Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb

Gail Wallace

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DEFUSING THE 1 TIMOTHY 2_12 BOMB

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.  1 Timothy 2:11-15.

THE 1 TIMOTHY 2:12 BOMB

Last spring a group of 40 women and men met to share our “theologies of women” and to talk in small groups about the messages we hear about gender roles and a woman’s place in the church.  Each group then created a poster summarizing their discussion to share with the larger group.

My favorite poster was one that showed stick figure men and women climbing a “stairway to heaven”, so to speak. Some steps were depicted with a lone man or woman making the climb.  Other steps depicted a couple or a small group climbing the stairs together.  On one step a man was reaching down to pull a woman up.  On another a woman was reaching down to pull a man up. It was a beautiful depiction of the body of Christ working together.

Except that in the space above the stairway the group had drawn a bomb falling with the caption “1 Timothy 2:12”.

When this was presented to the larger group a lively discussion ensued. The consensus was that this verse often functions as a “conversation stopper”. Typically, what happens in a discussion is that the person who holds the hierarchical or complementarian view says something like, “Say what you want, but 1 Timothy 2:12 makes it clear that women cannot be in authority over men…”

Did Paul really intend to drop a bomb that would forever exclude women from all levels of church leadership? I don’t believe he did, and to borrow a cliché from movies and television, I’d like to share some steps we can take to “defuse the bomb” and encourage a more accurate understanding of Paul’s purpose in writing this “difficult passage”.

STEP ONE: CUT THE TRANSLATION WIRE

Before we conclude that this passage is “clear” we must consider the limitations of our English translations. The most problematic issue is the rendering of the verb authentein as authority. This unusual Greek verb is found only once in scripture and rarely in extrabiblical texts, where it is usually associated with aggression.  Authentein is translated as “domineer” in the Latin Vulgate and New English Bible and as “usurp authority” in the Geneva and King James Bibles.

A study of Paul’s letters shows that he regularly used a form of the Greek “exousia” when referring to the use of authority in the church (see 1 Cor 6:12, 7:4, 1 Cor 6:12, 7:4, 9:4-6, 9:12, 11:10, 2 Cor 2:8, 10:8, 13:10, Col. 1:13, 2 Thess 3:12, Rom 6:15, 9:21).  So it is strange that some modern versions translate this simply as “authority”. Considering the context, it is likely that Paul was objecting to something other than the legitimate use of authority in 1 Timothy 2:12. (More on authentein here, and see a more recent follow-up post here.)

There is also the possibility that the verb didaskein (to teach) is linked here to the verb authentein in what is called a hendiadys (two words joined by a conjunction to make a single point).  “Don’t eat and run” would be a modern example. So a better interpretation might be “don’t teach in a domineering way”.

Additionally, the grammar in this passage changes abruptly from the plural “women” in verses 9 & 10 to “a woman” in verses 11-15. Then it changes back to “women” in the next chapter, suggesting that Paul had a specific woman in mind, perhaps one that Timothy had written to him about.  Furthermore, some scholars believe “I don’t permit” could also be accurately translated as “I am not currently permitting”. So while these verses are often used to defend male-only leadership, current scholarship suggests that the passage is anything BUT clear on the issue.

STEP TWO: CUT THE CONTEXT WIRE

You’ve heard the real estate expression about property values, right? It’s all about “location, location, location”.  Since the Bible is made up of a variety of genres (law, history, poetry and wisdom literature, prophetic messages, gospel accounts, letters), to interpret it correctly, we have to think about “context, context, context” . In the case  of 1 Timothy, Paul was writing a personal letter instructing Timothy about how to deal with heresy being spread by false teachers in Ephesus. This is spelled out at the beginning of the letter:

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless geneaologies… They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm…” (1 Tim 1:3-4, -7).

Keener notes that while these false teachers were most likely men, much of the spreading of the false teaching was through women in the congregation. It is likely that most women in the Ephesian church had limited training in Christian theology and that their interest in false doctrine was proving to be dangerous. There is no evidence in the text that Paul was writing to establish a permanent restriction on all women for all time.

Another interesting fact about 1 Timothy is that the myths and endless genealogies circulating in Ephesus included the idea that Eve was created before Adam and was superior to him. (Read this post for other facts about Ephesus and goddess worship and this one for detailed explanation of gnostic teachings about Adam and Eve.)

It is likely that Paul was writing to correct false notions that were circulating rather than suggesting that Eve’s deception should be the basis for banning women from teaching. This cultural context also helps us understand Paul’s mention of the creation order in verses 13 and 14 (more on Paul’s use of the creation narratives here).

STEP THREE: CUT THE INTERPRETATION WIRE

There are some well-established principles of biblical interpretation that are helpful in navigating highly contested passages like this one. Here are a few to consider:

Doctrine should not be built on a hapax legomenon (a word that occurs only once in an author’s writings or a text). When a word is only used once it is difficult, if not impossible, to infer the writer’s meaning, since there are no other examples of word usage to compare. The word “authentein” translated as authority in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a hapax legomenon. This fact alone is sufficient to suggest caution in using this text as a foundation for church doctrine.

Interpretation should be consistent with the rest of the passage under study.  As Groothuis notes “It is inconsistent to regard the dress code in 1 Tim 2:9 as culturally relative, and therefore temporary, but the restriction on women’s ministry as universal and permanent. These instructions were part of the same paragraph and flow of thought.”

Similarly, if we insist that verse 12 is applicable today, to be consistent, that ruling should apply to the whole passage, including verse 15 (women shall be saved through childbearing). I find it concerning that most people who claim that 1 Timothy 2:12 is clear and applies today usually don’t have a clue as to what the verses that follow mean and how they should be applied.

Interpretation should not contradict the rest of the author’s teaching. For example, 1 Timothy 2:1-10 provides instructions for both men and women to follow when praying in public. And in 1 Corinthians there are instructions for women praying and prophesying in church. Paul gives many other instructions about corporate worship and spiritual gifts that are not restrictive of gender. He also commends a number of women serving in leadership positions (Romans 16). So Paul is generally supportive of women’s participation, which contradicts the idea that women must be silent.

Interpretation should not contradict the overall teaching in the New Testament, especially the example and teaching of Jesus. As Brauch notes, “Christ is the center – the Logos, the living Word, and Scripture must be viewed through the Christ filter. Jesus’ words and acts are normative and paradigmatic and should be a critical filter for interpreting scripture” (pp. 248-9). In the gospels Jesus never suggests that women’s roles were to be secondary or limited in the community of faith, even when he had the opportunity to do so.

