The wisdom of Solomon is literally proverbial. When writing advice to his son, Solomon figuratively pictured wisdom as a woman, calling young men to turn aside and learn from her (Pr 1-9). Solomon knew that young men are quite captivated by women, even as ancient mythology told of mariners who were irresistibly lured by the Sirens. Accordingly, Solomon presented God’s ways in appealing packaging! Solomon’s lady Wisdom stood in stark contrast to immoral woman Folly, who enticed young men to sin. Thus we see that women can be great influences on men for either good or evil.
Tragically, Solomon’s wisdom failed him when he decided to take on foreign wives who worshipped false gods. The result was that his wives “turned his heart after other gods” (1Ki 11:4), despite the fact that the LORD had actually appeared to Solomon twice (1Ki 11:9). Solomon’s situation well illustrates the truth of the old marital counselor who said that while the husband may be the head of the woman, the wife is like the neck, turning the head whichever direction she pleases!
Considering the great influence the fairer sex has on men, what role should women play in the formal teaching process? Like Solomon’s Lady Wisdom, is it appropriate (indeed, desirable) that they teach men? Should they teach other women? May they instruct their own children? In our day of political correctness, equal rights, women’s liberation and feminism, one might marvel that such questions even be considered. However, considered they must be because that which matters is what our Lord desires, not what the church has historically held nor what contemporary society demands.
Women As Teachers of Their Own Children
Solomon counseled, “do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” How much about life did you learn from your mother? Arguably, some of the greatest lessons of life were taught us at a tender young age by our moms. This is right. It makes sense. It is obvious. This is as things ought to be. And now, in more recent times, great numbers of believers even home school their children. Reading, writing, and arithmetic is all being taught at home, and usually by the children’s mother while dad is off at work.
A woman’s influence on her children is profound. Writing to fellow apostolic worker Timothy, Paul thought of Timothy’s faith “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice” (2Ti 1:5). Doubtless these women played no small role in bringing Timothy to Jesus. In 2Ti 3:15, Paul noted “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures”. The Bible does not explicitly answer this question, but who taught Timothy the Scriptures if not his mother and grandmother (especially since dad seems not to have been a believer)?
Who can place a value on women as teachers and trainers of their own children? Their ministry to their families is priceless. Society cannot pay hired workers to do for money what only a mother will do for love. Yes, women are clearly qualified to teach their own children (De 4:9-10, 6:4-9, 11:18-19). This being said, it must be noted that the NT does place the primary responsibility for the spiritual training of children directly on fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ep 6:4).
To the fathers reading this I must ask: Are you personally training your children in the things of the Lord? Do you teach your children the Bible? Which is more important to you: watching the television or instructing those precious lives God has entrusted to your care? It is to Eunice’s credit that her son Timothy grew up to become an apostolic worker. But where was her husband? Perhaps he died early, or was a pagan disinterested in the things of the Lord. Dad, what is your excuse? Did you die early to your duty as father? Are your spiritually A.W.O.L.? Purpose by God’s grace to be the father to your children that Timothy evidently never had. Do not delegate this responsibility to your wife! It is not her job.
Women As Trainers of Other Women
Once a woman has reared her children, her time is freed up to focus more on other pursuits. Such a woman is a vast resource of experience, knowledge and wisdom. One God-given ministry option for these mature women is working with younger women. They are to “teach what is good”, training the younger women to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (Tit 2:4).
The Greek behind “train” (2:4) is sophronizo (#4994) and means “to recall one to his senses, to admonish.” Sozo means “safe, well, preserved, restored” and phren means “thinking, mind”; thus, “to restore a person to his senses, to control, to discipline”. One might say that the older women are to assist the younger women to have “saved thinking”! The glitter of working outside the home has lured many a woman into the market place, forcing children into day-care. In contrast, Paul counseled younger widows “to marry, to have children, to manage their homes . . . “ (1Ti 5:14). Part of having “saved thinking” is a correct understanding of the importance of homemaking and child-rearing. (On the other side of this equation, it must be noted that there are, in the NT, businesswomen like Lydia).
Thus, mature Christian women are to be encouraged to teach and train younger Christian women. The curriculum described could be categorized as motherhood, home making, home economics or domestic engineering. The result of this training will be a future harvest of women who embody the qualifications for approved widows: “the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works, having raised children, having shown hospitality, having assisted those in distress, being devoted to good works” (1Ti 5:9-10).
