Before getting to the chart below, Rev. Bruce C. E. Fleming[1] establishes an important point that is clear in the Greek text, but not clear in many (most) English translations. Paul used gender neutral language in introducing his instructions and corrections for Timothy to carry out. In English, we have to be somewhat artful in getting that across. In Greek, using gender neutral third person was easier. Also, in Greek, as in English of yesteryear, the male gender was routinely used to indicate both male and female.

I learned in my own Greek class that whenever a group was mixed, male and female, only the male gender was used to describe the group. If you were looking at a group of, let’s say, six girls and one boy, you would use male gendered language to describe that group, if you were speaking Koine Greek.

Now, just think about that for a minute, as you review famous Bible phrases and passages.

In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul was talking about “certain persons” both male and female, in Timothy’s church who would need instruction and some correction.

…so that you may instruct certain people

Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.

1 Timothy 1:3, 6-7 (NRSV)

Later, in 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul wrote “if anyone,” whether male or female, desired to be a leader, that was a good thing.

whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.

1 Timothy 3:1 (NRSV)

The chart below is a very brief overview of Bruce Fleming’s material. (Though I hope you review his research for yourself. It is thorough and carefully appointed.)

Paul’s Sins (1 Timothy 1:13)Blasphemer Paul thought Christians were the blasphemers until he realized he had been blaspheming against Christ.Persecutor Paul thought he was serving God by eliminating the church, until Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him, the Lord.Disrupting the Church Paul thought he was justified in the imprisonment and execution of Christians until he realized he was killing God’s own sons and daughters.
Paul’s Own Correction
(Acts 9:3-9, 22:6-21, 26:12-18)
The faithfulness of Logos, the Word, Jesus, and the words of the Lord transformed and conformed Paul into the faithful servant he had become.
Paul’s InstructionTwo men had gone
beyond the pale in their blasphemy, and Paul
had already dealt severely with them in the hopes they would return to the Lord. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Timothy was to see to it all pray for peace from
outward persecution and
pray persecutors be saved and the church experience peace, as it did when Paul ceased persecuting the church.
Certain men: during worship, in Ephesus, were to cease teaching false doctrine and provoking disputes.
Certain women: were to cease overt displays of wealth and power, learn quietly, and cease running roughshod over men.

Not every woman was being addressed, nor every man. Just those whose behavior was causing injury to the church.

There are a number of reasons, for example, that a woman might have ornate hairstyles with pearls and gold conspicuously displayed. She, or her husband, may have been wealthy or held a prominent position in society. She may have been a vestal prostitute. She may have desired a certain level of deference from others. To Paul, a sister in Jesus’ family was to instead adorn herself with “good works,” that is to say, with the righteousness of Christ, and to dress her good character with humble and suitable clothing.

The center point of Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning the women needing correction was that they should learn.

As Bruce Fleming points out, the only actual imperative in the whole chapter is found in verse 11, “Let her learn!” This point is so important, Fleming created a chiastic model to illustrate it:

Text Box: Verses correcting wayward overseers:
[verse 2:8]         I (Paul) wish for men:
                                           to preach and pray in public worship
                                                    - with holy hands (not tainted by sin)
                                                    - not unholy (with anger and disputing)
[verse 2:9]           Likewise (I, Paul, wish for) women:
[2:9a, 10]                               a - to dress and profess for godliness
[2:9b]                                              b - not behaving improperly (outward dress)
[2:11, 12b]                                           c - Let them learn!
[2:12a]                                             b’- improper behavior further described
[2:13-15a]             (digression) - why gentle treatment
[2:15b]                                     a’- overseers (they) should behave properly
Bruce Fleming, “Think Again About Church Leaders

Paul wanted Timothy to do all possible to reinstate these women (or woman). The Greek verb used, “manthano” described scholarly studies, as the rabbis had. The women (or woman) who were dressing ostentatiously, who were more known for their wealth, position, class, influence and power rather than their humility, decency, and good deeds, were in need of instruction in the ways and words of Jesus.

Let her learn.

These women were going to need to humble themselves, however, for this season of learning. They would need to be true students, receiving in good faith all that was taught them, as they learned in “quietness” and “submission.”

[As a digression, in reading Rev. Fleming’s material, it occurred to me how hard this might be even today for someone who commands a certain authority or wealth or expertise of some kind—a person of prominence—to submit themselves to someone who might seem beneath them in some way.]

This sentence, then, being at the center of Paul’s instructions concerning some (offending) women leaders, influences what the rest of the verses around it are saying.Let her learn” is bookended, for instance, with quietness and submission. Here’s how Fleming suggests the Greek in verses 11-12 can be understood,

11 Let these women learn! –

in quietness and with all studiousness (in subjection to teacher and studies).

12 I am not permitting them to incorrectly teach (method and content) men but to be in quietness (while they are retraining).

Bruce Fleming, “Think Again About Church Leaders

You, like me, may have been wondering what happened to “authentein” in that paraphrase translation. Fleming offers an idea I have only just been learning about in my own Greek class. He suggests Paul was connecting “authentein,” the second verb in 1 Timothy 2:12, as a descriptor to the first verb, “didaskein,” which means “to teach.” In other words, Paul was not permitting a woman to exercise “authentein” type teaching on a man, which would be injurious.

Next week we’ll dive into how 1 Timothy 2:13-15 support Paul’s injunction to Timothy to teach the women so they may be fully equipped and mature to lead, as chapter 3 describes.

[1] Rev. Fleming has several graduate degrees, published a couple of books, and helped to found a number of churches. He’s married to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming, who has been a seminary and college professor, and international speaker. Together they’ve created an online course called “Think Again,”  covering “The seven problem Bible passages on women and men in church, the family and the world. (Instructed by Bruce C. E. Fleming)”

[Image from page 67 of “Mary Baldwin Seminary Bluestocking 1922” (1922) | , Flickr, Public Domain]

2 thoughts on “Let Her Learn!

  1. It bugs me no end that few people see this verse for what it is. In some ways, it is a command to teach as it is hard to command someone to learn. Yet seminarians don’t often wish to educate the female students. People just don’t get it.

    1. I agree, Cassandra. There are a growing number of seminaries and grad schools, however, which are dedicated to diversity in both gender and ethnic background. One of the ways we can help seminaries “get it” it is to strongly support the seminaries that do!

      I am very thankful to Christians for Biblical Equality, and the running list they keep of such grad schools–in fact, the school I am currently attending for my MATS is George Fox University, also known as Portland Seminary, and I learned about them through CBE.

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