On Church Organization in the Pauline Letters

In order to understand the information in the Pastoral Letters regarding the organization and administration of churches (cf. Part 6), a survey of the evidence from the Pauline corpus as a whole will be useful. Here it is important to distinguish the letters where there is little or no question of authorship by Paul, and those which many critical commentators regard as pseudonymous. The undisputed Pauline letters are (roughly in chronological order):

    • 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon; to which I add 2 Thessalonians and Colossians

All of these would have been written in the period c. 48-60 A.D. The letters most often thought to be pseudonymous are:

    • Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus)

If these are authentically Pauline, then they probably would have been written c. 60-63 A.D.; if pseudonymous, then they would be later productions, the Pastorals often dated to the end of the 1st century (c. 80-100) or even the beginning of the 2nd. I discussed the situation regarding the Pastoral letters briefly in Part 5, mentioning that, in my view, the evidence for pseudonymity is a bit stronger for 1 Timothy. Personally, I am inclined to the view (on objective grounds) that 2 Timothy is genuinely Paul’s work, and probably so for Titus as well. I leave open the (reasonably strong) possibility that 1 Timothy is a later work, written in imitation of 2 Timothy (and possibly Titus), and will use this as a working hypothesis for the short study below.

The Earliest Letters

Of the 7/9 ‘undisputed’ letters of Paul (cf. above), it is interesting to note that church organization and administration does not play a major role, at least in terms of providing specific detail as to how congregations are (or ought to be) governed. Paul writes a good deal about his own ministry work, along with that of his fellow missionaries, including his (and their) role as apostle (a)po/stolo$)—1 Thess 1:2-10; Gal 1, etc. This derives from the very early Christian idea of one who was sent forth (to preach the Gospel, etc) as a representative of Christ. Early tradition centers this idea with the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, 16-26), and those first believers (in Jerusalem) who witnessed the resurrected Jesus and participated in the initial wave of missionary activity (Acts 1-2ff; 1 Cor 15:5-11; on Rom 16:7 cf. Part 4). These missionaries and preachers played a leading role in the founding of the first congregations all throughout Syria-Palestine and the wider Greco-Roman world. When addressing the congregations, in the earliest surviving correspondence (1 [and 2] Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians), Paul gives little indication of a well-defined church structure, tending to emphasize the ideal that all believers have a place (and important roles to play) in the body of Christ—1 Thess 1:3ff; 4:9; 2 Thess 1:3-4, 15; 3:6ff; Gal 3:26-29; 6:15-16; 1 Cor 1:2, 10ff, 26-31; 2:14-16; 3:1-4, 21-23; chaps. 11-14, etc. The only passage which suggests definite leadership roles within the congregation is 1 Thess 5:12f:

“And I ask of you, brothers, to have seen [i.e. to recognize] the (one)s laboring [kopiw=nta$] among you and standing before [proi+stame/nou$] you in (the) Lord and putting (things) in mind [nouqetou=nta$] for you, and to give them the lead [i.e. judge/esteem/consider them] over and above [i.e. abundantly] in love through [i.e. because of] their work.”

The three verbs (participles) indicated here are not titles or official positions, but rather describe roles and regular activity (“work/labor”) within the congregation. The second verb (proi+/sthmi) implies a leading role—one who provides guidance, help (and protection) for the congregation (cf. Rom 12:8; 16:2, also 1 Tim 3:4-5 etc). The third (nouqete/w) indicates teaching and instruction (cf. 2 Thess 3:15; Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 4:14 etc). Such persons are to be accorded positions of honor and respect within the congregation. In Galatians, the rhetorical thrust of the letter prompts Paul to downplay positions of (supposed) authority in the Church—even that of apostle—subordinating all human authority to the truth of the Gospel (Gal 1:6-9, 11-23; 2:1-10ff; 6:11-16).

1 Corinthians

The Corinthian correspondence (esp. 1 Corinthians) provides by far the greatest detail as to how congregations (are to) function. While the leading position of Paul and his fellow missionaries (Apollos, et al) as apostles and “servants” (cf. below on dia/kono$) remains prominent (cf. all through chaps. 1-4, 9; 16:10ff), the congregation is described in rather egalitarian and “democratic” terms; note the following:

  • The theme of unity which is set in contrast to divisions/groupings based on the authority, etc. of prominent individuals (1:10-17; 3:1-9, etc), including Apollos, Cephas (“Peter”) and Paul himself. The argument running through chapters 1-4 also functions as a warning toward those who might seek to control/influence believers on the basis of their gifts and talents.
    • In chapters 5-6 the emphasis is on the ability (and expectation) of believers to govern their own affairs, in a prudent and common-sense fashion. No mention is made of appeal to the authority of official positions in the churches, other than that of Paul (the apostle). Indeed, 5:3-5 suggests a straightforward division of authority: (a) the apostle, and (b) the assembled congregation (as a whole).
    • The lengthy and complex line of argument in chapters 8-10 has, at its core, that the “strong” in the churches should subordinate their own (personal) authority and interests to the good of the congregation (especially of the “weaker” members).
    • The discussion of corporate/community life and worship in chapters 1114 presents a model of many roles and functions, operating more or less equally—and in unity—within the congregation (the ‘body’ of Christ). Note the many different “gifts” of ministry mentioned in 12:4-11 (and the roughly contemporary list in Rom 12:4-8). Similarly, it is expected that many different people could (and should) participate actively in the worship-meeting (chap. 14, esp. verses 26-33). There is no suggestion that any of these roles were reserved for specific “offices”. Moreover, it is clear that men and women both could take active speaking/preaching roles in the meeting, as long as certain customs were properly observed (11:2-16). The two ‘highest’ gifts or roles were that of: (1) apostle, i.e. the missionaries who were involved in the founding of the churches and their oversight; and (2) prophet, i.e. one who communicates the (revealed) word and will of God to the congregation. Cf. 1 Cor 12:28-31; 14:1ff, 24, 29-33, 37-39; Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11.
dia/kono$

The Greek word dia/kono$ (diákonos, “servant”) can range in meaning from a waiter of tables (cf. Acts 6:1-6) to a person who holds public office (including a religious office). It is used 21 times in the Pauline corpus, including 12 (or 16) times in the undisputed letters. In most instances, Paul clearly understands it, not as the title of an official position (i.e. deacon), but in the general sense of “minister”—that is, of Christ and the Gospel. He likely views it as partly synonymous with dou=lo$ (“slave”)—i.e. slave/servant of Christ, which Paul applies to himself (and others) frequently in his letters (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10, et al). The word certainly has this general (Christian) meaning in Rom 16:1 (cf. the discussion in Part 4); 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 11:15, 23; Col 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; and cf. Eph 3:7; 6:21; 1 Tim 4:6. It is also used in a general sense of Christ (Gal 2:17; Rom 15:8), and human (civil) authorities (Rom 13:4). Only in 1 Tim 3:8-12 does dia/kono$ likely refer to a distinct office (or official position) in the Church; on Phil 1:1, cf. below.

Philippians 1:1

Paul’s greeting in Phil 1:1 includes the somewhat unusual phrase (in italics):

“…to all the holy ones [i.e. “saints”] in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}…(together) with (the) overseers and servants/ministers“.

Here Paul seems to distinguish two groups (or positions) that are set apart from the congregation as a whole. The second of these (dia/kono$, “servant”, i.e. ‘minister’) has been discussed above. The first word requires special comment.

e)pi/skopo$ (epískopos)—This word fundamentally means “one who looks (carefully) over something”. It occurs only five times in the New Testament (Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7; 1 Pet 2:25), but cf. also the related verb e)piskope/w (Heb 12:15; 1 Pet 5:2). This careful examination (“looking over”) is usually understood as being done by an authority or person appointed (as a representative) for such a task. The related noun e)piskoph/ sometimes has the specific meaning of the actual visit (or time of the visit) made for examination/inspection—in Jewish tradition, the time God visits the earth for Judgment (Lk 19:44; 1 Pet 2:12). Acts 1:20 (citing Psalm 109:8) uses e)piskoph/ in the sense of a position (that of apostle), and so also in 1 Tim 3:1. The best translation for e)pi/skopo$ is “overseer”; it really should not be rendered in the New Testament as “bishop”, not even in the Pastoral letters.

