The Story: Women in God’s Story, Part 3

So what is the true meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-14? My interpretation is a slight variation on an argument I first learned from Carroll Osburn, who suggests that the passage be read as a chiasm.

Thomas B. Clark explains

A chiasm (or chiasmus if you rather) is a writing style that uses a unique repetition pattern for clarification and emphasis. Chiasm is pronounced ky′-az-um.   Often called the chiastic (ky′-az-tic) approach or the chiastic structure, this repetition form appears throughout the Bible yet it is not well known.  …

Chiasms are structured in a repeating A-B-C … C′-B′-A′ pattern:

A  I will never leave you nor forsake you
B  Be strong and courageous … be strong and very courageous
C  Be careful to obey all the law … that you may be successful
D  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth
D′  Mediate on it day and night
C′  Be careful to do everything written in it … you may be prosperous and successful
B′  Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged
A′  for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
(Joshua 1:5-9)

Here’s another example from the account of the Flood in Genesis.

Brian Casey offers several examples of Paul’s use of chiasms in Galatians. Clearly, Paul liked to use this structure in making his arguments.

Some will recognize this format from their study of poetry or from mathematics. It’s not unique to scripture, but was certainly a common form of rhetoric in biblical times.

Now, let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:11-14 in this structure —

A 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
B 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
B’ 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
A’ 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

A

What is the reason that women should learn quietly? Well, because Eve was deceived.

How do we keep women from being deceived? By educating them, of course. Therefore, Paul  commands that “a woman should learn.” And in contrast to the practices of many ancient cultures, Paul insisted that the female Christians be instructed in the word of God.

The NET Bible translators note —

Although the Greek conjunction δέ (de) can have a simple connective force (“and”), it is best to take it as contrastive here: Verse 1Ti 2:11 gives a positive statement (that is to say, that a woman should learn). This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law.

We miss this, because in our culture, the idea of women learning is taken for granted. We focus on the modifiers “quietly with all submissiveness.” But the women of Ephesus (where Timothy was at the time) were surely thrilled that Paul instructed that they be taught.

And it’s clear from 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy that the church struggled with women being deceived by false teachers.

(1Ti 4:7 NIV)  7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

(2Ti 3:6-7 NIV)  6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires,  7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Notice, moreover, that “quietly” in v. 11 and “quiet” in v. 12 do not mean “without speaking.” Thayer’s gives as the word’s primary meaning —

quietness: descriptive of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others, 2 Thess. 3:12.

And, of course, any student should be in submission to his or her teacher. That would be especially true in an Eastern culture, but it’s true here in the West as well.

B

What does the fact that Adam was made first have to do with anything? What is the obvious theological significance here? That Adam rules Eve? (Clearly not, since that only happened as a result of the curse on Creation resulting from sin!)

No, Paul is speaking of Genesis 2, not Genesis 3. And in Genesis 2 we’re told that it’s “not good” for Adam to be alone, and so God made Eve to be a suitable helper for Adam. “Helper” does not indicate inferiority in Hebrew, but it does indicate a role.

She was created for a purpose. Eve’s role was to supply what was lacking in Adam — so that Adam would not be alone. She was to be wife to him. And so, Genesis 2 places wives in a role where they should do nothing that shames or undermines their husbands.

But what does 1 Timothy 2:13 say about husbands and wives? Well, the passage uses words that, in the Greek, are completely ambiguous. The word translated “women” could be just as easily translated “wives” and the word translated “men” could be just as easily translated “husbands.”

Now, Greek is the way it is because of a cultural assumption that adult women are almost always wives. While this was certainly not always true, their language reveals that that is how the Greeks tended to think.

Genesis 2 teaches that wives should not undermine their husbands but should help them. What does this have to do with authority?

