humble Christian demeanor was now necessary. Surely Priscilla led the way, though as a Jew and recently from Rome, she had never been part of the old pagan religion of Artemis in Ephesus.

Therefore, it seems the recently converted wife may have bossed around her husband at home or the men at church in an extra-strong way. Paul says no to this.

And therefore, this conclusion implies that after wives (or women generally) cool their extra-authority or domination over their husbands (and men generally), they could teach.

13:

Paul says that Adam was formed first because Genesis was authoritative for Paul. Pagan myths about Artemis and other gods were not. The followers of Artemis believed that she was the source of life. To counter this belief, Paul was reestablishing the Christian household in Ephesus, along biblical and Christian lines, as he did in Eph. 5:21-33 (also see 1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9, 11-12). The Scriptures were authoritative, not pagan myths.

This theme is developed more in v. 14, next.

14:

In referring to Eve’s deception, Paul does not means that wives / women generally are naturally easily deceived, so they must not teach at all.

Recall that Eve offered the fruit to Adam. The serpent (Satan) had deceived her. In her offer, she seemed to dominate Adam. This is probably why Paul chose the startling verb authenteō, which, as noted, in some contexts meant “murder.” She brought about death to Adam, who brought death to humanity (Rom. 5:12-21). In Rom. 5:12-21, Paul always uses anthrōpos, never anēr, so he is referring to humanity generally.) Eve was the domineering one; Adam was the weak one.

Paul allowed women to teach (Titus 2:3).

Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

At that link, I reached this conclusion:

Women teachers existed in the New Testament. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul was writing from a cultural point of view. Women occupied their own household and had to manage it. And older women naturally taught young women how to manage their own household, to love their husbands, and children and develop the virtues, because young women also occupied the domestic sphere. But we must not over-read Paul’s words, when the church met in their household. It is easy to imagine that when the church service was going on, walls of separation between men and women sharing their faith, their songs, their revelations and their teachings collapsed.

Priscilla and Aquila, wife and husband, taught the mighty Apollos (Acts 18:26). In 1 Tim. 2:14-15, to be specific to the culture, Paul’s claim about deception may mean that certain women in Ephesus were easily deceived because, before their conversions, some of them had dominated the cult of Artemis at the huge temple there. Or the lower-level women belonged to this female cult and picked up bad, superior attitudes. They may have needed more time to shake off old paganism and pull back from their habit to dominate and to come back into balance in the church. So the seemingly blanket indictment about women’s susceptibility to deception is not universal (applied to all women of all generations).

Many of them were also involved in the occult and magic, which, they believed, gave them extra-authority over nature and people (Acts 19:18-20). Even believers had been involved in the occult and magic and came forward and confessed what they had done. At this stage the Ephesian believers were immature and en route towards more growth in Christ.

Evidently, women in Ephesus were prone to deception. Paul writes:

Besides, they [younger widows] get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. […] Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. (1 Tim. 5:13, 15, NIV)

In Greek, “busybodies” (periergos) is the same term for magical arts in Acts 19:19, and this chapter in Acts takes place in Ephesus, where Timothy was when he got Paul’s letter.

Further, to emphasize: the Ephesian temple of Artemis was led, in part, by cultic priestesses. In the Greek novel the Ephesian Tale, by Xenophon of Ephesus, Book I, section 10 (Collected Greek Novels, ed. by B. P. Reardon, UCP, 1989, 2004, p. 134), priestesses processed with fanfare to see the hero and heroine off on their journey and offered sacrifices, which surely means they slit the throat of an animal, illustrating deep involvement in the religion (unless the sacrifice was not an animal). And no doubt these priestesses wore special clothing and headdresses, indicating they were wealthy and occupied a place of authority. No doubt their slave-girls fixed up their hair in special styles. The urban poor simply did not lead a cult at an august temple like the one in Ephesus. Since the temple was a moneymaker, we must conclude that the female leaders were wealthy and leading citizens. (See pp. 45-52 of my book for more evidence that only wealthy women led pagan religions, when women did lead them.) And no, I don’t believe these women were “high-class mistresses” or “concubines” (hetairae); they were free-born married women, whose husbands would not allow them to be mistresses, high class or otherwise. (But there may have been a class of them, separated off from the wives.) The passing reference to this scene in the Greek novel must barely scratch the surface of women’s leadership in the cult. This whole public display of women in leadership shows a high level of dominance.

