The use of the phrase "a woman" in the entire New Testament

by Matt Slick

"Let a woman [gune] quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman [gune] to teach or exercise authority over a man, [andros] but to remain quiet." (1 Tim. 2:11-12).

In the discussion on women in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, the phrase "a woman" plays a significant part. What does it mean? Is it referring to a particular woman, women in general, or wives in general? The phrase must be examined in context to determine the answer.

I thought it might be worth seeing how the phrase occurs in the New Testament to see if there is a pattern. The phrase "a woman" occurs 32 times in the NASB in the New Testament. All of them are listed below. If we don't count the double mention in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, we have 30 occurrences. When we analyze how each is used, we see that 53% of the occurrences refer to a particular woman, 20% refer to women in general, 13% refer to wives in general, and 13% are used symbolically.

All New Testament verses that use the phrase "a woman"
Total Verses a particular woman women in general wives in general symbolic
30 16 6 4 4
Percentage 53% 20% 13% 13%

We must conclude that "a woman" is used in different ways, and we must look at the context in order to determine the meaning. It is easy to see that "a woman" does not always mean a particular individual woman in the New Testament.

What do we see if we look at the verses used only by Paul?

Pauline verses only that use the phrase "a woman"
Total Verses a particular woman women in general wives in general symbolic
9 1 4 3 1
Percentage 11.1% 44.5% 33.3% 11.1%

So we see that Paul uses the phrase "a woman" to refer to only a particular woman 11% of the time while he refers to women and wives in general 77% of the time.

We must conclude that 1 Tim. 2:11-12 and its use of "a woman" does not necessitate it to be a particular woman. Its individual context must be examined to determine its meaning.

Verse a particular woman women in general wives in general symbolic
Matt. 5:28, but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.   X    
Matt. 9:20, And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak.
-- Parallel verses in Mark 5:25 and Luke 8:43
Matt. 13:33, He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.”       X
Matt. 26:7, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table.
-- Parallel verse in Mark 14:3
Mark 7:25, But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, immediately came and fell at His feet. X      
Luke 4:26, and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. X      
Luke 7:37, And behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, X      
Luke 10:38, Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. X      
Luke 13:11, And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. X      
Luke 13:21, It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened. X      
John 4:7, There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” X      
John 4:27, And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” X      
John 8:3, And the scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, X      
John 16:21, Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world.   X    
Verse a particular woman women in general wives in general symbolic
Acts 17:34, But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. X      
1 Cor. 7:1-2, Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.   X    
1 Cor. 7:13, And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away.     X  
1 Cor. 11:3, But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.     X  
1 Cor. 11:6, For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head   X    
1 Cor. 11:13, Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?   X    
1 Cor. 11:15, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.   X    
1 Cor. 14:35, And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.     X  
Gal. 4:4, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, X      
1 Thess. 5:3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.       X
1 Tim. 2:11-12, Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. -- -- -- --
1 Pet. 3:7, You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.     X  
Rev. 12:1, And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;       X
Rev. 17:3, And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.       X

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.