This article explains one reason why 1 Timothy 2:12— “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”—does not exclude women from reading scripture, leading singing, leading prayer, preaching, serving at the communion table, or otherwise participating fully and actively serving in a worship assembly that includes men.

It concludes a series regarding the Churches of Christ’s general exclusion of women from serving in worship assemblies, viewed through the eyes of a young woman considering colleges.  The end of this article offers some questions for your consideration.

Mary

Mary, 17 and a high-school senior, has attended a Church of Christ since birth that excludes women from actively serving in the worship assembly when men are present.  She recently learned that most of the Church of Christ colleges to which she has been admitted have mixed worship assemblies in which women actively serve (preach, read scripture, etc.).

Mary, her friend Julie, and Julie’s mom Kim are touring a Church-of-Christ college.  Before the trip, Mary figured out that the two scripture passages relied on to exclude women—1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12—do not mean what the “plain meaning” of most English translations indicates, as discussed in the second article in this series.

She realized if a woman sings in the assembly, then that woman does not abide by the plain meaning of those verses—“women should remain silent in the churches …” (1 Cor 14:34), for example.  She realized that if a woman goes forward during the invitation to ask to be baptized or to ask for prayer, that woman does not follow the plain meaning of those verses—“if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home …” (14:35), as another.  Even very conservative scholars do not give these verses their “plain meaning.”  

But what do the verses mean?  During an extended lunch-time discussion while visiting the college, described in the previous article, Mary learned the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

In this article—which begins where the previous one ended—Mary discovers what 1 Timothy 2:12 means while sitting in on a college class.

College Class

Around 20 students were already seated in the classroom.  Two introduced themselves as Michael and Jim, both sophomores.

When Dr. Kathy Claridson Porton entered the room, Kim nudged Julie and said, “I heard Dr. Porton speak when I was here for a class reunion.  She is great.”

Dr. Porton

“Good afternoon.  Welcome visitors.  This is Introduction to New Testament Letters, in which we study the basics about the part of the New Testament made up of letters—all of it, essentially, except for the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.”

“Last class, we began considering what the letters tell us about women’s roles in the church.  Today, we are discussing 1 Timothy 2:12.”

“I usually assign two or three articles on the day’s subject for the students to read in advance of class so that we can have a good discussion.”

Introduction

“1 Timothy is a letter attributed to Paul.  Many believe it was written by a follower of his, but let’s assume for today’s discussion that Paul wrote it.”

“The letter was written to Timothy, Paul’s close companion, so they know each other well.  We discussed last time how one might communicate differently with a close friend than one would with an unfamiliar person.”

“On the projection screen is 1 Timothy 2:12 in its original Greek:

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ

“Translations translate it into English in various ways, including these on the next slide:

1 Tim 2:12 English Translation Version
and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness, YLT
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. KJV
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. NKJV
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. NIV
Moreover, in the area of teaching, I am not allowing a woman to instigate conflict toward a man. Instead, she is to remain calm. ISV
I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do. MSG

Dr. Porton:  “What differences do you see?”

Michael:  “The NKJV says women can’t have any authority at all over a man with its ‘have authority’—but all the others say women can’t have a particular kind of authority—like authority ‘usurped,’ ‘assumed,’ or ‘instigating conflict.’”

Jim:  “The ISV and MSG say Paul prohibited a particular kind of teaching—one involving a woman instigating conflict over a man or taking over and telling a man what to do.  The others don’t explicitly specify the kind of teaching prohibited.”

Dr. Porton:  “Yes—we’ll discuss more differences next time, but let’s focus on those two now.”

1 Timothy 2:12’s Does Not Have Its “Plain Meaning”

Dr. Porton:  “The most important thing to know about 1 Timothy 2:12 is that the ‘plain meaning’ of most English translations does not convey what the verse means.

“Probably the most common mistake with 2:12 is quoting it and asserting it ‘plainly’ or ‘clearly’ means or tells us something.  Who can name some reasons why 2:12 does not ‘mean what it says’?”

Mary (raising her hand):  “I can!”

Julie and Kim look at each other….

