Tuesday, September 01, 2009


An Exploration of Paul’s Concerns in 1 Timothy 2:11-15
By Dr. Jon Zens

NOTE: I have published a severely edited version of this article here in order to convey the main points of Dr. Zens’ teaching on this topic. If anyone would like the entire 27 page document I would be happy to send it via email. Contact me at elysiansky@hotmail.com with the subject “SILENT SISTERS” and I will send it to you free of charge.

In the history of the church 1 Timothy 2:12 has been used unrelentingly as a proof-text to swiftly and decisively squelch the ministry of women in fellowships.

My examination of the evidence has brought me to question the traditional use of 1 Tim.2:12 to silence female believers. If the “silence” use of 1 Tim.2:12 rests on very questionable assumptions, then women in the body of Christ have been put under an unfounded bondage based on a serious misinterpretation of a critical passage of scripture.

Everyone admits that 1 Tim.2:11-15 is attended with difficulties at every level – contextual, cultural, linguistical, grammatical and conceptual. Nevertheless, it would seem to me that for those who truly desire light from God’s Word, sufficient light can be uncovered to show that the traditional understanding of 1 Tim.2:12 is riddled with dubious assumptions and even prejudices. If this is true, then it truly has been used to abuse half the priesthood of believers. The evidence is such that Bible teachers and church leaders would do well to re-visit the common application of 1 Tim.2:11-15, which may be misguided and unwarranted.

Why Was 1 Timothy Written?

The purpose of 1 Timothy is stated by Paul in 1:3-4 – “As I urged you upon my departure to Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain persons to neither teach differently, nor to pay attention to myths and unending genealogies, which stir up questions rather than furthering the stewardship of God in faith.” “The key to understanding the letter,” Gordon Fee notes, “lies in taking seriously that Paul’s stated reason in 1:3 for leaving Timothy in Ephesus is the real one; namely, that he has been left there to combat some false teachers, whose asceticism and speculative nonsense based on the law are engendering strife, causing many to capitulate to the false teaching.”[2]

1 Timothy is not a church manual for a pastor. It is a mandate for an apostolic assistant to deal with serious issues involving false teaching in Ephesus. Unfortunately, some women had become involved in this problem.

The Immediate Context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15
In terms of the basic structure Paul used in this section (2:1-15), we can note the following (I have tried to follow the Greek closely in translating the verses in 1 Tim.2:1-15):

The same Greek word, hesuchia (quietness), is used in verse 2 with reference to all believers leading a quiet life, in verse 11 with reference to a woman learning in quietness, and in verse 12 with reference to a woman being in quietness. The word simply does not mean “silent.” Verse 2 obviously does not envision us leading a “silent” life, but rather a life in which we are not known as rabble-rousers. Thus, any Bible version that has the woman in “silence” (2:11-12) reveals some level of bias, is a very inaccurate translation and leaves an impression upon the mind that is not from the Lord.

Apparently this congregation in Ephesus was riddled with false teaching and there was some level of disorder going on. One can appreciate, then, why Paul would emphasize prayer among the brethren and then elaborate on the world-wide salvation purpose of God in Christ (vv.3-7).

The implicit contrast between prayers in Christian assemblies and those in Jewish synagogues must be underscored. Jews in the first century were under Roman rule. Their synagogue prayers focused on the destruction of their Gentile enemies, not their salvation. Paul, on the other hand, exhorts the assembly to intercede on behalf of those in civil power and for the salvation of people all over the world.

Key Observations On 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Truly, I am a debtor to all the hard work others (listed in the “Suggested Sources”) have done in trying to understand these verses. Along with some possible insights that I have come to see, in most cases I am just calling attention to some foundational points that they have unearthed through diligent research. I’m going to structure my comments by contrasting the traditional view with some correctives that seem warranted.

1 Tim.2:11 – “Let a woman learn in quietness in all submission”

Traditional View: The word hesuchia has been taken to mean “silence,” meaning that women are not to speak in assembly meetings. “All submission” is taken to mean that females are to be passive receivers, not active participants.


**Hesuchia means “quietness,” not “silence.” Further, in 1 Tim.2:2 the stated goal is for all believers to live a “quiet” life. In 1 Thess.4:11 Paul instructs all the brethren, “strive eagerly to be quiet, to do your own business and work with your own hands.” The apostle tells those believers who are not working “to work with quietness and to eat their own bread” (2 Thess.3:12).

