Luke Timothy Johnson on 1 Tim 2:8-15

Luke Timothy Johnson on 1 Tim 2:8-15

Published: Feb 6, 2008 by Maria Gwyn McDowell

I am currently working on church order and the Pastoral Epistles. To no one's surprise, I was a bit distracted by the rather disturbing passage in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I found Luke Timothy Johnson's comments to be quite thought provoking, especially the final quotation.

The Text:

2:8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

NRSV, from:


Paul begins with balanced proscriptions to both men and women, assuming that "god is not confusion" and "all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:33, 40). Paul recognizes the equality of women within the ekklesia, as long as it does not conflict with the culturally defined gender roles of the oikos. He is a social conservative. "Paul was not in this case engaging in sober exegesis of Genesis, but supporting his culturally conservative position on the basis of texts that in his eyes demonstrate the greater dignity and intelligence of men and, therefore, the need for women to be silent and subordinate to men" (Johnson, 208).

To read this text as normative is problematic, in that it is "gratuitous in context, going beyond what is required for the situation; that it is based solely on Paul's individual authority ("I do not allow"), rather than on a principle intrinsic to the good news; and that the warrant for the injunction is, in fact, a faulty reading of Torah" (Johnson, 211). Johnson clearly disavows a literal obedience to a faulty text. He also refused to censor the text. Whether the text is placed in lectionaries or not, people will read and interpret the text, perhaps without critical interpretation. Instead, he argues, we must engage the text:

"Such engagement, however, will also recognize that contemporary assumptions concerning family structures and power relationships are not themselves absolute, but are relative and culturally conditioned in a way not unlike Paul's own assumptions. We may prefer them; we may regard them as superior to Paul's; we may even hope that they represent growth toward God's will for the relations between the genders. But we cannot be so parochial as to think that further growth is not possible or even necessary. Finally, as we think about that growth, we might even be grateful to this passage as well as others in the Pauline corpus for reminding us that the noblest Christian ideals ("in Christ there is neither male nor female" or "God wills the salvation of all") must always be negotiated within the hard and resistent [sic] circumstances of cultural contexts in which the power and privilege-as well as their complex and ambiguous embodiments-of difference are always present" (Johnson, 211).


Johnson, Luke Timothy. The First and Second Letters to Timothy : A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 35A. 1st ed. The Anchor Bible, New York: Doubleday, 2001.