Proverbs 18:17 (ESV) The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Scripture warns us not to make a hasty judgment on a matter. When two sides have conflicting interpretations, those who wish to be Bereans should be willing to carefully consider all of the facts from both sides of the issue first in order to avoid making a hasty judgment. This week the opportunity of hearing complete evidence, weighing the evidence and then judging between the two interpretations was stopped as I was barred from giving out my full view of 1 Timothy 2 on Matt Slick’s Faith and Reason show. Since brother Matt refused to allow me to give my conclusions as to what my full belief is and why I hold my view from scripture alone, and since Matt has subsequently banned me from coming back on his radio program, in all fairness to his listeners and to others who are interested in what I have to say, this post will present “the rest of the story”.
First if you haven’t heard the audio debate where Matt said that I was not polite and he also accused me of being a heretic, you will probably want to listen first by clicking here.
While Matt claims that 1 Timothy 2:12 is absolutely clear in its meaning, there are several very serious problems if we take the verses in this passage out of their context. Unless one can understand the whole teaching unit, it is dangerous to try to extract some part of it. For example if one takes 1 Timothy 2:15 in isolation, one might reason that a woman is saved by having children and this would question the salvation of unmarried, childless women. Verse 12 could be reasonably interpreted to restrict a woman from teaching any thing to any man. A woman couldn’t even give a man directions on how to find an address for fear that she would be teaching him something.
Taking 1 Timothy 2:12 out of its context would also cause the Bible to contradict itself since Priscilla taught the Bible to Apollos in Acts 18:26. 1 Timothy 2:12 does not say that a woman will be out from the restriction and allowed to teach a man when certain conditions are met. It simply says “I do not allow a woman to teach or authenteo a man”, period. 1 Timothy 2:12 also does not tell us why Priscilla was not disciplined for teaching a man. Was she wrong in teaching Apollos or are there exceptions? It also appears that any woman cannot teach any man anything since Paul used the negation particles ouk and oude translated usually “neither…nor” respectively. If there are exceptions and this is not a hard and fast law of God’s, then where are the exceptions listed? More problems comes with verse 14 which could be interpreted as all women are easily deceived and unreliable in regard to decision-making and women could be considered inferior because they were created second.
Is this passage really as “clear” as Matt would like us to think it is? If so, then why is it that we need another book to identify all the things that women can or can’t do? The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has created a whole section of white, grey and black applications of 1 Timothy 2:12 and this is to give directions to churches who can’t figure out from 1 Timothy 2:12 whether a woman can be an usher, serve communion, teach math at a high school or at a college or whether she can teach Hebrew in seminary even if she isn’t teaching the word of God per se. Who is authorized to make these rules and why don’t Christians and Churches know the answers to their questions if 1 Timothy 2:12 is so clear? The fact is that it isn’t a clear cut verse that can stand on its own. It must be taken in its context.
One of the most fundamental principles of Christian rationality is that God doesn’t contradict himself (2 Tim 2:13). Therefore, no Christian may offer an interpretation of any verse that contradicts any other verse. In order for 1 Timothy 2:12 to remain consistent with the rest of scripture, we need to work hard to understand Paul’s letter to Timothy as it would have been understood by the recipient. Timothy was a young apostolic representative of Paul’s who was appointed by Paul to deal with a bevy of false teachers and false teaching in Ephesus. Paul’s letter to Timothy was not written in chapter and verse so we need to read the whole letter in context. We also need to understand the reason for the letter. Paul said:
1 Timothy 3:14 (ALT) These [things] I write to you, hoping [or, expecting] to come to you soon.
1 Timothy 3:15 (ALT) But if I delay, [I write] so that you shall know how it is necessary to be conducting yourself in [the] house of God, which is [the] Assembly [or, Church] of the living God, [the] pillar and foundation of the truth.
Paul writes a personal letter to Timothy so that Timothy knows how to conduct himself in the body of Christ. Timothy is told how to handle the problems and the problem people that Paul was concerned about. Timothy must handle the problems with the deceived, the deceivers and one particularly thorny problem that required Paul to single a woman out from all the other false teachers.
