Published: 20 June 2022

Does The Bible Really Say A Woman Is Not Permitted To Teach A Man?, Part 1

Teach A Man

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim. 2:12–14 ESV)

This is one of the most misunderstood and abused passages in the entire Bible. It has been misinterpreted and misapplied for centuries leading to absurd, inconsistent, and even cruel practices directed toward women. The way in which this passage has been translated into English has contributed greatly to the problem. 

1 Timothy 2:10-14, at first glance, appears to be very straight forward. However, it requires more than just a casual reading. The passage is multi-layered and therefore, it is best approached like peeling an onion: uncovering one layer at a time. There is nothing difficult in these layers. Nevertheless, there are clues that are typically overlooked which are vital if we are to properly understand what Paul is communicating. Once the fundamentals of the passage are understood, it almost interprets itself. 

The “onion”

Before peeling back the layers, let’s first notice something about “the onion” itself (the context). It is typically assumed that Paul’s instructions in these verses are related to church gatherings. However, there is nothing in the context of 1 Timothy suggesting that church meetings are specifically under consideration. 

Paul’s stated purpose for writing the letter of 1 Timothy was so that “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15 ESV). The household of God is the family of God, not the church building. God’s standards of behavior include church assemblies, but aren’t restricted to church assemblies. The context within which we are working is Christian life in general.

Let’s make some observations about the clues which make up these “layers,” along with a little commentary, and then we’ll tie it all together. Once we’ve laid the foundation, we’ll see if Paul really forbade a woman to teach a man.

First layer: Misplaced emphasis in v. 11

What is the real emphasis of v. 11? Historically, the emphasis has been on women being silent. Traditionally it has been emphasized like this: 

“A woman must QUIETLY receive instruction with ENTIRE SUBMISSIVENESS.”

Traditional interpretation says that v. 11 teaches women to be silent and submissive. We may have missed Paul’s point. First century culture generally denied women a formal education; this was true both among the Jews and Gentiles. There were exceptions of course, but generally society denied girls a formal education. Is it possible that we have read this verse with a misplaced emphasis? What if Paul’s emphasis was the following?

“A woman MUST quietly RECEIVE INSTRUCTION with entire submissiveness.”

Why would Paul be so adamant that women be taught?  Perhaps so that they wouldn’t fall into the same transgression as Eve. In v. 14 Paul says that deception is why Eve transgressed.  

Maybe Paul wants Christian women to learn, and by means of a proper Christian education they would be less likely to fall victim to deception that could lead to sin.  Knowledge is power and greater knowledge gives both men and women a better understanding of what God expects of us. Which of these two emphases does the context support? 

Second layer: Verses 12-13 are parenthetical

Verses 12-13 are a parenthetical thought inserted into the main point made in vv. 11 & 14. Parentheticals are phrases inserted into the main thought of a passage. They can add crucial information, but we can skip what is in parentheses and the sentence still works and makes sense. 

11 A woman must learn in quietness and full submission.

12 (I do not permit a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man; she must be quiet.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.)

14 Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Notice how vv. 11 & 14 connect. You can see that, in context, this dovetails nicely with the idea that Paul is emphasizing that women must learn. To remain ignorant is to increase the risk of deception. Paul’s point is that women must also be taught so that they will not be easily deceived.

You may have noticed that English Bibles do not add parentheses around vv. 12 & 13. So, how can we be sure these verses are parenthetical? We can have confidence because this passage forms a literary structure called a chiasm.

Third layer: Verses. 11-14 form a chiasm

A chiasm is a literary technique where an author presents two or more statements (a & b in this case) which he expands upon by additional statements (a´ & b´). A chiasm is a repetition of related thoughts in the reverse order where a´ explains statement a and b´ explains statement b. Let’s look at an example from Genesis.

a  And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place,

b  and let the dry land appear”.

c  And it was so.

  God called the dry land Earth,

  and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Notice how a’ relates to a and gives us more information (God called the waters seas). Likewise, b’ expands upon b (God called the dry land Earth). Now notice the relationships in 1 Tim 2:11-14.

a  A woman must learn in quietness and full submission.

b  I do not permit a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man; she must be quiet.

  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

a´  Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

In this passage, a´ tells us the reason for the statement in a (as we’ve already noticed). Likewise, b´ explains the logic behind what Paul said in b (more about that in next week’s post). Knowing that these verses form a chiasm gives us confidence that vv. 12-13 are parenthetical.

Fourth layer: Change from plural to singular

Prior to v. 11 Paul refers to women and men – plural. In v. 11, he switches his wording to “a woman” and “a man” – singular. Paul changed his focus from the general to the specific. He no longer has all Christian women and men in mind. This is an important clue.

Fifth layer: Biblical Greek did not have distinct words for wife or husband.

gunē (γυνή) – either a woman or a wife.

anēr (ἀνήρ) – either a man or a husband.

Since these words can mean either woman/wife or man/husband, only the context of a given passage allows us to determine which is meant.

Sixth layer: Word definitions[1]Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Quiet (vv. 11 & 12) (Greek: hēsuchia) – state of quietness without disturbance, quietness, rest (opp. to accompaniment of thunder and lightning; without any fanfare). 

Submissive ( v. 11) (Greek: hupotagē) – the state of submissiveness, subjection, subordination, as opposed to setting oneself up as controller. 

Teach (v. 12) (Greek: didaskō) –  1. to tell someone what to do, tell, instruct (they did as they were told Mt 28:15). 2. to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach.

Exercise authority (v. 12) (Greek: authenteō) – to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to.

Putting it all together

Just by pointing out these clues, some of you may already be starting to grasp what Paul is really teaching. The information above is really all one needs to make sense of this passage. Does the Bible forbid a woman to teach a man? Have we completely missed the point? We’ll examine how all this fits together in next week’s post and then draw some conclusions and make applications.

References

References
1 Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000.