It baffles me that the #1 search term used to find The Junia Project blog is some version of “1 Timothy 2:8-15”.
Every. Single. Day.
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 NIV
Hundreds of pages have been written on this chapter, with almost as many interpretations, proving this to be one of the least understood and most contested passages of all time. In spite of the lack of consensus and obvious translation difficulties, many Christians continue to cite portions of 1 Timothy 2 as the foundation for their belief in male-only leadership in the church.
We’ve already posted several articles on 1 Timothy 2 (Lost in Translation, Defusing the 1 Timothy 2 Bomb, More on Authentein, 1 Timothy 2: Paul’s Original Language, Timothy’s Cultural Context, 1 Timothy 2: Ten Talking Points), and there are many excellent books and articles that address the passage thoroughly . I strongly believe that the scholarship leans overwhelmingly on the side of the egalitarian view.
But this old and tired argument stubbornly persists, and readers continue to ask for help responding to it. While you don’t want to pull out a blog post or a book in the middle of a conversation, it is possible to craft a short response to serve as an effective starting point.
Here’s what that process looked like for me. I started by listing my key objections and the reasons behind them in my own words.
1. “Authority” is a poor translation of the Greek word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:12
The Greek word Paul used for “authority” in this passage (authentein) is so unusual compared to his other references to authority that he could not possibly have been talking about normative church leadership structures. It is disappointing that even though the most recent credible scholarship confirms that in Paul’s time authentein referred to an abuse of authority, some prominent complementarian scholars (Wayne Grudem, for example) refuse to correct publications that were written before this came to light. (see the Bible.Translation.Literature website for more on authentein.)
2. Applying 1 Timothy 2:12 literally but not doing the same for the surrounding verses is shoddy hermeneutics.
With rare exceptions, no one teaches that women should be silent or quiet in church. I say rare, because last year at a national conference for Christian counselors my daughter talked with a woman who said in her church women sit in the back and must raise their hand to get permission from a man to speak! And with rare exceptions, no one holds that women are saved in childbearing. Again I say rare – Marg Mowczko notes that Jim Hamilton, an associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a preaching pastor at a Baptist Church in the U.S. has stated that “All Women must embrace their role as women by bearing children and, if they do this in faith, they will then be saved.” (Read Marg’s post on Hamilton’s position here.) What does it say about the integrity of your biblical interpretation if you single this one verse out and disregard those around it?
3. Paul’s restriction was given in the context of a personal letter to Timothy giving advice about a specific issue in the church at Ephesus.
There is no command from God here, and no suggestion that Paul was establishing church policy for all time. There is no mention of this in the rest of Paul’s writings, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter. You don’t have to dig very far to understand why this suggestion was made; it’s evident in Paul’s discussion of false teaching in chapter one. (Bob Edwards has written more about the issue of false teaching in Ephesus here.)
4. Using this passage to restrict women in leadership requires elevating a handful of verses over the rest of Paul’s writing, not to mention the entire New Testament.
When you read all of Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts in one sitting, it is apparent that Paul supported the leadership of women. We see this in a number of churches, including Philippi, Thessalonica, Cenchrae, and Rome. It is baffling to me that some church leaders and theologians give such weight to the 1 Timothy 2 passage when many other portions of scripture support equality. Paul’s practice aside, such a restriction contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Kingdom of God values he ushered in. What part of Jesus’ statement “it shall not be so among you” do we not understand?
5. Churches find it impossible to put 1 Timothy 2:12 into practice in a consistent or logical way.
There is wide discrepancy in how 1 Timothy 2:12 is applied. I’ve observed that in some churches women can do everything but hold the position of senior pastor. In other churches women can’t even teach a mixed gender high school Sunday school class. Wayne Grudem’s infamous article But What Should Women Do in the Church? categorizes 83 things women can and cannot do in the church, demonstrating how ridiculous applications of this passage can become.
Questions abound. How do we define when a boy becomes a man? What do we mean by teaching? What constitutes authority? For more on the absurdity of trying to implement such restrictions see Laura Ziesel’s post “The Deceived Shall Teach Our Children”.
After reflecting on these points I came up with this “elevator speech”:
“I’m glad you brought that passage up. I’ve studied 1 Timothy 2 and I don’t think it can be used to shut women out of leadership. Here are some of the reasons:
I’ve learned that “authority” is a poor translation for the Greek word “authentein” Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:12. It actually referred to an unusual use of power and would be better translated as the “misuse of authority”. Did you know that this is the only time this word is ever found in the Bible? It must have been an unusual problem Timothy was dealing with, most likely related to the false teaching he mentions in chapter one. (based on #1)
Also, applying 1 Timothy 2:12 literally but not doing the same with what comes before (the verse about women being quiet) and after (the verse that says women are saved through childbearing) goes against best practices of biblical interpretation. We have to be consistent with how we interpret a passage. (based on #2)
I think it’s significant that this is a personal letter written to Timothy and not to the church-at-large. Paul is addressing a specific issue Timothy had written to him about. This restriction is not found in any of Paul’s other letters or anywhere else in the bible. So it doesn’t make sense to use this passage to limit half the church from full participation. (based on #3)
Another thing I’ve noticed is that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 contradicts much of the rest of the bible, including Paul’s own writings (those on spiritual gifts and the use of prophecy in worship, for example). They also contradict the record of Paul’s personal practice of partnering with women recorded in the Book of Acts and documented in Romans 16. (based on #4)
On top of all of that, I’ve found that there is no consensus on how or when to implement restrictions on women’s leadership. It seems to be impossible for people to agree on what this actually means for the church. Churches vary widely on what women can and can’t do. (based on #5)
So all things considered, I don’t think 1 Timothy 2:12 supports restricting women’s roles in the church.”
This is not a perfect response, but serves as a step forward in the development of a defensible apologetic for my beliefs. I encourage you to come up with your own reasoned response to passages like this one.
This isn’t rocket science and it’s time to set this one aside – or at least admit that 1 Timothy 2:12 should not be used in the debate.
Women around the world are increasingly done with having their role be a topic of debate. Today they make up a greater percentage of both the nones (people who don’t claim any religious affiliation) and the dones (those who leaving the organized church). At the same time, God is raising women up all over the world today in all kinds of arenas, including the church. In the midst of these conflicting realities, we have the opportunity to be prepared to give a defense for our beliefs.
Will you accept the challenge?
More Resources on 1 Timothy 2:
Belleville, L. 2005. “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, ed. by Pierce, Groothuis, & Fee. In this classic text, twenty-six evangelical scholars firmly committed to the authority of Scripture to explore the whole range of issues–historical, biblical, theological, hermeneutical and practical – related to women and equality, offering a sound, reasoned case that affirms the complementarity of the sexes without requiring a hierarchy of roles.
Christians for Biblical Equality. Various authors have contributed over 100 articles. Start with these search findings. (Some articles require membership for access, but many are free.)
Mowczko, M. 2009. Blog Series: “1 Timothy 2:12 in Context”. Marg has a number of articles on this passage. Just search 1 Timothy on her website.
Wilshire, L. 2012. Insight into Two Biblical Passages: Anatomy of a Prohibition I Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church. The author provides insight that the TLG computer, with its data selections from 200 BC/BCE to 200 AD/CE, supports the interpretation of one of the key words ‘authentein’ as ‘committing violent action,’ not ‘having authority.’ It then explores the effect of this interpretation on exegesis, gender pronouncements, hermeneutics, tradition, theology, and relevance. As a supplement, it offers a history of traditional translations, mistranslations, and interpretations. This is the most current analysis on this passage, and directly refutes complementarian interpretations.
Image Credit: Morguefile