Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part II: Looking to Scripture (The Biblical Texts)
Chapter 12 – Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15. By Linda L. Belleville.
1 Timothy 2:11-15
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)
Dr. Belleville opens her essay with:
The battle over women leaders in the church continues to rage unabated in evangelical circles. At the center of the tempest sits 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Despite a broad spectrum of biblical and extrabiblical texts that highlight female leaders, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 continues to be perceived and treated as the Great Divide in the debate. Indeed, a hierarchical interpretation of this passage has become for some a litmus test for the label evangelical and even a necessity fro the salvation of unbelievers.
The complexities of 1 Timothy 2:22-25 are many. There is barely a word or phrase that has not been keenly scrutinized. The focus here will be on the key interpretive issues( context, translation, the Greek infinitive authentein, grammar, cultural backdrop) and some common concerns regarding what this text says about men and women in positions of leadership and authority. This analysis will make use of a wide array of tools and databases now available with the advent of computer technology that can shed light on what all concede to be the truly abstruse, head-scratching aspects of the passage. (205)
Dr. Belleville shows that the major thrust of this letter is corrective instruction against false teaching. About half of the letter is devoted to false teachings. She also observes that women seem to receive inordinate attention in this letter.
Behavior befitting women in worship (1 Tim 2:10-15), qualifications for women deacons (1 Tim 3:11), appropriate pastoral behavior toward older and younger women (1 Tim 5:2), support of widows (1 Tim 5:11-15) and familial responsibilities toward destitute widows (1 Tm 5:3-8, 16) are all concerns of Paul. Moreover, Paul speaks of widows who were going from house to house speaking things they ought not (1 Tim 5:13). That something more than nosiness or gossiping is involved is clear from Paul’s evaluation that “some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan” (1 Tim 5:15). (206-207)
With this in mind, Belleville turns her attention to the specifics of the Chapter 2 context. Verses 1 and 8 are linked in that Paul begins by saying in verse one “I exhort, therefore” and then verse 8 opens with “therefore I want.” (Some translations in English do not explicitly say therefore in these passages but Belleville is working from the Greek.) The first seven verses give Paul’s vision and purpose conceerning godly worship. Next, Paul turns to the correction of practices that are detracting from this vision and purpose: Angry contentious men (v. 8) and women coming improperly attired for worship (v. 9-10). Then comes the passage that is the topic of the essay.
Verse 11 begins by calling for “quietness” (some translations “silence”) and “submission.” The Greek word translated into quietness here is hesychia. Silence is not a good translation of the term. It is not translated that way elsewhere in the bible. Belleville points out that it has already been used in these chapter in verse 2 where Paul wrote that “…we may live peaceful and quite lives…” The idea here is to behave in a peaceable non-disruptive manner. Belleville shows that submission is to the teaching and the teacher. In other words, just as Paul has told the men to cease their angry disputes (are they angry about the women and their behavior/attire?) and be peaceable, he is telling the women to do the same thing. Belleville suspects a battle of the sexes here.
Belleville next address the Greek underlying the phrase “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” as it is worded in the NIV above. This is how modern translations have translated the passage since World War II. Key to this passage is the Greek word authentein translated “have authority” here. There are more common words that could have been used for "authority" but this is the one used here. It is the only place it appears in the Bible. Note how the word was translated over the centuries before World War II:
- Old Latin (2nd-4th cent. A.D.): “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to dominate a man [neque dominari viro]. (209)
- Vulgate (4th-5th): “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man [neque dominari in virum].” (209)
- Geneva (1560 edition): “I permit not a woman to teache, nether vfurpe [usurp] authoritie ouer the man.” (210)
- King James Version (1611): “I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to usurpe authoritie over the man.” (210)
Some more recent translations have retained this connotation as well.
- New English Bible (1961): I do no permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man. (210)
- New Translation (1990): “I do not permit a woman to teach or dominate men.” (210)
Dr. Belleville gives a lengthy examination of the development of the Greek word authentein and interacts with the work of hierarchicalist George Knight who argues for “exercised authority” as the translation. Belleville exposes the inaccuracy of Kinght’s analysis. Concluding this section she writes:
So there is no first-century warrant for translating authentein as “to exercise authority” and for understanding Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 to be speaking of the carrying out of one’s official duties. Rather the sense is the Koine “to dominate, to get one’s way.” The NIV’s “to have authority over” therefore must be understood in the sense of holding sway of mastery over another. This is supported by the grammar of the verse. If Paul had a routine exercise of authority in view, he would have put it first, followed by authentein as a specific example. Given this word order, authentein meaning “to dominate” or gain the upper hand” provides the best fit in the context. (216-217)
It would appear that translators predisposed to a hierarchical understanding have altered the intepretation of this text.
