Does Genesis 1:26-27 Teach That There Was No Hierarchy in the Garden?

This past week I listened to a sermon by Bruxy Cavey from the Meeting House that was first in a series of messages meant to challenge the idea that God has given men the responsibility to take up the position of primary leadership both in the church and in the home (i.e. complementarianism).  In addition to introducing the overall series, this message was also meant to offer a positive case for an egalitarian understanding of scripture. 

In this post (and there may be more!) I want to focus on one of the main points that was used to argue that the overall teaching of scripture points towards egalitarianism, namely, that Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that God’s original design for creation did not involve any role differentiation between males and females in terms of leadership.  As Bruxy says, in Genesis 1:26-27 “there is no hint of gender differentiation when it comes to issues of authority and leadership”.

While this was certainly a very short part of his message, the point he was making here is a very common argument used to support an egalitarian understanding of the overall teaching of scripture.  John G. Stackhouse Jr., for example, says:

“Many scriptural clues, therefore, indicate that egalitarians are right: God originally intended women and men to be co-equal partners in stewarding the earth, without role differentiation, and he has never rescinded that mandate.”[1]

Once again this is a reference to Genesis 1:26-27.  According to Stackhouse, Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that God’s original design for creation did not involve any role differentiation in terms of leadership.  In this post I want to argue that regardless of what position one takes on complementarianism or egalitarianism, Genesis 1:26-27 cannot be used to make the point that Bruxy and others want to make from this passage.


There are basically two main points I want to make in response to this:

(1) The first main point I want to make is this: Bruxy is actually right when he says that there is “no hint of gender differentiation when it comes to issues of authority and leadership” in Genesis 1:26-27.  Genesis 1:26-27 simply says (translation mine):

“And God said, ‘Let us make human beings [אָדָם, ādām] in our image, according to our likeness.  And let them rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the domesticated animals, the wild animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created human beings in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

Note that the word אָדָם (ādām) in verse 26 does not mean “a man” or “a male” and is not used as a proper noun (i.e. Adam): it simply means “human beings” or “humanity”.  This can be seen, among other things, by the fact that the verb “to rule” in verse 26 is in the third person plural (i.e. “let them rule”), which clearly points back to the word אָדָם (ādām) as the implied subject.  Verse 26 clearly teaches that human beings in general, both male and female, have equally been given the responsibility to rule over the animals God had created.  Like Bruxy points out, Genesis 1:26-27 makes no distinction between males and females in terms of leadership roles.  So far so good.

2. The second main point I want to make is this: Genesis 1:26-27 simply does not comment one way or the other about the roles that males and females are supposed to play with respect to each other in terms of leadership.  In other words, Genesis 1:26-27 can’t be used by either egalitarians or complementarians to support their positions because this simply isn’t the topic of Genesis 1:26-27. 

The main point of Genesis 1:26-27 is to differentiate human beings from their fellow creatures.  Unlike the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the domesticated animals, the wild animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (notice the broad categories that are used here), human beings as a whole were created in the image of God.[2]  And because human beings were created in the image of God, God gave them the responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures.

But the emphasis in Genesis 1:26-27, as well as the parallel command in Genesis 1:28, is not on the fact that males and females have the responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures, though this is clearly a valid inference based on the fact that both males and females are created in the image of God and are included in the category of “humanity”.  The emphasis in Genesis 1:26 is clearly on humanity’s responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures: the fact that humanity consists of both male and female is clearly incidental to the main thrust of verse 26. 

This can be seen, among other things, by the fact that the categories of male and female are only mentioned after the initial statement about humanity’s responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures in verse 26.  In fact, the categories of male and female are mentioned in a completely different sentence in Hebrew and are not even the main thrust of verse 27 where they appear.  If the author wanted to emphasize the categories of male and female in verse 26, as opposed to the category of humanity in general, you would think that the categories of male and female would have been specifically mentioned in verse 26.  Again, this doesn’t mean that the categories of male and female aren’t implied in verse 26 or verse 28 – but it is clearly not the author’s emphasis. 

