Part SEVEN: Summary

A careful examination of 1 Tim 2:12 within its cultural and literary context reveals that it is not intended as a universal prohibition against women being pastors, but rather, it is intended as a prohibition against particular women in the church of Ephesus from teaching heretical Gnostic beliefs.

What is written in 1 Timothy reflects that Paul is very concerned about heretical teaching that has arisen in the Ephesian church. This church’s location in Ephesus (western Asia Minor) made it especially susceptible to elements of the pagan religions of the region seeping into the church. Most notable was the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods that developed in Asia Minor, with the most powerful expression of this goddess being Artemis, whose home base was Ephesus; she was believed to be the source of all life, both divine and human. Also, the Jews of this area were not diligent at keeping elements of paganism from entering their religion practices, making for a pipeline of heretic teachings into the Ephesian church as these Jews became Christ followers.

The text of 1 Timothy contains a number of indications that the heresy Paul was opposing involved Gnostic beliefs, Gnosticism being a religious movement characterized by the distorting of the beliefs of the Old Testament. One prominent Gnostic belief was that Eve was involved in the creation of the material universe, that she created Adam and bestowed upon him true knowledge. Clues in the text of 1 Timothy suggest that this was the particular heretic teaching Paul was targeting with his prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12.

Paul says he does not allow a woman to teach, and it is striking that this prohibition is immediately followed by “For Adam was first created, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being absolutely deceived, was in the transgression” (vv. 13-14), words constituting a direct refutation of the Gnostic belief just cited.

Paul’s instruction of 1 Tim 2:12 begins with “I do not permit a woman to teach. . .” but the grammar of this statement does not allow for an understanding that it is saying “I do not permit a woman to teach a man”; rather, the word “man” is intended to relate to a word later in the sentence. Further, the Greek word ‘authentein’ that is usually translated “to have authority over” has been found with this meaning starting only in the second century AD, the word having the meaning “to be responsible for” or “to be the originator of” in the earlier centuries. Another possible meaning is the related “to represent oneself to be the originator of”; inserting this meaning into 1 Tim 2:12 yields the translation, “I do not permit a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator of man,” and this idea of “female representing herself to be originator of male” reflects the Gnostic belief of Eve representing herself to be originator of Adam.

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