was successfully added to your cart.

Women in the Church: Part 5 (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

1 Timothy 2:11-15

As a way of examining and focusing the evidence from the so-called Pastoral letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus), I will be looking in detail at one specific passage—1 Timothy 2:11-15. The situation regarding the Pastoral letters is especially difficult due to the much-debated question of authorship—are they authentically Pauline as the text indicates, or are they pseudonymous? Most critical commentators believe that they are pseudonymous; even many ‘Evangelical’ or otherwise traditional-conservative commentators today are willing to accept this, at least as a possibility. The arguments for pseudonymity are varied, but essentially it is felt that the Pastoral letters contain certain words and phrases, ideas and expressions, which differ markedly from those in the letters where there is no question about Pauline authorship (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, et al). For example, the word-group eu)se/beia/eu)sebw=$/eu)sebe/w does not occur at all in the unquestioned Pauline letters, but the words are found 13 times in the three Pastorals alone. In my view the evidence for pseudonymity is much weaker for 2 Timothy, which generally seems to be compatible with Pauline language and epistolary style (and note the specific personal details, e.g. 4:13, etc). I find many more instances of vocabulary and ideas in 1 Timothy which could be considered atypical of Paul. The situation with Titus is harder to judge, partly due to the comparative brevity of the letter. For many Christians, pseudonymity automatically means a lesser degree of authority and trustworthiness; for others, it makes little or no difference, since the Church as a whole has accepted the canonicity and authority of these letters, regardless.

Historical and Literary Context

If the Pastoral letters are genuinely Pauline, then they were probably written toward the end of Paul’s life (c. 60-63 A.D.) . Second Timothy is set during a period of imprisonment 2 Tim 1:8, 17; 2:9; 4:6-8, 16ff, presumably in Rome (1:17), perhaps not long before his death. The purpose of the letters would have been to offer instruction and encouragement to his younger colleagues (Timothy and Titus) in their role as (apostolic) representatives (and overseers) for the churches over which they had been given authority. For Titus this area was the island of Crete (Tit 1:5ff), for Timothy the region surrounding Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3, etc, and so according to tradition). If any/all of the letters are pseudonymous, then they likely date from a later period, toward the end of the 1st century A.D. (c. 80-100), serving as a compendium of instruction regarding the proper organization/administration of churches, with an emphasis on protecting correct teaching and tradition (i.e. “orthodoxy”). As pseudonymous works, they would best be viewed as variations (alloforms) of a common set of instruction, addressed to different locations (i.e. Ephesus/Asia Minor and Crete, etc). In certain respects, they would be similar to the Didache or “Teaching (of the Twelve Apostles)” and the so-called Letter of the Apostles (early 2nd-century).

The core of First Timothy (2:16:2) is comprised of instruction on Church order—how the congregation should be organized and its corporate life and worship governed. Specific guidelines regarding roles or official positions in the congregation alternate with exhortations to maintain correct teaching and tradition along with proper ethical conduct:

  • Greeting (1:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (1:3-20), regarding
    —Preservation of correct teaching and tradition (vv. 3-11)
    —Paul’s own example as minister of the Gospel (vv. 12-20)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (2:1-3:13)
    —General instruction on Prayer and Worship (2:1-8)
    —continuation, emphasizing the role and position of Women (2:9-15)
    —Regarding “Overseers” (3:1-7)
    —Regarding “Servants/Ministers” (3:8-13)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (4:1-16), regarding
    —False teaching (4:1-5)
    —Preservation of correct teaching and (ethical) conduct (4:6-10)
    —Example of Timothy as minister and apostolic representative (4:11-16)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (5:1-6:2)
    —General instruction related to the handling of men and women (5:1-2)
    —Regarding (female) “Widows” (5:3-16)
    —Regarding (male) “Elders” (5:17-20)
    —[Miscellaneous/personal instruction] (5:21-25)
    —Regarding those in the churches who are Slaves (6:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (6:1-19), regarding
    —False teaching and ethical conduct (vv. 1-10)
    —Example/encouragement for Timothy as minister of the Gospel (vv. 11-16)
    —The use of riches (vv. 17-19)
  • Conclusion (final instruction) and benediction (6:20-21)

In each of the sections on Church order, there is teaching regarding the role of women in the Church—2:9-15 and 5:3-16—following a brief general instruction related to men and women (2:8-9a; 5:1-2). I will be looking primarily at the first passage (especially 2:11-15), but will comment briefly on the second as well below.

