Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy Learning, Teaching, Authority
Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy Learning, Teaching, Authority
After enjoining modesty and good
deeds, as distinct from expensive adornment and its potentially provocative
message, Paul continued to specify how the women were to behave. We need to
remember that he is writing to correct an immediate problem, and so should
consider his words in that context.
a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to
have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 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 2:11-15,
“In silence with full submission”
What did Paul mean when he said
that a woman was to learn “in silence with full submission”?
It is noticeable that Paul instructed that a woman should learn, a distinct difference from many
attitudes to women in the ancient world.
“In silence” means “in quietness” (hesychia), the same basic word used in verse 2 “a quiet life”. It
is not the word sigan, “refrain from
speaking”, used in 1 Corinthians 14 when speakers in tongues, prophets and the
women are told to be silent. “Quiet” in verse 2 means “free from disruption or
persecution”, and it has been suggested that Paul meant the same in verse 11,
i.e. that no attempt should be made to disrupt the process of a woman being
taught. Pagan and Jewish comments can be quoted which object to women being
educated. However, the close linking of “in quietness” and “with full submission”
suggests that “in quietness” more likely refers to the woman herself. The word
does not mean “without speaking”. The intention is that the woman should be
co-operative and eager to learn, listening to her teacher rather than making
out that she knew everything already. Such an approach to learning is essential
for any student, male or female, but this was evidently not being followed in
Ephesus. Plutarch (c. 100 AD) wrote:
How wise a
thing, it would seem, is silence [hesychia].
In particular it serves for studying to acquire knowledge and wisdom, by which
I do not mean the wisdom of shop and market place, but that mighty wisdom which
makes the one who acquires it like to God.
(On Quietude, Fragment 143)
Behaving with hesychia,
with quietness, is a basic characteristic which applies to all believers, not
just women. It is part of acting with “submission” as all believers are to do
to each other: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”
(Ephesians 5:21). Paul exhorted the Thessalonians “to aspire to live quietly” (hesychazein, the verbal form of hesychia) in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, while
in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 he said:
hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any
work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do
their work in quietness (hesychia)
and to earn their own living.
“In full submission” may mean to the Scriptures, or to the
teaching of the apostles, or the elders (3:2) or to the teaching given by her
husband, or to that given by an older sister (Titus 2:3). It is the attitude
required by someone who needs to learn, as did these women in Ephesus.
“I permit no woman to
Apart from whether gyne
means “woman” or “wife” and whether aner
means “man” or “husband”, other possibilities of translation depend on how the
words are fitted together according to translators’ assessments of the rules of
Greek grammar and the translation of other key words. Is “teach” (didaskein) to be taken on its own or as
a verb governing “man/husband”? Does authentein
mean “have authority over”, or “dominate” in an undesirable manner? Should
“teach” be linked with authentein so
as to qualify what is meant by “teach”? There has been much debate
over the meaning of authentein, and
we discuss this in the next chapter, pages 94-98.
To simplify, we will use the translation “man” and “woman”, rather
than “husband” or “wife”, and translate authentein
as “have authority”, though everyone should be aware that there are alternative
Possibilities of translation
“I do not allow a woman to teach at all. Nor do I allow her to have authority
over a man”.
(2) “I do not allow a woman to teach a man nor do I allow her to
have authority over him.”
(3) “I do not allow a woman to teach or dominate a man.”
We have already observed that Paul encourages all believers to
teach, e.g. Colossians 3:16, and that he regards women who teach as his fellow
workers. In Titus 2:3 he specifies that older sisters are to “teach what is
good”. He goes on in 2 Timothy 2:2 to say that “faithful people” are to teach.
How, then, are we to understand this apparently contrary statement?
There are at least four possibilities: Paul differentiated between
teaching in private from teaching in public; or he had a specific individual in
mind in the emergency situation he was addressing; or he was referring to
husbands and wives; or he intended to ban only teaching of an immoral,
And since he approves of women
teaching elsewhere, is his ban here intended only for the immediate crisis?