Once these issues of translation, context, and interpretation have been considered, it seems that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women who do not have rightful authority to do so from teaching and assuming authority over men.

There is much more that could be said, as thousands of pages have been written on this one passage. At times it seems like there are diminishing returns on continuing the conversation and so I’ll stop here for now.

As Harriet Congdon pointed out in this post, in this middle time between creation and the new heaven and earth, the church should be making every effort to function as the New Community made possible by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. The full inclusion of women in leadership is part of that redemptive work and is vital to the health and effectiveness of the church in this century.

In light of current biblical scholarship, it’s time to acknowledge that there are too many problems with this passage to continue using it as a weapon against women called to church ministry.

See also More on Authority and 1 Timothy 2:12 Ten Talking Points.

 

DISCLAIMER: I almost titled this “1 Timothy 2:12 for Dummies”, not because I think readers are ignorant, but because this is not a comprehensive theological exposition. It is simply a summary of my personal study and reflects what I understand at this point in time. There are many excellent resources that do treat the passage in depth. Those who want more than these “Cliff Notes” should check out this excellent 5 part series: 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context and the following books: Keener’s Paul, Women and Wives, Bailey’s Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, Groothuis’ Good News for Women, and Belleville’s Women Leaders and the Church.

Click here for a Spanish translation of this post.

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150 Comments

  • I can only say that Jesus said let the little children come to me and if this passage of scripture can’t be taken at face value and believed JUST as “it is written” (Matthew 4:1-11), then maybe we should go back to the garden of Eden and remember what the temptation of Eve began with -which was the words “Did God really say? “

    • Ruth, the reality is that no Christian group takes every passage of scripture in an English translated Bible at “face value”, as the article in this link points out: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/complementarians-are-selective-too. As the author points out, the debate CANNOT be framed as being between those who believe in the authority of scripture and those who don’t. The real debate is between those who believe Scripture presents gender hierarchy as the ideal and those who don’t. Resorting to this kind of generalization as you have does nothing to advance the conversation – it’s just a “straw man” argument. Is there something specific in the post you would like to address?

    • For me, there is a sense in which it is about taking it at face value…but those who believe in hierarchy are often reluctant to do so. Did you know that Paul says that wives should exercise authority over their husbands? How come we pass over that? (it is 1 Cor 7.4 if you do not know…)

    • Eve’s problem in any case was not that she entertained Satan’s question, which was a fair point. It’s easy for us to think it’s clear when it’s not. For instance Paul writes in 1 Cor 5:9 that he had written previously that they should not associate with evil men, but that he meant by this so-called brothers – that to shun evil men in the world we would have to go out of it. It is certain, Ruth, that your way of thinking would have led you to get it wrong just as they did there in Corinth.

      The proper way for Eve to handle Satan’s question was to discuss it with her husband and with God, who as the scripture says, was walking with them in the Spirit of the day. The remedy for Satan’s questions of this sort, illustrated by the success Jesus had in the wilderness, is to know better what God says about it, and to take time to get it right, and not as you suggest, to take refuge in the simplicity of your own fleshly mind. What was the hurry about her doing anything about Satan’s suggestion or his question? That tree was going to be there in a few days after she had a chance to check things out properly.

      There is a simplicity in Christ, but that’s in Christ, not in your own understanding. There is another simplicity warned against in the proverbs. 2 Peter 3:16 should put you on notice that especially with Paul’s writings this is a serious danger.

  • This is a fantastic article Gail. Since I wrote my blog on this passage, I’ve been reminded that a 2nd century, ascetic cult in Asia Minor called “Montanism” began to blend myths about the goddess Cybele with the creation account regarding Adam and Eve. Many sources describe the cult’s leader, Montanus, as a castrated former priest of the goddess Cybele (called Artemis by the Greeks, and worshipped at a famous temple in Ephesus). In the Montanist version of the creation story, Eve is praised as a source of wisdom for eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    The more ancient historical sources I read on this issue, the more it seems that Paul was indeed worried about false teachings related to ascetic cults in the area around Ephesus. These cults did practice the renunciation of sexuality, marriage and the eating of rich foods, as well as ritual castration for male priests, which symbolized the murder/suicide of Cybele’s male consort, Attis. Most uses of derivatives of “authentein” around the New Testament era did indeed refer to some form of violence, suicide or murder, and the word authentas is used in the Septuagint to refer to ritual murders in idol worship. In the case of Cybele the murder of a god was re-enacted symbolically during an annual festival, occurring at the same time the church celebrated Easter.

    I think it’s significant that these cults also taught that worshipping their deities would “save women in childbirth.” Archaelogical findings from Miletus, just south of Ephesus, confirm this. I think it is no mistake that Paul references salvation and childbirth in the second chapter of his letter to Timothy.

    Complementarian commentaries on these verses show no awareness of the most common uses of authentein in light of recent findings of over 300 uses of the word in Greek literature. They also seem to reject Paul’s stated concerns in his own letter, as well as what is now a well-documented cultural and religious context in and around Ephesus. It is also profoundly clear that the first translators to render these passages as a warning against women in authority had a disturbingly intense and pervasive prejudice against women in general. I really hope this growing body of evidence will lead to more informed translations of this passage. To date, English renderings seem to be rooted in tradition, prejudice and ignorance. Very disappointing, to say the least.

    Thank you for helping to shed light on this important passage of the Bible.

  • Thank you for this, Gail. You have offered up a clear and intelligent piece that gives me better depth of understanding about what I have always felt about this passage. I recently had a man refuse to take a communion wafer from me while communing. Someone I’ve worked with for a number of years and never knew how he “saw” me. It stung me in a way I could not have predicted. It is time we love one another much better than we do.

    • Lisa, I was so sad to read your experience of having a man refuse to take communion. Another case of taking this way too far. Actions really do speak louder than words.

  • As a woman currently working in church ministry, I’m so grateful for this post and others like it. There are so many ways that this verse can truly become a bomb to violently blow up Christian faith. Keep on speaking the truth!

  • Regardless of our interpretation of Scripture one must ask why it is important to us and/or those we are reaching out to that it is thus interpreted and seek answers to the whys that draw us closer to God. Challenging each other to the whys of our desires and renewing our minds from God’s perspective. http://www.riseupandwalkwithMe.wordpress.com Striving to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and my neighbor as myself.