Now, of course, this leads to the question: why is the author’s emphasis so important?  The reason why the author’s emphasis is so important is because it shows that his main concern in this passage is not the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership: his main emphasis is on the relationship between human beings and their fellow creatures in terms of leadership.  The author actually doesn’t say anything at all about the inner workings of humanity’s leadership over its fellow creatures.  He doesn’t say anything at all about whether or not there is any hierarchy within that leadership (e.g. a General Staff might be in charge of an army but the generals still have different ranks and play different roles – bad illustration for people from the Meeting House, I know).  And he doesn’t say anything at all about differentiation of roles in other spheres of life (e.g. the responsibilities of fathers and mothers in raising children is clearly not covered under the command in verse 26).  Why is that the case?  Because Genesis 1:26-27 was never meant to address these issues.

Let me give one quick example to illustrate my point.  It could just as easily be said that there is no hint in Genesis 1:26-27 that there should be any role differentiation between children and parents when it comes to leadership and authority.  Parents and children are clearly included in the category of “humanity” and, therefore, both have the responsibility of having dominion over their fellow creatures.  While it is true that this passage doesn’t even hint at any differentiation in roles between parents and children, this doesn’t mean that the author believed that there shouldn’t be any differentiation in roles between parents and children.  This is simply not the topic of Genesis 1:26-27: Genesis 1:26-27 was meant to deal with humanity’s relationship with its fellow creatures, not the roles parents are supposed to play with respect to their children. 

While it is possible that the author of Genesis 1:26-27 may have had an egalitarian view of the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership (which, by the way, doesn’t seem very historically plausible given the patriarchal culture that the author of these verses came from – regardless of how one dates the book of Genesis), there would be no way to know whether or not he actually held this position if Genesis 1:26-27 were the only piece of evidence we had to go by.  Genesis 1:26-27 is about humanity’s relationship with its fellow creatures, not the inner workings of the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership.   


It should be clear that Bruxy, as well as others who make this same argument, has read way too much into the meaning of Genesis 1:26-27.  Genesis 1:26-27 simply does not say anything about the roles that males and females are supposed to have with respect to each other in terms of leadership: it was written to show that human beings, were created in the image of God and it was written to indicate that humanity as a whole is supposed to rule over their fellow creatures.  Again, the author of Genesis 1:26-27 may have had an egalitarian view of the relationship between males and females (which, again, seems historically implausible) or he may have had more of a complementarian view of the relationship between males and females (which seems far more likely).  But the reality is that Genesis 1:26-27, by itself, doesn’t actually tell us anything about the author’s views on this issue one way or the other.

Mark Steven Francois (Ph.D., The University of St. Michael’s College)

[1] John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender, Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 36.

[2] I have an article in the Gospel Witness about what it means for human beings to be created in the image of God coming out soon.  Once it is out, I will post a link to it.


עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo) and the Methodology Used in Biblical Theology

This is the first video in a series on the meaning of the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ
(Ezer Kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18. This video deals with the methodology that is (or should be!) used when doing biblical theology. This video lays the foundation for future videos on the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo). Enjoy!

For a written post on the meaning of the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo), click here.

Please Don’t Bomb on How You Read Articles – Wilshire on Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12

A few weeks ago I wrote a response to an article on the Junia Project’s website called, “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb”.  After looking at the comment section below the article I realized that I probably should have included a longer discussion of the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  At the time I thought that this would have detracted from the main point I was trying to make so I added a quick footnote to give a little bit more information.  For a while I’ve been toying with writing a separate entry on the issue but, because there wasn’t a lot of discussion in the article about it (again, the discussion was in the comment section below) and because I’m super busy, I decided not to write it.  As it turns out, the author just recently posted some of the comments from the comment section in a new entry and added some comments of her own – so I decided that maybe I should write a separate post after all. (P.S. Don’t be offended by the title – I had to get the word “bomb” in there somewhere!)

