I will organize this material under the following categories:
- Snapshot--Paul compared to the Praxis of Jesus
- A Recent feminist assessment of Paul
- Paul's working relationships with women in the Church
- Controversial Pauline Passages
What I want to do here is to repeat the material we studied in
In the life and ministry of Jesus,
where we compared Jesus versus Rabbinical attitudes--and add a
comment per topic to see if Paul was "more like a Jesus or
more like a Rabbi"...
Jesus vs. The Rabbi's--with a Glance at Paul
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul never segregated women at all. He
actively sought them out and set up operations in their
homes (Lydia, Acts 16). Women and men were supposed to
worship together (I Cor 11-14), and women were to pray and
prophesy in church (e.g. I Cor 11.4). He actually warns
the young church against 'forced celibacy' in I Tim 4.3!]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul apparently asserts the same standard
in I Cor 7.13: And if a woman has a husband who is not
a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must
not divorce him..]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Actually, we don't have a similar
situation in the historical narrative. We simply don't
have any data on this one. Although, given Paul's general
position and praxis toward the ritual of the Law, I would
expect this to be a non-issue for him, as per Romans
14.1-18 and Galatians 2.11ff.]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul consistently let women help him! He
refers often to women as 'fellow-laborers' and
helpers--cf. Phil 4.3; Rom 16.1-2, 6, 12, et.al. Phoebe in
Rom 16.1-2 is specially called a "deaconess"--a server,
and he obviously stayed at Lydia's home (Acts 16).]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Although Paul doesn't use a lot of
stories, he doesn't shy away from stories or comparisons
centered around women--cf. The comparison of Sarah and
Hagar in Gal 4.21ff , or of HIMSELF and a mother--I Thess
2.7. He uses the same household 'yeast' metaphors as
Jesus--I Cor 5; Gal 5. ]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: This is fairly obvious, for Paul preaches
to women in public consistently, speaks directly to them
in cultic settings (Lydia), works with them in private
homes (Priscilla), addresses them in his correspondence
(Phil 4.2; Philemon 2). There seems to be no setting in
which Paul does NOT address a woman!]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Although Paul obviously traveled THROUGH
Samaria (Acts 15.3), it does not give us any data one way
or another on this matter.]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: The closest data we have to this type of situation is two-fold: (1) that Paul entrusted the 'official' letter-carrying task to a women (Phoebe, Rom 16.1-2; cf. The 'official' status of this role in Acts 15.22f ); and (2) the fact that he admitted women prophets! (I Cor 11.4). They were also called his 'co-workers'-- WS:WIC:84:
They assisted in composing letters (Rom 16:22; I Thess 1:1), carried apostolic messages to local churches (1 Cor 4.17; 16:10-11), sought to encourage the believers on Paul's behalf (1 Thess 3:2), reported to Paul the status of congregations under his care (1 Thess 3:6) and even occasionally hosted house churches (1 Cor 16:19)...In view of this wide range of ministry, it would be ludicrous to deny that Paul's coworkers possessed authority in the churches (1 Cor 16:17-18)...a role which included the task of admonition (1 Thess 5:12)...Paul spoke readily of women, as well as men, as his coworkers.]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: We don't know a lot about Paul's
traveling companions, but we do know that Priscilla and
Aquilla accompanied him on at least one journey, and that
he recognized that he could have taken a wife along with
him (I Cor 9.5). Obviously Phoebe was with Paul when he
dispatched her to Rome (Rom 16.1-2).]
Jesus' attitude contrasts with the sentiments of the rabbis. In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer declared, 'There is no wisdom in a woman except with the distaff.' One version adds, 'It is better that the words of the Law should be burned, than that they should be given to a women.' In the Mishnah the same rabbi made a similarly strong statement when he said 'If a man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery.' Jesus broke with rabbinical tradition when he taught women and included them among his followers (WS:ATW:143)[GLANCE AT PAUL: It is clear that teaching women was NOT a problem to Paul. The account in Acts 16 shows that he publicly taught women and baptized them.]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: The women Paul uses as examples are his
co-workers; all highly favorable! E.g. Euodia &
Syntche --"fought by his side" (Phil 4.3); Tryphena and
Tryphosa (Rom 16.12). What negative examples he DOES have
are exactly paired with men--Rom 1.]