Exegetical Notes and Interpretation

Paul (or the author) begins in 2:8-9 with general instruction as to the manner in which men and women pray (presumably in the context of the worship-meeting, cf. 1 Cor 11:2ff)—it should be done with honest faith/devotion and simplicity. Verses 9-10 add to this some conventional/proverbial teaching on how women should dress and comport themselves—which, admittedly, sounds a bit stereotypical (perhaps even demeaning) to our ears today, but it fully fits in with the thought and language of Proverbs 31, etc. The emphasis is on (inner) virtue and ethical conduct (i.e. “good works”) rather than outward adornment. The instruction regarding the role and position of women in the Church follows in vv. 11-15, and is stated clearly in verses 11-12, which may be divided into two parts (the key words in italics):

“A woman [gunh/] must learn in quietness [i.e. quietly], in all proper order” (v. 11)
“and I do not turn over to a woman to teach, and not [i.e. nor] to have power over a man, but (rather) to be in quietness” (v. 12)

As I discussed in Parts 1 & 2 (on 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35), the word gunh/ (“woman”) can also mean “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”; so it is not clear whether the context relates to men and women generally, or to husband and wife specifically. Paul probably has the marriage relationship primarily in mind in 1 Corinthians, and so he (or the author) likely does here as well. If 1 Timothy is pseudonymous (cf. above), then this may be a direct allusion to 1 Cor 14:34-35 or similar Pauline instruction which has been preserved; if written by Paul himself, then certainly there is some relation to the idea expressed in 1 Cor 14:34-35 (on this, cf. Part 2). The context of 1 Corinthians was the response to prophetic messages in the (charistmatic) worship-meeting as manifest and practiced in Corinth (early-mid 50s A.D.); a later author likely would not have had this specific setting in mind, but would have understood it as a general rule for women. Verse 11 contains two prepositional phrases:

  • e)n h(suxi/a| (“in quiet[ness]”)—here h(suxi/a probably should be understood as “quietly”, with the connotation of gentle, humble, obedient, etc, rather than a strict imposition of silence.
  • e)n pa/sh| u(potagh=|—the word u(potagh/ is somewhat difficult to render literally in English; it has the fundamental meaning of “being set/placed in (an arranged) order”, i.e. “under an order”. As with the passive/reflexive form of the related verb u(pota/ssw, it can denote obedience, or even the more forceful idea of being (made) subject to a higher/greater power. However, one should be cautious in translating it as “subjection” or “submission” here—it is perhaps better to follow the more essential meaning “under order”, i.e. “in/with all (proper) order”.

In verse 12, there are three verbs which should be noted:

e)pitre/pw (“turn upon”, i.e. “turn over”)—that is, give over to someone, perhaps with the specific sense of “permit, allow”. It is used in a similar context in 1 Cor 14:34 (cf. Part 2): “for it is not turned over to them [i.e. to women/wives] to speak”. Here Paul (or the author) personalizes the instruction “and I do not turn over to women…”, also giving it a more precise context, by way of two infinitives:

  • to teach (dida/skein)—the importance of teaching, whether through use of the verb dida/skw or the related noun didaxh/, is clear, especially in the Pastoral letters (1 Tim 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2; 4:2; Tit 1:9, 11), with the warnings against false teaching and the strong exhortation to preserve correct teaching/tradition (1 Tim 1:3, etc). For more detail, cf. the separate note on verse 12.
  • to have power (over) (au)qentei=n)—the verb au)qente/w fundamentally refers to holding something (a tool, weapon, etc) in one’s own hand. It can specifically denote an act of war or violence, but also (figuratively or generally) to the exercise of power. The verb only occurs here in the New Testament, so we are left to guess somewhat at its precise meaning in this context—it probably should be understood in the basic sense of a woman exercising (or asserting) authority over a man. Again, the marriage relationship may be in mind.

