Interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger on 1 Timothy 2:12
Andreas J. Köstenberger is professor of New Testament and director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has taught since 1996. He earned his Ph.D. in NT under D. A. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1993, and he has served as editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society since 1999. He blogs at www.biblicalfoundations.org, and his voluminous publications are listed at www.biblicalfoundations.com (including his publications on gender issues). MP3s of some of his lectures and sermons are compiled here.
First Timothy 2:9–15 (ESV) is the passage under discussion:
9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness–with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach [didaskein] or [oude] to exercise authority [authentein] over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
1. In the book Women in the Church, your essay picks up where Henry Scott Baldwin’s left off. The six essays in the book progress from historical context to a word study to syntax (your essay) to exegesis to hermeneutics to application. Would you briefly explain the main issue that the book addresses and how your essay fits into the overall argument?
I believe that often the reason we come to different interpretive conclusions with regard to passages of Scripture is that we don’t always follow proper principles of biblical interpretation. We take a passage out of context, misconstrue the historical-cultural background, don’t pay proper attention to lexical or grammatical matters, and so on. (I have discussed this in some detail in an article I wrote a number of years ago, “Gender Passages in the New Testament: Hermeneutical Fallacies Critiqued,” Westminster Theological Journal 56 : 259–83; reprinted in Studies in John and Gender and available as a PDF).
When it comes to a passage as important and controversial as 1 Tim 2:9–15, therefore, it occurred to us that it was critical that we follow all the proper steps in interpreting that passage. This resulted in the six essays you mention:
- historical background (S. M. Baugh)
- lexical study (H. S. Baldwin on the word authentein, “have or exercise authority”)
- sentence structure (A. J. Köstenberger on the word oude, “or,” joining the words ”teach” and “have authority” in 1 Tim 2:12)
- exegesis in context (T. R. Schreiner)
- hermeneutics (R. W. Yarbrough)
- application (D. K. Patterson)
I have summarized the major contribution of the respective chapters of the first edition of Women in the Church in a survey article, “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9–15,” Faith and Mission 14 (1997): 24–48 (reprinted in Studies in John and Gender and available as a PDF). Some might find it helpful just to read through this article.
2. What, in essence, is the argument of the book?
In short, the natural reading of the passage is that Paul here prohibits women from serving as pastors or elders in the church, because he does not permit women to teach or exercise authority over men. This has been the church’s understanding of this passage for almost two millennia and was not seriously questioned until the advent of modern feminism in the 1960s.
Those evangelical feminists who claim that Scripture, rightly interpreted, teaches complete gender equality, not merely in terms of personal worth and dignity and salvation in Christ but also in terms of ecclesiastical role, naturally cannot accept this natural reading of the passage and as a result have resorted to various ways of reinterpreting the passage, touching every one of the six aspects mentioned above.
With regard to background, they have argued that the problem was particularly with the women in Ephesus when Paul wrote the letter, so that the teaching no longer applies today (though there have been a variety of constructions in this regard, even among feminists). In his chapter in Women in the Church, S. M. Baugh, an expert in first-century Ephesian inscriptions, shows that this argument is invalid and that there is no good scholarly or other reason that Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim 2:12 should be seen as limited to first-century Ephesus only.
Second, H. S. Baldwin takes up the matter of the likely meaning of authentein. The KJV translates this word “usurp authority,” and more recently many feminists, such as I. H. Marshall, have argued that the word has a negative connotation. If so, they say, Paul prohibited only women’s negative exercise of authority in the church, as well as women’s false teaching, not their exercise of these functions, properly conceived. Baldwin’s study shows that authentein was an exceedingly rare word in NT times that occurs in the NT only in 1 Tim 2:12 and elsewhere only once or twice prior to the writing of 1 Timothy.
3. So, then, in the case of 1 Tim 2:12, is the word study method by itself inconclusive?
Yes, I believe that’s right. The fact that lexical study in this case, owing to the limited data, of necessity remains inconclusive leads naturally to the next chapter in the book, where I consider the sentence structure of 1 Tim 2:12. Specifically, I proceed from the known to the unknown. The first word linked by the Greek coordinating conjunction oude (“or”) is the word “teach,” didaskein, which is frequently used in the Pastoral Epistles and virtually always has a positive connotation, referring to the instruction of the congregation by the pastors and elders of the church (e.g. 1 Tim 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2).
