Learn in Quiet and Submission? 1 Timothy 2:11-15

1 Timothy 2:11-15 is perhaps the most troubling in the New Testament in terms of what Paul commands for his churches and his reasons for those commands. The command is for women “to learn in quiet and submission” (v. 11). As with Paul’s commands about modest dress, the most common way to explain these verses is to say that Paul is dealing with a particular problem with overbearing women teachers in Ephesus, and that the situation is unique. He is not intending to declare that women should be absolutely silent in church!

It is best to read this passage in the context of the quiet life Paul described in the first part of 1 Timothy 2. The “silencing of women” is an extension of the other disruptions to the quiet life in the preceding paragraph.

Paul says women should learn, but they ought to do so with the same sort of dignified grace he encouraged in the first seven verses of the passage. What are these women doing that is not “quiet”? This is left unstated, but it is possible the instructions on dress and teaching which follow are the hint that some women are “taking charge” in a way which would offend Greek and Roman outsiders.

This verse does not indicate to whom they ought to submit. It is often read as if Paul says that they ought to submit to their husbands (like Eph 5:22) or to the (male) pastor of the church. But that is not actually stated, so it is at least possible that this submission is to the word of God itself.

More difficult, Paul states that he does not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (v. 12). This is consistent with 1 Cor 14:34, and is also consistent with Jewish synagogue practice as far as we know in the first century. In addition, there is no evidence of women assuming the role of a teacher in a philosophical school or public venue.

Women did teach, but in private instruction (of children, for example). Priscilla is an example of a woman who taught Apollos in Acts 18:26. Towner suspects Paul’s freedom in Christ gave woman and slaves far more freedom in the church meeting than they would have had in a public meeting (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 218.).

The problem in Ephesus is wealthy women in the church who were under the influence of the opponents, who used their prominence (wealth) to promote a teaching Paul has already rejected because it is incompatible with the Gospel.

The key word in the verse is “have authority over” (αὐθεντέω). The verb has the sense of “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (BDAG), and the Jerusalem Bible has “tell a man what to do.” Much ink has been spilled trying to sort out what this word means in this context. (For example, G. W. Knight, “αὐθεντέω in Reference to Women in 1 Tim. 2,12,” NTS 30 (1984): 143-57). The noun (αὐθέντης) is usually translated master, and BDAG speculates the word is the source of the Turkish effendi.

The verb has the connotation of domineering, going a bit beyond the teaching of a lesson from the Scriptures. In the context of “wealthy women behaving badly” many scholars understand this term as prohibiting these women from assuming control of the church in order to promote their particular brand of false teaching. If the problem had been “wealthy men behaving badly,” Paul would have likely said the same sort of thing to them. Imagine, for example, what Paul might say to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist “church.”

The background in Ephesus is therefore important since it appears that some wealthy women are taking the Pauline idea of equality in Christ to insist they should be considered authoritative teachers and elders in the church and pushing their particular (defective) version of the Christian faith.

How does reading the command in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in the context of the quiet life impact contemporary church practice? If gaining the respect of outsiders is a factor, would the role of women in a church be different in a culture where women do not have prominent roles in society? Or is this an example of the church challenging culture with the truth of the Gospel?

24 thoughts on “Learn in Quiet and Submission? 1 Timothy 2:11-15

  1. Phillip, I appreciate your thoughtful contextualizing of what indeed is a “troubling” passage. Not just to women who may feel constrained in use of strong gifts or outright constrained and disrespected, or tensions with developments of culture. But also in terms of consistency within what are considered Paul’s writings and teaching/practice.

    I do understand why it is so but cannot accept as intellectually honest that the bulk of Evangelical (let alone Fundamentalist) leaders/scholars go against the strong consensus of biblical scholars overall… with the plainest and most plausible “solution”: This “letter” (with 2 Tim. and Titus) were NOT written by Paul, but considerably after his lifetime. Things were getting further from the example of both Jesus and Paul, and into integration with “secular” culture.

    As you know, but many readers will not, there are numerous lines of evidence examined by honest, seeking scholars when trying to date and attribute authorship to ancient documents. And in the case of the Pastoral Epistles, the evidence is strong in numerous of these lines that Paul’s “signature” is a forgery. There is already reference to one of the common-place forgeries in 2 Thess. (2:2), apparently of Paul’s name, whether or not 2 Thess. itself was by Paul. So, with what we know (and don’t know) of the creation of our present NT canon, should it be any surprise that compromised, “UNPauline” teaching on the role of women in Christian teaching and leadership would have gotten into it? (This I say with recognition of the I Cor. 14 passage which is too involved to go into here.)