[GLANCE AT PAUL: Paul shatters the Rabbinic distinction in
Gal 3.28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor
free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ
Jesus.. "Paul's statement in Galatians 3.28 is
extraordinary for an ex-rabbi; it is very radical. The
sexes are equal in salvation. Women have the same
spiritual status before God as men. They are one in
Let me quote from Rosemary Reuther (a very outspoken feminist theologian) who is drawing upon Elizabeth Fiorenza (a very outspoken feminist theologian). Neither of these could REMOTELY be called 'apologetically inclined' toward Paul(!):
"It is generally assumed that Paul is the author of a Christianity of female subordination. But more recent studies have shown that the historical Paul in fact continued most of the assumptions and practices of early charismatic, inclusive Christianity. Indeed, most of the New Testament evidence that women functioned as local leaders, as well as traveling evangelists, is to be found in the Pauline letters. Paul addresses almost an equal number of women along with men (sixteen women and eighteen men) in his greetings to Church leaders in Romans 16. He mentions two women, Euodia and Syntche, as having preached the gospel "with Barnabas and me" in Philippians 4:2-3. He addresses a woman name Junia by the title of "apostle," and constantly refers to the husband and wife team, Priscilla and Aquila, as "Church leaders," usually naming Priscilla first. He also speaks of the prominent woman Phoebe by the title of both "deacon" and "prostasis" or leader, of her community......................................................................
Paul received from the early Church both a practice of thus including women in the ministries of catechesis, prophecy, local Church leadership, and traveling evangelism (the role Paul calls that of "apostle"), and also a baptismal theology of male-female equivalence in Christ as reflected in the Galatians 3:28 reference. This formula was not original with Paul; he cites it from early Christian tradition. The Galatians baptismal text expresses the early Christian vision of the new humanity in Christ. It was consciously moulded to contrast with the traditions of rabbinic piety, adapted from Hellenistic philosophy, in which the Jewish male thanks God for having been born male and not female, free and not slave, and Jew rather than Gentile. By declaring that in Christ these divisions had been overcome and all these groups made "one," the early Christian stated the essence of his or her new identity as one where the equivalence of all humans in the image of God had been restored." (WS:WWR:212-213)
Now, we have already seen in the section on Women's roles in the NT that Paul
consistently utilized women as leaders in the early church,
and called them by 'authoritative names' such as apostle,
deacon, co-laborer, patron, 'hard worker'.
We did NOT examine I Tim 3.11, but, depending on how one
understands the word there for women, Paul COULD be
talking about female elders. If the term is understood as
'wives', then the passage is silent on the issue; if the term
is understood as 'women', then Paul is indicating women
elders. (Note: the 'husband of one wife' text is NOT an issue,
since standard writing usage for brevity allows that to count
for BOTH wife/husband cases...Similar to how we say "brothers"
instead of "brothers and sisters"
Likewise, Titus 2.2-3 is sometimes understood as the
qualifications for male/female elders (so RSV).
We also saw that congregations were told to "submit" to such
as these (I Cor 16.16)--indicating positions with significant
We also saw that he used Priscilla to play a major role in
discipling/teaching the gifted Apollos.
In short, we have plenty of historical data that demonstrates
his rather 'unrestricted' official usage of women as partners
in the early church; we have NO narrative or historical data
that even slightly suggests that he refused to 'allow' women
to serve in ANY capacity.
We will need to keep this in mind when we look at the
There are three main passages that we need to examine here: I
Cor 11.3-16, I Cor 14.33-40, and I Tim 2.11-15. And, although
many, many books have been written about each of these--and
the subject--they still remain three of the most obscure and
disputed passages in the Pauline corpus. I will not be able to
resolve these passages, but I can at least give the evidence
that leads me to believe that they do NOT constitute a
contradiction between Paul's approval of women
teachers/leaders in practice, and his teaching about women in
such roles in these passages. (Due to the intense nature of
the current debate about this subject, this section will
simply NOT be able to deal with the manifold objections to my
[There is another string of passages that are sometimes used
to support a view that Paul restricted women from church
leadership--the 'submit to your husband' verses (Eph
5.22; Col 3.18; Tit 2.). This is not a strictly Pauline
injunction, of course, since it is also repeated by Peter in I
Peter 3.1-6. Since it is sometimes understood/appealed to in
support of the broader view that women should not have
authority over men IN ANY SPHERE, I want to make some summary
observations about this issue, and why it cannot be applied to
church leadership positions.
First, it obviously applies ONLY to married women--not widows,
not the unmarried, not divorcees, not celibate. And
correspondingly, any authority it imputes to males is ONLY TO
MARRIED MEN. We have no reason to believe that marriage (and
the survival of the spouse!) were qualifications of teaching
positions (!!!!). We DO have POSITIVE evidence that it was NOT
required--Paul, Timothy, Lydia, etc.
Second, the word for 'submission' in those passages is VERY
different that the words used for slaves and children. They
are told specifically to 'obey'--the wife is told to 'be
submissive to'. This is a subtle but real difference. For
example, when Paul says in Ephesians 5.22 "Wives, submit to
your husbands as to the Lord" and then RE-STATES it in 5.33 as
"the wife must respect her husband.", the meaning seems
clear--the issue is respect and civility. [You must remember
that the liberating effect of the Christian freedom in
Christ--Gal 3.28--occasionally created 'hyper-liberated' women
who showed public contempt and mistreatment of their
Third, the Ephesians and Col. Passages are in the literary
form of a "household code", but with a twist (so BBC:in loc): "Paul borrows this
form of discussion straight from Greco-Roman moral writing.
