NT Wright on 1 Tim 2

Thu, 25/01/2007 - 11:43 -- James Oakley

At the moment, I’m reading various people on various texts. At some point, I’ll be interrupted, and have to stop this enterprise, but for now, it’s my current task. Those people have (at least) two things in common: 1. I generally respect their writing. 2. They all take a (slightly or majorly) different view on women’s ministry than me.

Start with N T Wright on 1 Timothy 2.

Summary of his position
Wright argues that, in verse 11, we are told who women are to be “in submission” to. Traditionally, it has been understood as being to men, or to husbands in particular. But it could as well be to God – women’s learning cannot be unshackled by concern for what God thinks.

Verse 12 is concessive – it explains what Paul does and does not mean by verse 11. When Paul says women are to be left to have some peace and quiet for study of their own, what does he not mean? He’s not implying that “I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.” In Ephesus this would need saying – the Diana / Artemis temple was run exclusively by women who used that role to keep men in their place. Paul is arguing for equality; the Ephesian church must not understand him as wanting a complete reversal.

The Adam and Eve reference shows what happens when women are not allowed to learn. Had Eve’s education not been lacking, the fall may not have happened.

The childbirth reference is to disallow the realities of childbirth as a stick to beat women with. It is a symptom of the judgement of God, but God still saves them. So don’t ever tell a woman that, as evidenced by childbirth, she is under judgement so not fit for leadership. Childbirth is hard enough without those kinds of conclusions.

Analysis and Response
I’m grateful for the reminder that verse 11 enjoins women to learn. This instruction is a 3rd person imperative, which could be passive (let it happen), or could be aimed at the men (men, let them learn). We men need to do all we can to facilitate women learning of God and his ways from his word. I’m unsure whether the “quietness” is their own whilst studying (listen and learn, don’t speak) or the quiet others maintain to allow them to study. Wright goes for the latter, which has some appeal, but grammatically (linked to “in submission”), I suspect the former is more likely.


1. Not persuaded by the concessive function of verse 12, however. The verb epitrepw can mean to entrust, but that is a different family of meaning altogether (homonym). The use here is far more likely to be the other homonym – to permit or allow. Every dictionary I’ve looked at (4 or 5) gives those same 2 English words to render it with. Paul says “I do not permit” or “I do not allow” a woman… That is not even close in meaning to “Please don’t mishear me as saying.”

2. Even if it were concessive, I’m not sure where that gets us. Verse 11 says women should learn. Some people (not Wright, he’s far too careful) conclude this meant they were being trained as teachers. But verse 11 doesn’t say whether women learnt so as to teach others (including men), or merely learnt. We need to look to verse 12 to see if this unresolved question is answered. And, if verse 12 were concessive, the question would be answered. The logic would then run as follows: “I want women to do lots and lots of learning. Let them do it. But in saying that, I’m not saying they should teach men”

To reach Wright’s conclusion, we need the extra explanatory clause “in the same way that previously men held authority over women”. But that is not in the text.

3. What happened to verse 13? It the sole point being made in verse 14 was that uneducated Eve contributed to the fall, why does Paul precede that by discussing the order in which God conducted creation?

4. Men and women need to learn in quietness and submission. If both are to be active teachers of God’s assembled people, even more so. But Paul only says this of women. It’s tempting to say that he does so because, culturally, people expected men to be students, teachers and leaders, but not women. But if the cultural paradigm of Ephesus being used as an interpretive grid is of the city with dominant and liberated women, you’d expect him to give the commands the other way around. “Men – learn in quietness and submission. Look at Eve to see what could go wrong if you don’t. But I’m not saying that…”

So, some valuable insights, and some thought-provoking arguments. But I’m not convinced that verse 12 can be changed from a command to an explanation – and an explanation that in no way restricts what women may or may not do.

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