The historic reading of 1 Tim 2


The debate about the rather challenging verses in Paul’s first letter to Timothy continues to surface at regular intervals, and it is often characterised as being between those who maintain the ‘historic’ understanding of these verses, so requiring women not to teach or have authority in church, and those who want to offer an ‘innovative’ reading that allows for a full role for both genders. I was told exactly that last week on social media: whom am I to go against the settled and agreed view of the Church for close on 2,000 years?

But it is worth reflecting on how this passage has in fact been interpreted historically. Kevin Giles does just this in his article in Evangelical Quarterly from 2000, available for download here. Some of the voices from the past are well worth listening to.

Giles first notes that there is wide agreement amongst Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Jerome, Aquinas and many others that v 11 means that Paul is demanding absolute silence by women in church at all times. ‘Calvin and Luther also took Paul to be saying women should keep silent in church, yet in practice they allowed women to sing hymns in church. Calvin allowed that they could lead in prayer, Luther did not.’ Here is a sample of related comments, some from Giles, some direct from the sources.

Chysostom in Homily 9:

For, as if they came hither for recreation, they are all engaged in conversing upon unprofitable subjects. Thus all is confusion, and they seem not to understand, that unless they are quiet, they cannot learn anything that is useful. For when our discourse strains against the talking, and no one minds what is said, what good can it do to them? To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church…For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides.

On v 12 Luther comments:

This passage makes woman subject. It takes from her all public office and authority

and he here appears to understand this to apply in all spheres of life, not just home and church. Similarly, Calvin says that

Women by nature (that is by the ordinary law of God) are born to obey, for all wise men have always rejected gunaikokratian the government of women, as an unnatural monstrosity…the true order of nature prescribed by God lays down that the woman should be subject to the man.

The 19th-century Southern US theologian R L Dabney comments:

Man is the ruler, woman the ruled…Her race is a subordinate race…

Charles Hodge says:

Man’s superiority … enables and entitles him to command…This superiority of the man is … taught in Scripture, founded in nature and proved by all experience.

Calvin on creation order:

Now Moses shews that the woman was created afterwards, in order that she might be a kind of appendage to the man; and that she was joined to the man on the express condition, that she should be at hand to render obedience to him. Since, therefore, God did not create two chiefs of equal power, but added to the man an inferior aid, the Apostle justly reminds us of that order of creation in which the eternal and inviolable appointment of God is strikingly displayed…The reason that women are prevented from teaching is that it is not compatible with their status, which is to be subject to men, whereas to teach implies superior authority and status.

The influential English Methodist theologian, Adam Clarke, comments:

God designed that he (the man) should have the pre-eminence … the structure of woman plainly proves that she was never designed for those exertions required in public life. In this is the chief part of the natural inferiority of woman.

Irenaeus says: ‘Having become disobedient, she (Eve) was made the cause of death, both to herself and the whole human race’ and Tertullian goes further:

The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.

Luther on the woman’s deception:

There was more wisdom and courage in Adam…Experience has been witness of this…It was not Adam who went astray. Therefore there was greater wisdom in Adam, than in the woman.

And Calvin:

[The woman] seduced the man from God’s commandment, it is fitting that she should be deprived of all her freedom and placed under a yoke

On the final phrase, about ‘being saved through the childbirth’, Chrysostom comments:

Be not cast down, because your sex has incurred blame…the whole sex shall be saved, notwithstanding, by childbearing.

Luther argues that women’s penalty for sin remains, notwithstanding the work of Christ:

The pain and tribulation of childbearing continue. These penalties will continue until judgement…You will be saved if you subjected yourselves and bear children with pain…If women bear themselves weary—or ultimately bear themselves out-that does not matter. Let them bear themselves out. This is the purpose for which they exist.

Calvin (says Giles) believes these words were added for the ‘consolation’ of women.

[In case it should] reduce women to despair to hear the whole ruin of the human race imputed to them…Paul reminds them that although they must suffer temporal punishment, the hope of salvation remains for them.

The reason for citing these perspectives is not simply to provoke revulsion against these views, though Giles does comment:

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that so much of what we have just outlined, which purports to be the exegesis of 1 Tim. 2-9-15, is not more a reflection of the androcentric and misogynist views of the theologians quoted, who are immersed in a thoroughly patriarchal culture, than the mind of God as revealed in Scripture.

(For a sustained argument along these lines, see Alvin Schmidt, Veiled and Silenced: how culture shaped sexist theology.) I would hasten to add that these readings are very hard to support from the text of Genesis and 1 Timothy, let alone the wider picture in the NT of men’s and women’s roles. For my own perspectives, see my entries on Genesis, on 1 Timothy, as well as on 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.

But Giles’ real point here is that even the most ‘conservative’ mainstream view arguing that women cannot teach does not argue for what these historic interpretations argue. The consistent position above is that women should not exercise any responsibility or authority in society, that their purpose in life is childbirth, and that this is because they are inherently inferior and more prone to sin. Contemporary conservative commentators are always very careful to distance themselves from such views.