  • Thank you. I am an ordained minister of a lovely church in the UK. God is continually surprising me as I lead His church… But every so often I use 1 Tim 2:12 as a Scripture to fret over my calling with.
    I preached on the passage last year and largely debugged it for myself and for the young women and men in my congregation. It’s good to read your fresh perspective and to be affirmed.

    • So glad it was helpful! Let me know if there is anything different you would add to the post!

  • Really good post, Gail. Thanks for putting together such strong and developed exegeses – saves other people a lot of work and really clarifies so many aspects of Biblical thought.

    • Thanks, Bev! I am really impressed with the discussion here in the comments – hope to take some of the information shared and make the post even stronger. What a great online community!

  • So Junia is a female name, is it? As someone who uses REAL Hebrew names in our family, it’s easy for someone unfamaliar with them to think a certain male Hebrew name is a female name. I don’t want to identify my kids’ names online, but believe me, it can happen.

  • Terry W Spencer on January 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm said: “Good insights on this highly controverted passage. The comment about the use of a singular “woman” versus the plural “women” is a bit of a stretch.”

    Would you please support this? The Greek word for women in verse 9-10 is a different word from the Greek word used in verse 11-12 where Paul uses the singular word for woman singular.

    • Exactly, Geneva! Makes you suspect he had a particular person in mind, or something – why the switch back and forth? Especially with the mention of “I am not permitting”.

      • Yet so many translations change “woman” to “women” in verse 12!!
        Great piece, by the way!

  • The Greek word the writer discusses, authentein, is a verb in the grammatical form “present infinitive active” of the Greek word authenteo. Yes, this word occurs once in the NT, but Moulton and Milligan (“Vocabulary of the Greek Testament”) shows the well-established secular use with the meaning “master, autocrat.” The verb form (as in 1 Timothy 2:12) means “to domineer,” (Robertson, “Word Pictures”). The translation “have authority over” accurately reflects the common use of the word in normal (Greek) writing and conversation. Since the secular use is frequent and well-established, and Paul uses the word according to the established use, then the translation is correct, and (with so many uses in the (Greek) vernacular it may be used with other Scripture to form the doctrine of the church. As the church has done consistently until the late 19th century.

    • Hi James: Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think Moulton and Milligan (published in 1923) and Robertson’s word pictures (published in 1927) are the most up to date semantic resources to establish word meaning of authentein is the best approach. Both of these works rely heavily on how this word is used from the patristic writers centuries rather than its usage contemporary to the writings of the apostles. Leland Wilshire’s (one of my former professors) did an extensive study of this word using the TLG computer data base back in the 1980s and found that it was indeed rare(314 occurances in the entire Greek corpus the TLG data base covered), and that at times carried connotations of violence, such as suicide and murder (see his article “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to Authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12” New Testament Studies 34/1 [1988]). This is why many contemporary scholars (who have access to far more texts than Robertson and Moulton and Milligan had) suggest that this word connotes abuse of authority, domineering, etc.

      • Tim – here is the comment that seemed to have disappeared! When you rewrote it I responded with this additional information from a previous post by Bob Edwards that also cites Wilshire: “Regarding studies on authentein, a comprehensive study was published in 2010 by Wilshire, using the Thesaurus Linguae Graeca, an online computer database containing 306 uses of authetein or its derivatives throughout the entire history of Greek literature (a 1200 year span). Such a large sample has frankly never been available before in human history. In other words, it’s a landmark study. Wilshire acknowledges that Grudem accessed the same database, but did so before it was complete. Most work prior to the completion of the database relied on printed lexicons, which contain very small samples in comparison. Small samples are much less likely to be representative samples. In other words, generalizing from a small sample is risky, inadvisable etc. One study, for example, concluding that authentein must mean authority used a lexicon containing only 6 examples.

        Meanings for authentein in the TLG between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. (a 400 year span with the New Testament period at its center) include the following:
        – “doer of a massacre”
        – “author of crimes”
        – “perpetrators of sacrilege”
        – “supporter of violent actions”
        – “murderer of oneself”
        – “sole power”
        – “perpetrator of slaughter”
        – “murderer”
        – “slayer”
        – “slayer of oneself”
        – “authority”
        – “perpetrator of evil”
        – “one who murders by his own hand” (Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, psuedo-Clement, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, 2010).”

    • I wrote an entire comment and it seems to have vanished, so I will try again. Appealing to Moulton and Milligan (published in 1927) and Robertson’s word pictures (published in 1923) does not take into account the most up-to-date scholarly analysis of the Greek verb authenteo. Both of these sources appeal heavily on later usage of the word in the later patristic writings, in some cases centuries later. Neither had access to computer technology, which has revolutionized the ability to do semantic analysis of Greek words. Far better is the work of Leland Wilshire (one of my former professors) who in 1988 conducted an extensive survey of this word using the TLG computer data base of Greek literature. This data base was not available in the 1920s to scholars such as Robertson, Moulton and Milligan. Wilshire found that authenteo often has negative connotations, sometimes implying violence, suicide and murder (you can read his paper in “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to Authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12” New Testament Studies 34/1 [1988]). This is why many twentieth century and twenty first century scholars question the previous interpretation of this word, not because of shifts in culture, but because of advances in our ability to semantic analysis. Whilshire’s research suggests that this verb often has negative connotations, which is quite different than Paul’s usual word for authority, exousia. All of this calls into question your comment your claim that the meaning of authenteo is “well established.”

      • Tim, thank you much for this information in response to James’ comments. I agree with you that Wilshire is a much more reliable source. Bob Edwards shared a 2010 study by Wilshire in the comments of a previous post – I’ll cut and paste it below for everyone’s convenience:

        “Regarding studies on authentein, a comprehensive study was published in 2010 by Wilshire, using the Thesaurus Linguae Graeca, an online computer database containing 306 uses of authetein or its derivatives throughout the entire history of Greek literature (a 1200 year span). Such a large sample has frankly never been available before in human history. In other words, it’s a landmark study. Wilshire acknowledges that Grudem accessed the same database, but did so before it was complete. Most work prior to the completion of the database relied on printed lexicons, which contain very small samples in comparison. Small samples are much less likely to be representative samples. In other words, generalizing from a small sample is risky, inadvisable etc. One study, for example, concluding that authentein must mean authority used a lexicon containing only 6 examples.

