BIBLICAL FOUNDATION: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
This section in the first letter to Timothy continues to be the subject of much scholarly debate. While these verses were intended for a specific setting and audience, there are important implications which can be drawn for the church today. This discussion will demonstrate how 1 Timothy 2:11-15 relates specifically to God’s statements to the woman in Genesis 3:16. The two main aspects of the consequences of the Fall are that women will experience difficulty in bearing and raising children, and that she will desire to have authority over man. In this text, Paul exhorts women not to teach or have authority over men, but to embrace their role of bearing and raising children.While Jesus Christ is the only One who redeems the consequences of sin to women, Paul invites women to resist the fulfilment of those statements by exercising self-restraint in living out their God-ordained roles. The following five sections will be considered: Context (2:11-15); Let the Women Learn (2:11); Teaching and Authority (2:12); Creation, The Fall, and Consequences (2:13-14); and Resisting the Fallen Nature (2:12-15).
Context (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the “Pastoral Letters” due to their common dealings with congregational concerns. 1 Timothy was written sometime between AD 62-66 to Timothy who was working in the community at Ephesus that had been previously evangelized by the apostle Paul. There continues to be significant debate over the authorship of this letter, however it is not a critical issue for the purpose of this discussion. While some scholars have concluded that 1 Timothy should be considered pseudonymous, this discussion will coincide with scholars who argue that Paul was indeed the author. There are two main purposes for the letter of 1 Timothy. First, Paul was providing instructions in case he was delayed, so that the church would “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Second, Paul wrote to specifically address those in the church who were teaching false doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3-11). The false teachings were being conducted by unidentified members of the church community and they promoted issues such as practicing abstinence from certain food and the forbiddance of marriage, among other things (1 Tim. 4:2-3).
Let the Women Learn (1 Timothy 2:11)
“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness” (1 Tim. 2:11). It has been debated as to whom exactly Paul was referring to in these verses. The Greek word gunḗ can be translated as either woman or wife. Some argue for the translation of ‘wife’ based on the fact that in the succeeding verses Paul refers to a married couple, Adam and Eve. However, when taking the overall context of the chapter into consideration, it is more likely that Paul was referring to women in general. Bowman effectively outlines three reasons why this is more probable. First, in the three preceding verses Paul offered instructions for men and women in general, so it is likely that he would have remained consistent with his audience for the verses which immediately followed. Second, throughout the chapter Paul was viewing men and women not as family members but as part of a worshiping community. Third, if Paul was referring to the marriage relationship a definite article or possessive pronoun would indicate a connection between woman and man in the verse which follows. In light of these arguments, it is most likely that Paul is addressing all women in this verse.
Before Paul instructs women in general on how they should learn, he states first that they should indeed be learning. It was crucial for Paul to make the distinction between instruction in the Christian church versus that which occurred in the synagogue, “where instruction is primarily, sometimes solely, for men and boys.” Furthermore, Paul adds to his exhortation by stating how women should learn. The Greek word hēsuchía (quietly) refers to quietness, tranquility, or stillness. The word in this context is referring to an attitude of “respectful attention or a quiet demeanor.” Similarly, the Greek word hupotagḗ (submissiveness) can refer to subordination, subjection, or obedience, and is used here in reference to the attitude that is to accompany learning. Women were being exhorted to submit to the teaching of sound doctrine and to the leadership of the church elders whom had been educated in the Scriptures. This verse affirms that women were commended to learn, yet with an attitude of quiet respect and submission to the men who had teaching authority.
Teaching and Authority (1 Timothy 2:12)
“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12). In this verse, Paul indicates two distinct prohibitions for women in the corporate worship setting. Women are not permitted to teach men or exercise authority over men. As Moo indicates, “The word man (andros), which is plainly the object of the verb have authority (authentein), should be construed as the object of the verb teach also.” It is crucial to consider the connotations of the word ‘teach’ in this setting. The Greek word didáskō refers to instruction by word of mouth, and “refers almost exclusively to public instruction or teaching of groups.”
A second limitation is that women are not to exercise authority over men. The Greek term authentéō (exercise authority) refers to exercising the right and power to rule. Yet there has been much scholarly discourse around the exact meaning of the term due to its less common use in the New Testament and Greek literature. Baldwin concludes that there are four likely interpretations of authentéō: (1) to control, to dominate; (2) to compel, to influence someone; (3) to assume authority over; and (4) to flout the authority of. Upon further study on the complex sentence structure of this verse, Köstenberger concludes that the most probable interpretation is “to have (or exercise) authority.” Therefore, Paul states that women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men in the church.
