What is the Point of 1 Timothy 2:12?


As a follow-up on last week’s post, I read an excellent blog about the Greek word “epitrepo,” often translated as “I do not permit” in 1 Timothy 2:12, but much better translated as “I am not allowing.” Thank you to Marg Mowczko for her invaluable help with my question, and for her careful scholarship in researching the uses of this word in the New Testament.

From here on in, I am going to use my own translation of 1 Timothy 2:12, regardless of whatever actual Bible translation I quote from, and I will always mark that I have done so:

And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.*

Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer’s translation of 1 Timothy 2:12

In studying 1 Timothy 2:12, I recently came across a very interesting and new-to-me idea in a proposal put forward by a scholar named Jeremiah Vance. I asked him to give me a little bit of his background, and found out he’s been through seminary, having majored in Hebrew while in grad school.  But, as a little boy he had already started learning Greek at his father’s knee.

Vance suggests 1 Timothy 2 was written using a chiastic structure, saying that as a Hebrew reader, it’s a pattern easily recognized, even (I’m presuming) when seen in a nonHebrew text such as 1 Timothy, which was written in Greek. In fact, he added, “Every chapter is chiastic except the last which is a pattern in the 5 chiastic chapters too, to parallel every verse except the last verse/paragraph as a tag on the structure.”

But, before I could even think about whether this chiastic thing makes sense, I had to look up what “chiastic structure” even means!  According to Wikipedia, “Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A’ and B’, being presented as A, B, B’, A’.”

Intriguing, right? It almost looks like poetry structure, where words are chosen in a particular way to rhyme, where the rhyming is just as important, and sometimes even more important, than exactly the meaning or nuance of the selected words.

For example, if I want to say, “the equine animal was the obvious option,” poetically (well, or doggerelly, but let’s not split hairs) I might say, “of course, I chose the horse.”

See?

‘Course/horse,’ with a phonetically selected ‘chose’ as a nice transition.

The very basic way you can try this for yourself is to pull back far enough from the text to see patterns—matching words, phrases, and/or themes. Some are more hidden than others, but from what I understand, this was considered a time-honored and appropriate way to structure a letter or teaching narrative.

I found a site created by a retired software engineer that helps students to discover, identify, and understand chiasms in biblical passages, because, as the author points out, “The center point of a chiasm in the Bible usually points to the passage’s emphasis.”

So, is there another way to understand what 1 Timothy 2:12 was intended to get across, by applying this chiastic structure tool to the letter?

Vance says there’s every chance. (See what I did there?)

In his words, as we were IMing back and forth on this,

Each chapter in 1 Timothy except the last (chapter 6 by design) is chiastic in structure like much good Hebrew literature. When the structure guides interpretation, the chapter and book read completely differently and it becomes clear that Paul gives the same instructions to both genders and is using Adam in chapter 2 as example of a shepherd that didn’t manage his flock which is his point in chapter 3.

“Here’s the chiastic structure of 1 Tim 2. It’s clear that Paul is speaking the same instructions to both genders regarding submission. Submission and quietness is given to both genders in verse 2. Also there is an additional chiasm in verses 10-15 regarding the Adam and Eve analogy:


Text Box: A: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people

     B: for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and    
          holiness.

          C: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a 
               knowledge of the truth.

               D: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

                    E: who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the 
                        proper time.

                         X: And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle

                    E': I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

                 D': Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or 
                       disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,    
                       adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

            C': but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

      B': A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.*

A': For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who   
      was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they     
      continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Jeremiah Vance: Chiastic Structure for 1 Timothy 2:1-15 (NIV)

It makes for a fascinating rereading of the passage when you match up each of the pairs: As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es.

I decided I would do a little research of my own and see if other varieties of chiastic patterns were applied to 1 Timothy 2—I did find a few. Some split the chapter in half in order to (you guessed it) make 1 Timothy 2:12 the “X” of the structure, but that seems arbitrary to me, searching first for what one would prefer to be the “X” and working outwards from there.

So, I searched on and came across this site which arranged the entire letter of 1 Timothy into Chiastic Structures, and here’s what they did with chapter 2


Literary Structure of the Bible by Hajime Murai is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Citations of the Bible are from New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version and New Jerusalem Bible.

Finally, I found a scholarly paper written just last year (only 14 pages, so a relatively quick read) which arranges the whole letter of 1 Timothy in this way:

The author of this paper shows how the language used to describe elders is—for Greek—entirely gender neutral except for the saying that simply means “monogamous.” Paul stated being an elder as a good calling for anyone to desire, therefore must be granted only to those who live and teach truth in Christ.


The Implications of the Chiastic Structure of 1 Timothy on the Question of Women in Church Leadership
Mako A. Nagasawa
Last modified: June 1, 2018

If you notice, chapter 2 in the above paper houses 1 Timothy 2:12 in a discussion about how wives and husbands are to interact, not whether women are to be leaders in the church. In fact, he quotes two well-known complementarian theologians who admit 1 Timothy doesn’t necessarily preclude women from serving as elders, or in leadership positions. (Douglas Moo and Thomas R. Schreiner, look for the footnote on page 2).

The Chiastic Structure or Pattern shows a different emphasis in 1 Timothy, one in which proto-gnostic teaching was becoming a problem that must be addressed head on. Timothy was to make sure everyone was properly educated before they were entrusted with being deacons and elders, teachers and leaders within the church.

Next week I’ll be taking a deep dive into Bruce Fleming’s work


Catacombe Di San Gennaro Fresco | Wikimedia Commons

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

2 thoughts on “What is the Point of 1 Timothy 2:12?

  1. One thing about chiasms is that they can be controversial. One person can claim there is one in some text and another person can claim that they do not see it or instead claim that the text really involves a different chiasm or more. It can be like an ink blot test, where one sees what one wants to see.

    Like

    1. Yes, I was seeing that even as I read through Jeremiah Vance’s careful research, then spread the net to see what other chiastic patterns people were seeing. In fact, next week’s post will include yet another suggested chiastic model for just a few verses in chapter 2, built out from the verb μανθάνω, the imperative form of “to learn,” meaning, “let her learn!” as the centerpoint.

      I think the chiastic structure is a great study tool, but, as you say, also malleable to the influence of subjectivity.

      Like

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