        Meanings for authentein in the TLG between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. (a 400 year span with the New Testament period at its center) include the following:
        – “doer of a massacre”
        – “author of crimes”
        – “perpetrators of sacrilege”
        – “supporter of violent actions”
        – “murderer of oneself”
        – “sole power”
        – “perpetrator of slaughter”
        – “murderer”
        – “slayer”
        – “slayer of oneself”
        – “authority”
        – “perpetrator of evil”
        – “one who murders by his own hand” (Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, psuedo-Clement, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, 2010).”

      • Don’t know what happened to your comment – it’s not in spam or trash, but I remember seeing it earlier. Thanks for taking the time to rewrite!

  • Very thorough and well written article! There are a number of things I’d want to note but I will bring up one here:

    To your point on “Cut the context wire”, you argue that the reason for Paul’s letter to Timothy was to instruct him on how to protect the church from false teachers. While this is true, the other (and I believe even more rudimentary) reason for writing to Timothy is found in 1 Timothy 3:14-15, where he says “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

    Here, Paul plainly states that all the instructions he just gave to Timothy was so that Timothy would know how the church should function at all times. This is letter is an instruction manual of the church more so than a warning against false teachers. So there is a very valid argument on the other side that can say that Paul’s instruction about women in leadership/teaching was part of how the church should always function, which thus rebuts your statement that “There is no evidence in the text that he was writing to establish a permanent restriction on all women for all time.”

    There is so much more that can be said about this age old argument but I will say this. There are those of us (including me) who hold a complimentarian view and have done a very large disservice to the way we treat women in the sense that we’ve abused this text to put down women. This act in and of itself is a failure of the gospel and for that, on behalf of complimentarians, I apologize to many of you who have been hurt by our views in the wrong way.

    On the other hand, there are egalitarians who have also hurled their own stones at us, accusing us of being “behind the times, sexist and chauvinist pigs”. Granted there are those that deserve such name calling, but not all of us.

    We are trying to remain as faithful to the word of God as you are and the only right response in a theological debate such is this is to give charity to one another’s difference because getting this debate right is NOT what affords us salvation in Christ.

    • Thanks for your comments – you make a good point about 1 Timothy 3 and Paul’s purpose, but I wonder why he would put that so late into the letter. I’ll have to research that and get back to you. I agree that charity in this discussion is vital. I also agree that “getting this debate right in not what affords us salvation in Christ” – but only to a point. I have talked with countless women (and men!) who dismiss Christianity and reject Christ partly because of the Church’s sexist treatment of women. So in one sense it does impact salvation for those people.

      • I completely agree that it can become a stumbling block for some who would deem Christianity as sexist, especially when taking a cursory look at texts like this.

        My response to that is again to say that there is no right for the church to be sexist. Sexism by its very definition is derived from a viewpoint that asserts that one sex is better than the other thus only allowing certain “perks” to be available to that sex.

        This is in direct contrast to what Paul and Jesus both taught, frankly the whole of the bible. I believe that having a healthy and accurate complimentarian view includes believing that both male and female are inherently of equal worth in the eyes of God yet have different functions and roles that God has called them too.

        This is a result of the fact that we were created in the image of a triune God, who himself is equal in all three parts yet have different roles they play… the great dance as it were.

        So for those “Christians” who take a complimentarian view yet use it to Lord over the opposite sex because they feel they are better is sin and a complete failure of their understanding of the gospel.

        Anyhow, great discussion and really enjoy reading your thoughts and “the other side” on this website.

  • I come from the Barbarian side of town. Where we don’t believe one has to have a PHD to get things right but one must have the courage from the HOLY SPIRIT. Acts 4:13 NIV
    “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Simply said I think Paul got it wrong in 1 Timothy 2:12 and I don’t put Paul on a pedestal, or on the same level with Christ. He was only an inspired man, and yet this does not diminish his wonderful and God inspired teachings and contributions to the Bible. God requires that we be Bereans and like the Bereans we need to be noble, examine the truth of the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. We also have to check Paul. I follow Jesus, not Paul, though I respect and appreciate Paul.

    • I appreciate your viewpoint, and I agree that we should consider how well our interpretation aligns with the teaching and example of Christ. Aslo, as others have pointed out elsewhere, Paul never says “God says” women can’t be in authority – it reminds me of other places where he gives his personal opinion – it is better to remain single, men shouldn’t have long hair, etc. But I think the egalitarian interpretation helps us so that we don’t need to say that Paul was “wrong” – it could be that he was simply being pragmatic, no?

  • I think there is one more contextual translation that gets missed and it is at the end where we commonly translate “she will be saved in childbirth”…the most accurate text will place an emphasis on this reading “she will be saved through THE birth”…which changes the entire missive into a different conclusion more in line with Pauls emphasis on inclusion and the incarnation…what I read when I apply this alternate reading is that all the issues Paul brought up have been resolved by including women into the incarnation…life has changed and our models should reflect it…your mileage may vary.

    • Good point! I have also seen it interpreted at “the Child-Bearing”, and as you point out, makes the point that the order of creation was not Paul’s point at all.

  • I AGREE SO MUCH!!! This topic is always brought up to me (against me…) in debates to try to demonstrate that Christians are hypocrites because we allow women to speak/be active/some lead in the church (that old slam about our picking and choosing what verses we obey). From now on, I’ll simply refer them to this post! Thank you!!!

  • It seems to me that one can assume that the pre Constantine church, following the apostolic traditions, pretty much got it right in terms of their liturgical praxis. Certainly within the first and second generation of the church. Whether they met in their homes or otherwise. When the assemblies gathered, there is little historical evidence, that women stood up in front of the assembly to teach. This was normally done by the episcopacy, the head elders, the bishops. Therefore one must assume that none of the leaders within the early church; either understood Paul or completely disobeyed Paul’s intention that there be women teaching the whole of the assembly.
    I would find this hard to believe. If it were true that suddenly we understand Paul’s true intention, that would mean not only do we get it wrong, but that the entire early church got it wrong.

    • Which is entirely possible. For how long did the church not come against slavery? I actually don’t know the answer to this question, though I know the Bible was used to support slavery even into modern times.

      • I can think of no reason why we would assume that the pre-Constantinian church got everything right. In fact just about all the errors the church has fallen into over the years had roots in the second and third centuries.

        And if you read what the early Fathers said about women you discover that most of them were incredibly misogynist (by our standards, which of course is not a fair way to assess them). It does suggest, though, that if they were going to be mistaken about anything it would be about women!