BDAG, the most authoritative lexicon of New Testament Greek, defines authenteo (“authority”) as to “assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to.” Thayer’s translates “one who acts on his own authority, autocratic … equivalent to αὐτοκράτωρ [autokrator] an absolute master; … to govern one, exercise dominion over one.” Louw-Nida translates “to control in a domineering manner.” Moulton-Milligan defines the word as “master, autocrat.”

Hence, the major lexicons agree that authenteo does not refer to just any kind of authority at all, but exactly the kind of authority that Jesus denies to any Christian over another —

(Mat 20:25-28 ESV)  25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Clearly, then, the thought isn’t that a woman may not be a leader within the church or that she may not lead men, but that she may not domineer over men (or over her husband). Why not? Because this would violate the relationship of man to woman (more precisely, husband to wife) established in Genesis 2.

Hence, the Common English Bible translates,

(1Ti 2:12 CEB)  I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

Young’s Literal Translation reads,

(1Ti 2:12 YLT) and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness,

In Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal Osburn points out that “teach or exercise authority” is a Greek grammatical structure known as a hendiadys. Thus, a better translation would be “teach in a domineering manner.” This translation is argued for in great  detail by Phillip Payne in New Test. Stud. 54, pp 235-253 (2008).

I realize that few church members are familiar with these concepts, but the outcome has to be right. After all, the New Testament approves Priscilla teaching the gospel and the scriptures plainly approve Deborah as a judge and commander over Israel’s military — and the Bible has to be consistent.

For that matter, Anna, the prophetess, declared that Jesus is the Messiah in the Temple — before mixed company, by the authority of God (Luke 2:36ff). She taught the gospel in the most public place in Judea.

(Luk 2:38 ESV) 38 And coming up at that very hour ]Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Moreover, there is simply nothing in Genesis 2 that suggests that women may not  teach men or exercise authority — so long as they remain true to their roles as suitable helpers.

Now, I’m the first to admit that this analysis of the passage is complex and requires a knowledge of language few church members have. But it’s the only analysis I know that’s consistent with the rest of scripture. The story of Deborah is  inspired and true. So are the stories of Priscilla and Anna.

In 1 Timothy, Paul was applying universal rules — that sin arises from deception and that wives are to be suitable helpers (but not inferiors!) to their husbands — to the problems that were confronting that congregation. The underlying principles are forever true — but the application will vary with the time, place, and culture.

And so never would it be right to refuse to teach women the scriptures or to allow women to domineer (or men!). For whatever reason, the problem Paul was contending with in Ephesus was unlearned and domineering women, and he refuses to allow it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this interpretation is the only one I know of that’s consistent with the doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit —  where much more plain direction is given —

(Rom 12:6-8 ESV)  6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: … the one who teaches, in his teaching;  8 … the one who leads, with zeal; … .

(1Co 12:20-21 ESV) 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Plainly, God expects that the talents he gives us are to be put to use and not buried.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to The Story: Women in God’s Story, Part 3

  1. What are you doing? Trying to start a revolution?

  2. tom mclure says:

    Hi Jay,
    The Scriptures–Old and New Testaments-abound with this literary form.
    At times, perceiving a chiasm, also called chiasmus, is a bit like “seeing” constellations in the sky.There are different ways of perceiving and arranging data.
    Many times, a high degree of verbal similarity gives
    clear indications that an author intends the reader to see one. At other times corresponding or related concepts are the point. Lund published the classic treatment of Chiasmus in the N.T., although subsequent students have questioned some of his proposals. He “saw” instances of chiasmus everywhere.
    I suggest that a simple chiasmus exists in verses 11-12:

    A-let a woman/wife learn in silence/quietly
    B- in all submission
    B’-I do not permit a woman/wife to teach or to exercise dominion over a man/husband
    A’-but to be in silence/quiet

    The following clauses, introduced by “for” (“gar” in Greek) offer grounds for the injunction.

  3. To hang doctrinal interpretation almost entirely on an abstruse literary device seems a good basis for a long,long debate.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles,

    You’ll notice that I’ve also argued from the doctrine of gifts of the Holy Spirit.
    And I’ve argued from the stories of Deborah, Anna, and Priscilla.
    And perhaps most importantly, from Genesis 2.