The consequence of this is that, in the debates about the role of women, all views are ‘novel’ in the sense that they do not follow the above positions. So the debate is not between the ‘historic’ view and an ‘innovation’, but between two competing innovative readings, both of which are significantly different from past readings.

But I have further reflections on this dynamic. To recognise this history of interpretation is not to advocate a hermeneutical counsel of despair—if so many can get this so wrong, why bother reading these texts? Quite the opposite. It demonstrates how easy it is for us to be shaped by the values of our age and read this into the Scriptural text—and that applies to all sides in the current debates on sexuality and gender relations. Our careful engagement with the text of Scripture is more important than ever, as is the commitment to allowing Scripture to challenge and form our views.

The task of interpretation demands a high level of both self-awareness as well as awareness of the range of different perspectives. The only way to address this is to engage, positively, with those with whom we disagree, rather than retreating into ghettos of those who share the same view as we do.

(First published in a revised form in September 2013).

Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

63 thoughts on “The historic reading of 1 Tim 2”

  1. Yes!
    And … of course there are other biblical references, eg to women praying and prophesying aloud in public church meetings: not to mention the first creation story which clearly states that God created male and female together in the image of God. It’s all more nuanced than we are often led to believe.

    • Ian rightly wrote, “Our careful engagement with the text of Scripture is more important than ever, as is the commitment to allowing Scripture to challenge and form our views.”
      There was a further instalment of that engagement between me and Ian on thread “Theological Reflection on Male-Female Complementarity” starting with my post
      Philip Almond February 10, 2018 at 11:47 am and continuing with Ian’s criticisms of my essay (See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:
      and my response to those criticisms in Philip Almond February 13, 2018 at 9:13 am. I don’t think Ian has replied to my response (sorry if I have missed it).
      Phil Almond

  2. “So the debate is not between the ‘historic’ view and an ‘innovation’, but between two competing innovative readings…”

    I’m not sure that’s quite accurate. All of the above views hold in common the attempt to uphold and enforce the instruction – however much we disagree with their reasons for explaining why. So what has changed is that conservative commentators have rejected (thankfully) those reasons for why but not the instruction itself. In the egalitarian position the instruction itself has been rejected perhaps (in part) because of this history of explanations that we forcefully deny.

    But as you rightly point out that those views were shaped by their culture and time, and in the same way our conclusions and reasons might also be shaped by our culture and time and not by scripture itself. Careful, humble work is needed.

  3. Excellent!

    But you have to admit that to those outside the faith all this doesn’t exactly instil confidence in the perspicacity of scripture.

    Ironic that Calvinism in England became embedded under Queen Elizabeth.

    It’s also noteworthy to me that 1 Tim 2:9 also bans hair braids, jewellery (gold, pearls) and expensive clothes – not rules most conservative churches defend or uphold.

    But this does leave it all a bit unclear.

    1 Cor is even less clear, with ch 14 seeming to have a couple of verses (likely inserted later) that insist on silence in the churches, despite ch 11 showing clear practice to the contrary (and women being mentioned as involved in various ministries in various places throughout the epistles).

    I was intrigued by the idea that 1 Tim 2 is a later Pauline writer’s gloss on 1 Cor 14, offering an explanation for the otherwise strange tendency of Paul to both affirm women’s ministry and insist on silence and subordination. But where does that leave the authority of scripture?

    I read Mary Beard’s Women and Power earlier in the year and was interested to see that the dominant approach in the classical world was to ban women from speaking in public, public speech being regarded as intrinsic to manliness and antithetical to femininity. This view seems to have been closely connected with the different pitches of the male and female voice. If this view was the dominant view in the classical world it helps explain it ending up in 1 Cor and then going on to be reaffirmed in 1 Tim and taken up in the wider church. It’s also interesting that, contrary to this, female leadership was accepted in the early ‘charismatic’ movement of the New Prophecy (montanism), despite 1 Cor and 1 Tim.

    So are there two traditions present in the NT, an ‘apostolic’ tradition which affirms female ministry, and a ‘classical’ tradition which requires female silence in line with classical norms? If that is the case, it would certainly reassure that God is not opposed to women’s ministry. But it would not exactly be an easy position from which to defend scriptural clarity or authority. So perhaps there is a better explanation.

  4. I have a genuine question about the Greek word translated in 1 Tim 2:11 and 2:12 as silence. In 1 Tim 2:2 we have the same word used in Paul’s prayer that we might lead “peaceful and quiet lives” and of the 11 uses of the word in the New Testament some quite clearly refer to quietness and not to silence (the other references are Lk. 14:4, Lk. 23:56, Acts 11:18, Acts 21:14, Acts 22:2, 1 Thess. 4:11, 2 Thess. 3:12, 1 Pet. 3:4). Is it clear that Paul’s listeners would understand the word one way earlier in the chapter and a different way later on? Or is there in fact a parallel? That just as Christians are called to lead peaceful and quiet lives in society, so women are called upon to be quiet and peaceful in their relationships towards men?