But unlike most ancient writers, Paul undermines the basic
premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male
head of the house." And, at the summary verse .33, BBC adds
"Although ancient moralists expected wives to respect their
husbands (and Jewish teachers also expected the reverse),
moralists usually also emphasized the wife's 'obedience';
Paul's exhortation to wives here would thus strike most
ancient readers as quite weak."
Fourth, the "household code" is turned on its head by the
intro in verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for
Christ." BBC notes: "But although it was customary to call on
wives, children and slaves to submit in various ways, to call
all members of a group (including the paterfamilias,
the male head of the household) to submit to one another was
unheard-of." Verse 2--the call to MUTUAL submission--(the verb
is 'shared' between 21 and 22, so there is no difference in
quality) radically changes the nature of the household code.
Fifth, the submission of wives to husbands was not on the
basis of some gender-based authority; rather, it was a
covenant-based relationship. So Wood, in EBC: "'As to the Lord' differs
slightly from 'as is fitting in the Lord' in Colossians 3.18.
In obeying her husband, the Christian wife is obeying the Lord
who has sanctioned the marriage contract...The subjection,
moreover, is voluntary, not forced. The Christian wife who
promises to obey does so because her vow is 'as to the Lord'."
Most marriage contracts had 'obedience' or 'submission'
clauses in them, so in the context of a Christian marriage it
was contract-based authority (i.e. the Lord) rather than
gender-based authority that mattered.
Sixth, the general tone of 'submission' verses for women is
geared toward practical matters (and not more fundamental
theological-authority issues). So, Titus 2.5: to be
subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign
the word of God. and I Peter 3.1: Wives, in
the same way be submissive to your husbands so that,
if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won
over without words by the behavior of their wives,.
In such a way, they appeal to more culturally-oriented values
of the non-Christians around the church. So, just as Paul
would suppress personal 'rights' out of desire to further the
work of Christ (e.g. I Cor 9.1ff; I Cor 9.22f), so took we
should 'subject ourselves' to each other, to move the Kingdom
You must remember that submission and servanthood go
hand-in-hand. Christ said that He came "not to be served, but
to serve." His submission to the needs of others was CERTAINLY
not based on some 'superiority' or 'authority' they had over
Him(!), but a submission based on love and other-centered
behavior. The NT is replete with such passages that enjoin us
to such mutual submission (e.g. Rom 12.10b; I Peter 5.5b; Phil
2.3; Gal 5.13).
Seventh, there are a couple of passages in which wives are
either charged with authority over themselves, or men are
explicitly stated as being in some form of subjection to
wives. So, in I Cor 11.10, the Greek says "the woman ought to
have authority over her own head." (The English versions add 'a
sign of' to this, without the slightest evidence!) and
in I Cor 7.4f: The wife's body does not belong to her
alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the
husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his
wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent
and for a time,. This is rather clear--the wife has
'authority' over the husband's body--mutually.
Eighth, in I Cor 6.3, Paul states that the "saints" will judge
the world AND the angels! He makes no distinction between male
and female in a FUTURE situation of overt authority. (NB: the
word sometimes rendered 'men of little account' in verse. 4 is
simply a participle--not a clause with the word 'men' in it.
As a participle it has to have linguistic "gender", and is
"masculine" in accordance with standard praxis of the day. If
an author wanted to draw attention to men, he would not 'hide
it' in a humble participial ending, but rather he would use
the deliberate words for "men", "husband", etc.)
Finally, 'submission within marriage' CANNOT be relevant to
matters of church leadership, simply because (1) we KNOW of a
husband-wife pair in which the woman was the dominant teacher
(Priscilla); and (2) entire congregations were told to
'submit' to women leaders in I Cor 16.16: "submit to such as
these and to everyone who joins in the work (synergounti),
and labors (kopionti) at it." We have already seen that
Paul refers to numerous women by these titles. In this latter
case we have men OBVIOUSLY 'submitting' to women (not
necessarily their wives). So whatever "submission" means (and
it DOES imply obedience-under-God in certain passages--Rom 13.
5), it is mutual enough to apply in several different
It must also be noted that Paul was very familiar with OT
history, and accordingly he would have known that many of the
main women leaders there were married (e.g. Deborah the Judge,
Huldah the prophetess).
So, I personally have to conclude that although submission is
a very, very real command to a wife, it would be false to
restrict it to her or to impute the 'traditional' notions of
'obedience' or 'obey your husband, right or wrong' to that
word. The very mutuality and grounding of the notion in the
person of Christ, indicates that it is concerned with respect,
putting other's needs first (cf. I cor 10.24: Nobody
should seek his own good, but the good of others.), and
generally 'fitting in' ENOUGH within the cultural context as
to not hinder the work of Christ.]
