A stall outside the Isa Bey Camii in Selçuk near Ephesus sells souvenir statues of Artemis, Greek philosophers and the Virgin Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
1 Παρακαλῶ οὖν πρῶτον πάντων ποιεῖσθαι δεήσεις, προσευχάς, ἐντεύξεις, εὐχαριστίας, ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων, 2 ὑπὲρ βασιλέων καὶ πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ ὄντων, ἵνα ἤρεμον καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάγωμεν ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι. 3 τοῦτο καλὸν καὶ ἀπόδεκτον ἐνώπιον τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ, 4 ὃς πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι καὶ εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν.
5 εἷς γὰρ θεός,
εἷς καὶ μεσίτης θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων,
ἄνθρωπος Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς,
6 ὁ δοὺς ἑαυτὸν ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων,
τὸ μαρτύριον καιροῖς ἰδίοις: 7 εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγὼ κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος ἀλήθειαν λέγω, οὐ ψεύδομαι διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.
8 Βούλομαι οὖν προσεύχεσθαι τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ, ἐπαίροντας ὁσίους χεῖρας χωρὶς ὀργῆς καὶ διαλογισμοῦ: 9 ὡσαύτως [καὶ] γυναῖκας ἐν καταστολῇ κοσμίῳ μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης κοσμεῖν ἑαυτάς, μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν καὶ χρυσίῳ ἢ μαργαρίταις ἢ ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ, 10 ἀλλ' ὃ πρέπει γυναιξὶν ἐπαγγελλομέναις θεοσέβειαν, δι' ἔργων ἀγαθῶν. 11 γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ: 12 διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ' εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ. 13 Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη, εἶτα Εὕα: 14 καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη, ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν. 15 σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης.
I Timothy 2
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
‘The hardest passage of all’
Tom Wright says that I Timothy 2 is the “hardest passage of all” to exegete properly. This chapter deals with prayer and worship, but seems also to raise many challenging questions for us today. It is about correcting abuses in the Church in Ephesus, but this too is the chapter where the great debate begins about women in ministry. I Timothy 2: 12 is often quoted in arguments about the ordination of women, and about women holding other positions of ministry and leadership in the Church. Are Saint Paul’s directives in this passage to be accepted as normative in the Church today?
The interpretations of this chapter vary, with women in some churches being denied a vote in church affairs, denied the right to serve as teachers of adult Bible classes or as missionaries, and generally disenfranchised from the duties and privileges of church leadership, while in other churches allow women to perform any role open to non-ordained men.
Does this chapter carry the same meaning for the modern church when it is interpreted in light of the socio-cultural situation of Saint Paul’s time?
A key word in this chapter is translated as “exercising authority.” But has it been properly translated, and what did the concept mean? Did Saint Paul ever intend these verses to apply to the Church at all times and in all places?
Reading the chapter
Saint Paul wants all those in positions of leadership to be prayed for (verse 1), “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (verse 2). Saint Paul uses the word “quiet” several times throughout this chapter.
In verses 3-4, he says that to lead such a life is pleasing to God, “who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He mentioned in chapter 1 about the law being good if it was used “legitimately” (I Timothy 1: 8). He now returns back to this theme of “truth.”
In verse 5, Saint Paul writes: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human …”
This is the only place in the canon of Scripture that the phrase “Christ Jesus, himself human” or “the man, Christ Jesus” is used.
In verse 7, Saint Paul says that he was made an apostle and preacher because of the testimony of Christ. Then, he says: “(I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
Here he uses the word “truth” twice, first to defend his calling, his place in the body of Christ. He says, “I am not lying,” probably because he was assumed to be a liar in the Church. The Church in Ephesus had so much false teaching coming within it, that even Saint Paul was not trusted by everyone there.
In verse 8, he hones in to focus on the particular situation in Ephesus: “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.”
Instead of praying simply, the men in the Church in Ephesus were praying with anger. The false teaching in Ephesus has had such an effect on the church that the men are angry and quarrelling at prayer time.
In verses 9-10, Saint Paul makes another request: “also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.”
Where he uses the word “also” or “likewise,” this is the Greek word ὡσαύτως (hosaútos) meaning “in the same way” or “in the same manner.” When the women pray, they should dress modestly, in clothing that is not too revealing or too indicative of a “loose” woman.
This is why Saint Paul says: “not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.” Braided hair, and gold and pearls were signs a rebellious woman, just as the women at Corinth were viewed as loose and rebellious because they refused to wear their marriage veils. In addition, notice that braided hair, gold, pearls, and “costly attire” are indicative of wealthy women.
Saint Paul later writes to Timothy: “As for those who in this present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (I Timothy 6: 17).
And Saint Paul goes on to say: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future …” (I Timothy 6: 18-19).