  5. The presupposition is often (and wrongly, though understandably) that Paul would have to say something that we would wish or ‘allow’ him to say.

    But (a) it’s clear that Paul is not subject to us; and (b) in fact the chances that we would agree with everything he said, when he said so many thousands of things, are very small indeed. Whether we agree with the author is the least relevant factor in *interpreting* a text. We will all be culture-influenced anyway, reader no less than author.

      • lol, God has certainly not blessed me with particular ability in the area of Pauline studies, as in all these years of studying New Testament I still have not had one really worthwhile original insight on any Paul letter that I can think of. As the furrows are oft-ploughed by so many able scholars, there are many wonderful studies that can be consulted.

        I gather that the secondary nature of the 1 Cor 14 passage is certainly a live option (Fee gives good arguments for it, but has also been criticised), and there has been a thread on here before about that.

        I certainly would not rely on non-Pauline-specialists like me re authorship of 1 Timothy. The far more important thing here is that so often it is reduced to a simple yes/no, whereas one ought to be giving odds and percentage likelihoods. On my non-specialist assessment, Pauline authorship of each pastoral is likelier than pseudonymity in each of the 3 cases, and I wish I were equipped to quote odds, but it’s not my area. There is a very notable overlap with Lukan style and vocab. Luke may have been a secretary. Several commentators think he may have been involved. When I assess these questions I have expertise in interrelationships of texts and in historical issues but less so in stylistic issues, so if the key were stylistic it would probably pass me by. Jermo van Nes’s recent study has taken the very important authorship question to an even higher level of exactitude than before.

        • Thanks. Authorship of the Pastorals does seem pretty tricky.

          What do you make of the apparent dissonance in Paul’s teaching/practice between the insistence on silence in some (two) places and the instructions on women praying and prophesying in church and their involvement in ministry elsewhere? How do you account for it?

  6. Authorship of the Pastorals is quite tricky (and of course is actually 3 separate questions), but far more critical-level commentators (i.e., those who have given closest study to the texts) conclude for some involvement of Paul (and indeed often of Luke too) than do not. This is in stark contrast to the received wisdom of the NT introductions. Likewise, the most detailed studies of the question like Guthrie and van Nes see sense in ascribing the Pastorals to Paul.

    The question you raise has been extensively treated and thought about. I wish I was in the top division and my thoughts were worth something but in truth yours are probably worth equal. The issue seems to be women *teaching* , not only as a principle (‘all the churches’) but also secondarily because there was a particular issue with this question at Corinth and at Ephesus when he wrote these 2 letters. If women are praying and prophesying, then he knows what he means by ‘speak’ and could perhaps have been clearer, and what he means is not a blanket ban on women speaking in assembly but a more circumscribed ban. The Mary Beard treatment sounds interesting.

    • Thanks Christopher.

      It’s reassuring to know that critical-level commentators often favour Paul’s involvement in the Pastorals.

      The odd thing about making it about teaching (as in 1 Tim 2) is that in 1 Cor 14:34-5 teaching is not mentioned, and the passage is primarily about propriety in prophesying and tongues (confusingly, precisely what 1 Cor 11 suggests women are doing and may do). If 1 Cor 14:34-5 is mainly/solely about teaching then it could have been a lot clearer – I really struggle to read it like that.

      (Incidentally Mary Beard wasn’t treating the biblical passages as such, just giving an account of historical approaches to women and public speaking, in the context of women and (political) power more generally.)

      • Yes! People often see 1 Cor 14 as being about silence in a teaching context because of the questions being asked. So far from the women being allowed to teach, they are not even allowed here to speak while teaching is taking place. 1 Tim is about their not teaching, 1 Cor is about their not talking during teaching.

        • But the context of 1 Cor 14 is a discussion of propriety in use of prophecy and tongues, not teaching. The other uses of speak and silence in the passage refer to public speech – those speaking in tongues should be silent without an interpreter, and prophets should be silent when another receives a prophecy. The ‘learning’, if given by the context, would most naturally be to understand the prophecy or tongues, or perhaps the lesson mentioned in v26. But either way, in the context speech is public speech and silence is public silence. The reference to female public speech as ‘shameful’ would accord with the dominant classical view of female speech.

          • OK. Do you then think that the praying and prophesying done by women counted as semi-private speech rather than public speech? Not immediately clear, therefore, whether prophecy counts as public or private – which could mean that private/public is not after all the main distinction?

          • Which praying or prophesying by women? It’s not clear to me that 1 Cor 14 envisages any. Tongue speakers without interpreters are to be silent. And women are to be silent in the assemblies/churches as it is shameful for them to speak (at all). Maybe you mean the prophesying referred to in 1 Cor 11? The problem is you have to decide whether 14:34-5 is Paul or not. If it is then you have to make these two passages harmonise so Paul is internally coherent. If not – didn’t Ian’s previous post on this topic argue it originated as an early marginal note? – then you are relieved of having to explain Paul’s apparent inconsistency, but of course then have to defend the clarity of scripture on the topic.