Now, on to the controversial passages...
Remember, we are examining these passages to see how they
relate SPECIFICALLY to church roles--especially
First up is I Cor 11.3-13:
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head -- it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?Observations:
Now, even though the passage SUPPORTS women's speaking roles
and 'authoritative speaking' roles, some have seen in the
reference to 'headship' a basic male-over-female hierarchical
subordination structure, as being ordained of God. Let me be
quick to point out that EVEN IF THIS WERE SO, it would IN NO
WAY negate the obvious fact that women were allowed (indeed,
encouraged, when done in proper fashion) to function in
worship. That fact remains unchanged in our text.
But what about the 'head' thing? Perhaps another digression is
warranted, given the controversy surrounding it.
Some of the basic points first:
For example, when it is argued that in thousands of cases
in Greek literature, when 'head' is applied to a person
(as opposed to river or something inanimate), it is only
applied to a ruler; then I Cor 11 disappears from
consideration--because the term in question is the generic
noun 'man'--NOT a specific man! (And, if we agree that the
man is Adam--agreeing for sake of argument that he had
some authority over Eve--then the passage ONLY extends to
the First Couple, and becomes only an illustration for
A second problem is that, strictly speaking, it CANNOT mean 'authority' when applied to God and Christ in the passage--at the time Paul writes this. While that COULD have been a meaning during the Pre-Cross Incarnation, after the Exaltation Paul is clear that Christ has been given all authority, and that He will sometime in the future , 'give it back' to the Father (I Cor 15.24-28):
Then the end will come, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.[Also, it is not clear from the I Cor 11 passage that God the Father is in view--the more inclusive term 'God' may indicate that a source relationship is VERY intentional here. In other words, a 'source' motif--similar to adam-eve--would be more correct if it ran like this: "Godhead was the source of an enfleshed-Godperson".]
Needless to say, the relationship between the Father's
authority and the Son's authority is exceedingly
complex(!), but we MUST proceed on the basis on the force
of these passages.
And, when you have a semantic distance as great as between
"source" and "authority" you MUST show how the literal
meaning 'stretches' to the metaphorical meaning. "Fork in
the road" can be derived from a physical fork, as can most
other metaphorical extensions. In some cases, we know we
can 'lose' the literal in favor of the metaphorical, but
in this case BOTH USAGES co-exist in the literary data. It
is incumbent, then, for someone to show how 'authority'
can be an extension (in such a vast array of situations!)
of "source" or "one who completes". It is not enough to
cite statistical correlation.
So, I may not know what I Cor 11 means--relative to women
wearing headgear other than hair at church, but I can tell
from the passage what it does NOT mean! Women were obviously
allowed to pray and prophesy in church, and were not commanded
to 'be silent' at all. There is absolutely no restriction on
women's roles (in worship at least) in this passage.
Now, let's consider I Cor 14.33-36:
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Did the word of God originate with you?On the surface this looks really, really clear--this is a 'sit down and shut up' passage if there ever was one! "Silent in the churches"--what could be clearer than that?
But let's look at this at little closer...
Notice that there is no restriction on the scope of
silence in the passage to 'authoritative teaching' or
'leadership pronouncements'! This verse at face value
would argue that women could not teach, sing, exhort,
prophesy, pray audibly, greet people, say 'amen' at the
giving of thanks, or encourage one another in church.
This would mean that ALL of the instructions for worship
that Paul has given in chapters 11-14 (including the
passage about women praying and prophesying!) would be
only to the MALES--since ALL of the instructions were
about 'audible' activities (e.g. prophesy, tongues,
interpretation). This would be bizarre in the
extreme--bordering on the non-sensical.
This would mean that I Cor 14.26: "When you come
together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction,
a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation" and I
Cor 14.31: "For you can all prophesy in turn so that
everyone may be instructed and encouraged" and Col
3.16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as
you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom"
and Eph 5.19: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns
and spiritual songs" would ONLY be addressed to
men(!)--when there is not the slightest reason to do so,
and indeed we have TONS of data that documents that women
DID these things in churches (even 11.5!).
This would mean that the Holy Spirit 'wasted' half of the spiritual gifts of prophecy on people (females) who couldn't use it in church to build up the body!--Joel 2.28 says that the Spirit will be poured out on both men and women so that they will prophesy
It should also be noted that Paul does NOT have separate
'spiritual gift lists' for men and women! There seems to
be no restriction by gender on the Spirit's sovereign
distribution (I Cor 12.11) of gifts (chuckle)...
