Are the sisters free to function?

An Exploration of Paul’s Concerns in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

by Jon Zens

In the history of the church 1 Timothy 2:12 has been used unrelentingly as a proof-text to swiftly and decisively squelch the ministry of women in congregations.  In 1987, the assembly Nancy Sehested pastored was put out of the Memphis Association of Southern Baptist Churches, and 1 Tim.2:12 was used as a key part of the basis for this decision.  In 2006 Sheri Klouda was let go from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.  She taught Hebrew at the seminary, but – based on 1 Tim.2:12 – it was concluded that women should not be “teaching men.”


An honest examination of the evidence will reveal that the traditional use of 1 Tim.2:12 to silence female believers is without warrant; as a result untold harm has been done to the health of Christ’s body on earth.  Everyone admits that 1 Tim.2:11-15 is attended with difficulties at every level – contextual, cultural, linguistic, grammatical and conceptual.  Nevertheless, for those who truly desire light from God’s Word, enough clarity can be uncovered to show the key fallacious assumptions and to expose the prejudices that lie behind the traditional understanding of 1 Tim.2:12.  It truly has been used to abuse half the priesthood of believers.  There is no excuse for Bible teachers and church leaders to continue their misguided application of this passage.


How Does the New Testament As A Whole View Women?


Before coming to 1 Tim.2:12, which is often seen as a restrictive text regarding females, it is imperative for us to review the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham’s daughters painted in the New Testament (Luke 13:16). This information cannot be dismissed or forgotten when reflecting on two passages, 1 Cor.14:34-35 and 1 Tim.2:12, that mention concerns about some sisters. 


**Neither the Gospel narratives nor the recorded words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of women.


**Jesus fully accepted women as his disciples and they accompanied him in his travels with the male disciples (Luke 8:1-3).  These women also supported the mission of Jesus with their own resources.  These facts may be much more significant that it initially appears.  In the first century it was unheard of for a Jewish rabbi to have female followers. Luke reports this rather matter-of-factly, yet this band of women, men and Jesus was hardly kosher to the curious onlookers as they went from city to village.


**After Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and saw God’s salvation, Anna the prophetess “gave thanks to God and spoke of him [Jesus] to all the ones expecting redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38).  Anna did not just proclaim Christ to women, but to “all.”


**Jesus applauded the evangelistic efforts of the Samaritan woman (John 4:35-38).  After experiencing a revelation of Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went to her city telling men, women and children about the Messiah (John 4:28-29).  Everyone in Sychar knew about her history of broken relationships, yet she boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah – a Redeemer even for those outside of Judaism!


**In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the male disciples fled, yet the women were present and they helped in his burial (Matt.27:55-56,61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25-27).


**A woman’s testimony was disallowed as evidence in first century courts.  Yet the Lord chose females to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection (John 20:1-2, 11-18; Luke 24:1-11, 22-24; Mark 16:1-8; Matt.28:1-11).


**After Christ’s ascension, 120 men and women prayed together and chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:14-15).


**The Spirit came upon the 120 disciples and they spoke the wonderful works of God in many foreign languages (Acts 2:1-4).


**Some thought that what was occurring on the Day of Pentecost was evidence of too much wine, but Peter insisted that it was a fulfillment of what Joel prophesied would come to pass – “your sons and daughters will prophesy….I will pour out my Spirit on my male and female slaves and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).  There is no suggestion that males may prophesy freely, but that females are restricted in some ways.


**Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  We would not be wrong in assuming that there were many other sisters who had this gift, not just Philip’s offspring.


**Paul entrusted his letter to the Romans to Phoebe, and she delivered it.  She was a deacon in the assembly at Cenchrea and Paul has the highest regard for her (Rom.16:1-2).  Paul recognized her as a prostatis, which carried with it the idea of leadership (cf. 1 Thess.5:12).


**Paul designates Priscilla and Aquila as his “co-workers” (Rom.16:3).  The same word is used with reference to people like Timothy and Titus.


**Junia and Andronicus (wife/husband or sister/brother) were greeted by Paul as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom.16:7).  They were his relatives and had been in prison with him.  There were people called “apostles” who were not among the Twelve, like Barnabas.  Junia was also among such apostolic workers.  There is no reason to think that she was the only such female apostle.


**Among all the people Paul greeted in Romans 16, ten were sisters among whom were “Tryphena and Tryphosa [who may have been twins], women who work hard for the Lord” (Rom.16:12).


**In line with Acts 2:17-18, Paul encouraged brothers and sisters to prophesy in the gatherings (1 Cor.11:4-5; 14:23-24).


**The open meeting Paul describes in 1 Cor.14 envisions all the men and women – “the whole assembly” – “each one of you” – “you may all prophesy one by one” – functioning together in an encouraging manner.


**Gal.3:28 indicates that “in Christ” human distinctions, like male and female, are no longer norms of judgment in the congregation.  In the first century, prejudices abounded in folks’ minds when certain people like “Gentile,” “Jew,” “slave,” and “woman” were mentioned.  Paul is saying that in the body of Christ this should not be the case.


**Women were prominent in the assembly at Philippi, beginning with Lydia’s home.  In Phil.4:3 Paul asks for two sisters – who must have had no small spiritual influence in the body – to be at peace with one another.  He calls Euodia and Syntyche “co-workers” and “co-strugglers” in the gospel.


