1Timothy 2:11-12: Women Teaching & Leading in the Church

Lately, I have been in several conversations regarding women not being able to teach or lead men/mixed groups within the church. This is controversial, so I've responded as balanced and objective as I could. Yet, these conversations have made me want to revisit this topic scripturally again. I know my position, but then it's always good to know why you hold to that particular position. I remember me writing about this topic before in my systematic theology class. However, when I went and read over that paper I realized I only skimmed this passage, and not from this angle. This blog is me exploring this topic and passage concisely and objectively to see what Paul's intent was and was not.

Please allow me to share this disclaimer, THIS IS NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE writing. I will not answer every question regarding this topic. I will not answer every objection regarding this topic. I will not be attacking any one side or the other. I am simply exploring this passage in a concise, objective approach; following the evidence like the First 48 TV show. (I would have said forensic investigators, but that would equal me going exhaustive).

Let's begin shall we.

Context, Context, Context

A key rule in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) is "context determines meaning". It goes from immediate context, to surrounding context, to context of the whole scope of Scripture. While the passage of focus is 1Timothy 2:11-12, for context we'll start at verse 9 and go to verse 15, and then broaden out to the whole letter itself, and then to the New Testament.

In short, this passage (vv. 9-15) is mainly addressing women's internal and external godliness expressed in the local church. For it starts with outward modesty (v. 9) from inward godliness (v. 10), to godly submission unto God's headship structure (vv. 11-15). The questions that follow are: What made Paul write this? Were there any issues in the church Timothy was pastoring? Is Paul addressing women teaching and leading in all areas in the church? Does that mean a woman can't teach any man in anything in regards to the local church, or be in any authority over any man in regards to the local church? Is this "teach" speaking of teaching in general or teaching doctrine or a different specificity of teaching? Was this meant to be a timeless theological principle or an instruction for the church culture of that time? And trust me more questions could be presented.

Some Historical Context

Some of the things the church in Ephesus were battling, in regards to women, was fertility cults, idol worship of the goddess Diana (Artemis) (Acts 19:24-41), promiscuity, attention-seeking, women possibly exploiting their new liberties in Christ, among other things. This helps bring into light the reason for the call to outward modesty from inward godliness (vv. 9-10). Paul is challenging the women not to dress nor act like the unsaved women of Ephesus. It further helps by providing some backdrop for why Paul is telling them to learn in a non-disruptive manner and why they are not to teach or have authority (vv. 11-12). In other words, don't take your freedom to learn and speak too far. Scholars say this instruction to learn was a big deal then, because women up until that time were not allowed to even learn from a man (rabbi/teacher) except for their husband. Jesus broke that mold, and Paul is following suit. But some of the women were probably taking it too far.

Exploring the Text...Contextually

In verse 11, "learn in silence" does not mean in context "learn but never speak", but rather it means "learn in a quiet, non-disruptive manner" (cf. same Greek word for "silence" with 2Thess. 3:11-12, but different from the "silent" in 1Cor. 14:34). Here Paul is saying a woman learning is okay to do, just learn in a non-disruptive manner under the leadership of the church (i.e. "with all submission"). Verse 12 is saying, in context with the surrounding texts in this letter (vv. 8, 13-14; 1:3-7, 18-20; 3:1-7; 5:17), that a woman is not to teach from the place of elder/pastor nor to try to usurp the eldership/overseer/pastorate authority given to the man (or usurp even the headship authority given to the husband, vv. 13-15 cf. 1Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:23), but rather be non-disruptive (i.e. "but be in silence").

Exploring the NT...Contextually

So how do we know Paul (or shall we say the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul) is not saying or implying that women cannot teach "a man" or be in leadership over "a man"? Here's how:

  • We see in Acts 18:24-26 that Priscilla and Aquila both taught (Gr., expositorally) Apollos "the way of God more accurately". Priscilla was a leader alongside her husband in their house church (Rom. 16:3). Thus, there was teaching and leading by a woman, and not only over other women or simply kids, and under the headship authority of her husband and leadership authority of Apostle Paul.
  • Phoebe was a deaconess ("servant of the church" implies a position, compared to a servant in the church which implies just someone helping out) (Rom. 16:1). What's more, Paul even instructed others believers (with no distinction between men or women) to receive her and to "help her in whatever manner she may have need of you" (Rom. 16:2). This implies some authority (probably temporarily and only on occasions, but nonetheless it's still authority) over those who are to assist her as "she may have need".
  • Who knows if some of the other sisters Paul mentions in Romans 16 were leaders as well. Paul speaks of these women using the same terms as his male leader counterparts. "The verb "worked very hard" (16:6, 12) is used of ministerial service" (*3, p. 1283).
  • Timothy's mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures (2Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).
  • Apostle John writes a letter to a fellow sister who is leading and teaching both male and female believers in her home (2John). In the Greek the term children used in 2John is gender neutral and the Greek term is unclear if it means her literal children (whether grown or young is unconfirmed too) or children in the faith. John goes as far as instructing this sister to watch themselves from falsehood (2Jn. 8-9), and what to do when traveling false teachers come to her house (2Jn. 10-11). That would be her exercising leadership in discerning falsehood, and exercising authority over a man by restricting him entrance to teach if she discerned he was a false teacher. All the while she's under the authority of the Apostle and Elder John.
  • We know women are disciples and called to make more disciples, with no distinction between discipling men or women nor any distinction with it being during a worship service or not (Matt. 28:18-20).
  • Every believer is a priest (1Pet. 2:4-10).
  • Scripture does not indicate that the Holy Spirit is limited to only giving men the spiritual gift of teaching or leadership, nor does Scripture indicate that these gifts are gender specific while they're being administered (1Cor. 12:4-7, 11, 27-28).

