Paul’s statement that “a woman should learn in quietness and submission” in 1 Timothy 2:11 looks clear-cut in English, but as we have delved deeper into this verse in this series, we have found a number of factors which make it unlikely that Paul was calling for all women for all time to remain completely silent in church. Part 1 looked at the false teachings within the Ephesian church and Paul’s desire to see these teachers replace their ignorant and divisive speech with good speech. Part 2 examined Paul’s use of hesuchia, concluding that it is about inner quietness-peace (the proper attitude of a serious student of the time) rather than physical silence. Part 3 looked at particular historical circumstances during the reign of Nero which made unity within the church particularly essential. In Part 4, we will be looking at one other factor in the Ephesian church which makes it highly unlikely that Paul expects women to remain silent there – namely, its strong history of women in leadership, particularly Priscilla.
Priscilla, Aquila and the Establishment of the Ephesian Church
Any call by Paul to make women in general “silent” would be in stark contrast to his own practices as revealed in the greetings in his epistles to women in ministry roles and in the stories of Paul told by Luke in Acts. It would be particularly out of place in the history of the Ephesian church.
After living and working in Corinth together for three years, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila relocated to Ephesus and founded the church there (Acts 18). Paul stayed for only a short time in this fledgling church during his first visit. How could Paul leave such a “baby church” without strong leadership to ensure that it stayed doctrinally sound? Well, he didn’t. He left Priscilla and Aquila to lead the church. We are not sure whether Priscilla and Aquila were Christians already when they left Rome in 49AD as a result of the expulsion of the Jews, or whether they first became believers as a result of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. Regardless, their most serious theological formation took place as they sat at the feet of rabbi Paul, learning the deep truths of the faith.
Priscilla and Aquila were not just learners – but having drunk deeply at the well of Paul’s theological knowledge, they became competent and reliable teachers of the truth. The New Testament depicts them leading house churches and mentoring other leaders. One of the successes of Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry in Ephesus was the training of Apollos in correct Christian doctrine. He went on to become a significant Christian leader. It seems that Paul counted him as an apostle – “us apostles” in 1 Cor 4:9 is grammatically linked to “myself and Apollos” in 1 Cor 4:6.
Priscilla, Apollos and the Importance of House Churches
Some commentators try to rationalise the fact that Priscilla taught Apollos by saying, “Well, this was different – Priscilla didn’t teach Apollos in the church. She taught him at home, and under her husband’s covering.” This is a very flawed approach. Firstly, this “covering” doctrine is a modern invention created to try to give women certain opportunities in the church while ensuring that authority remains vested in men – you could say it’s sort of like keeping the cake away from women and eating it too. It has no biblical basis. Most importantly, it places husbands (and sometimes other men, particularly pastors and other leaders) between wives and Christ. 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us in no uncertain terms that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”
Secondly, this division between church and home displays a woeful ignorance of the early church. There were no church buildings in Paul’s time. The very vast majority of churches met in homes. There is no evidence to suggest that at this point in time, the Ephesian church did not operate as a house church (or a series of house churches). It did, however, later meet in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, during the time of Paul’s second visit to that city (Acts 19:9).
Priscilla and Aquila are well known to have been house church leaders. There was no such thing as a modern Sunday worship service with a band, 45 minutes of preaching and a vibrant kids’ church program running parallel to it. Typically, in the house church setting, the Lord’s Table was the central feature, and many men and women present would share in various ways (prayers, prophecies, interpretations and so on). 
This distinction between “home” and “church” used to explain away Priscilla’s teaching displays ignorance not only of the practices of the early church, but also of what church is. The church is both something global – the entirety of Christians across the globe (and across time) – and something as local as “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matt 18:20). Call this a low ecclesiology if you like big words, but I would suggest that it is instead a Christocentric ecclesiology – one in which the presence of Christ with gathered believers is the central defining feature of the church.
Furthermore, if you assume that Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos was non-authoritative because it took place in the home rather than in a church (temporarily ignoring the historical context), then you would also have to conclude that Paul’s teaching of Priscilla and Aquila, when they lived and worked together, was equally non-authoritative, as it seems that this teaching took place in the home (which would also have been their workplace). Interestingly, I have never seen any commentator suggest this about Paul’s teaching.
Priscilla and Aquila in Rome and Ephesus Again
Only a few years after commencing their Ephesian ministry, Priscilla and Aquila have returned to their former home in Rome and are house church leaders. It is not clear who they have left in leadership in the Ephesian church – Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us no information about this. Timothy does not appear to have been appointed to the Ephesian church until some time later.
Having firmly established the church in Ephesus, it seems likely that Priscilla and Aquila have turned their purpose toward the establishment or further development of the church in Rome. Perhaps this return to Rome was always their intent. Claudius – the emperor who had expelled the Jews – died on 13 October, AD54, enabling Jews to return to the Eternal City. The Epistle to the Romans – which places Priscilla and Aquila in Rome – was written in approximately AD55. For Priscilla and Aquila to have travelled to Rome and established themselves as house church leaders so soon after the death of Claudius, they must have travelled quite a short time after the emperor was murdered.
What is notable though, is that by the time Paul writes his final letter, 2 Timothy, Priscilla and Aqulia are in Ephesus again. “Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19). Note that there is no evidence in this statement that Priscilla and Aquila are living in Ephesus in any permanent capacity – they do not appear to be running a house church, and are possibly staying with Onesiphorus.
There was no suggestion in 1 Timothy that they were present in Ephesus at that time (6 months to 2 years before the writing of 2 Timothy). So what brought them to Ephesus between the writing of these two epistles? One possibility might be found in Timothy’s ongoing difficulties in bringing the doctrinal and interpersonal matters under control. Whether at Paul’s instigation or through their own links with the church, a likely explanation for the presence of these respected, senior figures in the Early Church at Ephesus is that they went to assist Timothy in resolving matters, bringing their authority and theological expertise to bear in their former church.
Priscilla and Aquila’s foundations in Christian doctrine came from Paul himself and their success in instructing Apollos and evidence of their role as house church leaders in Rome indicates their skill in passing on sound teaching. It appears that this couple had a sort of roving commission, similar to that of the apostles, which saw their authority widely accepted in the churches from Ephesus to Rome. Indeed, Paul says that “all the churches of the Gentiles” give thanks for them (Rom 16:3-5). Clearly, one of the three most significant leaders of the early Ephesian church was a woman, which makes a command from Paul for general silence for all Ephesian women unlikely.
1 Timothy 2:11 – In Summary
Over the course of these four posts, we have discovered a range of factors which aid in the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11. Due to the false teachings which were rife within the Ephesian church, Paul was concerned to ensure that these wrong teachings were replaced by right teachings, the effect of which would be evidenced by right speech, right inner attitudes (quietness-peace) and right relationships (harmony among the believers). To a particular woman (or maybe some women) who had been causing disruption through false teaching, Paul gave the instruction to learn in the same manner as a male student or disciple, exhibiting the quietness-peace of a model student. Paul deliberately chose the word hesuchia, meaning quietness-peace, rather than harsher words indicating total silence. With this instruction to learn came a parallel command – a temporary injunction against teaching designed to last until the woman has learned right doctrine. The instruction to cultivate quietness-peace was given to the Ephesian church generally, in order that harmony within the church might enable it to resist persecution from without. It is unsurprising that Paul had such concern to bring the woman who had been involved in false teaching back into a right relationship with the church, as he was such a great advocate and partner of women in ministry roles, including Priscilla – one of the foundational and most influential leaders of the Ephesian church.
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Image created from Bust of a woman, Archaeological Museum, Athens, photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, 2009.