“But What About 1 Timothy 2:12?” Ten Talking Points

Gail Wallace


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1 Timothy 2 (1)


“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV).

This verse continues to be an obstacle preventing churches from moving toward a more robust theology of women.

In “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb” I addressed how context, translation, and interpretation suggest that Paul’s primary concern here was addressing false teaching rather than making a broader statement about restricting women’s roles.

Today I want to go in a different direction.

I often hear from people that when this verse comes up in discussions what usually happens is that a few salvos are tossed back and forth (along with a few pointed comments about one’s view of scripture), and then the conversation stalls.

One reason this happens is that people haven’t taken enough time to study and think through their views. But I also suspect that we need to figure out how to have this discussion in a more constructive way.

With that in mind, I humbly offer ten talking points to help generate more thoughtful conversation.

1. What do you think was going on in the church at Ephesus that prompted Paul to write such strong words about women? Could this have had something to do with this restriction?

[This purpose of this letter was for Paul to address the problem of false teaching in Ephesus, which was being spread by women in the congregation. Craig Keener writes more on this in his excellent book Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul.]

2. How do you reconcile 1 Timothy 2:12 with other passages where Paul encourages women to speak in church?

[The admonition to be quiet contradicts I Corinthians 11:2-6 where Paul instructs women about praying and prophesying in corporate worship. In Colossians 3:16 Paul writes “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” So it seems that he did not expect women to be quiet in the church at all times.]

3. Do you think the women Paul worked with and commended in Romans 16 were required to be quiet in church and had no authority?

[We know from the rest of the New Testament that Priscilla instructed Apollos, Phoebe was a deacon and Paul’s emissary to Rome, and Lydia oversaw the church at Philippi. Junia is called an apostle and was imprisoned for her witness. It seems unlikely that these things could have been accomplished while being quiet in church or without any church authority.]

4. The word Paul used here for authority is different than the terms he uses in the rest of his writing, and it is only found once in the entire bible. Could it be possible he wasn’t talking about typical church leadership, but something else?

[One problematic issue is the rendering of the verb “authentein” as authority. This Greek verb is found only once in scripture and rarely in extrabiblical texts, where it is usually associated with aggression. It is translated as “domineer” in the Latin Vulgate and New English Bible and as “usurp authority” in the Geneva and King James Bibles. More on authentein here.]

5. What do you think Paul really meant when he said women must be silent or quiet? If we take this literally, then shouldn’t women refrain from speaking in church – at all?

[The word “hesuchia” was mistranslated as “silent” for many years in some English versions of the Bible. The more correct meaning is along the lines of “quietly” or “in quietness”.  It is the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 when Paul instructs people to “settle down” and in 1 Timothy 2:2 when he tells the church to “live peaceful and quiet lives”. So it does not seem that Paul’s intention was that women would never speak at all.]

6. Some Greek scholars point out that the statement “I do not permit” could be interpreted as “I am not [currently] permitting”. Doesn’t this allow for the possibility that Paul’s words were not a permanent sanction?

[As Tim Peck noted in his comments on this related post: “The Greek verb epitrepeo (“permit”) is in the present tense and indicative mood. Tenses in Greek work differently than they do in English, as they demonstrate the ‘kind of action’ not just the time of the action. Thus some scholars see significance in the present tense (“I am not permitting”) as implying that Paul is giving a command that he does not see as timeless.”]

7. Paul gave the churches a lot of “rules” that we don’t follow today: it is not good to marry, men should not have long hair – women should, avoid the legal system, men should lift their hands when they pray, women should not wear gold, slaves obey your masters, and so on. Why should we follow this one and not the others?

[Both sides have a high view of scripture, yet both are selective in their applications.  For example, Paul also said it is not good to marry, men should not have long hair – women should, avoid the legal system, men should lift their hands when they pray, women should not wear gold, slaves obey your masters, and so on.  Rachel Held Evans notes that “this is not mere ‘picking and choosing.’ Our rationales for selectivity are often thoughtful and reasoned…We are all selective, so let’s stop accusing those who select differently than we do of usurping the authority of Scripture.” Our understanding of some of these “rules” has changed over time as biblical scholarship has improved. For example, most modern translations now present “Good not to marry” in 1 Cor 7:1 as a quote. Don Johnson* suggests that “a good way forward is to closely study the texts, see as best we can as to what they meant to the original audience and then see how it might apply to us today.” ]

8. I’ve noticed that most people who believe that verse 12 applies to women today don’t believe that about verse 15: “women are saved through childbearing”. If we’re going to take this scripture literally, shouldn’t we be consistent with the whole passage?

