Published: 27 June 2022

Does The Bible Really Say A Woman Is Not Permitted To Teach A Man?, Part 2

Not Permitted To Teach

In the previous post we noted six things that are vital to a proper understanding of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-14. It would be best if you read part 1 before reading this post. Does the Bible really say a woman is not permitted to teach a man? Let’s put the pieces together and see where they lead.

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 passage is not about women teaching men, but our English translations certainly make it appear this way. This passage is not about women teaching men in the church. Neither is it about women serving in positions of authority in the church. In fact, the church assembly isn’t found in the context of 1 Timothy at all.

So, if Paul isn’t talking about women teaching men or having authority over men in the church, what is he talking about? In this passage, Paul is talking about husbands and wives. He isn’t addressing what a woman’s role in the church is. He is addressing her role in the home!

The context is marriage

The context of the last part of 1 Timothy 2 is about husbands and wives. In fact, Paul refers to the very first husband and wife – Adam and Eve. Paul is basing his hermeneutic on the creation; the way God intended things to be before sin. In addition to the clear reference to the very first married couple, Paul also talks about childbearing in v. 15. 

Verse 15 is very difficult to understand. In fact, there really is no consensus among Bible scholars and commentators about what Paul meant in v. 15. Regardless, he speaks of bearing children; the product of married couples. Only married couples may legitimately bear children so we can be certain that Paul is not referring to any other relationship than a husband and wife in this passage. Is there anything else in the passage supporting the assertion that the context is about husbands and wives? Indeed there is.

General to specific

Prior to verse 11 the passage refers to “women” and “men” – plural. A change occurs in v. 11 and Paul modifies his wording to “a woman” and “a man” – singular. He is no longer talking about men and women in general, but a certain kind of woman and man. A married woman and man.

If this is so, why don’t our English translations of the Bible say husband and wife in this passage? A few Bible translations do! The Common English Bible, Orthodox Jewish Bible, Expanded Bible, Wycliffe Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation all render this passage in terms of a husband and wife. In addition the New International Version and the Berean Study Bible both have a footnote in v. 12 indicating that the Greek text may be referring to a husband instead of “a man.”

It’s all Greek to me

Why the differences? In the Greek language of the New Testament, there are not separate words for husband/man and wife/woman. The Greek word “gune” (γυνή) means a woman of any age, whether a virgin, or married, or a widow.[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. BDAG, s.v. “γυνή,” 208. Scholars translate the word as “woman” or “wife” depending on the context. Likewise, the Greek word “aner” (ἀνήρ) refers to a male regardless of marital status.[2]Ibid., BDAG, s.v. “ἀνήρ,” 79. Whether the translators used the English word “man” or “husband” depends upon the context. 

The point here is that we can’t tell anything about a man or woman’s marital status based on the Greek word alone. In English this isn’t a problem, the words husband or wife automatically indicate a person’s marital status; not so in biblical Greek. So, it is reasonable in this passage to render these words husband/wife instead of man/woman.

Because the context here is clearly referring to marriage, one wonders why more English Bible translations fail to speak in terms of husbands and wives. Bible translations still tend to follow the lead of the King James version. Due to the male dominated society of 400 years ago, it is easy to see why the KJV translators rendered the passage as they did. 

Cultural blinders

“We must never forget that translation is the most basic act of interpretation. One cannot convey words meaningfully from a source language to a target language without first determining what they think the text means to say.”[3] Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 49). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. (emphasis added)

The translators of the earliest English translations read the Bible through a male dominated lens. Patriarchal European Bible scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries probably read this passage and felt complete validation of their opinions of women’s place in society. The translators of centuries ago no doubt interpreted the Greek text in light of their own biases and experiences. This manifested itself in their English word choices when translating. Mounce confirms this translation bias:

“The way a translation handles an ambiguous verse… reveals the theological leanings of the translator.”[4]Mounce, William D.. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Zondervan Language Basics Series) (pp. 69-70). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

This is not meant as a criticism. Cultural biases affect how we all understand the Scriptures. We can’t help it. However, we must always strive to recognize our own biases so that we can be better students of God’s word.

Word definitions

In the prior blog post, I shared the definitions of certain words that are key to understanding Paul’s meaning in this passage.

Quiet

First of all, the word “quiet,” which appears in vv. 11 & 12, is not suggesting that a woman cannot speak. It is commanding wives to be tranquil; the opposite of creating disturbances and drama. 

Submissive

Secondly, the word submissive (v. 11)  is not suggesting that wives are to be subservient. The definition of the Greek word implies that one recognizes his or her proper place in a relationship. Everyone is submissive to someone. In the workplace we all submit to those above us in management. In schools students are subordinate to teachers. God has ordained that marriages are also an ordered relationship with husbands designated as the leader of the family.

Teach

Third, the Greek word translated “teach” (didaskō, v. 12) has two definitions. One of them is exactly what one might expect: to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting. The other definition of didaskō is “to tell someone what to do.” BDAG, the definitive dictionary for New Testament Greek, cites Mt 28:15 as an illustration of how Matthew used this second definition:

So they took the money and did as they were directed [didaskō]. (Matt. 28:15 ESV) 

So, we see that the word which has been translated as teach can just as easily mean “do what you are told.” Given the context, this is almost certainly the meaning Paul had in mind. It fits perfectly with the next words Paul used – “exercise authority.”

