Saturday, February 25, 2006

Literal Renderings of Texts of Contention-- 1 Tim. 2.8-15

1 Tim. 2.8-15

"I wish then men to pray in all places, lifting up holy hands without anger and argument, and likewise women in tasteful dress with modesty and sobriety adorning themselves not with plaited hair with gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but what is fitting for women professing to worship God with good works. A woman should learn in quietness in all submission, but to teach I am not permitting women nor to domineer over men, but rather to be in quietness. For Adam was formed first, only then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being truly deceived fell into transgression. But she may be saved through (the) Childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with sobriety/modesty."

Few texts have been more bitterly debated in the recent Christian culture wars over the roles of women in the church than 1 Tim. 2.8-15. This being the case I think all would agree that a less interpretitive and more literal rendering might help settle some questions at least. Of course in the translation of any much debated text very careful attention must be paid to the immediate literary context. Nowhere is that more obviously the case with these verses, which some have even called a text of terror.

What I would stress at the outset is that Paul is correcting problems in worship--- correcting both men and women as is perfectly clear from vs. 8 where he tells the men to not dispute or get angry but rather to start praying. He then corrects women in several particulars. I would stress then that the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege, in this case the privilege of speaking in worship or even teaching. Paul is not laying down first principles here, he is correcting an existing problem, and presumably wherever and whenever he found a similar problem he would do so again, whoever it might involve.

Three things are key here: 1) the verb 'authentein' in vs. 12 occurs only once in the NT-- just here. The verb is a strong one, and in my commentary which comes out in the fall I give instances of where it can be used to mean 'to domineer' 'to usurp authority over', but it also has the sense of 'to exercise authority over' as well. What determines the translation is of course the context--- is the context one where a problematic use of power or authority is at issue? If the answer is yes, then the translation is normally 'to usurp authority over' or 'to domineer'. It refers to an illegitimate use of power or authority. The importance of this fact is clear. Paul is not talking about occasions or instances where it is perfectly proper for women to teach or exercise authority over men, something he will mention elsewhere, for example in Rom. 16. The issue here in Ephesus is that there are some women who are seeking to teach or take authority over men, without first being quiet and learning about their faith. This is inappropriate of course. 2) nothing is said here about women being subordinate to men. What vs. 11 speaks about is learning quietly and so being in submission to the teaching and what is being required of the listener. One can say much the same about 1 Cor. 14.33b-36. Nothing is said there about women submitting to men. Scholars have often pondered what in the world Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 14.34 when he says women are to be silent as even the Law says'. Where exactly does the OT law say that? The answer is nowhere. But what is said in various places is that everyone in worship should be silent in the presence of those who are speaking the Word of God, which is clearly the context in this Corinthians passage--- "let all mortal flesh keep silence. The Lord is in his holy temple and will speak". This is actually a sort of exhortation that was common in all kinds of ancient worship, including the pagan worship many Corinthians had been previously part of. For example, the priest would cry out 'silence' (tacit) as the sacrifice was about to be offered and the blood would be poured out and prayers would go up. In short, 1 Tim. 2 is talking about silence and submission in the presence of authoritative teaching and teachers. One can understand why high status Gentile women in Ephesus might think they could immediately teach in their new chosen religion: 1) women were frequently priestesses and prophetesses in the religion they had come from; 2) if one already had an education, including some education in public speaking (rhetoric) one assumed that one was equipped to go ahead and speak or even teach, especially teach those less literate and of lesser social status. Notice that Paul has restricted what these women are to wear in worship. Clearly enough, he is correcting high status women who actually had fine clothes and jewels to wear, and could come to worship with high coiffed hair. It is these sorts of women he has in mind in 1 Tim. 2; 3) the verb here is 'I am not (now) permitting'. As Philip Payne has shown, there is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where this form means " I am permanently banning women from teaching etc.' This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach. Paul could have said "I will never permit women to teach..." but he did not, and for a good reason. He is correcting a problem; 4) the use of the example from Genesis presupposes that Timothy knows his Bible. In particular he knows the following--- that in the original creation story, only Adam is alive when the instruction is given not to eat of the tree. Early Jewish teachers then assumed that this meant Adam had taught Eve about the ban, but clearly enough he had not instructed her well enough, since she goes on to say to the snake that they were not even to touch the fruit. It is interesting that the verb deceived here is used elsewhere in Paul to once again refer to this story (see 2 Cor. 11.3). What does 'deceived' mean here? It is not a comment about the woman's nature or naivete, but rather about her lack of adequate teaching. A person not properly instructed is much more easily deceived. Such was the case with Eve, and so, Paul implies in 1 Tim. 2 such is the case with these high status women who are new converts, but who think they can immediately instruct others including men; 5) the verb 'saved' in vs. 15 probably should not be rendered 'kept safe' as Paul uses another Greek term for that elsewhere. 'Sodso' is the normal term for 'saved' in a spiritual sense So then is Paul now an advocate of 'justification by grace through baby making' for women? Certainly not. One has to pay careful attention to my next point. 6) The phrase in question says 'the childbearing' referring to a particular one, and there is the odd toggling in the Greek between the singular childbearing and the 'they' who are saved through this. Last I checked multiple women cannot give birth to a single child. This means Paul is referring to a particular childbearing-- namely the birth of Jesus through Mary. Mary is seen as Eve in reverse. Just as Eve disobeyed and the fall ensued, Mary consented to God's plan and salvation came through her into our world. The curse on us all, including the curse on women was reversed in Mary. I would add that we must remember that the original curse involved these words--- 'your desire will be for your husband and he will Lord it over you'. To love and to cherish has been twisted into to desire and to dominate. In other words, both lust and the domineering of men over women are a result of the fall, which Jesus, coming through Mary came to reverse!

You will notice that all of this interpretation comes after the fact. You might never deduce some of this simply from reading the mere words in the passage above. Unless the text is studied in its historical literary, rhetorical, religious etc. contexts we are bound to distort its meaning and misuse it. A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.

The only proper hedge against misuse of such controversial texts like this is careful detailed study of the text in its immediate context, in the context of the Pastorals (noting for example how elsewhere in these documents Paul talks about older women who are mature Christians doing some teaching), in the context of Paul's letters in general, and in the context of Ephesus and the social world to which these words were written.


Jamison said...

Wonderful insights. I think your definition of 'authentein' really helps to understand more of the controversy in translation.

However, as you stated, it's how this passage is used in our communities that determines if it is used wrong.

Ben Witherington said...

Yes... but in fact if you (mis)translate the key verb here as 'exercise authority over', the false impression is left that Paul is not correcting an abuse or a problem. The impression is left that there is something wrong with women exercising authority in relationship to men in general-- which is not Paul's view at all.

Denny Burk said...

Dr. Witherington,

Have you considered the possibility that Paul is correcting a specific abuse by appealing to a general principle that women are not to teach or to exercise authority over a man?

Even if we grant the background as you have described it, it does not necessarily follow that verse 12 only reflects a correction of an abuse in a specific situation in Ephesus. It may very well be that Paul sees a specific abuse and corrects it by appealing to a more general principle that is rooted in Jewish-Christian patriarchy.


Marc Axelrod said...

This is one of those areas where my exegesis and my application are not consistent, and I am admitting this right off the bat.

I think that in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, and in 1 Timothy 2, Paul is teaching that there are certain congregational roles for women in the church and certain roles for men. There also seems to be an assumption underlying 1 Timothy 3:2 that elders are to be men.

To make a long story short, the texts seems to discourage the idea of women being pastors.

Now before I get crucified, let me say this. I personally have no axe to grind on this issue, and I have no problems fellowshipping with and supporting female pastors.

And if my niece or any other female came up to me and said, "Marc, I really want to serve the Lord as a pastor or as a preacher," I would not have the heart to discourage them. In my heart of hearts, I want as many people out there serving the Lord as possible.

So I am admittedly inconsistent here. I pray God that my exegesis is wrong on this, but that is how I read these texts.

The women in ministry roles that are mentioned in Romans 16 and Priscilla in Acts 18 are not compelling enough to persuade me exegetically that the door is being left open for women to be overseers in the congregation.

Having said that, this is not an emotional issue for me, I have no problem at all with women serving in the pastorate. I'm just trying to be as honest to God as I can in my exegesis, and I hope I am wrong!