  • The idea of quietness was a Greek concept readily found in Greek literature.

    “For those who are especially orderly are always ready to live the quiet live, carrying on their private business on their own by themselves. They both associate with everyone in their own city on this basis and similarly with cities outside of their own, being ready to preserve peace of some sort in any way they can. As a result of this passion of theirs, which is less timely than it should be, when they do what they want nobody notices that they are being unwarlike and making the young men the same, and that they are perpetually at the mercy of those who attack them.” (Plato, Statesman, 307e)

    This accords well with 2 Thess 3:11-12:

    “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (KJV).

    Quietness refers to a life void of turmoil. It is clear from 1 Tim 2 that the Ephesian church was in turmoil and needed to quiet down in order to live the life of quietness.

    “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those who are in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4, NIV).

    • Thanks for expanding on the word meaning of “silence” or “quietness”. I ran out of time and space to address that one 🙂

  • I appreciate the thoughts and the presentation. Yet, I struggle with the conclusions. How do you address the similar command to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 11 and 14? What about the description of Elders as the husband of one wife? Also, someone has said the OT has nothing like this passage? What about the difference in penalties described in Genesis 3?
    I am concerned that we are torturing the text with new found interpretations because our current society finds the issue displeasing. I see the actions and commands of Jesus and the Holy Spirit through Paul and Peter as giving women a freedom and an equality greater than anytime in history.

    • Those are good questions David. Paul also refers to an elder named Junias, which is a female name. I Corinthians is particularly difficult, because of many strange things. For example, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” But no Bible contains a references back to what part of the law he is referring to. Even the ones that will have a long string of references when even three words match slightly something in the OT. In fact, there are places in the law that can be referred to, because this exact idea doesn’t exist there. So did Paul lie? What many scholars believe is that Paul is quoting statements possibly from a letter back to him, since 14:34-35 and certain verses in 11 do not match his writing style. The interesting part is in verse 14:36, which some Bibles start with “What?” I am told that the Greek word there is more accurately translated “WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!?!?” as if Paul is expressing absolute disgust over the idea he just quoted. All of this is not crystal clear, but it does represent the current consensus among most translators. Greek would be so much better if they could have just invented punctuation….

      • Romans 16:7 “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles,and they were in Christ before me.” (ESV)

        “who are of note among the apostles” (NKJV)

        “They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles” (HCSV)

        “They are highly respected among the apostles” (NLT)

        This is literally the only verse in the entire NT that references Junia. At best this verse is extremely vague. It is unclear whether Paul is saying Junia is respected AS an apostle or that Junia is respected BY the apostles. But you take the uncertainty a step further to claim, without a shred of doubt, that she was an elder? Please be careful with God’s Word, it is not given to affirm our worldview but to construct it. To use an especially vague verse to say something definitive about church structure is extremely irresponsible.

        • Many scholars, like Eldon Jay Epp, don’t find it to be vague at all. You might find it vague, but most don’t. There are many things in the Bible that are vague, but to call something vague that is not vague is also just as “irresponsible” and letting the Bible “affirm our worldview.” Or maybe you could grow up a bit and let your points do their talking rather than stoop to base name calling and judgments? Last I checked, you were not there reading my mind every time I read scripture to see if I was letting it affirm my worldview or construct it. My study if the Bible and reading through every single major and minor translation of it has constructed it and torn down my sexist views of the scriptures. Just because I came to different conclusions than you do about certain things, that doesn’t mean I went about it incorrectly.

        • Tyler, I completely disagree with you about Junia, as do most scholars I’ve read, but that’s a different post. Agree with your idea that we should not use an unclear verse as basis of church structure, which is exactly my point in thepost… That is what is often done with 1 Tim 2:12.

          • I think it is also important to point out that the Greek words used to describe Phoebe (diakonos and prostatis) are typically used to describe teaching, preaching and leadership positions in the church. This fact is obscured by translations like the King James that handle these words one way for men, and another for women. For Phoebe, they are rendered “servant” or “succourer.” Translation begins to take a double-standard based solely on the gender of the subject in Jerome’s work on the Latin Vulgate of the 4th Century A.D.. I agree that we should handle the Bible carefully. This warning, however, comes about 1600 years too late.

    • David, the description of elders as being the “husband of one wife” was an admonition against bigamy, which women did not practice. Deacons were also to be “the husband of one wife” yet Paul called Phoebe a deacon. Yes, I am aware of the fact that some translations *call* Phoebe a “servant,” but the word is “diakono.” This same word when used to describe Jesus (Romans 15:8 KJV), is translated “minister.” Phoebe was no mere servant. Deacons were positions of authority. When Paul speaks of people of “servile condition, one under authority,” he uses the Greek words “doulos” and “oiketes.” Paul calls himself, Timothy and Apollos “diakonos.”

      I also noticed in my study of the Greek that they had sexed words for “elderly man” and “elderly woman” and Paul uses both in other passages. Yet when he says to appoint “elders” he does not use the sexed word for elderly man, but the non-gendered word “presbuteros,” which means “advanced in age.” Why did he say put old people in charge instead of old men if he meant to exclude women?

      It seems to me the only one torturing the Bible were the translators, applying their own biases to the text. The same people who added the “s” to Junia, to change the feminine name to a masculine one, because of their belief that a woman could not be an apostle.

      • Lisa, thanks for addressing those important issues. There are similar issues with the translation of the passages on qualifications for elder/deacons as we find here in 1 Timothy 2 – the addition of male pronouns not found in the original language, the misunderstanding of the euphemism “husband of one wife”, inconsistency with translation of male/female pronouns, etc. Enough there for another post just on that topic!

        • Yes, I have written on this topic on other forums. To one particularly determined man, I wrote that based on this logic, the entire Catholic church was invalid as no priest is a husband. That if we stuck to the passage without a fraction of deviation, no man could serve the church as long as he was single; he had to wait until he became a husband. Also, since the passage says, “having children who are not unruly,” that even a man, once married, had to wait until he had children, and then to make sure they were not unruly, before he could serve.

    • I wanted to add that I find it strange to describe the statements in Genesis 3 as “penalties”. It seems to me that these are descriptions of the consequences that will come out of Adam and Eve’s sin. (Only the ground and the serpent were cursed.) And if they were penalties, what difference would Christ’s death and resurrection make? Did He not come to restore all things and make all things new? Don’t see any reason to live under a penalty or curse or other consequences of sin.

