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12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. NKVJ, 1982

ΙΒʹ γυναικὶ δὲ διδάσκειν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός ἀλλ᾽ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ TR, 1550

I heard an argument recently that 1 Timothy 2:12 must be a temporary imperative, and would be better rendered

I do not presently permit a woman...

because the verb for permit, epitrepō, is in the present active indicative, and Paul would not have used that tense/mood/voice had he meant it as a timeless universal imperative.

Another website similarly states,

It has also been suggested that the present indicative form of ἐπιτρέπω indicates a temporal limitation and thus limits Paul’s statement to the then and there of Ephesus.

Is it true that verbs in present active indicative always connote temporality, and an author would not use this tense except to convey something as temporary?

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    It would be helpful if you could cite some source(s) for this view (who did you hear?), otherwise it appears you are simply expressing your preference for what you would like the Greek to say. – enegue May 11 '17 at 22:22
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    The verb ἐπιτρέπω in this verse applies to διδάσκειν (teaching) and αὐθεντεῖν (usurping - grasping authority). According to what you are suggesting, Paul was telling Timothy that his ban on "usurping" was only to be temporary. – enegue May 11 '17 at 23:02
  • I heard this argument from a friend (who has a fair amount of Greek training), and thus don't have anything to cite. I find the argument suspect, but don't have the Greek background to evaluate it directly. The best I can do is see if I can find counter-examples where that verb tense is used where the author does not explicitly want to connote temporality, but I haven't had a chance to do a survey on that yet. – Eric May 11 '17 at 23:10
  • I have voted to close this question. "I heard an argument" is not a valid reason. Especially when it is totally wrong. – fdb May 12 '17 at 8:14
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    @fdb - Just because the question has arisen from a dubious source does not undermine the question itself. It's still a hypothesis about the interpretation of a passage, which the OP is asking BH.SE to scrutinise. "Is it true that verbs in this tense always do X" seems like a premise which is perfectly testable using hard evidence, and which is therefore not "primarily opinion-based". – Steve Taylor May 12 '17 at 9:35
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At the least, the present tense informs the reader that the apostle Paul did not permit women to teach or have authority over a man at the time he wrote the epistleand obviously shortly thereafter when those to whom the epistle was addressed would read it. But whether that prohibition was temporary or permanent, the tense alone does not convey.

In the original post, there is occasional mention of the word “imperative,”1 which might suggest to some that the apostle Paul actually used a verb conjugated in the imperative mood (this mood is used for commands). To be clear, the verb ἐπιτρέπω is conjugated in the indicative mood rather than the imperative mood. The indicative mood is typically used to state facts.2

If the apostle Paul had used the aorist tense, it would suggest that prohibition applied in the past but no longer applied in the present. Had he used the future tense, it would suggest that the prohibition would apply in the future but no longer applied in the present. The apostle appropriately used the present tense because the prohibition applied at that present time.

But, did the prohibition cease—or rather, did the apostle Paul intend for it to cease?

If the prohibition were to cease, what would be the impetus of the cessation? What would happen with the relationship between men and women that would allow women to become teachers and have authority over men? Has anything changed since the apostle Paul authored the epistle to nullify the prohibition? One verse later, the apostle Paul remarked,3

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but after the woman was deceived, she was in the transgression.

ΙΓʹ Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη εἶτα Εὕα ΙΔʹ καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἀπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν TR, 1550

Here, we see that the prohibition is based on something that occurred near the onset of creation: Eve’s transgression by the serpent. As a result, it is written,4

16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” NASB, 1996

We must then reason that this prohibition is still binding to this day.

  1. The divine prescription in Gen. 3:16 establishes husbands as masters of their wives.5
  2. In 1 Tim. 2:13–14 cp. 1 Cor. 14:34, the apostle Paul reaffirms the divine prescription in Gen. 3:16.