There is basically one point I want to make in this entry: If you’re going to cite a scholarly article, make sure that you actually understand what the article is saying.  My concern here isn’t whether you’re complementarian or egalitarian (you can be an egalitarian and still agree with what I’m saying): my main concern is that people have the right information and that they know how to use it properly.  And, I have to say, the information in this new post is a little bit misleading.  I’m not saying that it’s misleading on purpose – but the result is the same.

The article that I believe has been misinterpreted and misapplied is Leland Wilshire’s article, “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to ΑΥΘΕΝΤΕΩ in 1 Timothy 2:12” (NTS 34, 120-134).  Based on Wilshire’s article, one commenter wrote the following:

“Meanings for authentein in the TLG between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. (a 400 year span with the New Testament period at its center) include the following:

– “doer of a massacre”
– “author of crimes”
– “perpetrators of sacrilege”
– “supporter of violent actions”
– “murderer of oneself”
– “sole power”
– “perpetrator of slaughter”
– “murderer”
– “slayer”
– “slayer of oneself”
– “authority”
– “perpetrator of evil”
– “one who murders by his own hand”

(Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, psuedo-Clement, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, 2010).”

That sounds pretty bad!  The use of the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) in 1 Timothy 2:12 has to be coloured by these meanings!  But there’s a problem – when you read Wilshire’s article carefully (the article is reprinted in the book cited by the commenter) , all of these meanings are actually for the noun αὐθέντης (authentes), not for the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  Part of the problem is that Wilshire doesn’t make that point as clear as he should have in the article and you might only notice it if you read Greek.  He refers again and again to αὐθεντέω (the verb) and its cognates but when you actually look at the examples he cites they are virtually all from the cognates, especially αὐθέντης (authentes).  After rereading his article tonight I could only find one example (p. 128) where the verb has anything to do with murder (I’m willing to be corrected if anyone can find more).  That’s what we call an anomaly – because every other example of the verb simply refers to having authority.

So the real question that needs to be answered is this: does the meaning of αὐθέντης (authentes) have any bearing on how αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) should be understood in 1 Timothy 2:12?  Wilshire simply assumes that it is relevant but doesn’t provide any arguments.  However, when you look at the evidence that Wilshire himself has accumulated the answer is clear – it is completely irrelevant.

There are two reasons.  First, for some reason or other αὐθέντης (authentes) seems to have developed a different semantic range from the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  αὐθέντης (authentes) may have been used to mean “murderer” but αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) (with one exception) was never used to mean “to murder” (it’s the exception that needs to be explained).   Second, even if it could mean “to murder” in some contexts, it definitely does not mean “to murder” in 1 Timothy 2:12.  No one would actually argue that.  What they do argue is that because αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) can mean “to murder” in some contexts that this colours the meaning that the word has in all contexts, including 1 Timothy 2:12.  That’s a classic example of illegitimate totality transfer – importing all of the meanings that a word can have into one particular instance.  The reality is that the issue of whether or not αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) can be used to mean “to murder” in some contexts is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is what connotations αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) has by itself when used in contexts similar to 1 Timothy 2:12.  Based on the evidence in Wilshire’s article, αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) doesn’t typically have those kinds of “negative” connotations – it simply means to have authority over someone else.

There is much more I could say based on some of the other things that were said in the post but I think this is enough for now.  Again, this issue has nothing to do with whether you’re egalitarian or a complementarian – that’s not the point.  The point is that we need to make sure that we understand what we’re reading properly and that we use that information responsibly.  That’s the only way that the conversation can really move forward.

Rearming the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb (kind of) – A Response to an Article from the Junia Project

This morning I read an article on the Junia Project’s website called “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb”.  The article provides three steps for “cutting the wire” of arguments that use 1 Timothy 2:12 to exclude women from teaching or having leadership over men in the church.  In this post I want to offer a point-by-point response to the arguments that the author makes in this article.  The point of this post is not to show that women shouldn’t be able to teach or have authority over men in the church – that’s a totally different issue.  The point of this post is to show that the particular arguments used in this article should not be used to make the point the author is trying to make.  We’ll look at each point one at a time and see where the mistakes are made.

