Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Really Say Women Can't Teach in Church?

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There's a little word in the Greek in 1 Timothy 2:12 that makes all the difference. That word is oude.

 It appears there are two prohibitions for women in 1 Timothy 2:12. The first is teaching; the second, assuming or usurping authority. But they are separated by this little word oude.

 Again, I'm indebted to Philip Payne's book, Man and Woman, One in Christ for this understanding. Philip Payne studied the Bible in its original languages from his youth. His father was a Bible scholar who every day, after breakfast and dinner gave him a fresh translation of a chapter from either the Greek New Testament or the Hebrew Old Testament. Spirited discussions would ensue.

In 1973, his assumptions about male headship were profoundly challenged when a scholar stated that "no passage of Scripture properly understood and in its context excludes women from any form of Christian ministry." To check this out, he read 1 Timothy in the Greek daily for several months. Key word studies led to some shocking discoveries, such as how the English translations introduce masculine pronouns into the list of qualifications for overseers and deacons.

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 Here's one of his findings:

 In every use of the word oude  (31 times) in the letters that are indisputably written by Paul, the word is used to combine two ideas into one single idea. The ideas may be similar—the one bringing a greater understanding to the other, or they may join conceptually different ideas. But every time they express a single idea. There is not a single unambiguous instance when they convey two separate ideas. In English it would be like saying "hit 'n run." You can't separate the two ideas to convey the same meaning.

 Let me give you some examples:

 

  • Whom no man has seen and no man is able to see (1 Tim. 6:16)
  • For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel and not all of Abraham's children are his true descendants (Rom. 9:6-7)
  • Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through men (Gal. 1:1)
  • There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10)

 Payne's conclusion is this: There is only one prohibition for women in 1 Tim. 2:12, the combination of teaching with usurping or assuming authority over a man. There are not two prohibitions:

  1. Women are not allowed to teach
  2. Women cannot have authority over a man

It's a single prohibition. Women cannot teach with self-assumed authority over a man. I don't think any of us would disagree with this statement applied either to women or to men. It works grammatically; it fits the context of false teaching in Ephesus, and it doesn't prohibit women such as Priscilla, who was in Ephesus at the time, from teaching men.

Adapted from Felicity Dale's blog, Kingdom Women. Felicity Dale is the author of numerous books including The Black Swan Effect and Simply Church. She is an an advocate for women in the church and trains people to start simple, organic house churches around the world.

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