Mary:  “Lots of commands in scripture conflict with the interpretation that 1 Tim 2:12 commands women not to teach.  Other scripture tells women over and over again to teach, including to teach men.  For example,

  • Women are told to teach both men and women with psalms, hymns, and songs in the assembly (Col 3:16) (all NIV) (‘as you teach … one another … through psalms, hymns, and songs’)
  • Priscilla taught Apollos, with Aquila (Acts 18:24-26)
  • Paul said that when ‘the whole church’—women and men—‘comes together,’ it is best if ‘everyone’—women and men—‘is prophesying,’ as it will lead unbelievers to God (1 Cor 14:23-25)
  • Paul said that when ‘brothers and sisters … come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. …’ (1 Cor 14:26)
  • Paul said ‘you can all’—women and men in the assembly—‘prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.’  (1 Cor 14:31; 14:26)
  • Anna taught men and women in the Temple (Luke 2:36-38)
  • Older women are directed to teach what is good to both men and women (Titus 2:3), especially to younger women (2:4-5)
  • Jesus told women to ‘go and tell’ the men, likely assembled (John 20:17; Matt 28:8-10)”

Dr. Porton:  “What about scripture that conflicts with prohibiting women from any authority over men?”

Mary:  “There are lots that tell women it is perfectly acceptable for women to have authority over men, too, like:

  • If you think of speaking before an assembly that includes men as ‘having authority,’ then the scripture I just quoted (above) regarding teaching indicates it is perfectly acceptable for women to have authority over men
  • Deborah was the ruler of Israel and a prophet (Judges 4-5), having authority over many men
  • Prophets speak for God, thereby of course having authority over men, and there were lots of female prophets, including Anna, who prophesied in the Temple to men (Luke 2:36-38), Deborah, Philips’ daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and many others (Acts 2:17-18)
  • Paul said he wants ‘every one of you’—women and men—‘to speak in tongues,’ and preferably to prophesy, in the assembly (1 Cor 14:5)
  • King’s men came to Huldah for prophecy and instruction about scripture (2 Kings 22:11-20)
  • Women told to speak, pray, instruct, and prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 14:1-40, 26; 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
  • A husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him (1 Cor 7:4)
  • Husbands and wives are told to ‘submit to one another’ (Eph 5:21)
  • Phoebe was given authority over men (Paul tells them to help her in ‘whatsoever business she hath need of you’ (Rom 16:2) (KJV))
  • Jesus told women to ‘go and tell’ the men, likely assembled, what to do next (John 20:17; Matt 28:8-10)”

Holly (a class member):  “The practices of most Churches of Christ tell us that they do not believe 1 Tim 2:12 has its ‘plain meaning’ even though they sometimes say it does.  Women in the Churches of Christ do things like …

  • Teach public and private high school and middle school (including young men)
  • Teach men via singing in the assembly (Col. 3:16 (‘teach and admonish one another … through psalms, hymns, and songs …’)).
  • Teach men about mission work after returning from mission trips
  • Teach men with comments in Sunday School class
  • Teach men via hymns they wrote that we sing in the assembly
  • Supervise men at work
  • Are in charge of VBS, the can-food drive, and kids’ programs at church, and men often work for them in those.”

What Does 1 Tim 2:12 Mean?

Dr. Porton:  “We’ve established what it doesn’t mean—doesn’t mean its plain meaning—but what does it mean?  How do we figure that out?

Jim:  “Context tells us.  Historical context, textual context.”

Dr. Porton:  “What is the historical context of 1 Tim 2:12?”

Jim:  “In 1 Timothy, Paul gives Timothy directions for Ephesus, a city in which women felt superior to men.  Legend was that it was founded by a tribe of female warriors.  At the time, first century, women in Ephesus worshipped the goddess Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo.  She was born first and helped deliver him.  Artemis was the goddess of childbirth, fertility, chastity, and other things.

Dr. Porton:  “Good summary.  What is the textual context?  Does it tell us what kind of teaching Paul was referring to when he said ‘I do not permit a woman to teach?’”

Holly:  “Yes, it strongly suggests the kind of teaching to which Paul was referring was uninformed, false teaching of the type that seeks to domineer men and disturb the peace. Two main reasons in the textual context:

First, Paul establishes at the very beginning of the letter the kind of teaching he is talking about.  He tells Timothy to stay in Ephesus to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer …”  (1:3) because it disturbs the peace (1:4; see also 5:13; 4:1-4:13).  Paul goes on to say that those folks “do not know what they are talking about ….”  (1:8-11).”

“So, #1, the kind of teaching Paul was referencing just a few verses later in 2:12 is uninformed, false teaching that disturbs the peace.”

“Second, the Greek language in 2:12 shows the kind of teaching addressed there is specified by the second part of 2:12, the assuming / exercising / usurping “authority” part.  Most scholars say something along the lines of “grammatical construction of Paul’s prohibition clearly indicates that the term ‘teach’ … in this setting is the type associated with exercising ‘authority’” (what the second part of 2:12 says in one translation), which is what conservative Church of Christ scholar Wayne Jackson says.”

