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Special Note on “teach/teaching” in the Pauline Letters

Related to the current discussion on 1 Tim 2:11-15 (cf. Part 5 of the series “Women in the Church”, and the supplemental note), is the important question of what Paul (or the author) means by dida/skein (“to teach”). To this end, a brief survey of the Pauline use of the verb dida/skw, and the two main nouns derived from it, will be most helpful.

dida/skw (“teach”)

This verb occurs 7 times in the undisputed letters of Paul, three times more in Colossians, once in Ephesians, and 5 times in the Pastoral letters—16 in all. In Romans 2:21 (twice), 1 Cor 11:14 and Gal 1:12, it refers to instruction in a general sense. However, in Gal 1:12 it also implies the specific situation of teaching someone the Gospel, in the context of the revelatory words of Jesus himself. In 1 Cor 4:17, Paul refers to his “ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every congregation [e)kklhsi/a]”. Coincidentally, in this passage, it is Timothy who will serve the Corinthians, reminding them of Paul’s ways and teaching, in his absence. Romans 12:7 regards teaching as a specific “gift” of the Spirit that is manifest in the congregation (cf. below).

In the letter to the Colossians (which I regard as Pauline), the first two references (1:28; 2:7) very much relate to the (apostolic) ministerial role of teaching and preaching (i.e. proclaiming the Gospel), as also in Eph 4:21. In 3:16, by contrast (or complement), it is the believers in general, and together, who are exhorted to teach one another. The verb dida/skw is paired with nouqete/w (“set/put in mind”), both as verbal participles indicating continuous action. The setting is that of the congregational meeting, which includes singing psalms, hymns and “spiritual songs”. While it is possible that Paul intends “teaching” here in the specific sense of an official ministerial role, there is no immediate indication of this. It seems to apply to all believers, made clear by the emphasis at the start of the verse: “The account [i.e. word] of Christ should house [i.e. dwell] in you [i.e. you all] richly, teaching and setting (things) in mind (for) each other in all wisdom…”

Within the Pastoral Letters, three of the five occurrences deal with the “things” that a minister ought to teach—cf. 1 Tim 4:11 and 6:2 (“these things”, tau=ta). The pronoun refers to the collected body of (authoritative) Christian teaching which, according to the setting of the letter, Paul has given to Timothy, and which is effectively embodied within the letter. Note the exhortation in 4:6:

“Setting these things under the brothers [i.e. bringing these things to their attention always], you will be a fine [i.e. exemplary] minister [lit. servant] of Christ Jesus, being nourished/strengthened in the words/accounts of the faith and the fine teaching [didaskali/a] which you have followed (all) along”.

By contrast, Titus 1:11 refers to “many others” who are “teaching (thing)s which they should not” (cf. below). In 2 Timothy 2:2, the author (Paul) emphasizes the proper preservation of correct teaching and tradition:

“and the (thing)s which you heard (from) alongside me, through many witnesses, these (thing)s you must set/place alongside for trust(worthy) men who will be (equipp)ed well enough to teach others also.”

This is a point which can be found at several points in the undisputed letters of Paul (cf. 2 Thess 2:15, etc), but it takes on much greater importance in the Pastoral letters.

didaxh//didaskali/a (“teaching”)

These two nouns, derived from dida/skw, both fundamentally mean “teaching, instruction”, though the latter (didaskali/a) can refer more precisely to the content of the teaching, as well as to the act or process of teaching. The noun didaxh/ (didax¢¡) occurs four times in the undisputed letters—in Romans 6:17 and 16:17 it refers collectively to the instruction believers have received from missionaries and apostles such as Paul, while in 1 Cor 14:6, 26, it is to a specific spiritual “gift” manifest in the congregation (as also in Rom 12:7). The word is also used twice in the Pastoral letters, as a distinct role and duty of the minister, closely tied to the proclamation of the account (or “word”, lo/go$) of God, that is, the Gospel message (2 Tim 4:2). The exhortation is even more pointed in Titus 1:9:

“…holding (close) against the trust(worthy) account [lo/go$] according to the teaching [kata\ th\n didaxh/n], (so) that he may be able (both) to call (people) alongside [i.e. help/encourage them] in the wholesome instruction [didaskali/a] and to put to shame the (one)s giving a contrary account.”

