1 Timothy 2:11-12 and the Role of Elder


John 17,17As I have spent a lot of time considering the sufficiency of Scripture in addressing the various questions regarding the conduct of one’s life, I had to recognize as well that it addresses all the questions relating to the conduct of Christians within the context of the local church gathering. What’s more, as I believe that Scripture speaks authoritatively and without error on those issues I must search the pages of the Bible in order to answer any questions or objections folks have to the restriction of the role of elder to men. That shall be the purpose of this post, to look at the one passage in particular that is so often the center of the disagreement to determine exactly what it has to say and how we must respond. The passage in question is 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and it is perhaps the most controversial of the passages opposed by those in the egalitarian camp who believe that women not only can but should be pastors is 1 Timothy 2:11-12.1  However, the fact that such a prohibition exists should not come as a surprise as one author states, “The very fact that such regulations were needed shows how much women shared in the life of the early church.”2 But the question must be asked, what exactly does 1Timothy 2:11-12 prohibit? In order to answer this question the words underlying teach and exercise authority will be examined as well as whether this is the prohibition of one activity or two.  However, before addressing these questions the chief objection of the egalitarian camp will be addressed, namely that the instructions of Paul in 1 Timothy are of an ad hoc nature. It is the contention of the egalitarians that “the purpose behind 1 Timothy is to address the heretical issues Timothy is facing; therefore all of the instructions are applicable to the original audience only and not to the church at large.” 3  However, if this is the case why is there no specific description of the false teaching in 1 Timothy 1:3 with instructions that in this situation, this is how you deal with the problem?4  A further common complaint against the book as a whole is “the pastoral letters were not written by Paul, but by a later churchman writing in Paul’s name several decades after Paul’s death.”5Thus this writing cannot be taken as authoritative. Though the issues of text criticism and all its sub-categories of biblical criticism are beyond the scope of this paper suffice it to say it is the position of this author that the instructions are binding upon the church as a normative feature of church life and that Paul is indeed the author. With this being the case attention will now be turned to the questions at hand.

What does it mean to teach?

The word underlying the term “to teach” in English is the Greek word didakien. This word Teacheris a the present infinitive of the root word didasko which is the verb “I teach.” In its infinitive form it is taken to mean “to teach.” this word along with its cognates (didaskalia, and didaskalos) is used throughout the Pastoral Epistles to point to the authoritative teaching of God’s truth. It is the same word used in 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2 to express the activity Timothy is to be engaged in as well as what he is to train faithful men to do (2 Tim 2:2). It is further used by Paul in Titus 1:11 to describe the activity in which the false teachers are engaged. 6 Therefore, it should be rightly understood that the activity which Paul is prohibiting is the authoritative teaching of God’s Truth within the corporate gathering of the church. This position is contra Fee who places the emphasis not on the infinitive “to teach” but on the verb translated as “I do not allow or permit.” It is Fee’s position that the present/active form of the verb is better translated and understood as “I am not permitting” and therefore is only relevant to the church in Ephesus.7

Instead of being engaged in the act of teaching the women are instead to be engaged in the act of learning quietly and with full submission (v. 11). This is significant for it demonstrates that there are not restrictions upon the women in the arena of what they can learn only on the manner in which they are to learn namely they are not to speak nor even ask questions as this is an activity to accomplish at home.8 This view is in direct opposition to the egalitarian view which reads into the injunction to learn the permission or conclusion that what one learns one must teach to all.9 This restriction of activities between teacher and student is not a commentary on a woman’s intellect, giftedness, worth, nor on the cultural settings or circumstances but of God’s design for the roles of men and women.10

What does it mean to exercise authority?