  • Another key thing to look at is how Paul used “I” here instead of God – “I do not permit….” Paul had no problem pulling out God or Jesus by frequently saying “God does not…” It should give us pause that he uses “I” here – whether it is “permit” or “currently permit” – because there is a huge difference between saying “I want this” and “God wants this.” There are plenty of examples in Paul’s letters where he states his personal opinion and no one takes it as a command from God. So why do we change our outlook for this passage? Because he connects his reasoning with Adam and Eve? Those lines are just back up for his decision, one that he goes out of his way to point out is from him and not God.

    I look at it this way – decades ago, some churches required all men to wear ties. Now many of those churches don’t because they changed leadership and the current leadership doesn’t require ties. This is the difference between what a leader wants in their current church for that time and making a command that is from God to be followed for all time. They don’t say “I do not permit…”, but “God does not permit….”

    • A very late thanks for this comment, Matt. That is a very important point in my mind – Paul could have used very different wording if his intention was more broad.

  • Oh thank you Gail for writing this! Such a great, succinct summary of what’s going on beneath the surface/face-value of this passage! You are absolutely right, this passage is the “conversation stopper” and it’s immensely frustrating.

    Just goes to show the beauty of learning in community doesn’t it? I’m reminded of John Wesley’s quote, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” We so often get caught up in our private little corners with our private little [English transliterated] Bibles, expecting to get our private little revelations. We forget that we are supposed to figure this thing out together. Community is about sharpening each other; correction and encouragement. 1 Timothy itself is evidence of this truth as the letter seeks to correct the church where they have become confused and deceived. It’s amazing to me how caught up we get with out sacred little solitary understandings, fiercely defending the “straw men” we construct. I will say, I am much more comfortable with a teacher who can admit that there are discrepancies and missing pieces than I am with one who asserts they know definitively the right answers beyond a shadow of a doubt based on the “clear biblical evidence.” But we were always meant to learn in community, to correct one another when our understandings are off, or not fully informed. Thank you for contributing to the cause.

    • A very late thank you for your comments, Cayla. Been preoccupied with family matters the past few weeks. Yes, I think you are right about the importance of examining these kinds of issues in community!

  • Unity in Christ is the church’s one Ttrue & best asset. “The erroneous interpretation of biblical headship as authority is a dangerous aberration that has destructive implications for the definition of Christian community and, by extension, for the structuring of male/female relations.”- Gilbert Bilezikian, Autumn 2007, Priscilla Papers

    • Gotta love that Dr. B! Thanks for sharing that, Charity. Sorry for the late reply.

  • Good insights on this highly controverted passage. The comment about the use of a singular “woman” versus the plural “women” is a bit of a stretch. But other conclusions here are worthy of serious consideration. I am troubled that while the article seems to move toward a suspended judgment on the matter, it puts forward the grand conclusion of “full inclusion” of women in church leadership. I am not here saying that that conclusion is not “grand”, only that it is a leap of logic from one to the other without some further argument.

    • Hi Terry, I have a further argument for you. If 1 Tim 2 excludes women from church leadership, you have to explain why. Because the man was created first? If that is the case, why does the Bible say we were all in the first man, wherefore we all die in him (Rom 5, 1 Cor 15)?

  • Very good post, but I would suggest one further interpretive comment/suggestion with regard to the principle of ‘contradiction’ (with Paul). This presumes Paul was in fact the writer of 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy is quite late among NT writings (probably well into the second century) and so was written long after Paul had died. It was written at a time when the church was settling more into (accommodating to) the surrounding culture and was embracing some cultural norms that would have been totally opposed (I think) by Paul half a century or more earlier. That this letter contradicts Paul is therefore a function of its inauthenticity as a Pauline document. We don’t have to try to reconcile it with Paul’s other authentic writings (like Romans). The other interpretive comments in your post remain fully valid and address the letter’s teaching on it’s own merits apart from Paul.

    • Steve, thanks for your comments, and sorry for the late reply. I have found this theory in several sources, but at this point in time believe in the value of re-examining the text rather than considering it apart from Paul’s canon. What you say makes sense, but I like that we can still reconcile this passage and not have to restrict women today, regardless of who wrote the letter!

  • Appreciate your concise treatment of the passage. Glad you took the exegetical approach to the issue considering it can be such an emotionally fraught debate between complimentarianism and egalitarianism. Too often the two sides simply shout past one another.

    • Thanks, Derek. And sorry for the late reply – it’s been a little crazy at home. I appreciate all the exegetical scholarship that has been done on this passage, and would love to see better conversations about it!

  • I never cease to be amazed at the lengths people go to to try to interpret parts of scripture in a way that is more favorable to current values. This article is another example of this. One of the basis rules of exegesis is to assume the most straightforward interpretation of any passage. The problem is not the passage, the problem is that people who believe in scriptural inerrancy are unwilling to face the facts. The Bible is not divinely inspired, and is simply a collection of writings of human creation. Consequently, there are parts of it that lay down principles and rules that are simply inappropriate for healthy, well-adjusted living, as thorough, honest research into human behavior and psychology is increasingly illuminating for us over time. This passage reflects the culture of the day – and cultures today that still exist, where women are simply not valued in the same way that men are. We would do well to be courageous enough to admit that the Bible is simply wrong on many points, and leave teachings such as this far behind. It’s as simple as that.

    • Remember kids, deep critical study of a passage = twisting scripture and taking the NIV translation out of context at face value = the basic rule of exegesis LOL

    • The idea that this passage does say what people think it does and we should therefore put it aside doesn’t make sense. For at least 2 reasons. One, that this goes against other things in certain of Paul’s letters, which show him as being a progressive thinker on this issue, in that he thought of men and women as being of equal value and had women (such as Junia) who he recommended as being worth listening to. For everyone. And two, if we drop things from the Bible because we think we know better, on what authority do we do so; and, more importantly, how do we apply it consistently?

      • I think the point is not that we should disregard what Paul says but rather our limited knowledge of the Greek language (as spoken back then)has caused a misunderstanding of Paul’s words.

      • No need to apply it at all. In fact, drop the Bible as a ‘rule for faith and conduct’ entirely. Read it as it is, a collection of human literature, if you must, but for goodness sake, stop the exegetical gymnastics in an effort to make it’s culturally bound concepts more palatable to the 21st century human. It’s time to admit it. the Bible is about as divinely inspired as Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan.’ The reason these sorts of passages are problematic, is because we are trying to mould them into what we want them to be instead of accepting them for what they are, the ideas of one man, in one particular setting, at one point of time long, long ago.