1. The Rendering of the Verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein)

At the beginning of the article the author makes two points about how the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) should be translated in 1 Timothy 2:12.  First, the author says that the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) is not the normal word used for authority in the church in Paul.  On the basis of this the author concludes that Paul’s concern must be “something other than the legitimate use of authority”.  Rather than referring to exercising authority in general, the word should be understood to communicate the idea of “domineering” (cf. the translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the Vulgate).   The second point that the author wants to make about this verb is that it is used to form a hendiadys with the verb διδάσκειν (didaskein, “to teach”).  A hendiadys is a construction where two words are connected by a conjunction but one word is actually meant to modify the meaning of the other word.  So, according to the author, when these two verbs are combined it should be translated, “to teach in a domineering way”.

Let’s deal with these issues one at a time.  First, the fact that this isn’t Paul’s normal word for exercising authority in the church doesn’t mean that Paul’s concern must have been for something other than the legitimate exercise of authority.  If someone were to argue that point it would have to be based on (a) the usage of this word in other writers around the time of Paul and (b) the immediate context of 1 Timothy 2:12.  When you look at how αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) is used by other writers it is clear that it simply means “to have authority over someone else”.[1]  It doesn’t refer to the use of authority in a domineering way by itself: there would have to be something else in the context to make it clear that that was the case.

So the real question, then, is whether or not there is anything in the context of 1 Timothy 2:12 that would indicate that Paul is speaking about exercising authority in a domineering way.  The answer is that there is nothing in the immediate context that would indicate that this is the case.  In this context the verb simply means “to have authority over someone else”.  [For a discussion of Wilshire’s article on αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) see my entry here].

[Incidentally, the Vulgate’s translation of this passage does not support the idea that αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) means “to be domineering” in this context.  The Latin verb used here is dominor.  While it’s true that the English word “domineering” ultimately derives from this word, in Latin this word simply means “to have authority over someone else” in this context.]

Second, although this author is not the only one to suggest that διδάσκειν (didaskein, “to teach”) and αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) form a hendiadys, it is difficult to reconcile the resulting meaning with what Paul says right afterward.  In the second part of 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul says that rather than teaching or exercising authority over men in the church, women should be silent (ἡσυχίᾳ) .  He is not simply forbidding teaching that’s domineering or even teaching that’s simply authoritative (the normal way of understanding the hendiadys in this verse) – he is forbidding all teaching.  The second part of the verse seems to preclude any possibility of teaching, whether domineering, authoritative, or otherwise.  Whether this was merely a temporary injunction based on the current situation in Ephesus or if it was Paul’s usual practice is another issue.  The point is that this second part of the verse strongly speaks against simply understanding αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) to only refer to a particular kind of teaching.

2. Singular vs. Plural

The author suggests the possibility that in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul is only thinking of a particular woman rather than women in general based on the abrupt shift from the plural (“women”) in verses 9 to 10 to the singular (“woman”) in verses 11 to 15.

This is a very bizarre way of looking at the text.  There are two issues with this point.  First, if Paul were thinking about a particular woman, he probably would have used the definite article (“the”) in front of the word “woman”.  The fact that there is no article indicates that he is speaking about women in general.  And even if there were a definite article, Paul would have had to mention her earlier on in the letter for anyone to know who he was talking about.  As virtually every New Testament scholar would recognize, Paul’s use of the singular here without the definite article refers to women in general.

Second, regardless of what one thinks about Paul’s reasoning in the verses that follow (2:13-15), why on earth would he have to use that kind of argument to get one particular woman to be quiet?  That makes no sense at all; his reasoning is too general.  So it is completely misguided to think that Paul’s shift to the singular means that he is speaking about one particular woman.  Even to mention this as a serious possibility shows a lack of understanding of how the language works.

3. The Use of the Present Tense

The author suggests the possibility that because Paul uses the present tense of the verb ἐπιτρέπω (epitrepo – “to allow, permit”) that he actually means, “I am not currently permitting a woman to…”.