Perhaps the only argument against the divine prescription would be that the relationship between men and women in Christ has changed so as to no longer warrant it. In response to this, we need only recognize that the apostle Paul was writing to Christians—those who had been regenerated (born again). Accordingly, the apostle Paul himself did not believe that even regeneration nullified the divine prescription.


Many commentaries acknowledge that 1 Tim. 2:12 has a parallel in 1 Cor. 14:34–35:6

14 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 15 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. NKJV, 1982

Yet, women were evidently allowed to speak in Church, e.g., for prophesying or praying.7 Thus, the apostle Paul did not prohibit women from speaking in Church at all times. Rather (and I am aware of the tomes written on 1 Tim. 2:12), he prohibits them from being bishops, since bishops were the ones charged with both teaching and supervision of (i.e., authority over) the Church.8 Thus, “remain silent” is to be understood as a prohibition of speaking for the purpose of teaching others—a responsibility of bishops, who were only to be men.9

Since bishops still exist, the prohibition still applies to this day. However, to reiterate, the tense alone cannot convey this. Rather, it is the context that must be appreciated.


References

Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament. Vol. 3. Boston: Lee, 1878.

Huther, Johann Eduard; Lünemann, Georg Konrad Gottlieb. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, and to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Trans. Hunter, David; Evans, Maurice J. New York: Funk, 1885.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Footnotes

1 viz., “a temporary imperative”; “timeless universal imperative”
2 Mounce, §16.1. It is actually true that there is a distinction between aorist and present imperatives with respect to the action of the verb, but since ἐπιτρέπω is conjugated in the indicative mood, such is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
3 1 Tim. 2:13–14
4 Gen. 3:16
5 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22, 5:24; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1, 3:6 cp. Gen. 18:12
6 Huther, p. 105; Alford, p. 319
7 1 Cor. 11:5
8 1 Tim. 3:2
9 ibid.

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  • This is a great answer, but I just want to make one thing explicit: When you say "the tense alone does not convey", this applies to verbs that are in the indicative mood, present tense, active voice - right? Not just present tense? The argument was specific regarding the mood, voice, and tense of the verb. – Eric May 12 '17 at 21:53
  • As I read it, the argument was specific regarding tense. The mood and voice seemed to be only mentioned in passing. – user862 May 13 '17 at 2:31
  • I didn't understand the distinction until after you had answered, so the question was not clear. I will edit it. – Eric May 13 '17 at 13:16
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If you really want to insist that the present indicative “always implies temporality” (which is absolutely untrue, as others have pointed out on here), then you are going to end up very quickly with a theological can of worms. You will then need to insist that ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν means “God is love (at this temporary moment, but maybe in the future he might not be)”. Do you really want to go down this path?

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  • Great argument re:God is love... As I said, I am not advocating the above reading. Simply asking about it. – Eric May 12 '17 at 15:36
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I would translate 1 Timothy 2:12 like this:

What's more, I do not allow a woman to teach nor to usurp the authority of a man, but to be silent.

Details (click for a larger picture):

enter image description here

To get a fuller picture of what Paul "permits" in regard to teaching, he says this in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (as I interpret him):

34 Women in the assemblies: let them hold their peace, since it is not permitted for them to speak. Yes, and let them subject themselves in obedience, just as the law says. 35 However, if some desire to learn, let them ask their own husbands at home. Indeed, it is a dishonourable thing for a woman to speak at an assembly.

Details (click for a larger picture):

enter image description here

There is no sense, here, that Paul is talking about a "temporary" arrangement.

In regard to the keeping of silence, it was only applicable during the assemblies. Paul made it clear, that if a wife had anything to contribute, she was free to ask her own husband in the privacy of her home. There was no attempt to gag woman, only to maintain the hierarchy of ORDAINED order as Paul saw it (in the past, now, and for always), i.e. children -> mother -> father -> master -> king -> God, order that many of the assemblies were struggling to achieve, even among the leadership (men only).

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