Interestingly, nothing is stated in Tit 2 about the older women teaching as their curriculum either theology proper nor Scripture. Certainly the Scriptures will be referred to, quoted, and cited as the basis for the specifics of the training. However, this use of the Bible is not the same as actually teaching though an epistle, or holding a lecture on systematic theology, or leading a Bible study. The difference is intent. Is the older woman’s goal to teach the Bible, or to train and coach in the “how-to”s of being godly wives and mothers, using the Bible as a springboard?
The names of several people recognized as teachers in the early church are recorded: Apollos, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Paul, etc. Interestingly, there is not found in the NT a single example of a godly woman who was clearly recognized as a “teacher” of Scripture (in the more formal sense of the word). This argument from silence is not, in and of itself, justification for barring women from such a ministry. However, it does make one wonder why no women are ever mentioned in such a teaching role.
Women As Church Teachers
Why is it then that there are no clear examples of women Bible teachers in the NT? To begin with, it must be noted that not many “brothers” should presume to be teachers either (Jam 3:1). Concerning women in particular, such a ministry seems specifically denied to them in 1Ti 2:11-15 (cited below):
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
What did Paul the apostle mean? That women ought not teach men the Bible? That women are not to teach the Bible at all? How does “authority” factor into the equation?
1. Women should “learn in quietness” (2:11a). This requirement that a woman should “learn in quietness” (2:11) is buttressed in 2:12b with, “she must be silent.” The same Greek word ( hesuchia, #2271) lies behind both “quietness” (2:11) and “silence” (2:12). Fundamentally,hesuchia means “stillness” (the root means “tranquil”); it does not necessarily mean “mute.” For instance, hesuchia is used in 1Ti 2:2 (“quiet lives”) to refer to freedom from persecution and war. It is used in 2Th 3:12 (“settle down”) to describe the opposite of being a busy body. Thus, it would seem that Christian ladies are to be quiet, settled down, still, and uncontentious in the context of learning (being taught). To oppose or refute a teacher is not a ministry to which women are called.
2. Women should learn in “full submission” (2:11b). What is the difference between submission and “full” submission? The word “full” helps emphasize the degree of compliance. The actual Greek is pas(#3956), “all”. In the context of learning, women are to be in “full” submission. The word “submission” here is from hupotage (#5292); other places it is translated “obedience” (2Co 9:13). It is also used of children being obedient to their father (1Ti 3:4). Within God’s family, women are to be known for their quiet, gentle, submissive demeanor when learning Scripture.
3. “I do not permit” (2:12a). “Permit” is the same Greek word used in 1Co 14:34, wherein it is stated that women are not “allowed” to speak in church meetings ( epitrepo , #2010). When Paul wrote, “I do not permit” (1Ti 2:12a), he used the present tense, which, in this case, carries the weight of a “gnomic” present, that is, a customary action or general truth, hence: “I never permit” (Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament , Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1980, p. 621). That this is so is obvious from 1Ti 2:13-14, where Paul appealed to the Ge 1 order of creation (“Adam was created first, then Eve”), as well as to the particulars of the Fall (“Adam was not deceived, but Eve was”) to support the prohibition. Using the creation order and the Fall as a basis for the injunction indicates that it is a timeless truth that cuts across all time and every culture (more on this below).
4. Women are not “to teach” (2:12a). The Greek behind “teach” is the normal verb used for the act of instructing ( didasko , #1321). It was so used of Jesus teaching in the synagogues and temple courts (Mt 4:23, 26:55), in the command given by Jesus to teach all nations (Mt 28:20), of the apostles in teaching after Pentecost (Ac 4:2), of Paul and Barnabas in teaching at Antioch (Ac 11:26), and of the teaching of one supernaturally gifted to be a teacher (Ro 12:7). For further examples, see Paul R. McReynolds, Word Study Greek-English New Testament , Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1998, p. 1133. The noun form ( didaskalos , #1320) is used of someone recognized as a “teacher” (such as Jesus, Mt 8:19). It is this particular ministry that seems to be denied to women.
The Greek tense behind “to teach” is a present infinitive. As such, it carries the idea of actually being a “teacher.” Wuest quoted the following from Dana and Mantey’s Greek grammar (p. 199): “The aorist infinitive denotes that which is eventual or particular, while the present infinitive indicates a condition or process. Thus pisteusai (aorist) is to exercise faith on a given occasion, while pisteuein (present) is to be a believer;douleusia (aorist) is to render a service, while douleuein (present) is to be a slave; hamartein (aorist) is to commit a sin, while hamartanein(present) is to be a sinner”. Thus, since “to teach” is a present infinitive, it means “to be a teacher” (Kenneth Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958, p. 48). That which is prohibited here in 1Ti 2:12 is a woman assuming the role of a teacher in and to the church.
