by Andrew Bartlett 

This article is based on a talk Andrew gave in London on 23 March 2024 at a conference organized by the World Evangelical Alliance and the London Baptist Association.

Note from Terran Williams:

Andrew’s grappling with 1 Timothy 2:12 landed him in slightly different places on a few points from my own conclusions. That said, I wish I had read Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts before writing How God Sees Women: The End of Patriarchy, because I have gained fresh insights from his approach to the passage.

Slight differences of interpretation aside, we both conclude that 1 Timothy 2:12 has enough indicators to reveal that Paul is addressing a local situation. Especially in light of the rest of Scripture on the subject, the passage does not constitute a universal ban on women from pastoral leadership or from preaching to the gathered assembly.

This article, capturing a verbal presentation, is necessarily short. If the reader too quickly thinks that Andrew has erred in making this or that point, I urge them to read his book which lays out more substantiation.


The number one verse relied on for restricting leadership by women in God’s church is 1 Timothy 2:12.

In the NIV 2011, it says: 

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

The underlying question for understanding 1 Timothy 2:12 is: What was Paul concerned about, that gave rise to his instructions?

Was it- 

(A) When the church in Ephesus met for worship, faithful women (rather than faithful men) were teaching faithfully? 

Or was it- 

(B) The spread of false teaching in Ephesus, in which misguided and misbehaving women were involved?

Before I go on, I want to hoist a big flag that says CAUTION. I strongly believe that the only safe way of answering that question has to include careful attention to context, especially tracing Paul’s train of thought from chapter 1 verse 1 onwards and right through his letter. But we cannot do that in a short article; so please bear that in mind as a cautionary note.


In church history, v12 was mostly taken as a general rule against faithful women teaching and leading in the corporate worship of the church. There were two main drivers for that.

The first driver was cultural rather than biblical. In Greco-Roman culture and in later Western culture, it was simply regarded as obvious that women were – by nature – unfit for leadership.

The second driver was that the next two verses – 1 Timothy 2:13-14 – refer to the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was deceived by the serpent.

Let’s look at what was said by the great preacher John Chrysostom, around the year 400 AD. 

After declaring that public affairs are for men to deal with, and commenting that men are not fitted for domestic duties, he says:

… if the more important, most beneficial concerns were turned over to the woman, she would go quite mad.

(from Chrysostom, The Kind of Women Who Ought to be Taken as Wives)1Translation by Elizabeth A. Clark in Women in the Early Church (Vol 13 of Fathers of the Church), Liturgical Press, 1983.

That being so – to Chrysostom’s thinking – it was obvious that women were not capable of being leaders in any public sphere, including the church.

And here is Chrysostom’s explanation of 1 Timothy 2:12-14:

The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he [Paul] saith, let her not teach. 

But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively. For he says not Eve, but “the woman,” which is the common name of the whole sex, not her proper name.

(from Chrysostom, Homily 9 on 1 Timothy)2Unless otherwise stated, translations of Chrysostom are from the 19th century edition by Schaff, freely available online in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series.

In other words, because women are weak and fickle, as shown by the behavior of the woman in Genesis chapter 3, they must not be allowed to teach.

Now Chrysostom was a keen student of the New Testament, so of course, he knew that there were gifted women teachers in the pages of the New Testament.

So, how does he square Paul’s words in verse 12 with that?

He explains it like this:

In what sense then does he say, “I suffer not a woman to teach?” (1 Tim. ii. 12.) He means to hinder her from publicly coming forward, and from the seat on the bema …

(from Chrysostom, Homily 31 on Romans)

The bema was the raised stage where the clergy sat in a basilica, and from where they officiated and taught. So, women must not officiate and teach from the bema.

The modern equivalent of that view is that women should not teach or lead the assembled church in the main Sunday service. Many denominations and churches take that view. They do not agree with Chrysostom’s traditional reasoning, because they have come to see that women are not inferior in their nature, but they retain Chrysostom’s traditional conclusion.

So, let’s consider this idea that Paul means to lay down a general rule that women should not be teachers in the assembled church.

Here is where we get to the strangeness of 1 Timothy 2:12. If Paul means to lay down that supposed general rule, the way he expresses himself is strange, in at least four respects.


Paul uses the expression (in the NIV) “I do not permit” or (in Paul’s Greek) ouk epitrepō.

If Paul is laying down a general rule, why does he use that particular expression – ouk epitrepō – which means “I do not permit” or “I am not permitting”?

