This series continues here with Step 5: Determine the most likely meaning of the passage in question, with a view towards the meaning of the words in their original language, along with grammar and construction.
I'll start with the word meanings, grammar and construction. This gets pretty detailed, so if you get bored, feel free to wait for Part 4, where I'll do the "determine the most likely meaning" part.
I'm not a Greek scholar myself, so I'm indebted to Suzanne McCarthy and Philip Payne for their information on the words and grammar of this passage of Scripture.
But the place to start is with English translations. Here is the passage in the KJV:
11. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
15. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Here is the passage in the TNIV:
11. 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. 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.
How close are either of these versions to the wording in the actual Greek?
In verse 11 the KJV says “in silence,“ but the Greek words do not denote absolute silence, but means something more like “in quietness” or “in peace.“ The KJV also uses the definite article “the” before “woman” in verse 11, and before “man” in the second sentence. In the original, there is no definite article here before either “woman” or “man.” In the absence of a definite article, a noun can mean one general thing (“a woman”) or a collective set of things (“womankind”) or a particular thing (“this certain woman”). The grammatical construction of a particular passage will give additional clues as to which is meant.
The TNIV uses the indefinite article “a” to denote this, and renders “silence” more accurately as “quietness.”
It’s also important to notice that the word “learn” is the only word in this passage that is in the imperative (command) tense.
In verse 12, the word translated “suffer” or “permit,“ is a Greek word that usually connoted a temporary state of affairs. In the tense Paul uses, it does not imply “I never permit” so much as “I am not giving permission.” It is not worded as a command, but as a statement of what “I” -- Paul-- does.
Both these translations avoid “exercise authority” in verse 12. Some translations render it this way, as I mentioned in Part 2-- but the Greek word for the normal use of authority is not used here. The Greek verb is “authentein” (authenteo in the verb conjugation). This word appears only once in the New Testament, in this verse. No Greek dictionary or lexicon gives “have authority” or “exercise authority” as a possible translation of this word. Here are the possible definitions from a well-known lexicon:
1) one who with his own hands kills another or himself
2) one who acts on his own authority, autocratic
3) an absolute master
4) to govern, exercise dominion over one
Clearly what “a woman” is forbidden to do is not simply to “have authority.” The TNIV renders it “assume authority over” and the KJV says “usurp authority over” -- both of which are closer to the actual verb meaning-- to seize authority that has not been granted, to domineer. Also, that conjunction word between “teach” and “usurp authority” in the original is a is a word that links the two verbs together, giving them the same weight in the sentence. “Teach” by itself is not what is being addressed here. It is “teach-and-domineer,” as a unit.
Verse 13 is fairly terse and simple. Adam was formed first, then Eve. The issue is not what this verse says, but how Paul is using this information.
In verse 14, Neither version above accurately renders the verb tense in “was in the transgression” or “became a sinner.” Both of these are past tense, denoting something that happened in the past. But the actual verb tense is the perfect tense, and is better rendered “has come to be in sin.” The perfect tense refers to a present, ongoing state of affairs-- implying not only that “the woman” (and the definite article does appear in the original this time) not only was in sin, but still is. Note also that while both Adam and Eve are referred to in one sentence, in the following sentence it switches to “Adam” and “the woman.”
In verse 15 the TNIV takes what in the last sentence are actually two distinct pronouns (“she“ and “they“), and puts in the word “women” for “she,” obscuring the difference which is clear in the original. The KJV does accurately show the Greek pronouns here: “she” shall be saved if “they” continue in faith, etc. It is not common in Greek any more than in English to switch from a singular to a plural pronoun in the middle of sentence when referring to the same noun. Paul was an educated man and a scholar. It is very unlikely that he would have made such an amateur mistake. Since the original says first “she” and then “they,” Paul is almost certainly referring to two different nouns from earlier in the text-- not the same one.
The Greek also includes the definite article “the” before the word “childbearing.”
“Childbearing” can also be rendered “childbirth.” “The childbearing” is most likely to mean not just childbearing in general, but a specific childbearing or childbirth. In fact, since the passage makes reference to Eve, whose “seed” was to “crush the serpent’s head,” it is quite likely that Paul is referring to “the childbearing” in terms of this “seed”-- that is, the birth of the Christ. The word “saved” here is a word that means “spiritual salvation.” It is the word commonly used when speaking of what Christ came to do for humanity. Having a baby cannot save anyone. But the birth of the Child can save everyone.
We must also note that the words for “woman” and “man” in the Greek could also mean “wife” and “husband.” There are no separate words for “wife” or “husband” in the Greek. In fact, some English translations say, “I do not permit a wife to teach . . . a husband.” It is actually the norm in Koine Greek, when a man and a woman are being discussed together in the same passage, for the reader to consider them related by marriage (since there are no separate words for “husband” and “wife” in the Greek.) The translators must do their best with the context, to figure out which is meant. But when a the context is ambiguous (as this one manifestly is!) it’s hard to be sure.
Finally, there is the word “subjection,” which is the noun form of the verb “hupotasso,“ meaning “to yield, give in to, cooperate with.“ In the voice in which it is used here, it carries a connation of voluntary yielding. Twice in the Epistles it is used in this voice to denote an attitude all Christians should have towards one another (Eph. 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5). The word does not mean “obedience” -- there is another Greek word for that which Paul distinguishes from this word. He never uses the Greek word for “obey” as an instruction to wives or women about husbands or men.
Now, to bring this all together, here is a translation from the Concordant Literal New Testament, which closely follows the Greek in terms of singular and plural pronouns, actual verb tenses, etc.
Let a woman be learning in quietness with all subjection. Now I am not permitting a woman to be teaching nor yet to be domineering over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first molded, thereafter Eve, and Adam was not seduced, yet the woman, being deluded, has come to be in the transgression Yet she shall be saved through the child bearing, if ever they should be remaining in faith and love and holiness with sanity.
So-- having looked closely at the original Greek, what is the most likely meaning of this passage? That will be covered in Part 4.