            So do you assume Paul wrote 14:34-5 and so accept the need to harmonise it with chapter 11?

          • No – I think the argument for 14.34-5 being out of place here is based on the fact that there are textual discontinuities of this sort (women can/can’t prophesy; the topic is public speech in general / it is the sort of public speech that questions would be asked about / it is prophecy and tongues only) together with the fact that there is actual textual evidence that this passage may belong elsewhere (or, originally, nowhere).

            The trouble is that (a) Paul did often write off the cuff and new unconnected thoughts could suddenly occur to him (possible examples: 2 Cor. 6, Eph. 3.1-2, Php 3.1-2) after which he would and does have to return to the unfinished business. And (b) the textual history may show dislocation for that very reason: that these 2 verses seem not to be logically connected to their surrounds, and also the surrounds flow better without them.

            That is why I am undecided on the matter.

          • Yes, if you assume vv34-5 are out of context then you can try to understand them on their own terms. In which case one strange aspect to them is the assumption that the women are married, with the reference to submission and husbands. Makes you wonder what kind of speech is being banned as shameful, and what unmarried women are supposed to do to learn.

            It still seems to me to be referring to public speech, and that accords with what I understand to be the prevailing classical view of female public speech (inappropriate, shameful). But the assumption they are married is intriguing.

          • ‘Gune’ means not only woman-in-general but also (not coincidentally) wife. A high proportion of gunaikes would have been married. There are other perfectly good categories chera (widow) and parthenos (maiden) so clarity alone would demand that ‘gune’ generally be used for the married. (But it is a general term and need not apply only to married women.) It applies to married women here: the passage is a brief one and Paul (or whoever the writer is) is not covering all bases or possibilities. He may have heard about a problem that generally/typically involved wives.

          • Which, I suppose, is where the idea that it is merely a ban on wives asking their husbands questions about teaching during the public assemblies comes from.

            How though does that fit with interpreting it in light of 1 Tim 2, which presumably we should? Doesn’t it suggest the silence and submission (both words appearing again here) were understood by the writer of 1 Tim in terms of teaching and authority?

          • Hi Will,

            I think that Christopher is onto something when he wrote: ’‘Gune’ means not only woman-in-general but also (not coincidentally) wife.

            So, the picture we have is that, in 1 Cor. 14:24-25, 31, Paul explained that prophecy is for believers, imparting conviction, instruction and exhortation.

            The risk that Paul sought to avert is to prevent prophetic ministry from being exercised in a manner that could undermine Christian marriage in its mission of symbolising Christ’s relationship to the Church.

            So, when ‘woman’ is replaced by ‘wife’ in 1 Tim 2, it is rendered: ’A wife should learn in quietness and full submission. (which is consonant with 1 Pet. 3:6 and Eph. 5:22-24).

            Similarly, 1 Cor. 14:34 would read: ‘Wives should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

            This is not a blanket ban on female ministry or blanket insistence on female submission to men. Instead, the encouragement to exercise prophetic ministry (in instruction, exhortation and conviction) is qualified by his recognition that this should not undermine God’s ordering in creation of husband-wife relationship.

            This ordering is exemplified by Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve (1 Tim. 2:13) and the Church is warned of the deception which ensues, if they subvert that order, as Eve did. (1 Tim. 2:14)

    • Actually there are very few specialists who think Paul was alive when the they were written. The PE were fake. Many realise this but refuse to say so because they belong to conservative institutions which do not allow such views. Even many conservative scholars, when not constrained by their institutions, agree that Paul did not write the PE. Be careful not to take your survey sample from authors of books written for conservative students.

      Ian, your thoughts on censorship in Christian educational institutions would be valuable if you have time to write a blog post on this.

      • Richard, your assessment is vague in the extreme. Taking your train of thought (as I understand it) to its logical conclusion, we get a reductio ad absurdum:

        (1) any commonsense or face-value conclusion on any topic is suspect because people are ideologically motivated. (Quite the opposite: by virtue of being commonsense and face-value or ‘natural’, positions will regularly, though far from always, be correct.)

        Accordingly your train of thought has a central logical flaw. But there are other flaws too:

        (2) people are no less ideologically motivated to come to radical conclusions than to conservative ones. (In fact, where it comes to family morality, an area I know well, it is regularly the case that the radicals avoid debate of all kinds, and it is also regularly the case that the so-called conservatives’ statistical case is stunningly good. But where it comes to theology I have often known conservatives to indulge in ideology and join the more worldly in not differentiating between what is cherished and what there is evidence for.) That is why all genuine scholars disavow both radical and conservative ‘approaches’ as being a dishonest jumping of the gun, sticking to the evidence-based truth-seeking approach, which will at different times (depending on the evidence) yield tentative or definite conclusions that look radical or conservative or somewhere in between. Conclusions arrive (by definition) at the end of the investigative process. Scholarship, accordingly, is a great adventure – one never knows where one will end up. Think how dull things would be otherwise.