[See #7! Marg Mowczko has written an insightful reflection on verse 15 here.]

9. It’s interesting that Paul’s restrictions on women only show up in two of his letters.  If Paul intended to establish some kind of permanent policy, don’t you think it would show up more in his writing?

[Paul’s restrictions on women only show up in his letters to the two churches known to be dealing with issues involving women (false teaching in Ephesus and disorderly worship in Corinthians.  Bob Edwards explains more about the situation at Ephesus here. While scripture only needs to say something once for it to be a part of God’s revelation, we should be cautious in building doctrine on these “once said” things, especially when their meaning is highly contested.*]

10. What do you see in this passage that suggests that Paul meant this to be a permanent restriction on all women for all time?

[As explained in this post, our knowledge about early church governance is inferred from bits and pieces of information in Acts and the Epistles. And we know that women exercised leadership in the early church, including the roles of apostle, prophet, deacon, evangelist, and teacher. So we should not assume that Paul intended for his limitation on women to be continued indefinitely into the future. (More on women deacons and elders).]

This list is not exhaustive by any means.

There are other considerations and we need the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding. But I’m hopeful that these talking points can help us better explain why 1 Timothy 2:12 should not be used to defend gender hierarchy in the church.

If we really want people to reconsider their position on this “proof text bomb” let’s figure out how to have this discussion in a more meaningful way. Are you with me?

P.S. Thanks to reader Don Johnson for his insights into points #7 and #9 now added to the original post. I also appreciated his approach to teaching this passage: “The way I teach this verse is to show the translation options for each word, and then show how one can make choices that ends up with a very restrictive understanding and make other valid translation choices that results in no restrictions today other than everyone should learn, teachers should learn before they teach, and when learning, be in good order, not disruptive. In other words, the way one understands this verse says more about the interpreter than might be imagined, in that way it acts like a mirror.”

YOUR TURN: What are some talking points or strategies that have been helpful to you when difficult passages like this come up in conversation?


Gail Wallace

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  • Of course there is yet another explanation . . . mainstream biblical scholars overwhelmingly hold that Paul did not author Timothy.

  • I would suggest a much larger problem in the church today is that 99% of men will not say one word to the rest of the saints during the worship hour. That is completely outsourced to the hired professional. The much bigger problem is that laymen are not seen as competent to articulate faith and truth to the rest of the saints even after they have heard 500+ Bible lectures allegedly to “equip them to do the work of the ministry”. If the hired pastors are “called to the ministry” then all of these laymen should be doing the same “work of the ministry”. It is sad to see women want to have the “authority” to stand behind a pulpit and lecture the Word for 30 – 45 minutes just like the hired man does. I can’t find where God even asked for or any one modeled in the NT a 30-45 minute Bible lecture every week with zero interaction, zero participation, and zero reproductivity of this dynamic to anyone in the local fellowship. Does “preach the word” really mean lecture the word in this narrow dynamic? I can’t find it. Maybe you can help me. It is claimed to be “sound doctrine” but this function is nullifying many doctrines for the saints including Heb. 10:24,25; Col. 3:16 and many others for the “worship” hour. I love to hear women share but I also would love to hear men who work in the marketplace “speak the truth in love, so we grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” If one hired man dominates, all of this function is nullified. What a tragedy!!! Let’s fix this saints for both the women and the marketplace working men.

  • Thank you for this entry!! I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it makes for great discussion in the form you have laid out.

    On Point 4, as noted in your link on the same point, “authentein” is only used once in the Scriptures, and most often refers to “murder, murderer, to commit violence against” in extra-biblical literature of the same period. This is a far cry, from today’s assumed connotations of “to have authority over.”

    On Point 5, I felt that Dr. Aida Spencer, in “Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry,” made a great point that we don’t even have the same modern concept of silence. To the ancients, it was considered a great virtue and sign of a wise person to sit silently at the feet of another, or simply to live silent, peaceable lives. Today, in America, silence is anything but a virtue for most.

    In addition, there were three groups of people that were being silenced in Ephesus: those speaking in tongues without a translator, those prophesying when another prophet received a word to speak, and women who were being abusive. The church at Ephesus was a mess, and Paul had a number of issues he needed to come hard down on.

