Sunday Morning Greek Blog

March 30, 2023

The Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians as Background for Understanding 1 Timothy 2

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Who are the “women” Paul is writing about in 1 Timothy 2 & 3? This is an important question to ask and answer if someone is just going to look at the surface text and make unfounded claims about the Bible contradicting itself about the role of women in the faith, as Steve Wells does in The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. A basic understanding of the context and setting of this epistle will clear up many of the contradictions he alleges. Let’s dive in.

Setting and Context

Paul wrote two letters to Timothy that survived to the time of the codification of the New Testament. If you follow Timothy’s ministry through the New Testament, you will find that Timothy was not only a close companion to Paul, but that he also seems to have been acting in the role of an apostle. Paul has seemingly appointed Timothy to succeed him after 2 years of successful ministry in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a major trade and port city in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) at the time and featured the Temple of Artemis (Greek; in the Roman pantheon, she was equated with Diana), a fertility goddess. The temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the Greek goddess Artemis, at least according to the depictions discovered in Ephesus, “was portrayed as a more mature woman. Her robe is draped in such a way as to expose her bosom, which is covered with multiple breasts, depicting her gift of fertility and nurture.[1]” The ceremonies were conducted by eunuch priests and virgin priestesses.

Being a priestess in ancient Greece was one of the few things a woman could do to have power and influence. Otherwise, the women typically had few rights in Greece. These priestesses and the laypeople of Ephesus may have had a lot of knowledge about their goddess, but the tenure of a priestess of Artemis of Ephesus was typically short; they would typically transition from a virgin priestess to wife and mother while they were still young enough to bear children.[2] Although little to no evidence exists of any temple prostitution in Ephesus,[3] the rituals surrounding the worship of a fertility goddess and the attire and adornment of the priestesses may be part of what Paul is addressing in 1 Timothy 2. One must keep in mind, unlike Mr. Wells, that these epistles were written in a specific cultural context to a specific demographic group, so the specific statements may reflect cultural nuances without violating the underlying principles of Scripture.

One other thing to keep in mind here, at least from my perspective. The King James Version was a valuable translation in its day, but with the advent of more source materials and a better understanding of textual transmission principles over the centuries, not to mention the evolution of the English language in the 400+ years since it was first translated, these factors may cause some to misunderstand the nuances of certain terms, because they may not mean the same in 2023 as they did in the late 19th century, when the last update to the official KJV was published. With that in mind, then, let’s look at the text in 1 Timothy 2, specifically in regard to the passages on women.

Parallel Structure of 1 Timothy 2

General Exhortations (2:1–7)Directed Teachings to Leaders (2:8–15)
1–2a: Paul urges prayer for all8a: Paul wants men to lift up holy hands in prayer and thanksgiving
2b–3: peaceful and quiet (hēsychios) lives; good (beautiful) and pleasing to God8b–12: without anger or disputing; modesty, propriety, good (moral) deeds; learn in quietness (hēsychia)
4–6: wants all people to be saved13–15: analogy: women “saved”/“kept safe”  through childbearing
7: Hinge verse describing Paul’s purpose3:1 Hinge verse to discussion of formal leadership positions

“Women” Generally in 1 Timothy 2 and 3

In 1 Timothy 2:8–10, Paul is giving a parallel set of instructions for men and women generally, and he puts them on the same level by using the adverb ὡσαύτως (hōsautōs, “in the same way”). This adverb typically implies a similarity of position or status, both with the people that are modified in the comparison and the actions or sometimes the settings associated with those people thus compared. So in vs. 8, Paul “desires” or “wishes” that “men in every place” to pray without contention. The use of hōsautōs in vs. 9 compels us to take the indicative verb from vs. 8 (Βούλομαι, boulomai) as governing the predicate in vs. 9. (If there’s any question about this, the same thing happens in the very next chapter for three groups of leaders.) Paul “desires” or “wishes” the women to “adorn” (κοσμέω, kosmeō) themselves in “appropriate [κόσμιος, kosmios] clothing” (notice the similar semantic root for both words). The same adjective is used in 3:2 of the overseer, but is translated “good behavior.”

Another character trait Paul expects of the women in vs. 9 is the noun σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē), which is translated “sobriety” in the KJV, but “propriety” in the NIV. The word can also mean “sound judgment,” “self-discipline,” or “self-control.” The adjectival form of that word, σώφρων (sōphrōn), is used of the overseer in 3:2. At this point, it’s safe to say Paul had similar expectations of men and women generally that he had of those identified as “overseers,” a seemingly formal leadership designation in the New Testament.[4] Of course, there are certain stereotypical behaviors (at least in Paul’s day) that were thought to be gender specific, so we shouldn’t expect Paul to have the exact same set of behavioral expectations for men and women.