Saying that you do not permit, or are not permitting, something is an odd way of laying down a general rule.

The Bible is a substantial library of books. It contains plenty of general rules. But there is nowhere else in the whole of the Bible where a general rule is laid down in that way. 

If Paul meant to convey a general rule, why would he use such unusual language for it?


Paul says he is not permitting a woman to teach (in Greek, didaskein … gunaiki).

But let us think about Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18, and their correction of Apollos. 

If we pay attention to the context in Acts 18, it is clear that, there, Paul does permit a woman to teach.

Paul first got to know Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:1-11). In Acts 18:18, he leaves Corinth and goes on a missionary journey, taking them with him. (This is about AD 52.) So, a church-planting team of three arrives in Ephesus (Paul, Priscilla, Aquila). 

In a ministry context, Priscilla’s name always comes before her husband’s, contrary to social custom, which strongly suggests that she was the more prominent of the two of them in that context.

In Ephesus, Paul’s message receives a favorable reception, but he promptly resumes his travels, leaving only Priscilla and Aquila to teach and care for the new converts (Acts 18:19-21). 

Paul may well have planned it that way, because we are told that when they had left Corinth Paul’s destination was not Ephesus but Syria (Acts 18:18). Perhaps he planned that if he could garner some quick fruit in a major city en route, he could leave Priscilla and Aquila to continue the work there while he travelled on.

After Paul has left, the mighty orator Apollos arrives in Ephesus, preaching an incomplete gospel. Priscilla and Aquila take him aside and correct him (Acts 18:24-26). 

Why should the mighty and learned Apollos take any notice of anything that they say? 

Because they are Paul’s delegates, whom he has left in charge of the new church that was just getting going in Ephesus. As the first leaders of the new group of believers in Ephesus, they exercised their authority to correct Apollos. And when the church met, it met in their house, as we know from 1 Corinthians 16:19 (written about AD 55).

This story is part of Luke’s extended account of Paul’s ministry from Acts 16 to the end of the book, in Acts 28. The point of Luke including this story about Priscilla and Aquila is to show that Paul’s ministry was continued through his co-workers, whom he had selected and whom we may assume he probably trained. 

That purpose is underlined by Luke’s choice of words. The word that Luke chooses to describe Priscilla’s and Aquila’s corrective teaching of Apollos in 18:26 is unusual in Acts (ektithēmi). It is the same word which Luke uses of the apostle Paul’s own expository teaching in Acts 28:23, in the passage where he brings his whole narrative to an end:

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [Apollos], they … explained (ektithēmi) to him the way of God more adequately. Acts 18:26 (NIV)

Paul … explaining (ektithēmi) about the kingdom of God … from the law of Moses and from the Prophets … about Jesus. Acts 28:23 (NIV)

So, when we read the context closely, and pay attention to its place in the narrative, we see that Priscilla’s correction of Apollos was not just a theological conversation between random Christians. She is one of the two leaders of the new church. Here is a woman carrying out the functions of a pastor and teacher, with apostolic authorization.

Paul wrote 1 Timothy only about eight or nine years later (AD 63/64). If in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul is laying down a general rule, that a woman is not to teach, he is being strangely inconsistent.3Of course, this is merely one example of such inconsistency. Paul also envisages women as teachers in other places in his writings, such as 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and 1 Corinthians 14:26.


If Paul is laying down a general rule about women not teaching with authority in the church, why does he use the word authentein, from the verb authenteō?

While this is the only occurrence of this word in the whole of the Bible, that in itself is not what is really strange. There are plenty of other words that happen to be used only once in the Bible. But there are three things that are strange about it.

The first strange thing about this word choice is Paul’s avoidance of the usual words for functions of leadership or authority in the church. 

There is no lack of ordinary Greek words in the New Testament which refer to that. If that is the subject that Paul is talking about, why does he avoid all of the usual words? Why step over all of those and choose this word instead?

The second thing is that is not just a rare word in the Bible, it is a rare word in general.

It is so rare that Bible translators are uncertain how it should be rendered in English. There is a wide range of suggestions in different Bible versions.

If we leave aside the use of authenteō here by Paul or by a later writer quoting Paul’s letter, and if we survey the whole of surviving Greek texts from the earliest times until the time of Constantine in the fourth century AD, there are only five definite, known examples of this word being used.

Let’s try and relate that to communicating in English.

When I first gave this talk, I referred to the previous speaker’s matutinal talk and asked the audience how many of them knew what “matutinal” meant. No one did.