The word is used only once in the undisputed letters of Paul (Phil 1:1), but also occurs in the context of early Christian (and Pauline) tradition in Acts 20:28. In that narrative setting, Paul is addressing the “elders” (presbu/teroi) of the churches of Ephesus, who have come to visit him, at his request, in Miletus (v. 17-18). Here is the instruction he gives them in verse 28:

“Hold (attention) toward yourselves and to(ward) all the herd [i.e. flock {of sheep}], in which the holy Spirit has set/placed you (as) overseers [e)pisko/pou$] to (shep)herd the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] of God, which he made (to be) round about (himself) through (his) own blood.”

Assuming that this reflects authentic historical tradition, it would correspond roughly to the time of Phil 1:1 (c. 60 A.D.). All that is really indicated here is that elders (certain of them at least) are to oversee the welfare and protection of the congregations, especially against false teaching. Their roles are described only generally in this regard. They are to continue and preserve/maintain the work done by the founding missionaries (Paul and the other apostles), and so act with some measure of (apostolic) authority, if only by example. One or more elders would fulfill this role for each congregation (usually a house-church) in each city or location. What of the situation implied by Paul in Phil 1:1? The fact that these two roles/positions—e)pi/skopo$ and dia/kono$—are not discussed anywhere else in the letter (nor really in any of the other [undisputed] Pauline letters) strongly suggests that we are still dealing with a very generalized distinction, which I would summarize as follows:

    • e)pi/skopo$ refers to the elder (or elders) who has come to exercise the leading role(s) in overseeing the congregation; these persons may have been appointed by Paul (or other apostles) and confirmed (presumably) through a ritual process involving the laying on of hands.
    • dia/kono$ refers to any/all persons exercising (leading) ministry roles in the congregation, presumably according to the spiritual “gifts” and abilities recognized in 1 Cor 12ff; Rom 12:6-8, etc.

Ephesians 4:11

Eph 4:11-12 contains a list of “gifts” similar to those in 1 Cor 12:4-11 and Rom 12:4-8, only the emphasis is not so much on the Spirit—rather they are said to have been given by Christ. Also, the various gifts in the earlier letters have been ‘replaced’, it would seem, by more clearly defined roles in the Church—five are listed:

(1) Apostles, (2) Prophets, (3) Preachers, i.e., those proclaiming the Gospel, (4) ‘Shepherds’, and (5) Teachers

The first two match the two ‘highest’ gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians, while preaching/proclamation of the Gospel and teaching are natural functions for any Christian minister. In early tradition, it seems clear that “shepherd” (poimh/n) is generally synonymous with e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”), as attested both in Acts 20:28 (above) and in 1 Pet 2:25. Most likely, poimh/n was the older, and more widely used term, going back to Jesus’ own words and the Gospel tradition (regarding Peter, etc)—cf. Mark 6:34; 14:27 par; John 10:2-16; 21:15-17; 1 Cor 9:17; 1 Pet 5:2. The corresponding (traditional) word in English is “pastor”. It should be noted that many commentators believe that Ephesians is pseudonymous, serving as a kind of compendium of Pauline teaching, much as is assumed for the Pastoral letters. Whether or not this view is valid, it does seem that this passage reflects some degree of development—i.e. a five-fold ministry instead of the more diverse ministerial roles indicated within 1 Corinthians. On the other hand, assuming Pauline authorship, it is possible that these five roles effectively summarize what Paul has in mind when he uses the term dia/kono$ (“servant”) to refer to the (leading) ministers in the Church.

2 Timothy and Titus

There is actually very little information regarding the structure and organization of the churches in these letters, which, perhaps, could be seen as an (additional) argument in favor of their authenticity (in contrast with 1 Timothy). In 2 Timothy, the focus is almost entirely on Paul’s (personal) instruction to Timothy. According to the (assumed) historical situation, Timothy would be serving as Paul’s (apostolic) representative, exercising authority and care over all the congregations in a particular region (trad. the area around Ephesus, cf. 1 Tim 1:3). He is exhorted to follow Paul’s example, and to preserve correct teaching and tradition (as it has been passed down to him). Very little detail is given with regard to ministerial roles in the churches, apart from a reference (in passing) to the practice of the laying on of hands (1:6). In Titus, the apostolic role is set out more precisely (Tit 1:5ff; 2:1ff), and several of the points of instruction are treated much more extensively in 1 Timothy; note especially:

    • The reference to the establishment of elders (presbu/teroi) in each town/congregation (1:5-6ff); such elders are called “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), as in Acts 20:28 (cf. above). Cf. 1 Tim 3:1-13.
    • The guidelines on how to give instruction, and on the roles of men and women, etc., in the churches (2:1-10, cf. 1 Tim 2:1-10ff; 5:1-6:2).

In my view, it is incorrect to read a later, developed view of bishop into the reference to “overseers” in Tit 1:7ff. Here in Titus (and 1 Timothy), it is clear that the “elders” are understood as men (i.e. gender-specific), and perhaps also in Acts 20:17, etc. Interestingly, presbu/tero$ (whether singular or plural) is not used in any of the undisputed letters of Paul, only in the Pastorals (1 Tim 5:1-2, 17, 19; Tit 1:7).

1 Timothy

Here, in all of the New Testament writings, we find the clearest (and most extensive) information about specific ministry roles or positions in the Church. They are:

    • “Overseer” (e)pi/skopo$)—3:1-7
    • “Servant/Minister” (dia/kono$)—3:8-12
    • “Widow” (xh/ra)—5:2-16, i.e. female “elders”, ideally widows over the age of sixty, with a specific position and duties in the congregation
    • “Elders” (presbu/teroi)—5:17-20

Commentators continue to debate the precise meaning of e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”) here. Much depends on one’s view of the authorship (and dating) of the letter. If it is authentically Paul’s work (and written before c. 64 A.D.), then it is likely that he is simply referring to the elder (or elders) appointed to oversee the congregation. On the other hand, a later (c. 80-110) pseudonymous writing may assume something closer to the bishop of subsequent ecclesiastical tradition—i.e., one who exercises authority over all the churches in a particular city or region, entailing a more direct hierarchical chain of government. According to the (presumed) historical setting of the Pastorals, only Timothy and Titus themselves, as Paul’s (apostolic) representatives, function in anything like this wider role. It is, I think, unwise to read the developed meaning of e)pi/skopo$ too readily into 1 Tim 3:1-7. Similarly, it is unclear whether, or to what extent, dia/kono$ (“servant/minister”) here fits the (later) office of deacon. The pairing of dia/kono$ with e)pi/skopo$ may simply be building upon the (earlier) terminology used in Phil 1:1 (cf. above). The “overseers” and “ministers” seem to be understood as gender-specific roles (1 Tim 3:2-5, 12); however, the reference to “women” in 3:11 could conceivably refer to female ministers (cf. Rom 16:1-2 and the separate note on v. 11). The widows (5:2-16) are generally the female counterpart to the (male) elders in 5:17-20.

