Does the Present Tense Necessarily Mean “Now but not later”? (1 Tim 2:12) – Mondays with Mounce

Bill Mounce January 9, 2023

1 Timothy 2:12 is one of the most debated verses today. My point in discussing it is not to enter into the general debate but to deal with an erroneous misunderstanding of the present tense. Most of what follows comes from my commentary on the Pastorals.

The phrase οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, “I do not permit,” is generally translated “I do not permit/allow/let.” Some argue that because the present tense is used, it should be translated “I am not presently allowing a woman to teach” (Spencer, Beyond the Curse, 85) or “I am not permitting” (Payne, Trinity Journal 2 [1981] 172). Spencer comments, “Yet at this time Paul wanted to restrain the women at Ephesus from teaching the men until they themselves were well instructed” (JETS 17 [1974] 219). If Paul had intended the instruction to be for all time, it is argued, Paul would have used another form such as the imperative or future indicative or aorist subjunctive, or otherwise explicitly indicated such (Payne, Trinity Journal 2 [1981] 171; Fee, 72; Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 180; Padgett, Int 41 [1987] 25; Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches, 120-21; Kroeger and Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman, 83).

However, this is a serious misreading of the present tense. Grammarians unanimously agree that the present tense views an action from inside the action “without beginning or end in view” (Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 103). It says nothing about the completion of the event but only that from the speaker’s point of view it is an ongoing process. To say that the present tense implicitly teaches there is an end to the action is simply wrong.

There are also contextual arguments that make the same point.

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