Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This is part four on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For part three, click here: Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13


1 Timothy: Translation of 2:11-15

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.[1]

Timothy: Exegesis of 2:11-15
In verse eleven, there is some debate as to whether the aforementioned women are to learn in silence or quietness. While the ESV renders en esouxia ‘quietness’ other translations, such as the CSB and KJV render it ‘silence.’ Those are very different things, silence being the stronger noun. A person learning in silence cannot speak, while a person learning in quietness might speak infrequently and in turn.  Esouxia   can mean rest, orderliness, and the opposite of disturbing.[2] In verbal form it can mean to become quiet (Acts 22:2). William Mounce argues for ‘quietness’ as well, since a vocal role was established for women (1 Cor. 11:5) and ‘quietness’ is the more common use.[3] ‘Silence’ is indeed too strong, and we will assume Paul wanted them to learn in ‘quietness.’

Not only are the women to learn in quietness, but they must do so en passe upotage. The question, then, is to whom should they submit? The text is not clear. Considering that the overall context is that of a public service, and that the immediate context is that of a learning stance, it is fair to assume that this submissiveness is extended to learning. Guthrie is correct when he says that this command “relates primarily to public worship as it was then enacted”[4]

Verse twelve is the crux of the difficulty, since verses thirteen and fourteen are an appeal to creation to buttress the argument. Any interpretation of verse twelve, therefore, must take into account Paul’s appeal to creation and the injunction gar in verse thirteen.  If 1 Timothy 2:12 is the crux of the Complementarian vs. egalitarian argument, then authentein is the apex. The raw amount of data accumulated from one word is astonishing. So much is at stake, and both sides fight for a clear definition. Because of the strong presuppositions both sides have in approaching the text, the debate is filled with every kind of semantic and root fallacy imaginable. The debate is also complicated by the fact this word is one of the Bible’s hapax legomena and is even rare in extra-biblical literature.[5]

Before we look at word studies and syntax, there are some poor attempts to interpret the passage that need examination. Some have made note of Paul’s use of the first person personal pronoun in verse twelve and suggested that, because of its form, it only expresses an opinion.[6] Mounce, however, records forty two occasions where Paul speaks with authority using the first person personal pronoun.[7] Others attempt to downplay the strength of the imperative because epitrepo is in the present active, which, they argue, suggests that the command was only for a time. This is a clear case of deriding too much theology from an inflection. Mounce argues that the aspect is gnomic, which indicates an action that is always occurring.[8] He also says that in Paul’s writings there are 1429 uses of the present active, and that nothing he said could be regarded as authoritative if this interpretation is true.[9]  He goes on, “While the use of the present tense does not require that a statement be true in the future, neither is there anything in the tense that requires it to be true only in the present but not later”[10]  These are poor attempts to emasculate the strength of the imperatives.

A root study of autheintein will reveal a long history of strange and often violent meanings. Leland Wilshire’s research through the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae revealed that from 600 years before the writing of 1 Timothy, the word could mean ‘doer of massacres,’ ‘perpetrator of crimes,’ ‘murderer,’ and even ‘builder of a tower.’[11] Wilshire claims that “one can find very few citations during this four hundred year period surrounding the New Testament that have the meaning of “exercising authority”[12] Since so much of the etymology of authentein carried the weight of violence, Wilshire compresses the meaning into the phrase ‘instigate violence.’[13] His conclusion is that Paul is being hyperbolic or that the situation in Ephesus was much more volatile than previously thought.[14] His final word, then, is that women are not to exercise violent or negative authority over men.

Henry Scott Baldwin, in Kostenberger and Schreiner’s Women in the Church, arrives at a much different translation of authentein. He asserts that when one divides the usage of the word based upon verbs, nouns, and adjectives, a different conclusion is warranted. If one uses a complete etymology of authentein and its cognates, it is possible to arrive at ‘instigate violence’ as Wilshire did. Baldwin claims, however, that there is not a single case of the verbal form used in this way.[15] Therefore one must use verbs to discover the meaning of verbs. He goes on to say “Upon analyzing these eighty-five currently known occurrences of the verb authentein, it becomes evident that the one unifying concept is that of authority.[16] Baldwin, then, denies the interpretation that “only women’s negative exercise of authority would be proscribed by Paul.”[17]