You might reasonably think that I was not a good communicator, because it would be foolish to expect my audience to know what that word meant.

But authenteō in the Greek of Paul’s time was much, much rarer than “matutinal” in English. And Paul was a very skilled communicator. So, if he wanted to be understood, why would he choose a word as rare as authenteō?

And here is the third strange thing about this choice of word. If Paul is talking about the ordinary exercise of leadership or authority in the church, and if we look at the examples of authenteō from in and around Paul’s time, none of them shows a suitable meaning for that function. (If you would like a free resource that lays out the details of the evidence on that, see this link


Let’s recall what this is supposed to be about – a general rule that a woman should not teach or exercise authority in the assembled church, gathered together for public worship.

If that is what Paul has in mind, why does he say that she must not teach and authenteō “a man”, singular?

Did the worship assemblies in Ephesus have only one man present?!

If he means that a woman shouldn’t teach and authenteō the assembly, why doesn’t he say that she shouldn’t teach and authenteō the assembly

If what he is worried about is that she is a woman and there are men in the assembly, why not say that a woman must not teach and authenteō men

Why just “a man”, singular?

Next, we will look at some answers to the questions that we have been raising.


The simplest answer is: he is not laying down a general rule. He is giving instructions specific to a situation in Ephesus.

By saying in writing what he is not permitting, he is giving Timothy ammunition for preventing it. Timothy can tell the Ephesians what Paul has written to him.


The answer is the same. He is not laying down a general rule that women should not teach in the church. Instead, he is giving instructions for a specific situation.

The women that Paul has in mind are not women in general.

We can see that from the immediate context – 1 Timothy 2:9. Paul says they should not wear gold and pearls and expensive clothes. 

That instruction has no application to most women in the ancient world, who could never afford gold and pearls and expensive clothes. 

The word for “expensive”, which describes the clothes, is the same word used in Mark 14:3-5 for the perfume that could have been sold for more than a year’s wages. The availability of pearls was not like today. They were for the super-rich.

Paul is concerned about the behavior of some elite, rich women who have joined the church.

From the context, we can infer that they may be involved in some way in passing on false teaching.

So, Paul does not permit such a woman to teach. She needs to learn, as 2:11 says. And in quietness, as 2:12 says.

Some have objected that Paul does not say that he is not permitting a woman to teach falsely. He only says, not to teach. If false teaching is his concern, why does he say not to teach, rather than saying not to teach falsely?

But that is not a reasonable objection.

If you, as a pastor, had someone in your church who was caught up in false teaching, would you say – “that’s fine, you go ahead and share your views with others … provided that you don’t teach falsely”? 

Obviously not. You would say: “I’m not permitting you to teach.”


My suggested answer is: because he knows it will ring a bell with his intended audience.

The rich women that Timothy needs to bring into line have come into the church after worshipping the great Artemis of the Ephesians.

The cult of Artemis was connected with astrology. Here is a statue of Artemis of the Ephesians from Paul’s time:

Now, if we go to a close up, you can see that she has the astrological signs of the Zodiac around her neck.4First photo, public domain. Second photo, copyright Brian J. McMorrow.

The idea was that Artemis, being a daughter of Zeus, was lord over the cosmic powers.

Paul’s strange verb, authenteō, was a term used in astrological lore.

Here is Ptolemy, in his work on astrology known as Tetrabiblos. He starts a long sentence with these words-

If Saturn alone is ruler of the soul and dominates [authenteō] Mercury and the moon, if he has a dignified position with reference to the universe and the angles, he makes his subjects lovers of the body, … … 

(from Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos)5Translation by F. E. Robbins, Loeb Classical Library, 1940, 3.13.10. Note that although Ptolemy wrote a little after Paul’s time, he was an anthologist who collected astrological lore from earlier centuries.

In this quotation, the object of the verb is Mercury. In the grammar of the Greek, Mercury is in the genitive case.

In the time period relevant to Paul, there are just three known examples of the use of authenteō with this grammatical construction. One is Paul’s own usage, and the other two are in astrological texts. (For more on that, see the link in the footnote.)6The three relevant uses are in 1 Timothy, in Tetrabiblos and in Methodus mystica. This usage remains rare in later writings, and the later uses are all in Christian writers. They are explicable either as direct allusions to Paul’s words or as dependent on the Christian writer’s familiarity with Paul’s words. See

We can reasonably infer that Paul uses the word authenteō because it suits the situation he is addressing. The false teachings circulating in Ephesus included astrological ideas from the cult of Artemis, so that this terminology would ring a bell with his audience. Using this terminology adds rhetorical force to what he says.

