In Part 3 we did the first half of Step Five of my analysis: an examination of the meaning of the original Greek words and grammar. Finally, now, we come to the conclusion-- my interpretation, in which I will go phrase by phrase from the Concordant Literal translation used at the end of Part 3.
“Let a woman be learning in quietness with all subjection.”
There is a question at this point as to whether Paul is referring to “woman” as a collective or as singular. The switch from the plural “women” in the preceding verse to the indefinite singular “woman” in this verse appears to indicate a change of subject. Paul therefore may be no longer talking about "women" in general, but about "a woman" in particular. If so, he does not name this particular woman, so whether he means women in general, or one specific woman, cannot be conclusively stated. However, there are very good reasons to think he might be talking about just one woman, which I will detail below.
In any event, since “Let be learning” is the only verb form in the entire passage which is in the command form, I believe this sentence is the controlling sentence of this passage. Whatever else Paul says, he says in view of the need for “a woman” to "learn." In a society where women were largely denied education, Paul’s command that she is to learn sounds a clear counter-cultural note. “Quietness” and "subjection," according to their Greek meanings, do not denote silence and subordination, but rather that she should have an attitude of receptivity and willingness to yield, as is fitting for any student.
“Now I am not permitting a woman to be teaching nor yet to be domineering over a man, but to be in quietness.”
Notice that Paul does not say, “Timothy, do not permit a woman.” Nor does he say, "A woman is forbidden." Instead, Paul uses the word “I” and puts the verb in present tense, indicating a current action. Since Paul looked upon the church at Ephesus as uniquely his church, and since Timothy’s ministry there is a temporary measure during Paul’s absence-- and since Timothy’s main role was to stop false teaching-- I believe Paul is giving Timothy Paul’s own authority to act for Paul in a specific situation of false teaching by “a woman,” the effect of which is to domineer over “a man” (indefinite noun again). It is unlikely Paul is making any kind of policy about all women being forbidden to teach, or to teach in church meetings, because the facts are on the table that Paul did indeed permit women to teach and commended them for teaching. Junia was “outstanding among the apostles,” and it would be impossible to be an apostle (one who has the role of planting churches) without teaching church groups about Christ. And Paul simply cannot be forbidding women to “have authority” because that is not what the word “authenteo” means. What is clear is that false teaching is a real problem in the church at Ephesus and that Paul’s main purpose in writing to Timothy was to deal with this issue.
As I mentioned, it is the norm in Koine Greek, when one refers to “woman” and “man” together, that they are married to one another. Given the Greek construction, Paul could be saying, “Now I am not permitting this certain woman to be teaching-and-domineering over her husband, but to be learning in quietness.” If Paul is talking about women in general, and not a particular woman, it is a puzzle as to why he switches from the plural “women” in verses 9 and 10, to the singular “a woman” in verse 11. Be that as it may, I will also take into account that Paul might be speaking of “woman” in a generic sense, meaning “all the women in the church.”
“For Adam was first molded, thereafter Eve, and Adam was not seduced.”
As I stated in Part 3, I believe Paul is using Adam and Eve an example. The word “for” in the Greek includes the meaning “for example.“ Also, Paul specifically states in 1 Cor. 10:11 that he considers the Old Testament stories to be “for an example” and “for instruction” to the Christian churches. He says nothing about using them to “ground” a teaching of his, in order to render that teaching timeless and universal. In 2 Cor. 11:3 Paul specifically refers to Eve as an example, in a situation having to do with a particular circumstance of false teaching that he was afraid would deceive the Corinthian church. His reference to Eve there has nothing to do with “grounding” anything Paul is saying in order to make it timeless and universal.
It is most likely here in 1 Timothy 2 as well, that the reference to Adam and Eve is being used as an example only. There is no particular reason to believe that the Creation order set up a pre-Fall authority hierarchy of Adam over Eve, which Paul is claiming should be followed in this letter to Timothy. There is nothing in the actual Creation texts that says so. The only real way to read a Creation-order based hierarchy in Genesis 1 and 2 is to read it in from 1 Timothy 2:11-15. To then use the Creation-order hierarchy you have read into Genesis, as a “grounding” of hierarchy in 1 Timothy 2, is circular reasoning: Genesis 1 and 2 say there’s a hierarchy because 1 Timothy 2 says so, and 1 Timothy 2 says there’s a hierarchy because Genesis 1and 2 say so. But that only works as long as you stay inside the circle.
The emphasis on Adam being “first molded” is more significant in light of the fact that “Adam was not seduced.” That is what the actual text of 1 Timothy 2:13-14 says. If we then look at this in light of the controlling idea “let a woman learn,“ the most likely idea is that since Adam was made before Eve, he had learning (experience in naming the animals, for example) that Eve was lacking. Adam, unlike Eve, had seen the serpent before, because he had named it. Because of this, he was "not seduced" (or "deceived"). He still sinned, but not through deception.
The situation is probably similar in the problem Paul is addressing. An unlearned woman or women are teaching deception because she/they have not had adequate learning before beginning to teach.
I don’t believe Paul’s idea here is to blame Eve for the first sin, because in his letter to the Romans he places the responsibility squarely on Adam. Here he says that Eve sinned because she was deceived, but Adam sinned even though he knew better. The situation for women in Ephesus parallels this. They have not been permitted to learn and therefore, like Eve, they have become deceived.