Again, there are two problems with this.  First, the author is reading way too much into Paul’s use of the present tense.  The present tense can’t be used to communicate that kind of meaning by itself – Paul would have had to use an adverb or an adverbial phrase to modify its meaning.  It may well be that this was only a temporary rule but this cannot be determined on the basis of the tense that Paul used.  Any standard Greek Syntax book would make that clear.

Second, if Paul really did mean “I am not currently permitting” this wreaks havoc on the author’s understanding of the verbs mentioned in point 1 above.  Did Paul really mean, “I am not currently permitting women to teach men in a domineering way” with the possibility that this might be allowed in the future?  She can’t have it both ways.

4. Permanent Restriction vs. Temporary Measure

The author argues that there is no evidence in the text to indicate that Paul was establishing a restriction that was meant for all time.  She appeals to contextual evidence (i.e. false teaching in Ephesus) to indicate that Paul’s instruction was related to false teaching.

Once again, there are a number of problems with the point the author is trying to make.  First, this understanding does not match up with her interpretation of διδάσκειν (didaskein, “to teach”) and αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) mentioned in point 1.  Is she saying that the command for women not to teach in a domineering way is not a permanent restriction?  Might that be permitted in the future?  If the problem is false teaching, why is Paul only concerned about their demeanor while teaching?  Again, the author can’t have it both ways.

Second, while the background of false teaching is definitely important, there is nothing in the immediate context that would indicate that this is why Paul formulated this rule.  If the present tense of ἐπιτρέπω (epitrepo – “to allow, permit”) can be used for anything it is to show that not permitting women to teach or to have authority over men was Paul’s usual practice (the customary present).  If he were laying down a specific directive for the church in Ephesus, Paul would have used the imperative – “Stop permitting a woman to teach or have authority over a man!” – not the present tense.  No doubt Paul had false teaching in mind when he was addressing this issue but the way he words things makes it seem as though he is appealing to his common practice rather than imposing something novel and merely temporary.

Third, there is a real hermeneutical issue with the way the author words her point (hermeneutics in the sense of figuring out how the text applies to our present situation).  If we need an explicit statement to indicate that Paul’s instructions were meant to be permanent, we would be in big trouble.  All of Paul’s letters were meant for particular situations.  Figuring out if and how a passage applies today is much more complicated than appealing to something like this (I hope I misunderstood her argument here).  It may well be that Paul’s restriction – even if this was his usual practice – does not apply to churches today.  But there are much better arguments that could be used than this one.

5. Doctrine Built on a Hapax Legomenon

According to the author, it is dangerous to build doctrine on a hapax legomenon (a word that only occurs once in a particular author’s writings).  The word that she is referring to, of course, is αὐθεντεῖv (authentein), which only occurs here in Paul.

There are two problems with this as it applies to 1 Timothy 2:12.  First, even though αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) only occurs once in Paul, the basic meaning is clear based on its usage in other writers from around the same time.  Scholars do this kind of comparative work all of the time, even with words that occur more than once in a particular corpus.  An author’s particular use of a word, of course, is determinative, but it goes without saying that how other authors use the word is relevant – especially if the usage is fairly standard.  And that seems to be the case with this word.

Second, even if the meaning of αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) were unclear, the meaning of the word διδάσκειν (didaskein, “to teach”) is perfectly clear.  Since it is unlikely that these verbs form a hendiadys, the prohibition against teaching would still be clear.  [Also, if the author thinks this word is so unclear, why argue earlier that it means “domineering?]

Third, I find it very unlikely that scholars who argue that 1 Timothy 2:12 is normative for the church today base their arguments strictly on this passage.  But that’s another issue.

6. Consistency With the Rest of the Passage

The author suggests that it is inconsistent to say that Paul’s instructions about women’s dress in 1 Timothy 2:9 is culturally relative while 1 Timothy 2:12 is applicable for all time.