In terms of syntactical pattern, I conducted careful searches of the use of oude in the NT and in extrabiblical Greek literature and found over 100 parallels. In each case, oude serves as a coordinating conjunction linking verbs of like connotation: either both are positive, or both are negative. For example, in Matt 6:20 Jesus said, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where . . . thieves do not break in and (oude) steal.” Notice that both “break in” and “steal” have a negative connotation, in the present case following a sequential pattern, thieves first breaking in and then subsequently stealing.
The upshot, then, is the following: if didaskein (“to teach”) has a positive connotation and oude (“or”) always links verbs of like connotation, it logically (and syntactically) follows that authentein must have a positive connotation as well, thus invalidating the argument by most evangelical feminists. Paul prohibits not merely the negative exercise of authority by women over men in the church, but even the otherwise legitimate exercise of authority. Put simply, Paul wants men, not women, to serve as elders (confirmed in the immediate context by his reference to elders as “faithful husbands” in 1 Tim 3:2).
Of course, this is anathema in largely egalitarian cultures (such as the United States) today. Many judge it simply unacceptable that Scripture could “discriminate” against women in such a way. This, then, places Scripture and some (though not all) cultures in conflict, and people must choose which they will follow: the surrounding culture or Scripture. (Of course, evangelical feminists would not agree that there is a conflict here; according to them, Jesus and Paul were egalitarians just as they are, despite Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim 2:12.)
4. What about the rest of the book?
In the fourth chapter, T. R. Schreiner, who has studied and written on these matters for decades, provides a careful discussion of the many exegetical issues that have been raised with regard to the interpretation of 1 Tim 2:9–15. In particular, he draws attention to the verses immediately following 1 Tim 2:12, where Paul clearly states his own rationale for stipulating that women are not to teach or have authority over men in the church: the order in which the first man and woman were created (the man first, then the woman; v. 13) and the reversal of authority that took place at the fall with disastrous consequences (v. 14). As Schreiner points out, most evangelical feminists do not adequately account for the way in which these verses clarify Paul’s prohibition in verse 12. Also, when they say that 1 Tim 2:12 is an isolated, difficult passage that must be interpreted in light of Paul’s clear egalitarian teaching elsewhere (citing Gal 3:28), they fail to consider that Paul himself, as evidenced in 1 Tim 2:13–14, saw role distinctions between men and women in the church rooted all the way back at the very beginning of creation, in Genesis 2 and 3.
In the fifth chapter, R. W. Yarbrough, prolific scholar and astute observer of culture, sets the debate in its proper historical and larger hermeneutical context. He shows that the arguments of many evangelical feminists have their roots in “content criticism,” that is, an arbitrary distinction between biblical passages based on questionable criteria. Such interpreters set aside passages that prove unacceptable to contemporary mores while preferring passages that are. This is essentially what people do who say Gal 3:28 (“neither male nor female”) is the paradigm passage while 1 Tim 2:12 is of temporal, limited relevance. (I have dealt with this in the above-mentioned article on hermeneutical fallacies in the gender debate.)
Finally, D. K. Patterson, who has been an outspoken female voice for a role distinction between men and women with regard to church leadership roles for many years, chronicles her own pilgrimage and discusses practical ways in which women can apply the teaching of 1 Tim 2:12 in their lives today. The bottom line is that the historical context, lexical and syntactical considerations, exegetical and hermeneutical factors, and matters of application all converge in suggesting an evangelical non-feminist reading of 1 Tim 2:12.
5. Why is this issue important to the church today?
There is mounting pressure on the church on the part of the surrounding culture to conform its practice to what the culture judges acceptable. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that Scripture teaches that certain teaching and authoritative roles in the church are limited to men.
In recent years, we have seen important developments particularly in the Anglican church worldwide. At least in certain cases, there also seems to be a larger pattern of an ideology stressing individual choice that includes advocacy of women’s ordination and the tolerance, if not advocacy, of practicing homosexuals in the church, not merely as members, but in positions of leadership. Clearly, the role of women in the church is not an isolated instance but is part of a larger set of interrelated issues that will continue to engage the church for years to come. While not a first-order, salvation issue—no one is saved based on their view regarding women’s roles in the church—it is a matter of considerable practical and doctrinal consequence.
6. You close your essay by interacting with fourteen responses to the original essay in the book’s first edition (1995), observing that your syntactical conclusion “has met with virtually unanimous acceptance and has held up very well” (p. 84). Have you found that still to be the case?