Women in the Church, Part 6: The Pauline Letters

Having already examined five primary passages in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33b-36; Gal 3:28; Rom 16:1-2ff, and 1 Tim 2:11-15—in some detail, it remains to survey other portions of the Pauline corpus which relate in some way to role of women in the Church. As a way of organizing and presenting the evidence, I have decided to divide them roughly between:

(a) Passages which emphasize the equality and/or reciprocity of the genders, and
(b) Those which indicate that women are in some sense subordinate to men, or may be restricted from fulfilling certain roles

The situation, of course, is considerably more complex than this simple division suggests; however, I believe that it genuinely reflects two aspects of Paul’s thought and teaching regarding gender roles, etc. It also happens to follow the two basic views or approaches to the subject by Christians today. A serious error of modern commentators and church leaders, etc, is that they tend (or wish) to focus on just one side of the question, to the exclusion of the other.

1. Passages which emphasize the equality and/or reciprocity of the genders

1 Thess 2:7, 11—Paul uses mother/father (female/male) imagery, applying them equally, in turn, to the role and function of apostles. Cf. also Gal 4:19, etc.

1 Corinthians 7—According to the language and (reciprocal) style Paul uses throughout this chapter, men and women (husbands and wives) have equal status—i.e. in the context of marriage, especially with regard to sexual relations. There is no emphasis whatsoever on headship/submission here.

1 Corinthians 12-13 & 14:1ff—Spiritual “gifts” (charismata) relate to all believers—note the use of pa=$ (“all”) repeatedly in 12:6, 11-13, 19, 26, 29-30; 13:2-3, 7; 14:5, 18, 23-26, 31. There is really no indication that any of the gifts or roles mentioned in these sections (with the possible exception of “apostle”, cf. below) apply only to men or are restricted for women. According to 11:2-16 (cf. Part 1) women may function as prophets, which is the second ‘highest’ gift/role after in the church after apostles (12:28ff). This means they may exercise a role that involves preaching/teaching, and 14:3 would suggest that women who prophesy also instruct/edify men in the assembly. Only 14:34-35 refers to any restriction on the participation of women in the worship meeting, but the context of this reference needs to be examined closely (cf. the discussion in Part 2). The emphasis on unity among believers (in the corporate setting) also means that all gifts/roles in the church ultimately are subordinated to the love-principle (chap. 13, cf. Gal 5:14ff).

2 Cor 11:2-3Female imagery is applied to believers as a whole, without qualification or comment. Note above on 1 Thess 2:7, and cf. Rom 7:2-3; 9:25.

Rom 12:4-8—Cf. 1 Cor 12-14, and also Eph 4:11-13. It is possible that the language “the one teaching [o( dida/skwn]”, etc., in vv. 7-8 is gender-specific, but Paul does not make a point of it. He frequently uses masculine terms and (grammatical) gender when referring to believers (men and women) generally or collectively.

Along with these passages, one should note instances where Paul makes special mention of certain women, indicating they are fellow ministers/missionaries or otherwise hold prominent/leading roles in the churches. In addition to Phoebe and the others mentioned in Romans 16 (cf. Part 4), we have:

    • Prisca and her husband Aquila (1 Cor 16:19, also Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19, and cf. Acts 18:2, 18, 26).
    • Chloe (1 Cor 1:11)—a prominent (and wealthy) person in Corinth, who may have been important in the church.
    • Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3).
    • Apphia (Philemon 2), specifically called “sister” in context with the “brothers” of v. 1.
    • Nympha (Col 4:15)—like Prisca, she hosts a congregation in her house, and presumably has a prominent position in the church.

When Paul refers to such women in relation to himself and other (male) ministers, he generally does so without any distinction. See especially in Rom 16:1ff and Phil 4:2-3, where terms such as “servant/minister” (dia/kono$), “co-worker” (sunergo/$), and perhaps even “apostle” (a)po/stolo$, cf. Rom 16:7), are used equally of women.

2. Passages which emphasize subordination or restriction of roles for women

Gal 1:1ff; 1 Cor 3:5ff, etc—In the vast majority of instances where Paul uses the terms dia/kono$ (“servant/minister”) or a)po/stolo$ (apostle), he applies them to men—most often himself, but also Apollos, etc. Only once is dia/kono$ used specifically of a woman (Rom 16:1-2, cf. above). Similarly, in the New Testament, the term a)po/stolo$ is only used of men, with the possible exception of the reference to Junia in Rom 16:7. This relative imbalance may simply reflect circumstances of culture and social convention at the time, rather than a rule regarding the role of women in ministry. Admittedly, the evidence for women in these leading roles is fairly slight (cf. above), but it is significant enough (especially in light of Rom 16:1-2, 7) that it should, at the very least, give one pause before denying the positions to women outright.

Gal 6:6; 1 Cor 2:15-16, etc—It is possible that masculine gender expressions such as “the one instructing”, “the one (who is) spiritual”, “he judges”, “him”, etc, in certain passages assume a gender-specific context, indicating that men are (to be) in leadership roles (cf. on Rom 12:4-8 above)

2 Cor 8:17-18ff; 9:3ff—Here the representatives sent to the congregations appear to be men, i.e. “brothers” in the stricter (gender-specific) sense. This, however, does not necessarily mean that women were forbidden from such roles. Note again Rom 16:1-2, where Phoebe, a leading figure (minister) in the churches of Cenchreae/Corinth, likely is the one carrying the letter on Paul’s behalf, and he introduces/recommends her formally to the churches of Rome.

Phil 1:1, 14—It is possible that here in v. 1 dia/kono$ (“servant/minister”), along with e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”), refers specifically to men, though this depends somewhat on the relationship with 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9 (cf. below). If “brothers” in verse 14 is taken in a stricter, gender-specific sense, it may assume that certain speaking/preaching roles are (to be) filled by men.

Col 3:18-19 (and Eph 5:22-24ff)—Here Paul (or the author) is referring to the marriage relationship—husband and wife—within the Christian community. The verb u(pota/ssw literally refers to being under (an arranged) order, but the passive/reflexive form often indicates obedience or even being (made) subject to a higher (ruling) authority. The wife/woman is to be “under order” (i.e. subordinate) to her husband (i.e. to his position/authority), but the same is not said of the husband/man (contrast this with the reciprocal language in 1 Cor 7); instead, it is said that he must love (and be gentle/caring toward) his wife. Much the same is stated in Eph 5:22-24ff, but the instruction has been expanded with the illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church (his Bride) in vv. 23-24, which is worth quoting:

“…(in) that the man/husband is head [kefalh/] of the woman/wife, even as the Anointed (One) {Christ} is head of the congregation [e)kklhsi/a], he (being) savior of the Body—but (then) as the congregation is set in order under [u(pota/ssetai] the Anointed (One) {Christ}, so also the women/wives to the men/husbands in all (thing)s.”

Ephesians is considered by many (critical) commentators to be pseudonymous, but, even if this were granted, the statement here would still seem to reflect genuine Pauline teaching (cf. 1 Cor 11:3ff).

The Pastoral Letters—For the difficult critical questions related to these letters—in terms of authorship, date of composition, historical background and interpretation—along with a discussion of 1 Tim 2:11-15 in particular, cf. Part 5. Of all the letters in the Pauline corpus, these (esp. 1 Timothy) provide the clearest evidence for a restriction of leading/ministerial roles in the churches. In addition to 1 Tim 2:11-15, note the following passages in particular:

    • 1 Tim 3:1-13—The context makes fairly clear that “overseers [e)pi/skopoi]” (certainly) and “servants/ministers [dia/konoi]” (probably) are to be men. The only uncertainly is in the reference to “women” in v. 11 (cf. the note on this verse).
    • 1 Tim 5:2-16, 17ff—The widows in the congregation (vv. 2-16) have a role (as female “elders”) comparable to the (male) “elders” (vv. 17-20). This also suggests a definite division/distinction, especially if it is assumes that the elders (presbu/teroi) are men, as in Tit 1:5-9. According to v. 17, preaching and teaching are generally reserved as roles for the elders.
    • 2 Tim 2:2; 3:17—Similarly, teaching is to be done by “trustworthy men” (2:2), where a)nqrwpoi (“men”) is almost certainly used in a gender-specific sense; this is likely true for the expression “man of God” in 3:17 as well.
    • Titus 1:5-9—The context makes it clear that the “elders” (presbu/teroi), especially those appointed as “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), are understood to be men.
    • Titus 2:3-5—The role of older women (i.e. female “elders”) would seem to be limited to instruction of the younger women. Here also we have the directive, stated briefly, that wives are to be “in (proper) order under” their husbands (using the verb u)pota/ssw as in Col 3:18-19; Eph 5:22-24, cf. above).

