Are Women Permitted to Teach? (1 Timothy 2:12)

I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2:12)

Oh dear. Don’t tell Joyce Meyer that women aren’t allowed to teach. Or my mum, my wife, or a gazillion other ladies who teach in church. They’re all sinning. They should stop teaching and be quiet. Paul said so. But wait a second. Paul endorsed several female teachers including Junia, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche. Was Paul confused about the role of women in the church?

Or are we?

What is Paul really saying?

I want to offer a grace-based commentary of this troublesome passage and the surrounding verses. Credit where credit’s due, much of what follows was inspired by an essay on women’s service written by NT Wright:

Let a woman learn… (1 Tim 2:11, NKJV)

Whoa! Right there we should dip our hats to Paul the liberator of women. Consider the context. Under patriarchal Jewish religion, women had few rights. They could not enter the main part of the temple, they were forbidden to speak in the assembly, and they certainly weren’t encouraged to learn.

The low view of women held by religious Jews is revealed in this saying of Rabbi Eliezer: “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women” (source: Adam Clarke’s Commentary).

In other words, women should not study and learn. To teach women, according to some, was to cast your pearls before swine. This was Paul’s view, but then he met Jesus and got set free from his Pharisaical misogyny.

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. (1 Tim 2:11, NKJV)

Meaning they should quietly submit to God and his gospel, which is something we all must do. Grace is for the humble and teachable. The proud learn nothing.

I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2:12)

“Don’t hear what I’m not saying,” the apostle might have said. “I don’t mean to imply that I’m setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that men previously held authority over women. Under the law, men lorded it over the fairer sex. That was wrong. It would be similarly wrong for women to lord it over men. Instead, let us submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

Note that Paul is writing to Timothy who lived in Ephesus. Who else lived in Ephesus? Artemis, the Greek mother goddess, and her nutcase followers (Acts 19:28).

Ephesus was a town of radical femi-nazis. Paul wanted to liberate women from religious bondage, but there was a danger the Ephesian Christians might swing the pendulum too far. Lacking role models, they might take inspiration from the priestesses of Artemis. Here’s NT Wright:

Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying… Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

In short, women aren’t to lord it over men any more than men are to lord it over women. Recall these words of Jesus:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. (Luke 22:25-26)

A Biblical teacher does not throw their weight around like a Gentile king but sets an example to others (1 Pet 5:3). He, or she, is one who says “follow me as I follow Christ.”

(Speaking of Jesus, the first person commissioned by Jesus to preach the good news of his resurrection was a woman (John 20:17). And the first person to preach the gospel of Jesus to Gentiles was a woman (John 4:28). So much for women remaining silent and not teaching men.)

That’s 1 Timothy 2:12. What about the rest of the passage?

The bit about Adam and Eve

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:13-14)

This verse has been used to club women into submission, as though Eve was somehow inferior or more sinful than Adam. This sort of thinking misses the point which is that Adam entered into sin with eyes wide open, but Eve was deceived. She was younger (Adam was formed first), less knowledgeable, and duped. This is why it’s important for the daughters of Eve to have the same learning opportunities as the sons of Adam. We all need to grow in grace and be taught lest we be deceived (see 2 Cor 11:3-4).

If you were a first-century Jewish woman, you were discouraged from learning and speaking in the assembly. Under no circumstances would you ever be allowed to teach men. Sadly, this bondage is still experienced in parts of the world today. But this was not the case in the churches that Paul planted!

Grace brings liberty. While we may debate the meaning of what Paul said, the evidence of what Paul did is indisputable: Paul empowered women. He identified female teachers by name and, far from naming and shaming them, he called them colleagues in Christ. He would’ve loved Joyce Meyer!

Who taught Tim?

Paul was writing to a young man who had been raised by two godly women, Lois and Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). Who taught Timothy? Lois and Eunice!

After acknowledging the faith-heritage of these ladies, Paul reminded Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” He would say the same thing to every woman and girl reading this article.

God has given you unique gifts and talents. He’s given you a story and a voice. And what you have, the world needs. The world does not need you to lord it over others like a bad king, but the world does need you to shine with the grace God has given you.

With that in mind I’ll finish with these slightly altered words of Paul:

Let no one look down on your gender, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. (My paraphrase of 1 Tim 4:12)

___________

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41 Comments on Are Women Permitted to Teach? (1 Timothy 2:12)

  1. Sam Griffith // October 26, 2017 at 1:09 am // Reply

    Wow! I’ve got to say that this was a fantastic post. As you pointed out in that comic: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, for we are all one in Christ.”

  2. The grace clarity is greatly appreciated here. Unfortunately, Biblical hyper-literalism & proof-texting has gotten the best of too many men in the Body for far too long. Praying for change in this (& doing).

  3. Great. This is a much difficult passage. I’ve read a lot of NT commentaries. But the thing that makes no sense to many commentaries is they bypass the they will be saved by child bearing. Is salvation a different path for women. One commentary I read (who I suspect IS a feminist, but made a valid point I can’t ignore) that the woe authority here is only used here. It’s only used one time. And this commentary also leans towards the false teaching occurring in Ephesus. Didn’t they also follow a female “deity” Diana?
    I’ve heard two commentaries that both conclude this isn’t about forbidig women from teaching or holding pastoral offices. This one here you espoused upon, which is strongly supported by manners and customs of the setting. The other was simply speaking about a husband and wife. Still another I saw was that there was a specific woman in the Ephesian church who was an issue.
    Either way I don’t see this as subjectating women back to their place. Wasn’t the first evangelist a woman?

