A Commentary by John Stott

1 Timothy. 2:11-15.  iii). Women and their role.

Several unsuccessful attempts have been made, exegetical and linguistic, to soften the apparent harshness of these apostolic instructions, by limiting their application.

First, it is suggested that they express only Paul’s personal opinion, not his authoritative command. That is, ‘I want’ (*boulomai*) in verse 8 is no more than a wish, and ‘I do not permit’ (*epitrepo*) in verse 12 means ‘Personally, I don’t allow’ (JBP) and ‘lacks any sense of universal imperative for all situations’. Other scholars, however, regard this as special pleading. J.H.Houlden writes that ‘*boulomai* carries a sense of legislative enactment’, while Gottlob Schrenk says that in its three occurrences in the Pastoral Letters it refers to ‘ordering by apostolic authority’. As for *epitrepo*. in the parallel passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies his permission as both the teaching of ‘the Law’ and ‘the Lord’s command’ (1 Cor.14:34, 37).

The second limiting proposal is that Paul’s instructions apply only to wives not to women in general. They are intended, therefore, to regulate the private relation of a wife to her husband in the home, and not the public role of a woman in the church. Luther seems to have held this view. And the references to Adam and Eve in verses 13 and 14, and to ‘husbands’ in 1 Corinthians 14:35. lend plausibility to it. Certainly, *gyne* (11, 12) can mean either ‘woman’ or ‘wife’, and *aner* (12) can mean either ‘man’ or ‘husband’. On the other hand, the whole chapter relates to public worship, with verses 8-15 defining gender roles in it, so that the reference seems to be wider than to married couples only.

The third limiting suggestion is that Paul’s instructions are directed only against noisy disturbances and interruptions by women, not against a quiet and orderly exercise of their ministry. They are certainly honoured by their responsibility to learn (11), in contrast to the chauvinistic Rabbinical opinion expressed in the Jerusalem Talmud that it would be better for the words of Torah to be burned, than that they should be entrusted to a woman. If she may learn, then, may she not also teach, if she does it quietly? In the Corinthian parallel (1 Cor.14:34-35), whose context is that of disorder in public worship, it does seem to be the women’s unruly chatter which Paul is opposing. But his requirement in both passages of ‘submission’ as well as ‘silence’ (or quietness) indicates in both passages that he is concerned about more than noise.

Fourthly, it is argued that Paul’s instructions only forbid a woman to ‘domineer’ over a man. She must not start ‘lecturing him in public worship’, teach in ‘an imperious manner’ or play the ‘autocrat’. But the exact meaning of the verb *authenteo* is uncertain, as it occurs only here in the New Testament. From a study of its occurrences elsewhere Dr. George Knight has concluded that its use ‘shows no inherent negative sense of grasping or usurping authority or of exercising it in a harsh or authoritative way, but simply means “to have or exercise authority”’. Dr Leland E. Wiltshire challenged some of his findings, and in a further computer based article proposed the meaning ‘instigating violence’, by which perhaps Paul was forbidding women to resist the false teachers with anger. Meanwhile, the Kroegers’ investigation into *authenteo* ran to twenty pages and led them to a quite different suggestion already mentioned. The debate continues.

Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 2:11-15.  iii). Women and their role (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.