Conclusion

The passages which most clearly (and directly) emphasize restriction of roles for women, and/or their subordination under the men of the Community, are in those letters which are commonly regarded as pseudonymous—the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), Ephesians (and Colossians). This means that there are likely to be significant differences of opinion as to what Paul himself actually believed and taught, depending on one’s view of authorship of these letters. Similarities and parallels can be found, to some extent, in the undisputed letters (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3-9ff; 14:33b-36; Phil 1:1), but it is methodologically unsound (and unwise) to read the teaching of the Pastoral letters, for example, back into 1 Corinthians, etc, without further ado. Each passage must be examined in the context of the letter and the situation which is being addressed. Overall, the evidence from the undisputed letters would indicate that women could serve in leading roles, as ministers in the churches, with few restrictions. A somewhat different picture is presented in 1 Timothy (and perhaps in Titus). The only role which seems to be reserved for men, without question, is that of the elder (presbu/tero$) who is to function as overseer (e)pi/skopo$) of the congregation. Unfortunately, these positions are scarcely mentioned at all in the undisputed letters—presbu/tero$ (“elder”) is never used, and e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”) only once (Phil 1:1), briefly and without further comment (but cf. Acts 14:23; 20:28). Otherwise, while the evidence is relative slight (and occasionally ambiguous), women in the ‘Pauline churches’ seem to be recognized and allowed to function as ministers in various ways, including certain roles involving preaching and teaching. However, there continue to be differing views on the subject, and so it should remain open for dispute and discussion, without prejudice.

For additional background on this subject, see the separate article on “Church Organization in the Pauline Letters”.

May 6 (2): 1 Timothy 3:11

1 Timothy 3:11

An important reference in the Pastoral letters, related to the role of women in the Church, is 1 Tim 3:11, part of a section on “Church order” (3:1-13), in which Paul (or the author) discusses: (a) the position of “overseer” (Grk e)pi/skopo$, epískopos) in vv. 1-7, and (b) the position of “servant/minister” (dia/kono$, diákonos) in vv. 8-13. These terms are discussed in Part 6, including how they are used in the passage here. The only relevant occurrence of these words in the (undisputed) letters of Paul is in Philippians 1:1, where they are cited together as part of his greeting to the churches in Philippi: “…to all the holy ones [i.e. ‘saints’]… th(at) are in Philippi, (together) with (the) overseers and servants/ministers…”. This verse is also discussed in Part 6. Elsewhere, Paul always uses dia/kono$ in the general sense of a (Christian) ministerRom 15:8; 16:1 (cf. also 13:4); 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 11:15, 23; Gal 2:17; Col 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; also Eph 3:7; 6:21; 1 Tim 4:6. Only in Phil 1:1 and 1 Tim 3:8, 12 does the term seem to apply to an official position or “office” in the Church. The word e)pi/skopo$ does not appear anywhere else in the undisputed letters, only in 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:7, though it is also used in a (Pauline) tradition recorded in Acts 20:17ff (v. 28). According to Acts 20:28 and Tit 1:5-9, the e)pi/skopo$ is an elder (presbu/tero$) who is appointed to oversee a congregation, especially in the sense of providing care and protection (from false teaching, etc). The term is more or less synonymous with the older title “shepherd” (poimh/n), as indicated by 1 Peter 2:25 and Eph 4:11, and roughly corresponds to the word “pastor” in English.

It is clear from 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 that “overseers” were understood to be men (i.e. male elders), but this is less certain with regard to the position of “servant/minister” (dia/kono$). In Rom 16:1, Phoebe is called dia/kono$—this is sometimes rendered “deaconess”, based on an understanding of the later Church office; however, as I have explained in Part 4 (on Rom 16:1-2ff), this is anachronistic, and the word as it is used everywhere except in 1 Timothy (and, possibly, Phil 1:1), should be understood in the general sense of “servant” or “minister” (of Christ). Still, the application of the word in the case of Phoebe is often thought to be relevant to the context of 1 Tim 3:8-13. In the midst of his discussion, on the qualifications for the “minister”, Paul (or the author) interjects:

“And these (persons/men) must first be thought acceptable (by examination), then they may serve as minister, being without (anything) calling (them) into question. Even so (for) the women (they are to be) reverent, not throwing (accusations) about, sober [i.e. discrete], trust(worthy) in all (thing)s.” (vv. 10-11)

The Greek word gunh/ (“woman”) can also mean “wife”, which has led to some ambiguity in this passage—do the “women” here refer to female ministers or to the wives of the (male) ministers? The answer to this question often reflects the particular interest or predisposition of the interpreter. Those who favor a more egalitarian approach to gender roles in the Church, or specifically women serving as “deacons”, will likely choose the former. On the other hand, those who take a more traditional-conservative view of the issue, emphasizing/preserving male “headship” and/or gender-restriction of the leading roles, probably will choose the latter. In defense of the interpretation as “female ministers”, the example of Phoebe in Rom 16:1 is typically cited (cf. above). However, while Rom 16:1-2ff certainly can be said to reflect a tendency by Paul to treat women equally as fellow ministers and missionaries, it is questionable whether this ought to be read into 1 Tim 3:11, especially in light of the (reasonably strong) possibility that 1 Timothy is pseudonymous (cf. Part 5). In my view, the context of First Timothy itself suggests that the “servants/ministers” in 3:8-13 are probably best understood as men. Note the parallel syntax in vv. 8 and 11:

    • Diako/nou$ w(sau/tw$ semnou/$ mh… “Just so for (the) ministers (they should be) reverent, not…”
    • Gunai=ka$ w(au/tw$ semna/$ mh… “Just so for (the) women (they should be) reverent, not…”

It would be a bit unusual if the author was re-stating the instruction, using “women” to indicate “ministers who are women”. This seems especially clear, given what follows in verse 12: “Ministers should be men [i.e. husbands] of one woman [i.e. wife], standing fine before (their own) offspring and (their) own house(hold)s”. Here “woman” certainly means “wife”, and so likely has this denotation in verse 11 as well. We might paraphrase the flow of the passage as follows:

8As for the ministers, just like the overseers, they should be reverent in behavior… and these (men) are to be tested (and) approved first, then they may serve as ministers without anything against them.
11As for the wives, just like the ministers, they should be reverent in behavior…trustworthy in all things.
12Ministers should be husbands of one wife (only), standing before and guiding their children and households well.”

The question of how this passage relates to Paul’s statements in Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc (i.e., the undisputed letters) is a separate matter entirely. For those who have not yet read the discussion in Parts 1 through 6, this will help with a better understanding of the language and thought expressed by Paul in the relevant passages.

