New to this series? It is best to start with Part 2 and read forward.
Part 4 (Conclusion)
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, 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.
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.”
“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 by Dr. Porton
“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 passages tell 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 or teaching men as ‘having authority,’ then the scripture I just quoted (above) 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 prophesy, and women are told to speak, pray, instruct, and prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 14:1-40, 26; 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
- King’s men came to Huldah for prophecy and instruction about scripture (2 Kings 22:11-20)
- 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 (go to Galilee) (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. There was a second view of the historical context of 1 Tim 2:12 in your readings. Can anyone summarize that alternative view?”
Michael: “The alternative view is that the general historical context is instead that women in Ephesus are similar to other women throughout the region at the time, largely if not completely subjugated to men. But the specific historical context is that some women in Ephesus taught false doctrine, taught without knowing what they were talking about, devoted themselves to myths and gossip, and stirred up trouble. This can be seen in 1 Tim 1:3-7 where Paul told Timothy stay in Ephesus so “you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations …. Some … have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about ….”
Holly: “It can also be seen in 1 Tim 5:13-15 where Paul talks about younger widows: ‘they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children … and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have … already turned away to follow Satan.'”
Jim: “Yes, both of what Michael and Holly said are probably related to 1 Tim 4:1-7, too—-particularly the myths, false doctrine, follow Satan, and talk nonsense parts—where Paul says: “The Spirit clearly says … some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars …. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods .… If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister …. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales ….”
Dr. Porton: “Very good. Ultimately, either or both of those historical contexts are not critical to the interpretation, but they help us see the likely motivation of Paul in addressing women in particular in 1 Tim 2:12.”
“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 highly likely uninformed, false teaching that disturbs the peace.”
“Second, the Greek words in 2:12 show the kind of teaching addressed in 2:12 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)—this is what conservative Church of Christ scholar Wayne Jackson says.”
“So, #2, the kind of teaching Paul prohibits in 2:12 is also likely 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 the word’s 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 (the LXX), to refer to ‘murder’ and ‘origin.’ There were few uses of authentein around the time of Paul outside the Bible, too, and, between the ones in the LXX and those few, those all meant things like murder; compel; having one’s way; being originator; to have full power or authority over; and 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 authority—an “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 folks 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 those folks think such 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.”
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.”
After Class: Wives, Husbands, and Commas
Mary, Julie, and Kim, along with Michael, Jim, and Holly, go up front after class …
Julie: “I enjoyed class. What are the issues with wives/husbands and the comma?”
Dr. Porton: “Thank you. The Greek word γυναικὶ (“women”) used in 2:12 can mean either women generally or married women—wives—specifically; one has to figure out which in context. Scholars are split on whether 2:12 directs wives relative to their husbands or directs all women relative to all men.”
“Strong signals indicate it means wives in 2:12. Verse 11 refers to ‘submission,’ normally a husband-wife issue, but not always. Verse 13 refers to Adam and Eve, husband and wife. Verse 15 discusses childbearing, typically for husbands and wives.”
“On the other hand, verses 9-10 refer to women dressing modestly and good deeds, which relate to women generally. Paul seems to shift to a more specific mode in verses 11-15, and I think 2:12 is directed to wives and husbands. The YLT agrees, referring to ‘husbands.’ Most other translations leave it ambiguous, and most drop a footnote to say it could be directed to wives. Either way, it does not exclude women from speaking in the worship assembly.”
Julie: “What about the comma?”
Dr. Porton: “The KJV includes the comma. Notice the KJV says ‘… I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, ….’ Do you see how the comma placement suggests one should read this as a woman cannot (a) “usurp authority over the man” or (b) “teach”? In other words the KJV suggests women can’t teach at all—not to men or women or anyone. The YLT does the same thing.”
“The NKJV and NIV leave out the comma. The NKJV says ‘… I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man ….’ Leaving out the comma leaves it more ambiguous—maybe ‘men’ is an object of ‘to teach’ and maybe it is not. The text does not suggest against it by including the comma.”
“The comma was inserted during translation. Makes a difference, doesn’t it? See what kind of decisions translators make?”
Holly: “Professor, verse 11 says, ‘A woman should learn in quietness (hesychia) and full submission.’ Doesn’t that mean women ought not speak?”
