Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception, Verbs and Wives in 1 Timothy 2

Paul & Thecla

No debate in evangelicalism has produced as much strife and heat as the debate on the ordination of women.[1] In the broad debate, much has been written concerning the infinitive αὐθεντέω,[2] the conjunction οὐδὲ in relation of "to teach" and "to control/assume authority,"[3] and the context of the Ephesian heresy.[4] What has not been sufficiently explored is Paul's only imperative in the pericope (μανθανέτω: 2:11) in relation to the broader materials in the Pastoral Epistles, in Paul's wider corpus, and even the LXX. This study will present evidence for Paul's inclusion of women as those worthy of being taught in the Pastoral Epistles, the wider Pauline corpus, and Paul's own Bible, the LXX in order to show that μανθανέτω is a contextually positive verb that illustrates Paul's inclusion of women in the learning of correct church doctrine.[5] This evidence, in turn, can best be explained as Paul's corrective to false teaching and vv.12-15 are to be understood in light of the imperative—wives[6] are to learn so that they may be included as the one's who will then be permitted to teach (διδασκαλία). More importantly, the Pastoral Epistles include the largest cluster of the verb; hence, this is an important term and deserves careful analysis.[7] Before that, I want to stress the limited nature of this study: entire dissertations have been written on specific phrases and even words within 1 Timothy 2:9-15, so I cannot possibly cover every angle or nuance within the passage. Secondly, I am assuming several disputable points of debate: I believe Paul is most likely the author of the Pastoral Epistles, and I believe the context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 concerns a household rather than a church service, so this section mostly likely refers to husbands and wives (per Cynthia Westfall of McMaster Divinity College in her book Paul and Gender), and not men and women generally.

1. μανθάνω: A Lexical Survey

Before we can determine the nuances of the verb under question, we must survey the lexical data. Given the abundance of occurrences of the verb in the relevant literature we are in a good place to determine the nuances and nature of the imperative verb as opposed to a hapax legomena (c.f. αὐθεντέω; 1 Tim 2:12). If we are able to determine an appropriate understanding of the verb under exploration, the rest of the passage may indeed fall in line:

·      Friberg 17746: from a basic meaning learn, i.e. of directing one's mind to something and producing an external effect

·      Louw & Nida: 27.12 μανθάνω: to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context - 'to learn, to be instructed, to be taught

·      Liddel-Scott: 27160  μανθάνω:-to learn, esp. by inquiry; and in aor. to have learnt, i.e. to understand, know.

·      Danker: 4080  μανθάνω ‘acquire knowledge’, learn – a. through instruction or receipt of information– b. through example or experience

The wide range of sources from these lexicons strongly suggest that the verb is often used with a context of a learner and a teacher, with the additional elements of expanding the cognitive aspect of the learner with the intent on 'understanding.' The purpose being, then, for the human person to grow in understanding of the knowledge she is being given. Knowledge, then, leads to righteous living or a reorientation of the self. Stanley Porter, in his Idioms of the Greek New Testament, states that "the imperative form is normally used to direct someone's action…[and] any permissive sense [of the second and third person singular and plural] is a phenomenon of English translation, not Greek."[8] Paul's use of the singular in 1 Tim 2:11 fits with Porter's helpful description. In summation, the issue of women learning in the Pastoral Epistles can help us discover the expectation of Paul in the church in Ephesus, and determine the character of the prohibition, with implications for the modern debate over the ordination of women to Christian ministry.

2. Μανθάνω in the LXX[9]

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, we have a sufficient supply of the verb μανθάνω to determine the semantic range of 1 Timothy 2:11. In Exodus 2:4, Moses' mother, after putting her baby in the basket, stood "far off" (μακρόθεν) in order "to learn" or "discover" (μαθεῖν) what would happen to Moses. The infinitive here refers to the anticipation of witnessing an indefinite event, waiting to know what would happen to her baby in the tumultuous current of the river. God in Deuteronomy 4:10 orders an assembly to brought before him and he says, "and let them [Israel] all listen to my words, so that they may learn (μάθωσιν) to respect me all of the days that they live upon the land, and also their sons whom they should have taught (διδάξωσιν)." The use of υἱοὺς ("sons") should be taken in a gender-inclusive manner, as all are "sons of God" in Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 8:14. The purpose of learning is so that the children may be instructed in the right things of God. One expects the living tradition of Israel's stories to be perpetuated by those who were being taught (διδάξωσιν). The language of learning and teaching follows logically, as the ones who learn can then, consequently, teach the others in the ways of the Lord. The gender distinctions of "teaching" and "learning" are not in view in Deuteronomy. Deut 5:1 also speaks of Moses calling "all Israel" (πάντα Ισραηλ) together and telling them that "they will learn" (μαθήσεσθε) the "ordinances of God," which implies subsequent obedience: at least, one would hope. The people of Israel are to "learn to respect the Lord" (μαθης φοβεισθαι κυριον) in Deut 14:23, 17:19, 31:12-13: the conceptual framework of "learning" in these four canonical verses confirms the idea of a person—or group of people—growing to understand a foreign concept, and with this learning comes the expectation of participating with a renewed understanding of said concept. Thus, the people of Israel—without reference to gender—are called to learn and participate in God's commandments. Israel is forbidden "to learn" or "understand" (οὐ μαθήσῃ) the "abominations" of other "nations" (ἐθνῶν) in Deut 18:9—which suggests that Israel is not to participate in the community of heresy and false teaching, which leads to utter destruction.

