1 Timothy 2:12 Once More

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You’ve heard it said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, the same is true with regard to scholarship. Those who are unaware of the most recent scholarly work on a given issue will be greatly handicapped in discussions of that issue. This is true, among other things, regarding the proper interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12.

In our book Women in the Church, originally published in 1995, my collaborators and I set forth the proposal that the passage means exactly what it says—imagine that!—which is, Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man,” the implication being that women ought not to occupy the office of elder or overseer in the church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2).

In keeping with sound hermeneutical procedure, Women in the Church looked at the passage from every conceivable angle, including historical-cultural background, literary genre, lexical study, semantic analysis, exegesis of the passage in context, hermeneutics, world view, and the history of scholarship.

At the heart of the book were the two chapters devoted to lexical and semantic analysis. In the former, the likelihood was suggested that “exercise authority” (Grk. authentein) carries a neutral or positive connotation, but owing to the scarcity of the term in ancient literature (the only NT occurrence is 1 Tim. 2:12; found only twice preceding the NT in extrabiblical literature) no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of lexical study alone.

Complementing the lexical analysis was the syntactical study of the phrase “not . . . to teach or have authority,” which yielded the unequivocal conclusion that both terms, “teach” and “have authority,” carry the same force, whether positive or negative, when joined by the coordinating conjunction “or” (Grk. oude). This was demonstrated by a plethora of examples both from the NT and extrabiblical Greek literature.

Since the word “teach” regularly in the Pastorals is presented as a positive activity (see esp. 1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2), and one in which Timothy and other church leaders are called to engage, it was concluded that a negative force of “teach” in 1 Tim. 2:12 is highly unlikely, especially since a different word, heterodidaskalein, “to teach falsely,” is used elsewhere in the same epistle (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3). Thus lexical study, supported by semantic analysis, strongly indicated the correctness of the conventional reading adopted by virtually all translations, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority.”

Since the publication of the first edition of Women in the Church in 1995, both complementarian and egalitarian scholars have reviewed the work, whether in book reviews or commentaries. In the second edition of Women in the Church, which appeared in 2005, I take up the last decade of scholarship on the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12 and review all the responses to my syntactical study (see Women in the Church, 2d ed., pp. 74–84).

Here is what I find. Major recent commentaries, such as William Mounce’s Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, concur with the findings of Women in the Church and have incorporated them into their discussion. With the exception of Linda Belleville, even all the egalitarian scholars who reviewed my chapter on the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12, agree with my conclusion! This includes even those, like Kevin Giles, who are vehemently opposed to the overall message of the passage and its implications as interpreted in the book. Tellingly, Giles, for example, argues that the author of the Pastorals here probably broke the rules of Greek grammar!

Egalitarian scholars such as Alan Padgett, Craig Keener, and, it appears, also William Webb likewise concur with the construal of the syntax of 1 Tim. 2:12 in Women in the Church. Perhaps most remarkably, a German reviewer, Judith Hartenstein, writes,

My theological position is very different from that of Köstenberger. Nevertheless, I often find his analysis of texts and exegetical problems convincing and inspiring, especially if he uses linguistic approaches. . . . . Likewise, I agree with Köstenberger’s reading of 1 Tim 2. Köstenberger shows that the text demands a hierarchy between men and women and is meant as normative teaching. But with a different, far more critical view of the Bible, I need not accept it as God’s word. (It helps that I do not regard 1 Timothy as written by Paul.)

To be sure, this does not mean that every disagreement with my construal of the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12 necessarily stems from an errantist stance toward Scripture. Nevertheless, it shows that interpreters’ presuppositions frequently tend to override the actual exegesis of the passage. Yet, unlike in Hartenstein’s case, this often remains unacknowledged.

A case in point is I. H. Marshall. In his 1999 ICC commentary on the Pastorals, Marshall at the outset indicates his acceptance of the findings of my study by noting that it has “argued convincingly on the basis of a wide range of Gk. usage that the construction employed in this verse is one in which the writer expresses the same attitude (whether positive or negative) to both of the items joined together by oude.”

Yet Marshall proceeds to opt for a negative connotation of both terms “teach” and “have authority,” because he says false teaching is implied in the reference to Adam and Eve in verse 14. This, however, is hardly the case. More likely, Paul’s concern was with women being the victims of false teaching, not its perpetrators (see esp. 1 Tim. 5:14–15). Also, Marshall fails to adequately consider the above-mentioned point, that teaching is virtually always construed as a positive activity in the Pastorals and that it should therefore be construed positively also in 1 Timothy 2:12.

