1 Timothy 2:12 Analysed

An Analysis of 1 Timothy 2

Before I begin, what I’d like to address is, essentially, bias. What I aim to do here, along with many of my posts, is approach it as impartially as possible while never making a sweeping conclusion. I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not believe or assume to be true about the verse and what it means. Rather, I’m here to open a door for your own deliberations.

This statement is made both in consideration that 1) this verse influences how churches carry out their activities, 2) how women view their roles biblically, and 3) how women are viewed. Since each of these are sensitive in their own realms, I decided to clarify that I am not dictating it one way or another, but instead shed light on each possibility that is diversely held. I already have a piece written on [traditional gender roles|http://aminoapps.com/p/hjumrh] if this is one of the reasons for your reading.

And now, I shall begin.

The verse being directly analysed reads as “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” in English. This is found in 1 Timothy, an epistle written by Paul to Timothy to give him instructions and correct teachings so that he could lead the church. (However, the identity of the writer has been debated by historians; some believe the writer of Timothy and Titus is an entirely different author based on the writing styles. Though that said, they do believe that the writer, whoever it may be, had intended to follow Paul’s direction in leading the churches, but that leaves space for discrepancies if it is, in fact, a different author.)

In 1 Timothy 1, to add some context, Paul encourages an individual named Timothy to stay in Ephesus to ensure that a different doctrine was not preached (1 Timothy 1:3-4). According to Paul, the people of Ephesus had started to concern themselves with useless things, such as genealogies, and started making speculations regarding topics they knew little about so that they, themselves, could become teachers (1 Timothy 1:5-7). He put Timothy in charge of instruction in order to lead those going astray back to God (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Following the first chapter of the epistle, Paul begins relaying how things are to be done properly, such as giving a prayer, thanksgiving and more to even those in high places like kings (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Men, while giving public worship, are to pray in every place (in which Christian assemblies were held), lifting up their hands while doing so. This is not out of anger or in argument, but for worship (1 Timothy 2:8). Praying with their hands in the air was a Jewish practice, noted in Psalm 28:2 and Psalm 63:4 to illustrate this. Early Christians adopted this practice. Clement, an early church writer, reaffirmed this by saying: “Let us then draw near to Him with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect” (Chapter XXIX). This practice was done with oaths, blessings, and prayer alike.

For women, they were to dress modestly rather than come wearing gaudy attire, including jewellery and expensive hair decorations. Instead, good works should be her adornment. Noted after, she’s to learn in quietness, and in full submission. The commonly held position is that, rather than teach men doctrine authoritatively, they’re to remain in silence so that they can learn instead of interrupting the service.

The reason for this type of command is based on the creation of Adam and Eve and who deceived whom (1 Timothy 2:13-14). It concludes that the saving of women will be childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15).

There are some very obvious questions that arise. For starters, are women more spiritually ignorant than men? To not have even authority or being unable to teach scripture (unless to women, to children, and sometimes even small theological matters) would seem to imply a form of danger or problem in them doing so. Do women not teach as well as men? What harm lies in them doing so?

In our contemporary societies, women had and continue to help mankind progress in varying areas. Teaching in universities, acting as lawyers and government positions. In history, they served as benevolent and progressive royalty as well. If they can do other roles, sometimes fantastically and sometimes perceivably not, same as men, then what is the downfall in spiritually helping their fellow brothers and sisters?

Before touching upon the original Greek that Paul or whoever used in writing that epistle and verse, I’ll touch upon potential theological answers to a traditionally conservative outlook and try to understand what the verse is getting at.

First, when we read around 1 Timothy 2:12, from 8 to 15, there, at least at first glance, appears to be an anti-woman sentiment. Part of the reasoning tied into 1 Timothy 2:12 is recorded as Adam being formed first and being the one not deceived by the serpent in the Garden. For the woman’s fall, Eve’s fall, women were to be saved through childbearing which is startlingly strange.

In investigating the first, one avenue is to simply read how others have interpreted it. So, I went to desiringgod.org and began reading. In his exegesis, John Piper says:

And we have stressed for five weeks now that these differences are not the result of sin. Sin didn’t create manhood and womanhood. God did. And sin did not bring diversified, complementary roles into existence. God did. Before sin ever entered the world, God ordained and fitted Adam to be a loving, caring, strong leader for his wife Eve. And before sin entered the world, God ordained and fitted Eve to be a partner who supports and honors that leadership and helps carry it through. Both in the image of God. Both equal in their God-like personhood. But also different in their manhood and womanhood. The pattern was beautiful. They respected each other and served each other and complemented each other and enjoyed each other.