“So, #2, the kind of teaching Paul prohibits is also only the kind of teaching that involves exercising the kind of “authority” expressed by the second part of 2:12.”

Dr. Porton:  “Very good.  What throws people off sometimes is that the plain language of 2:12 does not say the kind of teaching referred to is ‘uninformed, false teaching’; also there is an ‘or’ between ‘teach’ and ‘authority’ in most English translations, so plain language in English does not suggest that ‘to teach’ is modified by what comes after the ‘or.’  But, as we saw, 2:12 does not have its plain meaning.”

The Kind of Authority Expressed is a Domineering One

Dr. Porton:  “Holly, you mentioned 2:12 prohibits only domineering conduct. Why is that?”

Holly:  “The Greek word in 2:12 translated ‘usurp authority over’ or ‘assume authority over’ is αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) and this is its only appearance in the whole New Testament.  It refers to bad, disturbing, domineering conduct—domineering conduct disturbing the peace.”

Dr. Porton:  “Right.  There was a common Greek word meaning the basic kind of authority, but Paul chose a special word.  Authentein appears only twice in the Greek Old Testament, to refer to ‘murder’ and ‘origin.’  There were few uses of authentein around the time of Paul outside the Bible, too, and those all meant things like murder; having one’s way; being originator; and (mainly) being dominating.

“This is why second- through fifth-century translations of the Bible translated 2:12 to state:

  • ‘I permit not a woman … to dominate a man.’
  • ‘I permit not a woman … to domineer over a man.'”

“Modern translations in English try to capture such a meaning for authentein by translating it to include:

  • ‘assume authority’ (NIV)
  • ‘usurp authority’ (KJV)
  • ‘instigate conflict’ (ISV)
  • ‘have dominion’ (ASV)
  • ‘tell men what to do’ (CEV)
  • ‘domineer’ (NEB)
  • ‘have dominion’ (ERV)
  • ‘rule’ (YLT)
  • ‘dictate to’ (REB).”

“Thus, the use of the specific word authentein does not refer to just any exercise of authority but to a specific kind of authorityan “assumed” or “usurped” one, as in taken without any right, that involves a relatively severe situation of domineering, dictating, or doing something similar over men and that disturbs the peace.”

What 2:12 Means

Dr. Porton:  “2:12, then, highly likely means ‘I do not permit a woman to teach uninformed, false doctrine that disturbs the peace and involves an exercise of seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.’

Holly:  “An alternative:  even if the second half of 2:12 doesn’t modify “to teach,” the verse doesn’t exclude women from fully serving in the assembly.  It would still mean something like ‘I do not permit a woman to teach uninformed, false doctrine that disturbs the peace or to exercise seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.’”

Jim:  “A third one to note:  even if ‘to teach’ is not defined by Paul like Holly said relative to #1, using what Paul said at the beginning of 1 Timothy, if it is limited by authentein, 2:12 would mean something like ‘I do not permit a woman to teach in a way that exercises seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.’”

Dr. Porton:  “Correct.  Under any of these three interpretations, Paul is not telling women not to teach or speak at all, in the assembly or otherwise.  It’s about not disturbing the peace and not being domineering.  This was probably necessary to tell the women in  Ephesus, since some of them were used to feeling superior to men.”

Holly:  “And none of these three interpretations contradicts other scripture like the “plain and ordinary” meaning does.”

Julie:  “I see it!”

Mary:  “Me, too!  The first one seems right.”

Challenges for the CoC

Mary:  “This seems straightforward.  Why aren’t more people aware?”

Dr. Porton:  “Some use ‘formal equivalence’ Bibles (sometimes called “literal”), like the NKJV and ESV, which are Bibles that try to get close to the ‘form’ of the original  Greek when translating, and they think those Bibles express “plain meaning.”  Many of those translate authentein as simply “have authority,” “exercise authority,” or some other simple-sounding phrase.  The NLT does this, too.

“Almost all the functional-equivalence ones, the ones that are more concerned with expressing the verses’s meaning in understandable English than expressing form, and even many of the formal-equivalence ones, translate authentein as a particular type of authority (like usurped, assuming, etc.), though.”

“When using a formal-equivalence translation (which tries to get as close as it can to the form of the original language (here, Greek)) rather than a functional-equivalence translation (which tries to get as close to the meaning in the ‘normal way of saying the same thing in English’ today) one often has to do more work to figure out what the text means.