        (3) You fail to say why the main critical commentaries so often plump for Paul alone and/or Paul with Luke and/or Luke alone. In fact, no other conclusions are widespread among critical commentaries. We should not prefer the conclusions of non-specialists, surely? or of those working at NT-Introduction level rather than commentary level?

        (4) PN Harrison 1921 was a very significant study of the linguistic realia, and many have taken their lead from that. van Nes 2017 recently interacted with that study. Of course, the linguistic is only one of many angles to approach the question from – but a central one.

        (5) Scholars will always privilege the findings of those who show themselves capable of thought that is both independent and coherent. In this case: Murphy-O’Connor, van Nes, Aageson – many others, I am sure (this is not really my area). It is easy to see where ‘conclusions’ are simply second-hand repetition.

      • Anyway, how can you possibly know what ‘Many realise…but refuse to say’? That would require mind-reading.

        • You misinterpret my message. The PE are fake because that is what the evidence shows. They are not fake for any other reason.
          I should have written “Many realise (that the PE are fake) but refuse to say it publicly.” They admit it privately.

          • That raises 4 further problems (A) to (D).

            (A) You must have a private definition of the term ‘the evidence’. Who are people meant to ask about ‘the evidence’ in preference to the writers of critical commentaries? Everybody else that they ask will rank lower than that.

            (B) Who are the ‘they’ who admit it privately?

            (C) Why are ‘they’ all the same as each other rather than being individual? They seem to have an identical profile.

            (D) How come you personally have happened to hear the private confessions of a significant number of people who fit the identical profile ‘say one thing in private and another in public on precisely the same one issue’? Or have you actually?

            That is why I say you are being vague.

          • In today’s social and political context, the term FAKE is highly loaded. For the edification of the ignorant please explain: faked by whom and for what purpose? In general terms, a fake is intended to deceive and is set against the genuine, genuine writings. If they are fake, why waste time studying them at all.
            Why aren’t you shouting this from the rooftops?
            Why are books still being sold “What St Paul Really Said”
            and books on the theology of Paul?
            Who is deceiving whom? Who is trying to make a name for themselves? Who has a self-interest – a purpose of their own- to gain or maintain?

          • PS Richard,
            Who are these scholars who are “faking it” between their public and private beliefs/teachings, with perhaps a self-preserving lack of integrity- a lack of integrity which could seriously undermine their integrity and credibility in their scholasticism?

          • Christopher, I am not going to name names. If you send me an email I can share with you some strong evidence that Paul did not write the PE. My email address is in a paper that I posted on my blog last year.
            Geoff, while we can be sure that Paul did not write the PE, we cannot know who did and we can only speculate about motives. That there was intent to deceive is not certain but see Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”.

          • Thanks Richard, I sent you an email – am keen to see what new arguments can be adduced since I am researching new arguments on NT dating since Robinson and Sturdy.

  7. “So the debate is not between the ‘historic’ view and an ‘innovation’, but between two competing innovative readings, both of which are significantly different from past readings.”

    Couldn’t agree more, Ian: difference between us is that I freely accept that the text in question’s advocating the historical position; I say, simply, that both it and those who defended it are wrong.

    The alternative view, that the texts were somehow misread for 2,000 years before they were correctly interpreted for the first time in two millennia (an interpretation that, coincidentally, tracks exactly with changing social norms around gender roles) is possible to be sure: but not, IMO, likely.

    And yet, this generous reading of biblical texts isn’t applied across the board: plenty sauce for the goose while the gander must go without. If nothing else, gotta tip my hat to the ingenious hermeneutics that enable this double standard!

    • Of course, there’s a significant difference between innovation by which long-held tradition is challenged by scripture and the kind of innovation which nullifies scripture as irrelevant to the modern situation.

      This latter approach is nothing more than an uncritical export of the post-Bowers vs. Hardwick notion of an immutable, essential and stable quasi-ethnicity, called sexual identity, whereby Western societies impose a duty on all others to affirm and applaud its embodiment and realisation through sexual behaviour. (See

    • Of course, there’s a significant difference between innovation by which long-held tradition is challenged by scripture and the kind of innovation which nullifies scripture as irrelevant to the modern situation.

      This latter approach is nothing more than an uncritical export of the post-Bowers vs. Hardwick notion of an immutable, essential and stable quasi-ethnicity, called sexual identity, whereby Western societies impose a duty on all others to affirm and applaud its embodiment and realisation through sexual behaviour.

    • Of course, there’s a significant difference between innovation by which long-held tradition is challenged by scripture and the kind of innovation which nullifies scripture as irrelevant to the modern situation.

      This latter approach is nothing more than an uncritical export of the post-Bowers vs. Hardwick
      legal strategy and falsely asserted notion of an innate, essential and immutable aspect of human personhood, called sexual identity, which gained the legal protection of certain Western societies through an imposed universal duty to affirm and applaud its actualisation through sexual behaviour (

      Given that such identity essentialism has been exposed as severely flawed, there is no reason for the Church to capitulate to innovations exported directly from the identity essentialism legal playbook.