Does he mean that once the crisis is solved, and when the women have learned
“in full submission” and therefore been properly trained, then women should
(A) Private and Public Contexts
One suggestion is that Paul approved of sisters teaching in a
private context, such as when Priscilla taught Apollos at home, but did not
permit a woman to teach in public. In both the Greek and Jewish worlds the idea
that women could be teachers was not generally acceptable. Pagan writers in the
ancient world objected to women taking public roles in a number of areas,
Respectable women were expected to stay at home and look after the household.
the arm, but the voice of a modest woman ought to be kept from the public, and
she should feel shame at being heard, as at being stripped.... ... she should
speak to, or through, her husband. (Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom
We need to take account of this background when we observe the
favourable references in the New Testament toward women teaching. It is
difficult, however, to differentiate between public and private when ecclesias
met in homes, and Colossians 3:16 is obviously referring to a meeting. It may
be that as Christianity spread and the movement became larger, the issue of
private versus public became more acute.
(B) There was a Problem with One Particular Woman at Ephesus
The text in 1 Timothy
2:11-12 is in the singular. This may be a general manner of speaking; or
perhaps there is one particular woman of whom Paul has heard but whose name he
does not know or whom he prefers not to specify, just as he does not specify
who the “certain persons” are (1 Timothy 1:6) – yet presumably he knows,
judging by the detailed criticism of the content of their teaching. The passage
can be translated with a more immediate reference as “I am not allowing a woman
to teach”, i.e. in the situation and circumstances of which Paul had heard. If
he imposed a blanket ban at this stage, he could sort out who could teach and
who could not when he arrived personally, as was his intention (“I hope to come
to you soon”, 1 Timothy 3:14), and as he does in 2 Timothy 2:2.
(C) Husband and Wife
Most translations interpret verse
12 in a general manner (“man” rather than “husband”):
I do not
allow a woman to teach or to have authority (authentein)
over a man.
The word “submissiveness”, however, suggests a husband/wife
context, for Paul had already taught that “wives are to be subject to their
husbands” (Ephesians 5:22). The switch from “women” in the plural (verse 9) to
“woman” (gyne) and “man” (aner) in the singular in verses 11 &
12, and the reference to childbearing in verse 15, likewise suggest a marriage
context. Translating these words as “wife” and “husband”, they then read:
Let a wife
learn in silence and in all submission [to her husband]. I do not allow a wife
to teach (didaskein) or to dominate (authentein) her husband. (1
What background could have required this teaching from Paul?
There are several possibilities:
(1) In the ancient world women were usually married as teenagers
(14 years old) to men who were considerably older (20s to 30s). In this
situation, it is obvious that wives, who were little more than youngsters at
first, should learn quietly from their husbands when being instructed in
(2) Bossy, domineering wives are not unknown today. It may well be
that among the false teachers were some such women.
(3) Most women in the ancient
world received little education other than in housekeeping from their mothers. Many women could not read
or write. In such a situation the wives were in no position to teach their
husbands. The frequent references by the apostle Paul to the Old Testament
Scriptures indicate the assumption that his readers would have an awareness of
the Old Testament. A proper understanding is impossible without literacy, and
uneducated wives therefore needed to be taught both literacy and the Scriptures.
Relying on old-wives’ fables taught in the nursery (1 Timothy 4:7) – such as
Greek myths and other stories from pagan backgrounds – would not give them any
basis for understanding the way of Christ. Titus 2:4 indicates that younger
wives needed to be given spiritual and moral education, and this would be given
either by older women as in Titus 2:4-5, by ecclesial leaders or by husbands.
(D) Paul sought to stop Immoral, Misleading Teaching
Paul was writing in a situation
where those who were spiritually uneducated were teaching others:
persons ... desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either
what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions. (1
Immodest dress suggested sexual promiscuity (2:9); some widows
were living for pleasure (5:6) and younger widows whose commitment, and
morality were in doubt, were going from house to house (ecclesia to ecclesia?)
“saying what they should not” (5:11-13). Paul instructed the deacons’ wives (or
“women deacons”) to be “serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all
things” (3:11). The need to give such instructions shows that some, perhaps
many, perhaps the majority of the women were light-headed, slanderers,
immoderate and unfaithful (to Christ or to their husbands). The crisis facing
Paul and Timothy was a major one. Such women were in no position to teach, or
exert any influence. The linkage of “teach” with authentein suggests activity which at its mildest was dominating in
an unhelpful manner; at its worst it was immoral and was undermining the
Scriptural basis of the Christian gospel, like the woman Jezebel, in Revelation
2:20 “who is teaching and beguiling my servants to practise immorality”.
“She is to keep silent”
“Silent” is the same word on which we have already commented in
verses 2 and 11 (hesychia). It makes
more sense to translate it literally, “in quietness”, not “in silence”. She is
not to be disruptive, a comment which fits well if authentein means dominate, for “in quietness” is directly
contrasted with authentein.