    The traditional interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-14 does not fit Gen 2, God’s dealings with Deborah (and other women), or the doctrine of the Spirit. Therefore we must revisit our prior understanding and see whether there’s another way to read that passage.

    Any interpreter has to deal with the above realities. And I’ve yet to hear a credible case made for how Deborah is consistent with the traditional interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-14.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    There is a revolution going on already. The question is what side does God want us to be on.

  6. I for one do not think Deborah needs to be consistent with a reasonable interpretation of I Tim 2. Both make different points in vastly different contexts. I strongly agree with you, Jay, that we have limited women in a way not intended by God and have hung this error in large part on this passage in I Tim.. But I come to this by a more radical approach. I would suggest that Paul’s language in this chapter be paralleled with the language James used in speaking to the church at Antioch. We are so conditioned to read every word in the NT as a tablet of stone that we make understanding it harder than it is. But James was not laying down eternal dogma about banning steak tartare; he was giving Spirit-led counsel to people in a particular situation to address the particular problem they were having. We, on the other hand, take the idea of inspiration and add to it the idea of immutability, whether it connects with other revelation or not. Except, perhaps, where it is inconvenient– say, regarding communal property or speaking in tongues. Those items we can distance ourselves from. But not from a rule about women speaking at a meeting.

    I know the gasp of horror which arises in considering this idea. ” If we can suggest that one inspired teaching was particular to a time and place, then we can delete anything we like from the Bible!” The answer to this is the same as it has always been– that the Holy Spirit is willing and able to lead us into all truth. We don’t need ever more clever analytical systems, we need the voice of the One Shepherd.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    This also fits nicely in instructing us as why we do not demand that the women cannot speak or sing while in the presents of men, husbands or not. If we truly obeyed the instructions in Timothy and the message from Paul, as we have interpreted it, while we are assembled wouldn’t the women have to be silent during the complete time of the assembly? She could never ask a question of any man at any time, even outside an assembly, other than her husband, a wife is commanded not to learn anything from any man except her husband. This used literally would demand that a wife could not learn from the preacher. How would you apply the same instructions outside of the assembly, my reference is to how many Christians gathered in any area would it take to come under the regulations that we have placed upon women to be silent. Could they communicate while the church was gathered together for a fellowship meal as men are present?
    Timothy addressed teaching and instruction, but Paul’s words extended that to even speaking.
    (1 Tim 2:11 KJV) Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    Paul told the church at Corinth.
    (1 Cor 14:34 KJV) Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
    We have so badly distorted the messages in scripture; it’s no wonder that the world of people outside the church see us as they do.

  8. R.J. says:

    The more I study this, the more I’m convinced that all Paul was against were bossy women who love to arrogantly confront and belittle men.

  9. I believe the instruction we read in the NT should be read on two levels: First is the surface level, which is tied specifically to the target audience, if not limited to them, and must be understood first within that context. Cutting the instruction adrift from the context in time and space disconnects us from this meaning.

    Second is the underlying level of principle, which reveals behind the instruction a general understanding of God’s will which touches a broader range of applications; this level often reveals facets of God’s character which should soak into our understanding in a comprehensive sense.

    I have noticed that one of our largest failings in understanding scripture is the failure to distinguish between these two levels. We either dismiss the cultural context, or recognize that cultural difference and use it to dismiss the instruction. Or worse, we create an interpretation of an instruction such as Paul’s encouragement to sing, which interpretation is consistent with neither level of revelation. Such interpretation neither embraces the immediate context, nor finds any larger underlying principle. But we often hold to it like a dog to a bone just the same.