  8. Further to the above, the historical position, odious as I find it, does at least have a perverse internal logic: its advocates claim that women are inherently unsuited to the exercise of power and responsibility, a supposed disability that — if it existed, which it doesn’t, except in the minds of its advocates — would apply across the board; the new conservative position, that quarantines women’s inequality to the church while dropping demands for political and vocational disabilities, is bizarre, self-contradictory, and says some extremely dubious things about the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Such are the pitfalls of attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable.

    • There’s nothing novel about maintaining a ban on female clerics while accepting female secular rulers. Christendom always permitted queens and female accession to titles and inheritance of estates in certain circumstances. The theory supporting it was always somewhat contorted. But it is not novel.

      • Allowing extremely limited exceptions to a general rule enshrining patriarchy’s different in kind to legal equality: England probably allowed a handful of women classified as femme sole to vote before the 1830s; but that’s a clean different thing to equal suffrage.

        If conservatives were arguing for such limited exceptions to a general rule, then yup, it wouldn’t be a novelty; but those so arguing are very conservative indeed, and just as rare.

          • Interesting stats Will – and some might say, certainly for the first two of these women, their reign marked golden eras for England.

            Re-recent interaction, regardless (not to disregard of course) whether Paul wrote 1Tim, the fact is the Church and her authorities who received, owned, collated and canonised 1Tim thought Paul did write it (or at least had apostolic authority). And presumably they also thought it meant what it appears to say – no women teaching as that became the normative practise.

          • Hi Simon.

            The first woman was Bloody Mary, but I know what you meant ;-).

            I think it’s an interesting distinction between authorship and authority. Perhaps they just thought it had apostolic authority. I think they had a concept of spiritual authority that wasn’t always quite as grounded in literal history as we tend to be. Which is probably why they were happy to receive four Gospels which give subtly differing accounts of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Clement of Alexandria famously described John’s as a ‘spiritual Gospel’ in contrast to the three ‘corporeal’ Gospels. Paul speaks of being present in spirit for judgement (1 Cor 5:4) . So perhaps their concepts of authority were less literal than ours?

            Do you think they also took literally 1 Tim 2:9, which forbids expensive clothes, jewellery and hair braids?

            How do you understand the teaching ban in v12? Do you take it to be context limited (why?) or interpret it in some other way? (I think I recall from earlier threads you are egalitarian on this issue.)

            Sorry, lots of questions!

          • (Don’t forget Mary II and Anne, before we get to Victoria! We do seem to have done better under female sovereigns than male. One might even argue that it was Mary I who precipitated England into a popular protestantism through her cruel campaign against Cranmer, Ridley et. al. I believe that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs had a great influence over public opinion. )

          • Thanks will
            I find the idea of apostolic practise (Rom16- Junia, phoebe, priscilla) must trump a ‘plain’ reading of two unusual texts. The 1cor makes no sense to me in context and is contradictory to what Paul said in 1Cor11 so I think, with Fee, it either a redacted parenthesis or if original relating to noisy interruptions 😉 the 1Tim text is wierd and contradicts Paul elsewhere- here eve is blamed for the fall elsewhere Adam- here women are saved by childbirth, elsewhere all are saved by grace through faith – to make the childbearing into ‘birth of a child-Jesus’ seems so stretched I can’t take it seriously. So I confess I think it’s meaning/interpretation is somehow in the context of Ephesus, Diana, ore-gnostic androgynous cults etc and not an apostolic decree for all time silencing women!
            (Typed in haste on phone)

          • Thanks. Yes I think apostolic practice needs to be given great weight here, and I take largely the same approach.

            My only reservation is that I’m uncomfortable with what this means about the clarity and authority of scripture on the issue. It feels like it implies that scripture has been corrupted with bad teaching on the matter, and we have to sort out which bits to follow. I’d rather something which gives these passages a meaning with a valuable message for us. Any thoughts welcome!

            The childbearing reference in v15 I take to be a play on an ancient likening of virtues to children, also used by Jesus in Luke 7:35 (‘wisdom is proved right by her children’). So the ‘children’ which save her are the virtues of faith, love, holiness and modesty.

          • Thanks Will

            I agree – my reading is untidy and I’m left slightly uncomfortable with the loose ends – but what are the alternatives – loose ends elsewhere.
            I cannot go the way of the complementarian position which I find does not satisfactorily exegete the apostolic practise of women depicted in Rom16 and even does violence to the egalitarian work of the Spirit in Acts 2 with women prophets (Paul tells us is a church building foundational gift). I also think in practise it does not lead to whole churches – a gender ministry constructed on perceived gender roles in 1Tim leads to misogyny.

            I was weaned on such theology and in such communities with my family coming from generations of Exclusive Brethren and Strict Baptists that took a rigid literal interpretation of 1TIm2/1Cor14 and women really were silent in church. The net result was oppression.