In my updated chapter in the 2d edition of Women in the Church, I detail several other problems with Marshall’s interpretation (regarding which see pp. 75–76, 84). The noted commentators William Mounce and Craig Blomberg, likewise, have ably critiqued and refuted Marshall’s position. We should also note that Marshall does not believe Paul wrote the Pastorals but rather that someone else wrote it under Paul’s name (he calls this “allonymity”) and that Marshall practices a sort of content criticism of the Bible according to which he identifies a central core of its teaching—in the case of gender roles, the reference in Galatians 3:28 to there being no more male nor female in Christ—and on this basis rules out other passages which he considers to be in conflict with this central core—such as 1 Timothy 2:12! In light of these larger presuppositions, it should not surprise us that Marshall the exegete finds ways to circumvent what appears to be a considerably more likely reading of the passage, where both teaching and having authority are positively construed.

With this we have come full circle. Those who are unaware of the history of scholarship on a given issue are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past. The challenge is not for us to find a scholar who happens to agree with us and then pit “our” scholar against those supporting the views of others. Rather, we ourselves have a responsibility to study to show ourselves approved by God, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

For the complete survey of recent scholarship on the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12, see Women in the Church (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 74–84; see also my survey of the first edition of the book, “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9–15,” Faith & Mission 14/1 (1997): 24–48.

23 Comments

  1. Jn 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    2Tim 3:16 “All scripture is God-breathed…”

    2Peter 1:20 “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    I don’t think God would inspire a book that is hard to understand for those that are truly seeking him. This scripture is pretty straight forward. I’m no biblical scholar and the carpenters, fisherman, and tax collectors of the day were not either. These and the religious of their day, took it for what is says. If you have trouble understanding – ask GOD to open your eyes and give you wisdom and understanding. If you want to be in good graces with God, you ought to quit trying to stretch a meaning out of or into it. Just do what it says and your life will go just fine. You’ll be happy and at peace. It works!!!

  2. May the Lord bless jeremyemillio. What a highly intelligent man he is! Blessed are the women in his life!

    What you said is the truth.Paul was expressing an opinion and there is no need to treat it as “THUS SAITH THE LORD” Deborah 4 & 5 does it for me. Absolutely perfect as an example of the esteem God holds on women.

    Judges 4:4-5 Deborah the prophetees, the wife of Lappidoth, was LEADING ISRAEL at that time.

    She HELD COURT under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, AND THE ISRAELITES CAME TO HER TO HAVE THEIR DISPUTES DECIDED.

  3. Hi, I just recently read this verse in the bible, and I am wondering, does it mean women can’t teach at all? Or does it mean women can’t teach men? Or does it mean women can’t teach in the church? What about female worship leaders who teach the worship team better tips for playing their instruments and such? What about women in professional teaching positions like math teachers and English teachers? Or even women that teach piano lessons? I am a woman in a band, and, I am required to do two things that involve teaching. 1) Every week, someone in the band takes a turn to share a bible study that has been previously prepared- much like a sermon, but we are sharing what the lord has done in our life and what worship means to us. 2) I also show the different members of our band how to play their instruments because I can play all of the instruments in our band, and people often turn to me for help. Can someone please tell me which of these are wrong for me to do, and which is ok? It would be muchly appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Why would Paul not let a woman teach? The answer is evident within the text itself: because she needed to learn– and Paul exhorted that she indeed be allowed to learn.

    For the rest– if you’re going to take 1 Tim 2:12 as timeless and for all time, regardless of whether or not women nowadays have received education in the faith– then please take the other verses as timeless too. All you men, start lifting your hands when you pray in church. Not to do so is to ignore the plain text. And women– no more wearing of jewelry or expensive clothing to church. Better start taking Paul’s words for exactly what they say, and nothing else.

    And another thing– Paul’s words in other letters directly command us to kiss each other in church. I can’t think why we keep ignoring the plain text of that one, too. Pucker up, folks!

  5. The point is this: Can “women” (pl) be pulled out of the passage from what is written down? No, it’s IMPOSSIBLE. A Scientific mind knows this. There is no way to prove that Paul used the singular genericaly. What can only be pulled out of the context is a prohibition put on 1 woman from teaching 1 man. That’s the hard truth. It takes honest Scholarship to see this fact.

    We even play around with v14 and assume Paul is refering to “Eve” when in fact he says “the woman” AND uses the present tense. The woman who he stopped from teaching, Paul is saying is deceived and in transgression, at the time he wrote the letter to Timothy. Anything more is speculation.

