Here is my attempt to understand 1 Tim 2:11, 12.

The Greek text of 1 Timothy 2:11, 12, according to Nestle-Aland (UBS 5th Ed) is the basis for most translations in English. According to the Majority Text (eg, Farstad et al), the Byzantine Text (Robinson and Pierpont), Family 35 text (Wilbur Pickering), the Patriarchal text, and the Textus Receptus, the order of the first three words of v12 is reversed, but this changes neither the translation nor the meaning of the text.

As commonly translated in modern versions, the NIV is typical, but its margin offers a significant alternative.

“(v11) A woman [wife]margin should learn in quietness and full submission. (v12) I do not permit a woman [wife]margin to teach or to assume authority over a man [husband]margin; she must be quiet.” 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 NIV.

It is no wonder that this single passage is both the magna carta of ecclesiastical sexism and a thorn in the side of gender equality. Therefore, how are we to understand this verse? Understanding this verse is complicated by the fact that the central verb, “authenteo”, translated “assume authority over” occurs only here in all the New Testament. It is immediately obvious that such a translation is inconsistent with both the theology of Scripture and its practice.

Therefore, to properly understand this verse, we must better understand the vocabulary and idiom, because it is clear that such a simplistic translation, as above, is out of place in Paul’s writing and the rest of the Bible. This verb, “authenteo” is used only here in verse 12 in all the New Testament. It is an unusual choice if Paul simply intended the idea of “authority” for which a variety of more common words are available. Indeed, the ANLEX entry is, “strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over”. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (400 AD) translates this word as “dominari” = domineer.

A very impressive study by Albert Wolters (Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, JBMW vol 11-1, p44, 2006) clearly shows that this verb (and its cognate relatives) means to “have mastery over”. (See also its use as a noun in Wisdom 12:6, “murderer”, and 3 Macc 2:29, “master”.) Cynthia Long Westfall agrees (Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.), “In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō [which includes the infinitive authentein] refers to a range of actions . . . . However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden, because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”

Such behaviour is out of place in both the home and the Christian congregation for anyone including women. Indeed, Jesus and the apostle Peter specifically forbade Christian leaders (or anyone else) “lording it over” other members of the congregation (Matt 20:25, 26, Mark 10:42, 43, 1 Peter 5:3). Thus, a domineering attitude is inappropriate behaviour for both men and women, but presumably, Timothy had particular problems in his congregation(s) with some difficult and bossy women that Paul advised him to address. Further, Paul’s advice in Eph 5:21—28 gives authority to husbands over wives, but only consistent with the loving, self-sacrificing attitude of Christ to the Church. Again, complete mastery of anyone over another is out of place in the Christian community and home (Eph 5:21) by both men and women.

It is very instructive that that the immediate context of this instruction is vs 9 and 10 where Paul instructs women to dress with modesty and decently (ie, not provocatively or to call attention to themselves). It appears that he then expands upon this point about how women are to teach – without being domineering; and to learn in calmness.

The final sentence of this tricky verse 12 contains Paul’s injunction, “she must remain quiet” (NIV), or, “she is to keep quiet” (NRSV), or, “but to remain quiet” (NASB), or, “but to be in silence” (KJV & NKJV), or, “she is to remain quiet” (ESV), etc, with similar results for v11.

We first observe that the phrase in v12 begins with the conjunction, “but” which necessarily introduces a related but opposite idea. Again, it is clear that Biblical women were NOT required to be silent and this is clear by a simple comparison of the translation of the same word, hesuchia, earlier in the same passage, verse 2, which applies to all Christians to be “peaceful/tranquil and calm”. As used here, this obviously does not imply that Christians are to remain silent or quiet! Therefore, for consistency we should use a similar idea in verse 12, thus rendering the latter part of verse 12, “but to be calm”, without implying quietness or silence.

Up to verse 10, Paul uses the plural, “women”, presumably applying to all Christian women. However, in verses 11, and 12, he switches to the singular, “woman” or “wife”. I am inclined to think that Paul specifically has wives in mind here, hence his change of grammatical number. However, whether this is true or not does not alter the point – silence is NOT advocated so much as calmness. Again, the same word, hesuchia, is used to describe the way a wife should learn and teach; and, again, it does not imply quietness; indeed, both the Socratic and Rabbinic teaching methods involved much discussion and dialogue between the student and teacher .

