1 TImothy 2:11-13 A Lower View of Women or a Leadership Call to Men?
In response to teaching on a “tough question” for God – Is the Bible fair to women?, someone candidly wrote, “1 Timothy 2:11-13 is disturbing to me as a woman. How can this not be viewed as a lower view of women?”
Paul wrote to Timothy (a young pastor of a 1st century church, likely in Ephesus), “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:11-15, ESV translation)
AN APOSTLE’S OFF-PUTTING INSTRUCTION?
There is little doubt that this passage has been the cause of much honest head-scratching and brow-furrowing! These words, especially in our modern day context, can come off as archaic and patronizing. Practically speaking, it is not difficult to find many women who are gifted communicators, so why should there be any restriction on “teaching” in the church?
Still, because 1 Timothy 2:11-13 is Spirit-breathed Scripture through an apostle of Jesus Christ, these verses beg an honest look, careful observation, and balanced interpretation. All the more so as the church, over the centuries, has often understood these words differently, and applied them (or ignored them) in a variety of ways.
Some seek to dismiss the authority and necessary application of these verses to the church today. They argue that Paul was speaking to a particular woman who was causing trouble in Timothy’s church – Paul refers to her as “a woman” – who was insisting on occupying a prominent teaching role in the church and doing so in a domineering, even defiant way. If this were the case, the passage would then be useful in dealing with a belligerent female who herself was not teachable. The leadership of the church had permission to deny her a teaching voice in the Body. The passage is thus useful within such a narrow situation, and does not more broadly deny women the opportunity to teach both genders in the Body of Christ.
However attractive this interpretation and application might be — especially for us living in a day when women are asking for equal treatment and position — this approach to the passage does not best serve nor reflect the details of the passage, nor the overall teaching of the New Testament. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 deserves a closer look.
THE TEACHING MINISTRY in the NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
I would offer that a more careful and accurate understanding of Paul’s instruction might well include these observations.
First, most often when “teaching” is referred to in the letters written to Christians first century churches, the apostles appear to have in mind the clear and systematic transmission of the gospel in an “all embracing” sense. Another name for this would be the “apostolic tradition.” It’s the full-orbed theology of the significance of the Person and Work of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, including the offer of the fullness of redemption in the gospel by grace through faith. To “teach” this was to have a full understanding of how OT revelation was fulfilled in Christ, how the God-Man-Messiah fulfilled the expectations of that revelation through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. No doubt Jesus unpacked this with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, following his resurrection (Luke 24:26-27,44-45).
Second, early Christians were to be taught by those who were instructed well, and clear, about this truth which originated with the Apostles. In the earliest days, the Apostles themselves were the principle teachers. But as the church grew, teachers of the “truth of the Apostles” were trained (cf. 2 Timothy 2:1-2) and recognized by the Church as prepared servants to this end.
It’s helpful to understand that this “teaching” was a somewhat different function from other “revelatory gifts” which the Body of Christ was experiencing. For example, there were those who were gifted with more immediate “prophesying” revelations, information from the Spirit which had immediate application to a particular situation (e.g., According to Acts 21:8-9, Philip the evangelist had 4 daughters who prophesied). Others were given messages through the gift of “tongues” (i.e., an unfamiliar language) even as others were gifted by the Spirit to interpret those messages. It is clear that both men and women were gifted with these more immediate gifts of revelation.
But “teaching apostolic doctrine” was a more permanent and foundational kind of ministry (Ephesians 2:20), setting Christ as the cornerstone of the “temple” of believers God was building, and clear teaching about Christ sourced in the apostles completed the truth foundation. Herman Ridderbos provides a very helpful overview of this distinction regarding “teaching” in Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Chapter XI “The Upbuilding of the Church”, and in the section on (3) “Teachers.”
So, the question then comes, “According to the Apostle Paul, to whom should the body of Christ consistently look for apostolic teaching about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ?” His answer in 1 Timothy 2, and supported elsewhere (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:9) is godly, prepared males who are apt or able “to teach.”