    Finally, this was a culture that forbid (Talmud and Mishnah amongst other sources) the education of women. Therefore, these women were most likely uneducated and leading the church astray with in vogue false teachings. However, Jesus encouraged Mary (Luke 10) to sit at his feet, as a student to a rabbi (as Paul sat at Gamaliel’s feet), and claimed that she had “chosen the better thing.” The precedent he was setting was to educate women, and the assumption is then that the student becomes the teacher.

    NO ONE should be teaching without first learning themselves, NO ONE should be using position and power to abuse/cause violence to others, and ALL are asked to use their God-given (without regard to gender) spiritual gifts within the Body for the edification of all.

    May God help us be a better reflection of him in these things!!

  • Gail, thank you for your excellent talking points aided by thorough scholarship. We will need a face to face space to address this important work. How about a seminar on this particular verses in Socrataic method?

  • When I taught on 1 Tim 2 last year I asked the question – what does it mean ‘for women to keep silent in the church’. Should we not join praise and worship? Should women be forbidden to sing in the choir? Should women not pray aloud? Silence is a very unambiguous word. To keep silent leaves no room for any form of speech. Perhaps this question could also help to clarify inconsistent beliefs.

    • Xana, thanks for taking the time to let us know! So glad the posts are helpful.

  • Another point on these verses: Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4:17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus (where Paul spent 3 years), and even more surprising that Timothy was allowing women to teach and the practice needed to stop.

    • Excellent point. Such a great reminder of the context for the letter and of how much was already understood between them.

  • Been reading historians who wrote during the New Testament era (1st Century B.C. – 1st Century A.D.). They actually had a lot to say about the culture of Ephesus, and the tradition of female leadership there:

    A 1st century B.C. historian by the name of Diodorus Siculus provides us with the following information:

    “Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war.” (as cited in Murphy, 1989, p. 58)

    Another historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, supplies us with additional information about this “nation ruled by females”:

    “They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life….

    After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.” (as cited in Yardley, 1994, p. 29)

    Decided to write an article on these observations here: http://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/ending-the-gender-wars-through-unity-in-christ-a-review-of-history-and-the-new-testament-regarding-the-ongoing-struggle-for-power-between-men-and-women/

    So many who have researched this issue discover information about a matriarchal culture that wielded power over men in an abusive manner. Ironically, the women felt that they were entitled to be leaders simply because they were women; much like complementarians today feel they are entitled to be leaders simply because they are men.

    I shared this with a complementarian pastor recently, and he said he found the information persuasive. It was a very encouraging exchange.

    • Thanks, Charity. As an adult educator by profession I have a lot of experience in using the Socratic method for learning 🙂

  • V. interesting discussion. It is so hard sometimes to discuss this verse. For what it’s worth, when confronted with people who really are just quoting 1 Tim 2: 12 as a ‘proof text’ I find it helpful to point out that they would never start reading a Shakespeare play in Act Two – so have they read Act One?

    I then read them 1 Tim 1 v. 3 : ‘As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…’ (NIV)
    This introduces them to the notion of context if they’ve never understood it before and helps them to see what is really going on in the text. I then point out that we know there was a female heretical teacher at Thyatira – just 30 miles away from Ephesus.

    Of course, I’ve just been reminded that the NIV has ‘certain men’ – my French version has the equivalent of ‘some people’ or ‘ a few people’ – which is exactly what the Greek has. (same in v.6).

    • Vicky, thanks for sharing how the French translation treats this passage. It is encouraging to know they acknowledge the negative nature of the kind of authority Paul was referring to here. There wasn’t enough space in that post to address it, but chapter 1 is definitely where we should start in understanding chapter 2. Paul mentions endless geneaologies that were being taught – these included teachings that Eve was created before Adam and was superior to him. I think this is why Paul mentions the creation narratives. Thanks for checking in from across the pond!

  • On his blog, Biblical Foundations, in this post, 1 Timothy 2:12—Once More, 06-16-06, Kostenberger writes,

    “the likelihood was suggested that “exercise authority” (Grk. authentein) carries a neutral or positive connotation, but owing to the scarcity of the term in ancient literature (the only NT occurrence is 1 Tim. 2:12; found only twice preceding the NT in extrabiblical literature) no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of lexical study alone.”

    However, the ESV Study Bible says re authenteo,

    “Over 80 examples of this word exist outside the NT, however, clearly establishing that the meaning is “exercise authority” (not “usurp authority” or “abuse authority,” etc., as sometimes has been argued).