This brings us to the most important verse that is necessary to deal with to understand the issue of women in ministry and Paul’s prohibition against teaching in 1 Timothy 2:15. Without a correct understanding of this verse, we risk falling into a pattern of unrighteous judgment against women. Why is this so important? Because there are those who say that women who teach the bible with authority are sinning against God and these women must be stopped. This is a very serious charge. The primary verse they derive this understanding from is 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Timothy 2:15 is so interconnected with verse 12 that to focus on a prohibition without highlighting the completion of the prohibition is a recipe for disaster.
The key to understanding the object of the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12, is found in the specific grammar of verse 15. Paul says:
“she will be saved if they…”
Through this hard passage of scripture, Paul has:
1. Given priority to the solution – Verse 11 is the only verse in the imperative. Timothy is commanded to “let a woman learn” 1 Timothy 2:11
2. Identified the subject of the prohibition – “a woman” 1 Timothy 2:12 is stopped from doing something
3. Identified the reason for the prohibition – the deception of the one who was not the first one formed. 1 Timothy 2:13 says “for” or “because” and 1 Timothy 2:14 says “and” thus connecting these two verses to the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12
4. Identified the action needed as a result of the prohibition – “continue in faith, love, holiness and self control”.
5. Identified the subject “she” in verse 15 (a 3rd person singular) and attaches a condition, ” if they continue”. Continue is aorist active subjunctive, third person plural, which is used by Paul to identify not only the woman doing the teaching, but also the man whom she is deceiving as mentioned in verse 12. If an action is required then the people required to do the action must be alive and not dead.
6. Identified the means of the solution – “saved”. This Greek word sozo is only ever used by Paul in his epistles in reference to spiritual salvation.
7. Identified the source of the solution – literally translated “the childbearing”. This word in Greek is teknogonia and is a unique word only used this one time in scripture and it is a noun and not a verb. It is a reference to the promised child, the Messiah who would be born to the woman and in spite of the deception of the first woman, the Messiah would come through her to destroy the deceiver.
8. Identifies the promise – “she” will be saved…if “they”
1 Timothy 2:15 (LITV) but she will be kept safe through the childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with sensibleness.
So while Paul prohibits “a woman” from teaching in verse 12, he goes on to promise her salvation in verse 15 “she shall be saved” if she continues in what he has commanded in verse 11 namely “let a woman learn”. This, in her case, was how she was to persevere in holiness etc.
I believe that the only way these verses can be understood at all is to reference verse 15 back to verses 11 and 12. I see no other way to take verse 15 with the precise grammar than to see that verses 11 and 12 are referencing a specific woman that Paul is prohibiting from teaching and influencing “a man” (the Greek word aner can also refer to a husband and with this close relationship with this woman, the Greek word aner I believe should be taken as husband because he is shown to be in direct relationship to “a woman” or “wife”.)
Why do I say that this is the only way to understand verse 15? It is because Paul has been so precise in his grammar that there is no other way we can get past the fact that he is stopping a specific woman in verse 12. The reason is that he says “she” and “they” in verse 15 and the only singular feminine that “she” can be attached to is “a woman” from verse 12. It is future tense so it cannot be Eve since Eve is dead. It cannot be taken to indicate a reference to plural women (as mistranslated in the NASB, NIV) since “she shall be saved” is a correct translation of the future tense, passive voice, 3rd person singular form of the verb sozo (sothesetai). Again, note that Paul also says “they”. “She” and “they” cannot refer to the same thing otherwise the grammar is nonsensical. “She” must be a specific woman and “they” must refer back to “a woman” together with “a man”. (I believe that “they” is unlikely to refer to women in general or that “a man” in verse 12 is men in general. The reason is that if “a woman” is required to complete the grammatical usage of “she” in verse 15, then it would be highly unlikely that Paul would say “a woman” to mean a specific woman and “a man” to be generic men. In that case Paul would be only working to confuse us instead of using specific grammar to identify specific people. If “a man” was meant to be men, then Paul should have grammatically said “I do not permit a woman from teaching or to authenteo men.” It is my view that Paul was consistent where he used the same grammar and so “a man” would be a particular man. Secondly since “she” and “they” were to do something together “continue on in faith, etc”, then a relationship between the “she” and “they” has been established. It is possible that Paul is requiring other women to work with this woman to help her get established in her faith, but the most direct reference back to “they” would be “a woman” and “a man” from verse 12 since no other living people are referenced that would allow the “they” to be a reference back to since “a woman” was introduced in verse 11.)
