Was I Wrong on 1 Timothy 2:12?

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My findings regarding the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the first edition of Women in the Church were widely accepted even among feminist scholars (though, of course, they still don’t agree with the book’s overall thrust on other grounds). There has been a recent exception, though, in the case of Philip Payne, who recently published an article in the journal New Testament Studies. In my 1995 essay in the first edition, I provided a thorough critique of Payne’s earlier unpublished 1988 paper on the subject. Now Payne, in turn, has responded to my study, claiming that 9 of the 100 syntactical parallels to 1 Timothy 2:12 that I presented do not match the pattern.

First of all, even if Payne were right and 9 of the 100 instances don’t fit the overall pattern, this would still be an over 90% success rate, which would be rather impressive. What is more, however, I carefully looked at Payne’s article and each of the 9 instances he discusses, and found that Payne’s analysis does not hold true. Essentially, he seems to be operating on the basis of the notion that verbs are “positive” or “negative” largely in and of themselves. More properly, however, verbs convey a positive or negative connotation in context. For this reason I would argue that Payne’s rebuttal is itself invalid and that my original conclusion stands.

That conclusion, in short, is that the expression “or” (oude) in 1 Tim 2:12 joins two expressions that are positive, “teaching” and “having or exercising authority.” This means that Paul, when saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (TNIV), did not merely speak out against women teaching false doctrine or women lording it over men (while saying it was OK for men to do so?!?). No, Paul did not want women even to engage in the kind of teaching or exercise of authority that was appropriate if exercised by qualified men in the church (see, e.g., 1 Tim 3:2; 5:17).

Naturally, this is not a welcome conclusion for those who contend that women ought to be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in the local church, though, it should be noted, this particular reading of 1 Tim 2:12 does not by itself settle the issue. Yet for those willing to meet on the common ground of the available evidence, the syntax of 1 Tim 2:12, particularly the kind of construction entailed by the use of “or” (oude) in this passage, sets important parameters for the proper understanding of Paul’s injunction. As interpreters arrive at a consensus on the most likely rendering of 1 Tim 2:12, this will put the discussion on a more solid biblical foundation.

NOTE: My original essay appeared in Women in the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995); the second edition, Women in the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), included an extensive interaction with the decade of scholarship subsequent to the first edition. The article mentioned above is Philip B. Payne, “1 Tim 2.12 and the Use of oude, to Combine Two Elements to Express a Single Idea,” NTS 54 (2008): 235–53. I responded to Payne’s article in greater detail in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (B & H). An initial response appeared in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.


  1. Is there not a basic conceptual error in the view that 1 Timothy 2:12 means that a woman is not to teach in a dominating way (or somesuch)? There are two things that are being prohibited. Even if they can be seen as two aspects of a single idea, that idea encompasses both of them.

    For example, if I say ‘No running or jumping in the courtyard’ that means both ‘no running’ and ‘no jumping’. It doesn’t mean that it’s OK to run in the courtyard as long as one doesn’t jump at the same time. There may be a single idea of overly boisterous behaviour being prohibited, but that doesn’t mean that it is only the combination of the two that is banned.

    Or if I say, ‘no salt or pepper, please’, I would be surprised if my host put salt on my food, and when asked about it said ‘oh, I thought it would be alright so long as there wasn’t any pepper with it’. Again, there may be a single idea of, say, no seasoning, but that encompasses both the salt and the pepper, not just the combination of salt and pepper.


  2. Dr. Kostenberger,

    I’ve read your book titled “Women in the Church” (2005 edition), as well as Grudem’s book “Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth” (2004) and am grateful to you and other scholars who pour over this research everyday.

    Having had three semesters of Koine Greek myself as an MDiv student, it is my observation that, while the Greek word “authentein” is an important word in determining the meaning and application of this passage, isn’t context key to any passage? I was always taught within my hermeneutics passage that “a text means what it means in its context.” Greek study is important to any passage, but first, in order to read a passage, we have to read it in its context.

