I recently read an article by John Jefferson Davis on 1 Tim 2:12, arguing that it is in fact appropriate for women to teach and hold leadership positions in the church. The first part of his argument basically stated that the exhortation was local and intended to correct abuses at Ephesus. The second part of his argument states that we can’t use Paul’s appeal to the creation story to establish a transcultural principle since, as he argues, Paul did not apply the story of Adam and Eve consistently throughout his epistles. So I wrote a response. Unfortunately, his contact information is not in the article, and CBE International keeps most of their content behind a pay-wall anyway, making public interaction difficult. And I really don’t think anybody cares what I have to say. But here it is.
I must also comment that I used the NRSV to defend my position. When my pastor spoke on 1 Tim 2 this year, he mentioned the NRSV as a gender-neutral translation in the service of evangelical feminism. However, this version gave me no problems defending the traditional understanding of this passage.
One reservation not addressed is Paul’s restriction on woman teachers: “I permit no woman to teach…”(v.12 NRSV). This is especially serious since the qualifications for an elder/overseer/bishop include being “an apt teacher” (1 Tim 3:2). Indeed in 2 Tim 2:24 Paul reminds Timothy that as “the Lord’s servant,” in reference to his position and duties in the church, he ought to be “an apt teacher.” The Greek word used for “teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 is never used positively in connection with women, only negatively (here, Tit 1:11, Rev 2:20).
In the context of 1 Tim 2 it seems difficult to restrict the command to the Ephesian church situation. The chapter begins with Paul urging prayers “everyone” and for civil authorities in vs.1-2. Verses 3-4 are global, telling us that God desires “everyone” to be saved. Verses 5-6 are also global, telling us that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and gave himself for “all.” Verses 7-8 are global as well, in that we learn Paul is an apostle and teacher to the Gentiles and the exhortation is given that “in every place the men should pray.” Verses 9 and 10 continue these general global exhortations in telling the women to dress modestly and do good works. Coming to verse 11 we don’t yet see any shift in context from global to local.
In fact, several textual clues point to the Paul’s intent that these teachings be applied globally. “Let a woman learn” likely is intended to contrast against the Jewish prohibition against women learning the Scripture. According to the NET Bible, “this was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law.” If we restrict the application of this passage to Ephesus, then we would have to say that only women in Ephesus were allowed to learn.
In verse 12 Paul says “I permit no woman to…” indicating that the restriction against teaching and usurping authority is, at the very least, a personal scruple of Paul’s. Other major English versions are grammatically consistent in their English rendering: “I do not (allow/permit/let) (women/a woman)…” If we localize this passage and allow for women elders and teachers in other churches, we have to ask how Paul would handle such situations. The plain answer is that he would not let it happen, not at Ephesus, and not anywhere else. He would insist that “she is to keep silent.”
Your preferred translation of this verse essentially makes “usurping authority” an adverb of “teaching.” I don’t see how this rises above the level of conjectural emendation, as pertains to the Greek text.
Lastly, you indicate that since Paul uses the creation narrative in different ways with different churches, we cannot draw the conclusion that Paul is attempting to establish a transcultural norm in 1 Tim 2:13-14. I feel that Paul is remarkably consistent in his application of the creation narrative. In 1 Cor 11:3b we read “A man is responsible to Christ, a woman is responsible to her husband, and Christ is responsible to God” (NLT). The interdependence of all is granted in vs.11-12, but this does not take away from the differing levels of responsibility assigned to men and women, husbands and wives, Christ and the church, each of which is properly fitted as analogous to Adam and Eve (1 Tim 2, Eph 5). Paul’s use of the Adam and Eve story indicates an identical stamp in each instance. The responsibility lies with the Adam, while the Eve is subordinate, in each case.
In reference to the prayer and prophesying done by women in 1 Cor 11:5, this does not necessarily fall under the restriction of 1 Tim 2. Even in conservative churches women are allowed to sing, give prayer requests, make announcements, etc. The command to keep silent seems restricted in its context, in specifically forbidding women from teaching in church gatherings, and by extension, the office of elder/bishop/overseer. This understanding goes toward explaining the teaching of Priscilla, which was done in private, the prophesying of Philip’s sisters, which does not necessarily denote teaching, and the service of Phoebe.
You point to several female OT leaders; however, this argument is comparing apples to oranges. Deborah, Hulda, and Miriam, as well as other Jewish women before the coming of Christ such as Anna, were never allowed to teach the law. As mentioned above, they were not really allowed to even learn the law. Paul’s prohibition against women teachers and expositors reaches back across the OT through Jewish practice.
1 Cor 14 ties all of this together very well. Not only were the churches at Ephesus and Corinth to not allow women teachers, but no church was to allow this (“As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches…” vs.33b-34 NRSV). Not only that, Paul appeals to Jewish law.