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks to both Denny and Marc for their posts on this matter. Denny, the problem I have with your suggestion, which is certainly a possible one is that elsewhere Paul certainly does support the following: 1) women praying and prophesying in church (1 Cor. 11). We need to understand that in Paul's world preaching was not somehow seen as a more authoritative role than prophesying. In fact, Paul says very little about preaching per se as a gift one is called to. One could talk about being called to be an evangelist in Ephes. 4, but that is not preaching to the choir--- so to speak. The prophetic office clearly involved Christian women in Paul's day and it clearly involved proclaiming the Word of God directly to some group. It does not make sense that it was o.k. for women to do this, but not to exposit texts; 2) Acts 18 is clear enough about Priscilla and Aquila instructing Apollos. The issue of the venue of this teaching is unimportant. There were no church buildings in the first century anyway, and worship and Christian teaching took place in homes, in the streets, in rented halls and so on; 3) Even more to the point it is not up to us to decide who gets which spiritual gift or grace-filled task. 1 Cor. 12 is perfectly clear that the Spirit decides who gets which gift, and nothing is said about the Spirit preferring men for some of them. The issue then becomes is there evidence that this particular person is called and gifted for this or that form of ministry; 4) if you look carefully at Phil. 4 you will see Paul correcting two women who are his co-workers. The term co-worker here and elsewhere refers to co-worker in ministry. It is not clear what sort of ministry in this case, but Paul would not be correcting them in a public letter if it were not something of importance, and the implication at a minimum is that they are some kind of leaders, setting a bad example, in that church; 4) Romans 16 is equally clear that women can be both deaconesses, patrons, and also apostles-- see Eldon Epp's new book on Junia. To be an apostle, in Paul's view, meant one had seen the risen Lord, and was meant to proclaim and share about it; 5) 1 Timothy 3 refers to men as overseers and to women as deaconesses along with the men deacons. Why no women overseers here? That has been explained in 1 Timothy 2-- they need to be trained first. Notice 1 Tim. 2.6 is specific that the person in question is not to be a new convert. There is another factor that is important here. Paul is in the process of gradually changing the existing hierarchial structure of things. He does not do this all at once. He must start with people where they are, as will any good pastor, and then work one's way to the way things ought to be. There were indeed problems with the assumptions women and men brought to the Christian faith out of participation in paganism. Instruction was required first before people could teach and assume such roles. It is worth adding as well that teaching was viewed as more authoritative than preaching in such a culture anyway. This is why James warns not many to become teachers. It makes no sense today to suggest it is o.k. for women to teach in various settings but not to preach. That is privileging preaching in a way that the NT never does.


Ben W.

Ruud Vermeij said...


You capitalize Childbearing, with which you leave only one possible interpretation: the Birth of Christ. I know you want to keep a possible ambiguity in your translations, so do you think this is the only possibility? (Adding 'the' in brackets is enough to refer to the possibility of the birth of Christ in my opinion...)

Ruud Vermeij said...

And another interpretation I've heard of is that possibly Paul is correcting proto-gnostic teachings here.
In these teachings Eve was created first and helped God in creating Adam. It was also teached that by giving birth, women lost there salvation (or something like that.)

To set the record straight, Paul corrects the creation order and teaches that women (still) will be saved through childbearing.

It is assumed then, that it were women who teached this, and that is why they were not allowed to teach.

Have you ever heard of this and what do you think of it?

Ben Witherington said...


Thanks for these comments. I have heard of this view before. It presupposes that Paul did not write these documents, and in fact that they are perhaps second century documents responding to some form of Gnosticism. I have argued against this view in my commentary that will be out in the fall. There is really no hint of Paul opposing Gnosticism in these three letters.

As for your other point about capitalizing Childbearing--- good point! I shall uncapitalize it.



Marc Axelrod said...

Looking forward to the commentary out in the fall. Is this part of the Letters and Homilies of the NT series you are working on? Or this is a stand alone commentary on the pastorals? Or is it part of the socio-rhetorical series?

Also, in your view, what is the best way to preach the Pastoral epistles? Do you recommend a verse by verse approach where the big idea of the text is highlighted in the sermon?

Or would you take the theme of a given text and expound the theme?


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Marc:

I am doing three volumes for I-V called Letters and Homilies of the NT. Vol. 1 is the Pastorals and Johannine Epistles--- about 600 pages worth total. The second volume I have done the draft and it is James and Hebrews. The last volume is 1-2 Peter and Jude. All these are socio-rhetorical commentaries.

As for preaching the Pastorals, the answer is--- it depends. The faithful sayings lend themselves to one verse expositions on a theme. In other places like 1 Tim. 2.8-15 you will need to deal with the whole narrative--- but maybe over a series of sermons, thought unit by thought unit.



Ruud Vermeij said...

Thanks for your response.
In the way I understood the proto-Gnostic explanation (I deliberately wrote proto) there certainly are some traces of reactions to Gnostic-like teachings. I didn't understood that we have to give up the Pauline authorship for this view.

This is supported by the following verses:
(1:3-4) Strange doctrines, myths and endless genealogies
(4:1) To pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons
(4:3) Marriage was forbidden
(4:3) To abstain from foods
(6:4-5) Controversial questions and disputes about words
(6:20) knowledge, falsely so called

Forbidding marriage and loosing salvation in childbirth certainly have a strong link in my perception.

Do you think it is not possible that teachings like that were around in the first century, maybe not documented so early, but documentation always lags practise, doesn't it?

(Such an explanation certainly makes a lot of sense in the 2:8-15 paragraph to me, but I'm just a layman...)

Ben Witherington said...

1 Tim. 4.3 probably does not speak of the forbidding of marriage but rather to the discouraging of it. The verses that you are referring to make very good sense in the context of early Jewish, not proto-Gnostic discussions.

Mark Traphagen said...


I remain intrigued with your theories on this passage (and it has started quite a lively debate on my blog!), but I'm having a hard time with one of your points above:

5) 1 Timothy 3 refers to men as overseers and to women as deaconesses along with the men deacons. Why no women overseers here? That has been explained in 1 Timothy 2-- they need to be trained first. Notice 1 Tim. 2.6 is specific that the person in question is not to be a new convert.

It seems a bit of a stretch to me to believe that only women were "untrained" and "new converts" in both Ephesus and Timothy's church. Why would Paul not mention "untrained" men, who certainly existed?

Chris Giammona said...


Your comment on 1 Cor 14:34 seems confusing to me. Paul does not say that silence is what the law is talking about but submission and probably referring to Genesis 3:16.



Chris Giammona said...


Enjoyed the post - have you read Schreiner's (and others) book Women in the Church: An analysis and application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 - they come to a very different conclusion on the meaning of these verses.



Ben Witherington said...

Good questions one and all. Why doesn't Paul talk about untrained men in 1 Timothy 2-3? My theory is this. Remember that all these religions were patriarchal, and remember as well that men were the expected leaders in this culture, for the most part. Then bear in mind that Christianity is an evangelistic religion that needs to win converts. My theory is this. That Paul, if he has an option starts in the synagogues and starts by trying to convert some high status persons who have villas where the church could meet. This will mostly be men--- look at 1 Corinthians. The house of Stephanus and Gaius were obviously crucial. Not that Paul has any problems with the house of Lydia or Phoebe, but if you want to win friends and influence people you start with where people are. Then, as things developed, having established some male elders and leaders in various congregations which would not raise any cultural eyebrows, Paul then in the second wave of training and the like goes after high status women-- especially power couples like Priscilla and Aquila or Andronicus and Junia. The women start out serving as deaconesses like Phoebe, and then in time and with training can serve as overseers or full co-workers like Euodia and Syntyche in Phil. 4. There would always be exceptional women who were already doing far more, such as Junia the apostle.

I have not read Schreiners book I am afraid, but I will say this. Various of the church fathers like Chrysostom were perfectly clear on the issue of Paul's endorsement of women teachers and apostles, and did not interpret 1 Tim. 2 as excluding such things.

As for 1 Cor. 14, you are right--- both silence and submission are expected to the teaching when it is being offered. This is what Paul has found in the OT-- not the silencing of women. And while we are at it, we don't find any household codes about the submission of women in the OT either.



C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

"I have not read Schreiners book ... "

I can certainly see why someone might not want to read this book. R. Groothuis for one probably didn't sleep well after reading it. I told C.Westfall I was going to send a copy of her "work in progress" to Schreiner for a review but she told my I neednt bother since Schreiner will automatically be sent a review copy by the publisher.

I read "Women in the Church" a decade ago when it was new. Most of the discussion since this book was published has been retreads of material covered in this book. So, to not have read the book is to run the risk of raising questions that make it obvious to everyone else that you haven't read the book.

The full title is:

Kostenberger, Andreas J., Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9_15. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995

A friend of mine offered to buy me the second edition of this title a while back if he is reading this blog, this is a gentle reminder that I would like to have it.

cordial greetings,

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Clay:

Perhaps what you mean is that this book has been well reviewed and well received by the Reformed choir to whom it is preaching. I have seen no positive reviews of it outside of one particular swath of Evangelicalism, but I have only read a few reviews.

What I do know is this. I too have looked at the primary Greek sources in regard to the crucial verb 'authenteo' and it most certainly can mean 'to domineer' or 'to usurp authority over' and it has that sense regularly in a context where we are talking about a problematic use of power as in 1 Tim. 2.

This ground was traversed and well debated a long time ago, before Schreiner ever wrote the first edition of this book, and there has been no new primary source data on the issue of this vocabulary battle in a very long time.


Ben W.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Re: primary sources

I totally agree. Would much rather spend my time sweating over a few lines of Sophocles than reading mountains of secondary stuff.

I did note however that the two big english language works on the Pastorals, Mounce WBC, Marshal ICC, did take the time to interact with "Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9_15" A.Kostenberger et al.

I didn't bother to buy the book in '95 which tells you something about my level of interest in the discussion.

greetings, Clay

danzac said...