These instructions were written to the well-to-do of the congregation. So we know that when Saint Paul writes about “costly attire,” it is because there were a good many women in this congregation who were very wealthy. He says in verse 10 that these women should not be wealthy in clothing and attire, but in their good works.
An elaborate marble fountain was supplied with fresh waters from the channels that once brought water to the pool in the Baptistery in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Answering some questions
This chapter addresses several cultural matters and so raises several questions: about people praying for kings, bout men lifting their hands when they pray; about women avoid hair braids, jewellery and expensive clothes.
Why do some people take verses 11-12, as presented in our translations, as permanent guidelines when they do not take verses 8-9 as permanent guidelines, and allow greater scholarship to be brought to a critical examination of the texts and their translations?
1, Questions about politics:
For example, should we pray for all rulers, and is seeking a quiet life the only option in the face of oppressive rulers?
2, Questions about universality:
Verse 6 raises interesting questions about the universal dimension of salvation.
3, Questions about women:
A, Some questions raised in verses 9-10:
Verses 9-10 raise some interesting questions:
Saint Paul here advises women to avoid ostentatious hair and clothing styles.
Both men and women are advised to live holy lives of obedient works, but the difference between the commands to the two sexes gives us some indication of the cultural problems of the day.” His instructions are based on timeless principles, such as humility and good behaviour. But they are also culturally relative.
Saint Paul does not forbid all braids and jewellery, but refers to the elaborate hairstyles that were then fashionable among some wealthy women. In Ephesus, in particular, elaborate hairstyles and ornate jewelry were expressions of vanity or sexual promiscuity, and among the namely temple prostitutes at the Temple of Artemis.
Hopefully, there are no prostitutes from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus seeking to minister in the Church today. If there is a universal directive with universal application then it is one of dressing in a modest fashion … and that should apply to men as well as to women.
Respect for this advice requires no subtle exegetical skill or any great knowledge of the customs in Ephesus during Saint Paul’s day. It may, however, call on us to ask what adornment is excessively costly and not modest or proper.
B Some of the questions raised in verses 11-12:
Some of the questions raised by verses 11-12 are:
● Are women allowed to teach men?
● Are women more easily deceived than men?
● Is forbidding women teachers the same as forbidding false teachers?
We know already that women were certainly free to speak in the Pauline churches (see I Corinthians 11). So is the problem here what Saint Paul says? Or is it a problem specific to Ephesus? Or is the problem with our translations.
The NRSV says: “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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (I Timothy 2: 11-14).
But faulty translations often complicate our understanding of the words of Scripture, and there are examples of mistranslation in I Timothy 2: 11-15.
Ησύχιος (hesúchios) and ἡσυχίας (hesuchías): in passages concerning women, this is normally translated as “silence.” But in all other places, the word is translated as “peacefulness,” “peaceable” or “quietness” (see Acts 22: 2; I Thessalonians 4: 11; II Thessalonians 3: 12; I Peter 3: 4).
The word does not carry the meaning of literal silence or absence of speech, but of an atmosphere or presence in which learning should take place. Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines ἡσύχιος and ἡσυχίας as “tranquil,” “properly, keeping one’s seat,” “stillness” “undisturbed,” “undisturbing,” and “peaceable.”
But when Saint Paul wants to convey the concept of absence of speech, he uses the term σιγαω (sigao). The same word is used just nine verses earlier (ἡσύχιον, hesúchion, from ἡσύχιος, hesúchios), which is translated in the NRSV as “peaceable” (I Timothy 2: 2).
Ησύχιος (hesuchios) and ἡσυχίας (hesuchías) are translated as quiet or quietness in I Thessalonians 4: 11; II Thessalonians 3: 12 and I Peter 3: 4. None of these verses is about silence, as in the literal absence of speech, but about a tranquil quietness or peaceable presence or environment.
This fits the context much better than a literal silence, since Saint Paul has just rebuked the men in the congregation for praying while angry and quarrelling. Obviously, this would not be the optimum environment for learning for anyone.
So, Saint Paul tells Timothy to make sure the woman can learn in quietness or peacefulness, and not amid the chaos that was taking over church meetings.
Saint Paul also writes that women should learn in full submission. This is not a unique request asked only of women, but men are also supposed to learn in full submission to the Gospel and sound teaching. The reason this command is directed at women in this passage is only because teaching women in the same way as men was still a revolutionary practice and still repulsive to many men, whether they were believers or not.
…nor “to have authority over [αὐθεντεῖν, authentein] a man…”
The normal New Testament word used for “authority” or carrying out of one’s official duties is ἐξουσία (exousía). However, this is not the word Saint Paul uses here. Instead, he uses the word αὐθεντεῖν (authentein, from αὐθεντέω, authentéo). And, while the word ἐξουσία appears over 100 times in the New Testament, this is the one and only time this word αὐθεντεῖν appears in the New Testament, anywhere.