Syntactical studies of 1 Timothy 2:12 have created just as much a divide as word studies. Philip Payne suggests that the neither/nor construct is a hendiadys—that is, a better interpretation is to say that women are not to teach authoritatively. He concludes his research by saying:

Paul typically uses oudev to convey a single idea, as do the two closest syntactical parallels to 1 Tim 2:12. In the overwhelming majority of Paul’s and the NT’s ouk + ouden + allan syntactical constructions, ouden joins two expressions to convey a single idea in sharp contrast to the following allan statement.[18]

Kostenberger, however, finds fault in Payne’s approach. First, he argues that Payne only uses syntax from Paul’s writing, ignoring the rest of the New Testament. Second, Payne includes all the instances of oudev, even the nouns, even though Paul specifically uses infinitives. Finally, since Payne assumes authentein means ‘domineer’ he asserts that they “are conceptually too far apart to be joined by oudev.”[19] His conclusion is that the two concepts must be viewed either positively or negatively.[20] Therefore, 1 Timothy 2:12 must mean either “I do not permit a women to teach error or to usurp a man’s authority (negative)” or “ I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. (positive).”

It must also be noted that Belleville has consistently argued against this interpretation, suggesting that in English, neither/nor are “coordinating conjunctions that connect sentence elements of equal grammatical rank. In Biblical Greek, however..[it] connects similar or related ideas.”[21] Unfortunately, a great many egalitarian scholars accept this position, such as Marshall, Keener, Padget, Giles, and Webb.[22]

“When oudev joins two synonymous expressions, it is natural that both will be either positive or negative. There is, however, no grammatical or syntactical rule that keeps oudev from conjoining a positive activity with a negative activity.”[23]

To add weight to his imperatives in verse twelve, Paul argues from creation. His application, though, raises many questions. First, why does Adam’s creation order affect his authority? Is this a form of creational primogeniture, whereby the first created gender has ex officio authority? Paul then contrasts Adam and Eve using the conjunction de. to say that her deception lead to her transgression. It is true that, according to the record, Adam alone heard the commands of the Lord (Gen. 2:16-17). It would seem likely, though, that at some point Adam or the Lord would have made her aware—although there is no record of it. Also, why is the blame placed upon her when Adam was in attendance when she ate the fruit (Gen. 3:6)? Paul appears to make an argument based upon a poor reading of Genesis two and three.

One possibility is that there was a lapse of time between chapter three, verses five and six. The snake said his last piece to her in verse five, and verse six begins with: “So when the woman saw that the tree…”[24] It is possible that Eve was alone when the serpent approached her, and that later her and Adam wandered to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If this were the case, Paul’s argument makes more sense, since she alone did not receive the command of the Lord (although it is likely she knew it), and she alone was deceived by the serpent. In any case, Paul’s appeal to limit a woman’s authority is based upon the creation account.

There are many possibilities as to what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:12, but seven prospects stand out. See figure 3.

Figure 3: Possible Interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12-14

  1. My opinion is that a woman should not teach or exercise authority over a man.
  2. I do not permit a woman to teach or instigate violence against a man.
  3. I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a domineering manner.
  4. I do not permit a woman to teach/exercise authority over a man in this context.
  5. I do not permit a deceived woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.
  6. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.
  7. I do not permit a woman to exercise elder/overseer authority over a man.

The First possibility is that Paul’s commands are only an opinion, as demonstrated and debunked by Mounce.[25] As already mentioned, Paul uses the first person, personal pronoun on 42 occasions in an authoritative manner. This view is simply not credible and few give it any attention.

The second possibility is based upon Wilshire’s work whereby his final interpretation of authentein is to ‘instigate violence.’[26] His conclusion, therefore, is that Paul does not permit a woman to instigate violence against a man. Baldwin debunks Wilshire’s definition by focusing on the verbs rather than the nouns. More compelling, however, is the context of 2:12. Why would Paul need to give a command that the women should not be violent against the men? Given the Greco-Roman and Jewish culture’s low view of women, it is unlikely that any acts of violence by women against men would have been tolerated in any context—inside or outside the church. Furthermore, if this kind of thing were really happening, the need for such things to cease would in no way necessitate Paul to command Timothy to stop permitting it.