Dr. Witherington,
Thanks for this post. I have a question about your comment that Paul was "not now permitting" them to teach. "Permit" in the Greek is present active indicative- if Paul intended it to be permanent ban what would the Greek look like?

Also, have you read John Stackhouse's Finally Feminist? He argues that we need to think of this pragmatically- the gospel always comes first. In the first century full equality would have been scandalous and hurt the spread of the gospel. Today, it is scandalous for women to be excluded. Female subordination in the church is hurting the spread of the gospel now.

Danny Zacharias

Ben Witherington said...

Danny you make a good point--- as Paul says he was prepared to be all things to all people in order to win some, and this meant some flexibility on cultural issues--- without bending the truth (always a hard tightrope to walk).

If Paul had wanted to ban women from being teachers or elders he could quite easily have used the future tense here and said "I will never permit......."

john hallowell said...

The cultural connections between Ephesus and the verb "authentein" have always fascinated me, and definitely point to correcting an abuse.

The verb first appears in "Agamemnon" by Aescylus, and means "to murder vengefully." It describes the action of Clytemnestra who lures her husband Agamemnon to a place of worship after his victory in the Trojan War, and then stabs him to death in revenge.

The only use of this word for the centuries before Paul carried that same meaning.

Ephesus (where Timothy ministered) was the center of Artemis worship (Lat. Dianna of Acts 19) and her way of life (ie, worship of the goddess). In the greek tragedy, Agamemnon battles Artemis until he sacrifices his daughter to her. That sacrifice to Artemis is the catalyst for the vengeful murder ("authentein") by Clytemnestra.

Scholars have cited annual parades in antiquity which have had ritual stabbings to re-enact this act of revenge, although it has never been established that one took place in Ephesus (or Anatolia).

The choice of such a rare word with so many cultural connections makes one wonder how huge a correction problem Paul (and Timothy) were facing in the place where the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the world in that day.

ddj said...

So Timothy was to understand not that Paul did not permit women to teach but that new converts could not usurp established teachers?

I don't envy the young man in his task of deciphering the rest of Paul's instructions!

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks John for this. It boggles my mind that some have attempted a neutral translation like 'exercise authority over' for this verb here when in other abuse contexts it always has the sense of heavy handed use of power or authority.

I am not sure I understand your comment DDJ. Paul does want to say that he is not allowing neophyte women to assume such roles at present. They need to listen and learn first. This is the straightforward meaning of the text. But as he makes clear in 1 Tim. 3--- neophytes, those young in the faith shouldn't be holding such church posts or assuming such roles yet.

yuckabuck said...

I have heard the "neophyte women" theory, and consider it within the bounds of historical probability as an explanation for the passage. (I believe I first came across a similar idea in Leon Morris's Tyndale commentary on 1 Corinthians. I would see it as a good way to balance the conflict between 1 Cor 11 and 14:34-35, except that Gordon Fee's proposal that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation seems to me to have more heft behind based on purely text-critical grounds.)

However, here I'd like to ask Dr. Witherington about Fee's idea that Paul's ad-hoc instructions to Timothy were in specific response to the false teachers. Fee says that we should take seriously what Paul says in 1 Tim 1:3, that Paul is telling Timothy to stay in Ephesus in order to counteract false teaching. (As opposed to merely writing a "church manual" for "young pastor Timothy.") He also points to 1 Tim 5:13 as evidence, saying that the word translated "gossips" should be translated differently, as it refers more to those who "talk nonsense," ie. spread false teachings. Therefore, according to Fee, the reason why Paul "is not permitting women to teach" in Ephesus is because these (uneducated/ neophyte) women were the ones spreading the heresies. (This would also shed light on why Paul refers to Eve's being "deceived.")

I understand that this view may turn on the issues of authorship of the pastorals or the nature of the false teachings, and I have no disagreement with anything I have read here so far. I am not completely sure of your view's (author, false teachings), and so I am wondering perhaps where you would diverge from Fee on this.

Thanks for all the great material here! My wife grew up being put down because of her gender, and also felt that the women in her Romans class at Circleville Bible College were patronized when they expressed their opinions on the text, because of the patriarchal mindset that still lingers in Christianity. She read your post and all the comments here, and was very encouraged by them. God bless you!

Mathew Sims said...

The Genesis account never corrects Eve for "adding to the Scriptures." Also, the fact that Adam's teaching was adequate also appears no where in the OT or as a teaching in the NT.

Thoughtful and provoking post!

God bless you!

Mathew S.

Ben Witherington said...

Howdy Yuckabuck: I not only know Fee's views, I heard them in class many years ago when he was working on that commentary. I think Paul is the mind behind the Pastorals, but I think Luke is the one who wrote these documents on his behalf--- check out my commentary when it comes out in the fall for the details.

I think it is possible that these women might have been spreading false teaching, but I think that the term gossip probably just means gossip. What is interesting to me is that women are called 'masters of the household' in the Pastorals, and no one bothers to pick up on the fact that that means head of the household.

I do think the Pastorals are dealing with specific problems as does Fee, and are not just young pastor's manuals.



yuckabuck said...

Ahh, now that wasn't fair. Mentioning Dr. Fee's classes like that. Color me jealous! I mean, look at my position: Of my heroes, George Ladd is dead, and Gordon Fee is about to retire. When God opens a door for me to go to seminary, where can I go to study? I am a Vineyardite heavily influenced by John Wesley. (My son is named "Paul Wesley!") Naturally, then, I have been looking at Asbury Seminary, and the views of its various New Testament profs. The ones who aren't afraid of a little controversy when blogging seem to keep my interest more..... :-)

Weekend Fisher said...

It's seemed that the birth of Christ was the most natural reading of that she will be saved through childbearing. At that point it's still singular, the antecedent is Eve, and the salvation promise to Eve was through her offspring which eventually comes to the promise of Christ. Having long had a beef with the NIV rework of that text ...

Take care & God bless

ddj said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thanks for your exegetical labours, allow me to clarify my previous question.

My difficulty with your interpretation is not that it is not plausible. It gives a possible account of the meaning of the text, however, to me it lacks compelling force.

The problem is that Paul is talking about gender. The word 'andros' in v.10 is fatal to your exegesis. Why would neophyte women be prevented from teaching or usurping a "man"? Shouldn't they (on your account) not teach woman as well?

You interpret the Genesis reference in terms of Adam's failure to teach Eve. Much more likely in terms of Paul is that he is referring to creational gender differences. 1 Cor 11 advances similar thoughts, e.g. v.3. Paul had a strong creation theology. A woman is not to usurp a man here precisely because this would usurp the creation order God intended. The gar should be taken as giving the reason for the previous assertion.

The reference in v.15 to 'childbearing' also points to a creational understanding of different gender roles - women were privileged with the task of bringing the promised offspring into this world.

As for your comments on the tense of 'permit', check some Greek grammars. It's the present tense Paul would use if he wanted to make a command that would have continuing force. Certainly not the future sense, as you suggest.

Overall, I believe that moving the focus of the text away from gender issues and into categories such as 'neophytes' circumvents the real message Paul has for Timothy.

Finally, in terms of other texts on women ministry: I believe you're overlooking a crucial distinction between the charismata of the Holy Spirit poured out on all believers (Joel 2, 1 Cor 11:5, and many other texts) and the particular gift of being an office-bearer in the church. I believe Paul was conscious of this distinction, and Jesus as well. Why else would he appoint 12 bumbling men who didn't understand him to be apostles when the women around him were his more loyal and faithful followers? Also with Paul: there is simply no evidence that he wanted women to be overseers (the texts about 'fellow-workers' do not prove what you want them to). When we have names of office-bearers (Acts 1,6) they're men. I grant you deaconnesses. But the task of teaching falls under the 'overseer' category (1 Tim 5:17) - is a woman ever called an overseer?

graham old said...

Ben, thanks for this post.

I've always found this line of reasoning not completely satisfying, but you might have just converted me.

My one remaining question is over the suggestion that "to teach" and "to domineer over" cannot be separated as you have. I have read a fair deal on the argument that we should read this as "to teach authoritatively", but my Greek is to rusty to come to a final assessment of the argument.

Do you have any thoughts on that?

Ben Witherington said...

This discussion is very fruitful.
I have several rebuttals for DDJ.

First of all as we said in our previous discussion of 'aner' in the previous post this term can even include women. One could in fact translate it here 'person', though in fact I don't think it means that here due to the context. This should caution us against drawing conclusions too rapidly as to what is going on here.

Elsewhere in the Pastorals however you will notice it is only the older and more mature Christian women who are to teach the younger ones. There is something about younger women who are new converts that is at issue in Ephesus, and as 1 Tim. 3.6 shows, Paul doesn't want new converts assuming any such roles.

As for DDJ's comment about 'permitting' being some kind of eternal ban, Philip Payne has already answered that question and his work should be consulted. Lexicons do not tell you the time limits on a present tense Greek verb! The context does.

Is it remotely possible that Paul could have used the present tense to talk about a perpetual ban here-- yes it is remotely possible. Not all possibilities are equally probable however, and there are much better ways to make this point, if Paul wanted to do so--- such as using the future tense with the word 'never'. Gordon Fee is perfectly clear on this point, and frankly no one knows the Greek of this text better than he does.