Dr. Porton: “No, it is now nearly universally recognized that verse 11 does not prohibit women that way. Hesychia means quietness in the ‘peaceful behavior’ sense, not the completely mute sense. You can see this easily just above, where Paul uses hesychia in 1 Tim 2:1-2 to refer to living “peaceful and quiet lives”—not complete silence, just peacefulness.”
Holly: “What about the submission part?”
Dr. Porton: “The verse does not designate to whom she should be ‘in submission.’ ‘Submission’ (aka ‘subject to’) is sometimes used to refer to staying in control of oneself and not to disrupt, as in 1 Cor 14:32, for example: ‘Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns’ (NLT). Paul uses “submit” to refer to being submissive to fellow Christians, too, in 1 Cor 16:15-16. Most everyone recognizes 2:11 means a woman should learn peacefully.”
2:12 is Limited to the Assembly?
Michael: “A lot of the things Holly said ‘conflict’ in class don’t happen in the assembly. 1 Tim 2:12, like 1 Cor 14:34-35, restricts only the assembly, not outside, so those don’t conflict, right?”
Holly: “2:12 doesn’t say it is limited to the worship assembly. For a long time, the Church of Christ orthodoxy did not limit it to the worship assembly. David Lipscomb did not limit it to the worship assembly—he applied it to all places, even to the workplace! Neither 1 Tim 2:12 nor any other scripture says it is limited to the worship assembly.”
Michael: “1 Tim 3:14-15 shows us 1 Tim 2:12 applies only to the assembly (the church). Paul says there he is giving instructions to Timothy ‘so … you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.'”
Dr. Porton: “‘I don’t think that is correct, Michael. ‘God’s household’ in the New Testament generally did not refer to the assembly or a particular church. It refers to essentially all Christians—see, for example, Ephesians 2:19 (‘you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household’); 1 Peter 4:17 (‘For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’).”
“Some will use ‘God’s household’ and ‘God’s family’ interchangeably. Christians are God’s family inside or outside of the assembly.”
“And 1 Timothy does not have a worship assembly in mind—it has everyday living and all locations as its focus. It refers to men ‘everywhere’ to pray, and not ‘in the churches.’ (2:8-10). Everywhere!”
“In fact, 1 Timothy focuses on conduct outside the assembly. It discusses teaching falsely, ‘myths and endless genealogies,’ ‘peaceful and quiet lives,’ ‘women to dress modestly … with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God’ (notice it doesn’t say ‘who are worshipping God’), women going ‘house to house … busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to,'” and lots of other outside-the-assembly things.” (1:3-4; 2:1; 2:8-10; 5:13)
“So, it seems highly unlikely that 1 Tim 3:14-15 means that 1 Tim 2:12 is limited to the worship assembly.”
“I think that the text of 2:12 expresses an intent to apply everywhere, not just to the worship assembly, and the overall context of 2:12 strongly suggests such an intent, but there was some liberalization of the interpretation in the Churches of Christ of 2:12 to limit it to church in order to allow for women working outside the home in supervisory positions.”
1 Tim 2:12 Study
Mary: “So if members of the Church of Christ put in the effort to understand
- how their Bibles work relative to formal equivalence and functional equivalence (often, the difference between what a word or phrase “says” and what it “means”),
- 2:12 does not have the “plain meaning” of most English translations,
- the nature of the authentein type of authority as a special type of authority,
- the teaching referred to in 2:12 is the kind of teaching done with authentein, not just any teaching,
- context of scripture, including that Paul is talking about uninformed, false teaching that disturbs the peace in 1 Timothy,
- serving in the worship assembly is service not authority, and
- multiple other scripture tell women to speak and teach in the assembly,
then those members will likely come to conclusion that 2:12 does not exclude women from actively serving in the worship service?”
Dr. Porton: “You don’t have to understand all seven—just understanding one or two of those to be correct allows one to see that women are not excluded from active service in a mixed worship assembly. Lots of Churches of Christ have done so and concluded it is wrong to exclude women from actively serving in the assembly.”
“It is not easy to get people to study their Bibles that closely relative to something they thought was right. Most prefer the easy route of just looking at ‘plain meaning’ and doing what they were taught by the previous generation.”
1 Tim 2:13-15
Kim: “What does 1 Tim 2:13-15 mean? ‘For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.'”
Dr. Porton: “The exact meaning of 2:13-15 is a bit mysterious, but none of the options make any real difference to the meaning of 2:12.”