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      • Sorry about the convoluted writing. As to books in the canon, it’s a complex subject, of course. My own studied opinion is that the concept of an inspired, authoritative canon is itself seriously flawed and ultimately unhelpful. That is, in the form in which it is used in traditional orthodoxy.

        But for starters, within orthodox circles there have historically been disputes on many such as James, Jude, Revelation…. Depends whose challenges one takes more seriously than others. And how late one considers them still valid… Luther’s in the 1500’s?

        While I know this author is not well-regarded by traditionalists, to say the least, I highly recommend “Forged” by Bart Ehrman. It’s one of the few lay-oriented books that reflects some fresh research… and a compelling case for revising scholarly views of “canonical” authorship of numerous books. Also how “schools”, disciples and later writers in another’s name are assessed, and much more.

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      • I would like to start thinking a little differently about the disputed letters. To say they are either “authentic” or “forged” sets up the dichotomy too sharply, possibly in taking forged as an excuse to dismiss them as authoritative (a motivation easily understood in the Pastorals).

        A letter could be written by a disciple who genuinely sought to reflect the mind of Paul, perhaps even using / editing genuine Pauline fragments. Such a letter could be called forged, but still reflect an authentic Pauline voice. Is that really a “forgery”? How does that differ from common descriptions of how Isaiah was formed, or maybe even the Psalms?

        In addition, a pastoral letter from the Pauline circle (rather then the hand of Paul) could still be accepted as authoritative for practice and doctrine, especially if it was related to Paul closely. A letter like 3 Corinthians failed because it was not close (enough) to the Pauline circle, maybe this would be an example of a forgery (along with the letters of Paul and Seneca).

        I suppose there were other Pauline letters which were not considered authoritative even if authentic. Like 2-3 John, Paul probably wrote many short notes which were not collected (probably due to their personal nature).

        So genuine does not automatically mean authoritative, authoritative could be separated from genuine. (Bear in mind, at ETS that is a radical thought, but I am at SBL for this comment! I also think there are good reasons to accept the Pastorals as authentic, but that is for another time.)

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      • Phillip, in response to your thoughtful comments on authoritative voices, forgery and such: There’s a LOT to discuss here… hope we (and many more Christians) will get to it further when more of an intentional topic (not an aside as here). But a couple thoughts:

        Way too few people get into “thinking about thinking” or serious analysis of the very paradigms that strongly structure thinking and perception in a given area (here, “orthodoxy” or its subset of “evangelical” systematic theology and view of Scripture). College should be just the beginning of this. But a strong beginning. For me, it was not much stimulated at Biola University nor at Talbot School of Theology; and I suspect similarly for most X’n schools and even secular universities. So…

        … Applied to authority in and of Scripture, your comments seem in the same direction as my “radical” but not-really-so-radical thinking (tho taken as damningly radical by my family and former colleagues who are Evangelicals). Like thousands of others, I now have a significantly modified “system” or paradigm (developed over 20 years post-evangelical, following 27 adult years Evangelical).

        I see mostly the overt human processes in assigning authority and the divine only as the subtle undercurrent. It is clearly HUMANS who do evaluations and assign authoritative status to a given “scripture” (of any religion or subset of one, as in the differing Bibles of Jews, Catholics and Protestants). This is often after a lot of nasty battle which hardly seems “Spirit-led”. It is also on the basis of factors after the lifetime of a given author, and very often involves a multi-author editing factor. Thus, much of the highly variable, subjective nature of memory and legend-making enters in.

        In other words, that a text is later labeled as Scripture seems definitely NOT an actual matter of real-time unequivocal divine inspiration (as validated by miracles or supposedly “special” supernatural revelations to the author, etc.). In orthodoxy, the prevailing view has some works/words validated in this basic (unreal) manner. They are then posited with “divine” authority, placing them apart from/above all other works/words.

        Now, if Christians want to have (as I do, with many progressive friends) a “canon” of texts we view as foundational thinking and “the better collected thoughts and historical summaries of our early period” I’m fine with it. But that’s not how “authority of Scripture” works (and which works should be included) in the vast majority of Christianity. I won’t here go into the many serious problems emerging from the way authority IS treated.