**2 John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.”  This probably refers to a respected sister in whose home the saints gathered.  She had apparently exerted significant spiritual influence upon a number of people.  Women’s homes are mentioned as meeting places for the brethren in Rom.16:5, 1 Cor.1:11, 16:9 and Col.4:15.


**In Rev.2:20-24 Christ rebuked the Thyatiran congregation for allowing a false prophetess, nicknamed “Jezebel,” to “teach” some of the Lord’s servants to sin grievously.  If it was such a crime for a woman to teach the brethren, why didn’t the Lord just condemn the assembly for even allowing a woman to instruct others?  This incident in Thyatira implies that the assembly permitted other male and female prophets to teach the truth.  Christ’s bone to pick with them wasn’t that a woman taught, but that what this woman set forth was false teaching.  We will come back to this passage in the course of our investigation of 1 Tim.2:12.


This survey of New Testament highlights concerning women is important because it reveals the freedom of the sisters to function in the kingdom.  In the general flow of the New Testament there are no jitters about “restrictions” upon Christ’s daughters.  Such a survey also should also serve as a corrective to those who squelch and intimidate the sisters by using their interpretation of two passages – 1 Cor.14:34-35 and 1 Tim.2:12 – to  cancel out the ministry of sisters unfolded in other Scriptures.




Before coming to our passage in 1 Timothy, it is vital to note that the tradition of designating 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as “Pastoral Epistles” is very misleading.  One writer calls Timothy a “young pastor” (Kuske).  Timothy and Titus were not resident pastors/elders.  They were itinerant apostolic assistants.  Paul at one point tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim.4:5).  In these three letters Paul is giving his co-workers instructions regarding issues and problems faced by the assemblies they moved among and assisted.


Why Was 1 Timothy Written?


The purpose of 1 Timothy is stated by Paul in 1:3-4 – “As I urged you upon my departure to Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain persons to neither teach differently, nor to pay attention to myths and unending genealogies, which stir up questions rather than furthering the stewardship of God in faith.” “The key to understanding the letter,” Gordon Fee notes, “lies in taking seriously that Paul’s stated reason in 1:3 for leaving Timothy in Ephesus is the real one; namely, that he has been left there to combat some false teachers, whose asceticism and speculative nonsense based on the law are engendering strife, causing many to capitulate to the false teaching” (Gospel & Spirit, p.54).


1 Timothy is not a church manual for a pastor.  It is a mandate for an apostolic assistant to deal with serious issues involving false teaching in Ephesus.  Unfortunately, some women had become involved in this problem.


The Immediate Context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15


In terms of the basic structure Paul used in this section (2:1-15), we can note the following (I have tried to follow the Greek closely in translating the verses in 1 Tim.2:1-15):


-- “I exhort [the whole assembly to pray]…to the end that we might live a peaceful and quiet life” (vv.1-2).


-- “I will that the males [plural] pray…” (v.8).


-- “Similarly [I will that] the women [plural] (pray) in proper clothing…” (v.9).


-- “Let the woman [singular] learn in quietness…” (v.11).


-- “But I am not now permitting a woman [singular] to teach with the goal of dominating a man [singular], but to be in quietness” (v.12).


-- “For Adam [singular] was first formed, then Eve [singular]” (v.13).


-- “But she [singular] will be delivered through childbearing if they [plural] remain in faith” (v.15).


The same Greek word, hesuchia (quietness), is used in verse 2 with reference to all believers leading a quiet life, in verse 11 with reference to a woman learning in quietness, and in verse 12 with reference to a woman being in quietness.  The word simply does not mean “silent.”  Verse 2 obviously does not envision us leading a “silent” life, but rather a life in which we are not known as rabble-rousers.  Thus, any Bible version that has the woman in “silence” (2:11-12) reveals some level of bias, is a very inaccurate translation and leaves an impression upon the mind that is not from the Lord.


Apparently this congregation in Ephesus was riddled with false teaching and there was some level of disorder going on.  One can appreciate, then, why Paul would emphasize prayer among the brethren and then elaborate on the world-wide salvation purpose of God in Christ (vv.3-7).


The implicit contrast between prayers in Christian assemblies and those in Jewish synagogues must be underscored.  Jews in the first century were under Roman rule.  Their synagogue prayers focused on the destruction of their Gentile enemies, not their salvation.  Paul, on the other hand, exhorts the assembly to intercede on behalf of those in civil power and for the salvation of people all over the world.


Key Observations On 1 Timothy 2:11-15


Truly, I am a debtor to all the hard work others (listed in the “Suggested Sources”) have done in trying to understand these verses.  Along with some possible insights that I have come to see, in most cases I am just calling attention to some foundational points that they have unearthed through diligent research.  I’m going to structure my comments by contrasting the traditional view with some correctives that seem warranted.  I appeal to you to follow my presentation with an open heart and a willingness to consider the evidence unfolded.  There are many assumptions and layers of tradition that must be scrutinized.


1 Tim.2:11 – “Let a woman learn in quietness in all submission”


Traditional View:  The word hesuchia has been taken to mean “silence,” meaning that women are not to speak in assembly meetings.  “All submission” is taken to mean that females are to be passive receivers, not active participants.