A third instruction Paul gives to women in this verse is to remain quiet. As the above discussion has already established, in his other letters the apostle affirmed women to pray and prophecy in corporate worship, as long as they did so in an appropriately submissive manner (1 Cor. 11:2-15). In addition, the distinction between prophecy and teaching was correctly noted. Just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians, Paul clarified that while women are able to prophecy, they must not participate in the authoritative interpretation or public questioning of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:34-35). Therefore, 1 Timothy 2:12 is consistent with these instructions that women are not to have authoritative teaching roles over men in corporate worship, but are to remain quiet in this regard.
What is the reason Paul gives for these two prohibitions that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in corporate worship? Many egalitarians argue that Paul is addressing a situation that was specific to the original church context, that his instructions are not universal, but circumstantial. The reasons given for this are the way in which women were teaching, the content they were promoting, and their lack of education within that cultural context. Some argue that Paul needed to address the women who were teaching in a dictatorial way and were trying to gain advantage over the men. A second reason scholars assert is that many women were involved with the promotion of false teaching and Paul was seeking to keep them from continuing to deceive others. It has been suggested that members of the congregation were converts from the mystery religion of Artemis, in which women were encouraged to play a very vocal role. Gritz describes the church Paul was writing to as “a religious environment saturated with the ‘feminine principle’ due to the Artemis cult” in which “attitudes of female exaltation or superiority existed.” Many heretics were teaching “the evil nature of marriage, sexual intercourse, and procreation.” A third reason suggested for why Paul prohibited women from teaching men was due to their lack of education. Many of the church members came from a Jewish background. “In Judaism, the study of Torah (and therefore the activity of teaching in the assembly) was an exclusively male preserve.” In addition, “Jews did not even entertain the possibility of women speaking in a synagogue service.” While these reasons offer egalitarians some options to avoid Paul’s clear instruction, the immediate context nowhere indicates that these are merely circumstantial or culturally significant explanations.
Rather, a plain reading of the text and the verses which follow demonstrate two of Paul’s reasons for not allowing women to teach or exercise authority over men. The first reason is that Paul is exhorting women to the high calling of participating in resisting their fallen nature as a consequence of the Fall. Genesis 3:16 states that the woman will experience pain and difficulty in bearing and raising children, and will desire to control man. Paul addresses both aspects of the consequences in this text. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul calls women to learn with a quiet and submissive attitude and allow men to teach and lead, and later, in verse 15 to embrace their role of bearing children. This will be considered later in this discussion. A second reason Paul does not allow women to teach or exercise authority over men in the church is because of God’s created order, implying that there should also be order in the church. This appeal is found in verse 13 which will now be explored.
Creation, the Fall, and Consequences (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
“For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). In verses 13-14, Paul appeals to the doctrine of Creation as the rationale for encouraging women to learn in quietness, and to prohibit them from teaching and exercising authority over men. Egalitarians offer some alternative explanations as to why Paul refers to Adam and Eve. It has been suggested that Paul needed to counter Gnostic mythology which glorified Eve. Some argue that Paul drew on Eve’s deception as an illustration of how members of the church were being deceived. In this sense, the claim is that Paul was speaking only to a specific church context where women at Ephesus were being deceived and should therefore have limitations in that particular context.
The main weakness in the above arguments is that there is no evidence in the text of these specific examples. Moo correctly observes, “For a woman to teach a man or to have authority over a man is, by definition, to void the principle for which Paul quotes the creation account. Granted this and granted the complete absence of explicit temporal or cultural references in the whole paragraph, the prohibitions of verse 12 can be ignored only by dismissing the theological principle itself.” Earlier in this discussion, it was shown that God’s intended order of male headship and female submission was established at Creation and was not a result of the Fall. Furthermore, just as in the Genesis account, 1 Timothy 2:11-14 displays the functional difference of male and female, and does not challenge their ontological equality.
Paul affirms the created order and raises the fact that Eve was deceived to remind the church of the impact of the Fall. He reminds the church of the role reversal which occurred when the serpent deceived Eve and the consequences of those actions. “The serpent deceived Eve by promising her that she could function as a god, independent of the one true God (Gen. 3:4-6). Eve was deceived not because she had an intellectual deficiency, but because of a moral failing.” At the Fall, Adam did not teach and exercise his authority over Eve, but rather submitted to her leadership. It was not that she was uneducated, but rather was deceived and fell into sin, and led Adam to sin also. As discussed earlier, part of the statements to woman in Genesis 3:16 is that she would desire to lead and control man. Paul refers to the Genesis account as a universal prescription to uphold the created order as God intended. Men should embrace their role to practice Christ-like headship while women should embrace their role to respect and help men in their given tasks.