This text cannot be read to mean a perpetual ban on women teaching or even on teaching men, because our author turns right around and tells the older women how to teach, starting with the younger women and we have the case of Acts 18 with Priscilla teaching in this very location.

While we are at it, boys are also men. As 'head of the household' in the Greco-Roman world women along with their husbands were expected to teach 'little men'. Paul says nothing against this. It was not a gender issue then, and it should not be now.

Furthermore, DDJ, the issue here in 1 Tim. 2 is not creation theology, but fall theology. Eve was not deceived by being born a woman! The story Paul is alluding to is the story of the woman's deception by the snake of course. Adam's sin was worse--- he sinned knowing more and having received direct instructions from God personally. This is how early Jewish exegesis read the fall story, and this is how we should read this as well.

As for the headship argument in 1 Cor. 11, one had better be careful. God is said to be the head of Christ in that same argument. What does this mean? It cannot be an idea based on gender! It also cannot mean that Jesus is some how a lesser being than the Father. It furthermore cannot mean that Jesus ought not to do the very same things the Father does. Its most natural sense here is that the Father is the source (kephale) of the Son, a perfectly normal meaning of the term.

Here then in 1 Cor. 11 we do have an allusion to the creation story that Adam was the source of Eve's being, quite literally. But what follows from this? Does Paul argue that women should not pray and prophesy in church? Absolutely not.

Rather he goes through a convoluted argument to explain why they need to wear a headcovering while doing it! He has no problems with women speaking authoritatively and even in inspired fashion in worship.

The reason why they must wear a headcovering is not in deference to men, but rather because he argues: 1) a woman's hair is her glory: 2)only God's glory should show up in worship, so 3) women need a headcovering; and 4) don't forget the story in Gen. 6.1-4 about the naughty lustful angels looking for glorious women! A very interesting argument indeed.

Furthermore, DDJ 'authentein' doesn't mean just 'usurp a man'-- it refers to an illegitimate use of power or authority, in this case over men. It is the very sort of behavior that is said to be the curse that will plague women when God says "..and he will lord it over you or domineer you". Such behavior by either sex is a result of the fall, not the original creation design. Abuse of power by women or men is a bad thing, and does not rule out the proper use of such power.

So far as I can see from 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12, there is nothing whatsoever said about men being office bearers, and women not being. Those texts are not talking about 'offices' anyway. That is pure anachronism. They are talking about church functions which the Spirit gifts a person to do, or not. And the Spirit does not simply employ men.

If it were really the case that you have to be an elder to be a teacher, something which Paul nowhere says, how in the world do you explain texts like Acts 18.24-26? It was Paul himself who set this couple up in Ephesus to set up the church there before he returned. This teaching by Priscilla and Aquila is in the very same setting to which the Pastorals are written.

That elders are said to also be teachers in the Pastorals is true enough. Nothing is said about them being the only teachers for the church, as is perfectly clear from the reference to older women teaching. You simply cannot squeeze out of these texts an argument that goes like this: 1) only men are mentioned as elders here, therefore only men should be elders; 2) only men elders are mentioned as teachers here, so only they should be official teachers-- this is clearly falsified by the context.

And if in fact you look closely at what sunergoi means, co-worker, you will find out it indeed refers to various sorts of ministerial tasks. Andronicus and Junia in Rom 16.7 did not get thrown in jail for knitting sweaters and serving tea!

What happens to the argument for male privilege when it comes to preaching or teaching in the church is that it dies the death of a thousand qualifications, the most ridiculous of which is--- 'well women can do these things on the mission field since there is no alternative, but not in my church here at home thank you'.

As for Graham's good question-- you are suggesting that the two verbs are creating some sort of hendiadys, but this does not work. In the Greek the word 'teach' begins the phrase and is separated from the verb 'domineer/usurp authority over' by five other Greek words. Even more clear is the fact that we have the word 'nor' right before the verb 'domineer'-- the Greek reads 'but for women to teach I am not now permitting, nor to domineer over men....'



graham old said...

Thanks, Ben. That 'nor' would seem to be the clincher.

The Table Guy said...


This discussion has been extremely helpful for me. Thank you for taking the time.

This was my first visit to your blog.

LovesToRead said...

Thank-you Dr. Witherington for this encouraging article and your thoughtful responses to the posters here.

The teaching on women in some churches is very discouraging. I wish all the women in those congregations could read your article. I know it would help them as it has helped me.

ddj said...

Thanks Dr. Witherington for your willingness to interact on this question! Can't say I'm 100% convinced but you've given me a lot of food for thought, and I definitely can appreciate that our traditions continually need to be rethought in the light of Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria

Ben Witherington said...

You are all welcome. The more we know about the context of Scriptures that are controversial, the least likely we are to distort them---- hopefully.

Chris Giammona said...


Thoroughly enjoyed following this discussion as I read numerous books to think through these issues.


Luke Britt said...

Dr. Witherington,

I noticed you mentioned the women in Philippians 4. I was wondering, as I haven't read any of your material or studied your theology, when you refer to these women as co-workers or fellow workers, how do you justify that all of them are in some type of authoritative church leadership position?

My wife is my "fellow-worker" in ministry, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she is in an "important" church office, such as elder, apostle, et cetera. Could it be possible that these people - Euodia and Syntyche and Clement and the rest - are simply working (serving as deaconesses or simply layity) to advance the kingdom in that particular church, but do not hold a certain apostolic office?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Luke:

The term 'sun-ergoi' means co-worker and refers to a co-worker in ministry when Paul uses it. It can connote a variety of roles ranging from fellow apostle like Andronicus and Junia, to deacon or deaconness like Phoebe.

There is no distinction in the NT between the so-called 'authoritative church leadership' roles and the 'fellow-worker' roles. But even if there were it wouldn't matter since we have clear evidence of women as prophetesses, women as deacons, women as teachers, women as apostles which are leadership roles-- and the generic term 'co-worker' refers to any and all such ministerial roles.


Ben W.

ddj said...

"There is no distinction in the NT between the so-called 'authoritative church leadership' roles and the 'fellow-worker' roles."

I guess the heart of the difference between us, Dr. Witherington, is that I believe the NT evidence goes overwhelmingly against you on this one. There may be cases where women teach, serve, minister, but the authoritative task of ruling the church is a distinct special office. This is abundantly clear in the pastorals. Paul wanted Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5). This was clearly an office to which people were specifically set apart. He wrote to all the saints, together with overseers and deacons, Phil 1:1. He spoke to Ephesian elders, Acts 20. He told them to keep watch over the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. Peter also refers to elders as shepherds, 1 Pet 5:2, saying God's flock was under their care. Always and everywhere, there is a special office with a particular authoritative or overseeing function. In contrast to this special ruling office, the whole congregation is to exercise the charismata of the Spirit towards one another, teaching and admonishing one another. (Col 3, Eph 5, Rom 12 and so on).

I think if you research the synagogue background to early Christianity you'll find ample evidence of ruling elders that were male.

Furthermore you must believe the early church perverted apostolic Christianity very early on. Clement was bishop of Rome before the end of the first century. His letters clearly show a distinction between authoritative church leadership roles and regular congregational ministry. There's simply no doubt in his mind, also other early fathers. (There is never, to my knowledge, a case of a woman bishop or overseer.)

Anyways, from NT evidence to OT background to the early church to the institution of the synagogue - there are weighty objections to your flattening of the special authoritative office into simply a 'fellow-worker' role that is no different than the other tasks mentioned in the NT.

Please consider the evidence...


Dave dJ

Bob said...


Bob said...

If God gave Christ "all authority", and is the "kephale" of Christ, can it be said that Kephale means "authority over"? (when the Father gave such to the Son?)

Tolle, Blogge said...

Ben: What do you think of the argument (I can't recall where I read it) that 1 Tim 5:1-2 lays out parallel categories that implies male and female elders, calling on him to to treat:

Older men (KJV "elders" - presbuteros) - as fathers
Younger men - as brothers
Older women (presbuteras) - as mothers
Younger women - like sisters

Ben Witherington said...


I am happy to consider the evidence, as long as we look at all of it. It would include the evidence that the term elder was used of both men and women in the Diaspora syangogue, and so the proof that elders are appointed hither and yon doesn't necessarily mean they are all men. See Bernadette Brooten's work on women as office holders in the synagogue. Secondly, if Junia was an apostle its pretty clear she had a leadership role, even if she did it in tandem with her husband. The supposition that elder=men does not work. It was the normal term for an older person, and was sometimes used of women though sometimes presbuteras is also used. The situation is much the same with the term deacon. And indeed John Chrysostom is perfectly clear about women apostles, and yes there were also women who served as overseers, house church leaders, presidents of synagogues and so on.

So by all means lets look at all the evidence from church history as well. Archaeologically we have also found evidence in Turkey for churches where women were some of the leaders of the church, and got themselves painted into the church walls in the lineup with the other leaders.

I am rather mystified by your comment about Clement of Rome. If you read his Corinthian letter it is based on Paul's 1 Corinthians, and I can find nothing whatsoever in that letter that suggests he thinks only men should hold 'offices' whatever that might mean. In a patriarchal culture women often bore male titles in religious movements-- such as priest, elder, deacon, overseer, president etc. This was true in Jewish, pagan, and Christian religion.