I honestly don’t see how this is inconsistent, regardless of which position a person takes on 1 Timothy 2:12.  Paul makes it clear what his real concern in 1 Timothy 2:9 is – that women dress modestly, with decency and propriety.  Then he gives a number of examples of what he considers to be immodest: braided hair, wearing gold or pearls, and wearing expensive clothing.  A good argument could be made that the specifics are not the issue; the real issue is the principle.  It should be clear that 1 Timothy 2:12, regardless of where a person comes out on the issue, is a different kind of thing altogether. One could make the argument that Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2:12 is culturally conditioned and, therefore, not normative for the church today, but that is a much more complicated argument than arguing that the specifics in 1 Timothy 2:9 are culturally conditioned.  I hope that it’s clear that the charge of inconsistency in this case is overly simplistic.

7. Consistency With The Author’s Teaching Elsewhere

According to the author, if 1 Timothy 2:12 is a general prohibition about women teaching or having authority over men, it would be inconsistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere.  For example, Romans 16 mentions women in leadership positions, 1 Corinthians 11 mentions women prophesying in the church, and 1 Timothy 2:1-10 (1 Corinthians 11 would have been better) implies that women were allowed to pray in public in the church, going against what Paul said about being silent.

Let’s start off with Romans 16.  There are two verses that are usually pointed to in order to support the argument that women were generally permitted to teach or have authority over men: Romans 16:1 and Romans 16:7.  Romans 16:1 refers to Phoebe as a deaconess.  Apparently she is the one who delivered Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  There is nothing, however, in this designation to indicate that she taught publically in church services or that she had authority over men.  If the Apostolic Constitutions and the Didascalia (writings from the patristic period) are any indication, the primary role of deaconesses was to serve other women.  They would assist in female baptisms, hand out aid from the church to poor women, and serve other women in church meetings (see John McGuckin’s A-Z of Patristic Theology).  Of course things could have been different for deaconesses in the New Testament but it seems unlikely.

I agree that Romans 16:8 speaks about a female apostle (whatever that term means here).  But there are two issues that need to be made clear.  First, the word “apostle” isn’t being used in the same sense as “the Twelve”.  That’s not because Junia is a woman – the same holds true for Barnabas being called an apostle.  Paul makes a clear distinction between the Twelve and other people who are called apostles.  Second, even if Junia was an apostle in the same sense as Barnabas or even Paul (more of a missionary designation), it would still have to be argued that her exercise of this office involved teaching and having authority over men.  It seems more likely that Junia would have ministered to other women in contexts where it would have been inappropriate for a male “apostle”.  The burden of proof is heavily on the side of the person taking up the contrary position.  So Romans 16 doesn’t really seem to be a problem.

What about 1 Corinthians 11, where it speaks about women prophesying in the church?  I would argue quite strongly that both in the Old and New Testaments there is a clear distinction between teaching and prophesying.  The difference between teaching and prophesying is that prophecy comes directly from God without any intermediary while teaching doesn’t.  When someone prophesies, they are receiving a message directly from God; when someone teaches they are basing their message on scripture.  In the Old Testament, only men (specifically priests and Levites) could teach; but there are several examples of female prophets.  We may think that this is a fine distinction that shouldn’t really matter but that’s the way things are presented in the Old Testament.  Something similar seems to be the case in the New Testament.  This makes sense based on what can be seen in the New Testament and based on the fact that a good percentage of early Christians were Jewish.  So Paul seems to have been okay with women prophesying while men are present but he does not permit women to teach (assuming 1 Timothy 2:12 reflects Paul’s normal practice).

As for women praying in the church, this doesn’t seem very relevant for 1 Timothy 2:12.  1 Timothy 2:12 is about women teaching in the church so when Paul says that they are to be silent he must be talking about silence with respect to teaching men.

8. Consistency With Jesus’s Teaching

The final point that the author makes is that Jesus never limited women’s roles to a secondary position in the church even when he had the chance to do so.  If 1 Timothy 2:12 was a general prohibition of women teaching or having authority over men in the church, Paul would be going against the pattern that Jesus established.

While it’s true that women play an extremely important role in the ministry of Jesus (they supported him financially, they didn’t abandon Jesus when he was being crucified, and they were the first ones to witness to the resurrection), the plain fact is that Jesus chose twelve male apostles even when he had the opportunity to choose female apostles.  This is not to say that this definitively establishes a pattern for how things should be for all times and all places – but it does mean that there is no contradiction between 1 Timothy 2:12 and Jesus’s teaching.


