CT, January 14, 2022.

In a recent article for Christianity Today, “Gender Questions Should Send us to Scripture,” Thomas Schreiner once again warns that cultural arguments are taking precedence over Scriptural ones when it comes to critiquing complementarianism. There has been, in the last few years, critiques of complementarianism that have been extremely challenging as Prof. Schreiner concedes,

“We are keenly aware of the many stories of pastoral and spousal abuse—some of whom are noted complementarians. Such stories make many people wonder if complementarianism is simply a form of a power grab, an attempt to hold onto male authority in order to exercise their selfish will.

Cultural questions have been raised as well. Is the complementarian vision merely a product of white western culture—deriving from a patriarchal ethos and an American vision of the good life, entirely sundered from biblical witness?

Or others have suggested the complementarian view solely represents the worldview of the Republican party, constituting a backlash to societal changes in the 1960’s. Or as one historian initially proposed, perhaps we have been more influenced by John Wayne than Jesus of Nazareth?”

Here he is referring to Kristin Du Mez’s book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2020). In this book, Du Mez looks over the history of America of the last 70 years and argues that evangelicals have replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. Another book that has proved challenging is Alison Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. Barr is a historian and she too offers a historical survey, but one that sweeps over centuries of Western civilization, from ancient times to the modern. She works to show that the idea that God designed women to be submissive homemakers is not divinely ordained but is instead a product of human civilization which has influenced the church.

  1. The Crux of Thomas Schreiner’s Argument in the CT Article

The crux of Prof. Schreiner’s argument in the Christianity Today article is this: no matter how much Christianity has been influenced by cultural norms of society throughout history, decisions about the correctness of complementarianism rest on Scripture. As he says,

“At the end of the day, it should come down to whoever offers the most plausible and persuasive reading of the biblical texts in question.”

And Thomas Schreiner implies that his interpretation of Scripture is the most plausible and persuasive.  What is his interpretation and is he right?  To answer this question, we need to consider his interpretation of Scripture; so let’s speed off to 1 Timothy 2:12.

We are at 1 Timothy 2:12 because Prof. Schreiner has written extensively on this passage; in a chapter published in 2001 he says “I understand Scripture to forbid women from teaching and exercising authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12).”[i]  Let’s look at this verse  first in Greek and then in English,

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

But I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.[ii]

I want to focus on certain exegetical points made by Prof. Schreiner on this verse.

2. Thomas Schreiner’s Exegetical Argument

What is interesting about Prof. Schreiner’s work is that there does seem to be a willingness to engage with those who interpret this passage differently. In 1998, Prof. Schreiner was very confident that his interpretation was the most plausible,

“The emphatic position of “to teach” at the beginning of verse 12 does not show that the verse is a parenthesis. Instead, Paul emphasizes that although women are permitted to learn [in verse 11], they cannot teach. Teaching here involves the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures.”[iii]

By 2001, Prof. Schreiner had to defend his interpretation against several alternative readings,

“Egalitarians often argue the restriction [of verse 12] can be explained by the lack of education among the women in Ephesus, or alternatively they suggest these women were duped by false teachers—and thus the women would be allowed to teach once their doctrinal deficiencies were corrected.”[iv]

I agree with Prof. Schreiner that the problem is not a lack of education for the women. I think it is more likely that these women were being educated like the men in their Christian community. But what about the proposal that the women are being duped by false teachers? Surely that is a plausible explanation? Prof. Schreiner rebuffs this and says there are multiple problems with this hypothesis,

“First, why does Paul only mention women, since we know that at least some men were being duped by the false teachers as well? It would be insufferably sexist to prohibit only women from teaching and exercising authority when men were being led astray as well. Second, the theory requires that all the women in Ephesus were deluded by the false teachers … Third, egalitarian scholars have busy remaking the background to the situation in verses 11-15.”[v]

The challenge here is this: what is going on in the church that forms the background to this letter? And this is what I want to focus on because ultimately it is the dysfunctional nature of the church in Ephesus that is driving the rhetoric deployed in this letter.

In his 1998 chapter, Prof. Schreiner says that “the emphasis on the specific situation and occasion of the letters (1 & 2 Timothy, & Titus) is salutary. The Pastoral Epistles are not doctrinal treatises that float free from the circumstances that called them forth. In the case of 1 Timothy it is clear that the letter is written to counteract false teaching.”[vi] I couldn’t agree more. In my Ph.D. thesis, Persuading Shipwrecked Men, I argued that the purpose of the letter was to warn certain men/people not to teach the other [false] teaching. All the commands and instructions arise from this one purpose.[vii] Thomas Schreiner’s response to this idea in his first point seems somewhat odd. This seems to be because he is only thinking in terms of the arguments put forward by those arguing for the alternative “egalitarian” view, not in terms of plausibility of the idea in general.

