I was staying with a friend a couple of weeks back and he suggested that Paul was referring to husbands and wives in 1 Tim 2:12 where he says he doesn’t “permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (NIV 11).
He is certainly correct that the words can have either meaning, so one has to look at the context to figure out what meaning Paul has in mind.
If this was the case, it would have a dramatically different meaning and would not restrict women from teaching and preaching in the church (presumably as long as her husband wasn’t present).
This got me thinking, was he correct or not?
What he is about to say is in the context of God wanting all people to be saved (vs 4), indicating that he has in mind a public environment where non Christians can observe what is happening.
Starting at verse 8, referring to ἄνδρας (andras), Paul tells them that everywhere, they should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. Would only husbands be expected to do these things, or all men? Surely the latter.
And for the γυναῖκας (gunaikas) (vss 9-10), they should dress modestly, … not with expensive clothes, but with good deeds. Would only wives be expected to do these things, or all women? Again, surely the latter.
These descriptions, and the context, sound like they are public activities, not restricted to the home, so it would be reasonable to assume that the Greek words should be translated men and women. There doesn’t seem to be any change of context when we move to verse 11. Admittedly he uses the singular, but he then moves to the plural again in verse 15, so I don’t think we can make much of that.
Where would we expect learning and teaching and exercising authority to occur in a public place? The church is the obvious answer. The descriptions don’t seem to fit the home, and that would require Paul to be changing context, with no indication of that. Why would Paul want a wife to learn in quietness in the home? Surely that is where an interactive style makes sense, whereas in a church is where a more formal teaching style would be used and the women should logically remain silent. This line of thinking is backed up by Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor 14:34-35 for women to remain silent in the churches but when they have inquiries about something, to ask their husbands at home (interactively?).
Added to this is when Paul uses the terms ἄνδρας and γυναῖκας to mean husband and wife, the way he speaks makes it clear that he means that. So, in Rom 7:2, he refers explicitly to a married woman and in 1 Cor 7:2 he refers to each man having sexual relations with his own woman, so obviously referring to husbands and wives in both cases. There is no indication of this in 1 Timothy 2. In 1 Timothy 3:2, he refers to a “one woman man”, again it is obvious that he is referring to a husband and wife.
Overall, I think it is pretty clear that the translators (e.g. NIV84, NIV11, ESV, NRSV, NKJV, CSB, WEB) are right in using the terms woman and man, rather than wife and husband.