8 The Com­mu­nity  ▷  Key Texts (1 Timothy 2:8–15)

The final key text is Timothy 2:8–15. This passage often does not receive the attention it deserves, possibly because many people have questions about its authorship. However, Timothy 2:8–15 is one of the passages in the scripture which is clearly concerned with the roles of men and women and which deliberately addresses that topic. Moreover, the passage contains teaching about men and women that is intended to ground the concrete directions which it gives. This teaching is similar to that found in Ephesians 5 and Corinthians 11; it bases the relationship between men and women in God’s creation of the human race. In addition, Timothy 2:8–15 does not just set forth a particular rule about the way the order between men and women should be expressed. Rather it is concerned with a question that is central to the structure of the roles of men and women—the question of authority and teaching in the community. Finally, Timothy 2:8–15 is the one passage which clearly addresses the subject of men and women in community leadership and is not also primarily concerned with directions for marriage and family. In short, Timothy 2:8–15 is one of the most important texts to consider in any examination of the New Testament on the roles of men and women.

The subject of Timothy is primarily “church order” or “community order.”1 It explains how the communal life of the Christian people should be ordered or patterned so that it can function effectively. The central focus is “how one ought to behave in the household of God” (3:15). Along with Timothy and Titus, Timothy could be considered the first of the “church orders,” a genre of writing that includes the Didache, the Didascalia Apostolorum, the Apostolic Church Order, the Apostolic Constitutions and many others.2 The whole letter could be read as instructions to a bishop about how to order and direct the life of a Christian congregation.

Timothy begins with a section about false teachers who propound erroneous doctrine about the law and the Christian’s relationship to the law. In this section, Timothy is exhorted to be vigilant about the teaching that is allowed in the community and he is warned about the presence of false teachers among the Christian people. The next section, beginning with chapter 2, turns to questions of order within the Christian community. This section begins with an exhortation to pray for governing officials. It then moves to instruction about the roles of men and women in the community—the passage to be examined below. The letter continues with instructions about how bishops, deacons, and deaconesses are to be chosen. These instructions for choosing bishops and deacons include a statement about their wives, indicating that only men were envisaged for these positions. However, the instructions also indicate that women held an important position of leadership in the community. The letter then proceeds to such topics as the protection of the people from false teachers, the “order” of widows, and the discipline of elders.

Timothy 2:8–15 is a passage about men and women in community leadership, contained in a letter which deliberately treats concerns of community order at some length. The letter intentionally raises the question of the roles of men and women. Therefore, it is a conscious directive in the New Testament about how to structure leadership positions among the Christian people in regard to the roles of men and women. At the same time, this passage deals with only a particular aspect of the roles of men and women: the exercise of authority by men and women in leadership of the Christian people. Moreover, the passage seems to have been written to counter some other possible approaches. Thus, one should not read it as a fully balanced, comprehensive picture of the roles of men and women in community service. The passage should be allowed its full weight in the area it addresses, but it should not be treated as a statement of everything one needs to know about men and women in community service. The passage reads as follows:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (Tm 2:8–15)

The Thrust of the Passage

Timothy 2 contains a parallel to Peter 3 that brings us to a consideration of the central concern of the whole passage. The parallel in Peter 3 is this:

Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of the hair, decora­tion of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. (Pt 3:3–6)

The similarities between this part of Peter 3 and the section of Timothy 2 that begins with “Also, that women should adorn themselves . . .” are so close that they are undoubtedly more than accidental. The two sections do not parallel one another exactly, but they contain a similar thought in similar words. This points to the fact that we are dealing with a standard teaching of the early church for women.3 The instruction could be summarized as follows: Women should not adorn themselves in expensive or luxurious ways, but should adorn themselves in quietness and subordination. This teaching is developed and applied differently in the two passages, but the essential similarity is unmistakable.4 The connection between luxurious adornment and subordination is more direct in Peter 3:4 than in Timothy 2:9–10, but both passages make the connection clearly. The warning against luxurious adornment was probably made to counter a difficulty which was common to women in the early church. The exhortation to quietness and subordination was probably a basic instruction routinely given to women, though possibly it too was an attempt to counter a problem (as Tm 2:8–15 likely was).

The instruction to women in Timothy 2 is preceded by a corresponding instruction to men. The men are told to avoid conflict and quarreling and are urged to prayer. The problem corresponding to the women’s tendency to over-adornment was the men’s tendency to quarrel. Perhaps the men needed encouragement to lead spiritually in prayer.* Their problem area would have been a failure to provide spiritual leadership, possibly coupled with a readiness to provide other kinds of leadership. The encouragement to the men to provide spiritual leadership, then, would correspond to the encouragement to the women to be subordinate.

