“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way... I am not permitting a woman to teach nor authentein a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. Gar Adam was formed first, then Eve.” –1 Timothy 2:1-2, 12-13
It is still not unusual after more than ten years of study on gender theology and related biblical passages to be quoted 1 Timothy 2:12-13 as though it were a trump card to my egalitarianism. In many cases it appears as though they are thinking that maybe (just maybe) I had never considered the passage before. Perhaps the mere quotation of an isolated passage would part the waters of my dark, “liberal” mind.
Despite the reality that the Bible consists of more than 1 Timothy 2:12 alone and that it is not good to have one or two texts control one’s entire theology, I don’t find the text itself or entire passage to be so clearly in favor of gender hierarchy. That is, I do not find that the text itself teaches that only men should be teachers or in authority. Why is this? The following is a brief overview of how I read the passage(s) along with some particulars to note in this controversial discussion.
What is the Discussion Really About?
The purpose or occasion for Paul’s writing is to stop the spread of false teaching. It is in his intro, throughout his letter and in his conclusion. For now consider Paul’s opening remarks for why he is writing this letter from 1Tim 1:3-7:
"…Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."
So basically, there are false teachers that are going around living in ways that are contrary to the law of love and teaching false doctrines. They want to be great teaches and make lots of strong claims, but don’t know what they are talking about.
The expressed overarching idea of chapter two is for the entire church to lead a life of “quietness” and peace (2:2). A person's behavior is tied to what he or she believes about God so that if someone is thankful for all people and believes God desires all people to be saved, then they will reflect this in their own actions as believers (2:1-7). Note that Paul connects the essentials of what the church believes to how they treat others. Faith is not merely a private isolated commitment from how one acts within a community.
Behaviors to Stop and Start
Paul identifies particular bad behaviors perpetrated by certain groups in the church. Men are told not to angrily quarrel and women are told to be mindful of how they dress. In this context it probably has more to do with showing off social status rather than sexual immodesty like he does in 1 Cor 11. “Godliness” is to be expressed in good works (as is the case with the men doing good instead of quarreling) not in a display of wealth with one’s clothes. The people of God value one another in a way that is not status seeking or socially domineering.
The "Sexist" Parts of the Bible?
What follows can sound extremely bad for women depending on which Bible version you are reading or only a little odd. The ESV on the more negative side translates it this way:
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Immediately you may notice that the word “quiet” applied to women is the same as for everyone in the whole church in the earlier verses I shared in chapter 2. Also note that in Christian ethics those in the church give preference to one another (i.e. “love your neighbor as yourself”) and are expected to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21). Women are expected to do the same and learning quietly was also expected of every good student. Women are being singled out here probably because they are the ones having particular issues with this at this church (like the men needing to lift up holy hands rather than fighting). Read the rest of the book and notice how many times women are described as the ones doing negative behaviors.
Additionally, although the women are to be allowed to learn they must do so with the same quietness and submission demanded of all students in the ancient world especially those who wish to be teachers.
Are ALL Women EVERYWHERE Not Allowed to Teach or Exercise Authority?
Here are some translation options:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
“I am not permitting a women to teach nor assume authority over a man; rather, she is to be quiet.”
Again immediately, depending on your translation you will either walk away thinking Paul is making an absolute statement about all women that they cannot do two things or, that he is saying something that pertains to the present situation “I am not permitting” and/or they should not be engaging in a certain type of teaching “teach nor assume authority.” Grammatically, “I am not permitting” is correct (present, active, indicative).
There is also a long complicated discussion over whether two things are being listed that should not be done or whether it is really one thing “teaching in an assuming way.” I go with the second (Check Out Philip Payne for More Info). I opt for "usurp/assume authority" over exercise authority because according to outside literature (we have to go outside because there is only one instance of this word in the NT) "exercise authority" is only a meaning hundreds of years after Paul and Payne makes a good case for "usurp/assume authority" over "domineer." Something else to consider, Paul and other NT writers have a common word for authority "exousia" (ἐξουσία) and don't need to use a word with negative connotations "authenteo" (αὐθεντέω) used for taking authority, power or something else that is not yours.
In sum, I believe Paul has a particular group in mind (in this case mostly women) and he is telling them to be “quiet” like everyone else and not be the kind of teachers that assume authority for themselves. Paul’s description in the intro describes them well: They are self- proclaimed teachers desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Of course, just because Paul is speaking to a particular situation does not mean it does not apply to all of us who are arrogant, false teachers or people who usurp/assume authority that is not ours.
This is true whether it be all or some of the above.
“For Example” vs “Because”?
Coming off of the command for the women to be quiet and not take authority for themselves, enters either a rationalization or reason why they are not allowed to each, or merely an example exemplifying their situation? Translation can make the difference here and the Greek word Gar can be translated as “for/because,” “for example” or even go untranslated. Some options for Vv.13-14:
For (or because) Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
For example, Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Either of these options are reasonable if the verse is looked at in isolation. However the theological implications can be stark. Is Paul saying this particular group of women (or all women everywhere if you extend the present active indicative in “I am not permitting”) cannot be assuming teaching authority or teach and exercise authority because of a creation mandate based in who was created first? Of course, this is a pattern God himself does not seem to want to follow (i.e. Moses, Joseph, Jacob, King David…etc). I think that in context the latter fits better:
There are false teachers going from house to house (5:13—the word sometimes translated as “gossips” is actually stronger and used for false teaching), who are mostly though not necessarily all women. Perhaps they are undermining the authority of male teachers in the churches (proto-gnosticism, mystery cult, “new woman” or Artemis cult influences?). Unfortunately, unlike Priscilla, Phoebe or Junia or other female teachers Paul encountered or was under they do not know what they are talking about because they are the one’s who are deceived—just like Eve!
Next Paul offers some hope that leaves many puzzled.
“Yet she will be saved through the childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Yes “saved" is correct (σῴζω). The word used for salvation, salvation that one can only have by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And yet despite all Paul’s talk about orthodoxy there is one heterodox exception when it comes to procreation for women? Missing in many Bibles is “the.” Paul does not have childbearing in general in mind, he has “the childbearing” that was promised to a particular woman in Genesis who was deceived by the serpent…the one who would crush the serpents head… guess who that is.
Yes, these are false teachers and yes their behavior is showing that they don’t know what they are talking about and are a threat to the church, but they should be allowed to learn better and there is hope for them because even Eve who was deceived was given the promise of who we know to be Jesus. They too can be saved and brought into a new life of faith characterized by love, self-control, holiness, a quiet, peaceful tranquility not division, status seeking and taking what is not earned.
This is a lesson for all of us, not just women!