“That is, that Adam was formed first, Eve was deceived but Adam was not, and women will be saved through childbearing serve just as well as a basis for interpreting 2:12 to constitute a command that women should not 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” (as we interpreted 2:12) as it does for interpreting 2:12 as a command that women should not teach at all (a fundamentalist interpretation of 2:12). Either way, it’s an odd explanation, but it is no worse an explanation for either way we interpret 2:12.”
Kim: “I see. I’ve always thought the ‘Adam was created first’ thing was weird. Things weren’t “very good” until both women and men showed up, and both were given dominion over everything equally in Genesis 1.”
Dr. Porton: “It’s a strange text because there is no indication in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible that Adam being formed first makes him superior. Thinking that way is contradictory to other aspects of the Bible, too—John the Baptist coming first did not make him superior to Jesus, Jesus said the first shall be last, etc.
The concept that Eve was made inferior to Adam is not expressed in the text. Genesis establishes they were made equal. (Gen. 1:24-31.) Some people refer to the “help meet” language of the KJV, but it’s well recognized that such language means a strong partner and does not imply subordination.
“And the way we are used to thinking about ‘saved’– does 1 Tim 2:15 mean women are saved by having children instead of believing in Jesus? Or is it an extra requirement of women? That conflicts with John 3:16. And what if she is not married or can’t have children? And many interpretations of 2:14 conflict with Romans 5:12-21 (“through the disobedience of the one man”).”
“That Eve was deceived at least has some relationship to teaching—anyone should be informed before teaching and that supports the way we interpreted 2:12 as referring to false, uninformed teaching.”
Julie: “What do you think it means?”
Dr. Porton: “As we discussed today, the people in Ephesus worshipped the goddess Artemis, who protected women in childbearing, and women often felt superior to men in Ephesus because of Artemis.
“Remember that in the Artemis cult, the female (Artemis) was born before the male (Apollo)?”
Julie: “Oh, I forgot someone said that in class!”
Dr. Porton: “1 Tim 2:12-15 probably meant to communicate to Artemis worshippers that women must not domineer men the way we discussed because—unlike in the Artemis cult—Adam was formed first and was not inferior (as the Artemis cult sometimes thought of men). And Eve was deceived, so women in the Artemis cult should not feel so high and mighty.”
“In other words, Paul was likely saying that women in Ephesus should not feel like they can domineer men because their source of unjustified pride (Artemis was born first and women were smarter and superior) are contradicted by reality (Eve was not formed first and Eve was deceived).”
“He was not saying that men were better or smarter. There is no suggestion that men are better than women here—indeed, Adam sinned without being deceived!—- but was saying that women should not feel superior to men and empowered by the Artemis cult to domineer men.”
“Verse 15 also assured women that they will be kept safe (‘saved through’) during childbearing as Christians, like in the Artemis cult, if they continue in faith, etc., so they do not need to cling to Artemis. Remember that Artemis was the goddess of childbirth, and so giving those women assurance that God is there for them in childbirth as well would have been important to them.”
Kim: “Knowing the historical context helps. Knowing that there was a birth-order issue between Artemis and Apollo helps me understand.”
Dr. Porton: “Yes, context definitely helps one understand what the text likely means. Like I said, it probably relates to the Artemis cult, but whether it does or not does not have a tremendous impact, either way, on the meaning of 1 Tim 2:12. There are multiple ways to interpret 2:13-15, and the ones that stick to the text without reading in things that are not from the text fit just fine with the interpretations of 2:12 that we discussed in class that do not exclude women from speaking and teaching in the assembly and elsewhere.”
Understanding a Similar Example to the “Have Authority” Issue
Julie: “Professor, you mentioned that the NKJV and ESV translations of 1 Tim 2:12, “having authority,” is a form-equivalence translation, and you said those can be misleading. I saw what you meant regarding authentein, but do you have another example of when it can be misleading.”
Holly: “Oh, I know one where the NKJV and ESV are misleading by being too broad, like they do in 1 Tim 2:12. Gordon Fee points out a good example of this in the chapter Dr. Porton had us read last week, one similar to the ‘have authority’ issue in 1 Tim 2:12. In 2 Samuel 18:25, King David asks about a messenger coming to him from battle.”
