1 Timothy 2:12-15



While I won't be presenting on 1 Timothy 2:12-15, a friend of mine encouraged me to go ahead and discuss this second verse on my blog. This will take several entries.

First, while 1 Corinthians 14 clearly cannot prohibit women from prophesying in the Christian assembly (=church), 1 Timothy 2:12 sure sounds like it does:

"To teach, to a women I do not permit, nor to have authority over a man, but to be in quietness."

Let me say up front, however, that if this means a woman cannot prophesy in church, then Paul has contradicted himself. And prophecy involves teaching, since 1 Cor. 14:31 indicates learning as a consequence of prophecy.

How can we harmonize these two comments--or should we? They do not harmonize easily. Let me brainstorm what the possibilities are:

1. Teaching in 1 Timothy is not the same as the kind of teaching that takes place in prophecy.

2. Paul has become hardened as time has passed on this issue, perhaps because of abuses he has seen, or perhaps environmental factors are pushing in this direction.

3. Paul is having a moment of hardness on this issue because of things going on at the time, such as things going on at Ephesus, or perhaps environmental issues are pushing in this direction.

4. 1 Timothy is pseudonymous, and the Pauline churches have become hardened over time for whatever reason, or environmental factors have pushed the church in this direction.

5. The scope of 1 Timothy 2 is different from the scope of 1 Corinthians 11. When Paul says he does not allow women to teach or have authority over men, he means "in general." There are of course exceptional women who rise to the fore from time to time.

In my opinion none of these are very pleasing for one reason or another. Number one is the easy answer, but it has all kinds of theological problems. If men and women both have the same spirit (and we now know their minds are both potentially capable of thinking and leadership), then why would we arbitrarily put certain limitations in what God could do through them?

This fact pushes us toward contextual factors: problems within the church or problems outside the church. As far as problems inside the church, we might mention the possibility that wealthy women sometimes served as conduits for false teaching. There is some evidence for this at Ephesus (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:6).

Certainly the culture did not smile on women taking leadership and this factor might have pushed away from the full exercise of the Spirit in the church. 1 Timothy marks a definite move toward institutionalization in its rules about bishops and deacons, and Paul is looking toward a church that does not have him around to give it direction. All these features might contribute toward an explanation of hardness on Paul's part.

This explanation will be more satisfying than the idea that 1 Timothy is pseudonymous, which means that it was written under the authority of Paul's name as a representation of his voice to the church, but some time after he had died. In other words, some individual with authority would have attempted to present Paul's voice to the next generation, what he thought Paul would say (I presume it would be a he). We have many Jewish and non-Jewish examples of these kinds of writings in the ancient world.

The majority of evangelical scholars do not believe there are any writings of this sort in the New Testament. In contrast, the majority of non-evangelical scholars--since they do not find the practice problematic--almost assume without argument that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul. Most evangelical scholars have difficulty concluding that a pseudonymous writing could be anything but a lie: "It says Paul wrote it; Paul must have written it." The possibility is thus eliminated regardless of what evidence there might be.

What we find is that both sides largely have formed their conclusion before they even read the letter. Non-evangelicals presume Paul didn't write it because that's what they've been taught. Evangelicals presume Paul wrote it because he has to have written it.

I will also take the position that Paul wrote 1 Timothy. I do, however, believe it is possible to argue that a pseudonymous writing could be "honest" in that day though we would consider them wrong today. There are some evangelical scholars who argue that pseudonymity need not be lying. For example, the recent NT introduction coauthored by Joel Green of Asbury Seminary, Paul Achtemeier of Union in Virginia, and Marianne Thompson of Fuller argues that it would have been lying for someone not to put Paul's name on a writing if they thought it represented his teaching (I myself find this particular argument somewhat of a stretch). Nevertheless, I personally submit to the broader evangelical judgment that pseudonymous writings cannot be in the New Testament.

