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Study Note: Women, Teaching, and Authority

1 Timothy 2:12

We're studying 1 Timothy in our Sunday morning bible study. This is a great study, and
we've come to a difficult passage--1 Tim. 2:8-15. This passage raises a number of
questions:

1. Are we to take it literally (as we typically do for 2:9-15 about women)? If so, why do
we not hold it as a requirement for men to pray and lift up their hands?

2. What are we to make of Paul inserting himself into this passage through first-person
language? Are these instructions merely his opinion?

3. What does Paul mean by "assuming authority" (2:12)? How far should this extend?

4. Why does Paul talk about Adam and Eve?

For the purpose of this note, I'm going to completely bracket out a discussion of verse
15, as well as any argument about Paul's restrictions on women.

To answer the first question: If we take one set of instructions literally (either to the
men or to the women), we must also take the second set of instructions literally. It is
not enough to say the instructions for men to pray with hands lifted is cultural but the
instructions about how women are to dress or the restrictions on women are timeless
(the apparent theological reference to Adam and Eve notwithstanding).

Secondly, we sometimes overlook how often Paul refers to himself in the Pastoral
Letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). Because this can be an emotionally charged
passage, we look for ways to "soften the blow." Some even look for ways to evade
these instructions, either by throwing out an uncritical "cultural" argument or by
pointing to Paul's first-person language as though these instructions are merely Paul's
opinion that can be taken or left as one desires.

Paul uses personal language often in these letters. For example, Paul refers to the way
God used him to demonstrate God's great mercy (1:12-17). Are we to infer that this is
just a good idea or one way of looking at things merely because Paul uses himself as an
example to make a larger point about Christ Jesus' patience towards those who would
believe in him (1:16)? On the contrary, Paul's theological argument is valid; his
experience extends his argument and is secondary to it.

Further, Paul considers himself an apostle (1:1). In earlier New Testament letters Paul
has shown no fear in arguing from his apostleship. He derives authority from his

© 2010 Jeremy Hoover // www.jeremyhoover.com // jeremy@jeremyhoover.com


Study Note: Women, Teaching, and Authority
1 Timothy 2:12

apostleship and uses it from time to time (for example, 2 Corinthians 10-12). It is fair to
say that when Paul uses first-person language in this passage, he is not passing on his
opinion, but his apostolic teaching about the issue at hand.

Thirdly, Paul deals with Adam and Eve (2:13-14). For what purpose? Are they offered
merely as an illustrative example, or as the theological basis for Paul's argument? In my
view, Paul uses them merely as an example to illustrate his point. This is in part
because of verse 15, which Paul includes as a way of indicating that his example in
verses 13-14 breaks down.

Finally, what does Paul mean when he says "I do not permit a woman to teach or to
assume authority over a man"? The italicized phrase is difficult to interpret. It is a verb
that is relatively rare in Greek and, in fact, only appears in the New Testament in this
one place. That makes it even more difficult to interpret because there are no other
uses in the NT to compare it to.

The rest of the sentence, as well as verse 11, is pretty clear. Taken simply and literally,
Paul teaches that women are to be learners, not teachers, in the church. Grammatically,
the verb for "to assume authority" is an infinitive used in a complementary way. Daniel
Wallace says, "The infinitive is very frequently used with "helper" verbs to complete
their thought" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan, 1996], p. 599).

As an example, Wallace cites Matthew 6:4--"You cannot serve God and mammon."
Notice how the verb, "serve," is complemented by "God" and "mammon."

Thus, in 1 Tim. 2:12, "to teach" and "to assume authority" complement the (negative)
verb, "I do not permit." They both relate what Paul doesn't permit, and because they
are complementary, they relate to the same thing. Specifically, in this passage,
according to Paul, a woman teaching a man is the same as a woman assuming
authority over a man, that is, to set herself above him.

However, if we understand that the phrase "to assume authority" refers to taking,
seizing, or usurping authority from men, what if the authority to teach is granted to a
woman from the leading men? Does that alleviate her from "assuming authority"?
Which is the real issue in this passage--promoting male leadership in teaching, or
teaching proper roles that respect cultural distinctions in society? [Consider that Paul is
also concerned that the church not run afoul of the authorities (2:1-7) and the latter
takes on more relevance.]

© 2010 Jeremy Hoover // www.jeremyhoover.com // jeremy@jeremyhoover.com


Study Note: Women, Teaching, and Authority
1 Timothy 2:12

If, grammatically and contextually, "assuming authority" is limited to the teaching act
(and even more specifically, to the act of women teaching men the bible in the church),
then we must recognize its limitations. How do we extend this to cover the whole of the
worship service? How do we apply this over other passages that clearly demonstrate
the communal nature of worship, and the involvement of women in such (1 Cor. 11:2-
16)?

Obviously, there is a lot more that could be fleshed out here. In this note I wanted to
detail what Paul was actually saying in this passage as opposed to what we often think
he was saying. Did I succeed? What do you think?

© 2010 Jeremy Hoover // www.jeremyhoover.com // jeremy@jeremyhoover.com