“The NKJV and ESV, formal-equivalent translations, translate 2 Sam 18:25 as:
- ‘If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.’ (NKJV, ESV)
The phrase ‘news in his mouth’ is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase in 2 Sam 18:25, besowrah bepiw. As a word-for-word, literal translation, it is correct. The form-emphasizing translation is ‘news in his mouth.'”
“But the meaning of the phrase besowrah bepiw was a particular kind of news: good news.”
“So, many functional-equivalence translations (and even some by typically formal-equivalence-leaning translations) of the verse favor expressing the meaning in understandable English and translate 2 Sam 18:25 to include “good news,” such as:
- ‘If he is alone, he must have good news.’ (NIV)
This tries to capture what it meant to the original readers or hearers. The NIV and other such translations are conservative / evangelical translations. The difference is the goal of translation. Form-equivalence NKJV and ESV lean towards trying to capture ‘form’ more and use the general “have news” while the form-functional-mediating NIV leans towards trying to capture ‘meaning’ in today’s English here, specifying that the phrase’s meaning here indicates a particular kind of news (positive): “have good news.”
Dr. Porton: “That is similar to 1 Tim 2:12’s authentein. The NKJV and ESV translate it as the general “have authority” while leaning towards “form” while the NIV translates it as “assuming authority” here, specifying the phrase’s meaning indicates a particular kind of authority (domineering, non-peaceful, etc.): “assuming authority.” The NIV is a hybrid form-functional translation. Translations that are more functional-equivalent leaning are even clearer that it is a domineering kind of authority under discussion.
Julie: “Oh, I see that. The NKJV and ESV are correct in form but did not capture the specific meaning, being too broad while capturing form.”
Mary: “I really enjoyed the class. Thank you for letting us sit in.”
Julie and Kim: “Yes, thank you!”
Dr. Porton: “I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for speaking up on these issues and asking questions.”
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 or elsewhere 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?
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.
Wayne Grudem, a leading scholar urging excluding women from leadership roles in the assembly and elsewhere, seems to be in denial on authentein in Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway (2012). There, he uses Scott Baldwin’s 1995 study of the verb authenteo to assert “there are no negative examples of the word authenteo at or around the time of the New Testament.” (p. 308)
Grudem, however, normally relatively clear, obscures the fact that (a) there are only four examples of use of the word authenteo at or around the time of the New Testament (1st century BC to 2nd century CE) reflected in Baldwin’s study and (b) not a single one of them uses authenteo to mean what Grudem et al. say authetein means in 1 Tim 2:12 (a general “have authority” or “exercise authority”). And Grudem puts a rather important fact into a footnote: Grudem uses Baldwin’s definition of “negative,” which holds that authenteo meaning “to control, to dominate” in a first of the four examples is not negative and meaning “to compel” in another of the four is also not negative. Both of these, of course, are a specific type of authority beyond simply “having” or “exercising” authority. Grudem inserts part of Baldwin’s study in an Appendix, and Baldwin quotes a translation associated with the “to compel” example that translates it as “exercised authority,” but Baldwin acknowledges in a footnote that the translation he quotes is disputed and he cites multiple others who translate it as “be master,” “to have full power or authority over,” “prevailed upon him,” and indicating a hostile relationship, and, despite the multiple others, Baldwin asserts “[h]owever, the meaning of ‘compel’ does seem appropriate.” (Ibid., page 680, footnote 7)
In the other two of the four examples, the meaning cited by Baldwin is “to rule, to reign sovereignly” and “to have independent jurisdiction,” i.e., to exercise one’s own jurisdiction. (Ibid., pages 676, 678) Of course, neither of these is simply “having” or “exercising” authority. And a woman who leads singing, reads scripture, preaches, leads prayer, etc., is not ruling, reigning sovereignly, or exercising her own power over men unless she is somehow engaged in bad behavior, attempting to domineer, ignoring God’s direction, etc.