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  2. I wonder where Adam and Eve would fit in. “Paul” here refers to him. Maybe it is just an analogy—-the rich women are spreading false teaching, as Eve was—-as opposed to “Paul” making a blanket statement about men and women on the basis of Genesis 3.

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    • I take it you don’t accept the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles; hence, you wrote “Paul.” I am curious as to what false teaching Eve was spreading.

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      • Oh, I’m open either way on authorship. On what false teaching Eve was spreading, I suppose it would be what the serpent told her. The analogy would be that Eve was deceived and encouraged her husband to sin, as the wealthy women were deceived and were spreading heresy. You ask in your comment below about whether there is evidence that women were spreading heresy. II Timothy 2:6 mentions gullible women influenced by those who have a form of godliness, so that could be a reference to it.

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      • I suppose the claim women were more active in leadership in the early church is a double-edged sword; if women were teaching they are as likely as men to develop some sort of heretical idea or practice!

        I think there is a good argument to be made that the problem in the background of 1 Timothy is a woman teaching some sort of false doctrine. This is not to say it’s false because she is a woman, but because it is not in line with the Gospel. This passage is used to silence all women, but Paul would be just as angry with a male false teacher. Th trouble is he makes the blanket statements about all women, that is the hard thing to explain.

        Another angle at this problem is the fact that some orators in the Greco-Roman world preyed upon gullible women (think Gildiroy Lockhart). It is possible Paul is reacting to some women who have been taken in by a teacher who manipulates them.

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  3. I don’t see any reason to mitigate this passage, and I am thankful that Paul was the kind of guy who told it like it was. He would not have felt comfortable in today’s politically correct world, particularly since the culture has made such powerful inroads into the church.

    Where is the evidence for false teaching by wealthy women in the church at Ephesus? I would like to have chapter and verse because I just don’t see it. Good exegesis takes into account the context in which a verse or verses appear, and you do a commendable job of that. However, is the point taken too far? Paul says remarkably little about the nature or the persons involved in this ascetic heresy. Therefore, we should proceed with caution in our interpretation of following verses.

    In any case this heresy does not seem to be the only reason for Paul’s injunction that women keep silence and learn in submission. His argument is that women are easily deceived, just as Eve was deceived by the serpent in the garden of Eden. Men have primacy in teaching because Adam was created first. Eve was his helper, not his leader, and women should, therefore, not occupy leadership positions over men in the Church. The Greek verb authenteo is forceful. It is tantamount to “telling a man what to do.” That’s the way it is, and if bossy women don’t like it, they need to do some serious soul-searching and prayer.

    Unless I am wrong, and I am open to that possibility, it seems disingenuous to concoct a straw man (false teachers of the female persuasion in Ephesus) in order to soften Paul’s message about the role of women in the Church. Doubtless there were false teachers in Ephesus, but how many were female, and what was the impact of their teaching? Times have changed, but doctrine and people haven’t, and I think this passage applies as much to us today as it did to first-century believers.

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  4. As far as the application of such a passage is concerned, I think Longenecker puts it best, “That being said, it is our contention that the church in any given generation needs to grapple with how best to interface with ambient culture in ways that are faithful to the gospel and attractive to outsiders.” (TTP 275). While I realize he is referencing Titus, I think a similar principle applies. We each have to wrestle with this idea in a current and relevant way. Fundamentalism seeks to refute this idea and build walls according to these passages word for word. Paul might have “told it like it was” but he also said some pretty politically left stuff. Saying things like “here there is no greek nor jew” would not have likely been something the moral majority would have hopped on board with. Imagine the same idea replaced with gender identity or sexual orientation! Now, I am not hinting at the idea that Paul would have condoned such things (nor is that the point of this post) but he certainly might have said a few countercultural things, and they likely would not have fit in the perfect mold of a politically left or right mindset. Similarly, I think that Paul assessed different situations in different ways. Rather than a blanket statement which applies to all church scenarios, perhaps there is a sort of cognitive dissonance to be understood here. While Paul says a few words about women in these pastoral epistles, he also values the leadership of Phoebe in Romans and other women in the church. My point is this; I have to agree with Dr. Long that setting any sort of dichotomy too sharply with Paul is usually a bad idea. So many people read Paul as either a rebellious libertarian Christian radical, or a peace loving liberal pacifist, which both lend a certain political and social identity to him. If I were a betting man, I would say that Paul would have appreciated women in the church differently in different contexts.