So, logically--so far--we have two choices: (1) take a
universal silence interpretation--and contradict the vast
majority of Paul's other teachings--even in the same
epistle(!); or (2) take a 'disruptive silence due to
inappropriate questioning practices' view (based on 14.35)
and simply be a little confused about the historical
circumstances...how complicated a choice is that, eh?...
Paul knows the Law better than that, and actually quotes
it in the epistle twice (9.9; 14.21), but he doesn't argue
this ambiguously from the Law ever. What's going on? Is it
possible that vss. 34-35 are not Paul's words AT ALL, but
maybe a mistaken position of some of the Corinthians, and
is here in the text as a quote BY Paul of a false position
in the church? Does Paul ever do this?
There are four lines of evidence/argument that supports
the view that Paul is quoting mistaken opponents
There is a tiny little particle in the Greek text--not
even translated in the NIV and NAS!--that provides
some interesting evidence in favor of this view.
Immediately after verse 35, the first word in verse 36
is a single letter particle that is translated
"What?!" in the KJV and ASV. This word in most
contexts is translated as 'or' or 'rather', but these
are always in series, like "either...or" or "this or
that or that...".
But in this case, it is (1) in the front of the
sentence; (2) introduces a completely different
subject; and (3) has a complete change of tone--to
that of irony and rebuke. Where else does this type of
construction occur in Paul?
Notice that in verse 3, Paul has stated a view
(pernicious and/or erroneous). He uses the
particle "What?!" (perhaps best translated at
"NOT!" in the slang of today!) and issues a harsh
rebuke of the position's content and tone.
Notice that in verse 20, Paul has stated a view
(pernicious and erroneous). He uses the particle
"WHAT?!" (remember, "NOT!") and issues a harsh
response to the arrogance of the position.
Notice that in verse 8, Paul has stated an
erroneous practice. He uses the particle "WHAT?!"
and issues a strong response to the assumptions of
But there is an obvious question here: if the women
WERE already speaking in church (11.5)--indicating a
'non-rabbinical' church--WHY would this
rabbinical-type argument show up as a view of someone
in that church?
There is a fairly obvious answer--some of the members
of the church, concerned about the "chaos" of the
worship service, probably were seeking to 'return to
the good old Intertestamental days'. In other words,
THEIR answer to the problem of church order was to cut
the church in half! But Paul, on the other hand,
explains that in every church (vs. 33) God ordains
order WITHOUT restricting who does the speaking. This
is affirmed both BEFORE the passage in question (vs.
31-33) and AFTER the passage in question (vs. 39-40).
[That there would have been "rabbinic-leaning"
contingents there that could have advanced this
position is suggested from clues such as the "party of
Cephas" (1.12), the dual reference to Jews/Gentiles in
1.23ff, and the Pauline Accommodation passage in
9.19-23. We KNOW there was a large Jewish population
in the city--see historical background below.]
This can be seen from the textual flow in the passage:
This contrast between 'what the OTHER churches do' and
'what the Corintian church wants to do' is made in the
context of orderly worship and universal speaking. In
other words, the rebuke makes the most sense IF the
text in 34-35 is THEIRS 'alone'--in distinction from
the other churches' position.
My personal conviction is that Paul is quoting/refuting a
mistaken position. The language, tone, style, textual context,
historical context, and known facts about Corinth and Paul's
praxis indicates this to me.
This is essentially the same position taken by Fitzmyer:
But even if I am mistaken, the most likely OTHER alternative [assuming that verses 34-35 are part of the original text--see Textual Note below] is that of "we do not have a clue what he meant"...It CANNOT mean 'universal silence in the churches'--for that contradicts MOST of the rest of the passage and the rest of the epistle (not to mention, known Pauline and early church practice). To turn it into a restriction on women from making any audible, articulate sounds in church is so against EVERY SCRAP of data we have--with the "exception" of I Tim 2, which we look at next(!). Exegetically, I just cannot see a strong and textually-consistent case for 'universal silence' from this passage.
Interestingly enough, if it is a Pauline REFUTATION of
'universal silence' (as my argument above attempts to show is
the best understanding of the text), then it ALSO will
function as strong data we can use in our analysis of I Tim
2(!)...In other words, our understanding of I Tim 2 will need
to take into consideration that Paul probably
DISAGREEs with the position of women's silence--even from
teaching and prophesying (e.g 14.26 and 11.5)--in the church!
[Textual Note, added Nov 2012: Since writing
this article in 1995, I have come to discover that some modern
scholars do not believe that these two verses were part of
Paul's original, in the same manner that the Woman Caught in
Adultery in the gospel of John is not. Several respected
scholars hold this position, even though the manuscript
evidence is not very supportive.
Without going into the technical details of their arguments, let me just cite their conclusions.