Baldwin wholly ignores cognates (words with common etymological origin) of authentein in his study, but “it is not the practice of lexicographers to exclude the cognates from their study, but rather to recognize and study the relationships between the words, even though there is not always a complete semantic overlap.” Cynthia Long Westfall, The Meaning of αὐθεντέω, JGRChJ 10 (2014) 138-73, page 143. “Modern lexicographers do not support a methodology that excludes the cognates in determining the meaning of a word.” (Ibid., page 146) One scholar, applying a modern methodology to the term concluded that “[a] basic semantic concept that accounts for the occurrences of αὐθεντέω in the data base of 60 verbs is: the autonomous use or possession of unrestricted force.” (Ibid., page 171) “The most important conclusion of this paper is that, according to the 60 samples in the data base, when αὐθεντέω occurs with a personal/ animate actor and a personal/animate goal, a negative evaluation is given unless the actor has a divine or ultimate authority. This appears to be because it has a destructive force when applied to an animate goal, and it is an inappropriate action for those who do not have the authority of life and death.” (Ibid.)
Grudem changes his assertion when citing a study involving cognates, changing to assert that “the meaning of authenteo is primarily positive or neutral” (while still using his and Baldwin’s definition of “neutral”). (Grudem, supra, page 317) Grudem does not elaborate on this shift.
Moreover, scholars point out that the study (Wolters) has various issues, including asserting that the meaning of authenteo as “master” is not negative. Westfall points out that “if the meaning ‘to be a master’ is given, if the actor does not have the status of a master, but acts like a master, then the action would tend to receive a negative evaluation in that context, as we have seen in the majority of occurrences since the first century.” (Westfall, supra, page 170, footnote 78)
Grudem (a) ignores that cognates of authenteo are used twice in the Greek Hebrew Bible (the LXX or the Septuagint, what Paul would have likely used), used once to mean “murderer” and once to mean “origin” or originate (in a hostile situation) and (b) barely addresses that there are 12 entries for “exercise authority” and 47 for general “rule” and “govern” in the Biblical lexicon but Paul picked an unusual word, authentein, with its background of murder, originate, and specific type of authority, strongly indicating that 1 Tim 2:12 does not refer to “having” or “exercising” authority but to some form of hostile, acting on one’s own authority, or domineering authority. See Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, 2nd ed., ed. by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press (2005), page 21; see also Leland E. Wilshire, “Anatomy of a Prohibition I Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church,” Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America (2010). Some who argue for a benign meaning like “exercise authority” discount the usages in the LXX. For example, Al Wolters acknowledges that “scholars are in borad agreement that authenteo is dervied from that noun” used in the LXX, authentas. Al Wolters, “The Meaning of Authenteo” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Third Edition, ed. by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway (2016), pages 66-68. Wolters goes on to say, though, that “ancient Greek used authentas in two very different ways,” one, like that used in Wisdom of Solom 12:6 (in the LXX), to mean murderer, and a second to mean “master,” and to assert that the two might be two different lexemes (like “ear” of grain and “ear” of hearing) and that even if they are not, he says, “it is a serious error to assume that the meaning of the one (and the meaning of its derivatives) must be understood in light of the other.” Ibid. Wolters does not explain or justify why it is a serious error or justify ignoring it when considering how Paul used it. After all, there are such a small number of pre-Pauline uses and the LXX is the only one that it seems rather likely that Paul accessed.
Grudem discounts Chrysostom’s use of the word in 390 AD to mean “domineer/play the tyrant” as “coming more than three hundred years after Paul wrote 1 Timothy, is of limited value in understanding the meaning of what Paul wrote.” (Grudem, supra, page 308)
Grudem also ignores that the Old Latin Bible (2nd-4th century CE) transaltes it as “to dominate a man,” the Vulgate (4th-5th century CE) translates it as “to domineer over a man,” the Geneva Bible (1560) translates it as “usurp authority over a man” (“to vfurpe authoritie ouer the man.”), and RV9 (1560) translates it “to seize authority over the man.” Linda L. Belleville, Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11–15, Priscilla Papers (Summer 2003).
Thus, Grudem’s closing assertion—an example of denial, that “if egalitarians are going to find support for their arguments is any ancient examples of authenteo, they will have to find it in the examples cited by Baldwin. And the evidence is simply not there,” (Grudem, supra, page 309)—applies to his own arguments for simply “having” or “exercising” authority, rather than the egalitarians’ arguments. The evidence strongly suggests a particular kind of authority, one involving at least domineering, hostile behavior.
And, really, one is going to argue for excluding women based on a word used only once in the entire New Testament, which strongly suggests a special, unusual meaning was intended, on this record? And in the face of much scripture urging the contrary?
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; added second context discussion]
The underlying story of Mary is, of course, fictionalized. The scripture and her struggle are real.