Notice also the parallel between 2:11a and 2:12a. That a woman is to “learn in quietness” (2:11a) corresponds with the fact that she is not permitted to “teach” (2:12a). Thus, instead of teaching, women are to be learning. The two activities are opposite in nature. It would seem that a woman who teaches the Bible is violating the very Scriptures that she is seeking to teach.
The above should not be taken to imply that men have nothing to learn from women. That a woman can speak a word of prophesy to men, or that a Priscilla can explain things to an Apollos, or that men can learn from the words of a song sung by a woman, vividly illustrates this. The issue here is a woman taking on the ministry of doctrinal instructor, or Bible teacher, in the sense found in Mt 28:19-20, Ac 2:42 or Ro 12:7. It is important to note that Paul does not have here in view here ordinary, secular, school room teaching, wherein a learned woman may teach a whole classroom full of men. Rather, what is prohibited is a woman being a teacher of divine truth to the church.
5. Women are not to have “authority over a man” (2:12b). Observe that the requirement for a woman to be in “full submission” (2:11b) corresponds exactly with the fact that she is not “to have authority over a man” (2:12b). Instead of exercising authority over men, the sisters are to be in a settled down state of tranquil submission.
Some have tried to redefine the word “authority” by reaching far back in time to a usage that occurred centuries before the NT was written. This is a logical fallacy, a word study error. Words change meaning over time, and the only information that is truly relevant is a word’s usage at the time of the writing of the NT. Paul probably had no idea how a particular word was used by Homer or Socrates hundreds of years before Paul was even born!
“Authority” is both a translation of and a transliteration of authenteo(831), a word found in this form only here in the NT. Originally, (long before NT times) it referred to “one who with his own hand kills either others or himself.” Later, it evolved to mean “one who does a thing himself, the author” (our English word “author” comes from this Greek word) and also “one who acts on his own authority, autocratic.” Then finally, and this is how it was used in NT times, it came to mean “to govern, to exercise authority ” (Thayer). The lexicon of BAGD thus defines the first century meaning of authenteo as, “have authority.” Thus, to “have authority” over a man would mean to have the right to dominate or govern that man. Factoring in Dana and Mantey’s insights (already stated above) about the grammatical significance of the present infinitive, “to have authority” (present infinitive) would carry the idea that a woman is not “to be an authority” over a man.
What is the relationship in 1Ti 2:12 between “teach” and “authority’? There are at least two ways to view this:
- Authoritative Teaching. The ability to teach effectively was recognized in the early church as a divinely imparted spiritual gift (Ro 12:7, 1Co 12:27-31). Certain people were recognized by the church specifically as teachers (Ep 4:11). To presume to lecture the church is to presume to have the authority (or right) to do so, and is exercising a type of authority over those present. To be sure, all teachings and prophecies are to be judged by the church corporately, but nevertheless the very right to bring a teaching in the first place is a form of authority. This parallels exactly 1Co 14:34, where silence (i.e., not speaking) is said to be a form of submission: “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission”.
- Neither Teaching Nor Authority. An examination of the actual Greek wording in 1Ti 2:12 yields some interesting observations. It reads, “But to be teaching, a woman, I am not permitting, neither to be having authority of a man, but to be in quietness.” Notice how the verbs “teaching” and “authority” are on opposite sides of “I am not permitting.” It could be that there are two distinct and separate things a woman is not permitted to do. First, she cannot teach. Second, she cannot be an authority over a man. It may be a neither/nor situation. The Greek word for “or” is odia (#3761), which actually means “neither.”
Regardless of which scenario is correct, the phrase, “over a man” (2:12, NIV), also warrants further explanation. Since no man in the church has hierarchical authority over any other man (see Lk 22:24-27 & NTRF article, Elders As Children And Slaves ), what could Paul have meant here regarding authority? First, the simple fact is that any teaching is an authoritative act “over” the other people present. Second, note that there is no Greek preposition for “over” in the original text; it is supplied by the translators based on the Greek ending of the word “man” ( andros ). Though “over” is a perfectly legitimate grammatical option, so is the supply of a different preposition: the word “of.” Considering what the Bible has to say elsewhere about church leaders not having worldly authority “over” other men (Lk 22:24-27), it may be better to translate this as, “authority of a man.” Thus, women are not to have the authority “of a man”.
The English dictionary states that “authority” is “the right or power to decide and command”. What authority do men have that women do not? In this context, it is clear that men have the authority to be teachers in the body of Christ. Men also have the authority to wrestle with the other men as they together seek to achieve consensus as a church ( ekklesia ). Third, they have the authority to be heads of their families. Further, men have authority to be elders in the church (if they meet the qualifications). Fifth, men have the authority to lead in public prayer (1Ti 2:8). Sixth, men have the authority to address the gathered church (1Co 14:34-35).