First, Gordon Fee in the NICNT commentary:
Second, this trend is noticed by more commentators:
Now, let's consider I Timothy 2.11-14:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.Again, when we encounter this in English and with 20th-century Western-civi eyes, this looks relatively clear--but surely we have learned by now to pay attention to the textual and contextual details...
So, what facts to we have to note first?
The women are to "learn in silence." Despite the negative connotations this phrase brings to our ears, in the first century "silence" (hesychia) was a positive attribute. It did not necessarily entail "not speaking," as is evident in Paul's use of the word earlier in the chapter (I Tim 2.2; compare 2 Thess 3.12). Rather, it implied respect or lack of disagreement (as in Acts 11.18; 21.14). As a result, the rabbis and the early church fathers deemed quietness appropriate for rabbinical students, wise persons and even leaders." (WS:WIC:128)The phrase "in submission" is closely related to this notion, and together the two images call up the memory of Mary, "sitting at the feet of Jesus" in rabbinical student style (cf. Luke 10.39).
The interesting thing about this is that this was used of
"future or current teachers"! Rabbincal students were
generally preparing for a teaching ministry, 'wise men'
and 'leaders' ALREADY were in teaching/authority roles.
So, the very cast that this imperative is set in suggests
a FUTURE teaching ministry for those women who learned in
the proper fashion of students.
The "learning/teach others" cycle is 'standard' in Paul: And
the things you have heard me say in the presence of many
witnesses entrust to reliable men who (nb: generic
'anthropos') will also be qualified to teach others.
(2 Tim 2.2).
This becomes a bit more obvious when we compare the
'life-style' teaching given women in more traditional
roles (Titus 2.4-5: Then they can train the younger
women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be
self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be
kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no
one will malign the word of God.). There seems to be
a sort of 'teacher-track' in view in I Tim 2, and a 'lay
person' track in the Titus passage.
TWO things that ARE sure about its meaning--it is NOT the normal word for "authority" (exousia), "exercising authority" (exousiazo), or "power" (kyrieuo); and it is NOT a 'good' thing (suitable for ANYONE to do--even males!)...so Scholer in WS:WAB:204-205:
Another factor basic to the interpretation of 2.11-12 concerns Paul's use of the unusual word authentein (translated "to have authority over" RSV) in the second injunction (2:12). This is the only occurrence of this word in Paul's writings and, indeed, in the entire New Testament. The word is not frequently used in ancient Greek literature. The precise meaning of authentein and its use in 2:12 cannot be completely resolved at this time; scholars are currently in an extended debate on the issue.It is VERY important to point out here that it is PURE FOLLY to base an entire doctrine affecting half the human race (!)--"women should not have authority over men"--on the basis of ONE SINGLE VERSE, and even worse--a single verse where the most important verb is (1) unusual; (2) negative; and (3) not even understood clearly!
Traditionally, authentein has been understood to connote a sense of "domineer" or "to usurp authority" and the term is even associated with murder. Although not all of the evidence and arguments have been fully assessed, two points seem relatively certain. First, the term is unusual. If Paul were referring to the normal exercise of authority, his otherwise constant exousia/exousiazo ("authority/to exercise authority") vocabulary would most likely have been used. The choice of such an unusual term itself indicates that Paul intended a different nuance or meaning. Second,...many uses of the term seem rather clearly to carry the negative sense of "domineer" or "usurp authority." Thus I see the injunctions of 2:11-12 as directed against women involved in false teaching who have abused proper exercise of authority in the church (not denied by Paul elsewhere to women) by usurpation and domination of the male leaders and teachers in the church at Ephesus.
Strictly speaking, given this cautionary note, we
SHOULD BE able to rest the matter here, but I would
like to at least probe a bit further to discover other
dynamics in the passage that will either (1) illumine
the argumentation somewhat or (2) circumscribe the
application of the passage in keeping with the
The verb is TOO 'big" to NOT be radically restricted
in scope by whatever authentein means.
The situation is this. "Teach" takes an object in the
accusative case and authentein takes an object
in the genitive case. "Man" is in the genitive case,
and is therefore the object of authentein.
That means that 'teach' (unless it is 'connected'
tightly to authentein) is UNRESTRICTED in
scope. Paul would be prohibiting women from teaching
anybody at any time--in direct contradiction to his
plentiful commands for believers to
teach/instruct/train each other (e.g. Tit 2.4; 1 Cor
14.26; Col 3.16). So the scope of the application must
be limited somewhat in the context.
We have two streams of data that indicate
'qualification' on this verb: (1) the "pairings" in I
Timothy and (2) the conjunctions used.