“Relying on the form-equivalence word or phrase as expressing accurate meaning, as opposed to accurate form, can be quite misleading.”

Women Speaking is in the Assembly is Neither Usurping Nor Authority Anyway

Dr. Porton:  “Also, some think women speaking at all in the assembly ‘usurps authority.’  But people who have that thought are presuming only men have authority to speak.  We know, though, that is a false presumption, as women have authority to speak in the assembly from 1 Cor 14:6, 20, 23-25 (“everyone is prophesying”); 1 Cor 14:26 (“brothers and sisters … come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation …”); 1 Cor 14:31 (“you can all prophesy in turn”); Eph 5:18-20 (“speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs”); Matt 28:19; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Luke 2:33-38; 1 Cor 14:5, 14-17, 23, 26; 1 Cor 11:4-5, 13-18; John 20:17-18; Matt 28:8-10; Gal 3:28, and other scripture, some of which we discussed today.”

Holly:  “Plus, speaking in the assembly is not even having authority.  It is serving other people, not having authority over them.”

Bible Study

Dr. Porton:  “Most people haven’t bothered to study this issue in any depth themselves.  Many haven’t done so in years or ever.  The vast majority rely on the past practices of their congregation—excluding women every Sunday—as being right.  And if they have studied it, they probably read only material that gives one side and basically indoctrinates.”

Mary:  “How can they justify the easy route and not spending the effort on this, leaving lots of women excluded, when we are supposed to love others like Christ did?  The tradition blocks so many women from fully serving God and neighbor—it blocks them from fully carrying out what the Greatest Commandment and other scripture asks them to do.”

Dr. Porton:  “Lots of Churches of Christ have studied this and concluded it is wrong to exclude women from actively serving in the assembly. And women actively serve in mixed chapel in most Church of Christ Colleges.  So this is something that is changing.”

End of Class

Dr.  Porton:  “Where does the time go?  It’s time for class to end.  Take a look at other differences in those translations for next time, like that 1 Tim 2:12 might instruct only wives not to teach their husbands, rather than instructing all women not to teach any man; and the comma placement and syntax—does the text mean women are not to teach anyone at all or just not to teach men?”

“Consider whether 2:12 is a command from God or just a suggestion from Paul, since it says “I do not permit …” rather than “God does not permit …” or “Do not ….”  Do 1 Tim 2:11 or 2:13-15 (Adam was first, “saved through childbearing,” etc.) impact your view?  How does the fact that most scholars believe 1 Timothy was not written by Paul impact your thoughts?  And is 2:12 a command for us today or is it just for Ephesus at that time?  Also, does it apply only to the worship assembly or to society and the workplace?”

“See you next time.  Visitors, if you would like to ask anything, come on up.  We can briefly discuss a few of those questions if you like.  If not, thanks for being here.”

***** 

 

SERIES CONCLUSION

I conclude the series with some of the questions I asked at the end of the first article, plus a few more, including two at the end that are rather important.

Where do you think Mary would rather go, a college that excludes her from actively serving in chapel or a place that gives her opportunities to do so?  Where would be best for Mary’s spiritual health?

What does a college’s exclusion or inclusion of women relative to chapel suggest about how that college might treat Mary in other respects?

What message does the college that fully includes Mary give to the male students about Mary?

What message does the college that excludes her from serving in chapel give to its male students?  Might the male students consider it “shameful” and “disgraceful” for women to speak in mixed Christian company?  Might they consider themselves to have “authority” over women in church simply because of their sex?  Might they consider women inferior in some respects?

Does a college saying that women are not inferior and are “equally valued” mean anything when their actions relative to chapel and otherwise are viewed?

If there were two candidates for a tenure-track for a Bible-, hermeneutics-, or similar teaching position, each with the exact same resume, one male and one female, would the college consider one of them to be less valuable to the school and rank them lower in desirability for hiring solely due to their sex?  (see the definition of inferior)

If a female student from a college that barred her from serving in mixed chapel is seeking a youth-minister or other congregational position, or she is applying to a competitive graduate school, and her resume is otherwise equal to others who apply—men from her college who served in mixed chapel and women and men from other colleges who served in mixed chapel— who is likely to be chosen?

Were they all given an equal education, equal opportunities, and an equal chance by their college?

Where should Mary’s parents want her to go?

What to Do?

The second article in this series detailed why it is wrong to assert that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or 1 Timothy 2:12 has its “plain meaning” or to simply quote either as “plain” or “clear” teaching that women are not to serve actively in the worship assembly.

