An seminar presented at the 2023 Priscilla & Aquila Centre conference.
In the last few decades, there’s been an enormous amount of scholarship on the meaning and significance of 1 Timothy 2:8–15. The sheer range of interpretations can be bewildering, leading us to throw our arms in the air and declare that it’s all too hard, so we should all just do what is right in our own eyes. This video is designed to help us to regain some clarity and perspective on the passage by giving a broad overview of the main issues.
I ask questions like, “What are some of the factors that have led to such a wide array of views? What are the main questions being asked in the scholarship? What are the most common answers to these questions? What principles can we use to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these answers?”
While the video doesn’t answer every possible scholarly question, it aims to encourage us to grow in confidence in God’s word and to read and apply this part of Scripture carefully, in line with the gospel of Christ and in fellowship with others.
Keeping the gospel at the heart (1 Timothy 1:12–15; 2:4–6)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.1 Timothy 1:12–15
[God our Saviour] wants all human beings to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and humanity, the human being Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.1 Tim 2:4–6
What this seminar is about
What I’m trying to achieve in this seminar
- Sharing material from my teaching
- In the face of an enormous amount of scholarship: Clarity, perspective, and a broad overview
- Questions in scholarship, answers in scholarship, and principles for evaluating
What I’m not trying to achieve in this seminar
- Not focusing on less well-known or older theories
- Not focusing on application (even though application really matters!)
- Not focusing on my final answers (though I’ll show you how I evaluate the various answers)
- Not a model for how to preach the passage!
A herd of elephants in the room
Elephants in our daily lives
- Over the last century, we’ve experienced significant economic shifts in women’s roles
- More recently, we’ve experienced significant shifts in how we engage with information
- Sinful and/or naïve behaviour has deeply hurt some of those we serve alongside
To the extent that we’re influenced by our culture
- We’re all egalitarians at heart
- We’re all pragmatists at heart
- We all want history to be on our side
- We all want to claim the underdog status
- We’re influenced by the USA, but not identical to it
- We’re polarised, especially around this issue
To the extent that we’re influenced by Western thinking
- We’re suspicious of the doctrine of creation, especially when it comes to “order”.
- We’re fine-tuned to thinking about relationships in terms of “power”
- “Patriarchy” is an obvious target
- Our world has already moved way beyond feminism
- New ideas sell books
- The sheer number of ideas can be overwhelming
- Defending our position can distract us from putting it into practice in a God-honouring way
A translation for this seminar
1 Therefore I urge, first of all, to be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions,
that a peaceful and quiet life we may lead in all piety and dignity.
7 … [the testimony] for which I myself was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth.
8 Therefore I want the men to pray in every place,
lifting holy hands without anger or disputing;
9 likewise women in respectable clothing with dignity and self-control to adorn themselves,
not with braids and gold or pearls or expensive garments,
10 but what is proper for women professing piety, through good works.
11 A woman—in quietness let her learn, in all submission,
12 yet to teach for a woman I do not permit,
so neither to assume authority over a man, but to be in quietness.
13 For Adam the first was formed, then Eve;
14 and Adam was not deceived,
but the woman—having been deceived—into transgression came.
15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing,1 Timothy 2:1, 7–15
if they remain in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Issues of interpretation: How do we approach this passage?
Is it authoritative? And how?
- This passage is authoritative and the traditional view is broadly correct?
- This passage is authoritative but traditionally misunderstood?
- This passage is less authoritative than the genuine Paul?
- This passage is not authoritative for us today?
How this affects our reading of the scholarship
Is it clear?
- This passage is perfectly clear on a plain reading?
- This passage is basically clear with further light needed from other texts of Scripture?
- This passage is unclear, while other texts about women in ministry are clear?
How do we apply it today?
- The redemptive-historical hermeneutic?
- The redemptive-movement hermeneutic?
What is the significance of the historical context?
- Historical context makes no difference?
- Historical context matters, but the text itself is still clear?
- Context changes everything: Wow!?
Issues surrounding the letter of 1 Timothy
What kind of text is 1 Timothy? (Genre)
- A manual of church order for all time?
- A letter for a specific situation but parallel in many ways to our own situation?
- A letter for a specific temporary situation that is different from our own usual situation?
Whom/what was Paul opposing in 1 Timothy? (Occasion)
- A false teaching that denied the goodness of God’s created order?
- A false teaching specific to Ephesus that exalted women over men?
- (A false teaching that was only being taught by several rich women)?
Issues in verses 1–10
What is the relevance of Paul’s reference to quietness in v. 2?
- Affirms the universal importance of living an ordered life in God’s creation?
- Directly undermines the contentious activity of the false teachers?
What setting does Paul envisage for his instructions here (vv. 1, 8)?
- Gathered worship?
- All Christian interactions?
What is the significance of cultural elements in the instructions about prayer and clothing? (vv. 8–10?)
- They’re easy translate into our own situation today (and so is what follows)?
- They’re evidence that Paul is talking about a specific situation that may be different from our own?
Which women is Paul talking about here?
- Women (in general)?
- A clearly specified group of wealthy women?
Issues in verses 11–12
What is the significance of “quietness”?
- A negative restriction: silence?
- A positive ideal: orderliness?