Matt said...

In case anyone is wondering, Ben Witherington is mistaken when he suggests that Paul's use of ἐπιτρέπω in 1 Ti. 2:12 is an ephemeral true present in force: "I am not [now] permitting a woman to teach..." (sc. "but I will do so later!"). Quite the contrary, the verb ἐπιτρέπω ordinarily indicates the granting of a permission that would not otherwise obtain:

Acts 26:1 "Agrippa said to Paul, "It is permitted for you to speak for yourself." Context: a formal self-defense before Agrippa and Bernice. Paul did not previously have permission to speak until he was granted it by Agrippa.

Hebrews 6:1-3 "Therefore, setting aside the account of the beginning of Christ, let us press on to completeness...not laying again the foundation...And this we will do if God permits." Understood: if God doesn't, the author won't.

Matthew 19:8 "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your heart." Yes, and what would it have meant for Moses to say, "I do not permit you..."?

Mark 5:13 and Luke 8:32 "And He gave them permission [to enter into the herd of swine."

Mark 10:4 "They said, "Moses permitted [a man] to write her a writ of separation and divorce her."

John 19:38, "And Pilate permitted [Joseph of Arimathea to take the body]." Had he not done so, Joseph would have tried to bury it at his peril.

Acts 27:3 "And Julius, treating Paul kindly, permitted him to go to his friends and get care."

It is interesting that the only two times this verb appears with a negative are in the two passages at issue, 1 Ti. 2:12 and 1 Cor. 14:33-36. I trust that my little survey of the times it appears in the positive are sufficient to demonstrate that its NT meaning is "to give permission to do X", where X is an activity that may not be done without permission. The natural assumption, therefore, is that Paul is not granting women dispensation to talk in church -- and that no such dispensation has ever existed. In other words, this "I am not permitting" is not equivalent to "Yeah, I know you women are used to talking in the church, but I am all of a sudden not permitting it." The word, as you can see above, is not used that way. Otherwise why would Paul preface his remarks in 1 Cor. 14:33 with "as in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches."

Witherington is also making an unwarrantable claim about Greek when he says, regarding "women shall be saved through childbearing" that "The phrase in question says 'the childbearing' referring to a particular one, and there is the odd toggling in the Greek between the singular childbearing and the 'they' who are saved through this. Last I checked multiple women cannot give birth to a single child. This means Paul is referring to a particular childbearing-- namely the birth of Jesus through Mary."

This, while an old interpretation and certainly possible, is not compelled (pace Witherington) by the presence of the Greek article in διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας. Despite that article, it is still perfectly idiomatic Greek for "the [general activity of] childbearing." Indeed, that is the normal meaning of the word; I can find no instance of τεκνογονία being a term of art for the Virgin birth.

It is also unwarranted for Witherington to complain of the impossibility of multiple women engaging in singular "childbearing." There is no more problem here than there would be with plural men engaging in singular "turkey-hunting" or "back-slapping." (The objects included in those compound nouns are also singular, yet everyone understands that we are dealing with a so-called "corporate" singular. So too would the Greeks. Indeed, in Mt. 19:8, mentioned above, Jesus speaks of "the hardness of your (plural) heart (singular)." English does not usually distribute singulars over plurals; Greek does.

Regarding Junias, computer-assisted research has established that episemos + dative has an elative force, and thus means “well known to” the apostles, rather than "well known among the apostles" (Consult this article for a report of the TLG results).

Matt said...

Brooten's work on women in the synagogue is not accepted by, e.g. Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church. The evidence that little children also bore the title "archisynagogos" makes it doubtful, to say the least, that women were in charge. Given that Brooten's other major work is "Love Between Women", and that she is a flaming egalitarian feminist, I take her scholarship with a grain of salt. Certainly the NT seems pretty clear that synagogue rulers and elders of the people were men, as were all rabbis and members of the Sanhedrin and gerousia. There is also the argument from silence: if women were ruling synagogues, when did the Rabbis disenfranchise them of this office? For they have been prohibited from addressing the congregation for as long as there is record.

Amusingly, J. Paul Samply's NIB commentary on 1 Corinthians just flips out and adopts the ninja solution to the problem of squaring 14:34-6 with women preaching: "This harsh passage, urging women's silence in church and subordination to their husbands, with an unspecified reference to 'the law' as support, is probably an insertion by an editor who subsequently took this Pauline letter and brought it into conformity with the practices regarding women in his own subsequent-to-Paul time." I am reminded of certain Anglicans who dismiss the entire book of Titus as pseudo-Pauline because of its equation of "episcopos" with "presbyteros."

Matt said...

Paul Bradshaw also does not see Brooten's work as compelling, mainly because of lack of evidence. (The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, p. 195)

Ben Witherington said...

Well Matt, you have certainly gone out of your way to try and come up with some evidence that I am wrong about this. Glad to see you have done some homework on this, but there are flaws in your argument.

There are a whole variety of things you failed to say: 1) first of all most of the examples in regard to the verb permit are not at all relevant. As you admit the additional examples you cite are not negating anything (they do not involve the word 'not') and furthermore why in the world would you cite examples that aren't in the present tense, which are doubly irrelevant? This evidence does not prove what you think it does. 2) It is entirely an argument from silence to assume that someone is 'not' permitted to do something unless someone gives them permission. The only exception to this would be if there was some known previous ban of such activity.

But alas, there is no such previous banning of women speaking in an assembly, either in the OT or in other early Jewish literature, much less in Gentile religious assemblies. It is no true that many men did not take seriously the testimony of women when they spoke in religious settings. You can see this male prejudice quite clearly in the Gospels--- see Lk. 24.11, but of course in this story the men were quite wrong to ignore what the women said, as Peter apparently realized.

After 70 A.D. early Jewish leaders changed a lot of things, because they saw themselves as in survival mode. This unfortunately effected women negatively, as was the case with the way the church began to treat women in the 3rd-4th centuries.

There is textual evidence that 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 may not be an original part of the text, because some manuscripts have these verses at a later spot in the chapter. I do not find this argument compelling, despite Sampley's suggestions, but it is possible.

As for the TLG, the 'elative' reading is not impossible, but it is far from the most likely reading of the text in light of the context in Romans. I would refer you to Eldon Epp's new book on Junia which makes clear how very unlikely an elative reading which amounts to translating 'noteable to' is.

Finally, Bernadette Brooten did not make up the evidence that is in her book. It is papyrological and epigraphical evidence available for all to see and interpret. It is not appropriate to dismiss evidence because you disagree with a person's life style, since plenty of people who do not agree with her lifestyle have recognized that this evidence is valuable and should be considered. That's just a totally inappropriate ad hominem argument that ignores evidence.

It is true that there is at least one example where archisynagogos refers to a child. However the honorific inscriptions also make clear that many times this term refers to women assuming adult roles within the synagogue. So again, as with the 'elative force' argument, you should not assume that rare or exceptional cases rule out the majority of the evidence. This is simply not logical.

Finally, in regard to the silence argument in 1 Cor 14 there are the following points to note: 1) the same verb for silence is used of both men and women earlier in the discussion of speaking in tongues with interpretation. One should be silent while another speaks says Paul. This has nothing to do with a total ban on men or women speaking as the context makes clear. It is dealing with inappropriate speech, as is also the case in 1 Cor. 14.33b-36. Notice that the women are told in these verses to ask their questions at home. The issue then is not all speaking but questions which are causing chaos in worship.

It is understandable that it might be assumed by Gentiles that questions were appropriate, since this is what you did when you listened to a prophet in the Greek world-- you asked them personal questions like 'should I buy this land' or 'should I marry this woman'. See my commentary Conflict and Community in Corinth.

2) Lastly it is debated whether the phrase 'as in all the churches' goes with what follows or with what precedes. Is Paul concerned about how women behave in all the churches, or just this one when he writes this? The reason the phrase may go with what precedes is that Paul is most certainly concerned that decorum and behavior be the same in all the churches because 'God is a God not of chaos but of peace in all the churches'. Human behavior should match God's intent and presence and work in each assembly. Chaos was happening in Corinth. Paul must correct it, and one way to do so is to appeal to the fact that his audience needs to exhibit godly behavior.



Ben Witherington said...

In the paragraph that begins 'But alas there is no.....' I accidentally omitted the word 'doubt' in the sentence which should read 'But it is no doubt true....'

Bob said...

Ben said:
3) the verb here is 'I am not (now) permitting'. As Philip Payne has shown, there is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where this form means " I am permanently banning women from teaching etc.' This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach. Paul could have said "I will never permit women to teach..." but he did not, and for a good reason. He is correcting a problem;.

Bob says: One thing that could greatly buttress this argument would be to have examples where it is more obvious that such a use of language is being used, preferably from the NT, but even if outside the scriptures. Do such examples exist? If they don't, it would surely bring doubt to bear upon the argument...

Matt said...