A third possibility is that Paul does not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority in a domineering manner. If one accepts ouk + oudev + allav as a hendiadys, this approach has some merit. If we were to isolate Paul’s statement alone, this approach becomes even stronger. Nonetheless, context rules and, in this case, overrules. Consider the consistency of the classic interpretation in figure 4.

Figure 4: Consistent context of 1 Timothy 2:12-14
Let a women learn quietly with all submissiveness
Do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man
She is to remain quiet

Figure 4 is perfectly consistent. The middle phrase is sandwiched by both sides with the command to be quiet. Now consider the inconsistency of figure 5.

Figure 5: Inconsistent context of 1 Timothy 2:12-14
Let a women learn quietly with all submissiveness
Do not permit a woman to teach a man in a domineering manner
She is to remain quiet

It is out of place to tell a group of women to be quiet, to tell them they can teach, so long as they don’t do it in a domineering manner, and tell them to be quiet again. Regardless of what kind of approaches can be pulled from the syntax, the context is not consistent with the hendiadys approach.

A fourth possibility is that women can neither teach nor have authority over men in this context. This is a tempting position. We have already debunked the idea that these imperatives lose their universalism by rendering them as Paul’s opinion, or that somehow the present active tense makes them situational.

An easier way to make these imperatives situational is to appeal to Paul’s other writings where women are given the ability to teach and have some authority over men. Classic egalitarian examples of women teaching are Philip’s prophesying daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Corinthian women given the right to prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5), Lois and Eunice teaching Timothy (2 Tim. 2:5), and Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos (Acts 18:25). Some might argue that the aforementioned teachings were done in private, and is not consistent with Paul’s imperatives in 2 Timothy 2. That may be true if we apply a clear separation between official and casual learning. In the case of the early church, the walls of learning types were somewhat blurred given that most of the churches met in homes. Nonetheless, the Corinthian women were given clear rights to prophesy in what was an official church meeting.

Concerning women’s authority over men, it can be argued that this was situational based upon the several examples of women having great influence over a community. A prime example is the women of Romans sixteen. As will be discussed in our exegesis of Romans 16, Phoebe was a diakonon or servant-leader of the church of Cenchreae. Paul considered her worthy of the saints as well as a prostatis or patron of many. We will also establish that Junia was a female and likely an apostle in the generic sense. As such, she was similar to today’s travelling missionary. These women were highly respected leaders of the early church.

We cannot measure the level of authority that these women exercised, but we do know that there is a precedent for women to have some authority over a community (including men), and for them to teach, both in an official and casual capacity. Therefore, a situational interpretation fits perfectly. Unfortunately, there is a hole in this interpretation.

If Paul had simply given us the imperatives of verse twelve, this view would be more reasonable; but Paul goes on to defend his imperatives from the creation account. Because of this, it seems that Paul is establishing universal principles from creation to say that women ought not to exercise authority over men. This view, then, is difficult to defend.

A fifth possibility is that deceived women can neither teach nor have authority over men. As already mentioned, significant people were being led astray by a false Gospel infiltrating the church at Ephesus. Whatever was happening, women were involved (1 Tim 4:3, 5:15). The interpretation suggests that there were a significant number of deceived women in positions of influence, or attempting to attain positions of influence.

Paul’s imperatives, then, were aimed at deceived women. According to this view, he is arguing that they cannot be allowed to teach or exercise authority. Furthermore, these deceived women must be quiet! The appeal to creation makes sense as well, since the whole episode revolves around Eve being deceived by the serpent. This view seems to fit, but upon further examination, it, too, becomes untenable.

If this were Paul’s intent, why does he speak in such general terms? In verse nine, he refers to the dress of women in general. It cannot be that only deceived women should dress modestly. Clearly, he wants all women to dress modestly and to produce good works. Paul is likely referring to the phenomenon of what Bruce Winter calls ‘new’ women, which will be covered more extensively in our exegesis of 1 Corinthians.[27] The dress of the women in Ephesus was likely tied to their behavior. Nonetheless, why does Paul specifically say that she is not to have authority over a man? If he is referring to deceived women, they should not be allowed to have authority over anyone. Surely Paul is not saying that deceived women can have authority, but just not over men. Given the specific nature of his statements, this cannot be reduced to deceived women only.