We should not place too much emphasis on the exhortation to women to adorn themselves modestly and sensibly. This exhortation is not the heart of the passage. The parallel with Peter 3 suggests that this exhortation is simply intended to call to mind a standard line of teaching which leads to an exhortation to subordination. Indeed, the following verses in both Peter 3 and in Timothy 2 treat subordination by itself, with no further reference to dressing modestly. The writer urges the woman to clothe herself primarily in subordination or in the character traits that support subordination. (See the exposition of Peter 3 in Chapter Four.) The passage focuses on the question of order, not on women’s tendency to over-adornment or men’s tendency to quarreling.

However, the warning against over-adornment should not be dismissed, as some modern writers have tended to do. In the epistles, the warning is introduced with seriousness, and probably reiterates a standard teaching among the early Christians. The passage prohibits expensive and luxurious adornment. The prohibition against braiding of hair does not concern hair braiding as we understand the term today, but instead prohibits an elaborate type of coiffure. This exhortation is repeated by the Fathers and many of the spiritual writers in later Christian tradition.5 The admonition is meant seriously, but it nonetheless still serves primarily as an introduction to the main point of the passage—the subordination of woman.

The core instruction of Timothy 2:8–15 lies in verses 11–12: “Let women learn in quietness in all subordination. I do not permit woman to teach or to exercise/​usurp authority over man. She is to remain in quietness.” Verses 9–10 introduce these verses and verses 13–15 justify them. Verses 11–12 contain the rule that is being enjoined. This is the material we must understand in order to grasp the specific intent of this passage.

Each of the key words of verses 11–12 (“subordination,” “quietness,” “teach,” and “exercise authority”) needs elaboration. The term “subordination” has already been commented upon (see pp. 8183). Here the term could be translated “submissiveness” (see p. 93) as well as “subordination.” “Quietness,” the second word which needs elaboration, is sometimes translated as “silence.” However, the Greek word in Timothy is not the same word as the word for “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14:33. The word for silence in Corinthians 14 (sigaō) is the common word for making no sound. Hēsychia, the word in Timothy 2:11–12 (the same word found in Pt 3:4) is often translated “calmness,” “peacefulness,” or “quietness.”* In some passages in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 22:2), hēsychia refers to a process of ceasing to make objections or ceasing to be contentious. The word “quietness” in these passages, then, refers to a condition that would be characteristic of those who are taught and who receive what is being said. In Thessalonians 4:11, the word is used to denote the quality of being concerned with one’s own affairs and of not trying to handle something that is outside the scope of one’s responsibility. “Quietness” in Timothy, then, probably refers to a disposition that is ready for learning and is receptive to direction. Hēsychia is closely related to subordination and could well be a word for the state or personal bearing that corresponds to genuine subordination or submissiveness—that is, a state of peace, trust, and receptivity. Refusal or a disinclination to accept teaching or direction is the opposite of hēsychia. The term does not necessarily mean refraining from all speech in public situations or in assemblies of the community, but it would mean refraining from speech which would be directive or involve teaching.

The third word needing comment is “teach.” “Teach” is a common word in the New Testament and designates an activity of great importance to the early church. Contemporary notions of education can be very misleading in attempting to understand the meaning of “teaching” in the New Testament. We most commonly understand teaching as a transfer of information (facts) or skills. Sometimes we also include values within the realm of education, but when we think of teaching values in modern education, we are inclined to conceive the process as helping students to see that some values were important or attractive. Modern “teaching” does not involve the exercise of authority over people, except insofar as the teacher needs to maintain enough discipline to continue teaching. Modern “teaching” is usually a process whereby an expert is hired to transmit a skill or information to students who are free to ignore what is taught.

By contrast, the early Christian understanding of teaching, built upon the Jewish understanding, saw teaching as an activity involving personal direction and an exercise of authority. The teacher did not just give his views. He laid out what he expected the student to accept.