I grant you that when lesbians and feminists have good data, it is valuable. The problem with Brooten is that the world's best scholars on early synagogue and church don't buy her conclusions because the evidence is not compelling. Or do you think Bradshaw and Burtchaell are prejudiced against women's ordination? I've done nothing unkosher here. You cited Brooten, not her evidence. So I cited two scholars who don't believe her interpretation. You want to wrangle about the evidence? Go ahead and cite it. Make the case. But don't cite this scholar as though she were the last word. She isn't.

In a similar manner, you continue to cite Payne on epitrepo. I haven't read Payne, but you claim that the verb never means "I am permanently banning." Well of course not! It is not a verb of banning, either temporarily or permanently. It is a verb of giving permission. As any parent can tell you, "I'm not giving you permission" implies a previously existing prohibition or prevention. This is not an "argument from silence" at all. A standing prohibition is entailed by the act of giving permission, as well as by the act of not doing so -- just as a surface is implied by the verb "to walk."

Bob wants some lexical evidence. Rightly so, because Witherington has offered nothing to prove his claim. Ben won't accept my Biblical citations of epitrepo as relevant, because he thinks maybe the meaning of the verb changes when it turns aorist. It doesn't, but I'll play along. I just TLG'ed the 319 instances of "ouk epitrep-" (present with a negative). The search doesn't include some results with the other negative "me", as well as any results where the negative is separated from the verb. But it doesn't matter. The results that did turn up are enough to refute Witherington's notions about the word. Here's a sample:

Xenophon, Memorabilia of Socrates, 4.14.2:
Ennoei d' hoti kai ho pasi phaneros dokon einai Helios ouk epitrepei tois anthropois heauton akribos horan, all', ean tis auton anaidos egxeirei theasasthai, ten opsin aphaireitai.

"And he supposes that he who obviously seems to all men to be Helios does not permit men to look right at him, but if someone tries to watch him in a shameless way, he takes away his sight."

The sun does not permit men to look at him. Present indicative. You think this is a temporary prohibition? The sun's gonna change his mind later?

I suppose you might then suggest that, as I have not got the first person singular with the present tense and negative, my results are not compelling. But if that combination is what Payne bases his claims on, then it rests on air, for there are no sources that use "ouk epitrepo" in the present indicative 1st person except Paul and church fathers who quote him.

Except one.

Catena Graecorum patrum, p. 366.21:
Ou monon gar, phesi, tous epikaloumenous to onoma mou kai dunameis poiountas ouk epitrepo koluien, alla kai apodechomenous humas kai poterion monon psuchrou prospherontas humin...

"For he says, I (Jesus) do not permit the hindering, not only of those who call upon my name and do (my) miracles, but even of those who receive you and provide you with a single cup of cold water."

This is a temporary prohibition? Maybe Jesus didn't permit messing with his disciples in the apostolic age, but now he does? That is, maybe you are a cessationist about apostolicity?

No. What the author means is that Jesus doesn't permit it, ever.

Paul uses the same construction. "I don't permit it."

What's the problem with my argument again, Ben?

dacroteau said...

Regarding 'authentein': it is in a construction (two verbs [here infinitives] connected by oude) in which both verbs (in this case "to teach" and "to have authority") are either positive or negative. Since "to teach" is a positive term, 'authentein' should also be understood positively, and not in a usurping manner.

Have you ever considered the meaning of that construction? See pages 245-46 for more on this.

Ben Witherington said...


May I just suggest, since there seem to be various gaps in your argument that you go and carefully read through my book Women in the Earliest Churches. You will see there are significant problems with the way you are approaching the Greek evidence on several grounds, not the least of which is you are reading far too much into the phrase "I am not permitting...".

Consider this comment of yours, which I quote here---

" As any parent can tell you, "I'm not giving you permission" implies a previously existing prohibition or prevention. This is not an "argument from silence" at all. A standing prohibition is entailed by the act of giving permission, as well as by the act of not doing so -- just as a surface is implied by the verb "to walk."

Frankly this remark dumbfounded me. I am parent and there have been plenty of times when I have said to one of my children-- "I am not giving you permission to do this", whereas I had given them permission previously on another occasion, and I did give them permission thereafter. I heard the same endlessly from my own mother. Sometimes there were reasons for not giving permission, sometimes there was no reason not to. It all depended on the circumstances.

There is absolutely nothing in the Greek phrase in 1 Tim. 2 itself which suggests a previously existing prohibition any more than there is in the English equivalent of this phrase. You would have to come to this conclusion on the basis of the context not the grammar or syntax. The verb 'permit' is a very ordinary verb in Greek. Once more, I suggest you go and read Philip Payne's careful work on this.



Ben Witherington said...

Mr. Dacroteau ( I hope I got that name right):

You are absolutely right that either both verbs in a parallel construction like this (the verbs referring to teaching and authority/power) are positive or both verbs are negative and here the Greek is perfectly clear--- they are both negative here, not in themselves, but when coupled with 'not and nor'.

Sometimes the construction is 'neither... nor' sometimes the construction is 'not... nor' as here.

The Greek term 'oude' here means 'nor' not 'or'. It is a negative term just as the term 'not' (ouk) is a negative term.

I must say that this remark you have made baffled me as it is the opposite of what the Greek lexicons will tell you if you look up the term 'oude' or the construction 'ouk....oude' or 'oude...oude' or even 'alla... oude'.


Ben W.

Matt said...

Dr. Witherington, I think you have misunderstood my point. You are quite right to say that the Greek verb "epitrepo" works exactly like the English "permit." When I speak of "the implied prohibition", all I mean is the very simple notion that if Paul is in position to "permit" something, then the women in question were in the position of doing it "without permission." The women were not free to say, "Oh, Paul doesn't permit. That's nice. Who needs his permission?"

Of course, I am not saying that "I do not permit" implies "I never have permitted" or "I never will permit." That would be silly. But it does imply, "At the time of my speaking, everyone knows you can't do X without my permission." It implies, that is, just what I said: a standing prohibition, not an eternal or immemorial prohibition.

In other words, "I do not permit" is not equivalent to "I hereby forbid."

But all that is quite by the by. The main point is this: I am contending is that "ouk epitrepo" often means "I do not ever permit" -- in other words, it can effect, or continue, a permanent ban on an activity, contrary to Payne's and your assertion in your initial post. I maintain that it need not be a merely temporary thing, though of course it may.

I gave you Greek examples and quoted and translated them for you. Do you have nothing to say about them?

Ben Witherington said...


Thank you for this clarification. This makes much better sense. Here is the truth about this matter as I see it.

Had Paul said "You know I do not permit women to teach...." then we could talk about a standing prohibition. But here Paul has to take a position, seemingly for the first time, because of the problems he is dealing with with men grumbling, women dressing inappropriately and so on. The examples you cite don't prove your point.

By the way I suspect we could find plenty of examples of this verb plus the negative if the search was widened to classical Greek and Hellenistic Greek, not just church Greek.

Further, if Paul wanted to say 'I still do not permit',I would have thought he would use a particle like 'eti' to make this point, because the phrase as it now stands does not convey the strong sense you want it to make.

I am not saying your reading of it is totally impossible, I am simply saying it is unlikely, especially in view of the context which involves correcting a current problem.

You see Matt, there is no knock down argument that can prove your case. You may be right, and I may be right, or we could both be wrong. This issue, in this case can not be settled by lexicons and the minutiae of Greek grammar. That language like ours was flexible.

What helps is a better knowledge of all the contexts, including the way that Paul argues elsewhere about things. For example, there is absolutely no point to the long argument in 1 Cor. 11 about women praying and prophesying in worship with a headcovering, if in fact Paul's view is that women should be silent in church and never offer any sort of authoritative 'thus says the Lord' kind of utterances in that venue. He could have simply said in 1 Cor. 11 women should not speak in church.

He does not do that. Instead he permits speech with headcoverings, which in turn makes it very unlikely that he then contradicts himself by turning around in 1 Cor. 14 and forbids women speaking in church.

You need to understand that when I went to do my doctoral work in England on Women in the NT, I was skeptical about women's ordination and their assuming such roles, despite having several seminary professors who thought it was Biblical.

It was precisely the years of study and looking at all the evidence from multiple angles which thoroughly convinced me that I had previously been wrong about this. So I changed my mind.

As time has gone on in the last 25 years not only has this conviction been strengthened, I have seen what marvelous work women do as preachers and teachers, and have been blessed to work along side some of them.

I can tell you that some Evangelicals make it very hard for them to pursue God's call on their life-- and I see this as very sad and wrong. You should judge the tree by the fruit that it bears.



Matt said...

I see that you still have no answer to the TLG-searched counterexamples that just popped the bubble of your (and Payne's) false claim that ouk epitrepo always means "I do not permit for a time."

I too have thought about this issue for years, and I am consistently appalled at the dishonesty about Greek that your side engages in.

Ben Witherington said...


Shame on you. Dishonesty--- now you have really gone much too far. Your examples simply do not prove what you are suggesting. Any Greek verb in the present tense can refer to an action that is currently happening which may or may not stop in the future. There is nothing in the present tense itself that suggests an infinite extension of time, a universal ruling or the like. Only the context can tell you that, and sometimes the context is not clear.