Why is all of this of such vital importance? It is because Paul is passionate about those who have been deceived. Paul says that the ones who are ignorant and thus act out of their unbelief are just like he was and they have the opportunity to receive mercy just like he did:
1 Timothy 1:13 (LITV) the one who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and insolent; but I received mercy, because being ignorant I did it in unbelief.
Paul tells us in his own words that he received mercy because he was ignorant of the truth and because of this, his sinful actions were done in unbelief. Paul is so focused on the salvation of the ignorant that he repeats the reason that he received mercy:
1 Timothy 1:15 (LITV) Faithful is the Word and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
1 Timothy 1:16 (LITV) But for this reason I received mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for an example to those being about to believe on Him to everlasting life.
Again Paul refers to his ignorance and his unbelief and says “but for this reason I received mercy“. Paul’s act of stopping the false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3 is a heart of compassion for their salvation:
1 Timothy 1:3 (NASB) As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
1 Timothy 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Paul then picks up on one of these false teachers who is a special problem. It is easier for Timothy to stop the individual false teachers who are men, but one of these teachers is a woman and the man who is likely her husband is letting her influence him with her deception. There are two markers in the text that indicate that the man is likely the woman’s husband. The first marker is in verse 11 “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.” It was normative for a woman to be married and if she was required to have entire submissiveness then this was a sign that she was married because “entire submissiveness” is only ever spoken of as something that a wife does for her husband. Secondly for a single woman to be teaching a single man on an on-going basis would be highly unlikely in that culture unless he was married to her. The cultural norm was that men kept their distance from women who were not their wives. Even Priscilla was not alone when she taught Apollos. Her husband was with her.
With Timothy’s timidity, being a very young apostolic representative would have caused him problems in dealing with a specific false teacher who was likely married to the man whom she was influencing. For Timothy to stop her meant that he was interfering in her marriage. Her husband (or “a man”) was not stopping her from teaching error. In fact he was being influenced by her in a way that Paul likens the situation to that of Adam and Eve (the first married couple). The husband Adam was not deceived but his wife was the one who fell into sin through deception. The man in verse 12 is like Adam who was not in a place of deception (Paul does not say in verse 15 “they” will be saved if “they”. He only says “she” will be saved if “they”.) The question of salvation is directly tied to the woman alone and her teaching had to be stopped even if it was interfering in a marriage where the husband was taking no responsibility for the problem. Timid Timothy was reminded in 2 Timothy 1:6, 7 that we need to operate in our gifts without timidity (even if he is correcting someone else’s wife!)
2 Timothy 1:6 (NASB) For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NASB) For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
Paul’s reminding Timothy that God wants us to act in power and not with timidity shows us that Timothy’s age may have been an additional component showing us why Paul wrote the way he did to Timothy. The stopping of this one deceived woman would require Paul to push Timothy to act out of compassion for her salvation. Paul then promises that she too can be saved just like he was. This is not a woman who was a deliberate deceiver and the action was not to kick her out of the body of Christ as Paul had done when he turned Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan:
1 Timothy 1:19 NASB keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.
1 Timothy 2:20 (NASB) Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.
Paul’s belief was that she was one of the ones who were acting ignorantly and in unbelief so that she too could receive mercy if she was taught the truth. Paul’s words that she *will* be saved if… shows us the confidence that God was going to show this woman mercy just as he showed Paul mercy at the time that Paul was acting in ignorance and unbelief.
Now for those who think that the word for “teach” didasko cannot refer to false teaching because Paul didn’t specifically use the word for “another teaching” heterodidaskaleo in Greek, we only have to turn to the book of Revelation to see that John used didasko twice to reference false teaching.
Rev 2:14 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.