As you mention, I point out that my findings regarding the syntax of 1 Tim 2:12 in the first edition of Women in the Church were widely accepted even among feminist scholars (though, of course, they still do not agree with the book’s overall thrust on other grounds). There has been a recent exception, though, in the case of Philip Payne, who recently published an article in the journal New Testament Studies. In my 1995 essay in the first edition, I provided a thorough critique of Payne’s earlier unpublished 1988 paper on oude. Now Payne, in turn, has responded to my study, claiming that nine of the over 100 syntactical parallels to 1 Tim 2:12 I presented do not match the pattern. I will respond in detail to Payne’s article in a forthcoming publication, Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (B & H). In brief, let me say, however, that, first, even if Payne is right and nine of the over 100 instances don’t fit the overall pattern, that would still be an over 90% success rate!
What is more, I carefully looked at Payne’s article and each of the nine instances he discusses, and I found that Payne’s analysis does not hold true. Essentially, he seems to be operating on the basis of the notion that verbs are “positive” or “negative” largely in and of themselves. More properly, however, verbs convey a positive or negative connotation in context. For example, one of the nine instances in which Payne disputes the validity of my argument is 2 Thess 3:7–8 (“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you”). I maintained that both being idle and eating others’ bread without paying for it are viewed negatively by the author (Paul). Payne objects that there’s nothing wrong with accepting “free meals,” so here one negative and one positive verb are joined. I continue to maintain that, in context, “eating anyone’s bread without paying for it” is viewed by Paul negatively, as is made clear by the following clause “that we might not be a burden to any of you” (clearly not viewed positively by Paul).
For this reason I would argue that Payne’s rebuttal is itself invalid and that my original conclusion stands. The other eight instances Payne cites can be answered similarly, and I have done this in the forthcoming publication mentioned above. For now, I’m content to let the reader decide if Payne’s argument with regard to 2 Thess 3:7–8 is convincing or not. That’s the beautiful thing about scholarship, isn’t it, especially in the age of blogs and the Internet? In the end the most compelling argument will prevail, and people must make up their own mind on a given issue based on the strength of the evidence. It’s not a matter of oratory or rhetorical skill, but of substance and the most likely explanation of the available evidence.
7. I understand that you are just finishing a year-long sabbatical. What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?
Thanks for asking. I don’t know a single scholar who doesn’t enjoy telling others about his projects, especially coming off a sabbatical! First of all, let me say, though, that my sabbatical has taught me, more than ever before, the importance of proper priorities in my life in particular and in the life of the scholar in general. I have taken time to reconnect with each member of my family on a deeper level (most importantly my precious wife), engaged more fully in ministry in my local church (teaching a Kingdom Families class made up of people from close to twenty countries that has become very dear to me), and spent time being still before God. In this vein, more than ever before, writing and research have become for me an exercise in Christian ministry.
- In terms of projects, just this month IVP has released Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (co-authored with S. Swain).
- I contributed the material on John’s Gospel to the Commentary on the NT Use of the OT (ed. Beale and Carson) and to the forthcoming ESV Study Bible.
- I helped my wife Margaret prepare her first book, Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is? (forthcoming with Crossway this fall).
- I also finished work on The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: A Comprehensive Introduction to the New Testament (B & H; co-authored with S. Kellum and C. Quarles).
- I also made substantial progress on two other volumes, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation (forthcoming with Kregel) and a Johannine theology (part 1). The latter will be part of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series, of which I am the general editor, published by Zondervan. In 8 volumes, this exciting new series will cover the theology of the entire NT. Contributors include M. Wilkins (Matthew), D. Garland (Mark), D. Bock (Luke-Acts), D. Moo (Paul), G. Guthrie (Hebrews), and T. Schreiner (James, 1-2 Peter, Jude).
- I am also in the process of preparing a 25-minute presentation for the John, Jesus, and History group meeting at this fall’s annual SBL conference in Boston alongside A.-J. Levine (Vanderbilt) and Judith Lieu (Cambridge University) on new books by P. Anderson, R. Bauckham, and D. M. Smith.
8. Many thanks, Andreas, for taking time to serve the readers of JT’s blog with such helpful comments!
You’re welcome. Let me share a concluding story, if I may. Just last week, on a vacation in the Canadian north, I swam in a clear, remote lake during the evening hours. At one point, when I paused for a moment, I noticed that everything around me was perfectly still. I could hear every tiny sound, even from far away. It occurred to me that this is what we are to be as Christians, spiritually speaking: fully alert, fully alive, fully attuned to what goes on around us. We are to be people who truly hear, see, feel, and touch. I believe this is what Jesus was–completely in touch with the world around him. May you and I be the kinds of people who are sensitive to God and others–people who have eyes to see, ears to hear, people whose hearts beat for God, care deeply for others, and yearn for the salvation of the lost.