In 1 Chron 25:8, there is a direct contrast between the "perfected" or "learned one" (τελείων) and the "one learning" (μανθανόντων), offering a distinction between two people who are educated and uneducated, which suggests a necessary imputing of wisdom or experience to the other with the hope of increasing knowledge and therefore ethical praxis. The use of the infinitive μαθεῖν in Ester 4:5 is directly relevant: Ester (who is reported to be a woman!) orders Hathach to go and "to learn" what he can about Mordecai: as it turns out, women can tell men to learn as well![10] Ps 106:35 references Israel "learning" (ἔμαθον) amongst the nations, and living as they do, committing idolatry (v.36). The verb here refers to active participation and cognitive awareness of the people of God by partaking in a great evil, learning what it is to serve mammon over God. "Learning" (μεμαθηκέναι) the "judgments of God's righteousness"(τὰ κρίματα τῆς δικαιοσύνης) is not a reference to subjection, but of a person "worshipping God" (ἐξομολογήσομαί) when he or she grows to "learn" what God commands and desires (Ps 119:7, 71, 73). "Learning" in Ps 119 is always in reference to active participation, of knowing and praising God rightly. Prov 17:16, in reference to fools, speaks of them "learning to fall into evil" (μαθειν). Evil in this verse is a deadly force, and the people are excluded from "learning" the mind of God, excluded from wisdom. The LXX rendering of Prov 22:25 speaks of avoiding the angry ones (v.24), and not "learning" (μάθῃς) the lifestyle of the wicked. In each use, the gender of the person is not in view, and all people are encouraged to pursue God, or not encouraged if they are pursuing evil!


The beginning of Isaiah 1:17 is a prophetic injunction "to learn" (μάθετε) "to do what is good" (καλὸν ποιεῖν). In the midst of Isaiah's prophetic discourse on the "days to come" (2:2), the people of Israel will "not learn to wage war" (2:4: μὴ μάθωσιν ἔτι πολεμεῖν). The eschatological prophecy is focused on the concept of utter peace as a future reality of God's kingdom, and this requires Israel to forsake the wages of death and war. In the midst of the Assyrian invasion, Israel is "not learning" (μὴ μαθεῖν) the Law, and many have been taken away already (8:15). Isaiah 26:9-10 includes two dual uses of the verb in relation to "righteousness" (v.9: δικαιοσύνην μάθετε; v.10: μὴ μάθῃ δικαιοσύνην), and the first pairing includes "learning righteousness," and the "wicked ones not learning righteousness." In this pairing, the righteous ones are consciously aware of God's judgments, but the wicked ones have not learned righteousness, and "do not see the glory of the Lord." The prophet speaks in Isaiah 28:19 for the recipients to "learn to understand!" (μάθετε ἀκούειν). The infinitive "to hear" or "to understanding" complements the imperative "learn," and the interplay between the concepts of "understanding" and "learning" suggest a continuity between these cognates: "learn so that you will understand" or "comprehend." Isaiah 29:24 contains two uses of the future verb "will learn" (μαθήσονται), though both are used in different ways. First, the "grumbling ones will learn to obey"  (ὑπακούειν) and the "murmuring ones will learn to speak peace" (μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην).[11]