Again, my point is not to argue that women should not be allowed to teach or have authority over men in the church today – my point is that these are not the best arguments to do that.  Whenever we’re trying to argue a point from the biblical text, we need to make sure that we don’t skew the evidence to favour the position that we hold to, regardless of what position that is.  That’s one reason why I respect Krister Stendahl so much.  Krister Stendahl was one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century.  He was also influential in the movement to allow women’s ordination in the Church of Sweeden, but he did not do this at the expense of exegetical integrity (see the discussion in James Barr’s, The Concept of Biblical Theology and Stendahl’s own writings).  His conclusion was that Paul did forbid women to teach or have authority over men as a general rule.  For him, that’s simply where the evidence from the New Testament pointed him.  But, in the end, he did conclude that, given the cultural situation today, women should be allowed to be ordained today.  His commitment to understanding what the text actually says, regardless of what he might have wanted the text to say, is a good example for all of us to follow, regardless of which side of the fence we land on when it comes to the role of women in the church today.

[1] See especially the detailed analysis in George W. Knight III, “ΑΥΘΕΝΤΕΩ in Reference to Women,” NTS 30 (1984): 143-157.  See also Leland Edward Wilshire, “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to ΑΥΘΕΝΤΕΩ in 1 Timothy 2:12,” NTS 34 (1988): 120-134.  The evidence that Wilshire presents is vast and, in my opinion, ultimately supports the position being presented here.  Wilshire argues at the end that the use of this word doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the church offices in 1 Timothy 3.  However, this argument – which is extremely brief and somewhat incomplete – is not really based on the study that makes up the bulk of the argument.  He does make mention of the fact that αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) is not the normal word used for authority but doesn’t really come to a conclusion on what the significance of that might be.  It is important, though, to be careful how one uses the lexical information in Wilshire’s study.  It is important to note that the evidence listed in Wilshire’s study where the word has negative connotations (“murderer”, etc.) are from a related noun, not the verb itself, which is extremely important.  And even if the verb could be used to mean something like this, which it doesn’t, it would be illegitimate to suggest that it has violent connotations simply because in some writers it is used to refer to murder (which it doesn’t, of course).  The author of the article on the Junia Project and several others make this mistake in the comment section of the article.  She lists negative meanings from Wilshire’s article, not noting that they come from the noun, not the verb, and suggests that these all need to be taken into account when trying to understand 1 Timothy 2:12.  This is a classic example of illegitimate totality transfer.  It is not good enough to simply cite a scholarly article; the article itself needs to be understood properly and the information in the article needs to be used properly.

עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18

I am a firm believer in the distinction that Krister Stendahl made in his famous article in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible between “what the text meant” and “what the text means”.   According to Stendahl, biblical theology must first deal with what the text meant in its original historical and literary context before moving on to what the text might mean for us today.  Stendahl’s formulation of this principle is problematic on a number of levels, but I firmly believe that this distinction is both valid and necessary for biblical theology.

The failure to maintain this distinction and to allow contemporary theological concerns to dominate one’s reading of the text lies at the heart of many of the most egregious misinterpretations of the Bible, both on a scholarly level and on a popular level. This is especially the case when it comes to such hot-button issues as homosexual practice and gender equality.  In this post I would like to focus on a very common (mis)interpretation of the Hebrew phrase עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (ezer kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18.  The purpose of this post is not to evaluate this text from a theological, moral, or sociological perspective or to advocate for a particular position on gender roles in the family, church, or society.  My purpose is simply to show how this phrase has commonly been misunderstood, both on a popular and a scholarly level.