On “teach/teaching” in the Pauline Letters

Related to the current discussion on 1 Tim 2:11-15 (cf. Part 5 of the series “Women in the Church”, and the supplemental note), is the important question of what Paul (or the author) means by dida/skein (“to teach”). To this end, a brief survey of the Pauline use of the verb dida/skw, and the two main nouns derived from it, will be most helpful.

dida/skw (“teach”)

This verb occurs 7 times in the undisputed letters of Paul, three times more in Colossians, once in Ephesians, and 5 times in the Pastoral letters—16 in all. In Romans 2:21 (twice), 1 Cor 11:14 and Gal 1:12, it refers to instruction in a general sense. However, in Gal 1:12 it also implies the specific situation of teaching someone the Gospel, in the context of the revelatory words of Jesus himself. In 1 Cor 4:17, Paul refers to his “ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every congregation [e)kklhsi/a]”. Coincidentally, in this passage, it is Timothy who will serve the Corinthians, reminding them of Paul’s ways and teaching, in his absence. Romans 12:7 regards teaching as a specific “gift” of the Spirit that is manifest in the congregation (cf. below).

In the letter to the Colossians (which I regard as genuinely Pauline), the first two references (1:28; 2:7) very much relate to the (apostolic) ministerial role of teaching and preaching (i.e. proclaiming the Gospel), as also in Eph 4:21. In 3:16, by contrast (or complement), it is the believers in general, and together, who are exhorted to teach one another. The verb dida/skw is paired with nouqete/w (“set/put in mind”), both as verbal participles indicating continuous action. The setting is that of the congregational meeting, which includes singing psalms, hymns and “spiritual songs”. While it is possible that Paul intends “teaching” here in the specific sense of an official ministerial role, there is no immediate indication of this. It seems to apply to all believers, made clear by the emphasis at the start of the verse: “The account [i.e. word] of Christ should house [i.e. dwell] in you [i.e. you all] richly, teaching and setting (things) in mind (for) each other in all wisdom…”

Within the Pastoral Letters, three of the five occurrences deal with the “things” that a minister ought to teach—cf. 1 Tim 4:11 and 6:2 (“these things”, tau=ta). The pronoun refers to the collected body of (authoritative) Christian teaching which, according to the setting of the letter, Paul has given to Timothy, and which is effectively embodied within the letter. Note the exhortation in 4:6:

“Setting these things under the brothers [i.e. bringing these things to their attention always], you will be a fine [i.e. exemplary] minister [lit. servant] of Christ Jesus, being nourished/strengthened in the words/accounts of the faith and the fine teaching [didaskali/a] which you have followed (all) along”.

By contrast, Titus 1:11 refers to “many others” who are “teaching (thing)s which they should not” (cf. below). In 2 Timothy 2:2, the author (Paul) emphasizes the proper preservation of correct teaching and tradition:

“and the (thing)s which you heard (from) alongside me, through many witnesses, these (thing)s you must set/place alongside for trust(worthy) men who will be (equipp)ed well enough to teach others also.”

This is a point which can be found in several places in the undisputed letters of Paul (cf. 2 Thess 2:15, etc), but it takes on much greater importance in the Pastoral letters.

didaxh//didaskali/a (“teaching”)

These two nouns, derived from dida/skw, both fundamentally mean “teaching, instruction”, though the latter (didaskali/a) can refer more precisely to the content of the teaching, as well as to the act or process of teaching. The noun didaxh/ (didax¢¡) occurs four times in the undisputed letters—in Romans 6:17 and 16:17 it refers collectively to the instruction believers have received from missionaries and apostles such as Paul, while in 1 Cor 14:6, 26, it is to a specific spiritual “gift” manifest in the congregation (as also in Rom 12:7). The word is also used twice in the Pastoral letters, as a distinct role and duty of the minister, closely tied to the proclamation of the account (or “word”, lo/go$) of God, that is, the Gospel message (2 Tim 4:2). The exhortation is even more pointed in Titus 1:9:

“…holding (close) against the trust(worthy) account [lo/go$] according to the teaching [kata\ th\n didaxh/n], (so) that he may be able (both) to call (people) alongside [i.e. help/encourage them] in the wholesome instruction [didaskali/a] and to put to shame the (one)s giving a contrary account.”

This is part of the author’s (i.e. Paul’s) guidance regarding the duties and qualifications for the role of “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$)—that is, the minister who leads and oversees the congregation. He is to preserve the trustworthy account (lo/go$)—the Gospel and teachings with which he has been entrusted—and to combat the reverse, the contrary account (a)nti/logo$), promulgated by other false or deceptive teachers, etc.

The related noun didaskali/a (didaskalía) is more common in the Pauline corpus, occurring 19 times, but only twice in the undisputed letters (Rom 12:7; 15:14), and twice again in Col 2:22; Eph 4:14. The other 14 occurrences are all in the Pastoral letters, making it an important word, and an example of the sort of differences in vocabulary which have been thought to mark the Pastorals as pseudonymous (i.e., by an author other than Paul). In perhaps no other writings of the New Testament is there such a clear contrast between correct and incorrect, true and false, doctrine. The idea of a collected body of teaching and tradition, which is to be carefully guarded and preserved, is very much prominent in these letters. Note the use of the qualifying expressions:

This true teaching is threatened by the various sorts of false and vain/empty teachings (and teachers) which lay stretched out against it (1 Tim 1:10). It is often debated whether Paul (or the author) had distinct persons or groups in mind in such passages of warning; it would seem that he did, though they are difficult to identify with any precision. There can be little doubt of the seriousness with which the danger was perceived (1 Tim 4:16), and adds to the importance of those who have been entrusted with the leading/guiding roles in the congregation—in the Pastoral letters, this refers primarily to the “elders” (presbu/teroi) and to the “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), best understood as a governing or managing elder. The elder’s duty of teaching is expressed clearly in a number of places (cf. 1 Tim 5:17, etc), as also for the leading minister/overseer (such as Timothy & Titus) given charge over a particular congregation (or group of congregations).

Summary

Based on an examination of all the passages mentioned above, it is possible to discern three main aspects or senses of “teaching” in the Pauline letters:

    1. That of general Christian instruction, between and among believers, especially in terms of the Gospel message.
    2. As a distinct spiritual “gift” (xa/risma) given to particular believers who would exercise and manifest it in the role a “teacher” in the congregational meeting, etc.
    3. The specific duty of the leading ministers—the elders and overseer—involving both the essential proclamation of the Gospel message, and the preservation/transmission of the authoritative teachings and traditions entrusted to them (by the apostles and earlier ministers).

In turning again to 1 Timothy 2:12, given the context and setting of the congregational (worship) meeting, it seems clear that only the last two of these three are viable options. In other words, Paul (or the author) most likely is not offering a blanket prohibition against women teaching, but rather of either (a) attempting to act as a teacher (exercising the gift) in the meeting, or (b) performing the ministerial role reserved for the elder/overseer of the congregation. In attempting to decide between these two, several points should be kept in mind:

    • The parallel setting of 1 Cor 14 would suggest (2, a)—that of a spiritual gift exercised in the worship meeting, and could conceivably refer to women offering teaching without being recognized as one possessing that gift.
    • The connection between teaching and “having power/authority (over) a man” (cf. in Part 5) could indicate that he has the authoritative role of teacher, such as reserved for the elder/overseer, in mind (3, b).
    • The marriage bond is in view, both in 1 Cor 14:33ff and here in 1 Tim 2:9ff, and could mean that the wives of teachers (or teaching elders) are primarily being addressed—i.e., the wife should not overstep her position and assume the teaching role of her husband.
    • Paul (or the author) may also be addressing a particular situation in which (certain) women have been influenced by false teaching; if so, then the illustration in vv. 13-15 would, in large measure, have to be read in that light. I discuss this possibility a bit further in a separate note on Genesis 3:16.

May 6 (1): 1 Timothy 2:12

1 Timothy 2:12

This note is supplemental to the discussion on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Part 5 of the current series Women in the Church. Verse 12 is central to an interpretation of the meaning and force of the instruction regarding women in the passage. Here is the teaching in vv. 11-12 as a whole:

“Women must learn [manqane/tw] in quiet(ness) in all (proper) order [u(potagh/]; and (indeed) I do not turn over [e)pitre/pw] to women to teach, and not to have power (over) a man, but to be in quiet(ness).”