Of course whether 1 Timothy was pseudonymous or not, it is in Scripture, and we must take it seriously. God allowed these words to be in His Word, so we must treat them as an authority over us in an appropriate way.

The scope argument seems another viable possibility in interpretation. This is the idea that statements like 1 Timothy 2:12 were never meant to exclude exceptional women who we immediately recognize have God's hand on them. It's the idea that most biblical comments are meant on the level of "in general this, but there are exceptions."

The Place of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 in the Letter
There are two things you should have on your mind after you have finished reading 1 Timothy. The first is false teaching; the second is church order. These two emphases are not unrelated, for sound leadership and orderly structures are some of the best protections against false teaching.

I find the comments directed at Timothy directly in the letter to be very helpful in unfolding the import of this letter:

1 Tim. 1:3: "Just as I urged you to remain in Ephesus when I was going into Macedonia, command certain individuals not to teach false things..."

1 Tim. 1:18: "I am enjoining this command to you [to stop false teaching?], Timothy my child, according to the preceding prophecies about you, so that you might fight the good fight [foretold] in them.

1 Tim. 3:14: "I write these things [about church order] to you hoping to come to you soon. But if I am delayed, I write them so you may know how it is necessary for the house of God to conduct itself, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth."

1 Tim. 4:6: "If you point out these things to the brothers [about false teaching], you will be a good servant [diakonos] of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed..."

1 Tim. 6:2: "Teach and urge these things [duties of widows, elders, slaves]..."

1 Tim. 6:11: "But you, O man of God, flee these things [false teaching, love of money]..."

1 Tim. 6:20: "O Timothy, gaurd the deposit [that which Paul is leaving Timothy, particularly in regard to sound teaching]."

A quick glance at these references shows that 1 Timothy looks to a time when Paul will not be there to direct the church at Ephesus, when Timothy will be in charge. Paul is leaving Timothy a "deposit" of sound teaching and practice whereby the church can continue on track "if Paul is delayed." On all reconstructions I know of the time of the letter, it appears that Paul never did return to Ephesus after he wrote these words.

The verses with which we are concerned, 1 Timothy 2:12-15, arguably appear in the middle of a block of teaching about the orderly conduct of the church: 2:1-3:13. This section is immediately preceded by direct comments to Timothy regarding prophecies that apparently foretold that he would fight false teaching one day (1:18-20). Immediately following this section Paul gives the whole purpose of the letter: in case he is delayed, he wants Timothy to know how God's house, the church, should conduct itself.

The section in which these verses appear, therefore, does not directly address false teaching, although it is no doubt a guard against such. Paul presents a picture of the honorable church. False teaching may stand somewhere in the background of what Paul says, but these are general statements about what the ideal church looks like.

So, "first of all," Paul urges that the church of God should pray for secular authorities (2:1-7). Prayer and intercession is something the Ephesian church should do in worship. Then Paul speaks of what men do in worship--they pray with lifted hands rather than raising their hands in anger or arguing (2:8). Paul then says how the women--likely wives are primarily in view--should dress, presumably in worship especially. They should dress modestly and not with great show (2:9-10).

This thought about women continues. Not only should they "adorn" themselves with good deeds (2:10), but women should learn in subjection in quietness (2:11). Again, the worship setting seems primarily in view. It is at this point that the verses in question appear. Paul will not allow wives to teach or exercise authority over their husbands, but to be in quietness (2:12). It is a point of debate whether women in general or wives in particular are in view. But this is a matter for the next entry.

The remainder of the section relates to the appropriate characteristics for overseers and deacons in the church, as well as for their wives (3:1-13).

Our verses thus seem to be about the honorable conduct of wives in the typical church of Paul's day.