In God’s kingdom, the only man a woman has to submit to is her own husband. Women in general do not have to submit to men in general. However, women do not have the authority to take on church roles reserved for men: teacher, elder, judger of prophecy, etc.
6. A woman “must be silent” (2:12b). As has already been noted, the same Greek word ( hesuchia ) lies behind both “quietness” in 2:11 and “silence” here in 2:12. Though it can mean mute, it primarily means settled down, uncontentious, not stirring things up. Women are to remain silent with respect to teaching and having the authority of a man (such things lie in a man’s realm of duties). Women have no “authority” from God to take on responsibilities required of men, especially teaching, leadership and decision making. In these areas they are to be silent. A woman’s input, thoughts, feelings and ideas are to be expressed through her husband, not directly to the church. To bypass her husband in these matters is to shame him: “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1Co 14:35).
Husband, are you considerate of your wife? Do you seriously take her thoughts and feelings into consideration? Do you ask her opinion about church matters? Are her concerns reflected in the deliberations that you engage in with the other men of the congregation? Our brother Paul reminded us that “In the Lord, however, man is not independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1Co 11:11-12). Peter warned husbands to be considerate as they live with their wives, treating them with respect as fellow heirs of the gracious gift of life, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1Pe 3:7). Do your prayers to God seem to be bouncing back to you off the ceiling? There may be a good reason for it! Husbands are to represent their wives in church matters even as congressmen in Washington are to represent their districts back home.
Hence, though men and women are equal in Christ (Ga 3:28), they have some differing spheres of ministry. Submission absolutely does not mean inferiority. Christ himself exemplified this in his earthly existence (He submitted Himself to his earthly mother and father, Lk 2:51) and in his eternal existence (though equal to God the Father, Christ subjected himself to the Father, Php 2:5-11).
7. “Adam was formed first” (2:13). That Adam was created first indicates headship, priority, and order in the relationship between men and women. God easily could have created Adam and Eve simultaneously, but He did not. This creation order is the basis for the New Covenant’s instruction that women not have the authority of a man. God has set boundaries beyond which we dare not go. For a woman to teach or to assume the authority of a man is for her to desert her God-intended role.
8. “Adam was not the one deceived” (2:14a). It was Eve who was “deceived” about the transgression, not Adam. He sinned knowingly. The facts are simply recited here as they occurred. Woman took the leadership; man submitted; disaster resulted. God created each gender with differing spheres of ministry, and confusing the two invites trouble.
Eve’s deception (2:14) is the second reason cited as to why women are neither to teach nor to have authority of a men. Perhaps due to her mothering instinct, Eve was more trusting, more giving, less suspicious. In contrast, Adam sinned knowing full well that what he was about to do was wrong. So whereas both sinned in eating, each had a different perspective to the same temptation. Thus, men and women were created to be different not only physically but also in the roles they assume in society, family, and the church.
An alternative explanation is that Paul is here merely stating the judicial consequences placed upon womankind because of Eve’s actions. Just as men were sentenced to “toil all the days of [their] life” because of Adam’s sin (Ge 3:17), so also women, because of Eve’s deception, must refrain from teaching and in so doing take on the authority of a man.
It is popular today to dismiss 1Ti 2:11-12 (neither teaching nor authority) as something relevant only to Paul’s day (because first century women were uneducated or because pagan women were priestesses, etc), but the fact that 2:13-14 (Adam and Eve) appeals to creation order and events shows that this is a timeless truth, transcending all cultures. Whatever was applicable to the church in Ephesus because of Adam and Eve is also true universally today. As long as men and women are descended from Adam and Eve, women are to learn in quietness, not teaching and not taking on the authority of men.
9. Women will be “saved through childbearing” (2:15). Since the forgiveness of sins comes only by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus, this cannot mean that forgiveness comes by giving birth! Taken in its immediate context, it may simply refer to the sphere in which most women are to find their greatest ministry potential: the home. After all, a woman gave birth to the Messiah! But more specifically, Christian women will be “saved” (2:15) from violating God’s purposeful order in creation (2:13) by concentrating on being godly mothers (cp. Tit 2:3-5). Having stated which ministries are inappropriate for Christian women (teaching and taking on the authority of a man, 2:12), Paul ended with a focus on a ministry that is appropriate (homemaking, 2:15). Just as Paul told the Philippians to “work out” their salvation (Php 2:12), he here directs the women to that specific area in which they are to work out their salvation: the home front.