(Paul may also, as a side note, be asserting this orthodox idea of the order of creation in refutation of the proto-Gnostic teaching that Eve was created first, that the Fall was a good thing, and that Eve was the wise one who led Adam into enlightenment. But in any case, it all appears related to the “teaching-and-domineering” of an unlearned woman or women.)
“. . . yet the woman, being deluded, has come to be in the transgression.”
Here is the phrase that supports the notion that Paul is talking about one woman in a current situation. Since Paul was a teacher and a scholar, we must believe that he chose the exact verb form he meant to use. This verb form refers to an ongoing state of affairs that continues into the present. But how can he say of Eve, “she has come to be, and still is, in the transgression”? And why does he first speak of Adam and Eve by name, but then switch to “Adam” and “the woman”?
There is a common grammar structure in Koine Greek where a statement will begin with an indefinite singular noun (such as “a woman”), and then the noun will be repeated with a definite article later on. When this happens, both nouns are to be construed as referring to the same person or thing. An example of this occurs in John 4:7-9: “A woman of Samaria” in verse 7 is the same person as “the woman of Samaria” in verse 9. So when Paul says “the woman” instead of “Eve,” the grammatical construction refers back to “a woman” in the preceding sentence.
The only way Paul could be speaking of Eve as still being in transgression, is if he is referring to Eve in a typological sense as representing all women, with Eve’s sin as a type for all women’s sin. He does do something like this with Adam in Romans 5. So it may be possible that he is doing that with Eve here. But it’s also possible that he is talking about a particular woman but not referring to her by name, out of grace, in order to protect her.
“Yet she shall be saved through the child bearing, if ever they should be remaining in faith and love and holiness with sanity.”
We can only assume Paul knew what he was doing in switching from “she” to “they” in the same phrase. The two pronouns could not both be referring to "women in general."
“She” can mean either Eve, or a particular woman who is practicing false teaching and domineering over her husband. “The childbearing” (or "the chilbirth") refers to the bearing of the “seed of woman” as referred to in the Adam and Eve story-- ie., the Christ. So-- if this is about one particular woman who is in transgression, “they” probably means she and her husband together. If this woman will join with her husband in faith, love and holiness with clear-headedness (rejecting the false teaching), she will be saved by Christ, out of her current transgression.
If “she” means Eve, then “they” probably means the women of the church-- her daughters, who, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with clear-headedness, will bring the salvation that comes through the birth of Christ, to Eve (as a metaphor for womankind).
But in any event, there is no compelling reason to interpret these verses as saying, "Let women keep quiet, for God forbids them to ever teach or have any authority over men in the church. Women's role is to learn and to teach other women, but they can never teach men, because they were created second and moreover became deceived. But they will be saved from deception if they will accept their place and have babies in submission and holiness." This is simply not what the passage says.
The question that remains is, why did more accurate readings become so obscured? I think there is a reason for that.
Recent research indicates that during the earliest years of the church, when believers were meeting in houses, women had prominent roles in house leadership. The house was, after all, the woman’s particular domain. 1 Corinthians 1:11 refers to “those of Chloe’s household.” And Colossians 4:15 says “Greet Nympha, and the church that meets at her house.” These women were almost certainly leaders of house churches. If not, Paul would have been extremely remiss in greeting only the hostess of a church that met at her house, but neglecting to greet the actual leader!
But over the years, churches began to grow too large to meet in homes, and at the same time, as Christianity became more accepted, it also became more organized and structured. The idea of women doing anything in public was still shameful in much of the culture. Desiring to spread the gospel, churches followed the advice of Paul in fitting in with the surrounding cultures except in areas of conscience. “What shall we do with our woman leaders?” was the thought on the mind of the church as a whole. It became convenient to find a Scriptural basis for women not teaching-- and by this time, Paul’s letters had been around long enough for the situations in which he wrote to begin to be forgotten.
The rest, as they say, is history.
So. . . Having interpreted the Scriptures in this way, it still remains to find its application for us as part of the New Creation kingdom of God, living in the modern world. Even though Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are most likely a situational mandate referring to a particular policy he set for a particular church at one particular time, this is still part of the God-inspired canon of Scripture, and there is still something we can learn from it today.
I believe there are timeless principles that are being conveyed even within this time-bound passage. Once we understand what Paul was probably really saying to Timothy, and what Paul probably wasn’t really saying-- then we can then figure out how Paul’s words might apply to us.
Here are the principles that I think we can deduce from this passage, which can be applied today:
1. All Christians, male and female, are to be taught the basic doctrines of their faith.
2. The doctrines of the faith are to be received in a quiet, receptive, yielding state of mind.
3. It’s important that a Christian learn the basics of the faith before attempting to become a teacher of others.
4. Teaching that domineers over others is not acceptable.
5. A person who is “deluded” or “deceived” can still be saved by Christ.
What I cannot see in this passage is any reason to restrict all women in the church today, as Paul restricted women (or a woman) in first-century Ephesus. The situations that existed in first-century Ephesus do not exist today. Christian women today are not uneducated; they are not influenced by the worship of Artemis, and they are not imbibing the teachings of gnosticism.
Which brings us to principle #6: Church leaders can set policies for their individual churches, to deal with specific situations there at specific times, which need not apply to all churches everywhere.
I am indepted to Cheryl Schatz's website, Women in Ministry, for her insights into this passage.