    Since the role of pastor/elder/overseer is rooted in the task of teaching and exercising authority over the church, this verse would also exclude women from serving in this office.”

    Kostenberger did not think that examples “clearly established” the meaning of authenteo, but the ESV SB does not cite any research. Authenteo never referred to church leadership at this time.

    • PS authenteo is the usual way that authentein appears in the lexicon. It is, of course, the same verb. My concern is that the ESVSB may have helped to spread an unsupported understanding of authenteo.

    • Thank you for these added insights, Suzanne. I am a huge fan of yours having appreciated your scholarship for some time now, especially your important work on Junia. Honored to have you visit the blog!

      My understanding is that the more neutral/positive uses of authenteo don’t show up in the literature until well after the time in which 1 Timothy would have been written. I was just thinking of possible discussion questions for this post, but I read Wilshire’s “Insight into Two Biblical Passages” since writing my previous post on “authentein” and need to update it.

      • In all French versions the sense ‘usurp authority’ appears – it is understood that something negative is in view.

  • This is really accessible and succint Gail, thanks for that! Just on the side I think you meant Craig Keener?

    • Yes, Craig Keener! Thank goodness for thoughtful readers 🙂

    • Thank you! Appreciate your encouragement and support 🙂

  • Tom Wright translates as follows : Instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11 They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12 I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed. 13 Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15 She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.

    Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: the Pastoral Letters: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (pp. 21–22). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

    Whilst there is some dispute on the exact meaning of this verse, the overall narrative of the New testament is abundantly clear; women are joint heirs. I think the issues of ‘women in church’ come from a stubbornly patriarchal society and assumptions about church that were not in Paul’s thinking.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for sharing NT Wright’s version – I had not seen that before. I appreciate that he notes that the submission here is submission to God – an important point! Appreciate the encouragement 🙂

  • Gail: good talking points. Thanks for this. Women have been hindered from personal spiritual growth because of “doctrine” in the Church. Church leadership has made assumptions about the “role” of women not taught in the Bible. An example: nowhere in Scripture does God instruct a husband to tell his wife what to do or instruct him to speak for her. God speaks directly to every person. Women as men are responsible to hear from God. “When He the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth . . . ” John 16:13.

    As women, we will grow in the wisdom to speak up, speak out “speaking the truth in love” as we study Scripture for ourselves. If the Church does continue to discourage women from personal initiative and growth, husbands will continue to suffer too. The result, as in the past, will be frustrated women who are not “heard” and husbands who are not “able” to hear.

    How much of this is the Church responsible for!

    • Yes, Elisabeth! I agree with you that this idea of a husband being spiritually responsible for his wife is off the mark. And I think it was F.F. Bruce who said “I think Paul would be rolling over in his grave if he knew we were making his words Torah” or something like that.

  • Thank you! I am printing this out and putting it in my bible! I was just engaged in a “conversation” about this verse a few days ago with some other women who were genuinely surprised that not everyone agrees on what this means. I couldn’t think of all of these points, but I will be ready next time!

    • Hi, Liz! What I’m finding helpful is to bring up just a few of these points in conversation, in hopes that there will be a chance of causing someone to think about it in a way they may not have considered before, or at least to plant the seed that not everyone sees this one way. Will be praying for fruitful conversations in your future!

      • Hi Gail! I just started going to a Bible study at our new church and this just came up last week. The women were all surprised that there could possibly be another interpretation for this verse. They were all very open and some good conversation got going after the initial shock of what I was saying. Thanks to this list, I’ll have a couple more points to bring up next time the topic comes up, which I’m sure it will! (And this is in a church that believes in ordaining women!)

  • Further on point 1, it is a mistake to simply quote 1 Tim 2:12 as some kind of standalone truth statement. This is a huge example of taking text out of context, in this case, immediate context and book context as you point out. There is an inclusio (repeated text in the Greek, which may not be revealed in a translation, depending) around the text in 1 Tim 11-12, so these ideas are intended to be read together. The teaching unit is at least 1 Tim 2:8-15 (I think it actually goes until 1 Tim 3:13) and it is exegetically suspect to extract text from its teaching unit and furthermore, one prefers to not have lingering exegetical questions about text in a teaching unit, but this one has many and all should be answered before one expresses what one thinks the teaching unit as a whole teaches.