        • Cie, I can certainly understand how you would get to your position on the Bible – it’s more complex and nuanced than most of us give it credit for. I do still hold to the authority of scripture, and appreciate that recent scholarship and insight into both Paul’s writing and the Greek language he wrote in help us understand his meaning better, and in a way that we can reconcile with an egalitarian theology of ministry. I think that is the beauty of the biblical egalitarian position 🙂

    • Excellent! Thanks for sharing those links, Ian. I hope readers will check them out.

  • “Furthermore, some scholars believe “I don’t permit” could also be accurately translated as “I am not currently permitting”.” I don’t understand where you are getting this from? I pulled up the Greek and there isn’t a word for “currently” contained in this passage?

    Further support of the traditional interpretation for this verse can be found in Titus 2 where specific instructions are given as to who women are to teach; younger women and children. Older women and men are not included in who they are being instructed to teach. In the NKJ this section is titled “Qualities of a Sound Church”. Titus 2 also reenforces the need for godly obedience to ones husband, an instruction given to Eve after the fall.

    • So by that logic you’d agree Titus prohibits men from teaching children?

      • lol, Steve! But you’re correct! If women are to teach children, that means men can’t…but that conflicts with Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

        • The argument for “not currently permitting” is not from finding a word that means currently, but from the idea that the word form used can be translated in different ways. English cannot be used to translate Greek “word for word”. My personal opinion is that the context does not give us enough information to either choose that interpretation or to deny it, And while it may just be a joke, it does not follow that if women are to teach children then men cannot teach children. What follows is the question of whether asking women to teach younger women precludes them from teaching older women or if asking women to teach children precludes them from teaching adult men. This is not an unavoidable conclusion, but only a possible one.

          • Great points, Stephen. I think this is a good part of my frustration – so many people insist the passage is perfectly clear, but it is really more complex than the English translations communicate.

    • If women are not allowed to teach men, why did God allow Anna to preach in the temple about Jesus to “all” that were there? If women are not allowed to teach men, why did Paul note Priscilla correcting a man’s incorrect teachings instead of telling her to be silent and let her husband speak?

      Acts 18:24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

      • Easy answer, Paul, like all other human beings, is, at times, inconsistent.

        • As good an explanation as any other. God, who is consistent, says differently than Paul, which is why I pointed out in an earlier post that God is my standard, not Paul.

          • Hmmm…and how do you know what God thinks if Paul, who wrote 32% of the NT, and was the most influential follower of Jesus, was mistaken…?

          • Not sure if I understand what your argument is…I pointed out conflicts between what Paul said and what God does in my original post. Cie believes that Paul was simply being human and therefore inconsistent. I still believe what I wrote in my original post, for example, if Paul says “he” doesn’t allow a woman to teach but God allows Anna to teach, I am going to believe that God is who I will listen to. If there were no examples of women teaching in the Bible and Paul said, “God does not allow” as opposed to “I do not allow” then I would certainly say that women are not allowed to teach.

            This is the intent of the original article, to examine Pauline teachings on women in the church and whether or not they are being properly interpreted or applied.

      • I have to side with Ian here. I don’t think that Paul was mistaken at all, in fact, I think he was very pragmatic. It is obvious to me from Romans 16 that women were encouraged to participate in leadership in the early church. We also know both Paul and Peter were very concerned about the reputation of the New Community and made great strides to help new believers figure out how adapt their newly found freedom in Christ to the Roman household codes under which they were living. There is no reason to say that God expected the church to remain the same over the next 2000 years, and it seems fairly easy to me to discern the egalitarian direction in which it was headed!

    • Hi, Sandy. You are correct that the word currently is not in the passage. The point I was making was about the verb tense. I probably should have said something more like “I am not permitting” (as in not at the moment). My understanding is that this would be as accurate as the translation “I do not permit”, but leaves open the possibility that Paul meant this to be a temporary or situational instruction. Sorry for the confusion!

    • You have to look at Titus 2 in light of the audience and context that it is written. The author is instructing how Christians should conduct themselves in the situation that they are living in “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us”. I don’t have time to write out my desired lengthy explanation but in short – if you are going to say that Titus 2 supports the idea that women should not teach men, you might as well say that Titus 2 also supports slavery (vs. 9-10).

    • Hi Sandy: The Greek verb epitrepeo (“permit”) is in the present tense and indicative mood. Tenses in Greek work differently than they do in English, as they demonstrate the “kind of action” not just the time of the action. Thus some scholars see significance in the present tense (“I am not permitting”) as implying that Paul is giving a command that he does not see as timeless. Were he to write in the subjunctive or optative mood (“Women should not teach” or something like that) it would be a far stronger prohibition. Scholars are not united on this reading of the present tense, but some see it as a clue that the command is not intended to be timeless.

  • Great article! I agree completely, for this is what I wrote in my book “Intelligent Submission & Other Ways of Feminine Wisdom.”

    “What then about 1 Tim 2.11-15? Why does the text say women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men because the man was created first? The problem is not the text itself for its message is straightforward; it is rather the translation of the text that is the problem. The word for “silence” is found to be “quietness” in the original, and “dominion” (the kind that decides between life and death) was the original choice, not “usurp authority.” If the woman must be commanded to be in quietness, do women have a tendency to cause a tumultuous uproar? If women must be commanded not to dominate, do women have a tendency to dominate men with a tumultuous uproar? And what about this little word “subjection”? Does it not tell us that the woman was created to be the man‟s subject because he was created first? If the Greek word hypotasso, sometimes translated “subjection,” is the antonym for dominion, we have a curious situation in which teaching and dominion are associated with a tumultuous uproar in contrast to learning which is done in subjection and quietness. (“A woman should learn in all subjection, not with a tumultuous uproar. I do not permit a woman to teach or to dominate a man; she must not cause a tumultuous uproar.”) Perhaps these verses refer to a local problem restricted to Ephesus, as has been suggested by more than one Bible scholar? It becomes even more plausible when we take into account that the Old Testament never even hints that the man‟s prior creation gave the man authority over the woman.”

  • This is so well-written. It’s easy to understand (love the “for Dummies” footnote!) and persuasive for anyone willing to be persuaded. I myself did not know about it having a different Greek word for “authority.” I may very well print out copies of it to hand out to the next person who tries to drop the 1 Timothy 2:12 bomb around me!