Isaiah 47:12 is focused upon the humiliation of Babylon. In mocking the great city, Isaiah speaks about "sorcery, which you learned from youth" (ἐμάνθανες). Far from being a positive force, Isaiah sees this "learning" as a great and humiliating evil, a force that corrupts and enslaves. Similarly in Jer 9:5 the prophet cries out about "no one is speaking the truth" (ἀλήθειαν οὐ μὴ λαλήσωσιν) and as a result the people "have taught their tongues to speak lies" (μεμάθηκεν ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτῶν λαλεῖν ψευδῆ). The 'teaching' of the self to engage in falsehoods reveals a mind clouded by the Spirit of lies, and not the Spirit of God, who demands that the people "not learn" (μὴ μανθάνετε) the "ways of the nations." The imperative here follows Stanley Porter's description: this is not a Divine permissive, but a Divine command for Israel to remain separate from the nations. In a prophetic proclamation, God speaks of having mercy if the people "learn" the ways of His people (μαθόντες μάθωσιν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ λαοῦ μου). Jer 13:23 speaks of a person changing their ways, even those who have been taught to do evil (μεμαθηκότες). Both uses of μανθάνω in Ezekiel 19:3 and 19:6 refer to a lion "learning" to catch his victims. The final usage in the LXX centers on Micah 4:3 where the prophet asserts "no longer will they learn to wage war" (καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ μάθωσιν πολεμεῖν). Violence is a pastime that must be unlearned, especially as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, which suggests non-violence is a major hermeneutical continuum in Scripture.[12]

In summation, "learning" is a deeply malleable concept in the Greek Old Testament. Sometimes the verb under consideration is paired with "teach" (Deut 4:10) and "speaking" (perhaps Ps 119; Isaiah 29:24; Jer 9:5). In almost every instance the verb is used in a pietistic context: "learning" is a causal action that has an intended result. In the instances where it is not, it refers to a lion hunting, or a negative injunction for a person to not "learn" something evil (i.e. a prohibition of negative behavior), likely with the knowledge that the person will then fall into sin. In no explicit instance is a woman prohibited from learning something positive or ethically necessary, and all of Israel is enjoined to "learn" and pursue holiness in light of God's commands. Because of this, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, views women as agents of genuine cognitive virtue, capable of learning and freely acting in response to God's commands, with no condemnation of their gender or prohibition of their ability to teach and influence others in the ways of godliness.[13]

3. Μανθάνω in Second Temple Judaism

2 Maccabees 7:2 centers on the brutal torture and eventual butchering of Jewish martyrs. One of the brothers cries out: "what do you all expect to learn (μανθάνειν) by questioning us? For we are prepared to die instead of transgressing the laws of the fathers!" The author's use of the infinitive here is rhetorical, suggesting that the king now knew exactly what the Jewish men were prepared to endure. Similarly in 4 Macc 1:17 the author writes "This, in turn, is discipline by the law, by which we learn (μανθάνομεν) divine matters in a holy manner and human affairs to our advantage." Contextually the use of the verb with παιδεία ("discipline, education") strongly suggests that this learning has a practical outcome: the ignorant or the unlearned or the child even has the moral necessity to grow in knowledge in relation to "divine matters." Finally, perhaps the most relevant passage in relation to 1 Tim 2:11 is Sirach 18:19:

πρὶν ἢ λαλῆσαι μάνθανε καὶ πρὸ ἀρρωστίας θεραπεύου

"Before you speak, you must learn and before you become ill, take care of yourself."

Sirach 18:19 appears axiomatic for any understanding of 1 Tim 2:11, given the close proximity of composition and the nature of 'learning' that appears consistent with the overall thrust of the LXX. The author of Sirach appears to be addressing a situation that has strong parallels, especially since Sirach is a work all about ethical conduct and was written some time before the Pastoral Epistles, an issue that many modern commentators on the Pastoral Epistles have missed.[14] The parallels between these two verses will be explored below in some detail.

Finally, a major purveyor of this term is Philo of Alexandria, who appears to use the verbal form over 140 times, according to Bibleworks.[15] Since an entire survey of Philo would require multiple dissertations, I am forced to limit myself to some key examples. In Legum allegoriarum 1:94 we have Philo writing, "just as the perfect grammarian or perfect musician has need of no instruction in the matters which belong to his art, but the man whose theories on such subjects are imperfect stands in need of certain rules, as it were, which contain in themselves commands and prohibitions, and he who is only learning the art requires instruction [i.e. "teaching"]" (τῷ δὲ ἄρτι μανθάνοντι διδασκαλίας). The person who is exercising a gift of "teaching" is excluded from the realm of learning, by implication of their being a teacher.[16] The use of μανθάνον in Legum allegoriarum 3:135 concerns the gifting of "knowledge" and how a person endures hardships: Philo writes, "Also, what is imperfect is inferior to that which is perfect (τοῦ τελείου), and that which learns (τὸ μανθάνον) anything to that which has knowledge spontaneously and naturally." Perfection in relation to knowledge is something that must be learned. In De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini 1:7 we have a dual use of "learning," which is seen in terms of "perfection" (ἐτελειώθησαν), the full maturation of an individual's mind: "As many, therefore, as through instruction and learning (μαθήσει καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ)..." and this is followed by Philo's use of the language of "comprehension" (ἀκοῆς) and in regards to Moses' people who have [or 'are'] "learned/ing" (μανθανόντων) guidance. Similarly to the stories in the Old Testament, the entire group of people are in the process of gaining knowledge and experience. The necessity of learning in Quod deterius potiori insidiari 1:12 centers on the stability of the person as the recipient of knowledge: "for the opinions of those who have only lately begun to learn (τῶν ἄρτι μανθάνειν) are unstable and without any firm foundation." This correlates nicely with Sirach's ethical admonition to "learn" before one speaks,[17] revealing a potential Jewish axiomatic tradition.[18] Having briefly surveyed the wide swath of ancient literature, we are now in a place to determine how Paul uses this verb.[19]

