I have thought for years of doing a series on hard passages in the Bible in regards to women and gender issues. But other things distracted me, and I didn’t take the time to follow through. I’m feeling suitably inspired to tackle it now. Last week, I addressed some passages from the Old Testament. Today I’m thinking about 1 Timothy 2.
11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, I don’t write as an authority for others. This series on understanding Scripture reflects how the Spirit has convicted me through the Word. And I can’t convict you. But if this study for myself is helpful to others, then that is great. Ultimately, each of us needs to wrestle with the Spirit and the Word on our own before personal conviction really settles in.
I certainly can not do this passage from I Timothy justice in a single blog post. I will deal right now only with verse 12 – Paul not allowing a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. There are two major ways to approach I Timothy 2. One way does not view the Bible as a connected, coherent whole. In this view, Paul is instructing in something new that contradicts previous passages in Scripture and is relative to only the particular context in which Paul is teaching. This view would limit our ability to extrapolate from this passage to our modern context. The other view reflects my personal conviction about Scripture as a connected, coherent whole in which each progression in God’s story reflects on both the past and the future. In this view, Paul was reinforcing something long believed and taught from Scripture which is still relevant for today, in which case we can use the rest of Scripture to reflect on this verse so that we know what he does and does not mean. Since Paul in this passage refers back to Genesis, it seems that he is presenting this as something that reflects a coherent, consistent teaching from Scripture.
In this second view, the Bible is the best commentary on what this passage does and does not mean. When I survey Scripture for women affirmed by God, I note a variety of situations that give me helpful perspective.
*Deborah was one of the judges of Israel. Judges exercised martial and military leadership in Israel before the kings. They were distinct from the prophets, who spoke the words of God according to Deut. 18:18.
*Junias is mentioned in Romans 16:7.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Outstanding as used in the Greek could mean “a well-known apostle” or someone “well known by the apostles.” Regardless, the office of apostles in the New Testament seems distinct from that of the elders which are established later in the New Testament. Prophets (and prophetesses) in the Old Testament and Apostles in the New Testament spoke God’s words before the cannon of Scripture was set. A lot of debate remains in the Church today about whether the office of Apostle remains a position in the Church. My personal conviction is that this office ended after the canon of Scripture was set. Regardless, Junias is not clearly an apostle, though she was at least well known among them.
*Priscilla discipled men, in cohort with her husband.
Acts 18:26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
*Phoebe is a deacon according to Romans 16:1.
I keep those women in mind when reflecting on I Timothy 2.
The Greek word for exercise authority in v. 12 is only used in this one instance in the New Testament. The Greek word for teach is used many times, and it pretty much means teach. This passage can not mean that women were not to speak in church at all since Acts 18:26, 21:9, and 1 Corinthians 11:5 make it clear that women did speak in church settings without rebuke. This verse can’t mean that women shouldn’t informally teach/disciple, because Priscilla clearly did that. It can’t mean that a woman is never to be a civil authority, for then Deborah would have been in violation of this passage. 1 Timothy 2:12 does mean something, though. If I write it off entirely, I stand to lose a lot more in Scripture than I gain in my view of women’s rights.
The words teach and exercise authority in verse 12 seem to modify each other. This passage is written in the context of New Testament church authority structures, and the instructions in I Timothy 2 bleed neatly into those on elders and deacons in I Timothy 3. In that context, the idea of this being about teaching with authority makes sense. When I let Scripture give commentary on itself, it seems to me that this restriction on “teaching or exercising authority” reflects on the authoritative church office of elder. That view makes sense when I read the flow of the passage starting in chapter 2 verse 12 on into chapter 3.
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. It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
(Overseer/elder is one office spoken of in interchangeable terms in the New Testament.)
My views of church authority structures play into the application here. By conviction, I follow a presbyterian view of church authority, where elders are those with teaching authority and deacons are those called to serve the needs of the Church.
In many conservative churches with a presbyterian type elder/deacon authority structure, women do anything a qualified, non-ordained man can do in the church. And that is my conviction. Personally, I’ve been asked by the elders at my last two churches to teach classes of adult men and women. I am glad to do that though I don’t seek it out on my own. I see a clear difference in facilitating learning in either Sunday school or at the community college where I teach math and the authoritative position of elder that Paul discusses in I Timothy 3. Women teach Sunday School, lead prayer, read Scripture, lead worship, and so forth, and this is consistent with the roles women played in the Church throughout Scripture. By conviction, I do not seek the office of elder which I believe is reserved for qualified males. I do not feel threatened or diminished by this limitation. I think that there is something good and beautiful about the distinctions Scripture makes by way of gender (when we do not overstep and/or add to these limitations).
I hope something there is helpful to you. Again, this is how the Spirit has worked in my heart as I’ve wrestled with Him in the Word to understand and apply Scripture. I trust God will give you confidence as you wrestle with Him through your own prayer and Bible study.