    • Glad this was helpful, Julie. I think the questions about the word authentein make the strongest argument for not holding tightly to this passage to support restrictions on women. There was more discussion and detail on that in the comments here, so be sure to look that over!

  • Wonderful post Mrs. Wallace! God bless you and your family.

    • Thanks, Steven! Good to hear from you, and sorry for the late reply. Between caring for my mom and preparing to evacuate for the Colby Fire it has been quite a week!

  • Thanks for the great post. I have personally had this text used against me as a female minister. Sometimes it really does feel like someone is hurling a bomb at me. I’m using this text Sunday night with my youth group and will be using a lot of the information in this post.

    • Hi, Felicia. It does feel like a bomb, doesn’t it? So glad to hear you are teaching the next generation a more accurate interpretation!

  • There are so many problems with using this verse to eliminate half the population from serving God. I don’t even think we need to cut any wires! Paul says “I” will not allow a woman to teach a man, he doesn’t say “God” will not allow it! If God said it, I’d pay more attention! Then there is the fact that he goes on to say, “Let the women learn.” Why? Why would a women learn unless it was to teach? And if God really does say all women must be silent, and that they cannot teach men, why would do He do this:

    Luke 2: “36: There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child [Jesus] to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

    It’s a woman…in a church…speaking…the word of God….to “everyone” there!

    • Great points, Lisa! I’ve often noticed that Paul is always careful to say when something is from the Lord and when it’s his own opinion.

      • Absolutely. It’s always struck me as slightly strange that those supporting a complementarian view in whatever way interpret this as paul sating that God said so; when the text clearly does NOT say so.

    • A Jewish Christian pastor explained to me that the women in the Jewish synagogues were separated from the men and the lessons they learned were practical, like keeping house and using resources wisely, rather than spiritual. When the women were encouraged by Jesus to hear His teaching, it was new to them. They weren’t familiar with the usual practices of worship. They were accustomed to asking questions whenever they thought of them. Paul felt this was disruptive, and he wanted the women to hold their questions until they got home, where their husbands could explain what was going on. The women needed to learn. Paul was addressing a situation of that time. The important thing is to be respectful and not disruptive during the worship service.

    • Lisa, I don’t see Anna teaching and it was not a church. She was testifying of the child in the Jewish temple. I can’t see how this negates Paul’s repeated instructions regarding the role of women. I do think the Priscilla example is more clear, although it was Priscilla and Aquilla and it was a private discipleship situation, not a public worship time.

      • Hi David! The early church met in homes, didn’t they? I.e., they met in private, there was no public worship time in the first century. How do you explain the exclusion of women from that standpoint?

      • The temple was indeed the church. Jews still call them temples, we call them churches. It was a formal assembly of the body of believers. And she was speaking (women must be silent?) and I do see it as teaching, as she was a prophetess (one who speaks the Word of God). Testifying is teaching. We still go to formal gatherings of believers and listen to people speak the Word of God. And as far as trying to delineate Priscilla because it was “private,” it is still a woman teaching a man, which supposedly Paul forbid.

      • David, I have to disagree with you about Anna. I spoke on this recently and in my research learned that the word used for Anna’s testifying is the same word as the one often used when referencing Jesus and the apostles teaching. I’m not at home so can’t locate the source at the moment, but believe that information is in the Intervarsity Commentary on Luke (along with some interesting comments about the significance of the male/female pairings in the first few chapters of Luke).

          • From the IVP New Testament Commentary/Luke: Anna’s Prophecy (2:36-38) “Though no details of Anna’s prophecy are given, this section completes the cycle of male and female witnesses. Again, Anna’s piety is underlined by references to her old age, her faithful widowhood and her regular ministry at the temple. She is full of thanksgiving at the arrival of the child who will complete God’s promise, and she speaks about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Her teaching would have been heard by all who frequented the temple.” And here’s a link to the uses of the Greek word used here for Anna’s “speaking” – mostly used when Jesus teaches: http://biblehub.com/greek/elalei_2980.htm

            Happy investigating!

          • Gail, thank you for the great web site! I use an interlinear study Bible. (www.studylight.org)

            I also looked up the original word for “Anna spoke” and the word is “laleo.” Then I looked up random passages where Jesus is speaking. One was Matthew 23:1 “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying,” and the verb is the same: laleo! I don’t think anyone would argue that in Matthew 23 anything Jesus says is not teaching. Can we say it wasn’t really teaching because it was not in a church (when the church didn’t exist yet)? I don’t think so.

            Both Jesus and Anna are speaking in public places composed of both sexes, teaching people. I never thought to look at that when I first began my personal journey into what the Bible really says about the roles of women. Thank you for pointing that out!

          • It was new learning for me as well, Lisa. Think of it – after 400 years of silence (and when you think about the unjust social systems that had arisen before the silence, including patriarchy, slavery, monarchy, it’s not hard to see why God was so mad!), God chose to break that silence by working through three male/female pairs – Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna.

            And have fun on the journey of reexamining what the Bible says about women. My daughter and I made a similar decision a couple of years ago, and the result was this website 🙂

          • I love that you and Kate began The Junia Project because of looking at women in the Bible again. This is a great response to inquiring minds. I love this site.

          • Thanks, Bev! We so appreciate your support, especially in light of your own significant contributions to the Kingdom as a woman leader!

  • Translating it as not allowing women to dominate a man makes much more sense in the Ephesian context, where the Artemis cult (with its pagan priestesses) prevailed.

    Well done, Gail.

    Tim

    • Thanks, Tim! Sorry for the late reply – been a little crazy around here. Appreciate your engagement in the conversation.

  • Another beautifully written post: the thing that I find amazing is that literate and intelligent people still default to these defunct and horribly damaging interpretations of Scripture. If I am honest I think that too many leaders are academically lazy modernists who misunderstand the point of both the church and Scripture. This corrupt attitude to women is in my view a symptom of a much deeper problem that is allowing much of the modern church (in the west at least) to slide into a state of irrelevance. To often we project the image of a sexist, authoritarian institution trying to send people back to 18th century cultural values, rather than the vibrant, loving, serving community of the King; a people who show the world the way forward into God’s new creation.

    • Thanks for your comments, Mark. Sorry for the late reply – had quite a week last week as my home was in the path of the Colby fire in So Cal and we prepared to evacuate (but didn’t have to, thankfully!). I am also surprised at how tightly some people hold onto the traditional interpretation of this passage and agree it contributes much to our witness of Christ 🙁

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