**Since “quietness” is to be a quality of all the saints, if Paul mentions that a woman needs to learn in quietness, wouldn’t that imply some special circumstance that required this instruction? Is it not clear from the context that the males needed a dose of quietness too, as they were manifesting “wrath” among themselves (v.8)?

**The fact that hesuchia does not mean “silence” illustrates the careless use of Scripture by those who with full confidence and dogmatism cite 1 Tim.2:12 as an end to further discussion.

** “In all submission.” Again, the New Testament clearly teaches that “submission” is to be an attribute of all believers, not just the sisters.

--Rom.13:1,5 -- every person is to be subject to the civil authorities.
--1 Cor.14:32 -- the spirits of the prophets are subject to [under the self-control of] the prophets.
--1 Cor.16:15-16 -- the brethren are to submit to those who lay down their lives for others.
--Eph.5:21 -- all Christians are to mutually submit to one another in the fear of Christ.
--James 4:7 -- we are all to submit to the Lord.
--1 Pet.5:5 -- “all of you, be subject one to another.”

**We must ask, do only women learn in all submission? Do men somehow learn in a different way, without submission? Aren’t “quietness” and “submission” necessary qualities in order for anyone to learn? If this is indeed the case, then are we not warranted to suggest that there must have been a problem with some women, or a woman, which accounts for why Paul would issue this special directive?

** “Let a woman learn [Greek, manthano]…” We must not forget that learning in the early church was not male-driven and pulpit-centered. It was a body experience in which all participated. We have already seen that both men and women are free to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor.11:3-5). Paul made it crystal clear in 1 Cor.14 that he wanted prophecy from both genders to be central in the gathering. In 1 Cor.14:31 he directs the saints in this manner: “you may all [males and females] prophesy one by one, so that all [men and women] may learn [manthano] and all may be encouraged.” In the New Testament even singing results in teaching and admonishing (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16).


1 Tim.2:12 – “But I am not now permitting a woman to teach with the goal of dominating a man, but to be in quietness.”

Traditional View: This verse is taken as an always-binding command by Paul that women are not to teach men, which if done would be a wrongful usurping of male authority. Instead of teaching, women are to be in silence.


**First, it must be pointed out that there is no command (imperative) from Paul in this text. The wording in the King James Version, “I suffer not a woman,” can certainly sound like a command, but it isn’t. Instead, it is a simple present tense, “I am not now permitting a woman….” This could imply a shift in Paul’s strategy because of the problems that existed in Ephesus. Timothy had worked with Paul for years and was not used to hearing restrictions on the sisters from Paul. But now Paul announces, “I am not now permitting a woman….”

**Considering the background of the assembly in Ephesus will be helpful in this regard. Read Acts 18:34-20:1 and you’ll see that Paul spent three years there. This was his longest tenure in any city during his journeys. With this background in mind, we can surmise that during his years in Ephesus – approximately 54-57AD – the sisters were functioning along with the brothers in a fashion similar to the meeting described in 1 Cor.14. It was not Paul’s habit to put restrictions on the sisters. However, things changed when false teaching crept in and some women were involved in the aberrations. As a result, at this time some six years after he left Ephesus (approximately 63AD), Paul must announce to Timothy, “I am not now permitting a woman to teach….”

**Two infinitives. When Paul says, “I am not now permitting a woman,” he follows with a neither…nor construction involving two infinitives, didaskein (to teach) and authentein (to have one’s way with, to dominate). It must be asked, how are the two infinitives to be correlated? Philip Payne and others suggest that the best fit is that of goal or purpose. In other words, Paul in this Ephesian situation where some women were propagating error does not want them to teach with the purpose or goal of having their way with (or dominating) a man. Payne sees the closest English parallel to how these two infinitives are employed to be our idioms: hit ‘n’ run, eat ‘n’ run, hence, teach ‘n’ dominate – to teach with the goal of dominating (with false teaching). It is this specific type of teaching that Paul is not permitting.[26]

**There is only one use of the verb authenteo in the New Testament and it is the infinitive authentein in 1 Tim.2:12. Traditionally it has been translated as, “nor to usurp authority over the man.” This view assumes that the very act of a woman teaching a man is inherently a wrongful deed that violates male headship. But the Bible nowhere substantiates such a notion.