    Paul stopped a deceived woman from teaching a man in the very context of false teaching.

  6. is it ungodly for a women to pastor a church or be head or over a churh in leadership. thankyou sincerily bro timothy a ammons. shilo bridging the gap ministry 300 long st clumbus ohio 43215 please reply

  7. Why would PAUL not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man? Surely, the context suggests that Paul is speaking as an apostle invested with certain authority. Surely, Paul assumes he is speaking from God’s perspective. This makes Jeremy’s reasoning from Psalm 23 and elsewhere a little unconvincing! The context gives it away.

    And it seems ever so clear to me that Paul says “a woman” as in “any woman”. This makes Kathy’s reasoning just as unconvincing.

  8. It is an excellent point you made, Jeremy.

    I am concerned with hearing the usage of ‘women’ when speaking of this passage though ‘women’ plural is not in the text.

    How does one determine whether or not ‘a woman’ is generic for all women or used for a particular woman? By looking to the context.

    1. Looking at vv.8,9&10 we have generic plural, men and women.
    2. Then look at v.11. It says ‘a woman’. Is it generic for all women or used for a particular single woman? Well one cannot say that it is plural thus far in the text BECAUSE so far, up to v.11, PAUL made a change from plural in vv.8-10 to singular, v.11. So the question stands the moment Paul makes the shift from plural to singular.
    3. Ask yourself, is there anywhere in the passage then or next that tells which Paul had in mind? Paul’s mention of Eve doesn’t tell us anything. Paul’s mention of Adam doesn’t tell us. (Unless one assumes or believes Adam had some gender status, based on his being created first, above Eve because remember, in this text thus far at this point it cannot be established whether or not Paul’s uasge was meant genereic or particular.)
    4. You can only find the answer once you read v.15. There is a single reference and a plural reference that is, a ‘she’ and ‘they’. Who’s she? Who’s they? ‘She’ and ‘they’ cannot refer back to the same thing, that is, ‘a woman’ as that would not be grammaticaly correct. NOTE:If one begins with the idea that she refers back to ‘a woman’ having already in mind that ‘a woman’ is used generic for all women, then one has started backwards when in fact it is the ‘she’ and ‘they’ reference that cannot refer to the same thing which determines Paul’s meaning and besides, one would still have to answer for ‘they’.

    ‘She’ will be saved if ‘they’ (a woman and a man, probably a married couple) continue in faith and love, the very things some were straying from as said in 1 Tim 1:5. So what we have is Paul stopping 1 woman from teaching 1 man.

    Is it possible that Paul was used ‘a woman’ to mean generic for all women? NO. Not contextualy, grammaticaly.

  9. First off, easy for Paul to say… he wasn’t married! Putting that aside though, this kind of literalism really amounts to naval gazing. Once you’ve gone this far, though, you might as well go all the way down the rabbit hole, so here goes. The great thing about Paul (that is, if Timothy was written by Paul) is that he very self-consciously injects his own voice into his writings. This verse is no exception. Paul clearly states that it is “I” (the author) that does not allow women to teach (pick your translation; go back to the Greek if you must). A true literalist would recognize the voice of the speaker and take that “I” literally. This has nothing to do with whether or not one believes that the Bible is absolute truth and the infallible word of God; it is simply a matter of understanding how pronouns work. For instance, in Psalm 23, the Psalmist states “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For Thou art with me.” Inspired word or not, the pronoun “I”, here, refers to the Psalmist; “Thou” refers to YHWH God. The fact that the words are scripture does not mean that the person who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death is God; the writer of Timothy is not God, either. He is a man who is (overtly, through the use of the first person singular personal pronoun “I”) expressing his own personal standard. If you are a literalist, this does not change in the least; it just means that it is literally and infallibly true that the writer of Timothy believes that women should not teach in the church. While this is fair evidence in one direction, it does not tell us in any absolute sense what God’s stance is on the issue (especially when balanced against Biblical evidence in the other direction, like the story of Deborah in Judges, chapters 4 and 5). A lot of people say a lot of things in the Bible, but not all statements made are from God. In fact, Satan himself speaks several times in the Bible; in such cases the Bible is true in the sense that it tells us, truthfully, what Satan says, not in the sense that what Satan says is true or is of God. (See the difference?) Moreover, prophets and authors in the Bible are generally VERY clear when they are speaking for God. They climb mountains and come down with stone tablets, or they quote directly from earlier scripture, or they simply mark statements from God with a rhetorical signpost like “The Lord says.” When they say “I” you can rest assured they mean “I”, and you can be pretty certain that they would be horrified to find out that anyone would have the audacity to conflate this obviously self-referential “I” with a divine voice emanating from the most high and holy God Himself. A little less Greek and a little more grammar would take you a long way here.