            As for the 1Tim2v9 challenging ostentatious show and vanity rather than condemning specifics of braids, jewels per se I find it amusing how many conservative churches who ban women from the pulpit are happy to encourage a culture of women beautifully turned out for church. Visit a few of the most famous English complementarian churches and you will see a uniform of twin-set & pearls 🙂 But in context, maybe ‘sunday best’ in Ephesus had turned church into a fashion show and put the stylish instead of the Saviour on the platform? Perhaps it was also about being equal in church – ‘gold, pearls and costly attire’ worn to a meeting when fellow christians present are slaves in poor plain attire seems immoral.

            Some believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a member of the Church in Ephesus. Do you think if she wanted to give a talk in Church about her Son, Timothy would say “be silent, you are not permitted to have authority or teach” ?????

  9. Richard,
    Thank you for releasing me from my ignorance. I was aware of historical-critical approach, eg the historical Jesus v Jesus of faith) but not Ehrman.
    I do not subscribe to Ehrman’s conclusions, nor the historical-critical method and would look to deconstruct his a priori beliefs and the scholastic school from which he emerges, and their community methods of construction and seeming fallacious conclusions drawn. He and his belief’s and motives should be subject to the rigorous enquiry. The title of the book may suggest some motive of his or the publisher.
    Does Ehrman believe in the supernatural Triune God of Christianity, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection? The answer seems to be “No” as an agnostic/liberal (billed as an atheist in discussions below). That, to me, is key, as is his understanding of interwoven Biblical Theology. ( Or, perhaps, lack of it)
    Even on Ehrman’s own terms, isn’t it marvellous that God uses “forgeries” to draw sinners to himself for supernatural salvation and new birth.
    Here are critiques of Forged, of which you are likely to be aware, but may dismiss, through a categorisation of “conservative.”
    3 (has some points on style
    4 (Premier – radio)
    5 (debate with Simon Gathercole – How Jesus became God)

    I’ll leave it there, as you’ll be more than aware that there is so much more.

  10. A complex topic, and a number of comments come to mind:

    1. The classical commentators were consistent in restricting women’s roles throughout society. I believe they were wrong – but they were at least coherent. Modern opponents of women’s ministry have to explain how a woman can be capable of matching men’s achievements in just about every area of public life, and yet be constitutionally unfit for church ministry on the basis of the natural order. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath while waiting for an explanation on that point…

    2. The classical commentators explicitly appeal to “nature” to justify their ranking of women as inferior beings whose proper role is in subordination to men. These appeals seem to be extremely vague, and are really appeals to “experience”. In both cases, their understanding is obviously refracted through the cultural lenses of their times: that is, of course, true to some extent of all human discourse, but…

    3. These cultural biases lead to obvious misreadings of the biblical texts they appeal to.
    Calvin is quite simply wrong when he states that woman was created as an “appendage” of man: leaving aside the way in which this privileges the creation account of Genesis 2 over Genesis 1:26ff, “helpmeet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV) or “helper as his partner” (NRSV) have rather different connotations than Calvin’s disparaging “appendage”, and the dynamic of the account in Genesis 2 is not to establish a hierarchy, but to show that man and woman are made of the same stuff (Genesis 2:23) and she can therefore be a suitable “partner/helpmeet” (in contrast to the animals: Genesis 2:19-21).
    Equally, there is quite simply no ground in the text for Calvin’s statement that woman was placed alongside man “on the express condition…. that she render obedience to him”, while Irenaeus’ affirmation that woman “destroyed…God’s image, man” is equally fallacious: in Genesis 1:27 it is man and woman together who are created in the divine image and likeness.
    Overall, it seems that the saints of the past struggled to make sense of the inner dynamics of the biblical texts about men and women, and womens’ place in society and the church every bit as much as we do today. If so, then the oft-mooted opposition between “historic” readings and “modern” interpretations is indeed a house built on sand!

  11. The recent programme on BBC4 ‘Oh Do Shut Up Dear! Mary Beard on the Public Voice of Women’ puts these ‘difficult passages regarding women in historical context of the Greco-Roman world. It shows how culturally embedded Paul’s comments were.

  12. What I am getting from this in particular is that the ‘Historical’ interpretation is based on the nature of the woman as being inferior to that of the man, making her unsuited to leadership or teaching. The ‘(New) Conservative’ interpretation attempts to base the interpretation on a notion of difference, but this means that a woman is prohibited from leadership or teaching, but only in the Church and in the home. Since they may exercise these outside these areas, it is not a matter of ability, rather appropriateness. [I would add that the Conservatives do not seem to apply v12 fully in allowing women to teach other women and children. Paul’s lack of permission is for a woman ‘to teach’, not ‘to teach men’.]

    There is a parallel here, not surprisingly, with the different objections to women as priests. For the Traditionalist, a woman cannot be a priest. It is an impossibility. For the Conservative, a woman should not be a priest. It is a prohibition.

    • Hi David,

      I am now even more convinced that the translation of ‘gyne’ as ‘woman’ instead of ‘wife’ is mistaken.