3. The Earlier Egalitarian Arguments

When Prof. Schreiner was writing his response to the alternative interpretation in 1998 and 2001, a favoured argument by egalitarians was that the heresy prohibited was derived from the myths associated with Artemis. This made the prohibited instruction a women’s problem. Richard and Catherine Kroeger had argued that the infinitive “to teach” (διδάσκειν) introduced indirect speech so the verse should read,

“I do not permit a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator of man but she is to be in conformity [with the Scriptures] [or that she keeps it a secret.]”[viii]

It is certainly true that the infinitive “to teach” as a verb of speaking could introduce indirect speech. However, the reconstruction of the rest of this indirect speech is built on a methodically inadequate basis, as Prof. Schreiner quite rightly points out (see my critique of the Kroegers’ view here).[ix] I suggest that any appeal to Artemis is problematic since in Titus we learn that the “myths” are Jewish (Titus 1:14). The term “myth” here is pejorative; it does not necessarily mean that the false teachers are teaching myths. It’s what the writer is calling them as a way of dismissing their credibility. For the false teachers, it would seem they are relying on their interpretation of the Scriptures, which the writer of 1 Timothy is calling “Jewish.” If the “myth” involved a sound grounding in pagan mythology, I think he would be saying a lot more about that than just calling the false teaching “Jewish.”

But back to Prof. Schreiner’s argument against reading the prohibition as an instruction to the women not to teach the other false instruction. I would say that he does not adequately assess the plausibility that the prohibition at 1 Timothy 2:12 is a reiteration of the command at the beginning of the letter. In his 1998 chapter, after dealing with the Artemis hypothesis postulated by the Kroegers and Sharon Gritz, he moves on to talk about “near context”; that is, 1 Timothy 2:1-10.[x] As far as I can tell, nearly all complementarian discussions about the context of 1 Timothy 2: 12–15, begin with “the near context,” which I would argue hacks off the most important context of all, the first chapter of the letter.

4. Why the first chapter is the most important contextual clue to 1 Timothy 2:12

By the time 1 Timothy was written, letter writing was a common feature of everyday life. Several conventions had grown up such as how to address the recipient and indicate the letter writer. When one received a letter one wanted to know who it was from, so there was a formula called the salutation: letter writer to a recipient. This is the case in 1 Timothy: Paul…to Timothy (1:1–2a). This is what tells us that this piece of writing is a letter. After the salutation was a prayer or wish (1:2b). Then comes the opening of the letter body. Conventionally the opening of the letter body was the place where the writer informed his or her recipient as to the purpose in writing. I identified 1 Timothy as an administrative letter, which means the writer is getting down to business. Verses 3 and 4 form the first sentence of the letter,

“As I urged upon my departure to Macedonia to remain in Ephesus, may you command certain men not to teach the other instruction, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, (spending time on this) results in intense investigations, rather than) producing the attention that is to be given to) God’s administration, which is accompanied by appropriate faithfulness.” (My translation;1 Timothy 1:3–4).[xi]

It’s a long and complex sentence, but it has discernible parts:

  1. The first part of the sentence retells the circumstances under which the letter is written. This is a common feature of letter writing in this period. Paul has left Ephesus and is traveling to Macedonia. He is reminding Timothy of the instructions he gave before he left. This is another convention; letter writers seem to be anxious that their instructions given orally are to be followed and so they lay them out in a letter.
  2. The second part of the sentence contains a synopsis of the command that was given before Paul departed. This is in 2 parts. Part one is what certain people are not to do. They are not to teach the other instruction (the central word of this infinitive is didaskalia, which means instruction on how to go about doing something), nor are they to give their attention to worthless activities.
  3. The last part of the command is what certain people are to do instead of teaching the other instruction; they are to focus on God’s administration. Remember that this is an administrative letter, and this must mean attending to the commands and instructions in the letter.[xii]

This then is the purpose of the letter. He reiterates this purpose throughout the letter:

1 Timothy 3:14–4:5,

“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one should act in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth… But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”

The phrase “the doctrines of demons” in Greek is διδασκαλίαις δαιμονίων. Here the writer is repeating the word διδασκαλία from which the infinitive “to teach the other instruction” (1 Tim 1:3) is built.[xiii] In other words, he is repeating and expanding on the instruction he gave at the opening of the letter (1 Timothy 1:3–4).

He gives the purpose again at 1 Timothy 6:3–5,

“If anyone advocates [another instruction] (ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ) and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a sick craving for controversial questions and disputes about words, from which come envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between people of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”

Here he repeats the opening instruction, almost word for word, but using an indicative verb rather than an infinitive, ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ “he/she teaches the other instruction.”