According to Piper, the logic is simply this: Since God sought a helper for Adam, and the animals God brought to Adam did not work, he made Eve and gave Adam the role of leading her, and Eve the role of helping Adam. For that reason, the build of men and the brain processing of men were oriented into one fitted for leading.

In these times, leading in church places were reserved for elders, made up of men, and their job was to govern and teach (“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching…” 1 Timothy 5:17). The statement, to Piper, is indicative that what Paul is forbidding is the position of women turning into that of elders rather than those that should stay at home and learn.

It’s not the same as saying they can’t help in teaching, such as what Priscilla did with her husband to correct Apollos, someone ignorant of scripture (“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately” Acts 18:26). It isn’t the same as doing what I am doing now in analysing scripture and explaining the varying interpretations Christians have reached, either.

To Piper, it’s teaching church doctrine as being of a certain nature authoritatively, like exegeting and teaching it profoundly as truth when such an act was reserved for the church elders. Teaching and exercising authority were a part of the same hand. It doesn’t mean they can’t teach at all nor in particular functions, but they cannot in the manner reserved for the clergy. In Catholicism, for example, that would be homilies.

When reading it with an alternate mindset, what Paul spoke of, instead, were church issues. In his epistles, Paul fought against disorder prevalent in the churches he looked over. He encouraged tradition, such as women praying and prophesying with head coverings according to customs of that time period (susceptible to change due to alterations in said customs).

To fully breakdown what this verse means, we have to consult the Greek and then look more deeply at the teachings of Paul and the other New Testament authors.

Looking at the Greek

In order to appropriately analyse the topic, we shall look into the Greek together, also.

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλʼ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

Translated, this reads: “But I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.


• οὐκ, or ouk, means “not”. This is, obviously, negatory.

• ἐπιτρέπω, or epitrepō, means “permit” or “allow”. This falls under verb, present, active, and indicative. So, we know this verse is dealing with allowing or permitting something.

• διδάσκειν, or didaskein, means “to teach” or “to instruct”. It falls under verb, present, active, and infinitive.

• γυναικὶ, or gynaiki, refers to a “woman” or “wife”. It falls under noun, dative, singular, and feminine.

• αὐθεντεῖν, or authentein, falls under verb, present, and infinitive. The meaning of this term is actually debated and is only used once in the New Testament which is in that verse. The earlier usages meant “one who, with his own hand, kills either others or himself”. This later transformed into “one who acts on his own authority”. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, this could also mean “to usurp authority over,” which is forced authority, as well as “to govern” and “to exercise authority”. Forced authority and exercise authority is the main stage in which this debate occurs.

• ἀνδρός, or andros, means “man” or “husband”. It falls under noun, genitive, singular, and masculine.

• εἶναι, or einai, simply means “to be” in relation to “remain”. It is a verb, in the present tense, active, and infinitive.

• ἡσυχίᾳ, or hēsychia, means “silence” or “quietness”. It falls under noun, dative, singular, and feminine.

The terms that are excluded mean “but” and “or”.

Before continuing on, I’ll continue to elaborate “αὐθεντεῖν” as this is significant to the discussion. And, given that I am not a linguistic scholar, I will not be making any definitive claims as it is not my place to do so. In any case, I’ll continue.

When we view lexicons and dictionaries, we see variations as I noted whilst elaborating the term as often defined. Four of these are the following: 1) “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to,” 2) “strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over,” 3) “to control in a domineering manner,” or, idiomatically: “to shout orders to,” and 4) “usurp authority over.”

When broken down, there are different categories this comes down to, which is power, negativity, and self-action. Given that this verb is only used once in the entirety of Paul’s epistles and the New Testament, it complicates how this verse should be read. So, instead, other works have to be referenced in how the term was used that dates closest to when Paul would have written that epistle. The verb itself is rare, being found in only a few works which hinder the ability for lexicographers to narrow down the possibilities. Over time, especially in more recent years, the study as it concerns authentein has significantly advanced.