There is a kind of symmetry, or chiasm, in the author’s statement:

    • Women to learn in quietness and (under) order
      —I do not turn over to them (the right/authority, etc) to teach or have power over a man
    • (Women are) to be in quietness

In some ways, the key element is the central verb e)pitre/pw, “I do not turn over (to)”, which is usually understood in the sense of “I do not permit/allow…” This personal statement is significant in light of the questions surrounding the authorship of Pastoral letters (and 1 Timothy in particular). There can be no doubt that it relates in some way to a similar instruction in 1 Cor 14:34-35:

“The women in the congregation must keep silent, for it is not turned over [e)pitre/petai] to them to speak, but they must be under (proper) order [u(potasse/sqwsan], even as the Law says. And if they wish to learn [maqei=n] some(thing), they must ask their men [i.e. husbands] about it in the house [i.e. at home]…”

The common/related Greek words and the portions in italics show how close the two passages are, in the general sentiment that is expressed. For more on the context of 1 Cor 14:34-35, see the discussion in Part 2. In 1 Corinthians however, it is clear that Paul does allow women to play a leading/speaking role in the Church (i.e. the worship-meeting), since they may pray publicly (out loud) and deliver prophetic messages, as long as certain cultural-religious customs (involving dress code) are maintained (1 Cor 11:2-16, and cf. the discussion in Part 1). Based on 1 Cor 14:3ff, it also seems evident that a woman who prophesies, in so doing, edifies and instructs the entire congregation (including the men). Is there a contradiction between 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 1 Tim 2:11-12? For those who hold 1 Timothy to be pseudonymous, the situation is easier to explain, since the formula “I do not…” is taken as a kind of literary fiction—Paul is used to convey instruction to Church leaders regarding how congregations should handle and govern affairs. At the time 1 Timothy was written (c. 80-100, according to this view), the more charismatic and egalitarian approach found in the Corinthians churches, has been replaced by a carefully defined, organizational (and hierarchical) structure. On the other hand, if 1 Tim 2:11ff is genuinely Paul’s own teaching, a bit more comment is required.

The force of e)pitre/pw—There are several ways the situation may be understood based on the first-person use of the verb in 1 Tim 2:12:

1. Paul is simply personalizing the general instruction in 1 Cor 14:34f—”I do not…” instead of “it is not…”—as befits the nature of the letter (i.e. to his close friend and colleague Timothy, instead of the congregations of a city/region). The context is then best understood as similar to that in 1 Cor 14, on the theory, perhaps, that two specific situations are being addressed in vv. 34-35: (a) women/wives in the congregation responding to the message (prophecy) being delivered (cf. verses 29-31), and (b) women/wives seeking to learn more about what was said. 1 Tim 2:12 would relate more specifically to (a).

2. Paul is distinguishing his own (personal) instruction to Timothy from the practices current in the churches of Corinth (which he hopes to regulate, but does not prohibit). In other words, Paul himself does not allow women to hold such teaching roles, and instructs Timothy to follow his example in the churches which he oversees; but he does not interfere with the practices at Corinth (i.e. women functioning as prophets/preachers) as long as things are done to respect gender-distinction in relation to church custom and the order of creation.

3. The same essential situation is expressed in both 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-12—i.e., that women, as a general rule, are not to speak/teach/preach publicly in the congregation (where men and women are present together). 1 Cor 11:2-16 reflects the exception of women in whom the (high) gift of prophecy is recognized; they may speak/preach (i.e. utter prophecy) in the worship-meeting, but only in a manner which symbolizes conformity to the order of creation (use of head-covering). In 1 Cor 14:34, Paul implicitly cites the Law and Church custom (v. 33b, 11:16), whereas in 1 Tim 2:12 it is his own (apostolic) authority (cf. also 1 Cor 14:37).

4. Paul is referring in 1 Tim 2:11-12 to a specific (local) situation, perhaps related to the spread of false/aberrant teaching (1:3-7ff; 4:1-4ff). According to 2 Tim 3:1-9, certain kinds of false or heterodox teachers had apparently made some headway among women in the community, and it is conceivable that Paul thought this might spread throughout the congregations. In such a context, e)pitre/pw might then might carry the sense of “I certainly would not…”, “make sure that…”, “I would urge that…”, or something similar.

Of these, options 2 and 3 are the most tenable. I suspect that #3 more or less reflects Paul’s own views on the subject. When dealing with specific questions regarding (corporate) church life and worship, he tends to be rather conservative and cautious, always careful to observe established custom and a proper order of things. On the other hand, he often uses much more radical language and conceptual models when referring to the essential religious identity of believers in Christ (Gal 3:26-29, etc). He no doubt realized that this language could be misunderstood or applied in ways that disrupted Christian unity. In some areas, there is evidence in the letters of how he sought to work through these potential problems (cf. 1 Cor 8-10); unfortunately, we have preserved for us only glimpses of this in terms of gender-relations in the Church.

A proper understanding of 1 Tim 2:12 also requires that we explore what Paul (or the author of the letter) means when he uses the verb dida/skw (“teach, instruct”). This will be discussed in a separate note.

Women in the Church, Part 5: 1 Timothy 2:11-15

1 Timothy 2:11-15

As a way of examining and focusing the evidence from the so-called Pastoral letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus), I will be looking in detail at one specific passage—1 Timothy 2:11-15. The situation regarding the Pastoral letters is especially difficult due to the much-debated question of authorship—are they authentically Pauline as the text indicates, or are they pseudonymous? Most critical commentators believe that they are pseudonymous; even many ‘Evangelical’ or otherwise traditional-conservative commentators today are willing to accept this, at least as a possibility. The arguments for pseudonymity are varied, but essentially it is felt that the Pastoral letters contain certain words and phrases, ideas and expressions, which differ markedly from those in the letters where there is no question about Pauline authorship (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, et al). For example, the word-group eu)se/beia/eu)sebw=$/eu)sebe/w does not occur at all in the unquestioned Pauline letters, but the words are found 13 times in the three Pastorals alone. In my view the evidence for pseudonymity is much weaker for 2 Timothy, which generally seems to be compatible with Pauline language and epistolary style (and note the specific personal details, e.g. 4:13, etc). I find many more instances of vocabulary and ideas in 1 Timothy which could be considered atypical of Paul. The situation with Titus is harder to judge, partly due to the comparative brevity of the letter. For many Christians, pseudonymity automatically means a lesser degree of authority and trustworthiness; for others, it makes little or no difference, since the Church as a whole has accepted the canonicity and authority of these letters, regardless.

Historical and Literary Context

If the Pastoral letters are genuinely Pauline, then they were probably written toward the end of Paul’s life (c. 60-63 A.D.) . Second Timothy is set during a period of imprisonment 2 Tim 1:8, 17; 2:9; 4:6-8, 16ff, presumably in Rome (1:17), perhaps not long before his death. The purpose of the letters would have been to offer instruction and encouragement to his younger colleagues (Timothy and Titus) in their role as (apostolic) representatives (and overseers) for the churches over which they had been given authority. For Titus this area was the island of Crete (Tit 1:5ff), for Timothy the region surrounding Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3, etc, and so according to tradition). If any/all of the letters are pseudonymous, then they likely date from a later period, toward the end of the 1st century A.D. (c. 80-100), serving as a compendium of instruction regarding the proper organization/administration of churches, with an emphasis on protecting correct teaching and tradition (i.e. “orthodoxy”). As pseudonymous works, they would best be viewed as variations (alloforms) of a common set of instruction, addressed to different locations (i.e. Ephesus/Asia Minor and Crete, etc). In certain respects, they would be similar to the Didache or “Teaching (of the Twelve Apostles)” and the so-called Letter of the Apostles (early 2nd-century).

