“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 ESV).
While some might look upon these verses and immediately leap to the conclusion that Paul the Apostle held a misogynistic viewpoint, that response overlooks the initial focus of this passage: education. In light of this, we should remember that the command to “Let a woman learn…” serves as the foundation for what follows. To put it another way, “instruction” is the operative idea- “humility” (GNT), and “submissiveness” (Mounce) characterize the way to receive that instruction.
While the word “submission” tends to receive the most attention among modern-day audiences, it was this reference to instruction that likely produced a similar response among some ancient recipients of this letter. You see, many women of that era did not have access to the educational opportunities that were available to men during that time.
This may be difficult to understand, especially in modern societies where female participation in collegiate and post-graduate studies may sometimes exceed male participation. We can attribute the explanation to the fact that some ancient appraisals of human female value were shockingly inappropriate…
“Within Greco-Roman first-century culture there was much diversity. Older Greeks viewed women as inferior, and useful only for labor, pleasure, or childbearing. Among the wealthier Romans and Greeks, women often received education, they could inherit, and they enjoyed social acceptability. Lower-class Romans and Greeks did not educate their women, and regarded them as more servile.” (1)
Because of this, we should recognize this directive for what it is: a progressive educational model that challenged many of the cultural norms of its time. Therefore, we would do well to recognize the “what” of this passage (“Let a woman learn…”) as well as the how the “how” (“…with all submissiveness”). One commentary expands upon this idea with the following insight…
“The proper way for any novice to learn was submissively and ‘quietly’ (a closely related Greek term appears in 1Ti_2:2 for all believers). Women were less likely to be literate than men, were trained in philosophy far less often than men, were trained in rhetoric almost never, and in Judaism were far less likely to be educated in the law. Given the bias against instructing women in the law, it is Paul’s advocacy of their learning the law, not his recognition that they started as novices and so had to learn quietly, that was radical and countercultural.” (2)
(1) See James B. Hurley, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective, condensed and quoted in Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition, Appendix 1 Women and Ministry Dr. Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
(2) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [1 Timothy 2:8-15]