No, 1 Timothy 2 Should NOT Be Used To Silence Women

No, 1 Timothy 2 Should NOT Be Used To Silence Women December 19, 2018
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“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” ~ 1 Timothy 2:11–12

Like the text from Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is a go-to passage complementarians use to shut down all conversation regarding women having authority in the home and the church. But again, we must keep two crucial things in mind: 1) that the context of the passage is crucial to our understanding of it and 2) that we must approach this text, like all others, with the whole of Paul’s (or pseudo-Paul’s) writings and actions in mind.

First, let’s begin by briefly taking a look at the context of this letter, which Paul clues us into right off the bat in 1:3–7 (all emphasis mine):

I urge you [Timothy], as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than divine training that is known by faith. But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.

To be clear, what was going on in Ephesus was not all that different from what went on in Galatia: i.e. both city’s churches were being influenced certain so-called teachers who imbued the Gospel with a smattering of the law and false doctrines (see also Gal. 2:11–12). In the case of the church in Ephesus, while these false doctrines were most likely introduced by men, they were then spread throughout the church by either one particular woman or a small handful of them. This is why Paul is so emphatic in 1:3 that it is the teachings of certain people he is concerned about. Scholar Craig  S. Keener explains the situation best:

It is probably no coincidence that the one passage in the Bible prohibiting women teaching Scripture appears in the one set of letters where we explicitly know that false teachers were targeting and working through women. Paul’s letters to Timothy in Ephesus provide a glimpse of the situation: false teachers (1 Tim. 1:6, 7, 19, 20; 6:3–5; 2 Tim. 2:17) were misleading the women (2 Tim. 3:6, 7). These women were probably (and especially) some widows who owned houses the false teachers could use for their meetings. Women were the most susceptible to false teaching only because they had been granted the least education. This behavior was bound to bring reproach on the church from a hostile society that was already convinced Christians subverted the traditional roles of women and slaves. So Paul provided a short-range solution: “Do not teach” (under the present circumstances); and a long-range solution: “Let them learn” (1 Tim. 2:11).

With this brief framing of the letter in mind, it should be obvious to see how, rather than Paul’s words to Timothy being an injunction against women that should last until the end of time, they are really just a warning against a certain group of women spreading certain doctrinal falsities throughout the young minister’s church. And sure, on the surface, they seem harsh. But that’s just how Paul rolled. For example, when so-called leaders from Jerusalem were attempting to convince the men of the Galatian churches that in order to be saved, they’d have to chop the tips of their penises off, Paul sarcastically told them to basically finish the job: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). Likewise, when certain women were spreading a false, law-infused gospel throughout Timothy’s church in Ephesus, Paul basically tells them to “sit down and shut up!” He didn’t do this because they were women per se; he did this in order to protect the true Gospel from any false doctrines or subterfuges of religious law or “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4, 7). Or, to put it like this, biblical scholar Marg Mowczko teaches: “Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:11–12 were a correlation of his censure of a badly behaved and ill-informed woman (or perhaps, women) in the Ephesian church who was teaching, or spreading, a heresy.”

Moreover, to further drive the contextual point home, the Ephesian people, like all other Gentiles whom Paul preached the Gospel to throughout the Greco-Roman world, had their own gods and goddesses, their own belief systems, and their own cultic rituals that they had to come out of prior to converting to Christianity. For instance, the goddess Artemis was worshiped with great vigor in Ephesus. In fact, the temple that was built for her was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and was roughly four times larger than even the Athenian Parthenon. Needless to say, Artemis was important in the eyes of the Ephesian people, which is probably why Acts 19 chronicles how a silversmith named Demetrius got all bent out of shape over the growing momentum of Christianity. Because of the danger that the Gospel posed to the money-making system that Artemis worship brought, the artisans who made all the shrines and amulets were facing a potential economic problem.

For Paul, however, none of this crap was important. In fact, it only tarnished “the pure and sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). And while many throughout the Greco-Roman world clung to the mythologies of their day (1 Tim. 1:4), including old wives’ tales like those potentially attached to the goddess Artemis (1 Tim. 4:7), Paul wanted them to shed all of that in order to embrace the Gospel with utmost faithfulness. There were simply no two ways about it: The Gospel was the Gospel and anything added to it created a false gospel, which is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6).

Now, if you are still convinced that in 1 Timothy 2:11–12 Paul is making an agelong injunction against women daring to teach in church, just ask yourself this: Why does he apparently contradict himself by naming Phoebe a deacon and emissary to Rome (Rom. 16:1)? And why, in Acts 18:26, was Priscilla permitted to teach the doctrine of Christian baptism to a Jewish-Christian man named Apollos? And why, in Romans 16:7, does Paul name Junia—a woman, in case you’ve erroneously heard otherwise—“prominent among the apostles?” I’ll let you wrestle with these questions, but for me, either Paul was a wishy-washy thinker, an all-over-the-map kind of guy who failed in applying his own personal criteria, or that his words to Timothy were specifically meant to address a certain situation only. Remember, as I stated at the onset of this section, we must always remember to keep the totality of Paul’s writings in mind when interpreting specific passages or even whole letters.

To close, what is needed here isn’t a pick-and-choose methodology to biblical interpretation; what is needed is the fullest picture of what was actually taking place when these letters were written. On the one hand, Paul may have had a skewed few of women, but then again, he may have been quite progressive when compared to his interlocutors. And the only chance we have in figuring out the truth is by stepping back for a moment and taking in the broader view. When we do, then, what we’ll likely see is that Paul had to deal with his own cultural and religious presuppositions—just like we all do—but then often subverted the societal norms by including women in the “offices” they were typically prevented from holding. Thus, his words in 1 Timothy are, as I just stated, most likely conditional rather than universal mandates, meant for certain people spreading certain falsities during a certain time and place in history.