WHY GODLY MALES FOR “TEACHING?”
Interestingly enough, Paul’s stated reasons undergirding having godly, prepared males in the “apostolic teaching” role and function have no reference to an immediate situation in a particular local. Rather, his reasons are supra-cultural. His reasons are rooted in Genesis 1,2,3.
The first reason Paul offers is found in 1 Timothy 2:13, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Because God chose to create the male, Adam, before the woman, and subsequently, because (according to Genesis 2) Adam was given instruction that later he was to make clear to the woman (regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), Adam had responsibility for instructional leadership regarding what God had said. The Spirit argues through Paul’s word that Adam’s prior creation is to be pictured, or reflected through, godly men offering clear teaching from the Lord to (if you will) the church, the “bride of Christ.” They are to step into this leadership have responsibility, and God indicated this through the order of the creation of the genders.
The second reason given is 1 Timothy 2:14, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” While this passage does not teach that women are more easily deceived (as some have unfortunately suggested), it does nonetheless provide a rationale for men not shirking their responsibility to combat deception with clear revelation from God. Interestingly, even strangely, Genesis 3 presents Adam as “silent” while Eve was dialoguing with the serpent. His silence and compliance failed to confront the deception his new bride was struggling to sort out. Rather than speaking the truth and rejecting disobedience, Adam capitulated.
Paul cites this to make his point, prompted by the Spirit. When Satan is seeking to deceive and confuse, men fully aware of God’s revelation and clear about the truth should give leadership to instructing the church. Such leadership would remind believers of Adam’s retreating “silence” in the experience of the couple’s temptation, and the importance of vigilant clarity about what God has said. Lives, destines, futures were at stake.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER PHRASE: “or exercise authority over a man”
A second prohibition Paul, as Jesus’ apostle, enforced in the life of the New Testament church is found in this phrase. Again, at first blush, it would seem that no Christian woman should ever be put in a place of authority if that authority extends its reach “over a man (or male).” Is this what Paul means?
While I hesitate too often to “pull out the Greek” (i.e., make a Scripture observation that is not immediately apparent in the English), this “exercise authority over” is quite unusual. That is, there is a more common word for the use of governing authority available in the Greek language of the first century, the word “exousia.” It can refer to the good use of authority or the poor use of it.
However, Paul does not use “exousia” here. Rather he uses another term, a word (employed only here in the New Testament) which speaks of “domineering authority.” A kind of forceful, insisting-on-one’s-way without much regard to others kind of authority. Paul is firmly instructing here that a woman who seeks to dominate the males in the teaching and life of the church, again, should not be permitted to do so.
Of course, there can be an over-reaching application of Paul’s instruction here as well. The Apostle is not generally prohibiting women from serving in places of leadership and authority, but rather cautioning that domineering leadership is never appropriate. [We realize that Peter said the same thing to male leaders and elders in 1 Peter 5, when he instructions fellow-elders to not “lord it over” those in the “flock.”]
The bottom line is this: The apostle Paul, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, directs that women not step into the role or function of the Body of Christ’s teacher of apostolic doctrine. Nor should a woman seek to usurp the godly leadership and authority of men by seeking to domineer in the body.
As an apostle responsible for shaping the culture of Jesus’ church at the direction of the Spirit, Paul did not permit these practices in the churches that he founded and counseled. By extension (as 1 Timothy has been preserved as instruction for churches in the NT era), no doubt he would continue to give that direction for us today. Godly, prepared-to-teach men are to not shirk their role nor hand it off; they are to be clear and communicative about the truth we have from God for the Body of Christ. The reasons are derived from the order in which God created the genders, and the importance of men being clear about the revelation God has entrusted to us.
IS THIS A LOWER VIEW OF WOMEN?