4. Paul's use of Μανθάνω outside of the Pastoral Epistles

Rom 16:17 speaks of Paul's urging the church to follow the "teaching" (διδαχὴν) that they previously "learned" (ἐμάθετε). While the context is not as dire at the heretical situation in 1 Timothy one can see a potential allusion to the Protevangelium in Gen 3:16 in Rom 16:20 and 1 Tim 2:15, if one adopts the "Childbirth" reading on v.15 (which I do).[20] Second, the use of the verb "fully deceived" (ἐξαπατῶσι; Rom 16:18) directly lines up with the deception of Eve in 1 Tim 2:14 and Adam in Rom 7:11. If you want to know more on Eve and 1 Timothy, head over to Allison Quient's paper presentation later! So Rom 16:17-20 suggests a similar heretical situation to that of the Pastoral Epistles, and given the close proximity to the numerous women mentioned earlier in chapter 16 (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, passim), it is not difficult to imagine that they would be included in the "learning" and participation of important church "teachings," especially as recipients of Romans. Paul uses the subjunctive to admonish the Corinthians to "learn" (μάθητε) not to go beyond the Scriptures in 1 Cor 4:6, suggesting a coordinate meaning with the Prophets in the Old Testament (see above: Deut 18:9). Likewise, in 14:31[21] the entire church is told that prophecy is for the mutual benefit of all people, "so that all would learn" (ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν).[22] The use of the verb here refers to teleological understanding by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives forth the "teaching" (διδαχὴν: v.26) that "each" has received. 

Paul's remaining five uses of the verb are used in a wide array of contexts. The first use of the infinitive (μαθεῖν) in Gal 3:2 is clearly sarcastic, referring to Paul's interrogation of the Galatian church into telling him about the source of their knowledge of Christ. The aorist in Eph 4:20 (ἐμάθετε) is clarified as "hearing" (ἠκούσατε: v.21) which most probably refers to orthopraxic understanding and cognitive participation. Equally, the dual use in Phil 4:9 (ἐμάθετε) and 4:11 (ἔμαθον) are in a context of "obtaining and understanding" (παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε)[23] what is good and righteous (4:8). As we have seen, "understanding" is often used by Paul to clarify his intent: this is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but an entire lifestyle[24] oriented towards God and holiness.[25] Paul's final use is found in Col 1:7, where he addresses the church concerning what they "learned" (ἐμάθετε) from a fellow co-worker of Paul. As has been seen above, Paul uses "understanding" (ἠκούσατε) in v.6 to preempt what he means by "learning" in v.7: this suggests a deep emotional, lexical and intellectual reservoir in Paul's mind, which we will now explore in the Pastoral Epistles. Learning of the things of God always leads to active participation in God's church. Learning is not static.

5a. Compare & Contrast, Learning & Teaching: The Necessity of 1 Tim 1:20


In considering the context of the ancient heresy in Ephesus, we know that the main perpetrators of this were most likely two men named in 1 Tim 1:20: Hymenaeus and Alexander. These two men (although perhaps there were more)[26] "have been fully handed over" (παρέδωκα) to Satan: a fate born out of "blasphemy" (βλασφημεῖν).[27] Their rather harsh expulsion from the church greatly contrasts with Paul's imperatival address to women in 2:11, suggesting deference to the deceived versus the deceivers; the victims versus the charlatans. The purpose clause in 1:20 also confirms the disciplinary nature of their exclusion, and elucidates a potential connection to the "teaching," as it uses the subjunctive παιδευθῶσι ("to provide instruction, with the intent of forming proper habits of behavior - 'to teach, to instruct, to train, teaching, instruction.'")[28] as per Louw-Nida and other Lexicons.[29] This forms a symmetrical relationship between a prohibition or expulsion and the resultant learning of the person. Scholarly attempts to overly-reconstruct or downplay the role of women in leading the heresy are unnecessary when we consider that Paul has likely already ousted his two main opponents, and is now dealing with the aftermath: the wives of Ephesus—whom he has not kicked out of the church or handed over to Satan, by the way. That's slightly important. You don't see much on that. Thus, we are now in a place to determine the nature of the "learning" in the Pastoral Epistles with new focus.