The instruction given here is supported by an argument from Scripture—the Creation narratives in Gen 1-3—much as Paul does in 1 Cor 11:7-9ff (cf. Part 1). Verse 13 more or less summarizes 1 Cor 11:8, but with the specific emphasis that the Man (Adam) was formed first (prw=to$); this is a small but significant difference with the line of argument Paul uses in 1 Corinthians. Even more serious (and troublesome for us today) is the interpretive development which follows in vv. 14-15:

  1. The statement that it was not the Man (Adam), but the Woman (Eve) who was deceived by the Serpent, leading to sin/transgression (summary/paraphrase of Gen 3):
    “And (moreover) Adam was not (the one) deceived, but the Woman, being deceived out(right), has come to be in violation/transgression” (v. 14)
  2. A (proverbial) saying, which Paul (or the author) affirms (3:1a), along with the Scriptural account (as interpreted):
    “but she will be saved through the birth of offspring, if they should remain in faith and love and holiness with (a) safe/sound mind” (v. 15)

There is nothing in the (unquestioned) letters of Paul to suggest this emphasis on child-bearing/rearing as the primary role for Christian women (indeed, much in 1 Corinthians could been taken to suggest the opposite, cf. 1 Cor 7:5-9, 26-35, 38, 40). It sounds almost crude and ‘unenlightened’ to many today, though it generally fits with the traditional Jewish view as expressed e.g. in b. Ber. 17a: “How do women attain merit? By letting their children be instructed in the house of learning” (Dibelius/Conzelmann, p. 48). Women are said to be “saved” (in the general religious-cultural, not theological, sense) by raising up godly children. This effectively removes the ‘curse’ brought about with the Fall, which, according to the Genesis narrative, happens to involve both child-bearing and the ‘subjection’ of women (Gen 3:16). For further discussion, cf. the separate note on this verse.

Note on 5:3-16 & Conclusion

The other passage dealing with the role of women in 1 Timothy is 5:3-16—instruction regarding widows in the Church. The treatment of the subject suggests that the author has in mind an (official) position in the Church (“Widow”), alongside those of “Overseer” (3:1-7) and “Servant/Minister” (or ‘Deacon’, 3:8-13). Not all actual widows qualify for the office/position, which seems to have involved financial support from the congregation (v. 16) as well as certain ministerial duties (vv. 10-15). In general, widows should be supported by their families, attending to them first (vv. 4ff, 16). The qualifications of the (true) Widows are laid down in vv. 9-10, with the basic rule that they should be at least sixty years of age (extremely old for the time). In some ways, the Widows are the “Elders” among the women in the Church, just as the male “Elders” (presbu/teroi) are mentioned briefly in the following vv. 17-20. This office/position of Widow has been used as an argument for a relatively late dating of the Pastoral letters (late-1st/early-2nd century), but there is actually little information on how churches were structured in the period c. 70-100 A.D. to warrant making any firm conclusions as to when certain practices developed.

Many sincere believers today are genuinely uncomfortable with much of the language and the ideas regarding women (and their roles) expressed in the Pastoral letters (and especially here in 1 Timothy). For a good many commentators these passages are incompatible with the Paul of 1 Corinthians 11, Romans 16, Galatians 3:28, Philippians 4:2-3, etc, and are considered the product of a later author (or tradition) with a less enlightened view of the role and place of women in Christ. Other scholars would maintain that the Pastorals, even if pseudonymous, preserve, or were influenced by, Paul’s genuine teaching in 1 Cor 11:2-16 & 14:33-36, etc. Of course, if 1 Timothy is actually Paul’s work, then we must taken even more seriously the similarities between 1 Tim 2:11-15 and those passages in 1 Corinthians. Does 1 Tim 2:11-15 assume a specific contextual situation like that in 1 Cor 14, or is it meant to be taken as a general rule regarding women? In either case, how should this instruction be understood or applied today, in light of Paul’s teaching elsewhere and in the remainder of the New Testament? These are important questions, with no easy answers ready at hand, and yet it is necessary for each reader and commentator to grapple with them in his or her own way.

References marked “Dibelius/Conzelmann” are to Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Hermeneia Commentary series), transl. by Philip Buttolph & Adela Yarbro, Fortress Press: 1972.

Leave a Reply