--Deborah, a Prophetess, Judge and Wife, sat by her palm tree and made judgments as men and women came to her for counsel in applying the Mosaic law to their lives (Judges 2:16-19; 4:1-5:31).

--King Josiah sent a male envoy to the Prophetess and Wife Huldah after the Book of the Law was discovered. She gave them (and ultimately, Israel) the word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron.34:22-28).

--Further, we know that Priscilla and Aquila explained the way of God more perfectly to Apollos in their home in Ephesus (Acts 18:19-26). The assembly in Ephesus also met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila where we can safely assume she had some edifying things to say.

--When males and females prophesy in a gathering, Paul says that “learning” is one of the outcomes. Thus, brothers and sisters are constantly learning from one another. In this sense, it is clearly not wrong for women to contribute to the “learning” (manthano) of males.

If there is a divine law that women-teaching-men is sinful, then there can be no exceptions. But there is no concern in this regard expressed in Scripture, and there are clearly cases where women taught men. In Romans 12:6-7 where Paul is listing some gifts, he mentions “prophesying” and “teaching.” There are no gender restrictions here – both men and women can be involved in such activities. There is nothing inherently evil in women-teaching-men, but it is a problem when women teach error, or teach with a view to dominate men. Of course, the same concerns hold true if males teach error or teach with the goal of dominating others!

**Reflecting on the background of the Ephesian assembly will be helpful at this point. The Temple of Artemis was a massive structure and was the focus of religious attention in Ephesus. Her Latin name was Diana. Her temple was then one of the seven wonders of the world. The effects of this woman-centered religion were pervasive. A significant share of the cash flow in this city was connected to the sale of idols and religious objects. Paul and his associates were in Ephesus for three years. It is likely that some of the converts to Christ were women who had been in the cult of Artemis, which included the practice of temple prostitution. Many ladies in Ephesus would be female-centered in their outlook on life. The influence of the gospel reached the point where many believers were confessing their past evil activities and burning their occult books publicly (Acts 19:18-19). A riot almost erupted, but at stake was the honor of the female god – “Artemis is the goddess that everyone in Asia and the whole world worships”….They all shouted the same thing for two hours: “Great is Artemis of Ephesus” (Acts 19:27,34). N.T. Wright provides this excellent summary of religion in Ephesus and the “why” of Paul’s instructions in 1 Tim.2:11-15:

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the primary religion—the biggest temple, the most famous shrine—was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that's her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organizing male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, such that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis cult, but rather so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching, and leadership God is giving them (“The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church,” an address given at St. John’s College, Durham, England, at the CBE Conference on September 4, 2004).

Such background material aids our understanding of 1 Tim.2:9-15 at least in the following ways:

--We can see why Paul was concerned about female modesty in v.9. The Artemis influence which included the superiority of women ideology out of which some of the sisters came would contribute to dressing habits that were far from modest.

--This helps us understand why a woman influenced by the feminist Artemis cult could “teach with the goal of dominating a man.”

--We can then appreciate why women under the spell of false teaching would need to learn in quietness.

--“Adam was formed first” has a real punch with Artemis in the background. The Diana-cult taught that Zeus and the Titaness Leto had twins and the female came first – Artemis originated before Apollo.

--We can then understand why Paul would stress that Eve was “deceived.” The Artemis religion glorified women as superior to males. Paul punctured the Artemis balloon in two ways – Adam was made first, not woman; Eve was not superior to man for she was deceived into sinning against God.

--Verse 15 is mysterious indeed, but the Artemis backdrop may provide some light. This helps us understand why Paul would mention help in childbirth through faith in Christ. The women in Ephesus looked to Artemis for help during the childbirth process. “As the mother goddess, Artemis was the source of life, the one who nourished all creatures and the power of fertility in nature. Maidens turned to her as the protector of their virginity, barren women sought her aid, and women in labor turned to her for help”[29]. “She [singular] will be saved through the childbirth” could also suggest the thought that even though Eve was deceived, God still promised in Gen.3:15 a seed (child) who would crush Satan’s head and bring salvation (cf., Rev.12:4-5).