**Hesuchia means “quietness,” not “silence.”  Further, in 1 Tim.2:2 the stated goal is for all believers to live a “quiet” life.  In 1 Thess.4:11 Paul instructs all the brethren, “strive eagerly to be quiet, to do your own business and work with your own hands.”  The apostle tells those believers who are not working “to work with quietness and to eat their own bread” (2 Thess.3:12).


**Since “quietness” is to be a quality of all the saints, if Paul mentions that a woman needs to learn in quietness, wouldn’t that imply some special circumstance that required this instruction?  Is it not clear from the context that the males needed a dose of quietness too, as they were manifesting “wrath” among themselves (v.8)?


**The fact that hesuchia does not mean “silence” illustrates the careless use of Scripture by those who with full confidence and dogmatism cite 1 Tim.2:12 as an end to further discussion.  Let’s look at two examples of such misuse, one by a “clergy” person and another by a “lay” person.


            --In 1970 British Reformed theologian Donald MacLeod pontificated, “[In 1 Tim.2:11-14] the woman is explicitly forbidden to aspire to the offices of teaching and ruling.  She is to be submissive; she is to be a learner; she is to be silent.  Paul does not qualify this last injunction in any way . . . . The injunction to silence, then, is comprehensive.  Women are not to teach nor to rule nor to lead the public prayers of the congregation” (“The Place of Women in the Church,” Banner of Truth, #81, June, 1970, p.3).  His intimidating remarks are premised on the mistaken assumption that hesuchia means “silence.”  Everything he says is built on a false foundation.  Being knowledgeable of Greek he should have known better, but he gives no evidence of caring what hesuchia really meant in verses 2, 11 and 12.  The incorrect translation of the verses suited his agenda, so he squeezed it for all it is worth.


            --In a letter to an editor, “Brother Richard” was upset at “Liberals” for pointing out the mention of a female apostle in Romans 16:7 and lashed out with what he felt were the final words on the matter: “These liberals obviously do not accept the Reformation proclamation ‘Scripture alone,’ long a basic tenet of the Lutheran faith.  You do not have to strain your brain to understand 1 Timothy 2:12 which states unequivocally, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.’  Delete this or any other sentence out of the Bible and you are now free to say or do anything you wish.  ‘Sola Scriptura!’” (Christian News, March 26, 2007, p.19).  You can see how such dogmatism is based on (a) a faulty translation of verses 11 and 12 and (b) hearing Bible teachers like MacLeod perpetuate a false understanding of these verses to those in church audiences.


            --Isn’t quoting a Scripture like this similar to how the cults take a verse out of context and build false teaching on it?  Some cults will assert that Christ is only human with a verse like “the Father is greater than I [Jesus]” and totally disregard many other contexts that confirm his deity.  Those who focus on 1 Tim.2:12 as a proof-text to shut down female ministry are guilty of using one Scripture to cancel out the clear revelation of their ministry in many other settings.  In this case, the misuse of 1 Tim.2:11-12 is aggravated by the fact that they impose “silence” on women when the Greek word, hesuchia, has no such meaning in the first place. Using one Scripture to cancel out the combined impact of many other Scriptures is not a safe way to handle God’s Word.  


** “In all submission.”  Again, the New Testament clearly teaches that “submission” is to be an attribute of all believers, not just the sisters.


--Rom.13:1,5, every person is to be subject to the civil authorities.

--1 Cor.14:32, the spirits of the prophets are subject to [under the self-control of] the prophets.

--1 Cor.16:15-16, the brethren are to submit to those who lay down their lives for others.

--Eph.5:21, all Christians are to mutually submit to one another in the fear of Christ.

--James 4:7, we are all to submit to the Lord.

--1 Pet.5:5, “all of you, be subject one to another.”


**We must ask, do only women learn in all submission?  Do men somehow learn in a different way, without submission?  Aren’t “quietness” and “submission” necessary qualities in order for anyone to learn?  If this is indeed the case, then are we not warranted to suggest that there must have been a problem with some women, or a woman, which accounts for why Paul would issue this special directive?


** “Let a woman learn [Greek, manthano]…”   We must not forget that learning in the early church was not male-driven and pulpit-centered.  It was a body experience in which all participated.  We have already seen that both men and women are free to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor.11:3-5).  Paul made it crystal clear in 1 Cor.14 that he wanted prophecy from both sexes to be central in the gathering.  In 1 Cor.14:31 he directs the saints in this manner: “you may all [males and females] prophesy one by one, so that all [men and women] may learn [manthano] and all may be encouraged.”  In the New Testament even singing results in teaching and admonishing (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16).


**Nowhere in the New Testament are sisters forbidden to contribute to the learning process according to their gifts and graces.  Thus, the concern Paul expressed in 1 Tim.2:11-12 must have been rooted in problems faced in the Ephesian congregation.  Some women, or a woman, were involved in false teaching and needed to be in a learning posture at that time.


1 Tim.2:12 – “But I am not now permitting a woman to teach with the goal of dominating a man, but to be in quietness.”


Traditional View:  This verse is taken as an always-binding command by Paul that women are not to teach men, which if done would be a wrongful usurping of male authority.  Instead of teaching, women are to be in silence.




**First, it must be pointed out that there is no command (imperative) from Paul in this text.  The wording in the King James Version, “I suffer not a woman,” can certainly sound like a command, but it isn’t.  Instead, it is a simple present tense, “I am not now permitting a woman….”  This could imply a shift in Paul’s strategy because of the problems that existed in Ephesus.  Timothy had worked with Paul for years and was not used to hearing restrictions on the sisters from Paul.  But now Paul announces, “I am not now permitting a woman….”


