This passage in I Timothy has caused much confusion about what women can or cannot do in church services or in teaching. In the oft-heated discussions, a verse or two, or even a single phrase is sometimes selected and the rest of the passage ignored.
I recently began to notice the presence of the Greek article (“the” in English) in several places in this passage, and I wondered what the significance was. I also notice some indirect commands and imperatives. My study led to some fascinating discoveries that may throw light on a passage that needs as much illumination as possible.
Careful Mixture of Theology and Exhortation in I Timothy
I Tim. 2:1-15 is like the rest of the letter in that good theology and exhortation are mingled. By theology we mean truths taught in Scripture about such subjects as God, people created by God, sin, salvation, and God’s plan for the restoration of his creation. By exhortation we mean instructions as to how believers should live and think. Some who have failed to observe the theology and the exhortation have tried to turn this important letter into a modern manual for church government. Careful study shows that Paul never intended the letter to be forced into such a role. In this letter, Paul warned Timothy about false teachers and false teaching. He says nothing about church membership, the Lord’s supper, who should be ordained and how the laying on of hands is involved in ordination. He says nothing about services that pertain to marriages or funerals. This is no church manual but rather a guide for Timothy in his ministry in Ephesus. Paul’s exhortations rest upon explicit theological teachings that he clearly states. To understand I Timothy 2:15 we must recognize the main themes covered in this letter.
Main Themes Covered in I Timothy
Alertness in the face of false teaching 1:1-20
Christians should be concerned for all people 2:1-15
Characteristics and conduct of leaders in God’s church 3:1-15
Further warning about false teaching and false doctrines 4:11-116
How Timothy should deal with various groups of people 5:1-6:10
Concluding exhortations for Timothy 6:11-21
I Timothy 2:1-15 must be read in the light of the rest of the books.
Main Topics Covered in I Timothy 2:1-15
Christians should be concerned for all people 2:1-15
Prayers for all people because God desires the salvation of all people 2:1-7
How the men as a class should pray in every place 2:8
How women of various kinds professing godliness should adorn and conduct themselves 2:9-15
In each of these sections, the presence or absence of the Greek articles provides a basis for understanding more clearly what Paul is saying. The presence or absence of the article shows to whom the imperatives and the indirect commands refer. The passage has many examples of the presence and absence of the Greek article and its significance for the indirect commands and imperatives in the section.
Greek Grammars on the Presence and Absence of the Greek Article
Dana and Mantey This Greek Grammar has influenced Greek students for more than sixty years. In their discussion on the Article (pp. 135-153) the grammar says: “When identity is prominent, we find the article; and when quality or character is stressed, the construction is anarthrous [without the article].” Again, “The basal function of the Greek article is to point out individual identity.”
On pages 141-145 Dana and Mantey list the regular uses of the Greek article: (1) to denote individuality – persons, places, and things. “God be merciful or gracious to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13) “He (Jesus) went up into the mountain” (Matt. 5:1) “And they come into the house of the ruler of the synagogue” (Mark 5:38). (2) To denote previous reference – article points back in the narrative to an earlier mention of a person, place, or thing, “…You would ask and he would give to you living water…Whence do you have the water, the living kind” (John 4:10-11)?”
(3) With abstract nouns to give them a particular meaning – “the truth,” “the love,” “the grace.” “Stop boasting and lying against the truth” (James 3:14) – Christianity as the gospel of truth. (4) With some proper names – no consistent pattern can be found here. (5) The generic use – with a noun representing a class or group: “the foxes,” (Matt. 8:20), “the birds,” (Matt 8:20), “The tax collectors are doing the same thing, are they not?” (Matt. 5:46).
(6) With a variety of pronouns such as “this man” (demonstrative pronoun). “This people [lit. this the people] honors me with their lips but the heart of them is removed a far distance from me” (Matt. 15:8). (7) With other parts of speech. In the Greek language, the article may be used with adjectives, adverbs, participles, infinitives, prepositional phrases, clauses, and even with entire sentences. “The living (present infinitive) for me, Christ; the act of death (aorist infinitive) gain” (Phil. 1:21). “Now we do not know the what we should pray for” (Rom. 8:26).
Dana and Mantey give examples of the absence of the article: A noun without an article occurs in many prepositional phrases. “A prepositional phrase usually implies some idea of quality or kind.” They also say: “Anarthrous nouns [no article] without a preposition present the same stress on character or quality.” In Romans 6:21 we have the same noun without an article and with an article: “Therefore, what fruit were you having in which things you are now ashamed? But now having been freed from sin and having become slaves to God, you are having the fruit of yours for consecration.” Before their conversion Roman Christians were not controlled by righteousness (see Rom. 6:20). Paul asked them a good question: “What fruit [absence of article] did you have then in which things you are now ashamed? Paul was asking: “What kind of fruit?” The only answer they could give was “we had a sinful kind of fruit.” But when they were freed from sin and became slaves of God they were a different people. “You had the fruit of yours for consecration.” This particular fruit that they bore was for consecration to God and to righteousness. In vs. 21 the stress is on the character, quality, kind of fruit (absence of the article). In vs. 22 Paul point to the particular identity – the fruit of yours – that marked them out as consecrated to “God and to righteousness. Thus the presence of the article stresses particularity; the absence of the articles stresses quality or character of some persons, places or things defined by the context.
