12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:12-15 NKJV)
Is Paul banning women from ministry in this verse? No, he is not. As I will explain below, he was simply responding to a false teaching that claimed Eve was created before Adam. It appears that this false teaching made at least some of the women feel that they could domineer the men, and it is this that Paul is correcting.
In the phrase, "to teach or to have authority over a man", the word "or" is important. The Greek word translated "or" is oude which is elsewhere used by Paul to connect two parallel thoughts (e.g. Roman 3:10, 1 Corinthians 15:5, Galatians 1:1, Galatians 4:14, Philippians 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:5). In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul is using “or” to amplify the particular kind of teaching he was referring to, namely a wrong type of teaching in which the women were domineering the men.
The phrase “have authority over” is translated from the Greek word authenteo. Hippolytus of Rome (a prolific writer in the early church c. 170 – c. 236) used the word authenteo when he wrote about how masters would “lord it over” their servants. By using authenteo, Paul is not forbidding women from normal teaching, but from teaching in a manner that domineers the men.
The reason that the women were domineering the men was because of a false teaching called “Gnosticism” that was infiltrating the church. The Gnostics taught that Eve was created before Adam, was the source of knowledge, and that she was sent to be his instructor. This caused the women in the church at Ephesus to see themselves as superior to the men, emboldening them to teach them in a domineering manner. Paul therefore corrected them in verse 13 -14, by saying “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression". When understood in this context, we can see that he simply correcting the false Gnostic teaching. He was not prohibiting women from ministry positions.
The final verse in this passage has also caused some confusion. In verse 15, Paul states “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control”. The key to understanding this is to note that this letter was addressed to Timothy, who at that time was in the city of Ephesus. The main deity of Ephesus was a goddess called Diana, who was known as Artemis to the Greeks (Acts 19:27). Amongst other things, Artemis was believed to keep women safe through childbirth. Paul is simply saying that it is not Artemis that will protect the women during childbirth; rather, it is God who will bring them safely through childbirth as they continue in faith, love, and holiness with self-control.
Conclusion: Paul is not prohibiting women from ministry in this passage. He is correct a false Gnostic teaching.
Dr. Stuart Pattico
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