**Considering the background of the assembly in Ephesus will be helpful in this regard.  Read Acts 18:34-20:1 and you’ll see that Paul spent three years there.  This was his longest tenure in any city during his journeys.  With this background in mind, we can surmise that during his years in Ephesus – approximately 54-57AD – the sisters were functioning along with the brothers in a fashion similar to the meeting described in 1 Cor.14.  It was not Paul’s habit to put restrictions on the sisters.  However, things changed when false teaching crept in and some women were involved in the aberrations.  As a result, at this time some six years after he left Ephesus (approximately 63AD), Paul must announce to Timothy, “I am not now permitting a woman to teach….”


**After leaving Ephesus, around 58AD Paul came to the island of Miletus (30 miles south of Ephesus) and called for the elders of the Ephesian assembly.  In his farewell address to these servants, Paul mentions no concerns about the sisters, but does warn them, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from among yourselves people will arise and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).  By 63AD this had come to pass, and Timothy was left in Ephesus to combat the confusion created by false teachers and false teaching (1 Tim.1:3-4).


**Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesian assembly around 61AD.  This epistle is the pinnacle of Paul’s sublime expression of God’s purpose in Christ and his Body, but there are no concerns expressed about the sisters, or any restrictions on them mentioned in his apostolic communication.


**Two infinitives.  When Paul says, “I am not now permitting a woman,” he follows with a neither…nor construction involving two infinitives, didaskein (to teach) and authentein (to have one’s way with, to dominate).  It must be asked, how are the two infinitives to be correlated?  Philip Payne and others suggest that the best fit is that of goal or purpose.   In other words, Paul in this Ephesian situation where some women were propagating error does not want them to teach with the purpose or goal of having their way with (or dominating) a man.  Payne sees the closest English parallel to how these two infinitives are employed to be our idioms, hit ‘n’ run, eat ‘n’ run, hence, teach ‘n’ dominate – to teach with the goal of dominating (with false teaching).  It is this specific type of teaching that Paul is not permitting.


**There is only one use of the verb authenteo in the New Testament and it is the infinitive authentein in 1 Tim.2:12.  Traditionally it has been translated as, “nor to usurp authority over the man.”   This view assumes that the very act of a woman teaching a man is inherently a wrongful deed that violates male headship.  But the Bible nowhere substantiates such a notion.


            --Deborah, a Prophetess, Judge and Wife, sat by her palm tree and made judgments as men and women came to her for counsel in applying the Mosaic law to their lives (Judges 2:16-19; 4:1-5:31).


            --King Josiah sent a male envoy to the Prophetess and Wife Huldah after the Book of the Law was discovered.  She gave them (and ultimately, Israel) the word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron.34:22-28).


            --Further, we know that Priscilla and Aquila explained the way of God more perfectly to Apollos in their home in Ephesus (Acts 18:19-26).  The assembly in Ephesus also met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila where we can safely assume she had some edifying things to say.


            --When males and females prophesy in a gathering, Paul says that “learning” is one of the outcomes.  Thus, brothers and sisters are constantly learning from one another.  In this sense, it is clearly not wrong for women to contribute to the “learning” (manthano) of males.


If there is a divine law that women-teaching-men is sinful, then there can be no exceptions.  But there is no concern in this regard expressed in Scripture, and there are clearly cases where women taught men.  In Romans 12:6-7 where Paul is listing some gifts, he mentions “prophesying” and “teaching.” There are no sexual restrictions here – both men and women can be involved is such activities. There is nothing inherently evil in women-teaching-men, but it is a problem when women teach error, or teach with a view to dominating men.  Of course, the same concerns hold true if males teach error or teach with the goal of dominating others!


**But the vital matter that must be reckoned with is that authentein simply does not have the meaning “exercise authority over.”  In classical Greek literature before Christ, the word was used to refer to a murderer or to one who contracted for a murder to take place.  Linda Belleville observes:


            If Paul had wanted to speak of an ordinary exercise of authority, he could have picked any number

            of words.  Within the semantic domain of “exercise authority,” biblical lexicographers J.P. Louw and

            Eugene Nida have twelve entries, and of “rule” [and] “govern” forty-seven entries.  Yet Paul picked

            none of these.  Why not?  The obvious reason is that authentein carried a nuance (other than

            “rule” or “have authority”) that was particularly suited to the Ephesian situation . . . . [Louw and

            Nida] put authenteo into the semantic domain “to control, restrain, domineer” and define the

            verb as “to control in a domineering manner”: “I do not allow a woman…to dominate a man”

            (1 Tim.2:12) . . . . [They] also note that [authentein] is expressed idiomatically as “to shout orders

            at” . . or “to bark at”. . . . So there is no first century warrant for translating authentein as “to

            exercise authority” and for understanding Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 to be speaking of the carrying

            out of one’s official [teaching] duties.  Rather the sense is the Koine [common Greek] “to

            dominate; to get one’s way.” (“Usurping,” pp.211,216).