More to the point, since we are dealing with a present tense with the negative you can certainly render this either--- 1) I am not now permitting or 2) I am not permitting; or possibly 3) I do not permit. It is only if you render it the third way that you could come to the conclusions you do. But nothing in the verb with the negative itself requires such a meaning, and this would be true if the verb was some other verb. 4) as the Greek grammarians will tell you, the basic sense of Greek verbs is not TIME of action, but rather KIND of action--- complete, or incomplete, as is true with Hebrew as well. In this case the verb suggests ongoing action or refusal of permission in the present which may have begun in the past, or may have begun the minute Paul said this. You can't tell. Your examples are fine, but they do not give you an answer to this question either.



Matt said...

If you reread my comments, you'll observe that my TLG examples were never intended to settle the exegesis of the text of Paul -- nor did I present them as though they did so. I have always allowed that the verb epitrepo may often be used for temporary prohibitions. I do not need a lecture on the translation of the Greek present tense.

All my examples were intended to do was refute YOUR claim that "This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach."

As my examples show, ouk epitrepo implies no such thing. That's my claim: you are wrong to say that ouk epitrepo "implies a ban for a specific period of time until X."

I have said nothing to try to prove that the passage reads the way I think it does. I have only attacked your lexicographical claim as a false one. Do you retract it?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Matt:

Words only have meanings in contexts. You are suggesting they have meanings in the abstract-- I am saying they don't. Its not a case of 'in the beginning was the dictionary'.

So I guess we are talking at cross purposes--- when I said the verb epitrepho plus ouk means something, I meant that the verb means this in this context, and could mean that in others as well.

I did not mean that the phrase ouk epitrepho without an object and without a sentence context in the abstract necessarily means something of limited duration. If that is what you took me to mean-- then I am sorry.

I am simply saying that the phrase in a context like this could mean what I am suggestng. That's all I am claiming and Phil Payne has provided the examples. In other words its not a purely lexicographical issue, and in any case lexicons are drawn up on the basis of actual usage.

Sorry if we have ben talking past each other, but its time to draw this conversaton t a close.



dacroteau said...

Let me clarify. Of course, oude is negative. What I was trying to say (but I obviously failed) was that in the construction of verb oude verb, the verbs either have positive meanings or negative meanings. Thus, if they have negative meanings, "authentein" refers to "usurping authority" or "domineering" while "teaching" would have to refer to "false teaching." If positive connotations, then teaching refers to simply teaching (correct doctrine) and "authentein" refers to "having authority" in an appropriate way. Since Paul uses "didaskein" positively in all its uses in the pastorals (maybe I should say "Luke" for you), "authentein" must also be positive.
Hopefully that makes more sense. Sorry about that.

Matt said...

I rather resent being lectured on the nature of lexicography. I did not say that "ouk epitrepo" has a meaning in the abstract. I didn't just pull out LSJ or BADG and say "ipse dixit." Rather, I cited other passages of literature in which the construction occurs.

As I'm sure you know, context and lexical meaning are mutually limiting concepts. Context has no existence apart from denotation. If words did not have more or less constant denotations across different contexts, they could not combine to make meaning in a context.

It is this dynamic of context and lexical meaning that must always inform any interpretive endeavor. I took your "literal renderings of texts" post as an attempt to clarify the big picture by recourse to more precisely scrutinized word usage and historical/contextual considerations. When you said "there is not a single instance in Greek literature..." and "this is a verb that implies..." -- I naturally took your statements as a claims, not about the context of 1 Tim. 2, but about Greek word usage (as you said, "in Greek literature"), and aimed my TLG search accordingly. For I have indeed found several passages in which "ouk epitrepo" enforces or enacts what amounts to a permanent ban on an activity. I showed you those passages and translated them for you.

It is not kosher for a theologian to pull the magic wand of "Greek word usage" out of his pocket to wow the Greekless masses ("Whoah! You mean all the major English Bibles are mistranslating that verb?"), and then when the counterexamples emerge, start claiming that he was really appealing to context, not lexicography.

Ben Witherington said...


The examples you cite only show that it is possible that the phrase in question could mean what you have suggested, implying an ongoing ban. I am however not sanguine that some of the examples you offer really have that sense, but for the sake of argument let's say they do. What you would have to demonstrate is that it 'must' have such a sense, that is that there is no other way to render the phrase in question. This you did not demonstrate.

I suggested other ways the phrase could be translated such as 'I am not (now) permitting', explained that there is nothing in this particular configuration of words that necessarily implied an ongoing ban (nor does the lexicography suggest otherwise), I suggested as well that if Paul had really wanted to clearly say what you are suggesting that we might have expected this phrase to include a word like 'eti'--- 'I am still not permitting....'

What this means is that neither you on the basis of the examples you have cited (which should be compared to Payne's examples) nor I have ruled out the other's possible rendering on the basis of this kind of argument.

I would add that it is a mistake, an a large one, to assume that just because we call the present tense in Greek 'the present continual tense' it is necessarily referring to something that has been previously true and/or will always continue to be true. It simply refers to some kind of ongoing activity or condition in the present--- that's it.

So, there is nothing which I originally said that is either implausible or impossible from the point of view of the koine Greek, and I have not waved any magic wands to impress the Greekless audience. Some of yur comments were simply inappropriate if not unChristian in tone.

Nevertheless, overall I think you have raised some important points.



Matt said...


If you can explain how Xenophon's sun or the Catena's Christ is going to change his mind later, be my guest. And there are plenty more examples where those two came from.

You write:
"What this means is that neither you on the basis of the examples you have cited (which should be compared to Payne's examples) nor I have ruled out the other's possible rendering on the basis of this kind of argument."

Good. That is precisely what I wanted to accomplish. There is a huge difference between that, and your earlier statement "There is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where..."

dacroteau said...

Ben said: “I have seen no positive reviews of it outside of one particular swath of Evangelicalism, but I have only read a few reviews.”

Let me inform you, then.

Peter O’Brien, Southern Cross Newspaper (Sept 1996), published by Anglican Media in Sydney, Australia. Positive review.

Helge Stadelmann, Jahrbuch fur evangelikale Theologie 6 (1996): 421-25. Positive review.

Alan G. Padgett, “The Scholarship of Patriarchy (on 1 Timothy 2:8-15): A Response to Women in the Church,” Priscilla Papers 11, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 24. Though he refers to Kostenberger’s analysis as “a convincing syntactical analysis of v. 12,” he sided with the negative connotation of the words (false teaching and usurping authority).

Craig Keener, JETS 41, no. 3 (1998): 513-16, also agrees with Kostenberger’s syntactical analysis.

Marshall’s Pastoral Epistles, ICC (1999), 454-60. He said that the authors “argued convincingly on the basis of a wide range of Gk. usage that the construction employed in this verse [vs. 12] is one in which the writer expresses the same attitude (whether positive or negative) to both of the items joined together by oude.” Like Padgett, however, Marshall opts for negative connotations in both words.

Mounce’s The Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (2000), 120-30. He was very positive toward the book.

Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church: Parts I and II,” EQ 72, no. 2 (2000): 151-67; 72, no. 3 (2000): 205-24. A confusing critique of the syntactical analysis of vs. 12.

Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church: Three Crucial Questions (2000): 173-75. This is really the only negative response to the syntactical analysis by Kostenberger on vs. 12.

Blomberg’s discussion (appendix of the Two Views book by Zondervan) was very positive as well.

Even William Webb’s (Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, 35) thoughts were very positive … Webb’s an egalitarian. He called the book “one of the finest exegetical treatments of 1 Timothy 2 available.”

Esther Ng comes to virtually the same conclusions regarding the syntax of vs. 12 (Reconstructing Christian Origins? 285, n. 170; 287, n. 184).

Judith Hartenstein, Review of Biblical Literature (May 2004). While she disagrees with the results of the book, she says: “I often find his [Kostenberger’s] analysis of texts and exegetical problems convincing and inspiring, especially if he uses linguistic approaches. . . . Likewise, I agree with Kostenberger’s reading of 1 Tim 2.” However, she concludes: “But with a different, far more critical view of the Bible, I need not accept it as God’s word. (It helps that I do not regard 1 Timothy as written by Paul.)” Now surely this review was first of all positive and secondly given by someone who is not a conservative.

I hope you’ll take the time to interact with the book. It was not simply preaching to the choir, but an analysis that has yet to have been answered.

Ben Witherington said...


Thanks so much for the listing of these reviews. Except for Hartenstein (and I am not sure about Webb), every single one of these persons are conservative evangelicals of one strip or another.


Ben W.

dacroteau said...

I hear what you're saying, but you missed the point: all but 2-3 are egalitarians. These egalitarians agreed with the syntactical argument put forth by Kostenberger on 1 Tim 2:12. They actually read the book. I don't understand why you wouldn't, at least now, get the second edition, read it, and explain why they are wrong, especially Kostenberger's chapter. It's very disappointing that a scholar of your reputation appears bent on not reading this significant work.

David Croteau

Cheryl Schatz said...

Hello Mr. Witherington,

I would be very interested in your review of our new DVD on this subject. It is called "Women in Ministry Silenced or Set Free?" and it is a multi-media presentation on the hard passages of scripture that seem to restrict women in ministry. The reviews for this DVD are at and a description of the set is at Please let me know if you are interested in seeing WIM. The research for this project actually opens up the discussion to a lot of information that has not been covered. Much of the research for this project was found by reading the Talmud, the Jewish oral law and understanding the mindset of the Jewish culture of that day. I would be interested in your review.