5b. Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception and the Solution

In 1 Tim 5:4, we have another imperative: μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον, and this time it is used in reference to the authority of a widowed mother over her children. The children must "learn first" what it means to be respectable in God's household. Similarly, in 5:13, we have a negative view of younger widows "learning idleness" (μανθάνουσιν ἀργαὶ) and other traits that are not respectable in the household—a use that is confirmed by our survey of the LXX. 2 Tim 3:7 seems to describe the women who are "always learning" or being "taught" by the false teachers, although this seems somewhat unclear[30] and 3:14 reminds Timothy to remain conscious of what he has previously "learned" (ἔμαθες) and who he obtained (λαβὼν) it from: perhaps Paul, or perhaps Timothy's grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in 2 Tim 1:5. This assumes that learned women were teaching with authority in households: after all, there is no one more authoritative than one's mother and especially one's grandmother, as I will testify.[31] Finally, Titus 3:14 is similar to the Old Testament injunctions for people to "learn" (μανθανέτωσαν) "good works," suggesting perhaps an economic sphere where poverty is met and charity is learned.

Therefore, we arrive at 1 Tim 2:11. If we begin with previous material, the axiomatic exhortation in Sirach 18:19 becomes quite relevant here. The purpose of the wives learning before they speak is confirmed by Paul's use of the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ ("in quietness") with "all obedience." Cynthia Westfall has provided us with a major hermeneutical clue in her book Paul and Gender. She writes: "a command to submit does not constitute a reversed mandate for the other to subjugate."[32] Paul's command for the women to learn directly follows the path set by Sirach 18:19: before the women are to speak and teach, they are to learn in quietness. Teaching is not a masculine virtue, as the entire body has the potential for the gift of teaching in Rom 12:1-8,[33] especially as it relates to being "wise" (σωφρονεῖν: Rom 12:3; 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2). Wisdom and a teaching ability require a desire to learn the things of God, given to us by God. In essence, Paul's injunction here is entirely in line with the language of the gifts of God elsewhere in his discourses on the Spirit (1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4). The positive injunction helps clarify the nature of the Creation narrative in 1 Tim 2:13-14 as a historical situation where a deceived person acted in a manner that had incredibly destructive consequences.

In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, complementarian William Mounce—who I will be using as representative—writes the following:

"the text [1 Tim 2:11] does not say that women should learn so that they can teach. Spencer asserts, 'if anyone is taught, eventually they will teach,' but this contradicts chap. 3, which sees authoritative instruction…as the prerogatives of the elders." He cites Deuteronomy 31:12, cites Craig Keener concerning the "learning leading to obedience" and concludes, "the authoritative act of teaching, the proclamation of the gospel truth and the refutation of error, is the responsibility not of any person who has learned but of the leadership (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2)."[34]

There is many critical responses one could make this line of argumentation,[35] but Mounce's favorable citation of Douglas Moo deserves the most attention. He writes, citing Moo: "All Jewish men were encouraged to study the law: did they all become rabbis?"[36] This is asking the wrong question: an injunction for all people to learn and to grow, but an injunction that simultaneously restricts a group of people from teaching because of their gender is absent in the LXX, and in the citation that Mounce cites. Ester tells a man to go and learn in Ester 4:5, and Deut 4:10 uses the verb in relation to people teaching their children, and even speaking (Is 29:24). One would expect more precision from the biblical writers on this point, if Mounce were correct: for instance, we might expect Paul or Moses or the Prophets to say, "everyone should learn in quietness, but only men are to learn with intent to teach." Scripture never says such things. Finally, Mounce's assertion about male leadership in 1 Tim 3:2 as negating the inference of "learning so that they may teach" is unsubstantiated.[37] An indefinite pronoun is different from a masculine pronoun.[38] The indefinite pronoun τις ("anyone, whoever;" 1 Tim 3:2) is unexplained by Mounce, and he assumes that an elder is to be a man. The lack of a masculine pronoun remains, and Mounce offers no reason for us to assume his interpretation with him. Thus, the best explanation of the women being told to learn in 1 Tim 2:11 is so that they will become educated, and will not fall into deception like Eve (1 Tim 2:13-14).[39] Learning has a causal outcome in any instance, and the force of "learning" before "speaking" or "teaching" is a basic axiomatic component of human life. Paul's command for the women to learn removes their present deception, and emphasizes their "mental soundness" (σωφροσύνης: v.15) in opposition to their (Eve's) deception.[40] The present tense of ἐπιτρέπω ("I am not permitting") in v.12 fits well with the imperative μανθανέτω in v.11. Rather than v.12 restricting the meaning of v.11, ἐπιτρέπω is functioning as a present reality of the deceived women—hence the present tense: while they learn, they are not permitted to be a controlling authoritarian with their husbands.[41]