The Argument

The argument goes like this.  The word עֵזֶר (ezer) in Genesis 2:18, which is usually translated “helper”, has wrongly been understood to connote the idea of subordination or inferiority.  However, when you look at the word עֵזֶר (ezer) in the Hebrew Bible it is never used of a subordinate – only of a superior or an equal.  In fact, apart from a few occurrences, the word is always used of God in his role as saviour, rescuer, or protecor (e.g. Ex. 18:14; Deut. 33:7).  So rather than communicating the idea of subordination or inferiority, עֵזֶר (ezer) actually connotes the idea of saving or protecting.  The conclusion, then, is that in Genesis 2:18, Eve functions somehow as Adam’s saviour, rescuer, or protector – with any implications that this might suggest about the male-female relationship and gender roles.


It is important to note that those who argue for this position are right to note that the word עֵזֶר (ezer) does not connote the idea of subordination – at least not by itself.  In fact, עֵזֶר (ezer) by itself does not indicate anything about the person’s superiority, inferiority, or equality.  When the word is being used of a person – it can also be used to simply mean “help”, “assistance”, or “aid” in a more abstract sense (e.g. Ps. 121:1-2) – it simply refers to “a person who makes it easier for another person to do something by rendering their aid”.

That being said, there are a number of problems with this position.  First, the word helper does not by itself mean “saviour”, “rescuer”, “protector”, etc.  Saving, rescuing, and protecting sometimes result from one person helping another person in certain contexts, but these ideas are not communicated by the word itself but by the contexts in which the word is found.  The ideas of saving, rescuing, or protecting cannot be transferred to other contexts where עֵזֶר (ezer) is used if these ideas are not present in the context.  A good example is Ezekiel 12:14, where עֵזֶר (ezer) refers to the Babylonian king’s assistants.  These assistants no doubt make it easier for the king to accomplish his tasks, but they by no means can be considered his saviour, rescuer, or protector – at least not in this context.  It would, therefore, be illegitimate to say that עֵזֶר (ezer) in Genesis 2:18 defines Eve as Adam’s saviour, rescuer, or protector simply because the word עֵזֶר (ezer) is used.

Second, it is illegitimate to say that Eve is not subordinate to Adam in Genesis 2:18 simply because the word עֵזֶר (ezer) is only used of superiors or equals.  Besides the fact that עֵזֶר (ezer) does refer to subordinates in Ezekiel 12:14, those who hold this position fail to take into account the use of the verb עָזַר (azar) and the noun עֶזְרָה (ezrah), both of which come from the same root as עֵזֶר (ezer) and have identical semantic ranges.  In both instances there are plenty of examples where the helper is a subordinate.  A good example is Judges 5:23, where the angelic messenger is chastising the warriors of Meroz for not coming to help YHWH in battle.  As I noted earlier,  עֵזֶר (ezer) says nothing by itself about a person’s superiority, inferiority, or equality – this can only be determined by context.

What, then, can be said about the relationship between the helper and the person being helped?  In every instance – whether for עֵזֶר (ezer), עָזַר (azar), or עֶזְרָה (ezrah) – the person being helped is being presented as the primary person whose interests are at stake in the successful completion of the task.  Let me give a few examples.  (1) In Joshua 1:14, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh are told to help their brothers conquer the land on the east side of the Jordan River. The primary persons whose interests at stake are the other tribes because it is their inheritance that still needs to be conquered. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh provide aid toward accomplishing that task. (2) In Deuteronomy 33:29, God is called Israel’s helper because Israel is being presented as the primary person whose interests are at stake in defeating their enemies.  (3) In Judges 5:23, Meroz is cursed because they did not come to YHWH’s help. In this case, YHWH is being viewed as the primary person whose interests are at stake in the battle.

It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.


Whenever issues like this are being considered it is important to keep Stendahl’s distinction in mind.  One cannot help but wonder whether or not the interpretation being critiqued here is motivated by contemporary theological concerns.  More charitably, one wonders whether or not contemporary theological concerns have kept those who hold this view from looking at the evidence fairly.  What this text “means” today – in other words, how we evaluate this text and/or apply it today – is a much more complicated issue.  But before we can evaluate the text or find some sort of contemporary significance, we have to do the hard work to figure out what this text “meant” in its original historical and literary context.

Mark Steven Francois