By Heather Althoff, ThM (Dallas Seminary), LifeWay Church – Missions Pastor.
This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
Part 18D: What Does the Bible Say? More on the Interpretive Difficulties in 1 Timothy 2
The Disputed Passages: A Second Look at 1 Timothy 2:8–15
For the last three weeks we have looked at some of the issues that make 1 Timothy 2:8–15 one of the most disputed passages on women’s leadership in the Bible. From culture and context to grammar and vocabulary, this passage is extremely difficult to nail down. As one scholar put it after extensive research on 1 Timothy 2:11–15, “I remember quite clearly now—more than twenty years later—putting the book down on my lap and realizing this insight: Nobody could explain this passage.” Today, I am going to introduce you to the last couple difficulties before sharing some resources to help you get started in your own investigation of this problematic passage. Hopefully, as you explore, you will grow in your commitment to the study of God’s Word—and your grace for those who come to different conclusions!
Last week we looked specifically at verses 11 and 12, recognizing the problematic vocabulary and the difficulty of pinpointing the exact nature of the prohibition, and what its application might look like today. Verses 13 and 14 follow with a phrase that can be viewed as a causal (the reason for the previous prohibition) or explanatory (explaining more about the situation). The phrase is often translated, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” It would be translated the same in either case, simply with a different purpose.
The Greek conjunction gar, translated “for” can be used causally, arguing that the order of creation is the reason or cause for the earlier prohibition. This view goes hand-in-hand with the idea that God created men to be the leaders from the beginning, and that Eve’s sin was one of usurping Adam’s God-given leadership. In other words, Paul is saying that women are not permitted to teach or have authority because Adam was created to be Eve’s authoritative leader, and that pattern continues for men and women today. According to this view, Eve’s deception while taking the lead is an example of what goes wrong when women usurp the man’s created leadership role. If the phrase is used causally in this way, it is reasonable to argue that verses 11 and 12 are a transcultural prohibition that applies to all men and women in all times.
Others argue that the Bible never identifies Eve’s sin with usurping Adam’s leadership, and that this statement should be taken as an explanation, not a cause for the preceding prohibition. This is also a legitimate grammatical use of the conjunction gar. There are several proposals for how the order of creation could explain Paul’s prohibition against Ephesian women teaching and taking ungranted authority in verse 12:
- 2:13 could provide the explanation that Eve was created as Adam’s partner, not his boss.
- 2:13 could also provide the explanation that the correct creation story says that Adam was created first, not Eve. If the women were coming out of the Artemis cult or culture, they could be teaching a version of the story that had Eve created first and providing justification for their authoritative and domineering behavior.
- 2:13 could provide the explanation that deception is dangerous, as it was in Eve’s case. Just as Eve was ignorant and deceived, the women who were teaching inappropriate things in inappropriate ways in Ephesus were also ignorant of the truth and deceived.
In any of these cases, the phrase explains more about the situation in Ephesus that necessitated the prohibition in verses 11 and 12, and implies that the prohibition is not universal, but limited to that situation. Once again, the significance of the created order rests heavily on the meaning of a word that has multiple possible uses. Gar, translated “for” can introduce a cause or an explanation. Again, we find that many people will interpret this passage based on pre-existing views of creation, authority, and the situation being addressed in Ephesus.
Saved through what!?
Finally, we come to verse 15 and the enigmatic statement that women will be saved through childbearing. Even the most conservative scholars will acknowledge that this cannot mean that women are somehow saved from their sin by bearing children. Not only would that damn women who are not married (a lifestyle that Paul endorses in 1 Corinthians 7) or who cannot bear children, but it contradicts other Scripture such as Romans 3:22–24 that says we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. While most scholars acknowledge that we simply don’t know exactly what Paul meant by this statement, here are just some possibilities:
- Some have argued that, while women are not permitted to lead or teach, they still have value by participating in God’s plan to multiply and fill the earth.
- Others suggest this statement is referencing the promise in Genesis 3:15 that the redeemer would be born of a woman.
- Still others have tied this statement to the context of women coming from the Artemis of the Ephesians cult. Childbearing in antiquity was extremely dangerous, and women turned to Artemis for safety during the ordeal. In this case, Paul would be saying that, even if women turn to the truth (including the correct creation story) and depend on God, they will still be saved through the terrifying ordeal of childbirth.
Hopefully, you have seen over the last four weeks how complex these few verses are. Even after years of study and debate, there is still very little consensus over the true nature of Paul’s advice and the situation that necessitated it. There is a range of possible situations, meanings, and applications among both complementarians and egalitarians. For this reason, it is important for each of us to become students of Scripture, to engage in understanding the various possibilities, to understand the source of our own views.
Resources to Consider:
Douglas Moo, “What Does it Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. (Crossway 1991), 179–193.
Linda Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11–15,” Priscilla Papers 17, no. 3 (Summer, 2003-07-31), https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/exegetical-fallacies-interpreting-1-timothy-211%E2%80%9315.
Jamin Hubner, “Revisiting the Clarity of Scripture,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59, no. 1 (March 2016): 99–117. An adapted version of the original article can be found online, https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/revisiting-clarity-scripture-1-timothy-212.
Marg Mowczko, “Authentein (In 1 Timothy 2:12), In a Nutshell,” Blog Post, April 21, 2018, https://margmowczko.com/authentein-authenteo-1-timothy-2/.
 Dr. John Stackhouse quoted in Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 155–56.
 For an explanation of the verb authentein and some possibilities for its meaning, see last week’s blog post.
 You can read more about the identity and implications of Artemis of the Ephesians in 1 Timothy in Sandra Glahn’s articles: “The Identity of Artemis in First-Century Ephesus” in Bibliotheca Sacra 172 (July–September 2015): 316–34 and “The First Century Ephesian Artemis: Ramifications of Her Identity” in Bibliotheca Sacra 172 (October–December 2015): 450–69.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.