Since Alexander and Hymenaeus were excluded from the church, and their return is conditioned on their own "instruction," one can safely assume that if Alexander and Hymenaeus repent and return with humbleness and a sound mind that they would perhaps be admitted back into the church, and in time, given positions of teaching power. Perhaps. However, if the wives learn humbly and participate in the attributes of faithfulness, love, and holiness with the soundness of mind that should characterize all people, they will be saved and, perhaps, find themselves among the "faithful one's who are able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2: διδακτικόν). Indeed, in 2 Tim 2:2—a text Mounce cited earlier as excluding women from eldership—perhaps some of the women were already at work there, teaching with learned authority (πιστοῖς ἀνθρώποις οἵτινες ἱκανοὶ ἔσονται καὶ ἑτέρους διδάξαι). The NRSV captures the Greek well: "and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people [not exclusively men] who will be able to teach others as well." Given that Paul is quite capable of using specific gendered terms to refer to men (as he does in 1 Tim 2:8, for instance), one is forced to ask why he uses a more generic anthropological term in 2 Tim 2:2. It seems best to conclude that Paul does not have men exclusively in mind as teachers in every capacity, and that women must be included in this sphere of teaching as a result of their learning. Thus, the best reason for their "learning" is for their positive influence in the community, whether through teaching or preaching, and not their subservience or ontological exclusion from exercising the gifts God has given them. Discipleship in a community of mutual deference and love is principal to Paul's ethics, and the Pastoral Epistles are no exception to this principle.

6. Conclusion

In summation, I offer three preliminary observations that, I hope, will help us solve this debate in evangelicalism. First, in demanding that the wives learn in 2:11, Paul is affirming their cognitive capacity to receive Christian tradition, as he did with Timothy and Eunice and Lois. We see Paul's same assumption of virtue in 1 Cor 7. In that entire chapter, neither husband nor wife has preeminence over the other nor are they to "deprive one another" sexually, and we see mutual submission being the guiding principle in Ephesians 5:21 for what follows there. By stating these things, Paul is affirming both the sexual agency of wives, and the necessity of women as agents of virtue. Thus, Paul is consistent in how he treats husbands and wives. Second, Paul's treatment of men and women regarding deception reveals that neither gender carries with it an ontology that renders them more easily deceived: indeed Paul tells the entire church in Corinth to not be deceived (1 Cor 3:18; c.f. 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Thess 2:3).

Deception is an unfortunate human trait, but fortunately it does not affect one gender more than the other—according to Paul. Third and finally, Paul assumes the participatory necessity of women in the body of Christ. Whether a Junia, a Phoebe, a Deborah, a Lydia, a Euodia, or the unnamed woman in the Gospels who anointed Jesus, God has anointed gifted women with the distinct capacity to learn, to grow, to mature, and to teach with authority. Indeed, I would not be here if I had not studied under learned women. Our greatest challenge in evangelicalism is to provide places where the gifts of God manifest themselves in our sisters, for the glory of all people for the purpose of teaching and instructing us all in righteousness. Places where they can learn, and teach, and participate fully in Christ's mission of reconciliation.

We evangelicals cannot say to women, we have no need of you, because Paul certainly didn't.


A form of this article was read at the Canadian-American Theological Association conference in New York, 2017. If you notice certain colloquialisms or misspellings, please forgive them.

[1] For a survey of the relevant literature see Jamin Hübner, "A New Case for Female Elders: A Reformed-Evangelical Approach" (Th.D. dtss., The University of South Africa, 2013), 22-105.

[2] C.f. Westfall, Paul and Gender, 290-293 and her "The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10 (2014): 138-173; Jamin Hübner, "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What do the Extant Data Really Show?" Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015), 41-71; Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 361-397.

[3] Payne, Man and Woman, 337-361; Andreas Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 117-162.

[4] S.M. Baugh, "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 25-64.

[5] The similar use of the verb in 1 Cor 14:34-35 may be set aside for the purposes of this paper, given it's textual instability. Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267 and "Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35," New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625—my thanks to Dr. Payne for sending me his important article. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 699-709 and Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 245-249.

[6] For the argument that Paul is addressing a husband and wife relationship, see Westfall. It can be argued that the majority of Paul's uses of γυνή refer to a husband/wife relationship (1 Cor 7:1-40; 1 Cor 5:1; 9:5; 14:34-35, if original, which I doubt; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19) or to a woman in a generic fashion (Gal 4:4; perhaps 1 Cor 11:2-16). It seems more likely that Paul is being specific rather than exclusive in 1 Tim 2:9-15, but one cannot be dogmatic on this point.