Moreover, teaching occurred within a relationship in which the teacher had authority over the student. The focus of teaching in the New Testament was upon teaching a way of life and the truths which underlay that way of life. Students were expected to follow that way of life, and the teaching was passed on with authority. Teachers were either elders, heads of a community or of some grouping within the community, or masters who took in disciples who submitted themselves for formation. Teaching was not a function in which an expert came and performed a service which a client was free to receive or not receive as he wished. The teaching occurred within a relationship in which the students acknowledged the teacher’s authority. Moreover, authority was primarily exercised within the early church not as much by individual direction, but by teaching given to a body, accompanied by the correction of individuals who were not following the accepted teaching (cf. Tm 4:11; 4:16–5:2; Tm 4:1–4; Ti 2:15; 3:8–11). In other words, the scripture views teaching primarily as a governing function, a function performed by elders, masters, and others with positions of government. In this context, the connection between teaching, exercising authority, and being subordinate can be seen more clearly.

The final word that needs attention is authentein, which is translated “exercise authority” or “usurp authority.” Authentein only occurs once in the New Testament and is never used in the Septuagint, so there is no scriptural background for interpreting its meaning. The word could simply mean “exercise authority” and is normally translated accordingly. However, because of its etymology, it is possible that authentein conveys the notion of exercising authority on one’s own account (without authorization) or on one’s own terms (arbitrarily or autocratically). The former sense would point to a translation like “usurp authority,” the latter to a translation like “domineer.”

The meaning of the passage differs according to whether authentein is taken to mean “exercise authority,” “usurp authority,” or “domineer.”6 If it means simply “exercise authority,” the passage would therefore prohibit all exercise of authority over man by woman. If it means “usurp authority,” there are two possible different interpretations. The first is that authentein (“usurp”) indicates that every time a woman takes authority over a man, she is usurping authority because it does not belong to her. This too implies that all exercise of authority by woman over man is ipso facto wrong. A second possible interpretation of “usurping authority” holds that the passage forbids her to usurp authority over men, that is, to take it in an improper way. According to this interpretation, a woman could be placed in a position of authority over men if done properly. The passage would then prohibit only usurpers, like Athaliah. Finally, authentein could mean “domineer.” If this were its meaning, the passage would only forbid a woman to exercise authority over men if she were doing it in an autocratic way.

The possible meanings of the word authentein allow two different interpretations of verses 11–12. The first interpretation is that these verses forbid woman’s exercise of authority over man, with the possible implication that every time she does so she is usurping authority. The second interpretation is that these verses forbid woman to exercise authority over man only when she usurps that authority or exercises it in an arbitrary or domineering way. The whole passage would then simply be a prohibition of wrongful use of authority over men, not a complete prohibition of woman’s authority over man.

This second interpretation has been developed in a variety of ways. Some have suggested that the passage was aimed at wealthier women who thought their social position guaranteed them a leadership position. Others have speculated that the targets were bossy and domineering women in whose houses the church was meeting, or women who were publicly demeaning their husbands, or untrained or ungifted women who were attempting to act as teachers. Though no one appears to have suggested this, following this second interpretation, the passage could also be directed at women well-versed in Christianity and spiritual matters who felt that they should be teachers despite the fact that they had no gift for leadership nor proper authorization to teach.

The major objection to the second interpretation—that the passage only prohibits wrongful exercise of authority—is the overall construction of the passage. The prohibition in the passage reads: “Let woman learn in quietness in all subordination. I do not permit woman to teach or to exercise authority over man. She is to remain in quietness.” First, no hint is given here or elsewhere in the passage that the concern is only with some women who are wrongly handling authority. The passage focuses simply on women; it was preceded by a parallel exhortation to men. Secondly, the terms “teach” and “exercise authority” are parallel. They are intentionally linked. The kind of teaching meant in the passage is allied to exercising authority; the kind of exercising authority which is meant is undoubtedly the kind which would accompany teaching. Authority and teaching are also parallel to subordination and quietness. Hence, the passage prohibits woman from taking a position where man is subordinate to her. The prohibition is not simply directed at some disorderly or untrained women acting improperly.

Thirdly, if the ruling was aimed at people wrongly exercising authority, it would be stated in a way that is applicable to men as well as women. Men are not free from such problems. If the writer intended to warn against the wrongful exercise of authority, he would have worded the passage differently—to keep people from supposing that all women are intended and to deal with the men who might fall into the same problem.

Finally, these verses about authority and teaching are followed by a justification which involves the story of Adam and Eve—how woman was created in relation to man. This clearly indicates that the rule concerns something that is out of place because it is women who are doing it, not because women are doing it in the wrong way. In short, the evidence shows that the passage concerns women because they are women and men because they are men. It does not deal with individual women who happen to be handling themselves wrongly. The passage simply prohibits women from exercising authority over men.