The sixth possible interpretation is that women can neither teach nor have authority over men in any context. This is, of course, the hardline Complementarian view. If one examines 1 Timothy 2:12-14 apart from the rest of scripture, this is the most reasonable interpretation. The imperatives are clear. Paul says it in multiple ways, and he appeals to an established authority (creation) to make his case. The case is water tight by itself, but when taken in view of the entirety of scripture, it simply cannot be accepted as universal. As mentioned there are several examples of strong women exercising some level of authority over men: Deborah, Priscilla, Junia, and Phoebe. If we interpret verse twelve, exactly as written, it contradicts practices found elsewhere in scripture. This view fits well, but not without problems.

The final possibility is that women cannot teach and have elder/overseer authority over a man. 1 Timothy 2:12 is akin to a complicated puzzle without the cover photo to guide us. Complementarians and egalitarians attempt to organize the pieces, but some of them will not fit without manipulating them and forcing them into place. None of the views seem to fit perfectly, which is why there is so much debate. Out of all of the possibilities, the final view manipulates the least amount of pieces.


There are some things that are not up for debate: First, in the scripture, women have consistently exercised some level of authority. Second, the context of 1 Timothy 2:12 best fits the traditional rendering. Third, given Paul’s argument from Genesis, his commands are universal. Any attempt to solve this puzzle must include these three presuppositions.

Everything hinges on authentein. If Paul were arguing for a hardline Complementarian position, it is likely he would have used exousia instead of a rare hapax legomena. This would be consistent: women are to be quiet and may not teach or use exousia  (rights, abilities, power, might, or authority) over men. In fact, much of the semantic weight of exousia includes ruling power. But Paul chose another word—a rare word—and with reason.

It is difficult to say whether autheintein is weightier than exousia. Both can be interpreted as ‘authority,’ but authentein is different. In this view, Paul is saying that women cannot wield this certain type of authority. What type? We can only guess. If, however, one looks at the rest of scripture and observes that no female holds the position of elder, overseer, or the office of Apostle, then it can be concluded that Paul is saying that women can have authority, just not elder/overseer/apostolic authority.

Paul closes this section with a strange statement about salvation through childbirth. In fact, Payne quotes P.C. Spicq, when he suggests that what Paul says is so bizarre that it should be considered a non-Pauline gloss.[28] Mounce notes Paul’s unusually complex use of tense and aspect. He addresses the men and women regarding prayer and dress (plural, present tense), moves to general principles (singular, present tense), then to Eve (singular, past tense), then to childbearing (singular, future tense), and finally to salvation (plural, future tense). Given the soterieology of the Pastoral Epistles, and the scripture as a whole, Mounce goes on to suggest that Paul must mean a spiritual or physical salvation. He notes further that Paul typically uses sozo only to refer to salvation from sin, whereas he uses ruomai to refer to salvation from people or events. (Rom 7:24, 11:26, 15:31; 1 Cor 1:10; Col 1:13; 1 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 3:11). [29]

According to Mounce, then, the aforementioned salvation is likely a rescuing from the false teaching and its consequences.  He summarizes his interpretation of Paul’s statement as such:  “They are to work out there salvation by accepting their role, one example being that of bearing children.”[30]

Payne arrives at a similar conclusion of sozo, but whereas Mounce takes it as sanctifying-salvation, Payne sees it as actual justification-salvation.[31] Women are not to work out their new roles and thus be saved from the consequences of false teaching; rather, it is an “affirmation of the role of women in salvation that counteracts the role of women in the fall…1 Tim 2:15 reflects the key idea of Gen 3:15, that the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.”[32] Women are saved, then, through their gender having carried and birthed the Messiah.

