In 1 Tim. 2:9-15, is "a woman" is a specific individual Paul had in mind?

by Matt Slick
"Likewise, I want women [gune] to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women [gune] making a claim to godliness. 11 Let a woman [gune] quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman [gune] to teach or exercise authority over a man, [andros] but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman [gune] being quite deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Tim. 2:9-15).

This section of Scripture is very important when dealing with the subject of women pastors and elders.  So, we could hardly do a proper analysis of the topic without examining them. In this section notice that Paul is addressing three main things in his address to women: appearance (v. 9), behavior (v. 10), and learning (vv. 11-14).

In verse 9, Paul begins with the word "likewise" which should draw our attention to what was before it. The previous verse, 1 Tim. 2:8 says, "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension."  Then verse 9 says "Likewise, I want women . . . "  So, Paul gave instructions to men in verse 8 to be in prayer and to be in harmony with one another.  He then gives instructions to women in verses 9-15.  If this seems lopsided where women receive more instruction than men, please consider Eph. 5:22-33 where Paul gives more instructions to men than women.

Alright, so in verse 9 Paul tells women to dress modestly so as not to attract improper attention via adornment such as braided hair, gold, pearls, and costly garments.  Instead,  Paul advises the women, in verse 10, to adorn themselves with good works and godliness. But beginning at verse 11 and again in 12, we see a shift from plural "women" to the singular "a woman."   Why?  Also, how does it tie into the instruction for "a woman" to receive instruction with entire submissiveness (v. 11), and that "a woman" is not to teach or exercise authority over "a man" (v. 12)?  Answering these questions has generated a lot of debate and a lot of opinions.  Let's take a look at the main ones.

  1. "a woman" is a specific individual Paul had in mind, but he did not name her.
  2. "a woman" is generically referring to wives and "a man" is generically referring to husbands.
  3. "a woman" is representative of all women as "a man" represents all men.

In verse 11, "a woman" is the Greek gune, γυνη (nominative case1).  Basically, the nominative case is the subject of a sentence and often, but not always, has the word "the" in front of it, i.e., "the woman."   Here, in verse 11, the definite article "the" is not written in Greek; but we often insert it when translating to English so that English is properly constructed.  The exact Greek spelling γυνη, gune occurs 73 times in the Nestle Aland 26th Edition Greek N.T.  It is translated as both woman and wife--depending on context.

In verse 12, "a woman" is the Greek γυναικι, gunaiki, (dative case2).  That exact spelling occurs 15 times in the N.T. and is also translated as both woman and wife depending on the context.  Following is a chart of 18 Bible versions and how they translate gune (v. 11) and gunaiki (v. 12).

Bible Version Verse 11 Verse 12
Darby, ASV, ESV, HCSB, ISV, NASB,
NCV, NIV, NKJV, WNT, WORREL, YLT
a woman a woman
KJV the woman a woman
NLT, NLV women women
RSV, NRSV a woman woman
GNB women them

As you can see, the translations differ slightly; but none of them translate either word as "wife."   Of course, this doesn't mean it can't be a wife and husband, but we have to ask why the translations don't show that?

So, there is little dispute about verses 9 and 10 where Paul tells women to be modestly dressed and do good works.  It is 11 to 15 where differing opinions are generated.  Let's look at the three interpretations listed above.

"a woman" is a specific individual Paul had in mind, but he did not name her.

One of the interpretations given to these two verses is that there was a particular married woman who had been deceived (as Eve was deceived), was believing false teachings, was ignorant of the truth, and had been teaching false things to her husband. (see The use of the phrase "a woman" in the entire New Testament) Even though she was a fallacious teacher, she was being shown mercy because of our ignorance just as Paul said he was shown mercy due to his ignorance as he mentioned in 1 Tim. 1:13.  Once the woman learns the truth, then she will be permitted to teach men and/or her husband.

First of all, to maintain this position you have to read it into the text.  It says absolutely nothing about "this woman" being deceived in ignorance.  It isn't there. Nor is there anything prior to this text that would imply there was a woman who was deceived.  Let's look at the previous verses.

  • 1:1-2, Paul an apostle to Timothy.
  • 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to "instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines."
  • 1:4, don't pay attention to myths, rather than "furthering the administration of God."
  • 1:5, "the goal of our instruction is love . . . "
  • 1:6-7, some men have turned aside from the truth.
  • 1:8-11, the law is good, and is made for the ungodly.
  • 1:12-14, Paul was put into service though he was formally a blasphemer, ignorant, and received grace.
  • 1:15-16, "Christ came into the world to save sinners."; Paul found mercy.
  • 1:17, to the King eternal, the only God be glory and honor.
  • 1:18-20, Paul commands Timothy to fight the good fight, though some have rejected their faith such as Hymenaeus and Alexander have done.
  • 2:1-2, Pray for all men, those in authority, so we may lead a quiet life.
  • 2:3-4,  God our savior who desires all men to be saved.
  • 2:5-6 Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, who gave himself as a ransom.
  • 2:7, Paul was appointed as a preacher and an apostle.
  • 2:8, Paul wants men everywhere to pray and get along.