1 Timothy 2:14 – “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

Traditional view: Verse 14 shows that serious problems arise when women take the lead. Paul does not want women to teach because they are more easily deceived than men. Women are more prone to wander into error. Therefore, the teaching role has been left in the hands of males.


**The idea that women are more prone to error is based on a key faulty assumption – that females are inferior to males when it comes to spiritual discernment. The history of the church – in which women were removed from the picture – illustrates to the hilt that males are very susceptible to conjure up, propagate and fall into error. Most false teaching has originated with and been spread abroad by males.

** “Isn’t Paul using Eve as an example of what can go wrong when women usurp the male’s leadership role? . . . . This view is without scriptural support. Eve was not deceived by the serpent into taking the lead in the male-female relationship. She was deceived into disobeying a command of God, namely, not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She listened to the voice of false teaching and was deceived by it.”[30]

** The notion that females are more capable of being deceived than males is shown to be false by observing that Paul applies the Eve-deceived model to an entire Christian congregation (2 Cor.11:3). The possibility of being deceived is not a problem peculiar to females.

** “The language of deception calls to mind the activities of the false teachers at Ephesus. If the Ephesian women were being encouraged as the superior gender to assume the role of teacher over men, this would go a long way toward explaining 1 Timothy 2:13-14. The relationship between the sexes was not intended to involve female domination and male subordination. But neither was it intended to involve male domination and female subordination. Such thinking is native to a fallen creation order (Gen.3:16).”[31] Why would we want to take our cue from the curse-ridden words, “your desire will be your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen.3:16)? That is a simple description of sin’s implications for the husband/wife relationship. Wouldn’t we want to be informed instead by the redemptive implications of Christ’s cross and resurrection, and the pre-fall relationship of Adam and Eve to which Jesus appeals in Matthew 19:4-6?

The Gospel Applied to Cultural Situations

A major concern uttered by some is that if you don’t see a passage like 1 Tim.2:11-15 as an expression of “timeless truth,” are you not on a slippery slope that leads to truth being relativized? The answer to this concern is a resounding, “No!”

The New Testament letters were written in response to specific problems in various cultures. Steve Atkerson observes, “Everything in the New Testament is called an ‘occasional document.’ There was some occasion, usually a problem, that motivated the author to write the book.”[32] What is wrong, then, in noting that in 1 Tim.2:11-15 Paul brought gospel truth to meet the needs of a concrete situation in Ephesus? Here is a summary of how that truth was applied:

--Usually the sisters and brothers functioned together in the participatory meetings of the assembly. Because of false teaching that had infected some women, Paul announced that some should be learning in quietness, not teaching with the goal of dominating men.

--It is not right for a woman or a man to teach with the goal of dominating others. In Christ’s kingdom no one is to dominate anyone else. “You are all brethren.” No clergy. No laity. No honorific titles. No elevation of some above others. If anything, give honor to the parts least esteemed.

--The mandate to have dominion over the earth was given to both Adam and Eve. They were not to seek dominion over each other, but to carry out their stewardship of the earth as a team. Females are not superior to males as was taught in the Artemis religion of Ephesus.

--Just as Eve had been deceived by Satan’s false teaching in the Garden, so some women in Ephesus had been deceived by the false teaching that was making the rounds.

--Many women in Ephesus looked to the goddess for help and guidance regarding the issues of virginity, fertility and childbirth. Paul directs godly women to look to the Lord Jesus.

The truth is, in most cases we have just bits and pieces of information about what was behind many apostolic statements in the epistles. Often it is hard to know exactly what question was being answered or what problem was being addressed. We are, as it were, hearing one side of a conversation. But such issues do not keep us from either profiting from the New Testament, or discerning the Lord’s mind. The Holy Spirit teaches us the mind of Christ. However, we do have to confess in humility that there is a great deal we will always struggle with to properly understand.

There are cultural matters in the New Testament which we have to face. In 1 Cor.11:1-16, for example, you have some gospel perspectives brought to bear upon some cultural issues like head coverings. Some people conclude that head coverings are still binding; others see them as a cultural item that we are not required to emulate in our day. 1 Tim.2:8 mentions men praying with uplifted hands. Do we teach that male prayer is invalid unless the hands are lifted up? Would 1 Tim.2:9 lead us to confront a sister who donned some jewelry that contained some pearls or gold? Based on 1 Tim.5:9, would we tell a 57-year old widow in need that we couldn’t help her for three years until her 60th birthday? Why don’t we “greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Thess.5:26)?

