This series continues Phil Payne’s magisterial Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. Chapters 18-20 comprise a 3-part unit on 1 Timothy 2:12. To begin, I will offer the NIV text and the corresponding Greek:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
“διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.”
Each chapter title contains Payne’s subject: chapter 18 “1 Timothy 2:12: Part I: ‘I Am Not Permitting a Woman to Teach'”; chapter 19 “1 Timothy 2:12: Part II: Does οὐδέ Separate Two Prohibitions or Conjoin Them?”; chapter 20 “1 Timothy 2:12: Part III: Does αὐθεντέω Mean ‘Assume Authority’?” respectively. The burden of chapter 18 is to show that the prohibition is not universally binding for all time, define the nature of teaching as Paul intended, and answer why women in Ephesus were specifically targeted. Chapter 19 offers alternative possibilities for understanding “to teach” and “to have authority over” (NIV) either as two separate ideas or as a single, more specific idea. Payne opts for the latter and provides solid evidence accordingly. The final chapter in this unit confronts the rarity of αὐθεντέω (the verbal root form of the Greek infinitive αὐθεντεῖν; NIV’s “to have authority over”) and unpacks its etymology as an indicator of meaning, canvasses the likely meanings of this term, and opts for one that fits the context of the passage and the overall theme of Paul’s letter to Timothy. As before, this post will highlight major points of Payne’s arguments from each chapter.
1 Timothy 2:12: Part I: “I Am Not Permitting a Woman to Teach”
Rather than a universal prohibition applied to all churches everywhere for all time, Payne argues the translation of ἐπιτρέπω in 1 Tim 2:12 as “I do not permit” conveying “an ongoing universal prohibition” is not correct. Instead he maintains “this Greek verb and its the [sic] grammatical form is better suited for a present prohibition.” Reasons for this are many, but some that caught my attention are:
- “Every occurrence of ἐπιτρέπω in the Greek OT refers to a specific situation, never to a universally applicable permission. Similarly, the vast majority of the NT occurrences of ἐπιτρέπω clearly refers to a specific time or for a short or limited time duration only. There are only two cases where ἐπιτρέπω seems to refer to a permission with continuing effect.” Payne cites 1 Cor 14:34 and Mark 10:4 (= Matthew 19:8), but shows they are not exact parallel verbal forms to 1 Tim 2:12.
- “The English translation ‘I do not permit,’…implies universality that runs counter to the normal connotations of this verb. An English translation more faithful to its usage in the Greek Bible is ‘I am not permitting,’ indicating a new, case-specific injunction in response to a problem in Ephesus that does not carry the weight of church tradition.”
- “In most of the few cases where Paul did use the first person singular in the present tense with a continuing future sense, he included some sort of universalizing phrase, as in Rom 12:3 (‘to every one of you’), 1 Cor 4:16-17 (‘everywhere in every church’), Gal 5:3 (‘to every man’), 1 Tim 2:1 (‘for all men’), and 1 Tim 2:8 (‘in every place’). There is no such universalizing phrase in 1 Tim 2:12.”
- “The overall purpose of 1 Timothy is to silence false teachers, and there is ample evidence…that Ephesian women at that time were especially influenced by and participated in the false teaching.”
- “Paul’s only grammatical imperative in this section, ‘let women learn,’ implies that the prohibition of teaching is not universal based on the principle that learning ought to result in teaching.” (See especially Heb 5:12).
- “Timothy himself was taught by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-16).” Payne later writes that “Paul’s praise for Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice for teaching him the Holy Scriptures shows that younger women were not the only group older women should teach… [see Titus 2:1-5]. It also shows that the scope of their teaching includes Holy Scripture.”
Contrary to mainline thinking, the activity of teaching does not always entail “public authoritative discourse,” but “can occur in households as well as broader gatherings in the church” (see Tit 1:11 for an instance of false teaching in households). Even a quick query of Paul’s use of “teach” or “teaching” shows that it is used “broadly of anyone teaching either good or bad content in public or private to groups or individuals.”
For example, Paul advises Timothy (2 Tim 2:2) to engage in personal discipleship and, though “many translations have ‘faithful men,’ Paul chose the generic term [ἀνθρώποις] that includes all human beings, women as well as men (cf. its use of women in 1 Pet 3:4 [see also ESV footnote to 2 Tim 4:21]), as expressed in the JB, NRSV, and TNIV.” Moreover, we know from Acts 18:18 that Priscilla and Aquila were with Paul in Ephesus where he left them to carry on the ministry (Acts 18:19) and they helped Apollos better understand “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26, NASB). In 2 Tim 4:19 we find Prisca and Aquila again in Ephesus and so “it is surely mistaken to think that women are excluded from the ‘faithful persons who will be able to teach others also’ in 2 Tim 2:2.”
Correspondingly, Col 3:16 speaks to the inclusion of women in teaching activities. Payne insists “just as it would be wrong to exclude any particular group from those who may forgive one another or sing psalms, so it is wrong to exclude women as a group from those who may ‘teach and counsel.'” The prohibition of women teaching men must be understood from a broader Pauline usage of διδάσκειν (“to teach”) and its cognates.
Why did Paul restrict women teaching men in Ephesus? Because the Ephesian women were spreading false doctrine and had insufficient grounding in the Scriptures. This reason fits perfectly with what we know about Paul’s letters to Timothy and the concerns he raised regarding some women. Thus, “until [the women who were deceived] are properly taught, they should not make blundering attempts at teaching, but rather learn, just as 2:11-12 requires.”