So how did “exercise authority over” seep into modern translations? Belleville writes:
He [Andreas Kostenberger] argues that the Greek correlative pairs synonyms or parallel words and not antonyms. Since “to teach” is positive, authentein must also be positive. To demonstrate his point, Kostenberger analyzes “neither” + verb 1 +”nor” + verb 2 constructions in biblical and extrabiblical literature. (217)
This is the justification for changing the historic translation for this passage. However, Belleville writes:
Yet there is a grammatical flaw intrinsic to this approach. It is limited to formally equivalent constructions, excluding functionally equivalent ones, and so the investigation includes only correlated verbs. Thus it overlooks the fact that the infinitives (“to teach,” authentein) are functioning grammatically not as verbs but as nouns in the sentence structure (as one would expect a verbal noun to do.) … The verb 1 Timothy 2:12 is actually “I permit.” “Neither to teach nor authentein” modifies the noun “a woman,” which makes the authentein clause the second of two direct objects.(217)
Belleville points out that correlate nouns serve to moves us from the general to the particular. “(e.g. “where thieves break in nor steal” [i.e., break in to steal], Mt 6:20).” (218)
Of the options listed above, it is clear that “teach” and “dominate” are not synonyms, closely related ideas or antonyms. If authentein did mean “to exercise authority,” we might have a movement from general to particular. But we would expect the word order to be the reverse of what we have in 1 Timothy 2:12, that is, “neither to exercise authority [general] nor to teach [particular].” They do not form a natural progression of related ideas either (“first teach, then dominate”). On the other hand, to define a purpose or goal actually provides a good fit: “I do not permit a woman to teach so as to gain mastery over a man,” or “I do not permit a woman to teach with a view to dominating a man.” It also fits the contrast with second part of the verse: “I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a dominating way but to have quiet demeanor [literally, ‘to be in calmness’].” (218-219)
Culture and Common Concerns
Timothy was in Ephesus which was the center of worship for the goddess Artemis. (Her temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.) Belleville writes that according to the Greeks:
It was believed that Artemis (and brother Apollo) was the child of Zeus and Leto (or Latin Latona). Instead of seeking the fellowship among her own kind, she spurned the attentions of male gods and sought instead the company of a human male consort. This made Artemis and all her female adherents superior to men. This was played out at the feast of the Lord of Streets, when the priestess of Artemis pursued a man, pretending she was Artemis herself pursuing Leimon. (219)
Belleville goes on to note that Artemis appeared first and then her male consort. I know from other sources the Artemis worshipers often were syncretistic, infusing stories from other religions with this Artemis template. Adam and Eve was one such story. It is reasonable to conclude that what Paul is addressing here is Artemis influenced women attempting to dominate men because of their superior status and possibly teaching thatEve came first. When 1 timothy 2:13-14 says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” It corrects the false teaching about the creation order and it makes clear that Eve as not superior as she was the one deceived. As to safety in childbearing, Belleville says that verse 15 implies that it is Christ who will keep them safe therefore “…they need not look to Artemis as the protector of women, as did other Ephesian women who turned to her for safe travel through the childbearing process.” (219-220)
A reasonable reconstruction of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would be as follows: The women at Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by the false teachers) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatorial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing.
This interpretation fits the broader context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul aims to correct inappropriate behavior on the part of both men and women (1 Tim 2:8, 11). It also fits the grammatical flow of 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor.” Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand – not teaching per se. (223)
Dr. Belleville does a great job explaining an exceedingly complex passage in a short essay. She presents a great deal of linguistic analysis of which I presented only the conclusions and she also addresses some side issues that I chose to omit for this summary.
If you are interested in a book length discussion of this passage I would recommend Richard and Catherine Kroeger’s book I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of the Ancient Evidence. Three years after its publication a collection of essays called Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 was published by those of a hierarchicalist persuasion and I suspect it was published in part as rebuttal to the Kroeger’s work. It is clear from the footnotes in Bellville’s book that she is in turn rebutting some of the work done in these essays. The Kroeger’s book and this essay by Belleville will give a very good solid in depth introduction into how many nonhierarchical complimentarians understand this passage.
Linda L. Belleville received her M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is professor of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church. Her publications include 2 Corinthians (IVPNTC), Women Leaders in the Church: Three Crucial Questions and a contribution to Two Views on Women in Ministry.
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