Rev 2:20 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
Revelation 2:20 is an interesting case because teach and lead are attached together and both are negative things. Didasko is used here without a doubt to reference false teaching. Also the Lord Jesus does not say that he has something against the church in Pergamum because they have a woman leading and teaching as if it was her gender that was the problem but rather that she was teaching error. Scripture says that she calls herself a prophetess but God did not call her this. God does gift women as prophetesses (Acts 21:9). Deborah was not only a prophetess, but she was also a judge over Israel, chosen and gifted by God. But the woman in Revelation 2:20 was not one of the true teachers of God’s word and the evidence was not her gender but her teaching.
Again, it seems that if a traditionalist interpretation is taken, then 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear blanket statement that prevents a godly Christian woman from teaching true doctrine to adult men. Where does the Bible have a law prohibiting this? I believe this is a large inconsistency in the complementarian understanding of 1 Tim. 2:11-12 and inconsistency is one of the signs of a failed argument.
Instead this passage is best seen as a complete story of ignorance, unbelief, false teaching and ultimate salvation through the correct teaching of biblical doctrine that leads to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (the promised Messiah through the woman see 1 Timothy 2:15 and Genesis 3:15). After many years of study, this is what I conclude about the meaning of this passage. This is what makes sense to me given everything in the context of verses 12 and 15. I recognize that other sincere, godly people have come to different conclusions from mine, but I think that this interpretation deserves to be given a fair hearing. To this date no one has shown me any other valid option for the “she” in 1 Timothy 2:15, nor have they shown me any scripture where God prohibited his words from being spoken through a woman. As lovers of the incarnate Word and the written word we should always try to practice consistent, contextual interpretation. In my opinion, for us to take one verse and rip it from its inspired context is to refuse to rightly divide the word of truth:
2 Timothy 2:15 NASB Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
This is the message that I was prohibited from sharing on Matt Slick’s radio program Faith and Reason. Matt forbid me from sharing why I believed that 1 Timothy 2:12 was referencing one specific deceived woman the first two times that I appeared on his program and he has forbidden me from coming back on his radio program to share the rest of the scripture on this passage. What this does is leave my teaching hanging so that people are not able to understand what I was saying about this difficult passage. Matt says that I was not polite to him and that is why I cannot come back. Listen here to the second session with Matt Slick and you decide for yourself if I was polite or not.
Those who hold back the words of God that are spoken with authority by a woman will have to answer to God. 1 Peter 4:10 and 11 gives women not only the right to speak for God but the obligation to do so:
1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 4:11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God;…
Since Peter is not limiting those who speak the utterances of God to men, Paul too would not have contradicted the word of God spoken through Peter. In 1 Timothy 3 Paul is not digressing into an unconnected subject about how to pick overseers and deacons. Instead Paul is continuing on to give hope that anyone can aspire to a place of responsibility and servanthood even though a person had been previously deceived. Those who had been false teachers and who submitted themselves to correction might be restored to such a ministry. Paul himself had been deceived in ignorance and unbelief and thus he obtained mercy. Paul’s original state of deception did not stop him from moving on to maturity and to greater responsibility as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus.
Women who believe 1 Peter 4:11 and obey the command to teach with authority as one who is “speaking the utterances of God” should not be accused of sinning against God when they employ their gift to “serve one another” in the entire body of Christ. For those who teach that men alone are allowed to give out God’s word with authority, I ask a pointed question about authority. When a godly woman teaches orthodox doctrine from God’s inerrant word, where does the “authority” reside, in the woman or in God’s word? If authority is in God’s word alone, then there is no special authority given to one gender alone to give forth God’s words just as there is no special authority for only one gender to hear from God. We need to test all things and hold fast to what is good.
In closing, we want to be very careful that we do not rip 1 Timothy 2:12 from its context because some who have done this in the past have taken the church into a precarious position where the world sees us as prejudiced and unkind to women. May God help us to stand up for women and release them into his service.
*Copyright 2007 by Cheryl Schatz. Permission is granted to use this article to post on a web site or on a blog site as long as it is kept in its original full form without editing and that credit is given to myself and a link back to this blog site www.strivetoenter.com/wim. For any other use, please contact me at