A Close Reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15
So 1 Timothy 2:11-15 appear in the context of a discussion about the honorable conduct of worship. We notice right off the bat that we are in different territory than we were in at Corinth. We hear about past prophecies, but we are now focusing on "depositing" teaching, order, and structure for the future. Paul spends about half of chapter 2 laying down guidelines for the honorable conduct of women/wives in the worship of his day. Gone are discussions of tongues and prophecy. Instead, the focus is on prayer and instruction.

It seems to me that Paul's comments in these verses are meant to present honorable behavior with a view to the husband-wife relationship in particular. These verses are usually discussed in terms of all women and all men, but it is not clear at all to me that this is the best way to read them. The word for "wife" is of course the same as the word for "woman" in general (gyne), and the word for "husband" is also the word for a male (aner). The context must determine whether a marital relationship is in view.

The presumption would of course be that most men and women are married. Therefore, when Paul says "women dress modestly," we might just as well say "wives dressing modestly." This seems to be the way Paul is thinking here. He is not thinking of women as women, as independent beings the way we would think of them. The underlying thought of the passage is that women are wives. Women are individuals who are subject to a husband.

The explicit mention of subjection in 2:11 confirms that wives are primarily in view, for I can think of no biblical passage that speaks of women being subject to men in general. Genesis 3:16 says that as a consequence of her sin, Eve's desire is to her husband, and he will rule over her. Similarly, the Adam-Eve relationship Paul will mention in 2:13-14 is a husband-wife relationship.

2:11-12: "Let a wife learn in quietness in complete subjection, for I do not permit a wife to teach or have authority over a husband, but to be in quietness."

This sentence begins and ends with "in quietness," confirming that this is a unit of thought. Paul thus details what it might mean to learn in quietness and subjection--it means not teach or take authority over your husband. I would not think that this necessarily means absolute silence, but an attitude of submission to his instruction. It would probably imply not questioning what he is teaching or presuming to correct his teaching. Paul no doubt assumes that the husband's instruction is correct instruction, and the assumption seems to be that the man is better equipped to know true teaching from false teaching than the woman is.

I feel like I should stop for just a second to point out how foreign so much of this line of thought is both to our context and to Paul's writings overall. In our context, women are just as likely to know true teaching as their husbands. Indeed, this is the implication of us both equally having the Spirit. Except in 1 Corinthians 14 if original, we have never seen Paul say things quite like this in any of his other writings. His tone and demeanor are different from earlier. Here we find none of the reciprocity of 1 Corinthians 7 or 11, where even when he is chiding women he takes time to point out that "the husband's body belongs to his wife" and "the man comes out of the woman." Something has changed here, and we do the Bible no service to pretend that it hasn't. We want the full witness of Scripture, not just one moment in the symphony of revelation.

Let me say again that we should see the husband-wife relationship in view in these words, because Paul probably doesn't even consider the possibility that a woman would be talking to a man who wasn't her husband. In other words, Paul assumes a woman wouldn't be talking to a man who isn't her husband. But even in the husband-wife relationship she should listen rather than speak.

2:13-15 : "For"
Before looking at these verses specifically, we notice that Paul is about to defend the charge he has just given in 2:11-12. The following verses are thus a defense of why a wife should be in quietness and not teach or exercise authority over her husband.

Defense 1 (2:13): "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."
This is an argument from "birth order." While in our culture we tend to feel all children should be valued equally, ancient culture clearly favored and valued the firstborn over the later born. In general, the firstborn had authority over all the other children. Paul defends the authority of a husband over a wife by pointing out the order of creation.

A couple comments in terms of bridging the gap between then and now. I want to remind you of my sense that the Bible tends to be more "in general, with exceptions" than "absolutely never." We remember that in the case of Jacob and Esau, the Bible sanctions that the younger would rule over the older.

I also note that this comment is in conflict with the spiritual principle of Galatians 3:28: "In Christ there is not 'male and female.'" I mentioned earlier that Paul words this oddly. After saying "neither-nor" twice, he says "not male and female." A plausible explanation is that Paul is alluding to Genesis 1:27, where God makes them "male and female." In other words, Galatians 3:28 pictures the undoing of the male-female distinction made in creation. Thus in heaven we are like the angels, and we neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Defense 2 (2:14-15): "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman--having been deceived--has come to be in transgression. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with chastity."