I do not know of any other specific reason that has ever been suggested for his use of that unusual word.

If you feel any hesitation about the connection of 1 Timothy 2:12 with Artemis and astrology, here are two further points to consider:

First, what is your alternative suggestion, to explain Paul’s choice of that very rare word? 

Second, what about 1 Timothy 2:15? It is one of the oddest verses in the New Testament. How do you explain verse 15 convincingly, without acknowledging Paul’s allusion to the cult of the goddess Artemis, the virgin midwife, to whom women in Ephesus prayed for safety in childbearing? And if Paul is alluding to the Artemis cult in v15, why not in v12?7For more on Artemis, see Sandra Glahn, Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (IVP Academic, 2023).


My suggested answer is: because he does not want one of these rich women overpowering a man with false teaching, one on one.

For that, I get some help from chapter 5 of the same letter, where Paul talks about young widows who should not be enrolled on the church’s list of widows.

Here is 5:13, in my own translation:

… they are learning to be idlers (argos), going around the houses, and not only idlers (argos) but also talkers of nonsense (phluaros) and magicians (periergos), saying things they ought not.

The traditional translation of phluaros here is “gossips”, but scholars tell us that it is wrong. NIV 2011 has corrected it to “talkers of nonsense”, and this corresponds to Paul’s descriptions of false teaching in 1:6 as “meaningless talk” and in 6:20 as “empty utterances”.

The traditional translation of periergos here is “busybodies”, which is linguistically possible but ignores the context. In the context of Ephesus, the natural reference is to the practice of magic. Ephesus was such a well-known center for magic that written magic spells were called ‘Ephesian letters’. The same word (periergos) is used in Acts 19:19 where Luke tells of the expensive books of magic practices that were burned in Ephesus, in response to Paul’s preaching of the gospel. And Paul refers to magicians again in his second letter to Timothy.82 Timothy 3:8 (Jannes and Jambres were magicians); 3:13 (Greek goēs can mean a sorcerer).

Paul’s phrase “going around the houses” is doubtless meant literally, but also appears to be an allusion to astrology.

Progress from house to house was a key idea in ancient astrology. There were understood to be twelve ‘places’ or ‘houses’, each representing a different stage or aspect of a person’s life. And the word argos is the name of the eighth house. It was known as the idle house or house of death.

So, when Paul says that the young widows are saying things they ought not to say, that probably refers to false teaching, involving magic and astrology. 

But Paul is not thinking about teaching in the assembly. He is thinking of the young widows going around from house to house. That is how they would spread the false teaching. That is why there is no mention of the worship assembly in chapter 2.

In 1 Timothy 5:6 Paul talks about the widow who lives for pleasure. And in 5:11 he says they have sexual desires in disregard of Christ.

Those references chime with 1 Timothy 2:9, where Paul urges women to dress decently, which means not dressing in the manner of rich women wanting to show off their bodies and their wealth, to attract the attentions of a man.

So, Paul doesn’t want any of these rich young widows going around, finding themselves “a man” and overpowering him with false teaching.

Now, finally, with this understanding of the context, we can consider what Paul is getting at in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (my translation):

for Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived but the woman having been deceived came into transgression.

This is a scriptural illustration, which Paul uses to underline the importance of not allowing a woman, who is deceived by false teaching, to teach a man.

Adam was formed first. Eve was formed later. But it was Eve who fell first: she fell to Satan’s deception, and took the forbidden fruit.

Timothy knows what happened next. Even though Adam was not deceived, Eve persuaded him to take and eat, as Genesis 3:17 makes plain.

In Genesis 3:17 God rebukes Adam because he listened to her teaching and chose to disobey God’s command.

Paul does not want this scenario repeated in the Ephesian church – a woman leading a man astray by overpowering him with false teaching.

Some say that Adam’s failure was a failure to exercise authority over his wife. But that is not how the story is told in Genesis 2 – 3. Those chapters cannot properly be read as if God’s command were that Adam should exercise authority over his wife, when in the story as told there is no such command, and God’s actual command was not to eat the fruit.

There is a lot more that could be said. In my book (Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, IVP, 2019), there are three chapters and four appendices on 1 Timothy 2. But I hope I have conveyed something of how strange it would be, if in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul were really meaning to lay down a general rule that women should not teach men in the assembled church.

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