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WOMEN IN THE TEACHING MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH (1 TIMOTHY 2:11-15) Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul seeks to encourage Timothy in his work with the church at Ephesus.  Specifically, Paul urges Timothy to utilize the gifts that God has given him.  Paul tells Timothy to use those gifts to preach the word and to guard the church from false teachers who have entered among them (1:18-19).  In chapter one, Paul establishes that even though he was a great blasphemer in the past, God's mercy proved greater.  In chapter two, he urges all men pray and be thankful, praying for kings and so forth.  Paul then moves the discussion to God's plan of salvation for sinful humanity.  He declares who God is and how salvation has been expressed in Christ (verses 5-6).  Paul states his own calling and apostleship, as well as his desire for "the men in every place to pray, lifting holy hands, without wrath and dissension" (verse 8).  He then turns his thoughts to women in verses 9-15,

 

"Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.  Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.  For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.  But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."

 

Our focus here will be on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, with a special concentration on verses 11-12, in italics above.  When Paul turns his attention to Christian women, he gives more detail regarding how they are to dress, and how they are to conduct themselves at home and in the church than he does for men.  Maybe he writes about the way women dress and their role in the church because the opposite was practiced or taught in the church at Ephesus.  We don't know.  But he obviously wanted to make some things clear to Timothy.  A woman has a specific responsibility not only in the way she dresses, but in the way she conducts herself in the church.

 

A closer look at Paul's words

Paul wins no friends in the feminist movement by what he says in verses 11-12, "Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet."  These words irritate modern ears.  Surely Paul could not have meant what he says about women.  Or did he?

 

Paul says that he expects a woman to "quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness."  That would seem to end the discussion, but he gets even more specific by saying, "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet."  Paul explained "remain quiet" by saying that he didn't allow women to teach or exercise authority over a man.  In fact, he says twice that he wants women to remain quiet in the church.

 

Anticipating our "why" questions, Paul adds, "For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." 

 

Paul bases his argument on two things: 1) The creation order, and 2) The sin order. 

 

Paul saw that the order of creation had bearing on how the church was to function.  His reasoning seems to be something like this: Since Adam was created first, he was not meant to be ruled over in any way by the woman.  She was created as his helper not his lord.  And if you want a perfect example of the trouble caused when a woman steps out of her God-given role as a follower, just take for instance Eve—when she was deceived, she took matters into her own hands, and persuaded Adam to do the same.

 

No one doubts Adam's part in this sin.  He knew the truth and had told Eve what God said about the forbidden fruit.  But it is a curious thing that Paul doesn't mention Adam's guilt here.  He certainly knew Adam had sinned (Romans 5:14), but leaves that unsaid in order to make his point more vivid about Eve's sin.  Not only was she created out of man, but she was deceived and stepped out of her God-appointed role.  That is why she must not teach men in the church—she was created second and deceived first.

 

Eve didn't obey the instruction Adam gave her, and women follow in her steps of rebellion when they don't obey what Scripture says about their role in the church.  This doesn't mean that women are stupid or that they lack teaching and speaking abilities, but that God's purpose for them is not to teach men the Scriptures.  Women have a more passive and receiving role when compared to men. 

 

Verse 15 says, "But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."  Verse 15 is difficult to interpret, but here's my take on it: Women were created to help men rule over the earth and to populate it.  From the beginning, even before the fall, they had a procreative role, just as the men did.  Even though women have restrictions in the church, they have an important role in bearing children.  While there are many interpretations of verse 15, the clear teachings of verses 11-14 are undeniable. 

 

Child bearing is not all that women are made to do, but it is an important thing, maybe the main thing, that they are called to do.  Even though Eve was deceived in the Garden, women still have a role to fulfill—to bear children. 

 

Views opposed to mine

First, some argue that Paul's point in 1 Timothy 2 was only cultural because of 1 Corinthians 11:5, which says, "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved."  Many argue this way because they assume prophesying means the same as preaching.  But there's no reason to think these gifts are the same.  Even if they are the same gift, we can't assume that Paul would contradict himself and urge these women to use their gifts in the presence of men.  Whatever we say about women prophesying must be understood in light of 1 Timothy 2 because it's the clearer passage. 

 

And we must not forget the words of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where Paul says, "Let women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says.  And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church."  There's much to debate about this passage, but when it came to the believers critiquing the prophecies they heard and asking questions about them, Paul told the women to keep quiet.  He doesn't say why, but his reference to the Law seems to indicate there's something in the Law, Genesis 1-3 perhaps, that shows why women aren't to teach men.   

 

Second, some have argued that the eldership (or role of pastor) in the New Testament is equal to the eldership of the Old Testament.  They admit that it was unlikely that a woman would function in that role, but that women weren't excluded.  Take for example Deborah (Judges 4-5).  Thus, the argument goes, if Deborah could properly function in the role as elder, then why can't women pastor or teach men?  Whether or not it follows that the office of New Testament eldership is based on the Old Testament eldership is not clear.  Even if it was undisputable, just because the eldership in the Old Testament didn't exclude women from that office doesn't necessarily carry over into the New Testament, especially since we have such a clear text as 1 Timothy 2 telling us how the church functions.

 

Third, some argue that 1 Timothy 2 doesn't talk about women and men in general but wives and husbands specifically.  And this may be true.  Yet some note this because they want to say that a wife could pastor the same church where her husband attends, as long as the husband permits.  And, so the argument goes, she would still be submitting to her husband's leadership.  To bolster their argument, some use a scenario of a son being elected president of the United States.  They contend that the son could still be subject to his dad even if the son were elected president.  This would be an example of an inferior role (the son) functioning in a way where he legitimately could exercise authority over his God-given superior (his dad).  According to this reasoning, the authority structure of the father-son relationship and president-civilian relationship would still be preserved.  And so goes the argument of women as pastors while being submissive to their husbands. 