Some writings with authentein and has lexical definitions are the following:

Philodemus in “Rhetorica” (110-35 B.C.): Baldwin’s study concluded that the use of the verb in the context of its meant “to rule, to reign sovereignly.” Payne concluded it to mean “murders” or “those who murder”. Belleville believed it meant “powerful lords”.

The Letter from Tryphon” (27 B.C.): Baldwin concluded it to mean “to compel, to influence.” Payne believed it meant “assume authority”. Belleville believed it meant “I had my way with him” or “I took a firm stand with him.”

Aristonicus Alexandrinus in “De signis Iliadis”: Baldwin concluded it to mean “to be primarily responsible for, to do, or to instigate”. Payne noted it to mean “the one self-accomplishing the speech”. Belleville stated it to be “the author of the message”.

1 Timothy 2:12 (60s AD): Baldwin stated it to mean to “assume authority over’ . . . could be appropriate.” Payne’s use says it’s “to assume authority,” or possibly “to dominate”teaching that tries to get the upper hand. Belleville believed it to mean “to teach with the intent to dominate a man”.

Ptolemy in “Tetrabiblos” (A.D. 127-148): Almost unanimously, Baldwin, Payne, and Belleville believed its usage to be “to dominate.”

(List provided by Hübner.)

Noticeably, the definition of the term is met with diversity, with the only unanimous use being in Tetrabiblos. Other than that, the term changes greatly in different works over a large stretch of time; e.g., to dominate, to compel, to act independently, to rule sovereignly.

When consulting Baldwin, his analysis of it in context to 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to establish that there is a great likelihood for each of these definitions. However, going through it, he found ruling sovereignly as being “impermissible,” to rule tyrannically likewise, and similarly among others of this similar vein. He came to the conclusion that 1) assuming authority over, 2) coercion, 3) acts of independent authority and similar translations that essentially mean the same would be likelier, and could only be truly deciphered through added study.

As time passed, other writers, such as Al Wolters (2000), narrowed down the findings to be positive and not negative like usurping authority or domineering. Therefore, they concluded it would be more reasonably translated as “exercising authority.” (Baldwin)

What had been unlisted above were translations of authentein being translated as murder and slaughter, especially that done to the defenseless. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament, translated sometime in the 2-3rd century BCE, has the term “authentein” noted.

τέκνων τε φονέας ἀνελεήμονας καὶ σπλαγχνοφάγων ἀνθρωπίνων σαρκῶν θοῖναν καὶ αἵματος, ἐκ μέσου μύστας θιάσου. καὶ αὐθέντας γονεῖς ψυχῶν ἀβοηθήτων, ἐβουλήθης ἀπολέσαι διὰ χειρῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν.

Which, when translated into English, reads (beginning from verse 3 for added context):

Do you remember the ancient inhabitants of your holy land? You scorned them for their unholy ways, for their sorcery and profane rituals, their callous killing of children, their cannibal feasts on human flesh and blood. They practiced secret rituals in which parents slaughtered their own defenseless children. (Wisdom of Solomon, 12:3-6)

In this verse, authentein is defined as the act of slaughter. The LXX, known to the New Testament authors, may have led to the usage by Paul in his epistle to Timothy, intending it to be “mastering over” in superiority to those that were “defenceless” or inferior. In 2012, this rendering of “to be superior over” is brought to light even further with Wolters’ agreement in a new work.

However, the ultimate issue in determining the definition of how Paul uses it relies on the methodology of determining what it means. In many cases, those trying to decipher the underlying message often included “hundreds” of works within their studies, aiming to pinpoint a definition in varying contexts, but such a method does not properly work in consideration of how rapidly words change meaning, observable through the multiple choices provided that could determine what Paul aimed to convey, and the major nuisance concerning the lack of works available in Paul’s lifetime that had authentein in its pages.

So, likewise, even the Septuagint cannot fully provide an answer to the theological conundrum that remains. The last availability, if pure Greek transference does not work, is consulting a different context—that of the culture and history rather than Greek only, since that may inform us of Paul’s intention.

Before moving on to the next section, I’ll provide some noteworthy translations to demonstrate just how variational these are and an alternative look at the translation.