    It seems to be the view of Thomas Schreiner, Wayne Grudem, and other scholars that the reason why Paul prohibits women from the teaching position or any other “authoritative” position (if that’s how you interpret it) is because Paul appeals to the creation order. However, not only does Paul argue a creation order, but also the deception of the woman (“the woman was deceived”). Is it possible that Paul could be reaffirming the Law (since, in 1 Timothy 1, there are some “desiring to be teachers of the law,” 1 Tim. 1:7 who entertain “myths and endless genealogies”, 1 Tim. 1:4)?

    It has been the result of my study of this text (and I’ve read books from both sides of the argument), that, if Paul is reaffirming the Law, then the word “authentein” will be interpreted according to Paul’s reference to Genesis. Paul here argues Adam’s creation first, then Eve’s deception. But both of these concepts are addressed in Genesis already. Paul is not quoting a passage from Genesis, but referencing it.
    As a result, “authentein” will have something to do with Paul’s maintenance of Adam being created first and his affirmation that Eve was the one who was deceived. In your book, it is stated that Eve’s mistake was by responding to the serpent. But does God punish Eve for responding to the serpent, or for her sin (read Genesis 3:16)? Eve is punished for her sin, not because she “took authority” from her husband by responding to the serpent. Finally, your book also states that the serpent violated the principle of male leadership when he went to Eve– but the serpent isn’t punished for this, either in Genesis 3. He is punished for deceiving Eve.

    In light of reading Genesis for what it is, there seems to be no principle of male headship violated by Eve. In the context of Ephesus, however, it seems that the women are claiming that Eve came before Adam– otherwise, why would Paul write “the woman” was deceived, and not “Eve was deceived”?

    Last but not least, what do we do with the references of “authentein” in the Apocryphal books such as Wisdom of Solomon 12:6 and 3 Maccabees 2:29? In both cases, the word refers to either “murdering with one’s own hand” or “former status”. You rule out the possibility in your book of the word “authentein” being translated as “to be primarily responsible for,” but, if you place this definition within the context of Genesis (the passage Paul references in his response in 1 Tim. 2), you will see that Adam is primarily responsible for the Fall, as God states to him, “cursed is the ground becauase of you…” (Gen. 3:17, ESV). It seems then, that, Paul is telling women not to teach that the woman is the origin (or lord) of man, since “Adam was first formed, then Eve…” Adam was responsible for creation’s fall.

    I think the evangelical community has also missed the earlier portions of 1 Timothy 2. Verse 5 states, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” It is here and only here in the canon of Scripture that Christ is referenced as “the man, Christ Jesus.” This in itself is telling as to what the problem at Ephesus is here. If Paul is having to state “the man, Christ Jesus” and argue that “the woman” was deceived, then surely, endless genealogies are responsible for this false teaching.

    I think context, grounded with the story in Genesis, gives us the definition of this Greek word. The word “authentein” refers to the meaning “to author” a man, or “to be the origin” of man.

    Context will help us determine what this word means in the future. But nowhere in chapter 2 is there a reference to church leadership– that comes in chapter 3. Paul is concerned with correct doctrine here in chapter 2. The woman was not to be the lord over man (Adam, and men, were appointed “lord” over the home in Genesis 3).

  3. Dr. Köstenberger:

    (As I’ve written on another blog)

    A “possible” objection to Payne’s essay/conclusion is where he looks at Andreas Köstenberger’s search for a syntactical match for 1 Timothy 2:12 in Greek literature for comparison. Payne says on p. 244:

    Of the passages in Köstenberger’s
    IBYCUS search of ancient Greek literature, only one other passage perfectly replicates
    1 Tim 2.12’s syntactical structure:

    (1)a negated finite verb [1 Tim 2:12 ouk epitrepô – “I do not permit”] +
    (2) infinitive [1 Tim 2:12 didaskein – “to teach”] +
    (3) oude +
    (4) infinitive +
    (5) alla +
    (6) infinitive.

    However, the actual syntactical structure of 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as Payne lists it, but:

    (1) infinitive [1 Tim 2:12 didaskein – “to teach”] +
    (2) conjunction [de] +
    (3) noun object of finite verb [1 Tim 2:12 gynaiki – “to a woman” dative case] +
    (4) negated finite verb [1 Tim 2:12 ouk epitrepô – “I do not permit”] +
    (5) oude +
    (6) infinitive +
    (7) noun object of infinitives [1 Tim 2:12 andros – “of a man” genitive case]
    (8) alla +
    (9) infinitive +
    (10) prepositional phrase

    I.e., even ignoring the nouns that are the objects of the verb and the infinitives, the negated finite verb (ouk epitrepô) does NOT precede the first infinitive, as Payne lists it (Payne’s (1) and (2)); rather, it follows it (my (1) and (4)).

