Why 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Isn’t a Universal Restriction on Women in the Church

A lengthy and detailed post is coming on 1 Timothy 2:11-15–the most controversial in the conversation text on women’s roles in the church. It will probably be the longest post yet in the series.

Because it could be overwhelming to read all at once, here’s a short outline of the reasons why I believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not a transcultural restriction on woman. I hope seeing a summary beforehand helps you digest the longer post.

Maybe some of you prefer the bullet point style anyway. If that’s you, enjoy.

I have seven reasons from the text itself, followed by five big-picture questions to consider.

7 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Is Not a Transcultural Restriction on Women

  1. The only command in the entire section is in verse 11 when Paul says, “A woman should learn” or “Let a woman learn.” We tend to focus on the prohibition (the short-term solution). But Paul’s long-term solution is on learning to avoid deception (the problem in Ephesus). The implication is once the woman has learned properly, she would be eligible to teach.
  2. The woman ought to be humble and teachable as she learns. That’s what the Greek word translated “quietness” (v 11) and “quiet” (v 12) means. It has nothing to do with verbal silence. This aligns well with point #3.
  3. The Greek word authentein (“exercise authority,” v 12 ESV) is not a legitimate, positive use of authority. It is rather a misuse of authority, better translated as “dominate” or “domineer.” The problem was likely a woman who was teaching in a domineering way or with the intent to dominate a man (probably her husband).
  4. Epitrepō, the verb Paul uses for “I do not permit” (ESV, NIV), is a present, active, indicative, which never has the force of universal applications in the NT. It would be better translated, “I am not [currently] allowing.”
  5. Epitrepō is not a forceful word used to make a command. Paul uses other words to command/urge/charge Timothy in other parts of the letter.
  6. The use of the singular “a woman” and “a man” (vv 11, 12) and “she” (v 15) in Greek suggest the possibility that Paul writes about one particular woman who is being domineering and disruptive in Ephesus.
  7. Verses 13-14 do not “root Paul’s argument in the order of creation,” as complementarians argue. Instead, I believe Paul corrects false gnostic teaching that Eve was created first and Adam was the first sinner. Possibly, the problem woman was spreading and/or believing this lie. (See also question #3 below.) Verse 15 is also related to correcting false teaching. (You will want to read the next post for more on why I think this!)

5 Big Picture Questions to Consider

Some of these have been mentioned in previous posts, but are worth reconsidering.

  1. Are we prepared to say that the other statements from Paul about church behavior in 1 Timothy 2 are also normative for all time (i.e. transcultural)? Must all men lift their hands when praying (v 8)? Are women not allowed to wear jewelry or expensive clothes (vv 9-10)?
  2. Related to #1, Paul often tells other churches/people to do things that are not binding on all other churches. Why is 1 Tim 2 different than any other situation, especially considering the textual evidence above?
  3. If complementarians maintain verses 13-14 prove “order of creation” is the foundation for specific gender roles in ministry, what do we make of Jesus’ words “the first shall be last and the last first?” What also are we to make of the countless times the Bible overturns the created order (Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, David over his brothers, Jacob blessing Manasseh over Ephraim, Paul pointing out man’s dependence on woman in 1 Cor 11:11-12, etc.)? “Order of creation” is not a value God seems to care about all that much.
  4. If Paul did not allow any women to exercise any legitimate authority over men, what do we make of Priscilla (who taught Apollos), Junia (who was called an apostle), Phoebe (who was a deacon/minister), and the many other women Paul worked alongside? Are we really to believe Phoebe, a deacon (Rom 16:1), held no authority of any kind over any man?
  5. If a woman today was not domineering, but humble, mature, and had the knowledge and ability to teach and lead in a local church, how would the cause of the gospel be harmed if she actually taught and led?

You probably have questions. Maybe even a hundred. I’ll have a lot more to say in the next post and will do my best to fill in the gaps. For now, I hope this whets your appetite and prepares you to process the forthcoming (complete) post on 1 Timothy 2:11-15.


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