Naturally, perhaps, a modern-day way of thinking would quickly conclude that because godly men are called to provide the apostolic-truth teaching for Jesus’ disciples, that this automatically amounts to a “lower view of women.” Moreover, any Scriptural delineation of gender-based roles in life might also solicit this conclusion. Not a few are put off by the call for “wives to submit to their husbands” (Ephesians 5) the way that the church submits to Christ.
However, if we can have grace to resist an understandable, but Biblically unwarranted, conclusion like this, God’s Spirit would have us honor an order which He deems best. The balanced and Biblical view is that God’s Spirit gifts both men and women for a host of important, critical ministries (cf. 1 Corinthians 12), all of them being important. In fact, some of those ministries (and parts of Jesus’ body) which might be deemed less by the world’s standards are, in fact, “more honorable” and “more necessary” to the Lord himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:22-24).
In other words, it is the Spirit’s prerogative to place the gifted members in the Body and doing what the Body needs as He desires, and as He indicates in the Word. All of them are not the same in function or role, but all are equal in value.
It’s worth noting that Paul’s attitude and perspective of women — especially those who were his sisters in Christ — was very high. His letters often mention women (cf. Romans 16, Philippians 4) who have served along side him in the work of the gospel, who serve the will and purposes of God with selfless commitment and distinction. The Spirit’s directive through him that men lead the Body of Jesus in the teaching of apostolic doctrine need not be framed as any ranking of women lower in their value or importance to God’s work.
CAN A WOMAN EVER USE HER TEACHING GIFT WITH THE BODY OF CHRIST?
One of the great dangers of Biblical interpretation is over-zealous, unnecessarily restrictive application. Throughout the centuries of the church, many leaders have taken Paul’s words here, as well as what is found in 1 Corinthians 14), and prohibited women from any public communication at all to the whole church.
When I first arrived at Christ Community Church (in 1993 it was called First EFC), I discovered that women were not invited into all kinds of public ministry. They were not asked to read Scripture up front, pray or share up front (unless you were a missionary couple just giving a “report” from the field), serve the elements of the Lord’s table, serve as ushers.
Several years into my ministry here, we had a major (and difficult) congregational discussion regarding whether or not our search for a new Worship Pastor could include female candidates (which I urged it should). Should we even call any woman a “pastor”? [The word “pastor” means “shepherd”.] If up front as a worship leader, would she be “teaching” in violation of 1 Timothy 2?
In my view, these kinds of restrictions reflect an unfortunate over-reach. Again, Paul’s prompt from the Spirit is that consistently recognized and functioning teachers of apostolic doctrine for the body should be godly men. But this principle, when understood and applied, does not rigidly prohibit godly women, who are aligned with the church’s Biblical doctrine and Christ-centered leadership, from doing any teaching of the body. There are examples in the New Testament of women gifted to communicate words from the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 12, 14) and clarification regarding right doctrine (cf. Acts 18:26).
Moreover, such women gifted by the Spirit in teaching and exhortation should be encouraged to use those gifts in a variety of places within the life of the body, so that the ministry and encouragement of the Spirit can have its full impact in people’s lives.
A FINAL THOUGHT OR TWO
The truth is that many women who have given themselves to the truths and teaching of Scripture have incredible insight from which we can all profit as we grow in Christ. Some author very helpful books, some offer their insights through a variety of communication avenues, some are wise and helpful professors in undergraduate and graduate schools. We should listen to one another and seek the Spirit’s wisdom, insight, help.
At the same time, we must be careful to honor what the Lord wants honored and pictured. He desires that godly men take up before the Body of Christ — within the Church — the responsibility of teaching with the appropriate authority the key, apostolically revealed truths of the the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel. Such teaching leaders should regard gifted women as their partners without stepping away from their responsibility, the way that Adam was called to see Eve as his equal partner, and yet her leader. The Lord wants this reflected in how His church consistently hears His Word, and we do well to joyfully obey.