Resisting the Fallen Nature (1 Timothy 2:15)
“But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Timothy. 2:15). Some argue that this verse refers to women being brought safely through childbirth as a relief from part of the curse. Others suggest Paul was affirming that Christian women within the context of marriage “can bring children into the world without endangering their own salvation in Christ.” Yet these suggestions fail to acknowledge the context of this section of 1 Timothy.
Paul has just finished affirming the created order of men and women, reminding them of the Fall and the distortion of these roles. Part of the Genesis 3:16 statements to the woman has been inferred by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Although women will desire to lead and have authority, he reminds them of the created order in which men are to fulfill that role. Similarly, the reference to bearing children serves also to remind the church of the first half, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). Paul is teaching that as they embrace their God-ordained role to bear children in faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint, they will be preserved. The Greek word sṓzō (preserved) refers to being saved, delivered, made whole, or preserved from danger, loss, or destruction. Here, Paul affirms a main purpose and function of women, to bear children. He uses the phrase “bearing of children” to also encompass the general scope of the responsibility of women. As Schreiner notes, “The genuineness of salvation is indicated by a woman living a godly life and conforming to her God ordained role. These good works are one indication that one belongs to the redeemed community.” Paul concludes this section by calling women to practice self-restraint. They can participate in the resisting of their fallen nature by controlling any desire they might have to exercise authority over men or abdicate their role in raising up the next generation.
Summary (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
Paul commends the women in the church to learn, yet with a quiet and submissive attitude toward men with teaching authority. He clearly states that women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men in the church, but are to remain quiet in this respect. These verses are consistent with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, that while both men and women can participate in corporate worship, only men are permitted to teach and exercise authority over both men and women. While some scholars offer culturally and church-specific reasons for this functional difference, a plain reading of the text demonstrates that Paul’s reasons are rooted in the created order, the Fall, and the consequences to the woman. Paul exhorts women to participate in resisting their fallen nature according to Genesis 3:16. Women are to practice self-restraint by not acting on any desire to teach or exercise authority over men, and by embracing their role to raise the next generation in spite of the pain and challenges they will endure.
Arland J. Hultgren, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament I-II Timothy, Titus (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 12.
Oden considers issues of chronology, the premise of a second imprisonment, the need for ordering ministry, and stylistical and statistical issues in support of Pauline authorship. Thomas C. Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 12-14.
Gritz argues that Paul’s instructions in this passage were intended for wives while there could be some aspects which apply to all women. Sharon Hodgin Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of The Religious and Cultural Milieu of The First Century (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991), 125.
Ann L. Bowman, “Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Bibliotheca sacra 149 (April- June 1992): 197.
Hultgren, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament I-II Timothy, Titus, 66.
Though I disagree with Keener’s overall interpretation of this passage, he affirms the respectful and quiet posture in which women are to learn. Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1992), 108.
Bowman, “Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 198.
Schreiner’s extensive research concludes that the clearest interpretation of this verse is, “Two things are forbidden for a woman: teaching and exercising authority over a man.” Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds., Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 127.
Douglas Moo, “What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds., John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 186.
 Bowman suggests the reason for the debate is that the term is rarely used before and during the New Testament period, and that Paul chose a unique form of a common term to indicate he had a specific nuance in mind. Bowman, “Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 201.
Baldwin explores five significant word studies which had been conducted from 1980-1995 on the word αύθεντειν. See Scott H. Baldwin, “A Difficult Word: αύθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds., Andreas J. Köstenberger, et al.(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 65-80.
Köstenberger completed an extensive study on New Testament syntactical parallels to 1 Timothy 2:12. See Andreas Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence Structure in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds., Andreas J. Köstenberger, et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 81-104.
“It would be surprising if an issue that would exclude at least half the body of Christ from a ministry of teaching would be addressed in only one text, unless that text really addressed only a specific historical situation rather than setting forth a universal prohibition.” Keener, Paul, Women & Wives, 101. See also John Jefferson Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” Priscilla Papers, Spring (2009): 5.
Linda L. Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, eds., Ronald W. Pierce, et al. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 223.
See Doug Heidebrecht, “Reading 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in its Literary Context,” Direction 33 no 2 (Fall 2004): 181-182.
Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus, 137.
Luke Timothy Johnson, Letters to Paul’s Delegates: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1996), 135.
Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus, 133.
 See Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 118-125.
Davis contends, “In different circumstances, where women are sound in the faith and their lives consistent with the apostolic core values of congregational unity and the harmony and good order of the family, the way would be open for their exercise of ecclesiastical leadership.” Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” 7.
Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus, 143.
 “Women are to fulfill their proper role in life, a concept summarized by ‘childbearing’. This figure of speech refers to the general scope of activities in which Christian women are to be involved.” Bowman, “Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” 212.