2 Timothy: Faithful People are to Teach

2 Timothy:

Faithful People are to Teach


2 Timothy is considered to be the last letter written by Paul, about 64 AD shortly before his execution. Paul was aware that his death was at hand:

...I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.                                                                        (2 Timothy 4:6)

This second letter is a more personal letter to Timothy than was the first, and although false teachers were still a problem and would continue to be, Paul was not writing to Timothy to deal with an immediate crisis. He was nevertheless using this personal letter as a means of conveying a message to the ecclesias among which Timothy worked.

The reminder therefore in 2 Timothy 3 is significant in its approval of the role sisters had taken in teaching Timothy:

Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.                      (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Timothy no doubt learned from many people, including Paul himself, but the reference here “from childhood”, the mention of Timothy and his mother in Acts 16:1, and the reference in 2 Timothy 1:5 to his mother and grandmother suggest that Paul is thinking primarily of the instruction Timothy received both as a child and as a young man from his mother.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.                                                                             (2 Timothy 1:5)

This background is worth bearing in mind when considering the comments about a woman teaching in 1 Timothy 2.

Since this is Paul’s last letter, if we are looking for Paul’s final words on ecclesial teaching activities, they are to be found in 2 Timothy rather than in 1 Timothy. In chapter 2 Paul specifically gives instructions for the future:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men (anthropoi) who will be able to teach others also.    (2 Tim. 2:1-2)

The force of this verse has frequently been missed, or misunderstood, because of the translation of anthropoi as “men”. Anthropoi generally means “people”, “men and women”, just as the word “men” is often used in that same general sense, though less so in modern English. If anyone is inclined to doubt this, note how anthropoi is used in a general sense in 2 Timothy 3:2 and anthropos (the singular) in verse 17. The Good News Bible makes this clear:


Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also.                                                           (2 Timothy 2:2)

... and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.

                                                                        (2 Timothy 2:2, NRSV)


This, then, was Paul’s last word on the subject. He ordered that his teaching should be passed on to reliable people (“faithful people” NRSV) who would in turn teach others.[1] The criterion is reliability and faithfulness to Christ, not gender. If Paul had intended to restrict this to men, the word to use would have been andres as in 1 Timothy 2:8. And if we insist that 2 Timothy 2:2 should be translated “men” (as distinct from “men and women”) we are saying that in this instance Paul is using anthropoi in a way he uses it nowhere else!


In Paul’s final comment, therefore, on teaching, we have reinforced for the future the same as he taught two decades earlier:


For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

                                                                                    (Galatians 3:27-28)

And it is people, faithful people, which Paul specifies. Paul does not state that teaching is to be given only by elders or bishops (though, of course they would be included within the term “people”), but by ordinary people, ordinary members of the body of Christ – provided they are reliable and faithful and have learned the teachings proclaimed by Paul.


[1] The argument against taking anthropoi as “people” is that women (it is claimed) did not teach in the early ecclesias and therefore anthropoi in this context must be translated and understood as “men”. George Knight III, for example, in his commentary on the Greek text of the Pastoral Epistles (Paternoster, 1992) refers to the teaching role of elders and bishops (in 1 Timothy 5:17 and Titus 1:9) and says “it is certain” that Paul means “men”. The word anthropos can indeed be used to mean “man” as distinct from “woman” and is so used in Matthew 19:5, 1 Corinthians 7:1, and Ephesians 5:31, as cited by George Knight. All these are examples of anthropos in the singular, and there is no ambiguity in these three examples. Elsewhere anthropoi can be used where it obviously applies only to men, since it is only men who are under discussion, for example, when the magistrates refer to Paul and Silas in Acts 16:35:

But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men (anthropoi) go.”         

But the most frequent use of the plural anthropoi is general and means “people”. In fact Paul uses anthropoi over fifty times, and each time it means “people, men and women”, with only one exception: Acts 14:15 where Paul and Barnabas say “We also are men, of like nature with you”, i.e. human beings, not gods like Zeus and Hermes. “We are mortals just like you” (NRSV). In 2 Timothy 2:2, it is a matter of exercising judgment, based on one’s assessment of the whole issue, as we commented on page 6 at the beginning of this examination. Like George Knight III one can cite male teachers and elders, and say that Paul must have meant men, even though he used the general word. Or one can refer to passages where Paul accepts and encourages women to teach (Colossians 3:16 and Titus 2:3), and say that Paul was looking to the future and deliberately spoke in general terms of passing on the message to “faithful people”, in accordance with his practice of using both brothers and sisters as circumstances best permitted. Had Paul meant to specify “men”, he could have done so unambiguously by saying “andres”.

previous page table of contents next page