Further, false teachers did the following in the church that Timothy was overseeing:

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 4:6-7, NIV)

The occult and false religions were strong in Ephesus, and evidently some women fell away. Thus Paul’s restrictions on women because of this serious ecclesiastic problem going on in Ephesus were not universal, but limited to his times and these problems. His restrictions on women therefore were culturally conditioned, not universal (unless a church somewhere has a pagan invasion attacking women, say, in the developing world).

Also, we must be careful about universalizing the notion of deception being limited only to women:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2 Cor. 11:3-4, NIV)

Paul often grabs a verse from the OT to prove his point in a specific context. Therefore quoting from the OT does not by itself prove universality. Here in Corinth, both men and women were susceptible to deception because of the super-apostles. But if you wish to universalize the warning against susceptibility to deception because of false teachers, you may certainly do so, but just be fair, and don’t claim women by themselves are ontologically (in their nature or being) more prone to deception than men are. Many men and women are not prone to deception and can warn the others. Paul refers to women in v. 14 because the temple of Artemis was led, in part, by women.

Let’s say your best friend, a man, is prone to alcoholism. You quote a few verses from the Bible that warns against alcoholism. Does this mean that all men are prone to alcoholism? No, of course not. Many men hate alcohol and do not touch it. Your quoting the bible does not make things universal.

Back to 1 Timothy: In Paul’s theology, paganism reflected the death of humanity because of idolatry (Rom. 1:21-23). When some of these Ephesian priestesses–or women who were not priestesses but belonged to the cult–converted to Christ, they had to be retrained to lead from the position of submission to the Lordship of Jesus. No domineering attitude, please.

So whether it was husband or wife or man and woman, Ephesian women, who had dominated the temple of Artemis and who had converted to Christ, must drop the superior attitude.

15:

Paul believed that Adam and Eve were the world’s first couple, whom God joined together in marriage (Gen. 2:24). They were called to be fruitful and multiply. This refutes the claim in the Artemis myth that the goddess was the source of all life. No, fpr Eve was the mother of all living things (Gen. 3:20), according to Paul. (Gary Hoag, “Why Women Must Learn in Quietness and Submission: Xenophon of Ephesus and 1 Timothy 2.” Seedbed. Youtube.com, 24 Nov. 2015).

Women are promised safety (or preservation) through childbirth. In contrast, the Artemis mythology said that if women remain true to the goddess, they will be preserved in childbearing. But Paul is smacking down this pagan promise and says in Christ they will be preserved (Hoag).

REPLIES TO POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

Let’s respond to possible objections.

1.. However, the plain reading of vv. 11-12–a woman should learn in all quietness and they have no permission to teach or exercise authority–is clear. There is no way the original cultural background can overcome this plain reading. We don’t need the background when the text is clear enough.

Those verses (and the entire epistle) were not written two weeks ago, but two thousand years ago. Those verses, of necessity, have an original cultural background that must be explored, particularly in the role of women in the church. The background clarifies the “plain” meaning of the text, even more.

As for women teaching, in Colossians 3:16, Paul writes generally (if one understands Greek):

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col. 3:16, NIV, emphasis added).

And he writes:

When you come together, each one has a song, has a teaching, has a tongue, has an interpretation—let everything be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26, my translation, emphasis added)

The author of Hebrews also uses the general, inclusive pronoun:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Heb. 5:12, NIV, emphasis added)

In Greek, “you” and “each one” is generic, which means everyone in the assembly, that is, men and women. The only way that traditionalists can exclude women from those generic words is to presuppose that women cannot be teachers in the first place. But this is the question under discussion, so let’s not assume the answer in advance.

Further, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists three gifts to the body of Christ, even numbering them: first apostle, second prophet, third teacher. That verse comes in the context of everyone experiencing the gifts flowing through them as the Spirit distributes them (vv. 4-7). We already saw that the Greek is clear about Junia being an apostle within the larger apostolic community:

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Women could be prophetesses, not only in the OT (Exod. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Is. 8:3; Joel 2:26), but also in the NT: Anna (Luke 2:36); all women (Acts 2:17); Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9).

So it is easy to believe that women can be teachers of a broader group than just young women. Priscilla was a teacher, functionally speaking, so her real-life role clarifies Paul’s general instructions in 1 Timothy 5:9-10. Female teachers who clarified doctrines or teachings did exist, though the majority of widows may not have belonged to this group of teachers. Yet functionally, in a household setting, it is easy to imagine, as noted, that at least one widow–particularly former priestesses in the temple of Artemis who had really powerfully converted and learned not to dominate in their teaching–taught some gospel truths on some occasions.