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  5. This is indeed a challenging passage to read as a woman. Context is key in reading this correctly. Regarding spiritual gifts, if a woman has the spiritual gift of teaching, she should use it! As the body of Christ, men and women must work together. We need each other. With that, I think women are better at teaching women, and men are better at teaching men. Going back to the fall of man, Gen 3:16 says that men will rule over women. This was not God’s original plan from the beginning; from the beginning he made man and woman as equals, but the fall screwed that one up. That is what caused such a patriarchal society, in that in those times, it wasn’t even an option for women to teach or preach. This made Paul’s gospel so inclusive when he brings up women and slaves. However, male teaching is accepted by society because of the innate urge to listen to men (the fall) which makes it hard for men to listen to women. But even in that culture, listening to women was unheard of in formal settings. This is why Paul doesn’t urge the women to preach, because that was already unheard of and would be distasteful to society. In verse 12, the word silence bugs me, but the greek word doesn’t refer to a verbal silence, but a spiritual quietness. The women who were teaching in the church were wealthy and ignorant. Paul was probably asking for a quiet spirit, but also for truth to be preached. This regards anyone male or female: if the speaker is ignorant on what they are speaking on, (the gospel) then they shouldn’t speak at all. Living in American society today is challenging because it puts a lot of pressure on women to be equal or better than men in many areas. There is also a trend going on today that gender roles do not exist or that one gender doesn’t need the other. However, men and women need each other! We are built differently and do different things to glorify God. When reading the Bible with this American lens, we forget the context of the passage and we have to go back to the beginning in Genesis.

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  6. A few other points of consideration: First, Timothy is ministering in Ephesus. The main religion of that city was that of Diana/Artemis…a female ONLY cult. It’s presumable that some of those in the church in Ephesus under Timothy would have been converted from that cult, and having difficulty unlearning some of their previous ways, which included female dominance over men. This is probably what Paul is prohibiting.
    Second, Ken Bailey’s book, “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes” (a sort of commentary on 1 Corinthians) also provides something potentially enlightening regarding the “silence” and “quiet” passages. Churches taking forms of order from Synagogues would have separated men and women. For maximum spread of the gospel the message would have been given in the trade language rather than local dialects. This likely meant the majority of (though not all of) women, though present, would not have always understood what was being said. This would lead to them talking among themselves. Perhaps quietly at first but raising in volume, becoming disruptive. Therefore, Paul’s admonition was for the women to keep “silent” or in 1 Timothy, learn at home from their husbands. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, some women were not silent in gatherings because they were prophesying (which obviously cannot be done in silence). It’s more of a practical issue of order if this is the case than some sort of complementarian instruction.
    Third, Paul’s word for “authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is, as you pointed out, “Authentein,” which has an edge of domineering to it. It’s even more clear when put up against the more regular New Testament word for “authority” which is “exousia.” “Exousia” doesn’t have that meaning. So, clearly, Paul would mean something different from the regular understanding of authority, or he would have used the better word.

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    • Three good points, and I seem to have tried to avoid the controversial issues. Ken Bailey is almost always good, I recommend that book quite often.

      I am less convinced the Gospel had made sufficient inroads into the cult of Artemis to see that as the background (depending on the date of these letters, of course). The Artemis cult and the Vestal Virgins are often used as analogies for understanding this text. I think this is really a limited problem with a few wealthy people acting like Roman wealthy people (men and women) and assuming that everyone will bow to them since they are socially superior. I think this is quite similar to Jezebel in Revelation 2:20; the issue is not that the person is a woman, but they are a wealthy person who thinks far more of themselves than is healthy for a church leader.