Now that we’ve looked at the terminology, let’s apply this to the cultural situation in Ephesus, specifically with respect to the priestesses who served in the Temple of Artemis. The Ephesians, especially the women, would have most likely looked up to these priestesses as examples of holiness, so it’s reasonable that the women would have wanted to dress like them as well. One only need to search for images of “priestess of Artemis” to see that these priestesses wore braided hair, pearls, and gold jewelry. Paul didn’t want these Christian converts, some of whom may have been former priestesses or temple workers themselves, to appear like pagan religious leaders. In today’s world, Paul might encourage women not to dress like some of the “Real Housewives” or other Hollywood stars who aren’t afraid to flash their flesh and their wealth.

Wells considers verse 9 “misogyny and insults to women” according to the symbol he used, but as I’ve shown, nothing could be further from the truth here. Paul expresses similar standards for men and women, so he’s treating women as equals. This will be further demonstrated as we analyze the next two verses.

Paul Addresses Church Leadership (2:11–12)

Paul follows up these general exhortations to men and women to a particular discussion on how to address the teaching of women in Ephesus. On the surface, the passage admittedly appears to have some misogynistic undertones, but a look into the background of the Greek text considering the cultural setting, we will again see quite the opposite. Let’s look at vv. 11–12, my translation:

A woman must learn in an orderly manner in all subjection; I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to have inappropriate authority over a man, but to behave in an orderly manner.

First, Paul shifts from talking to “women” in the plural in vs. 9 to about “a woman” (anarthrous, i.e., without the definite article) in vs. 11. Is this just a stylistic difference? Perhaps. But I think what is more likely here is that Paul is referring to “a” or “any” woman who wants to learn about the Gospel of Christ, and perhaps even to be a leader in the church at some point in the future (see, for example, 1 Tim 3:11).

These women very likely could have included women who were transitioning out of the Artemisian priesthood into civilian life. They had knowledge of a goddess, but of course this goddess was nothing like Jesus Christ or his father, the one true God. I think a reasonable assumption here is that Paul didn’t want to run the risk of them introducing pagan beliefs into the pure Christian Gospel Timothy was appointed to teach and proclaim. It was about maintaining order and decorum in the educational setting, not turning it into an Athenian Mars Hill philosophers’ debate! It’s also highly likely that these women were being taught by widows or older women already established in the Christian faith, and not by men, so the “subjection” may not have been to men (cf. 1 Timothy 5:9–16; Titus 2:3–4).

You probably noticed in my translation that I didn’t use a form of the word “quiet” for ἡσυχία (hēsychia), but rather used the phrase “in an orderly manner.” (Both times it is a prepositional phrase and is not a command, as some translations make it at the end of vs. 12.) I think this translation better fits the context here.[5] The adjective form of this noun is used in vs. 2 to speak of Paul’s desire that everyone “live peaceful and quiet (or ordered) lives in all godliness and holiness.” Paul doesn’t want these women teaching right away or trying to take over in the educational setting, nor does he want them usurping the authority of the man who is overseeing the teaching. This is the only time in the NT this Greek word (αὐθεντέω authenteō) is used for authority, so it’s apparently the type of authority that Paul himself would never use or claim.

“Saved Through Childbearing” (vv. 13–15) Reconsidered

In the last part of chapter 2, Paul uses the Creation account to make his summary point on what he’s discussed in chapter 2. Verses 13 and 14 give a true account of what happened in Genesis 1–3, but Paul stops short of saying that Adam also ate of the fruit. I admit that this could be a bit of “she did it first” mentality, but Paul is generally not that petty. Why does he point out that Eve was deceived and not Adam? Perhaps the better question to ask is, “Why was Eve deceived when there was a direct command from God not to do what she did?” Is God responsible for Eve’s deception? I think not. In the Creation narrative, Adam received the command from God before Eve was created as his helper. So, is it possible that Adam failed to teach or warn Eve about the forbidden fruit? It’s hard to imagine he didn’t tell her everything. Even so, the point of the passage is that Eve was the one who violated the sacred order, so God’s mitigation was the restoration of that sacred order, that the male would be the head in the relationship. There’s nothing there to indicate the rule was authoritarian or absent of genuine love in any way. The woman only had to endure pain in childbirth. Man’s “rule” came at the expense of doing the hard labor to work the land and provide a living for them both and their descendants.

Adam had given up his place of authority God had established in the created order and followed the woman’s lead instead of God’s lead when it came to the forbidden fruit, and the results were disastrous for all of humanity. Is this the usurpation Paul is talking about in verse 12? It may very well be. Based on that, then, I would like to put forth that Paul’s argument here implies that part of the male’s redemptive task is to recapture the original design for him to be a teacher. This isn’t to say women can’t teach; it’s clear from other Scriptures they can. But again, this may be to counter some of the influence that the (former) priestesses may have had, at least until they could be established in their newfound Christian faith, so that order can be maintained.