  10. Price says:

    Charles, I agree that we need to understand and appreciate cultural considerations but in this instance Paul appealed to our proper understanding of Adam and Eve !! So, while I appreciate that there was apparently a cultural issue going on where women were showing disrespect and contempt for their husbands, Paul ties the correction to basic principles that go back to the creation. Seems to me that Jay is correct in that these principles should then be consistently seen in the examples given to us to teach us. Not only does Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and Anna come into play, but Junia and Phoebe… Surely, there were different cultural issues in Deborah’s day than Huldah’s and in Anna’s circumstance from Phoebe’s, but the principle would be consistent if properly understood. Given a proper understanding of principle then we should be able to apply it in any cultural setting…

  11. So, what would you consider to be the underlying principle at work here?

  12. laymond says:

    Charles, I suppose all women have to pay for the sins of Eve, but all men do not have to pay for the sins of their fathers.

  13. Price says:

    Charles…The overarching principle is that we EACH are given spiritual gifts and from time to time are called by God into certain responsibilities…None of us should prevent the other from using those gifts or exercising that responsibility based on gender.

    It is within our ability to “rightly divide” the word and clearly see that throughout biblical history, God has given women gifts and responsibilities in the midst of, together with and at times, to the exclusion of men. There is no reason to suspect that He will not continue to do so if He does so at all.

    There are some faith heritages that have misread and abused Paul’s words to repress 50% of the church and frustrate the Holy Spirit’s working. Ignorance has caused a great deal of harm in some circles. If we know better, we should do better.

    Actually, I think this particular post and an expansion of it would be a good use of Wine Skins…

  14. Norton says:

    It may be that 100 years from now women/wives being instructed to be submissive in church will be dismissed as pertaining to the culture of the day like head coverings and the holy kiss. Head coverings and holy kisses disappeared from Western culture centuries ago. We happen to be, at this time, smack in the middle of a cultural change. That makes things tough to sort out, even if we don’t see the Biblical instructions for women’s submissiveness as based on culture.

  15. ZBZ says:

    Norton,

    You say it’ll be 100 years from now. Try 10-20! Established Churches of Christ all across the country are already (slowly) giving women access to more and more leadership roles. New CofC church plants launch every week with women already in leadership. And the millennial generation (of which I’m a part) is not perpetuating this prejudice as we are now taking over the leadership of local churches. So in my opinion, the only reason it’ll take as long as 10-20 years (and not less), is the present (“anti-women”) CofC leadership only have that long before they retire or die out. I really believe they’re the last generation to subscribe to that mentality.

    I currently have a three year old daughter who I fully expect will have the freedom to be a CofC preacher or elder (if she’s so gifted) when she reaches adulthood.

  16. If leaders in the church are indeed consistently submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, then gender in these leadership roles is hard to see as a major concern. The concern, for both male and female leaders, is a desire for rule and authority, ambition for control to accomplish their own visions. Culturally, we are moving away from the idea that this is a matter of pants vs pantsuit. The difference I see here is that culture focuses on leaders’ capabilities, rather than gender, which is a humanistic trap for the church. This is the road to oligarchy. The church must find its guidance from the Spirit, focusing on a leader’s gifts and callings by the Spirit and the formation of the character of Christ.

    I will hold to the idea of differential roles in marriage, as this is given to us as a relationship that reveals the mystery of Christ and the church. But we should not presume that a woman who exercises leadership in some part of the community of believers is thus not in right relationship to her husband. Some of the most outspoken prophetic women I have met in the church are the quickest to demonstrate honoring their husband’s spiritual leadership in that relationship.

    Frankly, I find much more evidence in the body of Christ of men’s failure to “lay down their lives” for their wives than I find of women “usurping authority”.

  17. Thank you for referencing my article, “What is a Chiasm?” I believe that the reader’s response to the Bible is a critical component to any text. For example, a Christian woman who has been abused might interpret a Scripture passage very differently than a Christian monk. That is the beauty of the Bible: it is God’s Word speaking to us in a very personal way. Therefore, I believe the most critical question when analyzing the structure of a passage is, “Why is it there?” I suspect that oftentimes our answers may be different.

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