God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

How Many Women is One Woman in 1 Timothy 2:12?

Peter Kirk drew my attention to a post by Bill Heroman about I Timothy 2:

If anyone wants us to be perfectly literal about 1 Tim 2:12, we should note, at least as a beginning, that Paul is primarily speaking against one-on-one mentoring, female to male. “I do not allow a woman to teach or to direct a man.” Everything in this statement is entirely singular. [Emphasis in original.]

Bill then asks whether “[t]he male/female intimacy of a one-on-one discipling relationship may be all Paul is really afraid of.”

In other words, Bill suggests that Paul may not be talking about women in general, but rather about one woman teaching one man, in private (and perhaps even the specific instance of that).

It’s a lovely suggestion — and I laud the effort — but I don’t think the grammar supports it.

It’s common to use singular nouns generically, both in English (which is why I might equally write that “it’s common for a singular noun to be used generically”) and in Greek. Furthermore, the tendancy in Greek is to use eis (“one”) to refer specifically to one of something.

For example, in John 11:50 we find, “it is better for eis anthropos to die…,” that is “one person.” Without eis the text would more naturally mean that it is better for people to die. I think that John 11:50 is particualy instructive because the context could make it clear that anthropos means just one person, because “it is better for people to die than for the whole nation to perish” doesn’t make any sense. But the grammar still has to support the context.

So it seems that the way to say, “I do not allow one woman to teach one man” would be to use the word eis twice.

Even so, I have to agree with Peter, who “love[s] the way that blogger Bill Heroman is prepared to think outside the box.”


December 10, 2009 - Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Is there any ambiguity about whether or not this is saying any this?

    “wife teach a husband”

    When she gets home, she is to “ask her husband” (AFTER she folds the clothes, of course).

    1Co 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    By the way, I recently read that 1 Cor 14:34-35 are highly suspect as late additions. Is that widely accepted as evident by most here?

    Comment by bibleshockers | December 10, 2009

  2. My thinking on man/husband and woman/wife is that it is better translated consistently as man or woman, with a footnote that a husband is “one’s man” and a wife is “one’s woman.”

    Comment by bibleshockers | December 10, 2009

  3. Dr. Hoffman, do you really mean “the”? In your statement, “So it seems that the way to say…”, shouldn’t you qualify that a bit more? Or was there really only one way to express such a thought in Greek?

    I am deeply honored, of course, by your comments. Even if Einstein was right that “imagination is more important than knowledge”, I’m certainly under no illusions that creative thought is everything.

    If you want to ride out the rest of my thoughts, I’ve got a few more posts scheduled at my blog. Thanks again for the kind words and attention.

    Comment by Bill | December 10, 2009

    • Bill,

      You are right. “The way” is a little too restrictive, and surely there were other ways to express a situation about one woman and one man, but my best guess is that nouns with articles wasn’t one of them.

      I did take a look at parts 2 and 3 of your discussion — intriguing observations.

      Comment by Joel H. | December 11, 2009

      • Thanks, Joel. (I’ll assume you meant to type “nouns without articles”.)

        What intrigues me most is the shift from plural to singular (2:10/11) and then back to plural again (2:15a/b). I’m also starting to think about the singulars in 3:1ff.

        If you’re still interested, part 4 posted today, Parts 5, 6, & 7 post M/T/W next week, and Th/Fr next should see two separate posts reconstructing more context from one likely Pauline Chronology.

        In Greek, I admit I am weak. My passion is Story. Maybe this will only lead one of us or someone else to uncover something more helpful, eventually. We live in hope.

        Thanks again for your feedback so far…

        Comment by Bill | December 11, 2009

  4. Joel, I just can’t shake the idea that gyne and aner are being used qualitatively: “let woman learn… for I do not permit woman… over man.” Although indefinite nouns are more common than qualitative, that’s what I see here. Especially with the reference to the prototypical man and prototypical woman. Also feeding that hunch is the switch to plural in 15: “if they continue…”

    Comment by Gary Simmons | December 10, 2009

  5. Yes, Bill, “without nouns.” Thanks.

    What intrigues me most is the shift from plural to singular (2:10/11) and then back to plural again (2:15a/b). I’m also starting to think about the singulars in 3:1ff.

    I agree that this is the most interesting part, and I hope I’ll find time this week to take a closer look at what might be going on. I do know that in the OT, it’s common to find a speech to a group of people in which the second-person verbs alternate between singular and plural.

    Comment by Joel H. | December 13, 2009

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.