Guthrie reluctantly takes the same position that salvation is achieved because The Messiah was born of a woman. This interpretation recognizes the presence of the definite article, and connects the Ephesian women with Eve; but Mounce questions whether the lexical data supports the translation ‘childbirth’ over ‘childbearing’ when he says “the verbal cognate emphasizes the act of bearing, not the children who are borne.” [33] Others, such as Joachim Jeremias, argue that Paul’s statement was to combat abstinence.[34] Given that the false teachers were prohibiting marriage (1 Tim. 4:3), this is a possibility.

It appears that one’s final interpretation of the egalitarian versus complementarian debate will affect the specific interpretation of 1 Tim 2:15. If indeed women are afforded full equality of function, then it is unlikely that Paul is saying that women are saved through accepting their role as child-bearers. Conversely, if women are unequal in certain roles, then that same view would be consistent.

Paul’s typological use of Eve in comparison to the Ephesian women is indeed bizarre to the contemporary reader. Although Timothy and his fellow hearers likely understood what Paul meant, the evidence for a clear understanding seems weak from all angles.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

[1] 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (ESV).

[2] Word analysis of h`suci,a from Bible Works 7.

[3] William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 200), 118-119.

[4] Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), 86.

[5] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 168.

[6] Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, 122

[7] Ibid., 122.

[8] Ibid., 122.

[9] Ibid., 122.

[10] Ibid., 122.

[11] Leland E. Wilshire, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages (Lanham: University Press of America, 2010), 28.

[12] Ibid., 29.

[13] Ibid., 29.

[14] Ibid., 29.

[15] Andreas Kostenberger, ed., Women in the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 197.

[16] Ibid., 45.

[17] Ibid., 54.

[18] Philip Payne, New Testament Studies, No. 54 (Cambridge: University Press, 2008), 253.

[19] Kostenberger, ed., Women in the Church, 25.

[20] Ibid., 74.

[21] Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 98.

[22] Kostenberger, ed., Women in the Church, 84.

[23] Payne, New Testament Studies, 54, 250-251.

[24] Genesis 3:6 (ESV).

[25] Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, 122.

[26] Wilshire, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages, 32.

[27] Bruce Winter. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s, 2003), 21.

[28] Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, 417.

[29] Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, 145.

[30] Ibid., 148.

[31] Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, 419.

[32] Ibid., 423-424.

[33] Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, 146.

[34] Joachim Jeremias, Die Breife an Timotheus und Titus Das Neue Testament Deutsch, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963).


  1. I don’t believe everything depends on the meaning of αὐθεντέω in the sense that we don’t really know what Paul is saying unless we can nail it really closely from lexical data – which we don’t have – so now we are really unsure what Paul was saying. The fact is that the emphasis is on διδάσκειν, first because of its position at the start of the sentence, and second because of the natural contrast with learning in verse 11 – a woman should learn in quietness.. but to be teaching..

    I really recommend reading some pre-1918 commentary on the Greek text. These have the advantages that they were written before the women’s movement got a hold on the church of Jesus Christ, and before fancy methods of so-called interpretation took over, and most importantly when most of the commentators had had a classical education and had reading fluency in Greek. I put a few of these together: https://drive.google.com/#folders/0B3myvzj5H9WVTHNyV1poTnN5Nzg

    See also Origen’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 14 and Chrysostom on 1 Timothy 2.12. They both understood there to be a prohibition on women teaching.


  2. Lisa truitt says:

    There is a possibility you are overlooking. My husband is very knowledgable about Greek and reads it almost fluently. He says that the word for man is the same word for husband. It is only the context that enables one to know whether to translate the word husband or man. It is likely that theses verses relate to behavior between husbands and wives within the church. While there is no male or female in Christ and the genders are equal in the church, there is a hierarchy of authority in the marriage. No where in scripture are women told to obey or submit to men in general but to their own husbands. This can be seen to be what Paul is really talking about in his mention of the creation account. What was Eves relationship to Adam? Was he just any man? No he was her husband. Referencing this story is not an appeal to women to submit to and defer to the authority of men in general but to that of husbands. You simply cannot logically conclude that a story about Adam and eve who were husband and wife should be interpreted in an expanded way to mean that women should never teach with authority a man.
    It seems likely that these verses are a reminder that while a woman has equality in the church she is still to be respectful toward and submit to the authority of her own husband if she is married.


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  2. […] This is part four on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’For part three, click here: Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 […]

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