These are hard words on more than one level. This seems to be Paul's main argument. Women should not be in the role of teacher because they are easily deceived, like Eve was. The letter's theme of false teaching here comes into view. If the wives teach their husbands, we find ourselves in the same situation that Adam and Eve were in, and we know what happened then. It was not the husband who was deceived by false teaching; it was the wife who led the husband astray.

Notice how easily Paul slips from discussing Eve--"she"--to talking about wives in general--"they." If "in Adam" all die, "in Eve" all women are subjugated to their husbands. The consequences of Eve's sin was 1. increased pain in childbearing and 2. subjugation to the rule of the husband (Gen. 3:16). We see both of these consequences of sin in this passage.

In a sense, Eve is "saved" from her transgression through childbearing. The easy switch from "she" to "they" applies the same to the "Eve's" of Paul's day: wives. They will be saved from the stain of Eve's sin through their childbearing. But even this is conditional on them remaining "in faith and love and holiness with chastity." These attitudes likely relate to being subject to their husbands.

Although I'll deal with the appropriation of these verses at a later time, I can already see a serious problem when it comes to applying these words to today. Paul's argument is primarily based on the consequences of Eve's sin. True, the Lord does not free a woman of painful childbearing when she becomes a Christian. In that sense women continue to experience the consequences of Eve's sin.

On the other hand, the book of Hebrews represents the final word in the Bible on Christ's atonement and probably takes us one step closer to a full understanding than even Paul on this subject. While Paul could offer a sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple even at the end of his ministry (Acts 21:23-26), Hebrews teaches that there can no longer be any sacrificial system now that Christ has died for sins: "With one offering he has forever perfected those who are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).

In other words, it is blasphemy to suggest that there are sins for which Christ's death did not atone. The idea that Christian women are still held accountable for the sins of Eve in some way thus contradicts one of the most important truths about Christ's death. If in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive. If in Eve all women are subjugated to their husbands and have painful childbirth, in Christ there is not male and female and eventually women's bodies will be transformed to be like Christ's glorious body (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21).

Again, our understanding of Scripture is immature if we do not see that some of the arguments biblical authors make have to do with the thinking of their day. Take for example Paul's argument in Galatians that the promise to Abraham was to his seed singular rather than to his seed plural (Gal. 3:16). Paul's point is that the promise of justification only comes through Christ, the singular seed of Abraham. Paul's point is true and inspired. Indeed, I have no problem saying that his argument was inspired.

But Paul was not using the words as they were originally meant, and this argument would not convince any Jew today. Seed here is used collectively, a singular that stands for a plurality. Originally, the promise was indeed about the countless Israelites (plural) who would inherit the promise land. It happened.

My point is that the arguments God might inspire me to use today would not be the same arguments God would inspire someone else to make in a different time and place. The conclusion is the point of the inspiration more than the path to get there.

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the point is that the women of Paul's churches, and perhaps Ephesus in particular, should not be usurping authority over their husbands. They should be quiet in the worship. I am quite willing to say that this was indeed what God wanted them to do.

However, I am overwhelmingly certain that God does not have this message for His church today. Indeed, I would be so bold as to say that anyone who would apply these verses directly to today is out of the will of God and is "kicking against the goads" (Acts 26:13), "happily fighting against God" (Acts 5:39), with a "zeal without knowledge" (Rom. 10:2).

Examine your heart, anyone who would take this tact, to see if you are in the faith. God takes His women as seriously as He takes His men. And anyone who would put a stumbling block in front of any of his children..., well Matthew 18 has some rather scary words involving a millstone.