The third and fourth articles explain, respectively, why 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 do not exclude women from actively serving in the worship assembly.  Both also point out that—just the opposite—ample scripture encourages (some would say commands) women to speak and teach everywhere, including in the assembly.

What would you do with this information if you were Mary?  What will you do?

 


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Sources & Notes

See generally Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan 2005), especially Linda Belleville’s primary chapter, pages 21-103.  Also see generally sources cited in this recent blog post (in main text and in sources/notes section) and in the first, second and third articles in this series.

I use “leading” and “serving” (by itself) occasionally to try to be succinct. “Serving” is a better description than leading.  By “active role” or “actively serving” or the like, I am referring to what many refer to as a “leadership” role—preaching, leading singing, leading prayer, serving at the communion table, making announcements, etc.  These are all imperfect and unsatisfactory descriptors.  In a similar ven, a better descriptor of what most mean by “plain meaning” might be “ordinary meaning” or “plain and ordinary meaning.”  “Plain meaning” is more commonly used and I use it here.

“ … original Greek”:  http://biblehub.com/text/1_timothy/2-12.htm;  “Translations translate it …”:    http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/2-12.htm; https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+2%3A12&version=MSG.

“husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him (1 Cor 7:4)”:  See Mike Armour, “The Woman’s Role in the Church,” in 50th Anniversary Yosemite Family Encampment, ed. Paul L. Methvin, Nashville:  Gospel Advocate Co. (July 1990), at 257.

“… 1 Tim 2:12 is that the ‘plain meaning’ of most English translations does not convey what the verse means” and examples of scripture and practices:  See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “(Part 2) Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: Scriptural? and a College Visit,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 16, 2018).

On Ephesus and Artemis: Linda Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, edited by Robert W. Pierce and Rebecca Merill Groothuis, Downers Grove, Illinois:  Zondervan (2005), page 219; Mark Cartwright, “Artemis,” in Ancient History Encyclopedia, May 29, 2012, last accessed May 28, 2018; Joshua J. Mark, “Ephesus,” in Ancient History Encyclopedia, September 2, 2009, last accessed May 28, 2018.

“grammatical construction of Paul’s prohibition clearly indicates that the term ‘teach’ … in this setting is the type associated with exercising ‘authority’”:  Wayne Jackson, “May A Woman EVER Teach A Man?” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: May 28, 2018.  On αὐθεντεῖν (authentein):  Belleville, supra; Gail Wallace, “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb:  More on Authority (Authentein),” The Junia Project, February 12, 2014; Two Views, pages 82-89; Jamin Hübner, “Translating αὐθεντέω (authenteō) in 1 Timothy 2:12a,” Priscilla Papers (Spring 2015); modern translations.  “… only twice in the Greek Old Testament …”:  Wis. of Sol. 12:6; 3 Macc 2:28-29; Belleville, supra.

On some differences between formal equivalence / literal translation and functional equivalence:  Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan (2007), at pages 43-47, 54-55 (“There is very little difficulty … in translating Paul’s vocative ‘brothers’ as ‘brothers and sisters,’ since in almost all cases it is clear that women are also in view—and in any case some Christian traditions (Pentecostals, for example) have been using this inclusive vocative for several generations.”).

“Understanding a Similar Example …” Section:  Fee and Strauss, supra, pages 26-27.

“Everett Ferguson says it is ‘not so obvious’ that 1 Tim is limited to the assembly and argues ‘everywhere’ or ‘in every place’ in 1 Tim 2:8 means ‘in a worship assembly.’  (Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church, 2nd ed., Abilene, Texas:  Desert Willow Publishing (2015), pages 46-49.)  This ignores much and his cites, 1 Cor 1:2 and 1 Thes 1:8, contradict his point (“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …”); (“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere.”).  He conflates 2:8’s “everywhere“ / “in every place” with “in the place of meeting,” which, of course, are not the same.”  For discussion of 2:11,13-15 see, e.g., Belleville, Two Views.  For additional insight on “‘saved through childbirth” and Artemis, see Moyer Hubbard, “Kept Safe Through Childbearing:  Maternal Mortality, Justification by Faith, and the Social Setting of 1 Timothy 2:15,” JETS 55/4 (2012) 743-62.

The picture is from https://pixabay.com/.

[Updated:  Added mention that discussion of 1 Tim 2:13-15 is in the text that comes up when one clicks on the link and clarified that text; shortened the end of the intro; added clarifying phrases and scripture cites; added “Understanding a Similar Example …” section in the after-class discussion after original publication]

The underlying story of Mary is, of course, fictionalized.  The scripture and her struggle are real.