**We must remember that our Lord taught us that in his kingdom “authority” – who’s in charge – is to be a non-issue (Matt.20:24-28; 23:11; Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24).  The idea of one person having dominion over another or others is the essence of all that is antichrist.  No one is to be the top-dog, and there are no positions of authority.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “women shouldn’t be in positions of authority.”  The truth is, neither males nor females are to be in positions of authority!  There is no chain-of-command in Christ’s domain.  The greatest position is at the bottom of the ladder.  Those with the most spiritual influence will live as those with no authority.  They will live as slaves and children – who had no status in first century culture.  The greatest in Christ’s kingdom lays down his life for others – which is precisely what Jesus did as the servant par excellence.


**In this vein we must rid ourselves of the traditional idea that some kind of inherent authority resides in the position of “teacher” (or, in our day, “preacher”).  Christ is the one with all authority in his kingdom, and he oversees his assemblies with his word.  Everything that is brought before the brethren is weighed and evaluated in light of the truth as it is in Jesus.  Hebrews 5:12 says, “by this time you ought to be teachers, [but] you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.”  Obviously, not every person has the gift of teaching (cf. James 3:1), but all the brothers and sisters can be teachers in some way and contribute to the learning process in the assembly.  Again, the New Testament is not against women teaching, but Paul does put the kibosh on a woman teaching with the goal of dominating a man.


**As an aside, it is crucial to note that the only place in the New Testament where the word “authority” is connected to gender is in 1 Cor.7:1-7.  Interestingly, in this passage the “authority” (exousia) mentioned has nothing to do with the husband being the boss of the wife.  Instead, it is a mutual authority – neither the man nor the woman has “authority” over their own body.  The wife has authority over her husband’s body, and the husband has authority over his wife’s body.   An implication of this truth is that the two cannot separate from one another physically unless they mutually agree [symphonou, be in symphony] that this should be done.  Many take “male headship” to mean that the husband has “the final say.”  But how could that be in light of 1 Cor.7:1-7?  The husband, Paul teaches here, cannot unilaterally announce, “We are going to be physically separated for awhile.”  Such action can only take place if they mutually agree on it.  If this is the case in an important issue like physical separation, one would assume that the goal in marital decision-making is for the couple to be one-minded.  In light of this passage what “male headship” actually entails needs to be revisited.


1 Timothy 2:13 – “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”


Traditional view:  The creation of Adam before Eve shows that women are subordinate to male headship.  Paul refers to the creation order to reinforce why it is wrong for women to teach men.




**There is no evidence in the pre-fall account of Adam and Eve’s creation, or in 1 Tim.2:12, that a wife’s subordination to her husband is in view.  The Scripture nowhere teaches that all women must submit to all men.  The concepts of “head” and “submit” coupled together apply specifically to the marital relationship (Eph.5:22-24).


**Keep in mind that Eve was already in Adam’s side before her appearance on earth.  The name “Adam,” in fact, includes Eve – “When God created Adam, he made him in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them.  And when they were created, he called them ‘Adam’” (Gen.5:1-2).  This was a type of Christ and his bride.  Just as Adam fell into a deep sleep when his wife came forth from his side, so Christ descended into the sleep of death and when his side was pierced the bride was birthed.


**We tend to think of that which is “first” as being the most important, as being superior, or as having priority.  But Paul’s use of “first…then” “does nothing more than define a sequence of events or ideas . . . . This, in fact, is the case throughout Paul’s letters (and the New Testament, for that matter).  ‘First-then’ defines a temporal sequence, without implying either ontological or functional priority” (Belleville, “Usurping,” p.222).  The animals were created before Adam, but that did not give them “authority over” him!  Thirteen verses later Paul says, “let the deacons first be proven, then let them serve…” (1 Tim.3:10).  Why Paul would mention Adam being made first is highlighted by noting the female-centered religion in Ephesus.


**Reflecting on the background of the Ephesian assembly will be helpful at this point.  The Temple of Artemis was a massive structure and was the focus of religious attention in Ephesus.  Her Latin name was Diana.  Her temple was then one of the seven wonders of the world.  The effects of this woman-centered religion were pervasive.  A significant share of the cash flow in this city was connected to the sale of idols and religious objects.  Paul and his associates were in Ephesus for three years.  It is likely that some of the converts to Christ were women who had been in the cult of Artemis, which included the practice of temple prostitution.  Many ladies in Ephesus would be female-centered in their outlook on life.  The influence of the gospel reached the point where many believers were confessing their past evil activities and burning their occult books publicly (Acts 19:18-19).  A riot almost erupted, but at stake was the honor of the female god – “Artemis is the goddess that everyone in Asia and the whole world worships”….They all shouted the same thing for two hours: “Great is Artemis of Ephesus” (Acts 19:27,34).  How does such background material help in our understanding of 1 Tim.2:9-15?  At least in the following ways:


            --We can see why Paul was concerned about female modesty in v.9.  The Artemis influence which included the superiority of women ideology out of which some of the sisters came would contribute to dressing habits that were far from modest.


            --This helps us understand why a woman influenced by the feminist Artemis cult could “teach with the goal of dominating a man.”


            --We can then appreciate why women under the spell of false teaching would need to learn in quietness.


            --“Adam was formed first” has a real punch with Artemis in the background.  The Diana-cult taught that the female came first – man originated from woman.  In the cult legend males originated from the Goddess.