Alternatively it could mean that she is to refrain from speaking and teaching
false proto-Gnostic ideas, and instead be in harmony with the Scriptures, which
would fit with the immediately following references to Genesis.
Adam and Eve
Paul next refers to the Garden of
Eden, connecting this to the foregoing by the word “for”.
was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was
deceived and became a transgressor. (1
“Adam was formed first, then Eve”
discuss the evidence from Genesis in Chapter 18, but the question which needs
to be asked at this point is: What does Paul mean to convey by this reference?
Three ways of understanding his wording have been suggested.
Because Adam was formed first he was given the divine right to lead, teach and
rule over his wife.
Paul intends this, he certainly does not state it, nor does a careful
examination of Genesis 2 bear this out, as we show in Chapters 17 and 18. The
idea that being formed first thereby entails authority over what was formed
later is an assumption, not stated here nor in Genesis. The animals were formed
before mankind according to Genesis 1, but this does not imply that the animals
were in authority over mankind. Sometimes reference is made to the special
privileges allotted to the first-born (Genesis 48:18, Deuteronomy 21:15-17),
but Adam was not “born”, and Paul makes no reference to this practice.
The problem addressed here is of women giving men false teaching. This is against God’s purpose. He created man first, and then the
woman, the purpose being that she would be a suitable companion to him, someone
who would help him live as God intended. This is not what the women at Ephesus
were doing, so Paul cites Genesis to remind them of how men and women were
created to work in unity. They were to rule over the earth together in
partnership (Genesis 1:28, 2:23), not over each other. But in Ephesus the women
were exerting authority wrongfully over men and were leading them into sin,
just as had happened with Adam and Eve.
The relevance of saying that Adam was formed first, then Eve, is
that Adam was instructed by God and had the job of passing on God’s
commandments to Eve. Adam as the senior had greater experience of life, and
especially of working with God before Eve was made. In the context of Ephesus,
the position was the same. The wives of whom Paul was thinking in Ephesus were
comparatively uneducated; it was important that they listened to their educated
Christian husbands. Paul therefore drew a parallel between the original needs
in Genesis and the needs in Ephesus.
says that Adam was formed first, then Eve, because the false teaching in Ephesus, as seen later in Gnosticism, gave priority to Eve. Gnostic writers
conflated Eve with the Mother Goddess – Isis/Cybele/Artemis. We gave one
example on page 76. Here is another:
day of rest, Sophia sent Zoe her daughter, who is called Eve, as an instructor
so that she should raise up Adam, who had no soul in him, so that those whom he
would beget should become vessels of the light. When Eve saw her co-likeness
lying flat, she showed pity upon him and said, “Adam, live! Rise up upon the
earth.” Straightaway her word became a deed. For when Adam had risen up, he
immediately opened his eyes. When he saw her, he said “You will be called ‘the
mother of the living,’ because you are the one who has given me life.”
(Nag Hammadi Codex, II, Tractate 5
On The Origin
of The World, 115.85-116.86)
Paul therefore repeats the original Bible teaching as given in
Genesis and instructs that believers should hold firmly to the warning it
It is traditionally
suggested that Paul objects to a woman teaching on the grounds that this is
contrary to the order of creation. We need to ask: Why, then, did he not stop
at “For Adam was formed first,
then Eve”? Instead he continues with a second
reference “and Adam was not
deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”.
The answer, we suggest, is that there were problems concerning deceptive
teaching in the first century circumstances in which this was written.
“Adam was not deceived, but
There are at least three possible interpretations of this
All women are easily deceived like Eve and are therefore not fit to teach or have authority.
There are several reasons for doubting this interpretation.
(1) Sisters seem no more prone to be led astray or to lead others
astray than do brothers. It is only some
women who are a problem (e.g. 1 Timothy 5:13). Others like Timothy’s mother and
grandmother are spoken of with approval for their faith and their work (2
Timothy 1:5 & 3:15).
(2) If Paul regards sisters as by nature unfit to teach, why does
he instruct them elsewhere to do so, e.g. Titus 2:3-4, where the older women
are to be “teachers of good things”? And why do we allow them to teach our children?