*If you like what is being presented here, be on the lookout for a forthcoming book I am co-authoring with Danielle Kingstrom. Also, if you want to support my work, please consider becoming a monthly patron on Patreon. It would help me out bigly.

Matthew J. Distefano is a heretic and deserves to burn in hell forever and ever. He's the author of 4 books -- all burnable -- and co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, a podcast that will lead others astray and into the pits of hell. You can read more about the author here.

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  • John Gills

    You’re probably already aware of Lucy Peppiatt, but If not – in your copious spare time – I fervently recommend you read an 88 page monograph by Dr. Peppiatt titled Unveiling Paul’s Women in which she argues powerfully and convincingly that the misogynistic verses of 1 Corinthians 1:2-16 are neither Paul’s thoughts nor his words, but are an interpolation of the words of the elders of the church in Corinth which Paul then refutes.
    Dr. Peppiatt’s last sentence is, “It means that Paul begins and ends his section on public worship by addressing oppression, suppression and silencing of women and coming out as strongly as possible against it.”
    What a marvelous reinterpretation!
    John Gills

  • I love Peppiatt’s work. She and I are Facebook friends, although haven’t engaged much. Her book on 1 Corinthians is splendid. Of course, I love Campbell and Tilling, too. They saved Paul for me 😉

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    Thanks for the background on the Timothy passage. So much of what is in Paul’s letters were meant for a specific time and situation and not for all time. Nice to know that passage does NOT support complimenterianism.

  • matthewdistefano yes but

  • marthaanneunderwood yes but

  • soter phile

    So why did you leave off v.13? Paul gives his reasoning for v.11-12.
    And that certainly would be germane – since it’s the primary complementarian argument on the passage.

    Why does Paul say women should remain silent? False teaching? Gnosticism? Culture?
    No. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
    He grounds his reasoning in the created order – not cultural context.
    That’s not just certain people at a certain time in a certain place, is it?

    If you are actually attempting to debunk the complementarian view, seems you wouldn’t avoid their primary argument on a passage.

    Paul is clearly prohibiting something for women, and he’s appealing to the way we were designed as the basis. If you’re not dismissing the authority of Scripture, that’s a major problem for any egalitarian view.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I have to agree with you that the passage doesn’t really fit well with a it being about certain women teaching error.
    However, it still doesn’t say what “completementarians” want it to say.
    The quote above omits the “but” between the two halves, which is crucial, because Paul is giving two separate instructions: women are to be allowed to learn (which would otherwise be open to question in the typical pattern of male-only 1st century religious discipleship) but this permission does not then extend to teaching and “exercising authority” over a man. The verb used, however, is not the normal verb for being in a position of authority and its meaning is uncertain. Its other recorded uses apparently centre around taking over control of something or even usurping it. What is being said then is that a woman is permitted to study with the men, but shouldn’t try and take over from the teacher and teach the class herself. Whether the need to say this has anything to do with the background as explained by Matthew above I wouldn’t venture to say.
    The Adam and Eve story is relevant because the point is that Adam was made first and Eve second, but Eve was the one counselling Adam as to what to do, and thought she knew better than him, and disaster resulted. It is a suitable cautionary tale about a woman who purported to instruct a man who was supposed to be instructing her, but doesn’t assist in whether and under what circumstances a woman might legitimately be in a position of authority. Paul is says nothing (whether “clearly” or otherwise) about the way Adam and Eve were made, only the order in which they were, and this only applies to Adam and Eve themselves, not to all men and women whenever created.
    Women in Roman society ran their households and had authority over and instructed men all the time, whether slaves or servants or tradesmen etc, and as Matthew points out above women took up positions of authority in the early church. The passage does not make sense if it is a blanket ban in any woman anywhere ever instructing a man.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Goodness, what a rant against women!! Without ANY contextual evidence, you are clearly stating that it was the women who were responsible for the false teaching, because they were to ignorant to know any better.
    Apart from that, Phoebe was a deaconnes – says not a word about her teaching. Pricilla was teaching a NON Christian man, Apollos, who was preaching about the bapism of John the baptist, not a baptism into death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
    But then, you obviously cannot keep track of context…

  • Brandon Faidherbe

    What if Paul simply meant what he said straight forward in context? “I do not suffer a woman to teach” instead of what you claim are specific to this Church?

    It is curious he didn’t write “I do not permit these certain women from this Church to teach false doctrine” instead of what he did write.

    Paul! What a tricky encoder of the true message! You are absolutely right, I detect the sarcasm just like ‘Go emasculate yourselves!’ Yes indeed, the context!

    Why does everyone do mental gymnastics with these verses rather than submit to the Lordship and goodness of God’s foresight?

    Paul attributed false doctrine to blasphemy and handed over Hymaneaus and Alexander for this exact sort of thing.

    Your contentions are non sequitur.

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

    2 Timothy 4:3 KJV

    Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

    If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

    But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

    1 Corinthians 14:34‭-‬38 KJV

    But go ahead and be ignorant and blasphemous such as Hymaneaus and Alexander teaching doctrine you should not teach.

    The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

    Proverbs 28:1 KJV

    Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

    Galatians 4:16 KJV