An exception of sorts to the ministry of “childbearing” lies in 1Co 7, where celibacy is exalted over marriage. The reason given is that “an unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband” (1Co 7:34). What exactly will these gifted women do in service to the Lord? Anna spent her time in worship, fasting and praying (Lk 2:36-37). Several women were free to travel along with Jesus and the apostles, helping to support them out of their own means (Lk 8:1-3). Mary and Martha were free to show hospitality to Jesus on numerous occasions. Other women joined in prayer meetings (Ac 1:14). In times of persecution, prison sentences resulted in much less anguish if there were no children to worry about (Ac 8:3, 9:2). Lydia was able to run her own business and host apostolic workers (Ac 16:14). Phoebe was available to travel and assist Paul plus many others (Ro 16:1-2). Most women, however, do not have the gift of singleness and find their primary means of serving the Lord to be in the home.
It is important to point out that the reasoning behind not permitting women to teach nor to have the authority over or of men has nothing to do with a woman’s intelligence, spirituality, or public speaking ability. The female mind is equal to the male intellect. Scripture is full of examples of wise, godly women (some of whom were married to ungodly husbands). As in Pilate’s case (Mt 27:19), many men would do well to accept the wise counsel of their wives! Both male and female are equal in Christ (Ga 3:28), but this equality does not obliterate God-created gender distinctions. Each has different assigned roles to fulfill in the family and in the church. “As the woman has her own divinely appointed sphere, into which man intrudes only when he is a fool, so man has his divinely appointed sphere, into which it is folly for a woman to intrude” (RCH Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament , Vol 9, p. 567, Augsburg Publishing House: Minneapolis, 1961).
Women Who Prophesy
From OT times right up into the NT, it pleased the Lord to use women to deliver prophecies both to other women and men. Examples of women prophets include Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Philip’s four daughters. The OT prophet Joel looked forward to NT times, when God would pour out His Spirit with the result that “your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Joe 2:28). Peter declared Joel’s prophecy to have been fulfilled at Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit descended on the gathered believers (Ac 2:14-21).
There seem, however, that there may be some differences between male and female uses of this gift. Whereas the male prophets were quite vocal and public in their ministries, the women by contrast were far more private in their deliveries (at least in the historical examples given in Scripture). For instance, Deborah went to Barak with a personal prophecy. We don’t know who else over-heard it, but the prohecy was specifically for Barak. Huldah relayed God’s message for the king from the seclusion of her own home. Anna approached the parents of Jesus amid the bustle of the temple courts and later spoke about the baby Jesus to whomever would listen. In contrast, Miriam’s prophetic song of Ex 15:20-21 was public and spectacular, but it was “all the women” that she led, not men.
Any difference in approach between male and female uses of prophecy may be due to God designed differences in appropriate ministry functions for men and women. There also seems to be differing types of prophecy:
1.) Encouragement Prophecy. In encouragement prophecy, the prophet delivers a message of encouragement. A clear example is found in Ac 15:32, where Judas and Silas, “who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers”. This category of prophecy is for “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1Co 14:3). The result is that “everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (14:32).
Is this first type of prophecy appropriate for a women prophetess to engage in? Miriam’s song of Ex 15 may be an example of a woman prophetess speaking this encouragement type of prophecy, but even so her ministry was to the other women. Perhaps is better to assume that women prophets functioned in exactly the same way that their male counterparts did. It is interesting, however, that no women prophets wrote any of the OT prophetical books. It is also of note that most of the oral prophets were male. Further, in the NT passage that seems to deal with directly with public prophecy (1Co 14:29-38), it is stated that in church meetings women are “not permitted to speak”. Could this refer to some type of limitation on women who prophesy? (See the NTRF article,On The Lord’s Command That Women Remain Silent ).
2.) Insight Prophecy. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well about her many previous husbands, she replied, “I can see that you are a prophet” (Jn 4:19). In deducing this about Jesus, she revealed a common first century understanding about the gift of prophecy: the receipt of supernatural knowledge about current events or the particulars of another person’s life. This understanding of prophecy is also evident in the question the officials asked Jesus after they bound, blindfolded and slapped Him, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” (Mt 26:68). Paul wrote of this aspect of prophecy functioning in a first century church meeting with the result that an unbeliever will have “the secrets of his heart” laid bare (1Co 14:25). An OT example is the prophet Nathan’s knowledge of King David’s secret sin with Bathsheba (2Sa 12). This second type of prophecy need not be lengthy at all in delivery.
3.) Predictive Prophecy. The most familiar form of prophecy is predictive in nature. One thinks immediately of the many OT prophets who predicted such things as Judah’s pending invasion by Babylonia, the Messiah’s birth, or the coming of the New Covenant. One NT example is Agabus’ prediction of a famine (Ac 11:28), or Jesus’ warning of the destruction of the temple that occurred 70 A.D. (Mt 24).