            --We can then understand why Paul would stress that Eve was “deceived.”  The Artemis religion glorified women as superior to males.  Paul punctured the Artemis balloon in two ways – Adam was made first, not woman; Eve was not superior to man for she was deceived into sinning against God.


            --Verse 15 is mysterious indeed, but the Artemis backdrop may provide some light.  This helps us understand why Paul would mention help in childbirth through faith in Christ.  The women in Ephesus looked to Artemis for help during the childbirth process.  “As the mother goddess, Artemis was the source of life, the one who nourished all creatures and the power of fertility in nature.  Maidens turned to her as the protector of their virginity, barren women sought her aid, and women in labor turned to her for help” (Belleville, “Usurping,” p.220).  “She [singular] will be saved through the childbirth” could also suggest the thought that even though Eve was deceived, God still promised in Gen.3:15 a seed (child) who would crush Satan’s head and bring salvation (cf., Rev.12:4-5).


1 Timothy 2:14 – “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”


Traditional view:  Verse 14 shows that serious problems arise when women take the lead.  Paul does not want women to teach because they are more easily deceived than men.  Women are more prone to wander into error.  Therefore, the teaching role has been left in the hands of males.




**The idea that women are more prone to error is based on a key faulty assumption – that females are inferior to males when it comes to spiritual discernment.  The history of the church – in which women were basically suppressed – illustrates to the hilt that males are very susceptible to conjure up, propagate and fall into error.  Most false teaching has originated with and been spread abroad by males.


** “Isn’t Paul using Eve as an example of what can go wrong when women usurp the male’s leadership role? . . . . This view is without scriptural support.  Eve was not deceived by the serpent into taking the lead in the male-female relationship.  She was deceived into disobeying a command of God, namely, not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She listened to the voice of false teaching and was deceived by it” (Belleville, “Usurping,” p.223).


** The notion that females are more capable of being deceived than males is shown to be false by observing that Paul applies the Eve-deceived model to an entire Christian congregation (2 Cor.11:3).  The possibility of being deceived is not a problem peculiar to females.


** “The language of deception calls to mind the activities of the false teachers at Ephesus.  If the Ephesian women were being encouraged as the superior sex to assume the role of teacher over men, this would go a long way toward explaining 1 Timothy 2:13-14.  The relationship between the sexes was not intended to involve female domination and male subordination.  But neither was it intended to involve male domination and female subordination.  Such thinking is native to a fallen creation order (Gen.3:16)” (Belleville, “Usurping,” p.223).  Why would we want to take our cue from the curse-ridden words, “your desire will be your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen.3:16)?  That is a simple description of sin’s implications for the husband/wife relationship.  Wouldn’t we want to be informed by the redemptive implications of Christ’s cross and resurrection?


**It is fascinating to take note of the parallels between 1 Tim.2:11-15 and Rev.2:20-24:


            --Paul – “I am not now permitting a woman….”

               Jesus to Thyatira – “You permit the woman….”


            --Paul – “to teach with the goal of dominating a man….”

               Jesus to Thyatira – “she teaches…my servants to commit fornication….”


            --Paul – “the woman [Eve] being deceived….”

               Jesus to Thyatira – “she deceives my servants….”


            --Paul – “she will be delivered through childbearing if they remain in faith….”

               Jesus to Thyatira – “I will cast her [‘Jezebel’] into a bed….and I will kill her children with death.”


As I pointed out earlier regarding Rev.2:20-24, Jesus’ problem is not that a female was teaching, but that she was a false prophetess whose teaching was causing the Lord’s servants to sin.  The implication would be that Jesus had no issue with male and female prophets exalting Christ in the assembly.  If it was the apostolic custom for sisters to be silent, then one would expect the Head of the assemblies to sternly rebuke such a fundamental violation of décorum by this woman “Jezebel.”  Apparently Jesus did not see this as a gender issue, but as a concern for what was taught and the effects the teaching had on the hearers.


The Gospel Applied to Cultural Situations


A major concern uttered by some is that if you don’t see a passage like 1 Tim.2:11-15 as an expression of “eternal truth,” are you not on a slippery slope that leads to truth being relativized?  The answer to this concern is a resounding, “No!”


The New Testament letters were written in response to specific problems in various cultures.  In 1 Tim.2:11-15 Paul brought gospel truth to meet the needs of a concrete situation in Ephesus.  Here is a summary of how that truth was applied:


            --Usually the sisters and brothers functioned together in the participatory meetings of the assembly.  Because of false teaching that had infected some women, Paul announced that some should be learning in quietness, not teaching with the goal of dominating men.


            --It is not right for a woman or a man to teach with the goal of dominating others.  In Christ’s kingdom no one is to dominate anyone else.  “You are all brethren.”  No clergy.  No laity.  No honorific titles.  No elevation of some above others.  If anything, give honor to the parts least esteemed.


            --The mandate to have dominion over the earth was given to both Adam and Eve.  They were not to seek dominion over each other, but to carry out their stewardship of the earth as a team.  Females are not superior to males as was taught in the Artemis religion of Ephesus.


            --Just as Eve had been deceived by Satan’s false teaching in the Garden, so some women in Ephesus had been deceived by the false teaching that was making the rounds.


            --Many women in Ephesus looked to the goddess for help and guidance regarding the issues of virginity, fertility and childbirth.  Paul directs godly women to look to the Lord Jesus.