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

It is the conclusion of this post that Paul’s restrictions on the Ephesian women are temporary and culturally conditioned and not universal. So Col. 3:16, 1 Cor. 14:26 and Heb. 5:12 can include women as well.

2.. You keep referring to Priscilla and other women. However, there are descriptive passages and prescriptive passages. The women like Pricilla and the others in Rom. 16 (and elsewhere) are found in the descriptive passages, while the women assumed in 1 Tim. 2:11-15 are in the prescriptive passages. The prescriptive always trumps the descriptive.

The lives of Priscilla and the other women do not trump the so-called prescriptive passage in 2:11-15, and neither do the prescriptive passages trump the descriptive ones. Instead, their real lives–as they actually lived them two thousand years ago– explain the prescriptive passage. Let’s not diminish their real lives, as they ministered to people.

Paul wrote that we are supposed to learn even from the (descriptive) stories in the Old Testament:

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV)

We need both types of Scripture to explain each other. I see both types as essential and part of the inerrant, authoritative word of God. Both types are mutually explanatory and clarifying. Don’t pit one against the other, or else you will turn Priscilla and other women (e.g. in Rom. 16) into transgressors of the “prescriptive” commands of Paul. Bad idea.

CONCLUSION

I write to learn. So what did I learn? And what does this mean for the church today?

Paul was responding to Ephesian religious culture which fostered domineering female leaders at the temple of Artemis, who no doubt taught people, men and women, about this religion.

This study opens the door to women teachers in the church, and we cannot use 1 Tim. 2:11-15 to prevent them. Paul was merely telling wives who had learned to dominate in the temple of Artemis or who had come under the influence of the temple even if they were not priestesses or who had acquired too much authority through magic–not to dominate men in the assembly or their husbands at home during ministry. No doubt this domination had involved some of these cultic female leaders instructing men and women about the public things of the Artemis cult (though not the secret things) before their conversion. After their conversion, there must have been some carry over from their former dominance or involvement in paganism, whether tied to Artemis or to magic spells, to the Christian household. They should no longer teach their household or the church that met there, particularly their husbands, in a domineering way. They had to drop their superior attitude. They should adopt a quiet demeanor, the way of humility, as all disciples should, realizing their authority came from the Lordship of Christ.

I cannot see Paul’s prohibition against domineering teaching as applying to all women for all times, if and only if women teachers receive discipleship and learn where their authority comes from. (If any woman of any century does not learn humility, then of course the prohibition is imposed on them.) Both men and women teachers must learn this lesson. (Recall that Paul said a male elder must not be “overbearing” in Titus 1:7) I can’t believe that Priscilla taught Apollos in a domineering, overbearing manner; nor can I believe that she did not say one word in a house church or in instructing him or anyone else, male or female. So “quietness” in vv. 2 and 11, 13 does not mean that women did not say one word in the household / church. It meant a quiet demeanor. For the women of Ephesus, it was the way of trust and humility before God, which is different from their old way of exercising dominance in their former religion or occultic practices.

Nor do I believe that Priscilla had no sense of authority when she taught Apollos. So it is best to translate the rare verb authenteō as “dominate” and not the gentler “have / exercise authority.” But come to think of it, neither should the husband “exercise authority” over his wife, when instead he is called to love her as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25, and see vv. 28 and 33).

This interpretation is not meant to be dogmatic. My translation and commentary are offered to the wider Christian public only as a reasonable possibility, even probability, because in my country (USA) countless millions of Christians shut the door on women teachers in the church. However, what if Paul wanted women to teach in public, to an audience of men or women, as Priscilla did for Apollos–probably in her house where a church met, so the private / public merged? And in their teaching, neither a man (or husband) nor a woman (or a wife) should dominate anyone.

Here is what I further learned at the end of my study:

Paul’s restrictions on womankind are not universal, binding on all women for all times.

It really does not matter whether the context is husbands and wives or men and women. Whether the sphere is domestic (wife and husband) or ecclesiastic (women and men), the bottom line from 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is this: both the public, ecclesiastic door and the domestic door are open to women teachers of men, women, young women and children, if they drop the domineering demeanor. No one can slam the door shut on them any longer and keep them completely silent, beyond debate, by using 2:11-15 against female teachers of a wide audience.

RELATED

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

Women Teachers: New Translation and Reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2

And no, this is not a post advocating progressive, leftwing, postmodern feminism. I speak out against it and progressivism generally:

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming

 

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