21 Nov 2022

Women and Didactic Teaching: A Note on 1 Timothy 2.12

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Timothy, Amos, Church, Exegesis, Paul, Women

First Timothy 2.12, as it is traditionally translated in the King James Version, is used as the one insurmountable text forbidding women from leadership roles among God’s people. It is claimed the text forbids women from didactic teaching of males.

From the outset it must be admitted, if this text as traditionally translated were not present it would be nigh impossible to make such a claim about women from the rest of the biblical canon. It would be impossible in fact. The Bible is full of “counter evidence” to the claims based on traditional translations of this text.

Counter Evidence

For example there are numerous women prophets in the biblical narrative in both Testaments. But some claim that prophet and preacher are not the same. I do not think this will bear the weight of examination. I suggest that a prophet, biblically, most certainly teaches didactically. Prophets were preachers, they proclaimed the word of the Lord. They are not primarily predictors of the future. This is seen clearly in Amos 7.16

You [Amaziah] say, ‘Do not PROPHESY against Israel
and do PREACH against the house of Isaac

The synonymous parallelism shows the terms “prophesy” and “preach” have the same meaning.

But we also know the prophet teaches from the work of the prophets themselves: Moses, Deborah, Huldah, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, John the Baptist, Anna. If someone can show that Moses, Huldah and Elijah are not teachers they are more creative than me. If Moses is not preaching and teaching the Book of Deuteronomy then there is no such thing as preaching. A prophet, biblically, is a proclaimer of the Word of God.

If we link Amos 7.16 with what Paul says in 1 Cor 14.3-4, prophecy is for the building up the church of God.

Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the assembly/church.”

“Prophecy” is no private enterprise and it is no mere prediction of the future. And Paul states explicitly – though simply ignored by most – women are both public prayer warriors and prophets at Corinth (1 Cor 11.4-5,13) just as both Joel and Peter stated they would (Joel 2.28-29 & Acts 2.17-18).

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
” (Acts 2.17-18)

Second, women were sages in Israel. There could not be a more didactic enterprise. Why is it in Proverbs, chapters 1-9, chooses to have all teaching done through the voice of a woman (Lady Wisdom)? I include them on the list of “roles of women.” See A Biblical Register of Roles God Has Called Women. But Wisdom herself is both Woman and a Preacher throughout the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. See Women, Caricatures and Lady Wisdom (Thoughts inspired by Daughters).

First Timothy 2.12 Does Not Say That …

Finally, 1 Timothy 2.12 does not prohibit women teaching for at least two reasons. First, it sets Paul in explicit contradiction with the entire biblical narrative where women are teachers and explicitly direct the worship of Israel, Esther directs the worship of Israel with “full authority” (Esther 9.29, 32). The Septuagint that Paul and so man early Christians quote from makes it even more explicit by saying that “Esther established it [Purim] by a COMMAND” (Esther 9.32, LXX). I can only assume that Paul, and even Jesus himself were faithful Jews who obeyed the commands of Esther.

Second, the phrase “teach and have authentein” is not two different functions but one. It is regarded as a hendiadys which Blass, Debrunner and Funk discuss in their classic A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, pp. 227-229. That means the conjunction “and” here has these terms expressing a single idea, a single function is in view. Paul is not prohibiting teaching at all. He is forbidding “authentein.”

Third, when we look at this word it is plainly evident that “authentein” does not mean authority. This word occurs only here, nowhere else, in the entire New Testament. That is itself significant. So significant that we should say it again, this term occurs only here, nowhere else, in the entire New Testament.

Paul uses the word “authority” several times, either “exousia” or “proistemi.” But Paul suddenly pulls a word out of the thesaurus that never is used by any biblical writer and is even quite rare outside the biblical corpus. Paul is simply not talking about “authority.” The related noun occurs in 3 Maccabees 2.29, where Jews who resisted Ptolemy’s demand that Dionysus be worshiped are publicly either put to death, branded on their bodies with fire, they shall be “authentein” – “reduced.” (cf. NRSV). They are in some manner humiliated and gutted of life. The term occurs in Wisdom of Solomon 12.6 where the sins of the pagan Canaanites are described in brutal detail, among those are child sacrifice. “these parents who MURDER (authentein) helpless defenseless children” (TEV, cf. NRSV, KJV).

There is no way we can read these texts and simply say that Paul suddenly decides to use this extremely violent word and then say he is talking about mere authority. If a judge tells a robber to stop murdering people no one would imagine the judge was telling the robber to stop exercising authority! If the police tell a person to stop beating their partner, no sane person would imagine the police were saying stop exercising authority! We would never confuse beating someone, humiliating someone, and even killing someone with the exercise of authority. Yet that is exactly what we do when we come to 1 Timothy 2.12, we take a term that refers to abuse and even murder and then claim Paul is forbidding authority. This is bizarre linguistics.

But Paul uses this word here, and only here, because of the historical situation of the church in Ephesus.

Paul is not forbidding teaching, he is forbidding the violent dehumanization of males in Ephesus. Paul is forbidding domination, or dictate like a dictator (see TNIV’s footnote) as many scholars have suggested as the translation here. For much greater detail on authentein see First Timothy 2.8-15 & the Silencing of Women in Worship.

When this text is examined there are so many unusual things about that it demands that we examine it carefully. I mean after all most completely ignore the verses around it.


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