The primary dispute in the discussion of exercising authority as it is found in this passage is that the word translated as such is a hapax legomena or in other words a term which authorityonly occurs once in the New Testament. Fortunately, when such a word is encountered the context plays a key role in determining the meaning. However, there are instances when the context is not as helpful as one might hope which forces the exegete to look to sources outside the New Testament to determine the usage of a particular term.11 The term authentein the present infinitive of authenteo is just such a word. Despite the best efforts of egalitarians to prove otherwise the chief meaning of this word in some 85 different cases is “to be in power, to rule, hold sovereign authority, to have full power/authority over, etc.” 12 It must therefore be concluded that the activity Paul is prohibiting is the exercise of a position of leadership, to include ruling over men most especially in the context of the assembly of the local body of Christ.

This understanding is contra Fee, once again, who takes this word to represent a domineering or pushy attitude by women when leading or exercising authority over men. Fee’s understanding would have the passage read “I am not permitting a woman…to act in a domineering way over a man.”13 However, as it does not appear that this understanding of the passage stands up to the scrutiny applied to the underlying term as explained in the previous paragraph.

Is this a prohibition of one or two activities?

The final question to be addressed in the discussion of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is whether the prohibitions Paul provides are indeed prohibitions and not prohibition.

stopIt is the position of many within the egalitarian camp that there is actually only one prohibition in this passage and that it relates only to manner and activity. Those who hold to this understanding would have the two activities, teaching and exercising authority, to be combined and understood as “teaching in a domineering manner.” In this way it is neither teaching nor exercising authority being addressed rather the manner in which one teaches is the issue.

Kitchen in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles offers the following as a refutation of this idea:

The prohibition here is indicated by the use of the conjunction ouvde. Some have tried to assert that the conjunction is used when combining two ideas to make one single idea (hendiadys). This would combine the two infinitives into “teaching in a domineering manner.” The 143 usages of ounde in the NT, however, reveal that such a usage is either non-existent or used so seldom as to be no influence here. … The conjunction is used to join similar ideas and intensify the concept, but not to present one singular idea. This leads us to realize that while authoritative teaching and exercising authority in the church are closely related to one another, they may not always be identical. Authority may be exercised in ways other than teaching. The conjunction requires that since “to teach” is viewed as a positive action …, so too must “exercise authority” be viewed as a positive action and not “as domineer over” or some such notion.14

Furthermore, the exercise of authority is to be righlty understood as a governing or ruling function exercised by some Christians over others. The exercise of such authority is ascribed to the elders in the Pastoral Epistles making Paul’s prohibition of a woman’s exercise of authority over a man a prohibition of a woman becoming an elder as well. This idea taken to its logical conclusion would prohibit a woman from occupying a position within any given local assembly which would be equivalent to the governing elder described in the Pastoral Epistles.15

When this evidence is taken into account it is the opinion of this author that not only is Paul providing instruction concerning two separate activities but that the proper application of the same is the prohibition of women to occupy the office of elder and therefore they cannot serve as the pastor of the local church. Furthermore, if Scripture is rightly understood to be authoritative in what it says this prohibition only need be issued once in order for it to be binding upon the church, which leaves us with the final argument to be addressed in this short series which comes from Galatians 3:28 and will be addressed in my next post.


  1. In the majority of works addressing this issue the passage in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is the whole of the pericope dealt with; however, due to limitations of space this paper will only deal with the direct prohibition in verses 11 and 12 and not the reasoning behind the same.
  2. Ryrie, 116.
  3. Paul W. Felix Jr., “Feminism,” in The Master’s Perpective On Contemporary Issues, ed. Robert L. Thomas (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 1998), 2:131.
  4. Douglas Moo, “What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men? 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 180.
  5. Jouette M. Bassler, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 20.
  6. John A. Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2009), 109.
  7. Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 72.
  8. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), 4:185.
  9. Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9/15, 2nd ed., ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 98.
  10. Dorothy Kelley Patterson, “What Should a Woman do in the Church?,” in Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9/15, 2nd ed., ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 157.
  11. Henry Scott Baldwin, “An Important Word,” in Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9/15, 2nd ed., ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 40.
  12. Ibid., 41.  It is highly recommended that anyone desiring to know more on the etymology and meaning of auvqentei/n read Baldwin’s chapter in Women in the Church.
  13. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 73.
  14. Kitchen, 110-111.
  15. Moo, 187.