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Interpretive Issues in 1 Timothy 2:12

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October 2009

The force of almost every word in 1 Timothy 2:12 has been debated. This brief paper will lay out the major interpretive issues involved, without commenting on which view is superior. It will also glance at the context for support of each view.

In the Greek text, 1 Tim 2:12 says, διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυξίᾳ.

1. δέ: (1) contrastive (‘but’) or (2) continuative (‘and’). If it is contrastive, it is most likely contrasting the positive statement in v. 11 that women are to learn. Thus, the emphasis in v. 11 would be on this positive aspect. If continuative, then it most likely would be continuing the restrictions stated in the two prepositional phrases of v. 11—ἐν ἡσυξίᾳ, ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ.

2. διδάσκειν: There are lexical and grammatical issues related to this infinitive. (1) Lexically, (a) it might refer to teaching of any sort or (b) specifically spiritual instruction. What may be key here is whether the Pastoral Epistles should inform the meaning more than the whole corpus Paulinum or even more generally the use of the διδάσκω word group in Hellenistic Greek. In the Pastorals, the word group is used 23 times (12 in 1 Timothy alone), all of which seem to be restricted to spiritual instruction (both good and bad instruction).

(2) Grammatically, (a) διδάσκειν might be taken absolutely—that is, a woman would be prohibited from teaching anyone anything, or (b) it might be restricted to teaching men. At issue in the grammatical decision is whether two verbs can take the same direct object even if one of those verbs does not use the accusative for the direct object.1In this instance, αὐθεντεῖν is the other infinitive joined to διδάσκειν. Diagrammed, the options are as follows:

      Absolute διδάσκειν:

      Both infinitives take same direct object:

3. γυναικί: (1) a woman, that is, an adult female; (2) a wife. Although ‘woman’ is the default meaning of γυνή, some argue that in this context a wife is in view. Further, even though γυναικί is generic, the question is raised whether this text is prohibiting women from teaching men (group teaching) or prohibiting a woman from teaching a man (individual instruction).

4. οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω: (1) is the verb a progressive present with the force of ‘I am not now permitting’ or (2) a gnomic present with the force of ‘I do not as a principle permit’? Those who take the progressive view suggest that it implies that Paul would allow this at a later time. (3) Another issue is whether the expression ‘I do not permit a woman to teach…’ is the equivalent of an imperative or whether it has a softer force.

1. οὐδέ: (1) epexegetical conjunction in the sense of taking the two infinitives together as ‘authoritatively teach’; (2) a simple negative connective conjunction, indicating that each infinitive is prohibited.

5. αὐθεντεῖν: This is probably the most debated element in 1 Tim 2:12. The two broadest views are (1) usurp authority—that is, use authority over a man that is illegitimate, and (2) exercise authority (in a neutral sense). There is a third view, ‘to kill,’ so that, with some syntactical gymnastics, the verse says, “I do not permit a woman to teach that she can kill a man,” but this view has few adherents and is quite unlikely on both the lexical and syntactical front.

6. ἀνδρός: The issue here is when is a man a man? Some consider a male adult to be anyone over the age of 13, while others consider a male adult to be someone who is no longer attached to his parents economically, physically (in the sense of living under their roof), or spiritually (in the sense of being obedient to his parents).

7. ἐν ἡσυξίᾳ: (1) absolute: ‘in silence’; (2) relative: ‘quietly.’ The lexicon supports both uses. This also impacts v. 11 since the same phrase is used there.

8. γάρ in v. 13: This also is a crucial issue. Paul seems to ground his argument in Gen 2, but how is the γάρ to be taken? Is it a marker of cause or reason, the normal use of this conjunction (see BDAG, s.v. γάρ 1.)? Or is it a marker of clarification or illustration? If the former, the ἐπιτρέπω would most likely be gnomic; if the latter, it could be progressive.

1. Verse 15: There are some who argue that the passage is anything but clear, and they point to v. 15 in support of their contention. Others say that just because one verse in a pericope is not clear does not mean the whole pericope is unclear.

1. Chapter 3: Is this chapter relevant to 2:12? If so, then the fact that only bishops are required to teach, and both bishops and deacons must be husbands of one wife, suggests that women could not have the office of bishop or deacon. But if ‘husband of one wife’ (3:2) simply means ‘married only once’ (as the NRSV has it), then women could be bishops and deacons. Further, does 1 Tim 3:11 refer to wives of deacons or to female deacons? Some who take it to be the latter would allow women to have the office of deacon, but prohibit them from the office of bishop.

These are the basic issues in this passage. There are several subordinate issues as well, but the major ones are presented in this paper.


1 The absolute position is taken by egalitarians who argue that this therefore must be a temporary restriction on women since Titus 2:3-4 explicitly tells older women to teach, and especially to train younger women to love their husbands and children.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry