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I have read books gifted to me or web articles from searches that each play a "trump card" to win the day for their 1 Timothy interpretation. See Pandora's Pulpit by Roger Sapp or The Junia Project, or Honor's Reward by John Bevere as prime examples. Whether it covers Paul's writing on women's behavior, leadership standards, treatment of widows, or treatment of elders, I haven't found any research taking all valid weights into account and lending an authoritative assessment on which, if any, holds more influence:

  1. Local vs. Church-wide Audience - Is this letter to be seen as instruction only for "Timothy, my true child in the faith" (1:2) and his church in Ephesus "in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines" (1:3) or to "the men in every place... Likewise, women" (2:8-9)?

  2. Cultural vs. Historical Reference - Ought we look at the entire letter through the lens of Ephesus culture or does Paul's invoking of Adam & Eve (2:13-14) indicate that this is instruction set in the cornerstone of creation?

  3. Unique Word of Emphasis vs. Hapax Legomenon - When Paul uses αὐθεντεῖν (2:12) is it to be seen as used for emphasis on a key doctrine or, due to its uniqueness, as a specific, differentiated word for Timothy's situation in that cultural context and not something to be extrapolated to the church?

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  • "I haven't found any research taking all valid weights into account and lending an authoritative assessment on which, if any, holds more influence ..." - Influence among whom? – user33515 Nov 1 '18 at 21:30
  • Most likely, "All of the above". – Ruminator May 21 '20 at 17:07
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    He often emphasizes that "this is my rule in all the churches" or "women should keep silent in the churches.. I am writing to you are a command of the Lord" (1Cor14:34) Paul leaves no room for the woke conspiracy to delegitimize the commands and rule of order by limiting it to a certain woman or culture time specific. If you understand that he only restricted them to speak in the assembly, and Junia or others were outside preachers/assistants; teachers in house meetings (not leaders), you should have no qualms or contradictions. bible.org/article/interpretive-issues-1-timothy-212 – Michael16 May 18 at 11:14
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+50

I confess I see hermeneutics as more of a jigsaw and less of a card game--it’s not so much about playing a trump card as it is about putting together the pieces.

While I do believe each of the criteria mentioned in the OP are relevant, I’ll attempt to describe which I believe carries the most weight in understanding Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy (and especially 1 Timothy 2).


Method:


I’ll use 1 Timothy 2:9 as a model for answering this question, and then apply those findings to see how well they fit with the more challenging verses.

--

1 Timothy 2:9

Translation: verse 9 presents relatively little translation difficulty.

Audience: the audience for this particular instruction is evidently more than just Timothy (since he’s a man), but is the audience just Timothy’s congregation or a larger group? I suggest our best hope of answering this question comes through the cultural context.

Cultural/historical context: Here I believe we can make some significant headway. Timothy is leading the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), a major city in its region, where Paul himself had lived for more than 2 years (see Acts 19), and home to the Temple of Artemis/Diana--one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and a hotspot for the cult of Diana (e.g. see Acts 19:23-28).

In some expressions of the lore, believers in Diana saw her as the goddess of pregnancy, and would seek her protection during childbirth (see here). The cult of Diana connection is interesting because verse 9 is specifically calling out hairstyles the prostitutes of the cult of Diana were known for (see John Stott's work here p. 84). While I find nothing in scripture that departs from the counsel for modesty (and much that supports it), the very specific details on grooming appear to be geared towards a specific piece of cultural/historical context.

Verse 9 summary: the single most valuable key to understanding the verse is that the church in Ephesus is being counseled: don’t associate with the cult of Diana. (In fact, don’t even look like them aka avoid "all appearance of evil”). Paul provides general counsel: be modest, and then a specific cultural/historical application: don’t dress like the cult of Diana.

--

Cultural/historical context as a clarifier for translation and audience

Let’s now examine the subsequent verses based on the model above.

Audience: I propose that Paul is following a similar method in verses 10-12 as used in verse 9--he’s providing general counsel with a specific cultural/historical application. I’ll run with this hypothesis unless/until it proves faulty. In this sense, the audience is important, but unhelpful to our hermeneutics unless we know the cultural/historical context.

Translation: There is certainly something to be said for abrasive choices in translation here:

Domineer

The verb sometimes translated “to exercise authority over” is αὐθεντέω; it is found nowhere else in the New Testament, and could more appropriately be translated “to domineer” (see an excellent summary by Dottard here).

Quietness

The word here is ἡσυχία which connotes being tranquil & calm. It does not mean speechless—that would be better expressed with σιγή (see here). It is noteworthy that the related word ἡσύχιος (again, tranquil) is applied to men & women in verse 2.

But even softening the translation does not entirely clarify Paul’s message--is he really saying women cannot teach? How can he say that given his conflicting counsel in other settings? (e.g. Romans 16:1-7)

I propose that a better translation may soften the message, but it doesn’t really explain the message.

--

Let’s go back to our cultural/historical context--a letter written to the leader of the church of Ephesus.

Paul discourages flaunting one’s apparel. As John MacArthur observed:

The expensive dresses worn by wealthy women could cost up to 7,000 denarii. Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman historian, described a dress of Lollia Paulina, wife of the Emperor Caligula, which was worth several hundred thousand dollars by today’s standards (Natural History 9.58). Dresses of the common women could cost as much as 500–800 denarii. To put that into perspective, the average daily wage of a common laborer was one denarius. Because of the extreme expense, most women probably owned only two or three nice dresses in their lives. For a wealthy woman to enter the worship service wearing an expensive dress would shift the focus of attention to her. It could also stir up envy on the part of the poorer women (Or their husbands).

(see MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 79). Chicago: Moody Press, as cited by Gregory Brown here)

In a society that didn’t have cars or technology to show off, clothing was all the more a status symbol--Paul wants the saints in Ephesus to know that is not what worship is about.

--

Paul speaks multiple times of the importance of tranquility & calmness on the part of Christians (men & women). Paul had lived in Ephesus and knew the people and the culture. Thus, we can reasonably infer, based on the specific focus given to it, that irreverence was a real problem among Timothy’s flock--in fact, Timothy may have even asked Paul for counsel on how to deal with it (that Paul would in his letters respond to specific inquiries is exemplified, for example, by 1 Cor. 7:1).

Based on what we know of Ephesus at the time, including the riot induced against Paul (Acts 19:28-29,34), and its associated rampant pride (Acts 19:27), irreverence in Ephesus is not difficult to imagine.

--

Paul teaches that women should not domineer men. Paul (though both a man and an apostle) didn’t use domineering to get things done either. He made great sacrifices for those he taught and practiced the principles taught by Jesus:

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (Matthew 20:25-27)

Note the historical context of Roman rule conveyed by these verses. Domineering wasn’t appropriate in a Christian community, whether by women or men. That Paul specifically mentions this in his counsel to women, then, means that this was a problem among one or more women in Ephesus.

Furthermore, let us consider again the cult of Diana. Were there former temple prostitutes in Timothy’s congregation? It is almost a certainty that some Ephesian Christians had in their past participated in the cult. I do not wish to besmirch this page with ugly details, but if any had carried over into their Christian life domineering, degrading, immoral practices from the cult of prostitution, there was no place for that behavior in a true disciple of Christ.

--

Paul says “I suffer not a woman to teach”. The switch from plural to singular here is as interesting as it is perplexing--some of my thoughts on the matter here. It may be that one woman in particular in Ephesus is being disruptive. Or perhaps the problem was bigger than that.

Whether this counsel was to one woman or more, Paul appointed overseers to the churches he founded, and expected them to be respected by members of the church. If there were members of the congregation who took authority unto themselves--or taught contrary to what was preached by duly appointed leaders--the gender of the disrupters was irrelevant.

We see this problem show up multiple times in early Christian history, such as Clement’s plea to respect the officers left in place by the apostles (see 1 Clement 44, some of these individuals had been deposed by their churches), and in Ignatius’ stress on the importance of structure and roles & responsibilities in the church.

We do not know the precise concern from Timothy had that prompted these words, but the general applicability of Paul’s statement is that we should act in the capacity God has given and respect those He has appointed.

Furthermore, as Gregory Brown has pointed out:

When Paul calls for women to learn, it is an imperative—a command—in the original language. Paul commands the women to learn (see here).

This is noteworthy--unlike many cultures of the time, Paul wanted women to learn! There may have been few women at the time who were literate, but that didn’t mean Paul rejected the contributions and teaching of faithful women (consider his praise for Priscilla). The cultural/historical context shows Paul is decidedly not anti-woman. He appreciates the distinct roles, responsibilities, and gifts God has given to men and women, to Jew and Gentile, to the person assigned to teach and the person asked to learn, etc.

Translation alone

If translation takes priority in our interpretation, we’re still left with a Paul who says things that contradict his teachings elsewhere, particularly the surprising phrase “I suffer not a woman to teach.”

Audience alone

If audience takes priority in our interpretation, we could assume anything we like about them, or write off everything Paul says (literally anywhere!) as irrelevant any time it’s inconvenient. Appealing to the audience is helpful...if we know something about the audience.

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Conclusion

I proposed running with my cultural/historical hypothesis until it proved faulty--it made it through the analysis of the most challenging verses, so at the very least I suggest we do not have grounds to reject it.