Other uses of αὐθεντεῖν from the same time period show that this word does not simply mean legitimate or routine authority, but that it carries meanings that convey violent, sexual, and dominating meanings.
It cannot be stressed enough how unusual this word αὐθεντέω or αὐθεντεῖν is, especially for Saint Paul. He writes extensively about authority, but he never uses αὐθεντεῖν as a synonym for legitimate, godly authority. For most mentions of authority, he uses ἐξουσία.
Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida, in The Greek-English Lexicon, list 12 common ancient Greek words that are synonyms for routine or legitimate authority, and of these ἐξουσία is the most common throughout the New Testament.
There are 47 words that are synonyms for legitimate “rule” or “governing.” Yet Saint Paul uses none of these words in I Timothy 2: 12. Instead, he uses here the unusual αὐθεντεῖν. There is no evidence that αὐθεντεῖν, in any of its forms, indicates a routine or legitimate authority until the late third and fourth century AD. By then, this is too far removed from the time this letter was written to provide us with relevant meanings and contexts.
To add emphasis to this argument, even when the word took on a less severe meaning in later centuries, this passage was at all times understood as Saint Paul forbidding women to dominate a man, and not that he was prohibiting or referring to , the exercise of legitimate, Christ-like authority.
For example, the Old Latin Version, from the second to the fourth century, translates this verse as: “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to dominate a man neque dominari in viro.”
The Vulgate, from the second to the fourth century, translates this verse as “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man neque dominari in virum.”
It is not until the 1500s that the verb αὐθεντεῖν in this verse changes from the drastically negatively-charged “to dominate” or “to domineer” to a slightly water-downed phrase, “to usurp authority” (KJV). To “usurp authority” is still different from exercising legitimate authority, but the KJV translation is, nevertheless, much less forceful than the violent and even sexual connotations of the original αὐθεντεῖν.
The King James Version asserts that women are not to wrestle authority or seize it from men. No believer is permitted to usurp authority or act in their own self-interest over others.
Compare the way English translations have rendered the words corresponding to αὐθεντέω (authenteō), which I have placed in italics:
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. – KJV.
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. – RSV.
I do not allow them to teach or to have authority over men; they must keep quiet. – GNB.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. – NIV.
They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do. – CEV.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. – NASB.
I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. – NLT.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. – NET.
It is not until after World War II, less than 70 years ago, that αὐθεντεῖν is translated: “to exercise/assume authority over.” So, the notion that women may never exercise godly authority within the body based on this verse is unbiblical, both logically and historically.
The early uses of the word αὐθεντεῖν in its noun, verb, and adjective forms, collectively mean “criminal mastermind,” “a perpetrator,” “one who slays with his own hand,” “self-murder,” “women who can command domestic and sexual services from their male concubines,” “incestuous sex and murder,” “religious sexual orgies,” “to dominate,” “to control,” “to restrain,” and “to domineer.”
None of these uses is reflected in the modern translations of I Timothy 2: 11.
One of the earliest meanings given to αὐθεντεῖν is the act of murder or the act of violence.
The debate is compounded by the fact that this word is found only once in the New Testament, and is not common in immediately proximate Greek literature. The Wisdom of Solomon, an apocryphal book translated into Greek and regarded as scripture by both Jews and Christians until the second century AD, uses αυθεντας, a form of αὐθεντεῖν:
Και αυθεντας γονεις ψυχων αβοηθητων εβουληθης απολεσαι δια χειρων πατερων ημων … “with their priests out of the midst of their idolatrous crew, and the parents that killed with their own hands [authentas] souls destitute of help” (Wisdom of Solomon 12: 6).
Greek grammarians and lexicographers define αὐθεντεῖν as “to dominate,” “to control, restrain, and domineer.” It is also classified as a “vulgar” term, possibly because of its sexual uses.
Other notable uses of the word include:
● Josephus, the Jewish historian who was a contemporary of Saint Paul, uses the noun form, αυθεντεν, to describe the “author” of a poisonous drink.
● Diodorus of Sicily writes about the “sponsors” (αυθεντας) of daring plans and the “perpetrators” (αυθεντας) of a crime.
● Saint John Chrysostom, an early church father, uses the same word, authentia to speak about “sexual license” or perverse sexual practices.
● Clement, another early Patristic writer, links the word with women involved in sexual orgies.
If then the word in this context refers to sexual behaviour, it puts a quite different interpretation on the entire passage. For instance, if we translate the passage, “I forbid a woman to teach or discuss higher algebra with a man,” we would understand the prohibition to be directed against instruction in mathematics.
