Question: How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?
It’s probably because I got my first seven years of Christian nurture more through the parachurch than the church that it’s hard for me to see these teachers as limited to special officeholders. Both in my Campus Life club in high school and my Campus Crusade for Christ chapter in college, 2 Timothy 2:2 was a key verse we were all encouraged to memorize and apply. When you are involved in campus ministry, whether as student or staff, you know how high the turnover rate of students necessarily is every year. A thriving ministry one year can become mediocre the next, anemic the year after that, and dead in the water soon thereafter. Everyone who can be mobilized must be involved in teaching others so that they can in turn keep passing on the core truths of the gospel.
But there were no parachurch organizations in Paul’s day. When he wrote both of his letters to Timothy he was writing to his younger, spiritual son in the faith, who was now pastoring the church in Ephesus. He was outlining of chain of transmission of Christian tradition with four links in it: Paul, Timothy, another group of faithful people, and “others” whom they would in turn train. The updated NIV renders the verse thus: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
The only change from the 1984 NIV is using “people” instead of “men.” Grammatically, this is a slam dunk. The Greek has pistois anthrōpois. The Greek word rendered “men” in older translations comes from anthrōpos not anēr. Even anēr is occasionally gender-inclusive (see, e.g., BDAG, ad loc), but anthrōpos regularly is. The so-called Colorado Springs Guidelines defended in their books on Bible translation by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress allow for “people” as a translation for plural forms of anthrōpos whenever contextually appropriate, and the ESV, the most restrictive of all the recent new Bible translations with respect to the use of inclusive language for humanity, uses “people” for anthrōpos in the plural literally dozens of times in the New Testament.
So what’s the debate? Well, you see, these are people who teach. And in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul prohibited women from teaching men in the church. Without getting into all the exegetical conundra of that passage, let’s assume just for the sake of argument that women still are not to teach men, presumably Christian doctrine or biblical truths, in the church. Let’s assume, again without judging on its probability one way or the other, that elders or overseers, whom 1 Timothy 3:2 says should be able to teach, were and still should be all men. Would translating 2 Timothy 2:2 with “faithful people” in any way infringe on those restrictions?
Not in the least. Even the most conservative complementarians I’ve ever met or read agree that women can and sometimes must teach other women and children, especially their own children. These complementarians agree that Paul uses “teaching” as a spiritual gift (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:28), as well as with reference to an office, and that God gives his spiritual gifts to men and women as he pleases. Women who receive the gift of teaching, they would insist, must exercise it with other women and with children.
Does Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 have an all-male elder board exclusively in view? I know of absolutely no way of demonstrating this. It’s possible, but given how Paul praised Lois and Eunice for passing their faith on to Timothy less than one chapter earlier (1:5), I find it unlikely. Be that as it may, “faithful people” in no way precludes an interpretation that limits those people to men. The last time I checked men were still people (well, perhaps except for the men behaving extremely badly!). Paul regularly taught mixed audiences, so if someone “misreads” people as including women, when Paul didn’t intend that, and therefore imagines that Paul called some of the women he taught to teach others also, all the ultraconservative complementarians has to do is explain that he is referring to their teaching women and children.
But suppose a translation retains the expression “faithful men” in 2 Timothy 2:2. With every passing year, fewer and fewer English-speaking people will naturally assume this is the old-fashioned use of a generic “men.” There are kinds of inclusive and exclusive language for humanity that are still a mixed bag in 21st-century English, but “men” is rarely one of them. If I stand before a mixed audience and address them by saying, “Greetings, men!” almost no one would find that natural unless I was deliberately singling out the males for some kind of special attention. So unless some new discovery made it possible for scholars to achieve consensus beyond any reasonable doubt that Paul had only males in view in this verse, the only legitimate translation, that leaves all options open, is “people.”
Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.
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