I suggest that the cultural/historical background forms the backbone of a clear rendering of Paul’s teachings in 1 Timothy 2. The cultural/historical background is not a “trump card” that renders translation or audience moot, but rather, a contextual anchor that makes the translation, knowledge of the audience, and the overall message work.

Given what we know about Ephesus during the lifetime of Paul--and perhaps even more importantly, what Paul knew about Ephesus--the counsel provided in this chapter appears to offer general principles followed by context-specific applications, such as:

  • General principle: dress modestly
  • Context-specific application: don’t dress like the cult of Diana

--

  • General principle: be reverent at church
  • Context-specific application: some in Timothy’s congregation, apparently one or more women in particular, need to be told their current behavior is not reverent

--

  • General principle: God has given different roles to different people; God has given different roles to men & women
  • Context-specific application: Domineering of appointed teachers needs to stop; the context strongly implies one or more women in Ephesus had been acting in a domineering way. The men who had been given the assignment to teach ought to be respected.

Appendix


Authorship

Some have suggested Paul did not write 1 Timothy and so much of the question is irrelevant. For evidence to the contrary, suggesting Paul did write 1 Timothy, see here and here pp. 74-78

Adam & Eve

The OP mentioned the discussion of Adam & Eve late in chapter 2. I acknowledge some ambiguity in verse 15, but I consider the following interpretation plausible and relevant.

Verses 13 & 14 are about Adam and Eve. If they are the antecedents for verse 15, “she” is a reference to Eve and “they” means Adam & Eve. Then Paul might be saying something like this:

Redemption from the Fall will come because Eve will safely carry into the world descendants, from whom will come her Savior. Christ is of the seed of Eve, and so her Salvation is indeed a result of her motherhood. Her role as a mother is a critical part of God’s plan to offer salvation to her and to the entire human family.

What about the “they”? Adam isn’t off the hook here. Eve does the child-bearing, but both mother and father have a sacred duty—together—to bring up their family in “faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” The righteous branch of their posterity, from which Christ will come, is borne by Eve, but is to be raised & taught by both Adam and Eve.

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The Junia Project (JP) is concerned with the First Timothy's instructions on the role of women, with emphasis on the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12-13, which states that women should not teach or usurp authority over men:

1 Timothy 2:12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

JP notes that not only is the word translated here as 'usurp authority', authentein, a hapax legomenon, but Paul regularly used a form of the Greek exousia when referring to the use of authority in the church.

The authors of JP take the position that there is no evidence in the text that Paul was writing to establish a permanent restriction on all women for all time. They go on (Step three) to identify a number of rules that the authors say should be followed in exegesis of this passage:

  1. Doctrine should not be built on a hapax legomenon and suggests caution in using this text as a foundation for church doctrine.
  2. Interpretation should be consistent with the rest of the passage under study.
  3. Interpretation should not contradict the rest of the author’s teaching. They point out that Paul is generally supportive of women’s participation, which contradicts the idea that women must be silent. Reference is made to 1 Corinthians and Romans 16.
  4. Interpretation should not contradict the overall teaching in the New Testament, especially the example and teaching of Jesus.

They then conclude that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women who do not have rightful authority to do so from teaching and assuming authority over men, although not defining when a woman may have 'rightful authority' and when she may not.


Audience, cultural context, historical reference and translation are all important in biblical hermeneutics, but especially so in the case of 1 Timothy. The assumption of the Junia Project is that Paul actually wrote this epistle and therefore the audience is Paul's audience within the cultural context of the church emerging in the middle of the first century under Paul's stewardship. If this changes, our historical reference changes and our understanding of the epistle changes.

John Muddiman says, in 'Deutero-Paulism, Pseudonymity and the Canon', published in The Nature of New Testament Theology (edited by Rowland and Tuckett), page 163, 1 Timothy is not a personal letter at all, but general rules for church life and warnings against the danger of heresy. He says the historical setting of the Pastorals (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) does not fit with what we know of the final stages of Paul's career from Romans (cf Romans 15:23). Burton L. Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 206, that the epistle was undoubtedly written in Paul's name during the first half of the second century. This knowledge also changes our understanding of the audience, cultural context and historical references.

Language changes over time, which gives us more information about cultural context and historical references. Bart D. Ehrman refers, in Forged, page 98, to an important study of the pastoral letters the British scholar A. N. Harrison wrote in 1921, in which he gave numerous statistics about the word usage in these writings. One of his most cited set of numbers is that there are 848 different words used in the pastoral letters. 306 of these words do not occur in any of the other Pauline letters of the New Testament. About two thirds of these 306 words were used by Christian authors living in the second century, which suggests that this author is using a vocabulary that was becoming more common after the days of Paul, and that he lived after Paul. By themselves Harrison's statistics are far from conclusive, but they add to the evidence for Deutero-Pauline authorship.