Are the second and third types of prophecy (insight and predictive) suitable for a woman prophetess? In as much a Deborah went to Barak with a personal prophecy about his future as military leader, and Huldah gave the King a word regarding his future as a monarch, and Anna spoke to all who would listen about Jesus (Lk 2:38), it obviously is fitting! The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost on both men and women also shows the appropriateness of women in such a ministry. In each of these instances the men who heard the prophetic word that was delivered by the prophetess obtained new information (a word from God) that they previously did not have. In this sense they learned something. Did this make the woman prophet a teacher of those men? It did not, no more than the Western Union agent who delivers a telegram is a teacher.
When NT women did prophesy, whether to men or other women, they were to do so with covered heads as a sign of their compliance with God’s intent that His creation order be maintained (1Co 11a). Paul wanted both men and women to realize that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Co 11:3). A woman was to have a sign of authority on her head because “man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1Co 11:8-10).
Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2) suggested a more wide-spread occurrence of prophecy in NT times. However, it did not authorize the wholesale disregard of appropriate ministry roles for men and women. Each gender has complimentary ministry roles to fulfill, roles set by divine design in creation (Ge 1; see also the NTRF article, Sisters In Service ). In this regard RCH Lenski quotes Loy: “It is certainly gratuitous to assume that the silence of women in the public assemblies of the church, because they must not usurp authority over men, is inconsistent with the bestowal of prophetic gifts upon them. The Lord who bestows them offers ample opportunities to use them without violating his ordinance. It is not necessary that they should appear as teachers in the public assemblies of the church; they can do their work in private, for which they are much better adapted. It is not necessary that they should immodestly present themselves in public before the gaze of men in the attempt to usurp authority over them by presuming to be their teachers when there is plenty of work to be done among their own sex and among the children. The thought that a woman is wronged when she is limited to her own sphere as woman, and when her claim to be a man and to do a man’s work in the church in not admitted, is as irrational as it is impious. There is plenty of room for the exercise of her gifts in the place which God has assigned her” (p. 571).
In 1Co 1429-33, the spirits of prophets are said to be subject to the control of prophets. A prophet who received a revelation and stood to speak it was required to stop if another revelation came to someone else. This means that in the prophetic realm, God could well give a person a revelation that was not to be spoken in that setting. The same could be true for gifted women. There may be times and ways that her gifting is not to be employed. For instance, Paul and associates stayed in Caesarea with Philip, who had four unmarried daughters who phophesied. Yet, it pleased the Lord to move Agabus to come down from Judea to Caesarea to phophesy to Paul about his coming imprisonment.
Women clearly have been gifted by God with the gift of prophecy (1Co 11a). Some women prophesied to men. Since to “learn” is one result of prophecy (1Co 14:31), how can Paul’s prohibition of women teachers be taken in such an absolute way? The actual Greek word for “learn” is manthano (#3129, also in 1Co 14:35, 1Ti 2:11), which is not quite the same as to be “instructed”. Just because prophecy results in “learning” does not make the prophet a teacher or instructor. One can similarly learn from the words of a prayer, or a song, but that does make the person praying aloud (or singing) a teacher per se. Wrongly treating teaching and prophesying as nearly synonymous gifts, some use 1Co 11 (along with Lk 2:36 and Ac 21:9) to overturn the seeming absoluteness of 1 Ti 2:12. One problem with this is that teaching and prophecy are listed in Ro 12:6-7 as two distinct, separate gifts. Thus, in 1Co 12:28-30, Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”
What is the difference between teaching and prophecy? Wayne Grudem, in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today , offers the following (pgs 135f):
- Though both are verbally expressed and result in “learning” (1Co 14), prophecy is the result of a personal (individual) revelation from the Holy Spirit, whereas teaching is based on the written Word of God.
- Whereas prophecy is spontaneous and unplanned, teachings are generally come from hours of research and study. Teaching involves intellect, training, skill, and planning. Prophecy, by contrast, is from the Spirit, not the intellect.
- Prophecy and teaching are always treated as two separate and distinct spiritual gifts in the NT.
- Teachings were not judged by a collective body of prophecies, but all prophecies were to be judged by the Scripture and the collective body of apostolic teaching. Regular teaching that is based on the written Word of God is far more authoritative than an occasional prophecy based on a personal impression that a prophet thought he got from God.
- Teaching is associated with leadership. To teach the church is to assume a form of “authority” (1Ti 2:12). One requirement for all elders is that they be “able to teach” (1Ti 3:2), not prophesy. Ep 4:11 refers to one type of ministers who serve the church as “pastor-teachers”, not “pastor-prophets”.