He closes the letter with one last exhortation to Timothy,

“O Timothy, protect what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly, empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”— 21 which some have professed and thereby have gone astray from the faith.”

This is not a repeat of the opening command of the letter, rather it urges Timothy not to fall into the same trap as the false teachers Hymenaeus and Alexander, who have strayed from the important things (1 Timothy 1:6) and are ignorant of the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Tim 1:7). It is for this reason that Hymenaeus and Alexander have been excluded from the community of believers (1 Tim 1:20).[xiv] Perhaps we can detect some anxiety here on the part of the writer as he closes his letter, “O Timothy” don’t get caught up in the special “knowledge” of the false teachers although it may sound tempting because for those who have they have “gone astray from the faith” (1 Tim 6:21 repeating 1 Timothy 1: 6, 20).

5. Sandwiches

In doing this the writer has created ‘sandwiches’ of the same reiterated command; what fills the gaps between ‘what not to do’ are the instructions on ‘what to do.’ In my thesis, I argued that verses 5 to 20 of chapter 1 is an ethical digression laying out the ethical framework which undergirds the positive instructions in the filling of the sandwiches (1 Tim 2:1–3:13; 5:1–6:2). Fundamental is the goal of the command, which is LOVE (1 Tim 1:5). The goal of all the instructions in the letter is love, a love for Paul, a love for God, and love for Christ Jesus. This ethical digression concludes,

“some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:20)”

This is a warning. Some have already shipwrecked their faith. At the close of the letter, even Timothy is urged to keep his distance from the false teaching. It’s dangerous stuff and it seems all the believers in the Ephesian church are in danger. Thus it is quite perplexing why Prof. Schreiner would rule out the idea that women are not to teach the other instruction in verse 12 because “the theory requires that all the women in Ephesus were deluded by the false teachers.” It’s not that all the women are deluded yet, but the danger is that they might be if even Timothy could potentially succumb.

6. The Context

What is the context of verse 12: “I do not permit a woman to teach”? The context is that false teachers were teaching another instruction, and these teachers have been excluded from the community for doing this. The reason they have been excluded is “so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:20). From 1 Timothy 2:1–11, the writer gives positive instructions, with a nod to the men’s anger and disputing, which have racked the community before the expulsion of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 6:4–5). As Prof. Shreiner concedes verse 8 opens with “therefore” (οὖν), which “shows an intimate connection with verses 1–7.” What he fails to note is that there is a “therefore” (οὖν) at verse 1, which means an intimate connection with chapter 1. In fact, the “therefore” at verse 8 picks up the thread of the argument after a brief digression about Paul’s apostleship and his gospel (verses 3–6).[xv] Verse 8 then, “I want men” is the next positive instruction after “Therefore, first I urge that entreaties…” (My trans.). Verses 9–11 are the positive instructions for the women.[xvi] What happens in verse 12 at “And I do not want” is the flip side of the “I want” and is intimately connected by a series of conjunctions “therefore” (verses 1, 8) and “and” (δέ) (verse 12) to the exclusion of Hymenaeus and Alexander for their blasphemy (1 Tim 1:20).

Therefore, the context of the instruction “And I do not want a woman to teach” is the blasphemous false teaching of Hymenaeus and Alexander.

So we conclude that what the apostle does not want is the woman to teach “the other instruction.” This after all is the purpose of the letter.

PS. An Exegetical Note

In addition, I would like to point out that Prof. Schreiner makes an exegetical mistake in his 1998 chapter. He says that “the object of the infinitive ‘to teach’ (διδάσκειν) is ‘man’ indicating that women teaching men is what is forbidden.”[xvii] But this cannot be. One would expect the object of the infinitive “to teach” to be in the accusative, whereas the word “man” (ἀνδρός) is in the genitive.  

An example is in Plutarch’s “How to Study Poetry,”

“and let us begin with the gods, in teaching the young (διδάσκειν τοὺς νέους) that when the poets employ the names of the gods.” (23)[xviii]

“The young” (τοὺς νέους), although in the plural, is in the accusative, which demonstrates my point.[xix]

It is the word “I have authority” (αὐθεντέω) which takes the genitive noun. For example, John Chrysostom,

ὅτι κρατεῖ καὶ αὐθεντεῖ τοῦ παιδὸς (Homily on Matthew 57.465)

The phrase “the child” is in the genitive like “man” is in the genitive in 1 Timothy 2:12.

This means that there is no object for “to teach.” This creates an ellipsis or an omission that the writer expects the reader to fill from context.