Hannah Im said...

Well, what a comment thread. Whew! Some people get it; other's don't. I'm going to ponder all this for awhile, but I must say you've convinced me that you have an excellent argument. Well said and argued with restraint.

Ilona said...

I have a simple view of the scripture on childbearing, I wondered if you might entertain the interpretation?

In the fall, women had an increased difficulty in childbearing that sometimes resulted in death. I had a close brush with that myself. But in this passage it seems that Paul reassures women that the salvation of Christ extends to removing this extra fear and vulnerability - they are saved from the effects of the curse in this thing also when they, singularly, would go through the experience of childbirth.

Maybe this view is too simple and homely, but I thought I'd post it anyway. Just in case your study of the Greek agreed with this possible interpretation.

Christoph said...

I have to say that I am stunned at your lack of interaction with current linguistic studies when it comes to lexicography and grammar. You adopt the old methodologies in determining words and tenses; and hence, come up with the same arguments that frankly have been refuted awhile ago.

kephale contains within itself a lexical meaning of "source"? Referentially it can speak of the head of a river (i.e., source), but that's not its meaning.

The duration of a command is determined by the tense of epitrepo? The Greek verb is aspectual, so its tense has nothing to do with its duration.

authentein means "to domineer"? I'm assuming your breaking the word down into something for which you can then find cognates. Either way, the biggest flaw here is how this would destroy the context. If Paul is not permitting women to do A over men, then the "over men" qualifies it in such a way so as to allow it over other women. Otherwise, it should simply be negated generically like everything else. So women are not allowed to take an abusive authority over men, but they can over women? They have to be silent and learn the faith if they teach men, but they can teach heresy to women? Did you interact with Knight or Moo when you did your word study? Why are your reasons for disagreeing (i promise to buy the commentary even if you tell me here :) )

I think the bulk of your objections come from egalitarian views of other passages that then cause you to state then that "this text couldn't be saying XYZ then." But you're not engaging the text that way. You're explaining it away with other texts. I might almost be better if you didn't believe Paul wrote this text and just didn't think it was Scripture at all. It might help you to analyze it for its own contribution rather than trying so hard to harmonize it.

Finally, Schreiner's book wouldn't have received good reviews outside of complimentarian evangelicalism regardless of whether it was solid exegesis or not. You know better than that one, Ben. Aren't we all just preaching to the choir.

Finally, if prophecying (telling someone something secret about themselves) and teaching (instructing someone theologically) aren't different in their level of authority, then why does Paul OK the former in 1 Cor 11 and disallow the latter in 1 Cor 14?


Christoph said...

I have to add that your refusal to interact with the book because you just look at the evidence yourself.

That kind of smells like the modernism I see in Bible-only fundies who state how they don't read theologians and commentaries, they just get their views from the Bible. It might be good for you to read someone from a different perspective (i.e., outside of your choir). None of us sees all.

see-through faith said...

Dr Witherington,

You are one heck of a teacher and very very patient. Thank you. You've treated people here courteously and with respect. I have learnt much from the Christ-like way you've worked with people here.

Several Profs from Asbury (recently Ken Collins last month, Mulholland in May, & Tuttle in August)have come to the Methodist seminary in Tallinn, Estonia to help by teaching an elective. I'm starting to pray that you will be one. Women in ministry is a 'hot potato' in UMC Estonia with the first female elders ordained last annual conference, but many women working as local pastors.

I would be very interested to hear more about how your views on women in ministry changed in the UK (my home country).

Be blessed.

4given said...

Forgive me. I am too physically ill right now to make any profound comment here... but my entire blog and ministry is based on Biblical womanhood and why women should not be in the pulpit teaching over men... and I am not a doormat.

Syd said...

Thank you for sharing your views on that text. The real clencher for me was my looking back at my experience of growing up in a culture where evangelicals planted churches. Because of the stress on letting the "natives" (québécois)step into a position of leadership, many a church suffered a chronic lack of stability and recurent leadership crisis. I think that if Paul would have written to Timothy, he might have said: "I do not allow for now the québécois to lead their churches..." For some reason, I find that flight of imagination sheds a helpful light on the Paul's letter.

Gregory Kirschmann said...

Why would Paul use the rigid order of creation to argue for politeness? Why not just say, "Please stop being disruptive"?

Why do all the examples and instruction about gender authority in Scripture infer male authority? Are you not saying the Holy Spirit has failed to lead us into all truth?

sara-v. said...

I do appreciate good debate - and I appreciate scholarship... but it is really unfair for men who have no particular ax to grind to say "this is not an emotional issue for me" or such. As a woman who absolutely knows i am called to teach and preach, this is an incredibly emotional issue... to all of those who would call me names or deny my call, I would ask how would you feel if it were you?

Michelle said...

Dr. Witherington,

You've talked about why it is that in 1 Timothy 3 Paul does not mention women as overseers. However, I think there is something that can aid your view of women as overseers that may be neglected.

1 Timothy 3:1 says, "If a man desires the office of a bishop..." The word for "man" in the Greek does not refer to the "male," but instead to "someone" or "anyone." Paul then, by doing this, leaves room open for male and female persons to take this office. After all, one of the first qualifications for the office is that a person "desires" it. Surely then, God would not discredit someone who desired the office on the basis of their gender. The emphasis is on the work, that the work is of the Lord, not on gender.

Next, examine the Greek in 1 Timothy 5. In v.1, Paul refers to "elder men," and in v. 3, to "elder women." While many have taken this to mean that Paul is referring here to "older" men and women, this is not true; why? because in Titus 2, Paul refers to "older" men and women with the use of the words "presbutas" and "presbutis," respectively. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul does not use "presbutas" and "presbutis," but instead "presbutero" (dative singular of "presbuteros") and "presbuteras," in which the "as" serves as the feminine form of "presbuteros." If you examine Titus 1, Paul says that these "elders" ("presbuterous," plural of "elders") are to be "ordained," which is the same word used in Acts 6 regarding the "appointing" of the male deacons.

Paul had a choice to use a different word to refer to both men and women in 1 Timothy 5 as being "older," but he doesn't; instead, he uses the term for both that is synonymous with the preaching and teaching office of elder. Paul's intention then, was to include women as overseers and not to discourage them.

So because women are part of "those who labor in the word and doctrine" (5:17), there is no right to discourage them from taking such positions. Notice also that in 5:17 Paul writes that the elders "rule" (proestontes), which means "to have authority over." This prohibition then, must have a reason to why Paul wouldn't allow women to teach or exercise authority. The answer then, is found in 1 Timothy 1:7-- "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm...but we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully..." (1 Tim. 1:7-8)

MarkAB said...

I'm not a theological scholar or anything, but I would like to thank you for this post. Hate preachers have used slanted interpretations of passages like these to control elements of society for centuries.

It seems to me that if someone REALLY truly has given their life to the Lord, they understand what you are saying Dr. Witherington. Without intimately knowing the background information you so eloquently elaborated on, one should still be able to feel in their pure heart that the domination of any element of humanity stands only in complete and utter contrast to the preachings of Christ.

When I was a teenager, I went through a phase in my life where I became very religious--but it was a false zealotry. I was a literal interpretor of everything in the KJV, very judgemental, and the fire and brimstone message was the one that I pretty much believed. I see so many "Christians" who practice that kind of faith--many young, many much, much older. And I pray for them.

I went through a period of life in my early 20's where religion left me. But the Lord had a plan and showed me a great many things during that time, even though I showed him little. Now in my mid 20's, I've come to truly see His message, even if I haven't understood everything that He has tried to show me. There are several allusions by Christ in the NT to secret meanings...I would argue ABSTRACT meanings of what he is saying. I think when one, even as imperfect and unworthy as I, has been so blessed by the Lord, then there is an innate feeling of right and wrong that comes across from actions and messages. If this sounds confusing, I will try to explain from my neophyte experience.

In regards to this specific passage you have noted here (and in others that convey similar ones), I had always had a problem with excepting such a teaching. 99% of fellow Christians would not be knowledgeable of the background that you expounded upon (myself included), and so the common interpretation was taken at face value. When someone quoted this scripture, I didn't have much to say except I didn't believe it because I felt it was wrong. I realize the danger in that approach , but I can't help that I felt something was wrong despite its apparent scriptural clarity. Having seen your analysis and agreeing with it whole-heartedly, I am very thankful for the clarity you have given me. There are many other debated passages which I have a problem with the way they are taught. As I said, just from reading the NT as is (in native language and without context as 99.9% of Christians must do) there is nothing to defend my positions--only the feeling that those teachings are completely incongruent with Christ's message.

Finally, I would like to hear your insight into Romans 13-14 and Galatians 3. I think there is great meaning in these passages that not only pertain to the passage debated in this post, but toward many other teachings. I would like to hear your insight and then I would be happy to expound on mine.


Don B. Johnson said...


I appreciate your example of graciousness "under fire".

When there are interpretive choices, the truth is that there are interpretive choices and believers might disagree.