Some hold that the apostle prohibited women’s teaching because they were uneducated, that is, because of a condition universal to women of his day (but no longer true today). However, there is no hint of this in the passage either. If the prohibition was aimed at untrained or uneducated teachers, it would have forbidden both men and women to teach if they were uneducated. In fact, Ephesus was undoubtedly a place where some of the women would have been more educated than many or most of the men. Several educated pagan women held influential positions in society, and the Christian woman Priscilla was well enough educated to instruct an intellectual like Apollos.7 Women as well as men could have been trained in Christian teaching. Some of the deaconesses and workers in apostolic teams must have received such training. Thus there is no reason to think that the ruling in Timothy 2:8–15 was given to make sure that teachers were educated. It is an instruction that women are not to teach men or exercise authority over men, and it is grounded in the roles associated with the way God created men and women.

Timothy 2:8–15 therefore concerns the role of women in relation to the role of men. It is a passage which gives direction to women because they are women and not because they are untrained or disorderly. Moreover, this passage links teaching and exercising authority to subordination and quietness. In other words, the passage concerns relationships of authority and subordination, and forbids a woman to hold a position of authority over men in the Christian community. Women are not allowed to hold positions of government in the Christian community—positions such as elder/​overseer.* The ground which is given for this prohibition in Timothy 2:11–12 is subordination based on the way men and women were created. In other words, the grounds lie in the basic social structure of the Christian community as it is ordered in terms of the roles and relationships of men and women. The passage, then, is a rule that states that those with governmental responsibility in the Christian community should not be women.

Some hold that the phrase “I do not permit” limits this rule. They argue that one apostle—the writer of Timothy—is regulating the churches under his care, possibly in response to a specific disorder, and was not issuing a teaching intended for all Christians.8 To be sure, the vigor of his words does indicate that the apostle was trying to deal with some disorder and that he was exercising his personal authority. However, this does not mean that he intended his words as a personal ruling applying only to his churches. First, as was pointed out above, the way he states his ruling indicates that he understood it as applying to all women because they are women, not because of some special circumstances—in his churches or among particular women. His situation called for a new assertion of this ruling, either because Christian women were assuming an improper position or because he was worried about the influence of non-Christian women on his people. Asia Minor was the place where women in the ancient world were freest to take positions of leadership and influence.9 But the statement of the ruling would not in any way indicate that he was dealing with the situation on any other grounds than to assert a ruling that would apply to all women, whether in his churches or in some other.

Secondly, the phrase “I do not permit” no more indicates that the apostle is delivering a personal rule than the phrase “my gospel” in Timothy 2:18 indicates that he had a separate or personal gospel for his own churches. More likely, he used the first person to back up the ruling with his own authority. Timothy 2:12, then, is analogous to Corinthians 11:16 as a passage in which a rule universal to the Christian people is reaffirmed on the basis of the apostle’s own personal authority. It is a personal reaffirmation, given by someone with the necessary personal authority to give such a reaffirmation, based upon universal teaching, and contained in a book probably intended to be something like a church order. All the evidence points to the conclusion that this passage has been preserved for us in the canon of scripture as a basic ruling on the roles of men and women in community leadership. This is the light in which the patristic commentators viewed Timothy 2:8–15.10

This interpretation leaves us with many questions about the application of the prohibition against women teaching. According to the above interpretation, Timothy 2 does not prohibit all teaching by women. As was observed in Chapter Five, women were expected to teach under certain circumstances and Timothy 2 does not cancel or contradict that expectation.* This passage prohibits women from holding positions of authority in the Christian community such that men would be subordinate to them. It reserves to men the kind of teaching which is an exercise of authority over men or over the community as a whole. However, there remain serious questions of application. Timothy 2:12 has been used as an argument against allowing women to teach Sunday school or catechism and against their entrance into theological schools. It is difficult to see which of these would conflict with the passage and which not. The difficulty in applying the passage does not arise from an unclarity in the meaning of the passage, but from the difference between the approach to teaching taken by the modern church (and the modern world) and the approach of the early Christians. Teaching today is less a way of exercising authority in a relationship, and more an indoctrination or a transfer of information. Therefore, it is difficult to understand in many situations which contemporary teaching would qualify as the kind of teaching the passage is concerned with. Such issues of application will be considered in the later chapters of this book. At this point it is enough to note that the rule in Timothy states clearly that men are to exercise governmental authority in the Christian community, and the kind of teaching discussed in the epistle is an expression of the exercise of that authority.*

The Grounding of the Passage

The remainder of Timothy 2:8–15 provides the reasons for the directive about women teaching and exercising authority. Like other key texts, this passage turns to Genesis and God’s purposes in creation. Two reasons from Genesis are summoned to justify the rule: First, that Adam was formed before Eve; and, second, that Adam was not deceived but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. The first reason is possibly the main one since it is given first. Corinthians 11:8–9 gives the same reason for woman having man as her head. Corinthians 11 emphasizes woman’s origins from man and being created for him, while Timothy 2 emphasizes precedence. Both, however, point to the same basis. This reason needs no further elaboration since it was treated in the discussion of Genesis 2 and Corinthians 11. However, the second reason is a new one and has given rise to considerable debate.