The core of First Timothy (2:16:2) is comprised of instruction on Church order—how the congregation should be organized and its corporate life and worship governed. Specific guidelines regarding roles or official positions in the congregation alternate with exhortations to maintain correct teaching and tradition along with proper ethical conduct:

  • Greeting (1:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (1:3-20), regarding
    —Preservation of correct teaching and tradition (vv. 3-11)
    —Paul’s own example as minister of the Gospel (vv. 12-20)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (2:1-3:13)
    —General instruction on Prayer and Worship (2:1-8)
    —continuation, emphasizing the role and position of Women (2:9-15)
    —Regarding “Overseers” (3:1-7)
    —Regarding “Servants/Ministers” (3:8-13)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (4:1-16), regarding
    —False teaching (4:1-5)
    —Preservation of correct teaching and (ethical) conduct (4:6-10)
    —Example of Timothy as minister and apostolic representative (4:11-16)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (5:1-6:2)
    —General instruction related to the handling of men and women (5:1-2)
    —Regarding (female) “Widows” (5:3-16)
    —Regarding (male) “Elders” (5:17-20)
    —[Miscellaneous/personal instruction] (5:21-25)
    —Regarding those in the churches who are Slaves (6:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (6:1-19), regarding
    —False teaching and ethical conduct (vv. 1-10)
    —Example/encouragement for Timothy as minister of the Gospel (vv. 11-16)
    —The use of riches (vv. 17-19)
  • Conclusion (final instruction) and benediction (6:20-21)

In each of the sections on Church order, there is teaching regarding the role of women in the Church—2:9-15 and 5:3-16—following a brief general instruction related to men and women (2:8-9a; 5:1-2). I will be looking primarily at the first passage (especially 2:11-15), but will comment briefly on the second as well below.

Exegetical Notes and Interpretation

Paul (or the author) begins in 2:8-9 with general instruction as to the manner in which men and women pray (presumably in the context of the worship-meeting, cf. 1 Cor 11:2ff)—it should be done with honest faith/devotion and simplicity. Verses 9-10 add to this some conventional/proverbial teaching on how women should dress and comport themselves—which, admittedly, sounds a bit stereotypical (perhaps even demeaning) to our ears today, but it fully fits in with the thought and language of Proverbs 31, etc. The emphasis is on (inner) virtue and ethical conduct (i.e. “good works”) rather than outward adornment. The instruction regarding the role and position of women in the Church follows in vv. 11-15, and is stated clearly in verses 11-12, which may be divided into two parts (the key words in italics):

“A woman [gunh/] must learn in quietness [i.e. quietly], in all proper order” (v. 11)
“and I do not turn over to a woman to teach, and not [i.e. nor] to have power over a man, but (rather) to be in quietness” (v. 12)

As I discussed in Parts 1 & 2 (on 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35), the word gunh/ (“woman”) can also mean “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”; so it is not clear whether the context relates to men and women generally, or to husband and wife specifically. Paul probably has the marriage relationship primarily in mind in 1 Corinthians, and so he (or the author) likely does here as well. If 1 Timothy is pseudonymous (cf. above), then this may be a direct allusion to 1 Cor 14:34-35 or similar Pauline instruction which has been preserved; if written by Paul himself, then certainly there is some relation to the idea expressed in 1 Cor 14:34-35 (on this, cf. Part 2). The context of 1 Corinthians was the response to prophetic messages in the (charistmatic) worship-meeting as manifest and practiced in Corinth (early-mid 50s A.D.); a later author likely would not have had this specific setting in mind, but would have understood it as a general rule for women. Verse 11 contains two prepositional phrases:

    • e)n h(suxi/a| (“in quiet[ness]”)—here h(suxi/a probably should be understood as “quietly”, with the connotation of gentle, humble, obedient, etc, rather than a strict imposition of silence.
    • e)n pa/sh| u(potagh=|—the word u(potagh/ is somewhat difficult to render literally in English; it has the fundamental meaning of “being set/placed in (an arranged) order”, i.e. “under an order”. As with the passive/reflexive form of the related verb u(pota/ssw, it can denote obedience, or even the more forceful idea of being (made) subject to a higher/greater power. However, one should be cautious in translating it as “subjection” or “submission” here—it is perhaps better to follow the more essential meaning “under order”, i.e. “in/with all (proper) order”.

In verse 12, there are three verbs which should be noted:

e)pitre/pw (“turn upon”, i.e. “turn over”)—that is, give over to someone, perhaps with the specific sense of “permit, allow”. It is used in a similar context in 1 Cor 14:34 (cf. Part 2): “for it is not turned over to them [i.e. to women/wives] to speak”. Here Paul (or the author) personalizes the instruction “and I do not turn over to women…”, also giving it a more precise context, by way of two infinitives:

    • to teach (dida/skein)—the importance of teaching, whether through use of the verb dida/skw or the related noun didaxh/, is clear, especially in the Pastoral letters (1 Tim 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2; 4:2; Tit 1:9, 11), with the warnings against false teaching and the strong exhortation to preserve correct teaching/tradition (1 Tim 1:3, etc). For more detail, cf. the separate note on verse 12.
    • to have power (over) (au)qentei=n)—the verb au)qente/w fundamentally refers to holding something (a tool, weapon, etc) in one’s own hand. It can specifically denote an act of war or violence, but also (figuratively or generally) to the exercise of power. The verb only occurs here in the New Testament, so we are left to guess somewhat at its precise meaning in this context—it probably should be understood in the basic sense of a woman exercising (or asserting) authority over a man. Again, the marriage relationship may be in mind.

The instruction given here is supported by an argument from Scripture—the Creation narratives in Gen 1-3—much as Paul does in 1 Cor 11:7-9ff (cf. Part 1). Verse 13 more or less summarizes 1 Cor 11:8, but with the specific emphasis that the Man (Adam) was formed first (prw=to$); this is a small but significant difference with the line of argument Paul uses in 1 Corinthians. Even more serious (and troublesome for us today) is the interpretive development which follows in vv. 14-15:

    1. The statement that it was not the Man (Adam), but the Woman (Eve) who was deceived by the Serpent, leading to sin/transgression (summary/paraphrase of Gen 3):
      “And (moreover) Adam was not (the one) deceived, but the Woman, being deceived out(right), has come to be in violation/transgression” (v. 14)
    2. A (proverbial) saying, which Paul (or the author) affirms (3:1a), along with the Scriptural account (as interpreted):
      “but she will be saved through the birth of offspring, if they should remain in faith and love and holiness with (a) safe/sound mind” (v. 15)

There is nothing in the (unquestioned) letters of Paul to suggest this emphasis on child-bearing/rearing as the primary role for Christian women (indeed, much in 1 Corinthians could been taken to suggest the opposite, cf. 1 Cor 7:5-9, 26-35, 38, 40). It sounds almost crude and ‘unenlightened’ to many today, though it generally fits with the traditional Jewish view as expressed e.g. in b. Ber. 17a: “How do women attain merit? By letting their children be instructed in the house of learning” (Dibelius/Conzelmann, p. 48). Women are said to be “saved” (in the general religious-cultural, not theological, sense) by raising up godly children. This effectively removes the ‘curse’ brought about with the Fall, which, according to the Genesis narrative, happens to involve both child-bearing and the ‘subjection’ of women (Gen 3:16). For further discussion, cf. the separate note on this verse.