So the verse reads “I do not want a woman to teach … nor to domineer her husband.”[xx] What does the apostle not want the woman to teach … well it must be from the context as I have demonstrated … the other instruction.

This means that both διδάσκειν “to teach” and αὐθεντεῖν “to domineer” are negative activities that the apostle does not want to happen just as he does not want the men to be angry and disputing (1 Tim 2:8). As it is for the men so it is for the women. Why pick out the woman here when he has already given extensive commands about not teaching the other instruction in chapter 1? Well, it must be a particular instance of the forbidden teaching. Cindy Westfall has argued that verses 12–15 relate to a domestic relationship so that it is the wife who is not to teach [the other instruction] nor is she to domineer her husband.[xxi]

So my conclusion is that the verse reads,

I do not want a wife to teach [the other instruction] nor domineer her husband, but [she] is to be in quietness.

Thus she is not to be like the false teachers prohibiting sex (marriage is a euphemism) but she is to live quietly with her husband. Quietness relates to the ideal life that the believers pray for that the beginning of the chapter (1 Tim 2: 2). In other words, the goal of this command is for the wife and husband to live an ideal life in all godliness and dignity (1 Tim 2:2).

If you’ve found this article helpful you can support my ministry and research by making a contribution (suggested US $5) through paypal @BI4IS

For a More Detailed Exegesis of 1 Timothy 2

“Aussie Men, Roman Men, and Fashioning the Evangelical Man from 1 Timothy 2” (with a link to the full book chapter)

Further Reading

Women and Teaching in 1 Timothy: A Response to John Piper

Eve and the Deception of Women in 1 Timothy

Authority and 1 Timothy

Women and Overseers in 1 Timothy

For an introduction to my book Persuading Shipwrecked Men

Other Resources by Lyn M. Kidson

Join Lyn’s daily notes on the background of the Gospel of Mark on her Historias blog Historical Notes on the Gospel of Mark (1:1–5)


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[i] Thmoas R. Schreiner, “Women in Ministry: Another Complementarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001; 2005), 263–222 (265).

[ii] All Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) except where otherwise indicated.

[iii] Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, ed, A. J. Köstenberger et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 105–154 (127).

[iv] “Another Complementarian Perspective,” 311.

[v] Ibid., 312.

[vi] “A Dialogue with Scholarship,” 108.

[vii] Lyn M. Kidson, Persuading Shipwrecked Men: Rhetorical Strategies of 1 Timothy 1, WUNT 526 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020), 102–138, 274–275.

[viii] Richard Clark and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:1115 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 103.

[ix] “A Dialogue with Scholarship,” 109 –110; a thorough going critique was made by Albert Wolters, “Review of I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in Light of Ancient Evidence,” Calvin Theological Journal 28 (1993): 208–213.

[x] “A Dialogue with Scholarship,” 112–114.

[xi] Kidson, Persuading Shipwrecked Men, 136.

[xii] Ibid., 103–138.

[xiii] For my discussion on the translation of ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν see Persuading Shipwrecked Men, 112–124.

[xiv] Ibid., 270–273.

[xv] For the function of οὖν see Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 43–48.

[xvi] Lyn M. Kidson, “’Teaching’ and Other Persuasions: The Interpretation of Didaskein ‘to Teach’ in 1 Timothy 2:2,” In The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspective on Gender, Scripture and the Christian Life, edited by E. Murphy and D. Starling (Macquarie Park; Eugene: Morling Press; Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016), 125–137.

[xvii] “A Dialogue with Scholarship,” 127–128.

[xviii] Plutarch, Moralia, Volume I: “How the Young Man Should Study Poetry,” trans. Frank Cole Babbitt, LCL 197 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927).

[xix] Also Athenaeus, The Learnered Banqueters, 1.39; 3.101; 4.32; 8.38; 15 e “But since you claim that you can teach me (διδάσκειν μέ) something”: The Learned Banqueters, Volume VIII: Books 13.594b-14, ed. and trans. S. Douglas Olson, LCL 519 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

[xx] I am here using a suggested translation of αὐθεντεῖν from Cynthia Westfall in Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 307.

[xxi] Ibid., 305–311; usually the ἀνδρός if referring to a woman’s husband would have “her man” (αὐτῆς ἀνδρός) (Tralles 159) or “her own man” (τοῦ ἰδίου ἀνδρός) (Malay, Manisa Mus. 51); note that ἀνηρ can mean “man” or “husband” in Greek depending on the context. The bare ἀνδρός can be used to refer to a woman’s husband. See inscriptions ZPE 87 (1991) 213,20), IGUR III 1280; IGLSyr 13,1 9276; SEG 57:1193.

© Lyn M. Kidson, January 2022.