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Women In Ministry: 1 Tim 2

Newsgroups: aus.religion.christian
Subject: Women in Ministry: 1 Tim 2
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 02:17:15 GMT

G'day all,

After a loooooong break - interrupted by house renovations,
the birth of Max, and some horribly busy times at work
- now seems a good time to resume the Women in Ministry thread,
since the topic has come up in some other threads lately.
For those who missed it, we (mainly me, Darren and Able)
had a pretty thorough discussion on 1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14
last year, and so I'd like to restrict this thread to 1 Tim 2.
I think everyone will agree that, of the passages which
appear to restrict women's ministry, this one is the
most important.

The oft-quote verse is verse 12, but we should quote all of
verses 8-15 to see the context. (NIV here):

8  I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer,
   without anger or disputing.
9  I also want women to dress modestly,
   with decency and propriety, not with braided hair 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 have authority
   over a man; she must be silent.
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.

At first glance, 1 Tim 2:12 is an absolute ban on women
being involved in teaching or leadership, with the reason
grounded in the created order. But there are a number of
unusual features of the passage which must cause us to
question this.

First, it is curious that Paul prefaces his command
(in verse 12) with 'I do not permit...'. He does not say
'A woman must not teach...', but, 'I do not permit a woman
to teach...'. Could it be that Paul was simply giving a
personal command to a specific situation?

It is sometimes argued that, since Paul was writing under
God's inspiration, that his command is identical to God's
command. But it's not that simple. Paul is careful with
his words. He only says 'I' if there is a reason.
Look at the other uses of 'I' in 1 Timothy:
1:3, 1:18, 2:1, 2:8, 2:9, 3:14, 4:13, 5:14, 5:21, 6:13
Each of these carries some personal or local connotation,
I would suggest.

Second, the command is an absolute ban on women teaching
It does not only forbid women from teaching men.
It forbids them from teaching at anyone all.
There are three reasons for this:
a. It goes with the command to "learn in quietness and
full submission" in v.11
b. In the Greek, "teach" is at the start of the sentence
but "man" is at the end. A word-for-word translation is:
"But to teach a woman not I permit nor to have authority
over a man".
c. The subject of the Greek verb "teach" should be
accusative case, but "man" is in the genitive case.

With this in mind, the command must refer to some restricted
context since women certainly may teach other women
(Titus 2:3-4) or children (2 Tim 1:5, 3:15; Proverbs 1:8).
It would also mean that women may teach men privately,
as apparently Priscilla did to Apollos [Acts 18:24-28 -
note Priscilla is mentioned first (depsite Able's protests),
and Luke is always careful with his order - this is
especially obvious in that he sometimes says
'Paul and Barnabas' and sometimes 'Barnabas and Paul'].

So what is this restricted context? I think, fairly
clearly, it is the church worship service. Paul began
discussing this in v.8, and v.11-12 are still referring
to the church service.

But why restrict women from teaching only in the church

Third, if women are only restricted from teaching in
the church service, the traditional interpretation of v.13-14
(that women are more gullible) doesn't make much sense.
Nor does it make sense if women may teach children.
If women really are unqualified to reach because they're
more gullible, why may they teach children?

Some modern complementarians (e.g. the authors of
RBMW [Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - a very
good defence of the complementarian position and online
at http://www.cbmw.org/html/rbmw.html ])
rather think the point is not that women
are more gullible, but that for women to teach or lead
is usurping the leadership role reserved for men. The
problem is: that's not what v.13-14 says! If Paul had
said "A woman must not teach... because man is the head
of woman" (a phrase he used in 1 Cor 11), all would be
clear. He also very clearly spells out male headship
(in the context of marriage) in Col 3, Eph 5 and
1 Cor 14. So Paul is quite capable of saying
"man is the head of woman" if he wanted to.
Instead, he goes into the story of Adam and Eve.
Why pick such an illustration?