Inquiring Minds Want To Know…
If Paul had already banned women from teaching in all the churches, wouldn’t such a statement as 1Ti. 2:12 be superfluous to his younger assistant? The thought behind this question is that since Paul had worked with Timothy for many years, if forbidding women teachers was a regular practice, then Paul would not have needed to suddenly write it in this letter to Timothy. However, this same question could be asked of the qualifications for overseers and deacons given in 1Ti 3. Why were these requirements not given already, especially since Timothy was a church planter? Paul instructed Timothy in the basics of prayer in 1Ti 2a. Had he never gone over these things before with Timothy in all their years of association?
Certainly Timothy was keenly aware of the apostolic tradition prevalent in all the churches. But the freedom of the gospel brought up new issues. The role of women as teachers would certainly become a question. Here, Paul fortified in writing what Timothy already knew in practice. The prohibitions of 1Ti 2:12 are not far different from those of 1Co 14 where the Corinthian church was reminded that “women should remain silent in the churches” (14:34); they did not have to begin to be silence because they already were silent (“remain silent”).
What if a woman teaches men the Bible with the approval of the church elders? Certainly it is good to be in harmony with the wishes of the church’s leaders. However, the issue is not what the elders approve, but rather what God disapproves. There is no indication in the text that obtaining the elder’s approval is an acceptable reason for disobeying this Scriptural prohibition.
What if a woman teaches the Bible in a non-authoritative manner?It could be argued that in such a case the “teacher” is no teacher at all. How can one claim to be a teacher if no teaching occurs? Such a person would be more of a moderator, facilitator, emcee, or referee. Even this, however, may be inappropriate for a Christian woman. How can she moderate in the pooling of ignorance and at the same time “learn in quietness”? How can she lead and be in “full submission”? Is she really “silent” (1Ti 2:12) in such cases? On the other hand, for a woman to share a personal testimony of something God had taught her or insights she had been given into a passage of Scripture is not teaching at all, and is perfectly acceptable.
How can we tell that all this is not just cultural? Paul’s whole purpose in writing to Timothy was so that he would “know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Ti 3:15). Remember too his appeal to Creation, suggesting an appliation that cuts across all time and culture. Paul’s statement that women are not to teach or have the authority of men is, in a sense, cultural; but it is called Christian culture!
What if some local problem prompted Paul to write this prohibition, a problem that no longer exists? It may well have been written in response to some local problem that no longer exists. However, there is a bigger, universal situation that still exits: we all are descended from Adam and Eve. The context of Paul’s reasoning for prohibiting a Christian woman from either teaching or exercising the authority of a man is clearly weighted toward something intended to be applied to every church in every age. Why else would Paul mention Adam’s priority in creation (2:13)? By citing creation as the basis for the prohibitions rather than some local cultural problem, it is obvious that although a local situation may have prompted the letter, that local situation was not the ultimate basis for the injunction. These prohibitions are applicable as long as the reasoning of 2:13 (Adam and Eve) remains true.
Didn’t Christ’s death redeem us from the curse (Ge 3) and reverse its effects? Part of the curse in Ge 3 is that man would “rule” over woman. Instead of being loving, servant leaders, worldly men tend to be selfish, harsh dictators. This type of rule is a perversion of God’s original plan. However, Adam’s headship and priority in creation preceded the Fall. It is independent of the Fall. As has been pointed out, God easily could have created Adam and Eve simultaneously, but He did not. This shows that “the head of the woman is man . . . for man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1Co 11:3-9). This inherent position of submission, according to 1Ti 2:11-15, is violated when a woman teaches Scripture or exercises the authority of a man.
A reversal of the effects of the Fall will result in Christian men loving their wives as Christ loves the church and becoming servant-leaders (Ep 5). The “mutual consent” aspect of marriage, described in 1Co 7:5, flags the tender, considerate leadership men are to exhibit. This reversal will also result in believing wives being content in their submission, not desiring to rule over their husbands (Ge 3:16, 4:7).
How can 1Ti 2:11-12 be a universal truth in light of the cultural nature of the preceding paragraph (1Ti 2:9-10) wherein women are instructed “to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God”?Every NT epistle is an “occasional” document, written in response to some specific first century occasion (usually a problem situation). Only the context surrounding various instructions can tell us whether they were intended to be temporary and limited (as with 2Ti 4:13, “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus”), or applied to all churches in every age. Evidently, one way that worldly Roman women expressed wealth and made fashion statements was with elaborately braided hair (intertwined with gold and costly jewels) and ostentatious clothing. In contrast, Paul directed Christian women to concentrate on that which is true adornment – good deeds appropriate for women who profess to worship God. Thus, even if the particulars were in a sense “cultural,” the principle behind it obviously still holds true. Believing women are still to concentrate on modest dress and emphasize inner beauty over external adornment. There is no conflict here!