The Woman Was Deceived

The introduction of the deception of the first woman into the argument is troublesome for many. First, it appears to lay the whole blame for the Fall on woman. Eve is not blamed for the Fall anywhere else in the New Testament.11 Paul’s primary teaching lays the main responsibility on Adam, not on the woman:

As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin . . . For if many died through one man’s trespass . . . If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man . . . Then, as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men . . . For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners . . . (Rom 5:12, 15, 17, 18, 19)

To be sure, the stress on “one man” is intended to provide a basis for the comparison with the one man, Christ, the one of whom Adam is the type. Nonetheless, the main responsibility for the Fall must belong to Adam as the father of the race.

Some hold that the difference between the teaching in Timothy 2:14 and that in Romans 5 is so great that it proves that Paul did not write Timothy, since he takes a position incompatible with the position in Romans.12 Whatever judgment one makes about the authorship of Timothy, such a view misunderstands the statement in Timothy 2:14. It is, in fact, compatible with Romans 5. For the argument developed in Timothy 2:13–15, as well as that in Romans 5, is that it would be an embarrassment for the woman to assume the main responsibility for the family and to bear the main burden of the guilt. Such an understanding would cut as much at the view of the man-woman relationship expressed in the statement “Adam was formed first, then Eve” as it would at the first Adam–second Adam typology in Romans 5. Actually, verse 14 does not state that the woman bears the main responsibility for the Fall. The verse rather states only that the woman was deceived. Being deceived was her role in the Fall, and that fact affects the appropriateness of women teaching and exercising authority. The question of the main responsibility for turning away from God is not addressed in the passage. One could presume, from his precedence and consequent governing authority, that man bore the final responsibility and hence for the author of Timothy as well sin came into the world through a male. However, all that is explicitly stated is that Adam was not deceived—a fact which might well have been seen by the author as increasing, not decreasing, Adam’s responsibility. In short, the view expressed in Timothy 2:14 is at least compatible with Romans 5.

Some find the role of the deception of the woman in the argument of Timothy 2:8–15 as problematic because it bases the subordination of woman to man on the results of the Fall. If a rule about the roles of men and women is based on the “curses” that were given as a result of the Fall, then the rule should be reversed by the work of Christ. Here again the problem is a supposed inconsistency between Timothy 2:8–15 and the rest of New Testament teaching or between this passage and other epistles that a particular commentator holds as authentically Pauline. Such considerations in their various forms do not rest upon a careful understanding of Timothy 2:14–15. In fact, Paul does not found the subordination of woman on the consequences of the Fall, but on creation.13 His appeal is primarily to the fact that man was created first.

Verses 14–15 do concern the Fall and its consequences, but they do not justify the difference in roles between men and women or prohibit women from teaching by appealing to the consequences of the Fall or to the “curses.” Rather, verses 14–15 refer to a condition that was a cause of the Fall rather than a result of the Fall. Verse 15, as will be discussed further on, possibly affirms that the work of Christ overcomes the consequences of the Fall, but without implying that the redemption abrogates the role difference between men and women. Women’s “deception,” as stated by verse 14, did not occur before the Fall, but it was the first step of the Fall and occurred well before the human race faced the judgment of God or began to suffer the consequences of the Fall. The point made by Timothy 2:14 actually rests on the fact that it was Eve as she was created to be who was deceived. The verse simply states that the first woman, created the way God intended her to be, was deceived.*