    Further on point 2 and others, I think the Pauline letters (including Hebrews) should be read last, except perhaps Rev. On the order of reading the letters, I suggest chronological and also on the amount of shared context between author and reader, as communication always assumes a shared context. For both reasons, 1 Tim comes near the end of study of the Pauline books, as we are not Timothy, who was a spiritual son of Paul, and from all we can tell, it was one of Paul’s later letters, assuming Paul’s wrote it. Scripture is a progressive revelation, so one needs to have a thorough grounding in everything that comes before Paul to read Paul and everything except what are called the Pastoral Letters to read them in Scripture context, as I see it.

    My dinks on what you wrote:
    1) On point 9, Scripture only needs to say something once for it to be a part of God’s revelation to us. It is also true that for these once said things, we do not want them to be murky if we hope to exegete and apply them today, but I find this whole teaching unit murky. It is simply false that everything in Scripture is clear and sometimes the right answer is to agree that this section is murky. Assuming it is murky, it is not something from which to try to derive teaching for all believers.

    2) My major concern is with your point 7. “Good not to marry” in 1 Cor 7:1 is now seen as a quote from Corinth by all modern translations, something that Paul repudiates at least partially in what follows. “men should not have long hair” is not what it says in the Greek, that is an interpretation and a common one, but it also makes no sense given that Paul was a Jew and knew about Nazirites who grew their hair for the length of their vow, there is simply no way Paul would have given a general disapproval of long hair on anyone. Similar comments on “women should” that is not what the Greek says, rather it says they can decide. And similar for the other statements, altho I agree that what you wrote is what some translations say or imply.

    What I see is a good way forward is to closely study the texts, see as best we can as to what they meant to the original audience and then see how it might apply to us today; not just toss us our hands and say it is all a mess. God gave us all of Scripture as a gift. We should not pick and choose among the rules, as you say, so that point is a good one, but I got the idea (maybe I am wrong) that you want to toss out things that can apply to us today. Hence my concern.

    • Oh my goodness, Don! I so appreciate your feedback. I would love to revise the post using your input. I can see a couple additional points to add to the list already.

      I agree with your concerns about point #7 and am kicking myself because I used those without thoroughly researching them. I went with the literal meaning, since that is how verse 12 is usually used. How would you strengthen that point? Are there other examples that would be better to use? I will work on rewording that point to be more accurate.

      And the last thing I am saying is that we should toss out things that can apply to us today. What I was trying to say was that it isn’t fair to keep this one “rule” as permanent since it appears to be just as contextual as the other guidelines Paul gives the church. How could this be better stated?

      Thanks for your help!

      • I think you yourself just worded it better!

        Another way to put it is one should try to use a consistent hermeneutic in applying Scripture. It is problematic to be selective, that is like being in a cafeteria where your selections end up determining what is on your tray. How would another have any confidence that your selection and non-selection is correct?

        The way I teach this verse is to show the translation options for each word, and then show how one can make choices that ends up with a very restrictive understanding and make other valid translation choices that results in no restrictions today other than everyone should learn, teachers should learn before they teach, and when learning, be in good order, not disruptive. In other words, the way one understands this verse says more about the interpreter than might be imagined, in that way it acts like a mirror.
        Perhaps in the future better understanding and arguments can be made.

        • Thanks, Don – that is really helpful. I really like your summary of the passage (everyone should learn, etc.) and would love to add that to the post with your permission. I am still reflecting on your mirror analogy and the idea that the way one understands the verse says something about the interpreter. Would love to hear more on that sometime!

          • I got the idea from Paul.

            1Co 13:12 Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

  • This is extremely helpful! I am currently in a conversation with the leadership at our church about this verse and it’s application and this list seems like a constructive way to approach the subject. Thank you!

    • Glad to know it is helpful! I would suggest looking at Don Johnson’s comments as well – he brings up some points that I will probably use to revise and strengthen the post! Just prayed for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide the conversations you are having about this.

  • Such a substantial post – it’s difficult to see how anyone could counter these points. Unfortunately we know that such scholarly work is sometimes avoided altogether.

    • Yes, unfortunately you are right about the fact that the scholarly work that has been done is not filtering down into our practical theology and ministry. I’m hopeful that if enough of us present a different interpretation eventually the traditional view will be challenged.

  • I’ve seen these points before, Gail but laying it out in a list like this is particularly helpful. Nicely done.

    • Thanks, Tim. I know you are one who has thought about this carefully. If you have any points to add or ideas for how to better frame the questions please chime in!

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