(3) Believers, male and female, are in the process of
transformation into a new nature, so to say that women en bloc are easily
deceived like Eve (or to say that all men sin deliberately like Adam) is to
deny our renewed life in Christ:
Do not lie
to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices
and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the
image of its creator. (Col. 3:9-10)
A second interpretation is this:
Paul was drawing a parallel
between women at Ephesus who were teaching false doctrines (and had been
deceived into these, such as in 2 Timothy 3:6-7) and Eve who similarly was
deceived and then misled Adam.
This conforms with the manner in
which Paul drew a parallel from Genesis in 2 Corinthians 11:3.
But I am
afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be
led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
Paul’s reasoning, according to interpretation (B), is this: Adam
was formed first and therefore received the commandments from God, but Eve was
deceived by the snake and led him astray just as was happening in Ephesus in
the situation to which Paul was addressing his warnings. By referring to an Old
Testament incident his hearers knew well, Paul was drawing a parallel to
reinforce his message, this being that a spiritually misled sister should not
mis-teach or dominate her husband.
There is a third possibility:
Paul is reminding the church at Ephesus that Eve was a sinner, not the bringer of enlightenment and salvation. This next
comment in Timothy therefore follows on to reinforce the rejection of the idea
that Eve was originator of life and the one who revealed true knowledge:
was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was
deceived and became a transgressor. (1
“Saved through bearing children”
will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and
holiness, with modesty. (1 Timothy 2:15)
Paul’s approval of childbearing
(obviously within marriage, which helps to indicate that this section may be
specific to married couples) is a suitable rejoinder to the false teachers who
forbade marriage (1 Timothy 4:3), or to the ‘new’ women who rejected marriage
or treated their vows lightly. Some of the Gnostics had a strong aversion to
childbirth, rejecting anything to do with the material body which they regarded
as evil, while the ‘new’ women preferred promiscuous relationships and measures
to prevent pregnancy or childbirth.
But this is an obscure verse for several reasons. Sisters are
saved by being in Christ just like brothers, and various suggestions have
therefore been made as to the meaning of “saved through bearing children”. What about sisters who do
not have children? Translation is a problem too, for the second part is plural,
though the sentence begins in the singular:
woman (or wife) will be saved through bearing children, if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim. 2:15)
This verse once again illustrates the difficulty of understanding
and applying comments when we do not know, and cannot properly discover, the
situation Paul was addressing. This much is clear, that Paul endorses faith,
love, holiness and modesty, qualities desirable in us all but sadly lacking
among the false teachers in Ephesus and Crete.
We suggest, as one of a number of
possible positive approaches, that the passage could be paraphrased and
expanded to read as below.
“Wives who need to be instructed in the Christian faith should
learn quietly and submissively. I do not allow a wife, who herself needs to be
taught, to teach or to tell her husband what to do. She must keep quiet and
learn. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, not the other way round as some
people are saying in Ephesus; and we can draw a lesson from what happened in
the Garden of Eden. Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and
became a transgressor. She was deceived because of her lack of experience and
by false teaching – just like the women in Ephesus. I am anxious that women in
Ephesus shouldn’t do as Eve did and use their influence to lead their husbands
astray. And mindful that Eve was deceived, don’t go along with the idea being
promoted by some people that woman is the creator and the all-virtuous revealer
of truth. Yet, though Eve was deceived, a wife will be saved, and there will be
no deception and no sin, if she lives a proper married life, bearing children
and continuing in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
Concluding Comments on 1
This passage contains sufficient uncertainties of context,
translation and interpretation that it should be viewed in the light of clearer
teaching elsewhere. It should not be
used as a key passage in any discussion on the role of sisters in the ecclesia.
Nor should it be quoted in writing or speech without the qualification that
both translation and meaning are open to considerable debate. Doubtless the
meaning was clear to Timothy, as required by the circumstances and his mission.
But we cannot simply quote words from the past and apply them to our own
context today when their original meaning and application are uncertain.
Paul did not define (in 1 Timothy) the position of a woman who had learned properly, like Priscilla, or
like his female “fellow workers” who were therefore in a position to teach. But
if the prevailing attitude of society made it difficult for women to teach in
the first century, it is not so now. Acceptance of the Gospel is more likely to
be hindered today by any attitude which says that capable sisters may not
teach. In fact, our community has always permitted sisters to teach – in print,
which is much more public and has a wider impact; we have thereby acknowledged,
if unwittingly, that teaching by a woman is not inadmissible in itself; when
properly done, it is a positive good.