I have heard it said that 1 Timothy 2:11,12 is to be examined through the "lens" of culture but what Paul writes right after it in verses 13 and 14 seems to nullify that.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 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.

I believe that it was God's original design that men would lead and therefore Paul draws this conclusion from it. Am wrong in my conclusion? What is the correct way to interpret this passage?


6 Answers 6


A Socio-cultural hermeneutical approach is the worst way to interpret scripture, since this approach is usually based on extra-biblical sources, and allows anyone to interpret any scripture any way they want. You can always find some instance of ancient culture that will allow you to interpret scripture in the way that bests suits you, also known as eisegesis.

The most important criteria when interpreting a passage of scripture is to look at other scriptures. Scripture is the best interpreter of itself. So some other passages:

Ephesians 5:22-23

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Colossians 3:18

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 14:34

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

And the one most directly related to the Timothy passage, Genesis 3:16

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

The point you bring up of God's design is the important one, here's an excerpt from this essay which addresses the importance of the creation order:

These attempts to relativize Paul’s prohibition must be judged to be unsuccessful. Paul could have easily written, “I don’t want women to teach or exercise authority over men because they are uneducated,” or, “I don’t want women to teach or exercise authority over men because they are spreading false teaching.” Yet what reason does Paul actually give for his command in verse 12? Paul’s rationale for the command follows in the next verse: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v. 13). Paul says nothing about lack of education or about women promulgating the false teaching. Instead, he appeals to the created order, to God’s good and perfect intention when he formed human beings. It is imperative to see that the reference to creation indicates that the command for women not to teach or exercise authority over men is a transcultural word, a prohibition that is binding on the church at all times and in all places. In giving this command, Paul does not appeal to fallen creation, to the consequences that pertain to human life as a result of sin. Rather, he grounds the prohibition in the wholly good creation that existed before sin entered into the world.

The fundamental reason that women should not serve as pastors is communicated here, and so the argument from creation cannot be dismissed as culturally limited. Moreover, the New Testament contains many similar appeals to the created order. For instance, homosexuality is not in accord with the will of God because it is “contrary to nature” (Rom. 1:26); that is, it violates what God intended when he made human beings as male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). Similarly, Jesus teaches that divorce is not the divine ideal since at creation God made one man and one woman, signifying that one man should be married to one woman “till death do us part” (Matt. 19:3-12). So, too, all food is to be received gratefully since it is a gift from God’s creative hand (1 Tim. 4:3-5).

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul specifically grounds his prohibition of women teaching and exercising authority in the order of creation, namely, that Adam was made first and then Eve (Gen. 2:4-25). The narrative in Genesis is carefully constructed, and Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, helps us see the significance of Eve being created after Adam. Critics occasionally object that the argument fails to persuade since animals were created before human beings, but this misses Paul’s point. Only human beings are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and therefore Paul communicates the significance of God creating man prior to the woman, namely, that the man is responsible to lead.

  • I hold the same conviction when it comes to interpreting this passage, but is it safe to say this this is the absolutely correct way to interpret this?
    – Chris Bier
    Mar 22, 2012 at 10:37
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    @LanceRoberts I take issue with your flatly denying the value of Socio-cultural hermeneutic. In doing this one would completely disregard the occasion for writing. Your approach of using other verses is also a valid tool, but does not allow access to the differences in the literature (namely the audience and purpose for writing). I also noticed that you omitted 1 Peter 3, but will assume that was unintentional.
    – swasheck
    Mar 22, 2012 at 14:34
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    To be more precise, I'm fine with cultural arguments ONLY if the Bible tells us that the verses in question are culturally-specific, not if someone just thinks they are. For example, the law of circumcision was fulfilled with the coming of Christ, so that law is now see as being only for a certain time. Mar 22, 2012 at 15:11
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    I think I understand why this is the way this passage should be interpreted. Please correct me if I'm wrong: The reason why this passage shouldn't be interpreted using the Socio-Cultural method is because of the following verses in which Paul gives the reason for the instruction. Thereby ruling out the Socio-Cultural method and leaving the others as the correct way to interpret this particular passage.
    – Chris Bier
    Mar 22, 2012 at 17:21
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    @ChrisB., while I would say that yes, he gives the reason so there is no reason to look for another; in the main, I don't think cultural interpretation ever applies unless the Bible tells us specifically that's how we need to look at it. Of course, here we are told specifically that the reason is founded in the created order that God established. Mar 22, 2012 at 18:02