[7] The noun μαθητής does not occur in the Pastoral Epistles, and so it will be excluded from our study. The noun also does not seem to occur in the LXX either, although there is a wealth of uses in the Synoptic Gospels.

[8] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1994), 53, 55.

[9] All translations of the LXX are my own unless noted otherwise.

[10] One wonders if this one example is decisive in determining the 'gender' of certain prohibitions or admonitions in Scripture. Was Hathach forgoing his 'male headship' in obeying Ester? Was Ester subverting Hathach's 'male headship' by ordering him to do something?

[11] Similarly, Isaiah 32:4 uses the exact same phrase: μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην.

[12] C.f. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: Harper One, 1996), 317-347.

[13] One is forced to ask, if Paul believed that women were more easily deceived than men, then why women were included in these injunctions throughout the Old Testament. A more easily deceived person, if such a person exists in an ontological sense at all, requires an entire different code of ethics, and we find no such code in Holy Scripture.

[14] In order: Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 68-70; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 139-140; Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. The others include Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 226; Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 212-216; Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 47; Aida Besançon Spencer, 1 Timothy (Eugene: Cascade, 2013), 58-59; I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (London: T&T Clark, 1999), 452-454. Similarly, the major complementarian works noted above (edited by Köstenberger and Schreiner) and the egalitarian works (Payne, Keener) do not mention or cite this text.

[15] Given the complexities of Philo's Greek, I happily concede that I am indebted to Yonge's translation, even if I correct him or continue to be mystified by his translation.

[16] Similarly in Legum allegoriarum 3:122, Philo continues: "no doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking [i.e. learning: μανθάνοντι] information…" The fundamental nature of this argument is bound up with the assumption that the pursuit of the logos (τὸν λόγον) is to be desired and that it is attainable.

[17] The Reverend Graham Ware pointed this out to me in an earlier draft of this work, so I credit him here with this insight. De posteritate Caini 1:131, 138, 140, 150; Quis rerum divinarum heres sit 1:102; 121; De congressu eruditionis gratia 1:69-70, 122, 126.

[18] Finally, De posteritate Caini 1:140 speaks of a woman being a potential teacher, even serving her student: " For "she made haste," he says, "and took down the pitcher on her arm." Her alacrity to serve the man was displayed by her making haste, and such alacrity is seated in the mind, beyond which envy is cast away. But by the expression, "taking down the pitcher on her arm," we see intimated the prompt and eager attention [lit. "The one learning by the teacher:" τὸν μανθάνοντα τοῦ διδάσκοντος] of the teacher to the pupil." This text may reveal Philo's ease with women (as a human being or as a typological referent) exercising some sort of "teaching" (διδάσκω) role, although this is not entirely clear. Judith Gundry-Volf has shown that Philo exhibits what is clearly the ancient patriarchal standard. C.f. Judith Gundry-Volf, "Paul on Women and Gender: A Comparison with Early Jewish Views," in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry (ed. Richard N. Longenecker: Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1997), 184-212, 195-200.

[19] The Synoptic Gospels include four uses of this verb, and all of them are in the imperative form. In Matt 9:13, after Jesus has characteristically eaten with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees challenge him on his ethical conduct. He responds with the imperative μάθετε,[19] which illustrates a demand (not a permission) to go inform themselves about God's desire for mercy and not sacrifice. Similarly, in Matt 11:29, in Christ's prayer to the Father includes the use of the imperative μάθετε in reference to the "taking" of Christ's yoke upon themselves: this is something that the cities must learn from Jesus. The nuances of this imperative likely refer to an offering of rest as well as a command for them to respond and take what is freely offered to them. It also may indicate Jesus' identification of himself with Torah.[19] In the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13:28 (par. Matt 24:32), Jesus commands his listeners to "learn from the parable of the fig tree" (Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν), reinforcing the idea of Isa 1:17, where Israel is commanded to "learn to do good!" The two uses of the verb in the Gospel of John refer first to instruction by God (6:45a) by his prophets and the subsequent learning (μαθὼν) that results in a person "coming to Jesus" (6:45b).[19] Similarly, the Jewish people remark with amazement at Jesus' learnedness (μεμαθηκώς) and teaching ability (7:15). The Book of Acts records a saying of a centurion who observes that he rescued Paul on the basis of "learning" (μαθὼν) of his Greco-Roman citizenry. Each of the Gospel uses of this verb refers to a person obtaining revelation or information they previously lacked, and in correlation to this is the notion of "understanding." In one of the most important Christological texts in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have "learned" (ἔμαθεν) "obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). The Eternal Son experienced the depths of the human experience, defined subsequently as "suffering"—a previously unknown state or condition.

