"Man and Woman" or Husband and Wife" in 1 Timothy 2:8-15?

by Philip B. Payne | January 30, 2013
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Page numbers in parentheses below refer to Payne's book, Man and Woman, One in Christ.

“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (NIV).

Last week we examined whether “man” (aner) and “woman” (gune) in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 should be translated “husband” and “wife” and concluded it should not. This week we will examine the same question regarding 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Some Bible versions, notably the Common English Bible and Williams, translate “woman” (gune) in verses 11 and 12 as “wife” or “married woman” and “man” (aner) in verse 12 as “husband.” If 1 Timothy 2:12 were a prohibition limited to wives, it would not apply to unmarried women or widows. Is it likely, however, that Paul would limit only wives from “assuming authority to teach men”? This seems unlikely since 1 Timothy 5:15 explicitly identifies younger widows who "have already strayed after Satan,” and 5:13 identifies them as “going about from house to house (house-church to house-church?) saying things they ought not.” Surely, these women—who were not wives and who had strayed after Satan—would have the greatest need to cease from seizing authority to teach men (337-397). Furthermore, this verse has no possessive pronoun indicating “wife” or even an article that might have hinted that Paul had only wives in view. Consequently, the context favors understanding 1 Timothy 2:12 as referring to “woman” not “wife.”

The NIV translation “to assume authority” fits its definition in the Greek Dictionary BDAG 150, “to assume a stance of independent authority.” Every instance of this word clearly meaning “to assume authority” refers to assuming authority one does not rightfully have (385-395). Consequently, it would be inappropriate for all women, not just wives. Because it is prohibiting only the seizing of authority one does not rightfully have, it does not prohibit women who do have recognized authority to teach men. For example, Acts 18:26 states that “Priscilla and Aquila expounded to Apollos the way of God more accurately.” She did this in the same city the 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibition addresses, namely Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Luke lists her name before her husband’s, contrary to Greek custom. She was probably still in Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter since 2 Timothy 4:19 greets “Priscilla and Aquila.” Although both Luke and Paul introduce this couple listing her husband’s name first (Acts 18:2; 1 Corinthians 16:9), whenever either speaks of their ministry, both always list Priscilla first (e.g. Romans 16:3). This indicates that her ministry was more prominent than her husband’s.

Paul’s typical use of the conjunction that joins “to teach” and “to assume authority” is to join two elements to convey a single idea. Thus, he is not prohibiting two things: “to teach” and “to assume authority over a man.” He is prohibiting only the combination of these, namely “to assume authority to teach men” (337-359). The NIV cited above misses this important distinction. Paul is prohibiting the group in Ephesus he identifies as most influenced by the false teachers, namely women (299-310), from assuming for themselves authority to teach the assembled church, just as he had instructed Timothy to silence the original false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3.

Similarly, it is unlikely Paul in verse 8 intended only husbands, and not other men also, to “to pray” or that he would prohibit only husbands from praying “with anger and quarreling.” Likewise in verses 9-10 it is unlikely Paul intended only wives, and not other women also, to dress modestly, without showing off their wealth or to learn in quietness and all submission. Paul gives three examples of immodest dress, not four: “braiding and gold (as in 1 Peter 3:3), or pearls, or expensive clothes.” Braiding by itself was common, but intertwining gold in braids was ostentatious and immodest. Neither instance of “woman” has an article or “his” or any other indication that Paul intended only wives. As far as I know, every version translates aner and gune as “man” and “woman” in verses 8-10, not “husband” and “wife.” When an author uses words where the same meaning makes perfect sense throughout a specific context, as “man” and “woman” do in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, a translator needs clear justification to render only some with a significantly different meaning. No adequate justification exists here.

Finally, in Paul’s theology, it is not just wives, but all believing women who are saved through “the Childbirth” (2:15; 417-441). Every surviving occurrence of the word used here refers to the event of childbirth, never to the process of childbearing (431-440). The use of the article here does not fit the characteristic features of its generic use. “In its generic use it singles out an individual who is typical of a class, rather than the class itself” (BDAG 687, 2). Consequently, the pervasive individualizing use of the article with singular nouns in 1 Timothy is also its most natural reading in verse 15 (429-431). Furthermore, unless 1 Timothy 2:15 is the only exception, each of the twenty-nine occurrences of the verb “to save” in Paul’s letters refers to spiritual salvation from sin that comes through Christ (418-424). This is a letter addressed only to Paul’s disciple Timothy, who would have no difficulty understanding that Paul’s citation of Genesis 3:13, regarding woman’s deception and fall, introduces the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, namely God’s promise that “the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent” (433-438). This affirms woman’s role in giving birth to the Savior and balances her role in precipitating the fall, one of the most pervasive themes of the early church fathers (439-440). Furthermore, the necessity of faith, love, and holiness is a condition for salvation not only for wives, but for all women and all people. None of the statements in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 apply only husbands or only wives. All apply more broadly to men or women. So throughout this passage the proper translation of aner is "man," and of gune is "woman."