 

But does it follow that governments and churches function the same way?  Whether or not this would work in a government situation doesn't really matter because 1 Timothy 2 tells us that a woman (wife) should not teach a man (husband) in the church.  How could a wife still be "under the authority of her husband" while at the same time teaching him?  How could she be learning "in all quietness" if this were the case? 

 

Fourth, others use Acts 18:24-26 to prove a woman can disciple or teach a man the Scripture.  In this passage, Pricilla and Aquila pulled Apollos aside to explain to him the way of God more accurately.  And some say that because Pricilla's name is mentioned before Aquila's, then this proves she was seriously involved in the teaching.  But this text says that "they" taught him.  Pricilla didn't teach him on her own.  We don't even know if she taught him at all.  Just because her name is mentioned first proves little.  Maybe she just listened, or maybe she did in fact teach Apollos.  We don't know.  But whatever we say about this passage, it's a narrative.  Luke is telling what happened and not necessarily teaching us principles in this narrative.  All we know is that they pulled Apollos aside and taught him.  Comment is not given as to whether or not this was approved of.  First Timothy 2 is a clear teaching passage, whereas Acts 18:24-26 is a narrative.

 

Fifth, some will argue that the cross levels the playing field.  Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  This passage clearly teaches that God's grace is given without distinction to male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and freeman.  A person's sex or ethnicity or social statues doesn't determine whether or not he or she can be saved.  But that's about all we can say regarding Galatians 3:28 as it relates to our discussion.  Paul was not trying to diminish the distinctions between men and women anymore than he was trying to erase the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 4:4, 22-23, 31 and 5:2).  He was just saying that neither of these factors make one a better recipient for salvation. 

 

Several observations and summary remarks

There are a few reasons why I can't accept modern attempts to re-interpret

1 Timothy 2:

 

  1. Paul couldn't have made his point more clearly than he did.  He plainly said, "Women should not teach men." Debate on this passage comes mainly out of the whirlwind of feminism and not because Scripture leads us to think otherwise.  Serious debate about this passage has arisen basically in correlation with the feminist movement.  I find it hard to believe that for 1900 years we had no scholars capable enough of discovering what Paul really meant.
  2. Those who say Paul's words are not pertinent today, because what he said was specifically to the church at Ephesus or else culturally conditioned to that era, have to spend all of their time explaining why the clear teaching of the text doesn't really mean what it seems to say.
  3. Those who use the "culturally conditioned" argument must then say that what Paul said about elders in chapter 3 was also culturally conditioned and therefore not relevant today.  Paul's instruction to give attention to the reading and teaching of Scripture (4:13) must also be irrelevant today. 
  4. All who say that Paul's words were limited to his culture, fail to understand what Paul goes on to say in 1 Timothy 3:15: "I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth."  This verse comes after a section on elders and deacons, but it's hard to see how this verse can be disconnected from 2:11-12.  It sounds like Paul is saying, "These are not merely cultural issues."
  5. All who take the culturally conditioned line of reasoning have to do so with total disregard for the anchor that Paul gives this passage, in verses 13-14, when he connects it with the creation and sin order in Genesis 1-3.  What Paul says here is based on the way God created humans to function.
  6. We cannot demand that God obey our desires.  Fulfilling a teaching role, or functioning as elder, like any other gift or role, can't be demanded.  Some people think that because certain women have the gift of teaching that such gifting equals the "right" to teach Scripture in any setting.  God has gifted many intelligent women to teach and shepherd, but that doesn't mean they should shepherd or teach men.  There are many other things women can do in the church besides this.

 

Conclusion

First Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 clearly restrict women from teaching men the Scriptures.  But I don't think these verses necessarily restrict women from ever saying anything in church when men are present.  I take from 1 Corinthians 11 that they can share words of encouragement, testimonies and so forth, as long as they aren't stepping into the role of teacher.  Exactly where that line is drawn between sharing a testimony of what God has done and teaching the Scriptures is not always clear.  But there are situations that definitely cross over the line, like a woman giving a sermon where men are present.  Such should not happen, according to Scripture.

 

No one doubts the vital role that women have held in the church from its inception.  I myself can tell of dozens of godly women who have helped me mature in Christ.  Their role must not be minimized.  They are vital members to the body of Christ, not second-class Christians.  They have the same worth as men, but have different functions physically, domestically, and ecclesiastically. 

 

Since this is God's plan, we need not be ashamed to declare it as such.  The feminist movement has made many men scared to preach these things.  But it's God's word, and we must preach and practice it.  It's his idea and not ours.  And since it's his plan, it must be the best plan.  We can embrace it because it is His plan and not ours. 

 

Still some will say Paul's comment "receive instruction with entire submissiveness" feels like a put down.  And with kindness we say to them what we would say to anyone whose feelings were leading them to be angry with God. 

 

What would we say to a father who was bitter at God for a house fire that killed his family?  Lovingly, and at the appropriate time, we might need to tell him that his feelings need to be submitted to Christ.  We wouldn't deny his feelings, but we would tell him that his feelings are misleading him about God.  And if anyone feels angry at the system God has set up in the church, then we say the same thing—submit these feelings to Christ.

 

The cross sheds light upon this controversial topic.  If we can believe the foolishness of the cross, that the God-man Christ died to save sinners, and that all who reject him will suffer in an eternal hell, then surely we believe that Christ can order the church to function anyway he sees fit. 

 

The real issue regarding women in the church comes down to whether or not we will obey the voice of our culture or whether we will submit to Scripture, even when it may cost us dearly.

 

See other articles on www.neednotfret.com pertaining to women and their roles.

 
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