Note on 5:3-16 & Conclusion

The other passage dealing with the role of women in 1 Timothy is 5:3-16—instruction regarding widows in the Church. The treatment of the subject suggests that the author has in mind an (official) position in the Church (“Widow”), alongside those of “Overseer” (3:1-7) and “Servant/Minister” (or ‘Deacon’, 3:8-13). Not all actual widows qualify for the office/position, which seems to have involved financial support from the congregation (v. 16) as well as certain ministerial duties (vv. 10-15). In general, widows should be supported by their families, attending to them first (vv. 4ff, 16). The qualifications of the (true) Widows are laid down in vv. 9-10, with the basic rule that they should be at least sixty years of age (extremely old for the time). In some ways, the Widows are the “Elders” among the women in the Church, just as the male “Elders” (presbu/teroi) are mentioned briefly in the following vv. 17-20. This office/position of Widow has been used as an argument for a relatively late dating of the Pastoral letters (late-1st/early-2nd century), but there is actually little information on how churches were structured in the period c. 70-100 A.D. to warrant making any firm conclusions as to when certain practices developed.

Many sincere believers today are genuinely uncomfortable with much of the language and the ideas regarding women (and their roles) expressed in the Pastoral letters (and especially here in 1 Timothy). For a good many commentators these passages are incompatible with the Paul of 1 Corinthians 11, Romans 16, Galatians 3:28, Philippians 4:2-3, etc, and are considered the product of a later author (or tradition) with a less enlightened view of the role and place of women in Christ. Other scholars would maintain that the Pastorals, even if pseudonymous, preserve, or were influenced by, Paul’s genuine teaching in 1 Cor 11:2-16 & 14:33-36, etc. Of course, if 1 Timothy is actually Paul’s work, then we must taken even more seriously the similarities between 1 Tim 2:11-15 and those passages in 1 Corinthians. Does 1 Tim 2:11-15 assume a specific contextual situation like that in 1 Cor 14, or is it meant to be taken as a general rule regarding women? In either case, how should this instruction be understood or applied today, in light of Paul’s teaching elsewhere and in the remainder of the New Testament? These are important questions, with no easy answers ready at hand, and yet it is necessary for each reader and commentator to grapple with them in his or her own way.

References marked “Dibelius/Conzelmann” are to Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Hermeneia Commentary series), transl. by Philip Buttolph & Adela Yarbro, Fortress Press: 1972.

Romans 1:1; 11:13 and the use of the term “apostle”

Romans 1:1 & 11:13

In light of the possible reference to Junia as an apostle in Rom 16:7 (cf. Part 4 of the series “Women in the Church”), it is worth considering the use of the word a)po/stolo$ (apóstolos) elsewhere in the New Testament. I will be looking, in particular, at the other two occurrences in Romans as being representative of Paul’s understanding and use of the term. However, a brief overview here will also be useful.

The word itself is derived from the verb a)poste/llw, to set someone or something away from [a)po/] a person, i.e. to send away, to send forth. As such, it is a relatively common verb, largely synonymous with pe/mpw (“send”). Within the Gospels, the noun is used exclusively in reference to the twelve closest companions of Jesus (“the Twelve”), those whom he selected from his followers to have a special role and position (Mk 3:14; Matt 10:2; Lk 6:13). It is not certain if Jesus used this word specifically (note the variant in Mk 3:14), but its rarity in the Gospels suggests that it is a subsequent identification made by early Christians. Certainly it should be associated with Jesus’ practice of sending his disciples out as his representatives, to preach and perform healing miracles in his name (Mk 6:7-13 par; Lk 10:1-12, 17ff; 22:35-36). The theme is emphasized in several sayings of Jesus (in the “Q” tradition, cf. Matt 9:38; 10:16, 40 par; also Lk 10:16), and, especially, in the tradition of Jesus’ commissioning his disciples after the resurrection (Matt 28:19-20; [Mk 16:15ff]; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). The motif has special theological significance in the Gospel of John (cf. 17:3-25, etc).

The basic restriction of meaning to the circle of Twelve continues in the book of Acts (1:2, 26; 2:37, 42-43; 4:33ff, etc), but with several key points of emphasis that can be discerned:

    • They are personal companions of Jesus during his earthly ministry (1:2ff) who were also witnesses of the resurrection, i.e. those who saw and heard the resurrected Jesus (1:21-22)
    • They are specifically located and centered in Jerusalem and Judea (8:1, 14; 9:27; 11:1); this distinction becomes increasingly significant as the narrative moves to the mission in the Gentile world (outside of Judea). It also means that the apostles, like nearly all of the earliest believers, were Jewish Christians (cf. 15:2ff, 22-23; 16:4).
    • They had the specific role and duty of teaching and preaching—that is, proclaiming the Gospel message, and, perhaps more importantly, serving as the source for transmitting the sayings and teachings of Jesus.

Given these three main aspects of the apostolic identity, it is understandable why there might be some conflict regarding Paul’s own identification as an apostle, which he makes repeatedly in his letters, and often in the very opening, as we see in Romans:

“Paulus, slave of (the) Anointed Yeshua, called (to be) an apostle, having been set apart unto the good message [i.e. Gospel] of God…” (Rom 1:1)

The sense of conflict is most acute in Galatians, which centers on the controversy between Paul and other Jewish Christian leaders (including some prominent representatives from Jerusalem), as he describes vividly in Gal 2:1-14ff. This helps us to discern better his own understanding of what it means to be an apostle:

“Paulus, an apostle—not from men, and not through (any) man, but (rather) through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father, the (one who) raised him from the dead…” (Gal 1:1)

Paul was commissioned as an apostle through the direct revelation (and personal appearance) of Jesus to him (Acts 9:1-19 par; Gal 1:11ff). His apostolic position was not based on his Jewish background or connection to the other apostles in Jerusalem (Gal 1:13-24). This particular point of emphasis for Paul, however, does make clear that most (if not all) the other apostles were early (Jewish) believers from Jerusalem and Judea, as indicated above. This would apply to Barnabas, who is referred to as an apostle (Acts 14:14, cf. also 1 Cor 9:6); even though he was not one of the Twelve, he was among the earliest believers, and may have been one of those who witnessed the risen Jesus.

In Romans 11:13 we see a special aspect of Paul’s apostleship—it is defined by his missionary work among the “nations” (that is, non-Jews or “Gentiles”):

“But to you I give account [i.e. speak], to the nations, in as much as I am an apostle of [i.e. to] the nations, (and) I give honor/esteem to my service…”

This statement is tied in with Paul’s distinctive teaching in Rom 9-11, that the missionary work among the Gentiles was, in part, intended (by God) to provoke Jews to jealousy (11:11, etc). This is also a large part of why Paul gives special honor to his ministry “…if (some)how I might create excitement alongside my flesh [i.e. with my fellow Jews] and would (thus be able to) save some of them”. What is most important to note here is that Paul very much identifies being an apostle with the particular work of ministry to which he has been called. In Romans 1:1, he uses the verb a)fori/zw, which means to mark out (or mark off, vb. o(ri/zw) from (a)po/) others, that is, to separate out, creating a division or boundary. The apostle is a minister called by God from among all other persons (all other believers) for a special purpose—the pioneering missionary work of proclaiming the Gospel and establishing churches in a region.

When we turn again to the reference in Romans 16:7, if Andronicus and Junia are, in fact, identified as apostles, it may simply mean that they, like Barnabas, are among the earliest believers (i.e. the first generation), and may have come from Judea or participated in the first rush of the Spirit’s activity. If they are among those mentioned in Acts 2:10b, then it is possible that they were also among the very first Christians (and missionaries) in Rome. One aspect of the apostolic role of preaching the Gospel and teaching the early Gospel/Christian traditions involved the founding and establishment of churches (congregations) in a region. Perhaps Paul is referring to this ministry role. In any event, his emphasis in Romans 16, as well as throughout his letters, when referring to his fellow missionaries (whether as apostles, or simply as “servants, co-workers”, etc), is on their sharing with him the same mission work and labor to which he has been called.