(1) The "pairings" data concerns the fact that the
verb 'teach' is ALWAYS matched with another verb in I
Timothy, which qualifies, hones, circumscribes its
range. The cases are in 1.3-4; 4.11; 6.2b. This would
mean that the 'teach' is somehow narrowed to
'revolutionary' or 'out-of-order' or 'disruptive' or
(2) The "conjunction" data concerns the fact that
there is a 'but' between verse 11 and 12. So, we have
Paul saying something like "Let the women study/learn
as proper students...BUT I am not (currently) letting
them (the students, having been under the influence of
the false teachers--cf. 1.4-7; 5.13; 2 Tim 3.6) teach
nor letting them 'overthrow' their teachers (until
they are ready--cf. 2 Tim 2.2)". [The fact that
'teach' is present, active, indicative is indecisive
as to whether it is a short-term or long-term
command--the data is very divided in the extant
We also have the conjunction oude ("nor")
connecting 'teach' and authentein. This
conjunction often connects 'pairs' that mutually
qualify one another. In this case, Kroeger (WS:ISNW:84) gives an
illustration of how this would look: "I forbid a woman
to teach or discuss differential calculus with a
man"--the SUBJECT MATTER radically orients the
range/scope of the 'teach' word.
Now, if we are dependent on authentein to
clarify the meaning/scope of 'teach', and if we do not
know what authentein means, then we sort of
'stuck'. The historical context suggests some limits,
and the disruptive/destructive nature of authentein
suggests some limits, but we need to keep looking for
This appears to be a very gender-specific word (andros),
suggesting that authentein was ONLY DIRECTED
(whatever it was) at MEN--not at WOMEN. And, since the
passage is apparently ABOUT women, we have women authentein-ing
MEN only. Since there had been or were godly women
teachers already in Ephesus (e.g. Priscilla and the
deaconesses of 3.11), this would make a case that the
immodest (3.9), gaudy (3.9), self-righteous (3.10b),
unlearned (3.11), and disruptive (3.11) women under
discussion in 2.9-15 (no doubt a subset of the women
in Ephesus, 3.11; 5.2-9) were SPECIFICALLY teaching
something about MEN that led them to seek to authentein
First, the identical phrase "in quietness" BRACKETS
the section on learning/teaching/authentein.
This creates a 'packet' that stands alone. This
suggests that the following data in verses 13-15 is
not a critical support for the argument inside the
bracket, but might be illustrative. If authentein
is an obviously negative term, and if disruptive or
out-of-order learning is commonly disapproved of as
well, then Paul NEEDS NO SUPPORT for the 'packet'--his
readership does not NEED any evidence or
argument--they would ALREADY agree with him.
What they MIGHT need is some clarification of what
SPECIFIC items of the teaching of these women would be
objectionable to the Apostle Paul. And hence, perhaps
13-15 is an illustration of the false, anti-male
teachings of these females who 'professed themselves
to be godly'.
Second, the conjunction connecting vs. 13 and vs. 12
is a 'weak' one--gar. This conjunction CAN mean
'because' (as the traditional interpretation of the
verse understands it), but that is a less pervasive
translation than the softer "for". (The 'normal' word
for 'because'--in the sense of supporting argument--is
hoti). Gar can easily be understood as
illustrative or explanatory--cf. Rom 7.2, "for
In this case, it could either be an example of (1) the
teaching and the authentein-ing; or (2) of the
consequences of women NOT BEING TAUGHT, and therefore,
vulnerable to the false teaching of evil men. And,
since only the "middle" part--about the deception of
Eve--makes sense relative to (2), I think (1) makes
considerably more sense in the context.
This would allow us to understand the contents of
13-15 as semi-rebuttals of the false teaching. Paul's
points in verses 13-15 look something like this:
IF, therefore, these are the rebuttals, what would the
false teaching look like?
Another clue that Paul is only using the material in 13ff as ILLUSTRATIVE rather than DOCTRINALLY NORMATIVE comes from his use of the "Eve/Deception" motif.
That Paul is selective in his use of Eve in 1 Timothy 2:14 seems clear from at least three other Pauline texts. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Eve's deception is a negative model, warning all Corinthian believers--men and women--against false teaching. This shows that Paul did not limit Eve's deceivability to women. In both Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, the apostle attributes sin and death to Adam, not Eve. (WS:WAB:210; cf. also BBC:in. loc.)What is curious about this text, however, is that Paul does not draw any implication/message from it--he doesn't issue a command. It is like he is only stating the proposition ITSELF (as if the content itself is the issue).
Our approach here is to find statements and
descriptives about the false teaching that was
apparently being taught by men, and held to/taught by
The false teachers are characterized by an interest in myths (I Tim 1:4; 4:7; Tit. 1:14; 2 Tim. 4:4) and genealogies (I Tim. 1:4; Tit. 3:9), a concern with the law or a Jewish orientation (I Tim. 1:7; Tit. 1:10, 14; 3:9), an interest in "antitheses" that they identify as "knowledge" (1 Tim. 6:20), a tendency toward controversy, argumentation, and speculation (1 Tim. 1:4, 6: 6:4, 20; Tit. 1:10; 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:14, 16,23), deceptiveness (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Tit. 1:10-13: 2 Tim 3:6ff., especially v.13), immorality ( 1 Tim. 1:19, 20; Tit. 1:15, 16; 2 Ti. 2:16, 19; ch. 3), and desire to get material gain by means of their teaching (1 Tim. 6:5; Tit. 1:11; 2 Tim. 3:2, 4).