This fact, then, is given as grounds for the rule that woman should not teach or exercise authority over man. There are two acceptable explanations for this line of reasoning.14 One common explanation holds that Timothy 2:14 teaches that women are more easily deceived than men.15 This explanation can also be rephrased in a less negative way. According to such an approach, Timothy 2:14 states that woman is more influenceable (open) or susceptible to spiritual influences than man.16 In some circumstances this quality makes her more easily deceived.* In other circumstances, however, the quality makes her more open to faith. Men’s greater ability to resist deception makes them more capable of being a governor of the community and of maintaining the teaching of the community. They are better able to achieve one of the main purposes of those with governing authority: to provide stability and to protect the community against alien spiritual influences and deception. Those who hold such a view will often argue that history supports their interpretation. Shortly after Timothy was written (perhaps even at the very time it was being written), women took a prominent role in Gnostic sects, a more prominent role than the one they held in the leadership among orthodox Christians. Women were similarly prominent in the development of Montanism. A case can be made for the view that women can be found clustering around new spiritual movements, both good and bad, in greater numbers than men.17 In short, one could reasonably hold that women have been historically more open to spiritual influences than men, and that they have been less inclined than men to concern themselves with establishing good order and sound doctrine.

However, there is another way to understand the statement “the woman was deceived,” a way which does not rely on empirical evidence for accepting the truth of the statement. Contemporary people who see the statement “the woman was deceived” as the basis of a role difference are inclined to look immediately for empirical evidence for it. Many accept the account of Adam and Eve as a revelation, but are not inclined to argue from it as the basis of a practice or rule in human relationships unless they can see that it has an empirical foundation. Hence one would ask about the sense in which woman is more deceivable than man and expect evidence for the assertion. Jewish or Christian writers in the New Testament period, however, would be more inclined to think typologically. That is, they would look at the pattern as presented in Genesis (or anywhere else in revelation) and see that pattern as a standard for later practice. The writer of Timothy notes that “(the) woman was deceived,” not “woman is deceivable.” The typological mode of thought would assume that if the woman was deceived and not the man, then the scripture must be indicating something about the place of women. Otherwise, scripture would not have preserved that feature in the story. Eve is a type of “woman” and the fact that she was deceived is a part of this portrayal. It is a fact which a typological mode of thought would see as a basis for what “woman” should do or not do. Therefore, Timothy 2 might not be concerned with the deceivability of woman, but simply with the fact that “the woman was deceived.”

Typological thinking and empirical generalization are two different modes of thought. Typological thinking focuses on the concrete event—the “type” which reveals the general purpose or intention of God. Empirical generalization focuses on verifiable facts and observed regularities. Contemporary people are rarely satisfied simply with a typological approach. They want to know the empirical consequences of a typological consideration. For example, does the statement “the woman was deceived” imply that “women are more deceivable than men”?* This issue will be taken up again in Chapter Sixteen. At this point it is enough to note that the interpretation of the statement “the woman was deceived” does not necessarily imply that “women are more deceivable than men (in certain circumstances).” The human author himself might have simply intended a typological consideration when he wrote the passage, a consideration which in his view was adequate to establish the purpose of God for the roles of men and women.

The Woman Will Be Saved . . .”

Timothy 2:14–15 contains another difficult sentence: “yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with modesty.” Some have found this verse difficult because they think it defines the whole destiny of woman as childbearing. Others have even labeled the passage as heretical, because they think it states that childbearing rather than the atoning work of Christ will save women.

Four main interpretations of the verse have been advanced and even incorporated into translations.* There is a linguistic basis to the different interpretations, as well as a basis in the context and flow of thought in Timothy 2. The linguistic discussion centers primarily on the Greek phrase dia tēs teknogonias. Dia can mean “through,” “during,” and “by means of,” and s teknogonias can be translated either “childbearing” or “the childbearing” or “the bearing of the child.” The following are the main interpretations (and translations):

  1. The sentence should be translated “she will be saved by child bearing” or even “she will be saved by motherhood,” meaning either (a) that childbearing is salvific for her or (b) that childbearing is so much part of her call that she will find salvation in fulfilling this call (in the sense that one is saved by fulfilling faithfully and righteously the duties of one’s station in life).18
  2. The sentence should be translated “she will be saved through childbearing/​motherhood,” with the implication that she will be saved even though she is bearing children. This interpretation means that motherhood is a worthy calling, and not a consequence of the Fall and curses, even though it followed upon the Fall. The sentence reassures women that the bearing of children is not sinful, and would therefore counter those who forbade marriage (cf. Tm 4:3).19
  3. The sentence should be translated “she will be saved during childbearing.” This interpretation means that even though childbearing has become burdensome due to the consequences of the Fall (Gn 3:16), women will be saved throughout those difficulties if they keep persevering in faith and love and holiness. Even though woman’s childbearing has suffered from woman’s (and Adam’s) Fall, she can expect the help of the Lord in the very area of the consequences that came from that Fall.20
  4. The sentence should be translated “she will be saved by the birth of the child” or “she will be saved by The Childbearing.” This interpretation makes the phrase a reference to the birth of Christ. It means that even though woman became a transgressor, she will be saved by the birth of Christ, the seed of the woman (Gn 3:15). The passage would then be a reference to the central role of woman in salvation by bearing the savior who overcame everything that woman helped to cause when she was deceived and became a transgressor.21

