First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives -- By: John Jefferson Davis

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 23:2 (Spring 2009)
Article: First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives
Author: John Jefferson Davis


First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and
Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives

John Jefferson Davis

JOHN JEFFERSON DAVIS, Ph.D., an ordained Presbyterian minister, is Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Gordon-
Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he has served on the faculty since 1975. He is the author of Theology Primer (Baker), Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Baker), Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today (Presbyterian and Reformed), Frontiers of Science and Faith (InterVarsity Press), and numerous articles in scholarly journals. He received the Templeton Foundation award for excellence in the teaching of science and religion.

First Timothy 2:11-15, and especially verse 12, has long been a focal point in modern discussions of the ordination of women. Traditional reservations about the ordination of women as pastors and elders have generally made two assumptions in the interpretation of this passage: (1) that the meaning of authentein in verse 12 is clearly known and should be translated simply as “have authority,” and (2) that the appeal to the creation narrative naming Adam and Eve in verses 13 and 14 implies a universal, “transcultural” principle that prohibits the exercise of ecclesiastical authority by women over men in all (or some) circumstances.

The purpose of this article is to argue that both of these assumptions are faulty, and that 1 Timothy 2:11-15, rightly understood lexically and contextually, does not teach any universal prohibition of the ordination of women as pastors or elders. The primary focus of this discussion will be the second assumption, regarding the appeal to the Genesis creation account of Adam and Eve.1 It will be argued that Paul’s contextual and church-specific appeal to creation texts makes it not only possible, but preferable to see the limitation on women’s teaching roles in 1 Timothy 2 as a circumstantial and not universal prohibition. Before proceeding with this analysis, however, a few observations will be made regarding the meaning of authentein in verse 12.

Authentein: “have authority” or “domineer”?

It is well known that authentein in verse 12, a hapax legomenon

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