Fourth, what is the meaning of verse 15? If the commands
of 1 Tim 2:8-15 really are clear and unambiguous, then
verse 15 should be clearly explicable also. On more than
one occasion in this newsgroup I have seen 1 Tim 2:11-14
offered as a proof text against female teachers or elders,
with verse 15 conspicuous by its absence. But if we cannot
explain verse 15 (and all commentators have difficulty
with it), then this suggests that Paul is not simply
placing a blanket ban on women teaching, but has some
other reason for offering the example of Adam and Eve
in v.13-15.

Fifth, if 1 Tim 2:12 really prohibits women from
teaching or having authority over men, the following
biblical counter-examples must be taken into account:
a: Deborah the judge
b: Huldah the prophet who advised the leadership of Judah
  (2 Kings 22)
c: Junia the apostle (Romans 16:7)
d: Priscilla teaching Apollos (privately): Acts 18:26
e: the numerous female prophets in the NT

I realise that arguments can be made that each of these
cases does not negate the universality of 1 Tim 2:12,
However these counterexamples, along with the 4 other
reasons given above, all combine to raise the likelihood
that 1 Tim 2:12 is a local command in some way.

What sort of local command? Well, let us look at some
background information to the letter of 1 Timothy.

First, the so-called Pastoral Epistles (1 + 2 Timothy,
Titus) show a particular concern with protecting the
gospel from disrepute. This is the reason for the
submission of wives [Titus 2:5] and slaves
[Titus 2:10, 1 Timothy 6:1 and perhaps 5:14], and a
consideration for choosing overseers [1 Timothy 3:7].

Second is the context of the letter. It has a number of
references to heretical or destructive teaching
[1 Tim 1:3-7, 1:19-20, 4:7, 6:20-21]. These references are
at such key points in the letter (including the
introduction and conclusion) that Gordon Fee has argued
(very persuasively, in my opinion), that the threat of
destructive teaching was the main reason why Paul wrote
the Pastoral Epistles, and is behind much of what Paul
writes. [G.D.Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (NIBC; Rev Ed.;
USA:Hendrickson, 1988)].

But do we know what this destructive teaching was?

Well we can make some educated guesses. In their book
'I Suffer not a Woman' [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992],
Richard and Catherine Kroeger point out that Ephesus was
unusual in that its gods were female, rather than male,
and this gave religion a rather different flavour to
pagan areas further west (such as Greece or Rome).
Remember the riot in Ephesus over the goddess Artemis
(Acts 19:23-40)? Artemis was a fertility goddess,
the greatest god of Ephesus.

So what has this got to do with women teachers? The
answer is that, being female-deity-centred religion,
female religious teachers were prominent in Ephesus.
Therefore it is possible that the very existence of
female teachers might have led outsiders to conclude
that Christianity was an offshoot of Ephesian pagan

But the Kroegers go further. Not only was female-deity
religion prominent in Ephesus, but they present evidence
that some of this was pervading Jewish and Christian
teaching in the region. There appear to have been
distortions of the Genesis creation story. (the
"myths and endless genealogies" of 1 Tim 1:4?),
in which Eve was the hero.

So if we try to imagine this background (not contained in
the text because it was known and assumed by both writer
(Paul) and reader (Timothy)), then it is possible to expand
the translation thus:

"(In this culture, women teachers are a hallmark of Ephesian
pagan religion, therefore) I am not permitting a woman to
teach or usurp man's authority. For (in contrast to what
the false teachers are saying) Adam was created first...
and the woman was deceived..."

In other words, Paul's reason for forbidding women teachers
and leaders is his concern for the gospel seeming publicly
acceptable - a concern which surfaces elsewhere in the
Pastoral Epistles. He then repudiates some of the false
teaching - for which we also have evidence, both in
the Pastoral Epistles and elsewhere.

I admit that I have used a bit of speculation.
I also admit that, if Paul had meant what I have just
suggested, he phrased himself in a very ambiguous way
which could easily have led readers to conclude that
he was placing a universal ban on women being teachers
or leaders. Nevertheless, I suspect that an explanation
along these  lines probably fits the data better than
the traditional interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-15.

In any case, I hope that I have demonstrated that
(a) there are signficant problems with the traditional
interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-15;
(b) There are possible alternative explanations.

Therefore, I have serious reservations about using
this passage to restrict the ministry of all women
in all places for all time.

Peter Ballard



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