An analysis of the merits of these four interpretations goes beyond the scope of this book. The passage is difficult and probably none of the interpretations will ever be established definitively. However, two observations will prove helpful. First, the notion that childbearing is salvific for women would indeed be at odds with the central teaching of the New Testament that salvation is through Jesus Christ. However, this is a highly uncertain interpretation and it is a fragile basis for an assertion that Timothy 2 is at odds with the rest of the New Testament. Given the seriousness of the contradiction being posited, it would be more responsible to view the conflict between this interpretation and the rest of early Christian teaching (including the rest of Timothy) as evidence that the interpretation is unlikely. Secondly, the weight of the various interpretations see Timothy 2:15 as an assertion that childbearing itself is not cursed (as one might believe from Gn 3:16), or as an assertion that the Lord will protect woman in the very area where she is experiencing the painful consequences of her transgression. In other words, Timothy 2:15 is probably a qualification, somewhat akin to Corinthians 11:11–12, to prevent readers from misunderstanding a teaching that could be viewed as negative toward the spiritual position of women or toward childbearing. This view is supported by the overall context of Timothy—the letter counters currents that depreciated sex and marriage. Timothy 2:15 is not a passage which sees the destiny of women or the salvation of women in childbearing and motherhood, but instead is essentially a passage which safeguards the spiritual worth of childbearing and motherhood.

Finally, Timothy 2:1–15 does not base its approach to the structure of the Christian community on the defectiveness of woman. Woman’s way of falling is no more an indication of her innate defectiveness than man’s way of falling. Both man and woman were created with different roles and different strengths and weaknesses. Their characteristic weaknesses played their roles in the Fall. Being deceived was the way woman is vulnerable; disobedience was the way man is vulnerable (Rom 5:19). Timothy 2 does not imply that woman is more defective than man, but that they are defective in different ways. To be truer to the text (since the text is not concerned with defectiveness), we should say that man and woman are different from one another and have different roles in the life of the Christian people and in the plan of salvation as well as different points of vulnerability. Woman functions in complementarity to man. She complemented him in the Fall, to the misfortune of the human race, and she complemented him in redemption, to the blessing of the human race. The former showed her weakness, the latter her strength.

The New Testament places an importance upon woman’s complementary role to the role of man in the plan of redemption, an importance that is a different illustration of the same underlying reality being asserted in Timothy 2:14. Woman was the one deceived because she was the first to believe the serpent. But woman was also the first to believe God in the redemption. In the resurrection account, it is the women who first come to believe in the resurrection. Peter and the apostles do not believe them at first. It is undoubtedly significant either that the women were the first to believe or that the scripture preserved the memory that they were. The woman’s faith in the event that overcame the Fall corresponds to her position in the Fall.22 Moreover, the man’s role in the resurrection corresponds to his role in the Fall. Just as it was not until the man who was the head of the race joined his wife in transgression that the whole human race fell, so it was not until the apostles, the men with the governing responsibility for the group of disciples, joined the women in faith that the Christian people found new life in the resurrection.

Another example of the same truth can be found at the beginning of the gospel in the birth of Jesus. Luke presents two people who receive an annunciation from an angel: Zechariah and Mary.23 Zechariah disbelieves the message and is struck dumb as a result. Mary receives the message with faith and submission. Consequently, according to the teaching of many of the Fathers, Mary became the new Eve, the one who reversed what Eve had done.24 By accepting the word of God, she became the one who bore the messiah who was the savior of the world. It was only through a woman that God became man, and not a disobedient or deceived woman, but a woman of faith and submission. She was saved by her son, like the rest of the human race, but her role in his birth gave her the position of the new Eve. God’s plan was not to save the human race apart from woman (Cor 11:11), but to save the human race with a savior born of woman (Gal 4:4).

197*An alternate understanding sometimes propounded is that both men and women are being exhorted to prayer. In that case, the accent for the men’s exhortation would be on avoiding anger and quarreling, not on prayer. This is a minority view and seems less likely. The passage perhaps has as its background the Jewish view that the men had the primary obligation for the community’s worship and intercession.