It says "I do not permit" and does not say "God commands thus..." or "You must not permit", suggesting Paul is speaking in his own conclusive mind; because elsewhere in the letter he does say "must" (1 Timothy 3:2-12). Though these are all translations, and might not mean the same in the native language in which it was written.

  • 1
    Is it really just Paul's opinion though, or should it be given more consideration? It seems to be founded on a principal (Second half of verse 12) that was set in place by God.
    – Chris Bier
    Mar 22, 2012 at 4:31
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    Ah, there is the big question. Unfortunately that can be debated for hours with no earthly conclusion, only God and Paul know. But given what 2 Corinthians 3:6 says and the wording of this verse it would appear that to permit a woman teaching is not wrong, but that in some instances it may lead to strife. I personally have witnessed both. It all depended on why they were in that position, because of being led by God or because of their own flesh. In some church's they take this verse as exact law, but in their presence I follow Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10:23-28. Mar 22, 2012 at 5:09

Heb 10.1 ¶ For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, ...

The literal appoach to scripture offers no meaning from the text for 'shadows'. Yet if we do not understand the shadows, we do not really understand the law.

When Paul speaks of marriage, though it is clear to all who read his teaching that he is speaking of marriage, he plainly states that he is not speaking of marriage:

Eph 5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

Eph 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

In Day 6 of creation, the man and his bride are a shadow of Christ and his bride. There can be no denying that the bride of Christ includes men and women... therefore we are not speaking of literal gender.

Timothy understands the shadow. The letter to Timothy was not written in a vacuum, but in the context of Paul's teaching, including that in his letters to the Corinthians that all should prophesy, including literal women.

Speaking of the woman being deceived, Paul is not holding all women accountable for Eve's deception, nor is he indicating that all women are more susceptible to deception. Eve was not indicted by God for having sinned first, but that sin came into the world by the man:

Ro 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Apparently it was a lessor crime to have been deceived than to have sinned. Therefore it is wrong to interpret Paul's saying as a punishment for Eve's actions.

Paul is using Eve as a shadow or a figure for those who are 'blind' or do not understand no matter what their actual gender is.

Since he says that all should prophesy, there are two reasons why he doesn't plainly state it here:

  1. He does not wish to cause a cultural disturbance.

  2. He is inviting us to intentionally live 'dinner theater' portraying Christ in the same manner that OT saints did unknowingly, and Jesus did intentionally.

In Corinth, women were participating and the men were complaining about it. Paul's sharp rebuke after lulling them into ease concerning their prejudice is a masterful play in Greek rhetoric.

1Co 14:36 ¶ What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

But in the more conservative community where Timothy served, openly advocating that women should participate would cause a social stir and distract from the preaching of the gospel.

How can he say what he wishes to Timothy without causing such a stir, and what did he say?

Clement of Alexandria states that there are some things that he only taught face to face, and would not commit to writing because they would be misunderstood by some. These things are part of the "mystical" tradition of the church. But since we now live in communities more akin to Corinth, we can speak plainly of them, without causing the cultural stir.

Since the woman represents the blind, and the man the seeing one. Paul only permits those who understand to teach (figuratively men), and those who do not understand to learn in quiet submission (figuratively female). If a genetic female understands, then she is a metaphoric male. Christ is the male, and his bride, though made up of men and women, are called female because they relatively do not see as well as Christ.