Placing 1 Timothy
It is not easy to place 1 Timothy in Paul's ministry. The majority of evangelicals at present would date it to a period of time after Paul had appeared before the emperor Nero and been freed. This would place the book after the ending of the book of Acts. The NIV Study Bible has a very appealing map of a hypothetical "fourth missionary journey" in the pages of 1 Timothy. This map presents a possible reconstruction of the things Paul did after release from Rome before being arrested a second time and eventually beheaded by Nero in Rome.

This scenario is very attractive for several reasons.

1. If we date Philemon and Philippians to Paul's Roman imprisonment at the end of Acts, Paul indicates in them that he expects to come visit their locations soon.

2. Clement of Rome in the 90's says that Paul reached the limits of the West with his preaching. We know he intended to go to Spain from Romans 15. It is thus possible that Paul went to Spain after a release in Rome. There are other ways to interpret Clement, however.

3. The style, vocabulary, and ethos of the Pastoral Letters, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are much more similar to each other than they are to Paul's earlier letters. On stylistic grounds, it makes more sense to say they were written at about the same time in Paul's life than to spread them out at other points of his ministry. And since 2 Timothy seems to be Paul's "last will and testament," this would need to be at the end.

You could, of course, say that Paul used the same secretary in the writing of these three letters and that this person was different from his other secretaries. This would go some way toward explaining the differences in style and vocabulary from his other writings, especially if he gave this particular secretary more leeway in writing (Witherington suggests Luke, although this seems a stretch to me for a couple reasons).

The letter of 1 Timothy itself has very little concrete to say about its context. The biggest hint comes at the beginning: "As I urged you to remain in Ephesus when I went into Macedonia..." This comment seems to imply that the letter is sent to Timothy in Ephesus. Clearly concrete false teaching is in view, although it is hard for us to figure out the specifics.

Gone are the usual greetings at the end. Dr. David Smith has suggested that the lack of detail is Paul getting down to business with false teaching.

The end of chapter one mentions two individuals whose faith had shipwrecked, Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul hands them over to Satan in hope they will come running back.

Now to placing it in Paul's ministry in terms of when it was written.

The main problem with the "fourth missionary journey" scenario is that Acts strongly points toward the idea that Paul was in fact put to death at the end of Acts after his two years of house arrest in Acts. You sometimes hear proponents say, "Acts was written right after it ends--that's why it doesn't tell us what happened to Paul. The idea is thus that its hints at some troubling outcome simply reflect a lack of knowledge of what would happen to Paul.

This suggestion doesn't really fly for at least two reasons:

1. Acts was likely written after Jerusalem was destroyed. The author thus knew the outcome of Paul's life (it is only because we don't know exactly that makes us think Acts would have told us. I would argue that "Luke" knew perfectly well what happened but didn't tell us for other reasons.

2. If Acts were some "amicus brief" meant to help support Paul in his trial (see the NIV Study Bible, 1644), the fatalistic tone of the later chapters seems inexplicable.

My position is that

1. it is possible that Paul was freed after his first imprisonment if we see the ending of Acts as a kind of syncopation of Paul's end. Acts is very, very long. It is possible that the author left Paul's ending vague because a. Paul reaching Rome fulfilled his purposes in writing (Paul had reached the ends of the earth a la 1:8) and b. to tell of activities between a first and second imprisonment would have complicated what is after all a very beautiful presentation as we have it. He ends Acts in a way that suggests Paul's eventual death in Rome but doesn't come out and say so because he was actually freed for a few years after his first imprisonment.

2. But ultimately I think Paul probably was martyred after he finally appeared before Nero. My reasoning is as follows:

1. Luke-Acts is written after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.
It thus knows the outcome of Paul's trial.

When we compare the vague wording of the prophecy in Mark 13:14 to the clarity of Luke 21:20, we get the impression that Luke has "translated" Jesus' words for us.

Mark 13:14 says, "When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it shouldn't be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."