197†The Greek does not contain an indefinite article. The passage can therefore be translated with­out it, and for some purposes that helps the sense. “Woman” in the sense of “womankind” is the concern. Woman fell in Eve, but woman (women) will be saved through childbearing if they/​she continue(s) . . .

198*On hēsychia, see Chapter Four, pp. 9394. This term and its related forms occurs eleven times in the New Testament. Apart from those occasions mentioned in the text, it occurs in Lk 14:4; 23:56; Th 4:11; Th 3:12; Tm 2:2, 11, 12; Pt 3:4. The term used in Corinthians 14 for “silence” occurs elsewhere in Lk 9:36; 18:39; 20:26; Acts 12:17; 15:12–13; 21:40; Rom 16:25; Rv 8:1.

198†On various words for “teach,” including didaskō used in Tm 2, see Rengstorf, TDNT, 2:135–165, 4:390–461; and Lohse, 6:961–965.

The distinction made here is behind the discussion in the Catholic Church concerning the naming of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila as “Doctors of the Church.” As a result of this, some questioned whether the Catholic Church changed its position that women may not hold positions of authoritative teaching in the church. However, Paul VI asserted that no such change of position was involved in the conferring of this title. At the ceremony for Teresa of Avila, he quoted Corinthians 14:34, and stated: “This still signifies today that woman is not meant to have hierarchical functions of teaching and ministering in the Church. Has the Apostle’s precept been violated then? We can give a clear answer: No. In reality, it is not a matter of a title entailing hierarchical teaching functions . . .” (In The Pope Speaks 15, no. 3 [Fall 1970]: 221.) The change depends on a different usage of the title “Doctor,” one that does not connote a position of authoritative teaching in the church.

202*The conclusion that women are not to hold such positions of government is further confirmed by the context of the Timothy passage on men and women. The epistle continues immediately with a section on the process of choosing overseers (probably meaning elders here) and deacons or servants. This indicates that the concern is with governmental positions.

203*See Chapter Five, pp. 107110. Perhaps it is significant that the passage which exhorts older women to “teach” younger women (Ti 2:3, RSV) avoids the use of the word didaskein. This may indicate that the teaching of women by women, because it did not involve the older women or the deaconesses having authority over the younger wives, could not be considered “teaching” in the sense that didaskein would have conveyed.

204*Timothy 2 has many similarities with Corinthians 14, enough to raise a significant issue over whether they are saying the same thing or something different. There are two clear differences between them: (1) Corinthians 14 concerns something any woman might do in community gatherings, whereas Timothy 2 seems to focus more clearly on the possibility of particular women taking positions of authority in the community; and (2) Corinthians 14 seems to be more concerned with women asking questions in instructional situations while Timothy 2 seems to be more concerned with actual teaching itself. How one sees their relationship depends on how one interprets each of the passages. However, if the exegesis given above is correct, then Corinthians 14 is the broader passage concerned with all participation of women in teaching situations and the prohibition of speaking is based on the fittingness of certain kinds of speech in regard to her subordination, whereas Timothy 2 is more specifically dealing with the possibility of a woman actually doing the teaching.

206*Nor do we need, in order to make sense of the passage, to hold that it presupposes that once Eve was deceived she began to teach Adam, nor that she used to teach Adam before the Fall but the privilege was taken away from her after the Fall, as some commentators do. The argument only rests on the fact that she was deceived.

207*Timothy 3:6 provides a possible parallel. It could, however, have the same meaning as Timothy 2:14, or it could simply mean “those women who are weak.” That all women are weak is not the only reasonable interpretation.

208*There is another possible understanding of the “empirical consequences” than that discussed in the text; namely, the passage could be envisioning empirical consequences through a more “spiritual” causality. It could mean that if Christians fail to perceive God’s purposes for man and woman as manifest in the fact the Eve was deceived, and instead give women authority over men, they open the door to bad spiritual consequences because they will be at odds with the way God works to protect his people. Biblical thought often envisions spiritual consequences depending not upon empirically investigable chains of causality but on spiritually revealed ones (God’s faithfulness to his promises, decrees, covenant, etc.). Hence, scientific investigation might not be the proper method for looking into the significance of the typology here, yet there could still be empirical consequences.

209*These four major interpretations can be found in various translations of the New Testament. (For instance, NEB gives #2 [or #1], and cites #3 and #4 in the margin. RSV also cites #4 in the margin.) Since the Greek is most literally translated in a manner which leaves the question open, it is at times difficult to tell which interpretation is being preferred by a given translation.