Therefore, Paul simply states what modern pedagogy has confirmed: that a student cannot learn while arrogant or surly. Thus Paul says (v11), “Let a wife learn in calmness and subjection.” As such, this is a perfect introduction to what comes after in verse 12 about eliminating domineering attitudes in the family.

Of course, such advice is applicable to husbands (as shown above) as well as wives but the more urgent problem in Timothy’s parish was possibly with overly bossy wives, as further evidenced by the “reason” quoted immediately after about Adam and Eve to encourage over-confidant women to be a little more humble and less arrogant.

Translation of 1 Tim 2:11, 12

Let me now translate 1 Tim 2:11, 12 using the above principles: “Let a wife learn in calmness and subjection. I do not permit a wife to foist her ideas on the husband, but to be calm.” With this understanding, we have much better agreement with the rest of Scripture and a more sensitive handling of the Greek idiom. Further, it is consistent with other Scriptural instruction to be humble and imitate Christ such as Matt 11:29, Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.

But what do the rest of you think??

  • This question has been discussed and answered at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1375/…, and again hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/29444/…. Please see my answer in the second question / discussion.
    – Gina
    Sep 5 '18 at 8:39
  • This basis of question superimposes a modern philosophical position upon the record of an historic circumstance. It betrays a complete misunderstanding of the hermeutic approach of endeavouring to understand the mindset of the writers and readers of the text. I have voted to close.
    – enegue
    Sep 10 '18 at 23:02

In addition to the comment under this question, it is hard to justify the majority use and application of this "silence" commanded upon women, when in vs. 9 of the same chapter, Paul was advising how women were to be modestly dressed while they were praying in public.

"8 I wish, therefore, that men pray in every place, lifting up kind hands, apart from anger and reasoning;

9 in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, with modesty and sobriety to adorn themselves, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or garments of great price,

10 but -- which becometh women professing godly piety -- through good works." (1 Tim. 2: 8-10, YLT)

In like manner.... meaning like the men who were publicly praying without anger the women when publicly praying... etc. It is illogical to force the meaning of silence from Paul's teaching when he had absolutely been discussing the women's mode of dress while publicly speaking.

Likewise in 1 Cor. 11:5 when Paul discussed the women wearing a veil while prophesying.

"and every woman praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, doth dishonour her own head, for it is one and the same thing with her being shaven," (YLT)

The women could hardly be praying and prophesying while keeping silent.

So, there is a great misunderstanding of these passages because of the failure to put them in their time and place of the culture of the day which had strictures for women in public. Adam Clarke offers a clearer discussion of 1 Cor. 11 which explains the societal context here.

Please also see my blog post "Is A Woman Commanded to Keep Silent?" here.

A still and calm demeanor is the correct understanding.

  • Do you accept Paul's premise, that man's superiority is "from the beginning"?: 1 Corinthians 11: 7A man ought not to cover his head,b since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is from this intrinsic inequality that he argues that women should be covered.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 5 '18 at 11:30
  • Paul says that if anyone doesn't acknowledge that women are not allowed to speak in the assembly and are to be silent THEN IGNORE THAT TEACHER: NIV 1 Cor 14: 34Womenf should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.g
    – Ruminator
    Sep 5 '18 at 11:32
  • 1 Cor 14 - continued: 36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.h
    – Ruminator
    Sep 5 '18 at 11:32
  • In the first passage you cite (1 Tim 2:8) Paul specifically say that MEN should do the praying in every place. The women are to be modest and maintain good works. This is why he says "likewise the women" - meaning the first phrase was about men only.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 5 '18 at 11:37
  • The second passage you quote doesn't say that women should speak with an uncovered head but rather that if they do it IT IS WRONG. You are appealing to the passage as a positive instruction which it is not. Feminism is humanistic. Be different. Be biblical.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 5 '18 at 11:39