  10. Hi, I really like your conclusion and exegesis of I Timothy 2. Here is the question I have for you.

    I beleive that in the proper context and done in the right way a gifted woman may teach a mixed adult audience, for example in an adult Sunday School class. So long as it is clear that the teaching is under the authority of the male leadership and so long as the audience does not perceive the woman to be teaching with ultimate authority. This might not work in every context but it ought not be ruled out just by I Tim. 2:12.

    Would you agree with this?

  11. As a PC(USA) Inquirer that has recently picked up your book Dr. Kostenberger I am saddened by your conclusions. I have never had reason to question Women’s Ordination in the Church. However your scholarship and your works have now convinced me that I was in error. Thank You Dr. Kostenberger for opening my eyes to the truth of Scripture.

  12. There are women today that are teaching and some preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. Should they should be told to step aside.

    There are sunday schools and christian schools in the santuaries across this glode teaching men.
    They should stop or the leven will keep on levening the whole lump.

  13. It is very refreshing to see someone stand up for the scriptures and not try to find a way to change their true meaning to suit their own desires. Too often in today’s world man creates his own version of religion and disregards what God has to say. I know many women who want to teach, preach or be in church authority try to argue away this scripture or add things to it that were never intended. Keep up the good work!

  14. Nick wrote:
    “Dr. Kostenberger, do you know of any good resources for the topic of whether women should be able to be deacons or not? My church is forming a committee to look at this…we are convinced on elders, but up in the air on deacons. Any articles, commentaries, or online resources which deal with this issue strongly and biblically, I would love if you could point me to them. Blessings.”
    By Nick on 06.21.06 2:05 pm

  15. After reading your exegetical analysis of the text, what, in your opinion, should the role of a woman be in the church?

  16. I am very grateful not only for your post but to hear of the feedback to the book women in the church. The timing for me is especially fortuitous as I work through 1 Timothy in my church and post about the process on my Blog
    – Truth is Still Truth Even if You Don’t Believe It.

  17. Thank you for your post. I’ve linked it here

  18. Dr. Kostenberger, do you know of any good resources for the topic of whether women should be able to be deacons or not? My church is forming a committee to look at this…we are convinced on elders, but up in the air on deacons. Any articles, commentaries, or online resources which deal with this issue strongly and biblically, I would love if you could point me to them. Blessings.

  19. I just wanted to say how glad I am to see a scholar of your caliber is blogging. I love reading your blog. I have also enjoyed the papers you link to. They are a wealth of information. Do you have a page containing all of your papers available online?

  20. Dr. Kostenberger,thank you for your clear exegesis, and clarity in exposition of God’s Holy Writ. Please be encouraged to know that you are not alone in this battle! It is my personal conviction, that no less than the glorious Gospel of Christ, is at stake here.
    We will continue to pray for men such as yourself, who are “not ashamed of the Gospel”.
    Continued success for His glory. Your brother in Christ, David Aponte.

  21. Dear Dr. Kostenberger,

    This is so refreshing! Thanks for the clarification concerning the linguistic aspect of “oude” and “authentein” in light of the historical background, more particularly how both words function in 2 Tim 2:12.

    I own the first edition of your book, “Women in the Church,” I will probably need to get the most recent one.

    Blessings,

    Celucien Joseph

  22. Thank you Dr. K. I appreciate your analysis here and your examination of Marshall’s argument. Granted your exegesis, to what extent would/could you recommend maintaining engagement with various denominations or churches, i.e., Methodists, Church of England, Scotland, PCUSA, many pentecostals, and others who are open to a different interpretation? This is a difficult question as well in current debate, even if we personally accept what Paul says here. It doesn’t quite seem to be adiaphora, but is it less a “core” issue and less connected to the Gospel than some have made it out to be?

  23. Dear Dr. Kostenberger,
    Thanks so much for your careful scholarship that aims at letting God’s Word speak for itself, to the glory of God! As a pastor, this kind of commentary is VERY appreciated, and unfortunately, rare. Yours is an invaluable ministry. I was introduced to your work by an older pastor friend, and found this blog via Justin Taylor, a few months ago. Although I need to keep my blog-reading to a minimum (i.e. redeem the time), this is a very useful one that I read and benefit from weekly (i.e. reading it IS redeeming the time). Please be encouraged!
    In Christ, Ian Vaillancout

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