The final verse about women being “saved through childbearing” would seem to take on whole new meaning when contrasted with the virgin priestesses of the Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians (see “Additional Note” below). For those women, their virginity was their form of holiness for however many years they served in the temple. It may have been difficult for some of them who were transitioning into married life to adapt to the idea that they could still be considered “holy” and “saved” when they started having children. Verse 15 was Paul’s way of saying that, even in their new lives, they were still important members of the body of Christ. They had traded in a certain degree of autonomy as a priestess for the domestic life of a wife and perhaps a lesser member of Greek society, but Paul’s statement in vs. 15 is intended to elevate them in the Christian society to a critical role in fulfilling the creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.”[6]


Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I set out to address some of the alleged contradictions and misogynist statement in Steven Wells poorly researched The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, especially in the much-debated passage about men’s and women’s roles in 1 Tim 2:8–15. I don’t have space to deal with the petty contradictions where he’s comparing apples to oranges. He identifies three instances of misogyny in 2:9–15, all of which I have addressed above. The issue of modest dress was to contrast with the cult and culture of the priestesses in the pagan Temple of Artemis of Ephesus. The same adjective about propriety is used of both women and the overseer in 3:2. I’ve shown that the “in silence” was not necessarily muteness, but has to do with maintaining a proper order in the church, and that it was used of both men and women. The prohibition on teaching is likely a cultural stopgap measure until the Ephesian women, some of whom may have been priestesses of Artemis at one time, are firmly grounded in their newfound Christian faith. The reference to Adam and Eve in chapter 3 is not intended to be a first-century version of keeping the women at home barefoot and pregnant, but a reminder that Adam and Eve both had consequences for violating God’s only commandment. Even though Eve sinned first, Adam got the more strenuous of the two punishments: his “rule” over his wife was accompanied by working the land by the sweat of his brow daily to provide for his family.

I do hope you’ve found this rather lengthy article helpful when it comes to 1 Timothy 2. If you like it, I would encourage you to check my earlier article on 1 Timothy 3 with respect to women in leadership, which I now have to review to see if any of these new thoughts require an update. As always, my thoughts are my own, except where I give credit to those whom I cite. Peace to all.

Scott Stocking

Additional note (added 3/31/23): I came across the following reference in Apollodorus 1.4 (English translation edited by Sir James George Frazer; Perseus Tufts edition) and an accompanying footnote: “But Latona for her intrigue with Zeus was hunted by Hera over the whole earth, till she came to Delos and brought forth first Artemis, by the help of whose midwifery she afterwards gave birth to Apollo.” The portion of the footnote that is of interest addresses the statement that Artemis was the midwife for the birth of her twin brother! The footnote states, “The quaint legend, recorded by Apollodorus, that immediately after her birth Artemis helped her younger twin brother Apollo to be born into the world, is mentioned also by Serv. Verg. A. 3.73 and the Vatican Mythographers. The legend, these writers inform us, was told to explain why the maiden goddess Artemis was invoked by women in child-bed.” Could it be that Paul’s statement about women being saved through childbirth was meant to ensure that Ephesian women in that culture who may have called on Artemis while giving birth after they converted to Christianity would not be guilty of blasphemy or some other sin?

Reference (added 4/1/23): I just found an excellent series of articles looking at the influence of Artemis Ephesia in 1 Timothy 2. I’m glad I found it after I published my own article, because I consider that independent confirmation I’m on the right track. We have slightly different conclusions, and the author takes into account some Gnostic influences in the article, but overall, we have a very similar take on how to understand 1 Timothy 2 in a way that respects the equality of women in God’s kingdom. It’s a five-part series, with this link being the final part, but it has links to the first four articles at the end.

[1] Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler, eds. 2003. “Artemis.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 121. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Claus, Patricia. Priestesses Among Few Women Who Had Status, Power in Ancient Greece. The Greek Reporter, December 5, 2022, accessed 03/29/23

[3] Cult Prostitution In New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal by S. M. Baugh, accessed 03/26/23.

[4] This conclusion is further demonstrated by comparing the terms used to describe the three classes of leaders (overseer, deacons, and women) in 1 Timothy 3:1–11, and even with the terms describing the widows in 1 Timothy 5.

[5] In 2 Thess 3:12, for example, the noun is used in contrast with those who would be “busybodies.”

[6] Paul’s mention of the man being created first here may in fact be a reference to the entire Creation narrative, so he wouldn’t have just the childbearing piece in mind, but everything that comes after that, including the offspring of the woman (Jesus) crushing Satan’s head. This is not uncommon for a NT writer or speaker to “economize” their words. Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin being with child to call to mind the entire Messianic section of Isaiah 6–11; Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross to remind people that much of what is written in that psalm is coming true in his crucifixion.

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