[20] C.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 417-442.

[21] As mentioned above, 14:34-35 has been tabled due to its textual indeterminism.

[22] I believe the use of ἵνα confirms the purpose of the admonition: so that all would be able to grasp, comprehend, and subsequently participate.

[23] The full force of the verbs should be felt: the recipients are not passive about what they received, but they accepted it, lived it out, and are currently living it as Paul writes to them. Thus, they are active agents, active recipients of the gift of Christ.

[24] Or as Paul calls it in 4:11, "self-sufficiency:" αὐτάρκης.

[25] The use of "thinking" in Philippians confirms this: c.f. the consistent use of φρονέω: 1:7, 2:2, 5; 3:15, 4:2, 10. I am indebted to Dr. Love Sechrest at Fuller Theological Seminary for pointing this out to me.

[26] The continued presence of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles may attest to this, but it is an unknown. Perhaps Paul has to deal with the lingering effects of heresy as well as the victims of the heretical teaching.

[27] The large cluster of this word group in the Pastoral Epistles strongly confirms the lingering impact made by these two men (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1, which uses "teaching;" Titus 2:5; 3:2.

[28] While one can safely say that being handed over to Satan is indeed a harsh act, the positive injunction that they learn mitigates the harshness.

[29] Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989. BibleWorks, v.10. See Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). BibleWorks. v.10.

[30] Given Paul's positive emphasis on women learning elsewhere, one is forced to ask if there is a contextual reason for this displacement, or if the verb refers to the false teachers. Also, the reference to two named men as example of dissent against Moses in v.8 may suggest that the referent is the deceptive men, not the deceived women. Perhaps it refers to both the deceived and the deceivers (3:13: πλανῶντες καὶ πλανώμενοι). However, this is a subsidiary point and I raise it only as such.

[31] The active emphasis of the verb stresses something Timothy "obtained" from his grandmother and mother, that is, "genuine faithfulness" (ἀνυποκρίτου πίστεως).

[32] Westfall, Paul and Gender, 76.

[33] Rom 12:7 uses διδάσκων in reference to a person (or people) who have been given the gift—gender is not mentioned as a prerequisite of a person's call to teach or preach. See Westfall's incisive analysis in Paul and Gender, 208-219.

[34] William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 118.

[35] First, the issue of "obedience" is irrelevant, as v.11 makes clear that the women are to learn in a quiet spirit, but this does not tell us what or why they are to learn. Mounce has not asked the correct question at this point. Spencer, while she may or may not be correct, offers a reasonable inference, while Mounce offers a negation that still leaves the question unanswered. What and why are the women to learn? Second, Mounce's interpretation of this verse is fundamentally unpersuasive regarding apologetics, theological discourse, teaching (c.f. Rom 12 above) and the gifts of the Spirit. In writing that the proclamation of the gospel is for men, one is forced to ask if Paul should have removed the women entirely from the equation as Apostles and Deacons (Rom 16), and fellow co-workers (Phil 4:2-3), and if Jesus made an error in appearing to women who "announced" (ἀπαγγέλλω) the good news of Christ's resurrection (Luke 24:10). One is also forced to wonder, based on Mounce's interpretation, if there is a place for women in any aspect of church life or academia.

[36] Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, 118.

[37] One is also forced to ask if this list if intended to be an eternal case for us, given that women—perspectivally at that time—were unable to be elders because of their lack of learning. Thus, the questions are not answered and we are left wondering if the presupposition of male headship is still in play.

[38] See Payne, Man and Woman, 445-449.

[39] Paul's imperative of v.11 demands that any eternal prohibition of women exercising what they are told to learn be immediately suspect; hence, he cannot be logically consistent in demanding that the women actively exercise their cognitive virtue in learning proper church doctrine and then eternal prohibit them from the implications of their doing so.

[40] Paul's application of this noun to himself in Acts 26:25 removes the possibility that women were mentally deficient, unless one is will to place Paul himself in such a category.

[41] While I am not entirely sold on the translation "assuming authority over" (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 361-399), the negative connotations of the word αὐθεντέω are to be taken with the utmost seriousness. For instance, why would Paul prohibit a positive exercise of learned teaching? It seems quite clear that one only prohibits a person from doing something if that person believes it to be a negative event. Hence, the issue of "controlling" a husband seems more preferable as a contextual gloss, but the matter is difficult to settle—but the point is clear: control over another person is antithetical to the Gospel, and that is what Paul appears to be prohibiting.