Didn’t Priscilla teach the Bible to Apollos (Ac 18:24-26)?Undoubtedly, Apollos learned from Priscilla. Luke informs us that Apollos was already “mighty in the Scriptures” (18:24), “instructed in the way of the Lord” (19:25), and “teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (18:25). Apollos did, however, have a gap in his knowledge of baptism. Accordingly, both Aquila and his wife Priscilla (not just Priscilla) took him “aside” and “explained” to him the way of God “more adequately” (18:26). It was a private discussion (“aside”) and nowhere does Luke state that Priscilla did most of the explaining.
Some feel that since Priscilla’s name is listed before Aquila’s name, she must have been the more talkative. However, an equally valid reason for this name order is presented by Wayne Meeks in The First Urban Christians. Meeks explains on p 21 that it was common for a woman’s name to come first if she were from a higher social level than her husband prior to their marriage. An example would be if a freeborn woman married a freedman (once a slave but now free). It may also mean absolutely nothing. In my own church, I randomly but consistently may refer to one couple as “Keith and Mary” and another as “Sue and Bob” with no reference at all to the most outgoing of the pair.
Regardless of who did most of it, “explained” (Ac 18:26) is from ektithemi(#1620), which is different from “teaching” (Ac 18:25, didasko ). Notice how ektithemi is used in Ac 11:4 (Peter explaining to his critics about Cornelius’ baptism). For instance, do you teach your boss why you were late for work, or do you explain it to him? While this does serve to illustrate that there is nothing wrong with men learning from women, it is not an example of a woman who has been recognized by the church as a teacher of the church.
In Re 2:20-25, the self-proclaimed “prophetess” Jezebel is said to have misled many by her “teaching.” Does this not show that the early church allowed women teachers? First, that a person was a prophet did not mean ispo facto that such a person was also a teacher. Jezebel was a prophetess, not a teacher. Second, a church that would tolerate anyone, man or woman, who advocated sexual immorality (as Jezebel did) would probably have few qualms about violating God’s order concerning appropriate ministry avenues for men and women (such as women not serving as teachers).
In reports about Chinese Christians, it seems that if it weren’t for women in teaching and leadership roles, the church in China would be in serious trouble. How can the ministry of these women be wrong? We are to judge our experience by Scripture, not Scripture by our experience. Martin Luther said that if the Bible declared that eating dung was good for him, he’d eat dung, fully assured that it was good for him! Conversely, if the Bible declares that a certain activity is out of order, or against God’s will, then regardless of the circumstances, it is still not God’s best. Along with the good they are also doing damage. A car with its front end out of alignment will still transport its occupants, but at the cost of ruined tires.
How is all of this to be applied in the biblical house church setting?Obviously, women should not take on the role of authoritative instructors of doctrine, nor should they take on roles that would put them in positions of authority reserved for men in the church (e.g., the position of elder, judging prophecy, disputing with a teacher, making decisions by consensus). On the other hand, that a woman is not to teach does not mean that men have nothing to learn from women. The many prophecies given by God to women illustrate this (Ac 2:17; 1Co 11:3-16). Often my wife has shared with me her insights into Scripture – insights I had never before seen and which helped me in my understanding of a text. Although people do “learn” from prophecy (1Co 14:31), “prophets” are not fundamentally “teachers” (1Co 12:28-29). Even singing can be a form of teaching (Col 3:16) if we learn from the lyrics, but a singer is not really a teacher. An informal sharing of insights and thoughts does not place either person in the official role of “teacher.” While not permitting women to teach or the have authority of a man, we must be careful not to limit other ministries that are completely open to women. The church would be severely crippled without their input!
I hope this will be taken as truth written in love. While I value our brothers and sisters in Christ who hold differing views from those presented here, it is disturbing to see Scripture so quickly dismissed as irrelevant for today. In our zeal to jettison the harmful traditions of men that have evolved over the millennia, we must be cautious to not also toss out teachings and practices that are firmly rooted in God’s Word.
Want help teaching this topic? To aid you in leading others to the truths of New Testament church life, teaching notes have been prepared for this subject. They will give you ideas on how to lead an interactive (Socratic) group discussion. The idea is to guide people to discover for themselves what the New Testament says about this topic. At the end of the guide there are study questions to pass (or e-mail) out in advance.
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