Thus, Paul would not be saying or implying something contrary to women teaching and leading in these modes. Paul is instructing Timothy that women are not to teach or have authority from the office of elder/pastor, not restricting them from teaching or leading mixed groups of men and women in the church in general or even during worship services (for there are no Scriptures that definitively state elders/pastors are the only ones who must teach during worship services).

But what about Paul's admonishment in 1Cor. 14:34-35? How does that fit into the not teaching or no authority over a man? In context, Paul was addressing disruptive and unruly married women who were using their gifts in a disorderly manner (1Cor. 14:26-33, 40). Therefore, Paul's admonishment was for order among some disorderly married women (v. 35), not a mandate for all women to not speak. Disorderly women are to stay silent (Gr., hold their peace/tongue). Disorderly women are not permitted to speak (Gr., be talkative, babbling) in the assembly but to submit to leadership, and if they want to speak they are to ask their own husbands at home. Why? Because it is a disgrace to them to be disruptively talkative in the church (i.e. during the service); it's shameful for them to be seen as disruptive and disorderly. Paul's admonishment here comes with concern for them as well as the church. This passage, in context, can fit into the overall point in 1Timothy 2:9-15, that is, the internal and external godliness expressed in the local church; however, it does not fit into the underlying point of teaching and leading in 1Tim. 2:11-12.

Conclusion

To quote The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,

“Many complementarians continue to disagree concerning the extent of the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12. While there is agreement that pastors/elders should be qualified males, there is disagreement concerning what the Bible says about women teaching mixed adult audiences. Some complementarian churches do not allow women to teach mixed adult audiences, while other complementari­an churches do allow it. On this particu­lar point, there is agreement in principle (observing headship), but disagreement in practice (teaching mixed audiences).” (http://bit.ly/HZBt9b) (emphasis added)

I believe that's where this concern and difference boils down to. We agree in principle (observing headship) but disagree on what it looks like in practice (teaching mixed audiences), and this is not worth the time spent arguing or dividing over. No one's salvation or discipleship is at stake over this.

What about churches/denominations who use these verses to not allow women to teach from the pulpit or to not teach mixed groups of men and women in the church or to not be in leadership over mixed groups of men and women?

That is that church's preference/philosophy. There are no scriptures that clearly state or instruct women to teach men/mixed groups or lead over men/mixed groups. Thus, it's not a matter of Scripture, but a matter of philosophy. Those who use these passages for this reason don't need to. Each church has its own right to implement their own governing principles and rules. And as a member of that church you should be sure to know what your church's governing principles, rules, and beliefs are, and if you agree then uphold them, so long as they aren't contrary to Scripture or treating them as a component of your salvation. If you do not agree, but you have no desire to depart for that reason, then respectfully uphold the governing principles, rules, and beliefs—so long as they aren't contrary to Scripture or treating them as a component of your salvation. If you have questions, pray and ask, and then research their answers. If you have concerns, pray and ask, and then research their answers. Repeat this process as much as needed. But this issue is not worth being divided over or causing an uproar in the Church. Again, it's not a matter of Scripture, but a matter of philosophy.

What about the churches/denominations who have women as pastors/elders?

This is different than the above question. This is not a matter of preference/philosophy, but a matter of interpretation. Some argue that the passages in 1Timothy 3 & 5 and Titus 1 are overruled by Galatians 3:28 and similar verses. Others may use different verses to minimize or eradicate the male headship authority in the church (and maybe even in the home). While others say Paul's use of masculine nouns when describing elders/pastors/overseers was more cultural than theological. Personally, for me, this is a harder thing to overlook than those who prefer to not allow women to teach or lead as stated in the first question. Those who hold to the view of women as pastors/elders open up the whole counsel of God to be interpreted and modified to fit one's personal view and not the author's original intent. However, like I said above, each church has its own right to implement their own governing principles, rules, and beliefs. As a member of that church you should be sure to know what your church's governing principles, rules, and beliefs are, and if you agree then uphold them, so long as they aren't contrary to Scripture or treating them as a component of your salvation. If you do not agree, but you have no desire to depart for that reason, then respectfully uphold the governing principles, rules, and beliefs—so long as they aren't contrary to Scripture or treating them as a component of your salvation. If you have questions, pray and ask, and then research their answers. If you have concerns, pray and ask, and then research their answers. Repeat this process as much as needed. This issue is not an essential of salvation. Yet for some it is a non-negotiable. Thus, you have to decide what this issue is worth to you and means for you. Personally, I choose to uphold the Scripture as it states in it's original intent and context in this area.

Last Words

I hope this blog has helped you the reader in someway. If not, then forgive me for wasting your time. It started out as a simple refresher and turned into this. I told my wife I wasn't writing a blog, and here I am, blogging away. We as believers should be able to discuss and explore controversial topics and passages without devouring each other. And we can graciously challenge one another to hold tight to what Scripture says and not what we prefer or what we think it means. But let our resolve be to continue to fellowship in what we do agree on (the essentials), and not spend so much time focused on what we disagree on (the non-essentials and non-negotiables). A lost and dying world is watching us, and especially how we handle controversial issues.

Jesus said, "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." (John 17:20-21, NLT)

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1Tim. 1:17, NASB)

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References:
1. BibleLexicon.org
2. Discovery Series: "What does the Bible say about Women in Ministry" (RBC Ministries)
*3. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House) 
4. Find It Quick: Handy Bible Encyclopedia (Ron Rhodes) 
5. InterlinearBible.org
6. MacArthur's Whole Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson) 
7. NASB Life Application Study Bible (Zondervan) 
8. The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Moody) 
9. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Moody Press) 


Originally posted 5/8/12
Updated 11/20/13