This is part of the author’s (i.e. Paul’s) guidance regarding the duties and qualifications for the role of “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$)—that is, the minister who leads and oversees the congregation. He is to preserve the trustworthy account (lo/go$)—the Gospel and teachings with which he has been entrusted—and to combat the reverse, the contrary account (a)nti/logo$), promulgated by other false or deceptive teachers, etc.

The related noun didaskali/a (didaskalía) is more common in the Pauline corpus, occurring 19 times, but only twice in the undisputed letters (Rom 12:7; 15:14), and twice again in Col 2:22; Eph 4:14. The other 14 occurrences are all in the Pastoral letters, making it an important word, and an example of the sort of differences in vocabulary which have been thought to mark the Pastorals as pseudonymous (i.e., by an author other than Paul). In perhaps no other writings of the New Testament is there such a clear contrast between correct and incorrect, true and false, doctrine. The idea of a collected body of teaching and tradition, which is to be carefully guarded and preserved, is very much prominent in these letters. Note the use of the qualifying expressions:

This true teaching is threatened by the various sorts of false and vain/empty teachings (and teachers) which lay stretched out against it (1 Tim 1:10). It is often debated whether Paul (or the author) had distinct persons or groups in mind in such passages of warning; it would seem that he did, though they are difficult to identify with any precision. There can be little doubt of the seriousness with which the danger was perceived (1 Tim 4:16), and adds to the importance of those who have been entrusted with the leading/guiding roles in the congregation—in the Pastoral letters, this refers primarily to the “elders” (presbu/teroi) and to the “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), best understood as a governing or managing elder. The elder’s duty of teaching is expressed clearly in a number of places (cf. 1 Tim 5:17, etc), as also for the leading minister/overseer (such as Timothy & Titus) given charge over a particular congregation (or group of congregations).


Based on an examination of all the passages mentioned above, it is possible to discern three main aspects or senses of “teaching” in the Pauline letters:

  1. That of general Christian instruction, between and among believers, especially in terms of the Gospel message.
  2. As a distinct spiritual “gift” (xa/risma) given to particular believers who would exercise and manifest it in the role a “teacher” in the congregational meeting, etc.
  3. The specific duty of the leading ministers—the elders and overseer—involving both the essential proclamation of the Gospel message, and the preservation/transmission of the authoritative teachings and traditions entrusted to them (by the apostles and earlier ministers).

In turning again to 1 Timothy 2:12, given the context and setting of the congregational (worship) meeting, it seems clear that only the last two of these three are viable options. In other words, Paul (or the author) most likely is not offering a blanket prohibition against women teaching, but rather of either (a) attempting to act as a teacher (exercising the gift) in the meeting, or (b) performing the ministerial role reserved for the elder/overseer of the congregation. In attempting to decide between these two, several points should be kept in mind:

  • The parallel setting of 1 Cor 14 would suggest (2, a)—that of a spiritual gift exercised in the worship meeting, and could conceivably refer to women offering teaching without being recognized as one possessing that gift.
  • The connection between teaching and “having power/authority (over) a man” (cf. in Part 5) could indicate that he has the authoritative role of teacher, such as reserved for the elder/overseer, in mind (3, b).
  • The marriage bond is in view, both in 1 Cor 14:33ff and here in 1 Tim 2:9ff, and could mean that the wives of teachers (or teaching elders) are primarily being addressed—i.e., the wife should not overstep her position and assume the teaching role of her husband.
  • Paul (or the author) may also be addressing a particular situation in which (certain) women have been influenced by false teaching; if so, then the illustration in vv. 13-15 would, in large measure, have to be read in that light. I discuss this possibility a bit further in a separate note on Genesis 3:16.

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