      In fact, it does not make sense for Paul to encourage the spiritual participation of brothers and sisters in the assembled church, only to withdraw it with a blanket prohibition on female speech in Church.

      In contrast, it does make sense for Paul to qualify his encouragement with the proviso that the exercise of divinely ordered authority through public instruction should not subvert the husband’s divinely ordered exercise of authority in Christian marriage.

    • Hi David,

      I know what (I think) you mean : “For the Conservative, a woman should not be a priest. It is a prohibition.” Though I’d suggest a Conservative might think its impossible. ‘They can’t be presbyters’ being different.

      Words and their meanings eh? A godsend to the pedant? 😉

      • Hi Ian,
        I guess I used ‘priest’ as a cryptic shorthand for ‘the one who presides at the eucharist’, and it is a delightfully ambiguous word as Cranmer, no doubt, realised. The Traditionalist’s doctrine of this requires that it be properly consecrated for it to be a means of grace. A woman simply cannot do this. The Conservative (evangelical) view of the Lord’s Supper tends to be very different, and some are prepared to accept even lay presidency. So, the problem with a woman presiding is not about ability but about authority.
        The same kind of thing applies to teaching. The impression I get from the ‘traditional’ readings is that, simply, women are too weak to teach. However, the ‘conservative’ is happy for a woman to teach other women or children. But the teacher is seen to be a position of authority, so a woman cannot teach a man.

        • What’s ironic is that, while Traditionalists reject the notion of sacramental assurance being dependent of a priest’s character (Article XXVI), they fully embrace the notion of sacramental grace being dependent on the sex of the priest.

          So, (they say) a thoroughly devout female Christian supposedly could never consecrate the Eucharist to be a means of grace, since, however faithful she is to God, unlike a man, her sex prevents her from ever being able to rightly and duly administer sacraments.

          Yet, a male priest can debauch himself impenitently on Saturday night, only to consecrate the elements of the Eucharist as a means of grace on Sunday morning: all because (they say) his personal morality cannot invalidate the authority of his ordination as a continuation of settled Catholic tradition.

          Yet, Article XXVI derives from the settlement of the Donatist controversy, as Augustine explained with stunning rhetoric in his Answer to Petilian the Donatist (Book I):
          ‘Can it be, that when he who is baptized is unaware of the faithlessness of his baptizer, it is then Christ who gives faith, it is then Christ who is the origin and root and head? Alas for human rashness and conceit!

          Why do you not allow that it is always Christ who gives faith, for the purpose of making a man a Christian by giving it? Why do you not allow that Christ is always the origin of the Christian, that the Christian always plants his root in Christ, that Christ is the head of the Christian?

          Do we then maintain that, even when spiritual grace is dispensed to those that believe by the hands of a holy and faithful minister, it is still not the minister himself who justifies, but that One of whom it is said, that “He justifies the ungodly?” Romans 4:5

          But unless we admit this, either the Apostle Paul was the head and origin of those whom he had planted, or Apollos the root of those whom he had watered, rather than He who had given them faith in believing; whereas the same Paul says, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase: so then neither is he that plants anything, nor he that waters, but God that gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 Nor was the apostle himself their root, but rather He who says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” John 15:5

          How, too, could he be their head, when he says, that “we, being many, are one body in Christ,” Romans 12:5 and expressly declares in many passages that Christ Himself is the head of the whole body?’

          If, according to settled Catholic tradition, the impartation of God’s grace through baptism cannot be rendered ineffectual by the faithlessness of those who administer it, then neither can the impartation of God’s grace through the Eucharist be nullified by the sex of those who administer it.

  13. Hi Will,

    This struck me as I’d never come across it before;

    “The childbearing reference in v15 I take to be a play on an ancient likening of virtues to children, also used by Jesus in Luke 7:35 (‘wisdom is proved right by her children’). So the ‘children’ which save her are the virtues of faith, love, holiness and modesty.”

    Is this ‘just you’ (which is fine!!!) or mined elsewhere?

  14. Ian, as I was preparing for an adult Sunday School Class in Florida last week (12 Aug) on Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 this coming week, it struck me that the church at Ephesus was founded by Priscilla and Aquila, with Priscilla taking a leading role as you point out in your study guide “Women and Authority: Key Biblical Texts”. Whilst you make several references to the importance of Priscilla’s work and leadership in the body of the your work, I was surprised that your conclusions make no mention of the fact that the letters to the Ephesians and to 1 Timothy were written to the church in Ephesus founded and led by Priscilla, appointed by Paul. In the research that I have done, I have not come across Priscilla’s leadership at Ephesus, appointed by Paul, having any bearing on the arguments for or against women in leadership/preaching roles.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

  15. David
    Excuse me for butting in but I refer you to my June 19 post on this thread for a view on Ephesians and 1 Timothy. In my disagreement with Ian on this topic the ball is in his court (unless I have missed his reply – I don’t think I have)
    Phil Almond


Leave a comment