Suppose it read, “I forbid a woman to teach or talk Arabic with a man,” then we can infer that the injunction applies to the teaching of language. “I forbid a woman to teach or dangle a man from a high wire” presupposes that the instructor is a trapeze artist. “I forbid a woman to teach or engage in fertility practices with a man” would imply that the woman should not involve a man in the heretical kind of Christianity that taught licentious behaviour as one of its doctrines. Such a female heretic who indeed did “teach to fornicate” in the Church in Thyatira is mentioned in Revelation 2: 20 (see 2: 14; Numbers 25: 3; 31: 15 ff).
Too often we underestimate the seriousness of this problem for the New Testament church. A passage in II Peter expresses concern not only for those drawn into this error but also for the illegitimate children conceived as a consequence:
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you … They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! They have left the straight road and gone astray, following the way of Balaam … They speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error” (see II Peter 2: 1, 14-15 f, 18).
Using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) computer database, which contains virtually all 3,000 Greek authors from Homer to AD 600, Leland Edward Wilshire of Biola University carried out an exhaustive study that shows that αὐθεντεῖν and its cognates occurs about 330 times and over a large number of centuries, and it almost exclusively means “a perpetrator of a violent act, either murder or suicide.” (see LE Wilshire, ‘The TLG Computer and Further Reference to ‘authenteo’ in I
Timothy 2:12,’ New Testament Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 34 (1988), pp 120-134.)
There is no evidence from the first century that αὐθεντεῖν means ordinary or legitimate authority. Nothing exists until the late third and fourth centuries to suggest other meanings, and even then, the verse in question still translates αὐθεντεῖν as “dominating men” or “domineer over men.”
Saint Paul is not allowing a woman to teach others to dominate men, to teach the domination of men, nor to dominate a man themselves, but to be peaceable ἡσυχίας (hesuchías). This verse has nothing to do at all with mature, trained Christian women exercising their spiritual gifts and serving the body through teaching, preaching, or leading. These were women led astray by false teaching, and Saint Paul is correcting them in these verses. They must start at the beginning with full submission to the Gospel and sound teaching.
He ties in the creation story to draw a correlation between Eve being deceived by the voice of false teaching and these women. It is a reminder to the Church of the devastating effects of false teaching and deception.
You may ask why, if Saint Paul is forbidding dominating others as opposed to holding mere authority, and it is wrong for all believers to dominate each other, why he only address this to women. But in this letter, Saint Paul is correcting the ones who exhibit specific behaviours. Consider how Saint Paul only tells the men to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or disputing. Because he only directs the men in that verse, it does that mean that women should not lift up holy hands.
Nor does it mean women are free to be angry and constantly disputing in or out of church. But the men are the ones exhibiting this behaviour, so Saint Paul only addresses them, even though it is inappropriate for all believers to behave that way. Likewise, he only addresses the women about dominating and seizing authority through false teachings, possibly sexual ones, because they were the ones doing it in this instance.
Virtually without exception, female teachers among the Greeks were courtesans, such as Aspasia, who numbered Socrates and Pericles among her students. Active in every major school of philosophy, these ἑταῖραι (hetairai) or high-class, intellectual prostitutes made it evident in the course of their lectures that they were available afterwards for a second occupation. But the Bible teaches that to seduce men in such a manner was indeed to lead them to slaughter and the halls of death (see Proverbs 2: 18; 5: 5; 7: 27; 9: 18). So we see the verb αὐθεντεῖν is apt to describe both the erotic and the murderous.
It is clear from the culture of Ephesus, considered alongside the original word meanings used in I Timothy 2: 11-12, that this mandate is not a prohibition against all women teaching or preaching or leading in the Church. It is simply absurd to keep gifted and qualified women from teaching the truth of the Gospel, providing leadership in the Church bodies in the ways of Christ, or contributing their gifts by taking participating in Church gatherings and discussions because of a verse that was originally a disciplinary action against women in Ephesus who were led astray by false teaching.
If we accept the prevailing modern mistranslation of αὐθεντεῖν without considering the context surrounding this letter and the challenges facing Timothy in the Church in Ephesus, then we allow our translations to contradict other Biblical passages in which women are clearly depicted as leading or teaching. For example:
“At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4: 4-5).
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2: 36-38)
“Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more adequately.” (Acts 18: 24-26)
Philip “had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophesy.” (Acts 21: 9)
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” (Romans 16: 1-2)
C, Questions raised by verses 13-15:
In verses 13-15, Saint Paul appears to give reasons for what he says in verse 12. But the reasons given create additional questions.
Verse 13 says Adam was formed first, but it is not clear why that should be a reason for women to avoid authority specifically in Church, when women can have authority in civil government.
Verse 14 says Adam was not deceived, and so suggests that he sinned deliberately. It is not clear why this is a reason for men to have authority.
Verse 15 says “women will be saved through child-bearing.” But this does not make sense for spiritual salvation or physical protection.
For example, do you believe that women who do not have children are not saved?
What does this say at time when many women died in childbirth?
What would this say in today’s society to a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant?
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 17 October 2012.
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