Of course, I strongly recommend that you read the verses in their entirety and not rely on my summarization. Still, there is nothing in the previous context to suggest that there is a woman who has been sincerely deceived and is ignorant of proper doctrines and had been teaching her husband false ideas.  Sure, Eve was deceived; but she was not ignorant.  She quoted God's word to Satan in Gen. 3:2-33 so that claim can't be maintained.  Therefore, to say that this means there was a certain ignorant woman teaching false doctrine to her husband cannot be supported as the way it "must" be read.  To say it "must" be read this way reveals the prejudice of the interpreter.

Let's assume the verses are about a married woman

I addressed this in the paper 1 Tim. 2:12-13 and women pastors and elders and draw from it.

The word "quiet" in verse 12 is hesuchia--not sigao.  It is important because if the verses are about a woman teaching false things to her husband, then shouldn't Paul tell her to stop doing it completely?  The word for "quiet" in verse 12 where Paul instructs "this particular woman" to remain quiet is hesuchia--not sigao.  This is important because . . .

  1. Hesuchia is used four times in the NT, and it means to be subdued, to be quiet and but not necessarily completely silent.
    1. Acts 22:2, "And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet."
    2. 2 Thess. 3:12, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread."
  2. Sigao is used nine times in the NT, and it means absolute silence.
    1. Acts 12:17, "But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison . . . "
    2. 1 Cor. 14:30, "But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent."

If it is an individual woman Paul had in mind who was teaching false things and Paul told her to be "quiet," is he telling her to speak her false doctrines a little more quietly (hesuchia) instead of remaining completely silent (sigao)?  Does that make any sense?

Also, the word "teach" is from didasko (to teach) and not heterodidaskaleo (to teach falsely). Heterodidaskaleo is used two times in the New Testament--both in 1 Timothy.  1 Tim. 1:3, "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines." 1 Tim. 6:3, "If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness." So, if Paul is referring to a certain woman in 2:12 who is teaching false doctrine, then why does he not use the word heterdodaskaleo when referring to her teaching and why doesn't he use "sigao" which means to be completely quiet? It doesn't make sense if the egalitarian position is true.

But, it does makes sense to say that a woman, even if it was a wife relating to her husband, was teaching doctrine (not false doctrine since Paul didn't use heterodidaskaleo), yet Paul forbade it.  So, if Paul is referring to false doctrine, then why didn't he use the term for false teaching (heterodidaskaleo)?  After all, the epistles to Timothy are related to church practice and teaching (1 Tim. 3:15); hence, the specific issue of true and false doctrines.  Also, if it was false teachings that she was guilty of, then why did Paul not use the Greek term that meant to stop speaking altogether (sigao) instead of using the term which implies the continuation of speaking but in a more subdued way (hesuchia)?  Wouldn't Paul want false teaching to be silenced altogether?  Of course.  This is why the egalitarian position does not fit the text.

Adam and Eve

To be fair, sometimes the egalitarians say that the reference to Adam and Eve is a reference to a husband and wife, and that this supplies the marital context for "a woman" and "a man." If that is so, then why did Paul speak of Adam being created first and Eve being deceived?  Notice that Paul mentions the created order, not simply marriage.

Adam was created first and it is specifically mentioned.  Why?  It is probably because of the Jewish teaching of primogeniture, that is, the pre-eminence of the first born.  See Deut. 21:17; Exodus 13:2; Num. 3:13 which show this exact idea.4

It is for this reason and Eve's deception that "a woman" is not to teach or exercise authority over "a man."

Therefore, the idea that "a woman" is a wife teaching false things to her husband is not a necessary reading of the text.  It certainly is possible that it could be a husband-and-wife situation, but the text does not support the idea that she was teaching her husband false doctrine.  Therefore, the husband-wife idea is a theory that is, at best, only an opinion.  Though it is "possible" that this might be the case, the possibility doesn't mean it is true any more than it is possible that "a woman" was a temple prostitute who had a crush on Paul.  It is alright to have an opinion.  But it is not alright to insist that is what the text means.  If someone does, then he or she is pushing an agenda and not being faithful to the plain reading of the word.  But isn't that the case when people have an agenda?  They find ways to make the scriptures fit their "cause."

  • 1. Nominative case is the case of the subject.  Nouns change form in Greek similar to English as in actor, actors, actress, actresses.  So, "the actor" is the subject of  "The actor went to Virginia."
  • 2. The dative case is the case of the indirect object.  The noun form changes in Greek (see note 1).  "To Virginia" is the indirect object in "The actor went to Virginia."
  • 3. Gen. 2:2-3, "And the woman said to the serpent, 'From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’”
  • 4. Regarding primogeniture:  Deut. 21:17; Ex. 13:2; Num. 3:13  (1) Deut. 21:17, “But he shall acknowledge the first-born, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the first-born." (2) Exodus 13:2, "Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.” (3) Num. 3:13, "For all the first-born are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the first-born in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord.”

 

 

 

 
 
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