Brooks and Winbery – This fine Greek grammar has emerged in the last ten years. It summarizes how the Greek article functions: “The basic function of the Greek article is to point out, to draw attention to, to identify, to make definite, to define, to limit…the presence of the article emphasizes identity, the absence of the article quality (p. 67). What particular identity and/or quality is defined by the narrative where the article is present or absent? Look at these two English sentences without any context: “the house on the corner is ours.” “There is no place like home” Where the article is found with “house” we find a particular house on a particular lot. Where there is no article with “home” a writer would be drawing our attention to the character or characteristics of home life. The flow of thought and the context are always essential in grasping what the Greek writer stresses.
A.T. Robertson. The greatest American New Testament Greek grammarian published a monumental Greek grammar in five editions between 1914 and 1931. This 1454-page grammar is the most thorough in the English language. Robertson was also an exegete who considered careful use of Greek syntax essential to sound interpretation. Robertson insisted on the phraseology “absence of the article” rather than “omission of the article” because he assumed that the Greek writer know what he wanted to do – he didn’t just forget to do waht he should have done! (p. 780) He quoted James Hope Moulton as saying: “There are indeed few of the finer points of Greek that need more constant attention than the absence of the article” (p. 790).
We will give careful attention to the presence and absence of the Greek article in I Timothy 2:1-15 and the indirect commands and imperatives in the passage because these grammatical elements clarify the passage. To help the reader examine individual verses with the presence and absence of the article, I am giving a very literal translation of the passage.
Prayers for all people because God desires the salvation of all people, I Tim. 2:1-7.
1. I am exhorting, therefore, that first of all entreaties, prayer in general, intercessions, thanksgivings be made on behalf of all people. 2. On behalf of kings and of all the persons being in a place of authority that we may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. 3. This is noble and acceptable before the our savior God. 4. Who desires all people to be saved and to come to full knowledge of truth. 5. Now there is one God and one mediator of God and of people, man [human being], Christ Jesus. 6. the one who gave himself to be ransom on behalf of all people, the testimony in his own times, 7 In reference to which testimony I was appointed to be preacher and apostle – I speak truth, I am not lying – teacher of Gentiles in faithfulness and genuineness.
Verse 1. The article is absent. Paul stresses the kinds of prayer he wants Christians to offer on behalf of “all people.” The absence of the article before “people” emphasizes their qualities and characteristics – not a specific group of people (e.g., the people of France). Various kinds of prayer are noted: entreaties, prayers in general, intercessions, thanksgivings – because people are in a variety of conditions and have varying needs. If Paul had used articles here, he would have stressed the particular forms of prayer; without the articles he stresses prayer with different characteristics of features.
Verse 2. Paul says that leaders should be prayed for. Christians are to pray for kings – no article. This emphasizes the characteristics or lack of character in kings. But the next expression for leaders has the article – all the specific kinds of leaders in places of authority. These leaders may be under kings, but as a group they are identified. Christians are to be praying for these leaders in order that they (Christians) may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. None of these expressions – tranquil, quiet life, godliness, respectfulness – have the article. Paul wants Timothy and those Timothy counsels to grasp the character of life that would come from good leadership and good responses on the part of citizens.
Verse 3. Such prayer is “noble and acceptable before the our Savior God.” This may sound complicated, but the term “our Savior” functions as an adjective and the article makes this clear. God is identified as Savior and He is “ours.” Such identification brings emphasis.
Verse 4. This whole verse is a relative (adjectival) clause modifying the our Savior God. The verse has no articles. It tells that God as Savior desires (wills) all human beings to be saved and to come to full experiential knowledge of truth. The expression “knowledge of truth” without a Greek article shows that salvation is much more than an emotional experience. “Full knowledge” points to a Christian ever learning Christian truth. Such truth has a quality or character that is unique. If Paul had used an article – “the truth,” he would have particularized truth as the Gospel, the Christian faith, the truth of revelation. Instead he pictured the character of Christian truth. A Christian convert experiences more and more of truth and comes to complete or full knowledge of such truth. This does not mean master! “Full”” is in terms of present capacity.
Verse 5-6. The Greek article does not appear in verse 5. “Now, there is one God (character stressed) and one mediator (character again stressed) of God and of people, man (human being), Christ Jesus” In verse 6 an adjectival participle is tied to Christ Jesus by an article. This one mediator of God and of people was a man, the one who gave himself (particular act of self-giving) to be a ransom for all people. Such self-giving (on the cross) provided the basis for redemption of all people. Christ also gave himself to be “the testimony.” The article points to the particular testimony of God that on the cross He provided the remedy for sin. Jesus voluntarily gave himself over to be that ransom and that remedy. This particular testimony is central to Christianity. The event occurred in Christ’s own times. There is no article with times, thus referring to the character or kind of times when Jesus walked among human beings.
Verse 7. The article is absent from this verse. In reference to this testimony, Paul was appointed to be preacher, apostle, teacher. Absence of the article with these nouns shows the kind or quality of communicator Paul was. He was preacher (heralding good tidings); he was apostle (authoritative teacher and sent one); he was teacher (presenting truths carefully). He did all this in an attitude of faithfulness and geniuness.
In the next installment of this series, we will show the important meaning the presence or absence of the article has on I Timothy 2:8-15 – the passage most often quoted to limit the activities of women within the Church of Jesus Christ.
- H.D. Dana and Julius R. Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1950) V. Article, pp. 135-153.
- James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek (Washington D. C: University Press of America, 1979) Article, pp. 67-72.
- A.T. Robertson. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Fifth Edition: New York & London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1931). Chapter XVI Article, pp. 754-796.