The New Testament was written in the first century and many culturally-rooted issues appear on its pages. Because of this are we to conclude that it is all “cultural” and contains no relevant “truth” for us today? No, rather we affirm that the gospel is brought to bear on many Jewish and Gentile cultural matters that impacted the early Christian assemblies.

As we, being New Covenant believers, approach any topic or concern, the key perspective for us must be, “you have heard him and have been taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus” (Eph.4:21). The fundamental truth about sisters in Christ is that they are free to function. There is no revealed emphasis on universally applicable restrictions to their service in the kingdom.


Evidence has been presented to suggest that the traditional understanding of 1 Tim.2:11-15 rests on some very shaky assumptions, and some fundamental misunderstandings about what Paul actually said. Difficulties found in these texts are often glossed over by those who use them to muzzle female ministry. It is time for honest Bible students to revisit 1 Tim.2:11-15 and to separate reality from fiction. Those who simplistically wave 1 Tim.2:12 as a proof-text to silence women had better be careful that they do not incur the dreaded millstone by hurting Christ’s little ones (Matt.18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).

In terms of what actually happened in history, I think Bart Erhman puts his finger on another huge factor in the marginalization of women in the church – the movement from simplicity to institutionalization.

Women played a prominent role in Paul’s churches, as missionaries and leaders; moreover, Paul maintained that in Christ the distinctions between male and female were obliterated. But Paul did not advocate a social revolution for women; instead, he insisted that men and women maintain their distinctive gender roles . . . . Women may have enjoyed more prominent roles in the Christian communities early in the movement’s history because churches met in the home, women’s sphere of influence. When churches acquired a more public character, however, men appear to have asserted more fully their gender claims and removed women from positions of authority [33]


1) 1 Timothy 2:11-15 says nothing about women being “silent.”
2) There is no command (imperative) in 1 Tim.2:12 connected to women not teaching. Paul uses a simple present tense, “I am not now permitting….”
3) The infinitive, authentein, does not mean “to exercise authority over.” The two infinitives, didaskein and authentein, are best correlated together as purpose or goal, thus translated as “I am not now permitting a woman to teach for the purpose of dominating a man.”
4) Some key elements in 1 Tim.2:11-15 are clarified and elucidated by considering the pervasive influence of the Artemis cult in Ephesus: (a) women coming out of a goddess-based religion would need to be reminded concerning modesty in dress; (b) the need for a posture of learning on the part of some women because of the influence of false teaching; (c) because of the female-centeredness of the Artemis religion, it can be appreciated why a woman would teach with the goal of dominating a man; (d) because the Artemis cult believed that males originated from the goddess, it can be understood why Paul would point out that Adam was formed first; (e) because women were viewed as superior in Ephesus, it can be appreciated why Paul would mention that Eve was deceived into sin; (f) while many women looked to Artemis in connection with fertility and childbirth, Paul directs godly women to Christ as the promised Seed who was promised to Eve in Genesis 3:15.
5) When the ekklesia began on the Day of Pentecost the first thing that was mentioned concerned males and females prophesying together. Women and men prophesying are mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor.11:4-5. In 1 Cor.14 Paul wished for prophecy – from the whole assembly – to be central. Thus, to use 1 Tim.2:11-15 as a basis to completely silence the sisters in Christian assemblies is hardly an accurate way to handle Scripture. It uses one context to cancel out the revelation of many others.

May we have grace and humility to search the Scriptures together in order to see what is indeed really so!

FOR FURTHER STUDY - If you're interested in studying this issue further, I'd like to encourage you to obtain this set of 4 DVD's which contain 3.5 hours of instruction. They are filled with insight and presented in a respectful, Christ-like spirit. You may not be persuaded by every point that is suggested, but you will be challenged to search the Scriptures to see what is really so.

Order from: Searching Together, Box 377, Taylors Falls, MN 55084-0377; 651-465-6516;

To contact Dr. Zens directly you may do so at jzens@searchingtogether.org
or online at:

BTW- I personally do not receive any financial compensation as the result of this post. This is entirely for the edification of the saints.

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