    Thus, an exact syntactic parallel to 1 Timothy 2:12 has not been shown.

    Maybe it makes no difference, or maybe it does make a difference whether the first infinitive comes before or after the negated finite verb. The order of the finite verb (i.e., its placement in a sentence) seems to me to be somewhat germane to the argument re: 1 Tim 2:12 , esp. since the argument includes how didaskein and authentein are joined, whether they are both positive or negative things, etc. Payne’s argument is partly based on the oude joining two infinitives, and that’s what his “syntactical structure” portrays 1 Timothy 2:12 as doing, but in actual fact in 1 Timothy 2:12 oude does not directly join the two infinitives; the negated finite verb interrupts them.


  4. FWIIW, when “an exception proves a rule” the idea is that an exception TESTS a (supposed) rule and if it is found to be a valid exception, then it DISPROVES the supposed rule. That is, “proves” is used with the connotation of “tests” which some do not know when they quote this, as it makes little sense otherwise; how can an exception that breaks a rule show that a rule holds; the answer is it does not.

    My take is that Payne has given a masterful analysis given our limited knowledge of the situation at Ephesus with Timothy. The only way a non-egal interpretation holds is if it is the ONLY one possible, which Payne and others show is far from the case.

  5. it does not appear that these verbs are of such a nature that they transparently and unequivocally convey a positive or negative connotation apart from consultation of the context and syntax of the passage.

    Can we state that so confidently when for αυθεντειν we have barely a handful of instances? Baldwin’s essay may provide much helpful information, but the very few instances that are within a relevant time period for determining meaning seem to me to make erring on the side of caution the wiser course.

  6. I think it might be more useful to acknowledge that didaskein does have a negative connotation in one of the pastoral epistles specifically. Then people can take this information into account.

    I would be particularly interested in any occurrence of authentein which had a positive connotation. Clearly this needs to be established as a possibility.

    I think Payne’s use of the BDAG is warranted in his article. Authentein means to set oneself up as an independent authority, or an authority unto oneself. A review of the available occurrences of authentein should be in order now that the Philodemus fragment has been ruled out.

    I have the other occurrence, BGU 1208, posted on my blog if you would like to offer a translation of it.

  7. Thank you, Wayne, for your comment. While what you say is generally true, in the case of the use of didaskein and authentein in 1 Tim 2:12, in conjunction with oude, it does not appear that these verbs are of such a nature that they transparently and unequivocally convey a positive or negative connotation apart from consultation of the context and syntax of the passage. Also, one ought not to underestimate the possibility that an otherwise positive word is given a negative contextual connotation or vice versa.

  8. The use of didaskein in Titus 1:11 is the solitary exception in the NT that proves the rule (hence I say “virtually” always). Anyone reading that verse, however, is not left in doubt as to the negative connotation in context. The lack of these kinds of negative qualifiers in 1 Tim 2:12 sets that passage in stark contrast to the use of didaskein in Titus 1:11.

  9. Dr. Köstengberger,

    I would be interested in why you say,

    The first word linked by the Greek coordinating conjunction oude (“or”) is the word “teach,” didaskein, which is frequently used in the Pastoral Epistles and virtually always has a positive connotation,

    When didaskein has a negative connoatation in Titus 1:11?

  10. More properly, however, verbs convey a positive or negative connotation in context.

    It is true that context determines whether some verbs have a positive or negative connotation. But there are many examples in the lexicon of English, as well as other languages, where some verbs are intrinsically positive or negative. Lexicography is one of my areas of focus as a linguist, and semantic compositional analysis and other lexical tools show that Payne and you are both right.

    Here are some English verbs (or predicate adjectives, which function as verbs in English and as full verbs in many languages) which are instrinsically negative:

    smells (it has become pejorative)
    kicked the bucket (negative idiom)

    Cognitive experiments have been conducted in a number of cognitive science departments and subjects consistently have negative connotations for some words and positive connotations for others, in context-free environments.

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