1 Timothy 2:12: Part II: Does οὐδέ Separate Two Prohibitions or Conjoin Them?
Paul’s use of οὐδέ falls into four categories and Payne opts that “to teach” and “to have authority over” (NIV) “combine two elements to express a single idea” where the function of οὐδὲ “is not to subordinate one expression to another, but to merge them together to convey a single more specific idea.” The significance of this includes women teaching men and women having authority are not distinct activities for Paul and, correspondingly, it is the combination of teaching and assuming authority that Paul is prohibiting (see the final chapter review in this post for an explication of the latter).
The biblical data on the function of οὐδέ in the undisputed Pauline uses offer four possibilities, with Payne opting for option 3:
1. Oὐδέ joins equivalent expressions to convey a single idea.
2. Oὐδέ joins naturally paired expressions to convey a single idea.
3. Oὐδέ joins conceptually different expressions to convey a single idea.
4. Oὐδέ joins naturally paired ideas focusing on the same verb.
It was quite helpful for Payne to offer English examples of a conjunction joining conceptually different expressions to convey a single idea, such as “eat ‘n run” where “‘n” functions as oὐδέ. The parallel expression illustrates that “in both the oὐδέ construction in 1 Tim 2:12 and in ‘eat ‘n run,’ one part of the expression viewed independently is positive (teach/eat) and the other negative (assume authority over a man/run [in the sense of breaking social convention by leaving prematurely]).” Not only does this fit the text, but the context. Payne nicely summarizes:
This prohibition fits the central concern of 1 Timothy, namely, false teaching. Teaching combined with assuming authority is by definition not authorized. This is exactly what false teachers were doing in Ephesus. This single prohibition is particularly appropriate to the theme of this chapter, peace without self-assertiveness. Calls to quietness bracket this prohibition and counteract the aggressiveness inherent in unauthorized women (or men) assuming authority over men. The immediately following twofold explanation fits this interpretation well. “Adam was formed first, then Even” (2:13) implies that woman should respect man as her source, just as the parallels in 1 Cor 11:8 and 12 do. For women to assume authority for themselves over men disrespects men. Furthermore, 2:14 specifically states that Eve was deceived. Eve’s deception is relevant only if women’s deception is a reason for verse 12’s prohibition.
Furthermore, the contrasting “but to be in quietness” phrase “makes a better literary contrast with the single idea combining ‘to teach and to assume authority over a man’ than it does with ‘to teach’ and ‘to exercise authority over a man’ understood as two separate prohibitions.”
If Paul were universally prohibiting women teaching men under every circumstance, then Priscilla’s presence in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19) and participation in teaching Apollos (Acts 18:26) was clearly in violation.
1 Timothy 2:12: Part III: Does αὐθεντέω Mean ‘Assume Authority’?
At the outset, Payne says “the most crucial question about 1 Tim 2:12 is the meaning of αὐθεντεῖν” (NIV’s “to exercise authority over”). Of the three major meanings for αὐθεντεῖν, “exercise authority,” “dominate,” or “assume authority,” Payne maintains the third choice has the best lexical support, best fits the context, and the theology of 1 Tim 2.
Since αὐθεντεῖν is rare and 1 Tim 2:12 is one of the first occurrences in Greek, its etymology (origin) is of great import. Payne’s findings show that αὐθεντεῖν has its root in two words, αὐτὸς (self, himself, herself) and a second term meaning “achieve, realize.” Thus, “self-initiated activity” is a likely meaning. A papyrus dated 27/26 BC sheds light on the use of αὐθεντ- root. In it an apology is written to a slave owner for “self-assumed authority” by intervening for a debt owed. In addition, other fragments circa before/near Paul’s date suggest αὐθεντ- root has the sense of “taking authority unto oneself that had not been delegated.” Payne shows that it was not until centuries after Paul (ca. AD 370) that αὐθεντεῖν had the meaning “to have authority over” or “to exercise authority.”
While giving credence to the likelihood of “dominate” being in the semantic domain of αὐθεντεῖν, Payne notes it does not fit the context. “The major weakness of the ‘teach and dominate a man’ interpretation is that the appeal to Eve’s deception does not directly support it…Paul’s stress on the deception of the woman that led to the fall seems designed instead to support a prohibition focused on stopping women in Ephesus who were deceived by the false teaching from assuming authority for themselves to teach men, which could lead to a corresponding fall of the church there.” Thus, “to assume authority” or “to assume a stance of independent authority” is best-supported.
Not only is this meaning supported by the term’s etymology, but it is also supported by the way in which it was used in other writings circa Paul’s day. I would argue that to “assume a stance of independent authority” is precisely what Eve did in the garden and it was the serpent’s strategy to tempt Eve into believing that she should take unto herself a stance independent of God’s authority. Humans have no authority to allow what God expressly forbids; to do so is to “assume a stance of independent authority.” No human has inherent authority over another, since all authority ultimately begins with God (cf., e.g., Jesus’s similar notion in response to Pilate, Jn 19:11, Jesus giving authority to his disciples, Mat 10:1, and the authority given him after his resurrection, Mat 29:18).
Despite its length, this post cannot begin to capture all of the findings that Payne has documented. Nevertheless, I trust sufficient interests have been piqued so readers will commit to reading this outstanding treatment of the relevant Pauline texts. At the end of the day, I am convinced Payne’s conclusion regarding 1 Tim 2:12 fits all the evidence, the text, the context, and the theology, namely, “Paul is not permitting a woman to teach [and in conjunction with this] to assume authority that had not been properly delegated.” That such a restriction could also apply to men is inferred from 1 Tim 1:3 and 19-20. When, therefore, “the threat of false teaching has waned, Paul’s preferred more open style of mutual instruction can again prevail” (see esp. Rom 15:14; Col 3:16).