KJV: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

NIV: I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Other translations offer varying meanings, a commonality being self-oriented and self-given authority over a man, which may have been an issue in the church being addressed. This line of reasoning will be completed in the next section.

Alternatively, rather than assume that the issue is a cultural one, it could be a time-based problem. For example, Dr David L. Sebastian argues that the verb for “permitting” is in a “present continual sentence.” Potentially read as “I don’t permit you right now” rather than “I will never permit you” in a paraphrased sense. If such were true, then the time would have been based on a woman’s spiritual knowledge, thus the emphasis on learning and not disrupting spiritual teachings that were ongoing. It also serves to shed light on how Priscilla had helped her husband Aquila correct Apollos.

He also points out that Kroeger, in the analysis of the original Greek, stated that a different translation, not changing the original wording, could be read as: “I do not allow a woman to teach or proclaim herself the author of man.” With this form of translation, it’d actually make the rest of the chapter context flow smoother. The rest that follows is thus: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” (1 Timothy 2:13-15).

According to Sebastian, Gnostics often proclaimed that Eve had actually been the first born and the nature of the transgression. They also encouraged abstaining from childbirth because it took away her salvation as the transgressor. As Sebastian points out, however, is that there is still much speculation and debate as it concerns v. 12 and onwards. (Sebastian, pg. 4 & 5) This version of the translation would also reasonably fit the false teachings Paul warned against in his epistle to Timothy.

Establishing a Likely Meaning

We know what this verse pertains in the very basics because of the meaning of the Greek words that aren’t met with contention. It’s directed to a female because of γυναικὶ. Based on the context, which is Christian congregations, we can decipher that the meaning is “woman” rather than “wife”. The verse is in consideration of something being permitted, because of ἐπιτρέπω, and it’s in the negative sense because of οὐκ. Therefore, it’s about what a woman is not permitted to do.

The first section is on teaching, being based on διδάσκειν, and given the context of the verse, this is spiritual instruction since the second chapter only dealt with spiritual matters after all. The second part of the verse concerns some form of authority, debatably general, usurped, or some other variation because of αὐθεντεῖν, and this is over a man, which is ἀνδρός. We know this isn’t to mean “husband” because of the context, but a man in general. And finally, we can decipher that the ending is concerning being (εἶναι) in quietness (ἡσυχίᾳ).

So, since we have the chapter details itself down, what about the culture? We know that the author, whether it be Paul or someone else, is aiming to tackle some problems that are occurring in the church. This is a common theme in the epistles included in the New Testament. What is the problem occurring in chapter 2 that is addressed towards women in particular?

First, listed notably, is that the women were gussying themselves up to stand out. “…also that the women should dress modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). So, ultimately, they were doing what they could to be noticed. What else would a woman do to be noticed?

Before truly answering that question, we’d have to first approach their behaviour. What would their attitudes have been like in Ephesus? What was Ephesus like? Firstly, the first obstacle to overcome would be the religious beliefs of Ephesus. Considering the large statue of Artemis, one of the gods of Ephesus, stood towering in the city, it seemed only reasonable that many of the customs of other belief systems lingered, influencing the Ephesians.

With the presence of Artemis, recalled in Acts as being a highly worshipped goddess in Ephesus, feminine became grand in the sense of taking authority, potentially making feminine glamorised, thus the sense of gaudiness that is shown in 1 Timothy 2.

The only last note to make is the consideration that basic guidelines are retrieved from the second chapter of the first epistle. As these are largely custom-based, it should, of course, be inquired as to whether the twelfth verse would even apply to all time. It calls for men to raise their hands in prayer, but that isn’t a habit encouraged in all churches as it was believed to be custom-based. Paul doesn’t outline specific garments that would be considered “modest,” for women, but does specify it shouldn’t be grandeur and that works, instead, would be her garment. As these are custom habits, and the silence a commentary on likely disruption in the church, would the proclamation towards teaching and authority, should it be treated definitively as exercising rather than any other, be one to hold for all-time?

And of course, as noted in the ending of the translation section, there is, too, another way of reading it. As I am neither a lexicographer or someone that avidly studies the original Greek language used for the New Testament until even my eyes burn, I won’t be making any decisions as to how this verse should be treated and read. So, with such said, I leave this for your reading and offered some material below. If I have follow-ups, I’ll present them in a continuation, especially given any possible contentions.


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