When the son of Codrus, last king of Athens, founded the city, he placed his colonists near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks, following the religious syncretism common in the ancient worlds, called after their own goddess Artemis. This was perhaps in the 10th, 11th, or 12th cent. B.C., so uncertain are dates in this borderland of legend and history. The cult thus recognized was that of a nature-goddess, associated with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution.
In Ephesus with its huge temple to the goddess Artemis were hundreds of sacred priestesses who probably also served as sacred prostitutes. There were also hundreds of hetaerae, the most educated of Greek women who were the regular companions and often the extramarital sexual partners of upper-class Greek men. Possibly some of these women had been converted and were wearing their suggestive and expensive clothing to church. Since hetaerae were often respected teachers of men in Greece (many are named in Greek literature), they would be more likely to become teachers after they became part of the church.Paul, of course, had lectured in a Greek secular school for two years there (Acts 19.9), and if the pattern was anything like that in Athens (Acts 17.34), educated women were probably there and were converted under his teaching.
[Cf. the childbearing issue, held up as 'good' in
1 tim 2.15 and elsewhere (WS:WAB:243): "If
the passage is a reaction to a proto-Gnostic type
of teaching, verse 15 becomes more comprehensible.
Childbearing and marriage were forbidden by
certain Gnostic groups because they pulled the
soul-atoms back into material bodies instead of
liberating them to ascend to their ultimate
The lexical work of Kroeger (WS:WAB:225-244)
and Kroeger/Kroeger (WS: ISNW:87-104), although complex,
documents one important strand of meaning as being "to
proclaim as the originator or source of something"
(op.cit.). Liefeld summarizes Kroeger in WS:WAB:246: "If Kroeger's
understanding of authenteo is correct, the most
straightforward translation of the verse would be, 'I do
not permit a women to teach or to declare herself the
originator of man.'"
WS:ISNW:103 states it thus: "If we were to read 1 Timothy
2:12 as 'I do not allow a women to teach nor to proclaim
herself author of man,' we can understand the content of
the forbidden teaching as being the notion that woman was
somehow responsible for the creation of man."
And elsewhere: "I do not permit woman to teach nor to
represent herself as originator of man but she is to be in
[peaceful] conformity [ with the Scriptures, as a
respectful student]. For Adam was first formed, then
Now, if we try to peace this together, certain things seem to
What this would mean for our study, is that this passage does
NOT restrict women's role in the early church, but only the
roles of FALSE TEACHERS--in this case, with the special case
of women heretics.
Remember also the I Cor 14 passage...If I was correct in my
understanding of that, then Paul's scope of the 'not teaching'
is ALREADY restricted to a VERY specific context confronting
the Ephesians. He, accordingly, could not be issuing a 'gag
order' without contradicting his earlier argumentation in I
Corinthians (assuming that he had not changed his mind for
some reason, of course, but we have no reason to assume
Now, in case I am wrong about this, the
NEXT MOST LIKELY understanding of this verse (maybe even the
preferred understanding, at the time of this update) keys
off of another translation of authenteo, namely, "to domineer" or to "violently
wrest authority from". Under this alternative
interpretation, the error was not the 'having authority'
(remember, that would have normally used Paul's "standard"
authority words) but for "overthrow" or creating imbalance.
Men and women were supposed to be 'co-rulers'; to "push the
man off the platform and take it alone" is just as bad an
error as "not getting up there" when you should be there! It
is much more difficult to make sense of the adam/eve verses
that follow that instruction, in my opinion, and the
childbearing verse is extremely difficult to understand.
We can see support for this latter position in recent commentaries:
Paul is known as "the Apostle of Liberty." He was converted
overnight from a legalistic, persecuting, pharisaic rabbi to a
preacher of freedom in Christ, equality within the Body, of
universal giftedness of the Spirit, to mutual submission after
the model of the "meekness and gentleness of Christ."
His actions showed that his understanding of male and female
alike was informed by the radical position we have in Christ.
His practice and his words alike encourage ALL to accept the
'yoke' of service to the Master Servant of All...He consistently
'stays after women' to learn and grow and use their gifts for
His precious Lord...He instructs his disciples to make sure that
they are taught and utilized in the Body...He praises them in
his letters for their faithfulness and hard work and
'co-laboring' with him...
This man's vision of women was re-created by the grace of
God...would that we see what he saw, and live as consistently...
glenn miller, 1/25/97