The discussion Jesus is having with Peter and others is when the temple will be destroyed, an event that took place in AD 70. But listen to Luke's wording of the same passage:

Luke 21:20: "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near."

The simplest explanation of this difference is that Luke is writing after the prophecy has come true and is giving clarity to how the prophecy was fulfilled. The abomination of desolation that we might expect to stand in the temple turns out to be the desolation of Jerusalem by the Roman armies.

We consider further that both tradition and scholar date Mark to the late 60's. Yet most would say Luke used Mark as a source for his gospel. This would accordingly date Luke in the 70's at the earliest.

Of course other hypotheses are possible, but I've seen enough cop-outs with interpretation to have decided to go in general with the most likely explanation. After all, am I really interested in what the Bible really meant or am I more interested in bolstering my pre-conceptions and tradition. How does an "idea" about the Bible come to take precedence over what the text of the Bible itself "tells" us?

So I conclude that Luke knew the outcome of Paul's life. On any reckoning, Paul died at the hands of Nero some time in the 60's.

2. Acts implies that Paul died at its end and never returned to the east.
The last chapters of Acts have a definite sense of foreboding to them. Here is a stark example:


“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit I go to Jerusalem, not knowing what things will meet me there, except that the Holy Spirit witnesses to me in every city that bonds and tribulations remain for me.  But I do not consider my life worth anything as I complete my race and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.


“And now, behold, I know that you all will no longer see my face—you among whom I have passed preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:22-25).


Given that Luke knows the outcome of Paul’s ordeals, he gives us a strong impression that Paul never returned to Ephesus after he left this time.  There are other explanations of course—for example, you might say Luke is just recording how Paul felt at that time and Paul was wrong (unlikely given the fact that Luke presents history to make theological lessons far more than as some disinterested recorder).  Perhaps Luke is abbreviating two Roman imprisonments for the sake of space.  But clearly the simplest and most likely explanation is that Paul never returned to Ephesus.


So when was 1 Timothy written?  If the above reconstruction is correct, we have a few options:


1.      When Paul left for Macedonia just before he wrote 2 Corinthians.  The difficulty here is that Timothy seems to be with Paul when he writes 2 Corinthians.  Perhaps he did not initially go with Paul and then followed him later.


2.    Perhaps 1 Timothy is pseudonymous.  This is of course the option taken by most non-evangelical scholars.  There are some evangelical scholars who would argue that 1 Timothy was written several decades after Paul’s death in the full knowledge of all involved, thus that no deception was involved.  This option sees this letter as the appropriation of Paul’s authority for a new generation by an appropriate church figure.  The few evangelicals who take this position would emphasize that no deception was involved and that it is simply a matter of a genre we are unfamiliar with.


However, the evangelical consensus strongly opposes this option.  It is not, for example, an option that I believe is appropriate for me to take.  What evidence we have indicates that the church of the late second century opposed the canonization of any writings of this sort and in fact one elder’s authority was taken away from him for composing such a writing, despite his protest that his intentions were good.


3.     That leaves us with this letter being written some time in between Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his ultimate demise in Rome in the early 60’s.  That is the option I will choose.


How does this placement affect our interpretation of 1 Timothy?  I would only suggest that Paul seems to have left Ephesus under some duress (see 2 Cor. 1:8 and Acts 19).  There’s a part of me that strongly wonders if Paul wrote Philippians from there while in prison awaiting an appearance before a Roman official.  I wonder if he was then forbidden to enter the city thereafter, which would additionally explain why he did not go into Ephesus to meet with the Christian leaders there (Acts 20).  Maybe it was at this time that Paul left Timothy there?


Conflict laden circumstances of this sort might go some way toward explaining Paul’s harsh words toward women in 1 Timothy.  Perhaps we can see them as some of the catalyzing forces of false teaching and unrest in Paul’s later ministry there.  We remember Paul’s sad words in Romans 15:23: “Since I now no longer have a place in these regions… I hope to see you…”