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  7. Throughout reading this blog post it has allowed me to think on the role that a woman plays. I am in the season of engagement and the Lord has been growing me in many ways than one. One of those being what role I play as a daughter of God but also as I enter this new season of marriage. What role does a woman of God play in marriage? It is all so new to me but amazing to be entrusted by God, to be a wife and mother someday Lord willing. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 speaks an abundance of life into the actions of women. Women are called to submit to their husbands as they are the head of the household, called to be leaders. Husbands are supposed to lead their family each day and even more so to Christ.
    Verse 11 says that woman should learn to be quiet and submit. In the context of marriage and being a wife, this is encouraged to take place. As wives we are called to find a quiet space, a secret spot and pray like warriors for our husbands and family. This is part of our calling if God so chooses. The calling of women in the Church is not to be silent but to be leaders. This passage in scripture can be contradicted by the world saying women should not lead. We can all be called to be leaders and I believe that in a marriage setting it looks a bit different. Men and women are supposed to have different roles.
    Proverbs 31:11-12 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life”.

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    • Men and women do have different roles and when they come together and bring those roles together for team Jesus they are untouchable. God has given us the words of Paul for these very discussions we are having and that we can meditate and understand what the roles are for men and women. Especially in a season of singleness or engagement. We need to take the time and better define our roles so we can be the best we can be for that other person when we meet them or when we finally said “I do.”
      There was a different time back then when mean thought they were higher than women on authority, but not anymore. We live in a world where it’s an equal partnership and we help each other. Men and women’s roles are meant to complement each other and we do that by bringing glory to God by supporting each other and taking value in what the other has to say.

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  8. I think that there is a lot of conflict surrounding the idea of women in the bible, and often I feel as though the strong opinions on the topic tend to take whats in the bible and exaggerate it to what fits their perspective. Many woman get the wrong idea, and may be offended by what the bible has to say about woman’s role in church and society, when in reality, the bible is not meant to oppress women at all and is often taken out of context. I think what Paul is trying to exemplify is that man and woman are in fact different. Women in today’s society often exhaust the concept of being equal with men (in some regards I agree our society has treated women unfairly) however, God created man and women to be different and unique, that’s what makes men and women compatible. And because we are different, that makes our roles in church and society different. A mans role might be to handle all relations with outsiders in a more prominent way, while the women plays a quieter role, sometimes you need both in order to work together successfully. If everyone was trying to do the exact same thing, there would be much more conflict and it would be harder to work together. This in no way means women are to shut up and clean and cook, it means their role looks different but is equally as important, in the church, in relationships, and in society. I believe that women need to start embracing the things God made us for, instead of always feeling like we need to be in competition with the male.

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  9. If we look at society back then we can see that women didn’t have very much ground to stand on when it came to being in charge. Those that were able to be in charge or a voice heard was because they had money, but they were not glorifying God with what they were trying to promote. Also because of the time of day and the lack of impacted influence from women back then there wouldn’t have been people interested in pursuing Christianity. They would want a man to be the teacher and authority of the church and that would draw in the crowd. The world just wasn’t ready back then for women to be teaching the gospel to others.
    Now in regards to today I fully think that women have just as much of not more to say when it comes to sharing the Gospel. We live in a time where all voices and authority to share the good news. I have heard many women pastors teach lessons that have just blown my mind. We are in a different time period and the opinions they had about women back then aren’t the same today. Now some may think other wise, but times have changed and change is good.
    The most important thing is that what ever is being taught is true to God’s word. There shouldn’t ever be a man or a woman getting up in front of a church h with their own agenda. The only agenda we should have when preaching is the agenda of God.

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  10. I believe that it impacts the contemporary church practice primarily that it is very uncommon for women to be allowed to be head pastors. However, more and more we are seeing women stepping up into the role and the controversy that follows it because of this passage. Additionally, it can be seen within relationships and marriages, where men say that women must “submit to them”, calling into context the teachings of not only 1 Timothy 2:11, but also Ephesians 5:22. These examples are mainly seen in moderation in the United States; yet in other cultures, the role of this passage could be used very differently. In cultures that do not have women in prominent roles in society, it would be very easy for men to take this passage and twist it against women in order to keep them in complete submission, telling them to be quiet and not teach (1 Timothy 2:12). Sadly, these types of passages are frequently taken out of context, and do not look at the letter and possible situation. At Dr. Long discussed, Paul could have been addressing a specific issue with a group of women in the church that was attempting to not only take control, but to teach lies to the church. In the same way, Longenecker brings about this point, describing how it was very likely that there were “false teachers” in the churches that would have caused Paul to address women in this letter (Longenecker & Still, 2014, pg. 277). Finally, though this passage can frequently be interpreted incorrectly, it does bear truth for us today. We must be careful, both men and women alike, what we choose to say, and submit to the word of God and God himself as the final authority.

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