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Was I Wrong on 1 Timothy 2:12?

My findings regarding the syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the first edition of Women in the Church were widely accepted even among feminist scholars (though, of course, they still don’t agree with the book’s overall thrust on other grounds). There has been a recent exception, though, in the case of Philip Payne, who recently published an article in the journal New Testament Studies. In my 1995 essay in the first edition, I provided a thorough critique of Payne’s earlier unpublished 1988 paper on the subject. Now Payne, in turn, has responded to my study, claiming that 9 of the 100 syntactical parallels to 1 Timothy 2:12 that I presented do not match the pattern.

First of all, even if Payne were right and 9 of the 100 instances don’t fit the overall pattern, this would still be an over 90% success rate, which would be rather impressive. What is more, however, I carefully looked at Payne’s article and each of the 9 instances he discusses, and found that Payne’s analysis does not hold true. Essentially, he seems to be operating on the basis of the notion that verbs are “positive” or “negative” largely in and of themselves. More properly, however, verbs convey a positive or negative connotation in context. For this reason I would argue that Payne’s rebuttal is itself invalid and that my original conclusion stands.

That conclusion, in short, is that the expression “or” (oude) in 1 Tim 2:12 joins two expressions that are positive, “teaching” and “having or exercising authority.” This means that Paul, when saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (TNIV), did not merely speak out against women teaching false doctrine or women lording it over men (while saying it was OK for men to do so?!?). No, Paul did not want women even to engage in the kind of teaching or exercise of authority that was appropriate if exercised by qualified men in the church (see, e.g., 1 Tim 3:2; 5:17).

Naturally, this is not a welcome conclusion for those who contend that women ought to be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in the local church, though, it should be noted, this particular reading of 1 Tim 2:12 does not by itself settle the issue. Yet for those willing to meet on the common ground of the available evidence, the syntax of 1 Tim 2:12, particularly the kind of construction entailed by the use of “or” (oude) in this passage, sets important parameters for the proper understanding of Paul’s injunction. As interpreters arrive at a consensus on the most likely rendering of 1 Tim 2:12, this will put the discussion on a more solid biblical foundation.

NOTE: My original essay appeared in Women in the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995); the second edition, Women in the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), included an extensive interaction with the decade of scholarship subsequent to the first edition. The article mentioned above is Philip B. Payne, “1 Tim 2.12 and the Use of oude, to Combine Two Elements to Express a Single Idea,” NTS 54 (2008): 235–53. I responded to Payne’s article in greater detail in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (B & H). An initial response appeared in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Women in the Church is now in its third edition (Crossway, 2016).