- A specific counter to disruptive behaviour of the false teachers in Ephesus?
What is the significance of “let her learn?
- Learn rather than teach?
- Learn rather than failing to learn?
- Learn so that later she can teach?
What is a woman to be in “submission” to?
- Husbands, as society expects?
- The male teachers?
- The material being taught (in this educational context)?
What does “to teach” mean?
- Any learner-focused word-and-life activity; situation is irrelevant?
- A learner-focused educational activity; nature and authority determined by the situation?
- An educational activity with heightened authority because teachers also preserved oral tradition?
- A technical term synonymous with preserving and laying down oral tradition?
What/who is the object of “to teach”?
- A (generic) man?
- An overseer?
- The heresies?
What is the nature of the prohibition?
- General, universal: “I do not permit” generally in the church?
- Situational, contingent: “I am not giving permission” in this circumstance?
What is the connection between teaching and authority?
- “Or”: Symmetrical conjunction, joining two distinct ideas?
- “With a view to”: Restrictive conjunction, creating a single idea with the second specifying the first?
- “Nor indeed”: Marker of progression from specific application to general principle?
4. [My view!] “So neither”: A natural progression of related ideas
What does the verb for “authority” mean?
- Positive/neutral: Exercise authority?
- Negative: Usurp authority?
Issues in verses 13–15
What is the connection between vv. 11–12 and vv. 13–15?
- Theological reason: Male authority is grounded in creational order?
- Biblical illustration: The fall provides a parallel to the present situation of women trying to domineer men?
- Biblical proof: Genesis directly opposes specific elements of the false teaching?
What is the point of Adam’s being created first?
- Created order: Primogeniture undergirds authority?
- The narrative order in Genesis is opposite to the narrative order in the false teaching?
What is the logic of non-deception and deception?
- Demonstrates how women are naturally more susceptible to deception than men?
- Provides prototype of subversion of the created order of authority between men and women?
- Reflects the general situation in Ephesus where women were less educated?
- Illustrates why women shouldn’t follow the specific false teaching in Ephesus?
What does “saved through childbearing” mean?
- Affirmation of family life in created order as distinctive context of salvation for women?
- Saved by the Messiah: Allusion to Genesis 3:15?
- Kept safe through childbirth?
Summary of my evaluations
This passage is authoritative (not disputed by evangelicals). The traditional view is broadly correct but needs far more thought in application. It’s basically clear, but needs further light from other texts of Scripture, especially on the ministry of men and women together. It can be understood in light of the history of redemption through Christ. The historical context matters, but it doesn’t change everything.
1 Timothy is a letter for a specific situation but parallel in many ways to our own situation. Paul was opposing a false teaching that denied the goodness of God’s created order.
The reference to quietness early in 1 Timothy 2 helps affirms the universal importance of living an ordered life in God’s creation. Paul envisages gathered worship (probably in house churches) for his instructions. The specific cultural elements about prayer and clothing are reasonably easy to translate into our own culture today.
When Paul mentions women, he is talking about Christian women in general. His reference to “quietness” is a positive ideal of orderliness. His reference to learning is a positive and important instruction that forms a counterpoint to teaching. Learning is good in its own right and doesn’t have to be justified further by assuming that students will eventually become teachers. His reference to submission means submission to the material being taught, which implies submission to the teachers.
The verb “to teach” refers to a learner-focused educational activity. Its nature and authority is determined by the situation. In this situation, it is about formal instruction based on the Scriptures in gathered worship. The implied object of teaching is the people gathered for worship. The significance of Paul’s prohibition of women teaching derives from his authority as one who was appointed as a teacher of the nations. As such, his prohibition applies to all those under his apostolic authority.
Paul sees a natural progression from teaching to assuming authority. Assuming authority over a man is the natural consequence of teaching in the gathered congregation. It’s difficult to determine whether the word for authority should be translated “exercise authority” or “assume authority”, but it makes little difference because in either case, it is being forbidden as a natural consequence of teaching in the gathered congregation.
In verses 13–15, Paul grounds his instructions in creation and the created order, thereby giving a theological reason for his instructions in the previous verses. However, we need to be clear on what “order” means here: it is primarily an order of relating and speaking. Relating and speaking has implications for authority, but we need to be careful about not blindly importing modern notions of “authority”. The logic of deception and non-deception provides a prototype of the subversion of this order of speaking. The expression “saved through childbearing” affirms family life in the created order as a distinctive context of salvation for women alongside men.
Book sections worth highlighting
As I note in my seminar, while there are many other resources available, these are worth highlighting to understand the main perspectives. My own evaluation is most closely aligned with Claire Smith’s.
Smith, Claire. God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women. 2nd ed. Sydney: Matthias Media, 2019, pages 23–53.
Schreiner, Thomas R. “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15: A Dialogue with Scholarship.” In Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, 3rd ed., 163–225. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.
Edwards, Sue, and Kelley Mathews. 40 Questions about Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2022, pages 183–213.
Note that while this book seeks to provide views from both complementarians (whom it calls “hierarchs”) and egalitarians (whom it calls “heterarchs”), it leans heavily towards favouring the egalitarian position.
Belleville, Linda. “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11–15.” In Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives, edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, 3rd ed., 205–27. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021.