In conclusion, the First Epistle to Timothy was not written by Paul and does not contain his imprimatur. It was not really written to Timothy, but was an encyclical to the Church as a whole, using Paul's name in order to have the message of the epistle more readily accepted. Therefore, we do not need to find ways of reading 1 Timothy 2:12-13 that do not contradict what Paul wrote in his undisputed letters. Undoubtedly the author of 1 Timothy believed that women should not teach or have authority over men, but that is not what Paul taught. Paul trumps this author and therefore the words of 1 Timothy can be disregarded when they contradict what the apostle himself wrote.

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    Statistics need to be tested - there are 1591 words in 1 Timothy, of which 53 are hapax legomena... Colossians has 1582 with 38; Philippians has 1629 with 41. These are all fairly short letters (statistically low significance), and would seem as 'genuine' as one another. All "late life" letters from Paul. And 1 Timothy would be pretty strange as a 2C book - there's no mention of Bishops, no mature Gnosticism debate, no theology of martyrdom. There's a good chance even as a Pauline text it would have been transcribed anyway, as it doesn't make the typical "I write this in my own hand" claim. – Steve Taylor May 20 '16 at 7:52
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    You seem to have missed 1Cor14 passage of Paul, unless you also reject that as Paul's letter. The command about women being silent is only limited to church assembly, and leadership. This does not contradict women being evangelists, preachers, teachers to other women and kids, and assistants. Once this misconception is clear, there is no need for desperate attempts to reinterpret plain text. – Michael16 May 18 at 11:20
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There is an order of importance, the first of which is context. Historical and cultural background will help the reader to understand the context, but it comes down to the context.

1 Tim. 1 sets up the reason for Paul's letter in that "some" were leading others astray with false doctrine.

"3...that thou mightest charge certain not to teach any other thing,

4 nor to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, that cause questions rather than the building up of God that is in faith: --" (YLT)

The initial subject matter was the false teaching of some at the assembly in Ephesus, and is summarized again in the final verses.

"18 This charge I commit to thee, child Timotheus, according to the prophesies that went before upon thee, that thou mayest war in them the good warfare,

19 having faith and a good conscience, which certain having thrust away, concerning the faith did make shipwreck,

20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I did deliver to the Adversary, that they might be instructed not to speak evil." (1 Tim. 1:18-20, YLT)

Timothy was to speak the word according to the Holy Spirit's prophesies to those who were causing dissension and spreading "fables" or lies. Chap. 2 vs 1 opens with "therefore" or "then"...

"I exhort, then,..." (YLT)

The reason Paul continued in the rest of the letter was because of the dissension of the false teachers in chap. 1. The context still remains that Paul is correcting false teaching. As Hold to The Rod has mentioned a doctrine cannot be established based upon one verse when another verse would contradict that supposition.

1 Tim. 2:9 continues from 2:8 where Paul spoke of the manner of praying in public, and says,

"in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, ... (YLT)

and we let the context rule. The immediate subject is of public prayers which the women were also doing... in public. So Paul speaks of the manner of the dress and appearance so that the public can see their modesty while the women were praying. This would obviously contradict an opinion drawn solely upon vs. 11 as if it stood alone that women were to remain silent.

Further, 1 Tim. 2:15 is rendered better in the YLT as

"and she shall be saved through the child-bearing..."

THE child-bearing. A woman's salvation is the same as a man's salvation which is the putting on of Christ through water immersion, and remaining faithful the rest of their lives. To say that a woman is saved by bearing children is to have two methods of salvation which contradicts the word at Eph. 4:5 that their is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

THE child-bearing is the birth of Christ, and it is through the context of the scriptures that it becomes clear. If we allow a translation of individual words to become the focus then we become side tracked and that causes many to develop alternate belief systems. The audience, cultural and historical relevance, word definitions and translations are all tools that must fall under the context.

Context is key.

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  • Thanks Gina! So to be clear, are you saying that your conclusion is that this was a limited prohibition for the specific instance/context Timothy was in? – Steve Taylor May 21 at 10:05
  • Steve, you are asking specifically about 1 Tim 2:11 ? My belief, IMO, is that a woman is not to take authority away from the men of the assembly. Paul addressed similar comments to the prophets wives who were disrupting the assembly services with their questions in 1 Cor. 14:34, which many take out of context & misapply to all women of all generations. Developed in my blog post "Is a Woman to Keep Silent..." shreddingtheveil.org/2017/01/02/… – Gina May 21 at 10:10

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