The following passage of Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:11- 15 is often interpreted as a strict prohibition of women teaching men and is used to establish a doctrine of hierarchical superiority of men over women.
A woman must 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 deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
At first glance, this passage seems to make some fairly strong statements limiting the function of women within the church. Paul seems to be making a statement that women are to be subject to men because Adam was created before Eve and because the woman was deceived, not Adam. Certain segments of the church will not allow women to instruct males over the age of twelve based on their interpretation of these verses. Some see a biblical justification for a male-dominant leadership where women are never allowed to exercise authority over a man. Others use this passage to foster the belief that women are more easily deceived than men and that a woman’s place is in the home. A closer look at Paul’s words and the context of 1 Timothy is needed.
To be understood correctly, this passage must be viewed in the light of the Greco-Roman culture to which it was addressed. Interpretations of this passage should also take into consideration the broader context of Scripture, particularly Paul’s writings.
The Context of 1 Timothy
In writing this letter, Paul departed from his general practice of addressing letters to churches. He could have addressed this letter to the church in a specific area as he did in his letter to the Corinthians or even in the letter to the Ephesians. But, he did not. A known fact is that teachers were spreading errant doctrine in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 1:3-7). It is quite possible that he addressed the letter to Timothy, not only to encourage Timothy, but also to keep the letter from falling into the hands of these false teachers.
So, was Paul’s instruction for women to be silent, submissive, and not to teach or exercise authority over a man, an instruction intended for all women in all churches? Or, was the instruction intended for some local women in Ephesus?
A clue can be found in the verses preceding 1 Timothy 2:11-15. In verse 2:9, Paul tells Timothy that women are not to braid their hair, wear pearls, gold, or costly clothes. In our modern culture, women can braid their hair, wear pearls and gold without being offensive. To us, it is obvious that those verses are written to a specific culture and situation and thus are not something that Paul intended for all women in all times or in all circumstances.
So, we can also view Paul comments in verses 2:11-15 in the same way. The context suggests that Paul was addressing a specific situation within the Ephesian church.
Furthermore, these verses cannot be a universal prohibition of women teaching men because evidence shows that Paul allowed women to teach and minister to men elsewhere in Scripture. Priscilla (along with her husband) taught Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 28:26). Although Priscilla’s teaching may not have been public, it was authoritative. She helped bring correction to a man who functioned at a high level of leadership in Corinthian and Ephesian churches (1 Cor. 3:6).
In 1 Corinthians, Paul encouraged women as well as men to function publicly in the operation of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:5, 26ff). Teaching and prophecy are mentioned among those gifts. Since Paul was addressing the use of spiritual gifts in a public setting, both men and women were present. Women would have been vocal while functioning in those gifts. Additionally, Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).
As previously discussed, Junia functioned as an apostle. Deborah was a prophetess and judge. Huldah and Anna functioned as prophetesses. Women in these ministries would have had to engage in some form of teaching to fulfill the duties of those ministries and would have exercised some level of authority over men. When Anna gave her prophetic word concerning Jesus, she also taught others about him, including men. Luke said that, in the temple, she continued to speak about Jesus to “all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Deborah (prophetess and judge) exercised authority over men since Moses wrote that the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment (Judg. 4:5). If in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Paul were permanently silencing all women, he would be contradicting his precedence of women being free to participate orally in meetings.
Additionally, Paul would not need to instruct Timothy to bar women from teaching if it was an established practice in all the Pauline churches. Timothy was an accomplished leader and longtime traveling companion of Paul. Timothy had helped Paul plant and establish a number of churches throughout Asia and Galatia and would have been very familiar with Paul’s practices concerning women and teaching. Therefore, Paul would not have needed to instruct Timothy to, “not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,” if it were universally practiced. Rather it makes more sense that Paul’s advice to Timothy was intended for a specific group of women involving a specific situation in the Ephesian church.
Authoritative vs. Non-authoritative Teaching?
Some try to downplay instances of women teaching recorded in Scripture by making a distinction between authoritative teaching (teaching that is up front from the pulpit) and non-authoritative teaching (teaching that happens in a non-official capacity). The problem with this is that Scripture makes no such distinction. Teaching is teaching. Teaching that happens one-on-one or in small groups can be just as authoritative as teaching that takes place from the front of the church.
Furthermore, most who are against women teaching men in the church do not have any issue with women writing books. But is not the writing of books teaching? Elizabeth Elliot, Hanna Whitehall Smith. Joyce Meyer, Rosalind Rinker, and Anne Graham Lotz have all written books that have impacted the body of Christ in positive ways. If those who do not believe women should teach men are to be consistent, they should bar all men from reading books written by women.
-An excerpt from chapter 7 of the book UnSilenced.
© 2016 Alan Garrett, alsgarrett.net