The truth is, in most cases we have just bits and pieces of information about what was behind many apostolic statements in the epistles.  Often it is hard to know exactly what question was being answered or what problem was being addressed.  We are, as it were, hearing one side of a conversation.  But such issues do not keep us from either profiting from the New Testament, or discerning the Lord’s mind.  The Holy Spirit teaches us the mind of Christ.  However, we do have to confess in humility that there is a great deal we will always struggle to properly understand.


There are cultural matters in the New Testament which we have to face.  In 1 Cor.11:1-16, for example, you have some gospel perspectives brought to bear upon some cultural issues like headcoverings.  Some people conclude that headcoverings are still binding; others see them as a cultural item that we are not required to emulate in our day.  1 Tim.2:8 mentions men praying with uplifted hands.  Do we teach that male prayer is invalid unless the hands are lifted up?  Would 1 Tim.2:9 lead us to confront a sister who donned some jewelry that contained some pearls or gold?  Based on 1 Tim.5:9, would we tell a 57-year old widow in need that we couldn’t help her for three years until her 60th birthday?  Why don’t we “greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Thess.5:26)?


The New Testament was written in the first century and many culturally-rooted issues appear on its pages.  Because of this are we to conclude that it is all “cultural” and contains no relevant “truth” for us today?  No, rather we affirm that the gospel is brought to bear on many Jewish and Gentile cultural matters that impacted the early Christian assemblies.


As we, being New Covenant believers, approach any topic or concern, the key perspective for us must be, “you have heard him and have been taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus” (Eph.4:21).  The fundamental truth about sisters in Christ is that they are free to function.  There is no revealed emphasis on universally applicable restrictions to their service in the kingdom.




Evidence has been presented to suggest that the traditional understanding of 1 Tim.2:11-15 rests on some very shaky assumptions, and some fundamental misunderstandings about what Paul actually said.  Difficulties found in these texts are often glossed over by those who use them to muzzle female ministry.  It is time for honest Bible students to revisit 1 Tim.2:11-15 and to separate reality from fiction.  Those who simplistically wave 1 Tim.2:12 as a proof-text to silence women had better be careful that they do not incur the dreaded millstone by hurting Christ’s little ones (Matt.18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).


In closing, I believe Cheryl Schatz challenges us with a very astute observation about the need for plural witnesses in order to establish something as sin or as sound teaching.  She writes:


“The dilemma is that every single sin that is enunciated in scripture is always confirmed by two witnesses.  The reason is that there must be at least two or three witnesses for a matter to be established (Deut.17:6, 19:15).  Is there any confirmation in scripture that lists women teaching the Bible to men as a sin?  No.  There is not even one place in scripture that says it is a sin for a woman to teach the Bible to men.  The fact that there is no second scripture that charges women with sin by teaching the Bible to men proves that this interpretation cannot be right . . . . Jesus confirmed this rule in Matt.18:16 by expanding its use to the need to have two or three witnesses when one is establishing a fact that would bring a charge against a person . . . . One witness alone is invalid according to the OT law.  In John 8:16-18 Jesus himself says that he has the required two or three witnesses to establish the validity of his testimony, thus even Jesus himself  submits to the law of two or three witnesses.  Paul also places himself under this requirement as he establishes in 2 Cor.13:1, that his third visit to the Corinthians meets the requirement in order to establish a fact.  Then in Phil.3:1 Paul tells us why it is so important to have the second and third witness.  He says it is a safeguard for the church . . . . So here we are at 1 Tim.2:11-15.  Those who say that this prohibits women from teaching the Bible to men are left without a second witness . . . . For those of our brothers in Christ who believe that Paul is commanding something for all women to abstain from or be charged with sin, we simply ask them to prove from scripture the second witness, or withdraw the accusation of sin to women who are part of the body of Christ, but whom God has called to teach the entire body of Christ” ( [1]




1)      1 Timothy 2:11-15 says nothing about women being “silent.”

2)      There is no command (imperative) in 1 Tim.2:12 connected to women not teaching.  Paul uses a simple present tense, “I am not now permitting….”

3)      The infinitive, authentein, does not mean “to exercise authority over.”  The two infinitives, didaskein and authentein, are best correlated together as purpose or goal, thus translated as “I am not now permitting a woman to teach for the purpose of dominating a man.”

4)      Some key elements in 1 Tim.2:11-15 are clarified and elucidated by considering the pervasive influence of the Artemis cult in Ephesus: (a) women coming out of a goddess-based religion would need to be reminded concerning modesty in dress; (b) the need for a posture of learning on the part of some women because of the influence of false teaching; (c) because of the female-centeredness of the Artemis religion, it can be appreciated why a woman would teach with the goal of dominating a man; (d) because the Artemis cult believed that males originated from the goddess, it can be understood why Paul would point out that Adam was formed first; (e) because women were viewed as superior in Ephesus, it can be appreciated why Paul would mention that Eve was deceived into sin; (f) while many women looked to Artemis in connection with fertility and childbirth, Paul directs godly women to Christ as the promised Seed who was promised to Eve in Genesis 3:15.

5)      When the ekklesia began on the Day of Pentecost the first thing that was mentioned concerned males and females prophesying together.  Women and men prophesying are mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor.11:4-5.  In 1 Cor.14 Paul wished for prophecy – from the whole assembly – to be central.  Thus, to use 1 Tim.2:11-15 as a basis to completely silence the sisters in Christian assemblies is hardly an accurate way to handle Scripture.  It uses one context to cancel out the revelation of many others.