The riddle of Jeremiah can now be understood:

Jer 30:6 Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?

Jeremiah says men will become pregnant. Incidently, the riddle is shared by extra-biblical sources which should not be taken as authorities, but are offered as examples that the genre of riddle, and this particular riddle was more widely known than we may expect. The Gospel of Thomas teaches that women must become male. The Sikhs have a saying that men must become virgins.

These are all made clear with the metaphor that the female is 'blind'.

GOT: The blind must see.

Sikh: Those who see must become the virgin bride of Christ.

Jeremiah: The bride of Christ (which understands) will be fruitful and multiply.

Virgin: The fruitfulness is not a physical fruitfulness, but a spiritual fruitfulness.

The reason that Jesus was born of a virgin, is to say metaphorically that children of God are born spiritually. They are not of the flesh. He is the 'first-born'.

To Timothy, Paul said that those who understand should teach, but do not cause a social upheaval. Instead knowledgeable women will role play the position of the church to Christ, in the same manner that prophets of old role played their messages. They become a living testimony of Christ and the church.

It is a privilege to be invited to be a living shadow of Christ. It is a shame that so many interpret it to be a punishment for someone else's misunderstanding.

  • Bob, I seriously considered your answer but some of the things you are saying seem really off kilter. Please prayerfully consider your answer. Also, please be clear that the opposing side is not saying that there is a punishment for women because of the actions of Eve. Rather, that this is the order that God has created for man to lead and woman to support and nurture. Neither of them are lesser, and they are both vitally important roles. It is a matter of Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism. Thanks for taking time to respond. With love, Chris
    – Chris Bier
    May 29, 2012 at 2:30
  • I am in this to find truth. I am not here to twist the Bible to support my own view like you may be thinking. So please take these rebuttals as something to consider. I don't think that women should become men or vice versa. God has ordained two sexes for a purpose and we have different roles. I think that Jer. 30:6 is God describing men who are in fear. I also don't see Sikh teaching or the gospel of Thomas as valid resources for Biblical interpretation.
    – Chris Bier
    May 29, 2012 at 2:36
  • I am sorry that you have totally misunderstood what I have written, nor do I take outside sources as authority. I do not believe that women should become men either. I will re-read what I have written to see if I can make it more clear.
    – Bob Jones
    May 29, 2012 at 4:53
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    There can be no denying that the bride of Christ includes men and women... therefore we are not speaking of literal gender.
    – Bob Jones
    May 29, 2012 at 4:55
  • Also please see the rules which apply to sensus plenior to understand the context of this method of interpretation.
    – Bob Jones
    May 29, 2012 at 5:04

How is this passage on the authority of women to be interpreted? 1Timothy 2:11-12

The overseers of a congregation are described in the Bible as being males. The 12 apostles of Jesus Christ were all males, and those later appointed to be overseers and ministerial servants in Christian congregations were males.

Matthew 10:1-2a (NASB)

10 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:

1 Timothy 3:2 (NASB)

2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

1 Timothy 3:12 (NASB)

12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and [a]good managers of their children and their own households

Women counseled to learn in silence.

Women are counseled to “learn in silence with all submissiveness” at congregation meetings, in that they do not raise questions challenging the men in the congregation. The women are ‘not to speak’ at such meetings if what they might say would demonstrate lack of subjection.

1 Timothy 2:11-12(NASB)

11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (NASB)

33 for God is not a God of confusion but of [a]peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.


This link makes a compelling case that Paul is referring to the the apocryphal scroll, "The Life of Adam and Eve" aka "Apocalypse of Moses". He also shows compellingly that said scroll is also the background of:

[2Co 11:13-15 NLT] (13) These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (15) So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.

And another possible allusion to the scroll here:

[2Co 12:2 NLT] (2) I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don't know--only God knows.


All men on here that don’t agree, or give excuse to verses with weakness of saying imperfects etc show they are not men of God, and they don’t deserve to have a voice as a woman.


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