Exercise authority

The phrase “exercise authority” in v. 12 comes from a single Greek word: authenteō. This word means “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to.”[5]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. BDAG, s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” 150. This dovetails perfectly with the definition of didaskō: “to tell someone what to do.” After all, a wife who is assuming a stance of independent authority is more likely to boss their husbands around than to try to be their school teachers. Teaching just doesn’t fit in this context.

Putting the pieces in place

If one substitutes the definition of a word for the word itself, a sentence will still retain its intended meaning. Let’s do this and see how the passage reads. We’ll also use wife and husband in place of woman and man since the context calls for it.

11 A woman wife must learn in quietness tranquility and full submission, not setting herself up as a controller

(12 I do not permit a woman wife to teach tell her husband what to do, nor to exercise authority assume a stance of independent authority over a man her husband; she must be quiet tranquil.  

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.) 

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

This translation is every bit as valid as the one in most English Bibles. In fact, it is truer to Paul’s intended meaning. The reading above brings it all into focus. Wives must learn so that they will not fall victim to deception as Eve did. Greater knowledge is not a guarantee against deception, but it does make it less likely.

It’s easy to see the relationship between vv. 11 & 14. We know these two verses are Paul’s main thought due to the parenthetical nature of vv. 12-13. However, Paul’s point in vv. 12 & 13 is not as clear.

What’s the point of Adam being created first?

Verse 13 gives the reason a wife is not to domineer over her husband. Paul’s logic was that Adam was formed first. Okay… why does that matter? The point isn’t about the order of creation. Rather, it is about the reason behind Eve’s creation. God’s reason for creating Eve was to be a companion and helper to Adam. God did indeed create Adam first, but what Paul wants us to notice is what Adam was doing before Eve came along.

19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:19–20 ESV)

What Adam learned while naming the animals.

God gave Adam the job of naming the animals, but naming the animals was only a means to an end. You see, God wanted Adam to notice something while he was assigning names. God wanted Adam to notice that He had created mates for all the animals and that He created the animals male and female. Adam realized that there was not another like him. 

God created Eve to be Adam’s helper, ally, friend, companion, and coworker. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8–9 ESV). For a wife to be the companion to her husband God intends, she must remember that she is her husband’s helper, not his boss. 

God did not create Eve to dominate Adam nor to become an independent authority figure. She was to do for Adam what he could not do for himself. She was to be his companion. In turn, God meant for Adam to cherish his wife. As Matthew Henry so eloquently said:

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”[6]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991. 10.

First among equals

The order of creation has nothing to do with the reason a wife is to be submissive to her husband. Paul refers to the ordering to remind us of Adam’s incompleteness. God created Eve for Adam. She was the counterpart he was lacking. 

In all relationships someone must be the ultimate decision maker, or perhaps, tie breaker. This does not imply that the submissive one in the relationship is inferior. Consider Jesus – even though Jesus is Himself Divine, He is still submissive to His Father (Mt 26:39; Jn 6:38; 1 Cor 11:3). Jesus is not something less than His Father just because He submits to Him. They are both equals; they are both Divine. Yet, Jesus submits to God the Father. Likewise, husbands and wives are equals, but God has appointed husbands to take the lead.

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

When we comprehend what Paul is really communicating, we realize this is not even the right question to ask. This passage says nothing about female leadership in the church. It is not a prohibition against women teaching men in a Bible study. In fact, it doesn’t apply to the church assembly at all! This passage is about the home. 

Does God permit women to teach men? The Bible does address this question, but we don’t get the answer in 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Priscilla taught Apollos (Act 18:26). The Christian women in Corinth could both pray and prophesy (teach) in the church assembly as long as they adorned themselves properly (1 Cor 11). Phillip had four young daughters who prophesied (Act 21:8). Do we imagine they only taught women and children? Based on these passages, it would seem that women can teach men both in and outside of the church assembly.  

The right question

The question we should be asking is what did this passage mean to the Ephesians? How does Paul’s guidance to women relate to the false teachings in Ephesus that Timothy was supposed to deal with?

“Moo suggests that the false teachers were encouraging the women to discard “traditional female roles in favor of a more egalitarian approach” The opponents taught asceticism, including abstinence from food and marriage (1 Tim 4:3), and Paul’s desire for young widows to remarry and have children (1 Tim 5:14; cf. 1 Tim 2:15) suggests that family roles were being devalued.”[7]Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 369.

The more things change the more they stay the same

It seems times haven’t changed that much. Today, women are still being encouraged to discard biblical female roles. Women’s roles in the family are still being devalued. What God wants for Christian women of all times and places is to live up to their full potential by being the person He created them to be. Perhaps what this passage is telling us (along with the enigmatic v. 15) is that a woman’s full potential is not found in ruling or dominating, but through faithfulness to her God given role.

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. BDAG, s.v. “γυνή,” 208.
2 Ibid., BDAG, s.v. “ἀνήρ,” 79.
3 Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 49). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
4 Mounce, William D.. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Zondervan Language Basics Series) (pp. 69-70). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
5 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. BDAG, s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” 150.
6 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991. 10.
7 Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 369.