May we have grace and humility to search the Scriptures together in order to see what is indeed really so!



[1] Some suggest that 1 Cor.14:34-35 might be such a second witness.  However, the apostle’s flow in 1 Cor.11:1 – 14:33 only supposes the full participation of the sisters.  They prophesy along with the men in 1 Cor.11:4-5 (cf., Acts 2:17-18).  In 1 Cor.12:7,14 Paul teaches that every part of the body has a manifestation of the Spirit for the good of the whole.  In 1 Cor.14 Paul mentions “all of you,” “the whole church,” “each one of you,” and “you may all prophesy one by one.”  Thus to use 1 Cor.14:34-35 as a magic wand to cancel out the immediate context is indeed a cavalier way to handle Scripture.  If  Scripture does not contradict itself, then we cannot use a few verses to negate many others that reveal and assume the full functioning the Lord’s daughters.       


Suggested sources for further study:


Linda Belleville, “What the English Translators Aren’t Telling You About 1 Tim.2:11-15,” Christians for Biblical Equality Conference, Orlando, FL, 2003 (cassette).

Linda Belleville, “Teaching & Usurping Authority: 1 Tim.2:11-15,” Discovering Biblical Equality, Ronald Pierce & Rebecca Groothuis, eds., IVP, 2005, pp.205-223.

Del Birkey, The Fall of Patriarchy: Its Broken Legacy Judged by Jesus & the Apostolic House Church Communities, Fenestra Books, 2005, 376pp.

Kathleen E. Corley, Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition, Hendrickson, 1993, 217pp.

Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle, Fortress, 2005, 138pp.

Lauren Fasullo, “What About the Word Kephale (“Head”) in the New Testament?” and “A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Understanding of ‘Head’ in the N.T.,” 1995.  Studies presented to Grace Bible Fellowship, Baton Rouge, LA.

Gordon Fee, “1 Corinthians 7:1-7 Revisited,” Paul & the Corinthians: Studies on a Community in Conflict, Essays in Honor of Margaret Thrall, Brill, 2003, pp.197-231.

Gordon Fee, “The Great Watershed – Intentionality & Particularity/Eternality: 1 Tim.2:8-15 As A Test Case,” Gospel & Spirit: Issues in NT Hermeneutics, Hendrickson, 2006, pp.52-65.

Rebecca Groothuis, “Leading Him Up the Garden Path: Further Thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” at

Mary Hayter, The New Eve in Christ: The Use & Abuse of the Bible in the Debate About Women in the Church, Eerdmans, 1987, pp.131-133, 148, 155, 161.

Joanne Krupp, Woman: God’s Plan Not Man’s Tradition, Preparing the Way Publishers, 1999, pp.97-107.

Catherine & Richard Kroeger, “I Suffer Not A Woman”: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, Baker, 1992, 253pp.

David P. Kuske, “Exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” at

Dennie R. MacDonald, There Is No Male or Female: The Fate of a Dominical Saying in Paul & Gnosticism, Fortress, 1987, 132pp.

Berkeley Mickelsen, “Who Are the Women in 1 Tim.2:1-15? Parts 1 & 2,” Priscilla Papers, 2:1, 1988, pp.1-6.

Craig Morphew, “Thrown to Lions, Woman Pastor Emerges Moral Victor,” St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, January 30, 1988, p.3B.

Carolyn Osiek, Margaret MacDonald, Janet Tulloch, A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity, Fortress, 2005, 354pp.

Alan G. Padgett, “Beginning With the End in 1 Cor.11:2-16,” Priscilla Papers, 17:3, 2003, pp.17-23.

Philip Payne, “Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Evangelical Theological Society Seminar Paper, Atlanta, Ga., November 21, 1986.

Philip Payne, “Women in Church Leadership: 1 Tim.2:11-3:13 Reconsidered,” Japan Harvest, #4, 1981-82, pp.19-21.

Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia, Jossey-Boss, 2006, 278pp.

“Professor Made to Leave Seminary ‘Because Women Can’t Teach Men,’” Tyler [TX] Morning Telegraph, January 27, 2007, p.3A.

Cheryl Schatz, “Is There A Law That Forbids Women from Teaching Men?” Women In Ministry Blog, July, 2006, at or

“Seven Wonders of the World, Version 2.0,” Duluth News Tribune, March 19, 2007, pp.A1,A5.

Willard Swartley, “The Bible & Women,” Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation, Herald Press, 1983, pp.178-183,324.

Frank Viola, “God’s View of a Woman,”

Frank Viola, “Now Concerning A Woman’s Role in the Church,”

Jon Zens, “Romans 16:1-16 – Brothers & Sisters Doing Kingdom Work,” 7th Searching Together Conference, Osceola, WI, 2006 (cassette).

Jon Zens, “Those With the Most Spiritual Influence Live As Those With No Authority,” 6th Searching Together Conference, Osceola WI, 2005 (cassette).

Jon Zens with Cliff Bjork, “Women in the Body of Christ: Functioning Priests or ‘Silent’ Partners?” Searching Together, 31:1-3, 2003, 47pp.


(If you are interested in obtaining any of the above materials, please contact us at; 651-465-6516)


© March 2007 Jon Zens