    • I read an excellent commentary which described Ephesus as being in the grip of the social mores of the cult of Diana-Artemis, who was the town’s patron god. You can see how angry even the men became when they thought Paul was trying to unseat her. (Acts 19)

      The vestiges of their view of what makes a person spiritual can still be seen in the mystique around nuns and convents:

      To be spiritual one must be married to one’s god. Marriage to a man was seen as defiling, as was the marriage bed. They idealized the ever-virgin model as true holiness. Bearing children was considered an inferior, low class act for the ‘breeders’ and not for the truly spiritual.

      In addition, the women were the priestesses; in this cult female deity was venerated, so men were the ones dominated, cut out and also viewed as inferior spiritually.

      Seeing as every action requires an equal and opposite action to bring balance, apostle Paul had his work cut out for him to tackle these false teachings. But would he have said these things if writing to a church in a town battling the reverse: misogyny, crushing/domineering of women? Or would he instead have been stressing what they most needed to hear for deliverance from their just-as-wrong, false world view?

      • John W Reed // October 30, 2017 at 12:26 pm //

        Good points. Much understanding is gain when we look at manners and customs during the time of the Epistles when we encounter obscure passages in the New Covenant. The divorce and remarriage traditional view would be settled when looking at manners and customs.

  4. Connie Witter is a great example of a woman who is blessing the Body of Christ with her gift to teach. If God is against this, why is He blessing people through her and others?

  5. When reading the Title, “Are Women Permitted to Teach”, it brought pain to my heart and tears welled in my eyes. I have such a desire in my heart to teach, to speak about, to enlighten, to proclaim, to set captives free from the law, to loosen the bonds of the law that ties all people to the old covenant, to bring them into the fullness of the truth. God ladies go. When we were buried with Christ at the cross……..we became new creations just like all of God’s creation did. As Paul states, there is neither male nor female, it is all about love and acceptance that we are all made one in Christ Jesus……… We can look at one another as family in Christ and use the gift or gifts and calling in which the Author and Finisher of faith gave us… It is His journey in us that fulfills us and even makes our way on this journey of life. His life is my life, we love one another and become as joyful children in community of His church, His body… Whom He calls He equips and even makes that way………that walk in the Spirit of HIs faith… We are all kept under tutors until we come to the knowledge of truth (grace and truth came by Jesus Christ). Let us love one another and work together as Ambassadors of Christ……don’t look at my status anymore………..see me IN CHRIST!! Go Joyce Go!!! and all whom want to proclaim the Good News… Neither male nor female… One Christ, One God, One Faith, One Spirit, One baptism… Blessings…fight the good fight!!!

  6. Berris-Dale Joseph // October 26, 2017 at 6:40 am // Reply

    I have enjoyed and appreciated your article. It is a reflection of sound truth. If women should be silent who would teach the children, especially from the womb to at least teen age? A mother is naturally the closer parent to the offsprings. She affects their entire character development in a way the father is not privileged to do. Yes, in Christ there is neither male nor female. The grace of Christ Jesus makes each recipient a transformed person. Everyone has a heart with which to respond to the matchless grace of our loving Lord, including women. God clearly states that while man looks at the outward appearance God looks at the heart. To have a heart or to not have a heart (together with the quality or condition of that heart with respect to truth and honesty), would be the criterion for God’s consideration of a human being, of which women are a part—and not whether the person or human being is a female or a male.

    Certainly, God has appointed the man as head of the woman; Christ being the head of the man, and God being the head of Christ. There is no two ways about this established order. And this order is absolutely immuned to any bad repercussions. Why? Because this order depends on one common denominator to run it properly, LOVE. Yes, the LOVE of God. Nothing can go wrong when love rules. It flows from the top down: from God to Jesus Christ, from Jesus Christ to the man, married or unmarried, and from the man, meaning a converted man, to the woman. We may say that the woman will transmit this same love to the children. And further, the children will transmit the same to the animals, as it takes only a little child to lead them. That is, a child with the love— or that which flows (like a river the precious water) from the Heart of God.

    And now the whole earth is full of His glory, the glory of God’s love.

  7. My lands Paul, you’re beginning to raise some eyebrows. First off I’m not sure if you received the memo about NT Wrong’s heretical views regarding justification and imputed righteousness. Because there is a myriad of self-damning content in many of his writings. Here’s a doozy:

    “If and when God does act to vindicate his people, his people will then, metaphorically speaking, have the status of ‘righteousness.’…But the righteousness they have will not be God’s own righteousness”

    Just surprised to see you quoting a man who makes some indefensible claims outside of the pale.

    Also the profiteering, jet-riding prosperity princess Joyce Meyer? Puh-lease. There has to be a more sound exemplar of female teaching, no?

    I’m all for the ladies bringing the word but in the proper context. Just surprised to see you mention a couple questionable characters in this post.

    • We are all questionable characters. Indeed, God’s grace only shines through questionable characters.

      • nathanbeckrules // October 26, 2017 at 11:35 am //

        Right but Joyce Meyer doesn’t preach the gospel. It’s like saying Trump is a questionable character. Which he is, but it doesn’t mean he knows jesus

    • @Austin, well, NT Wright is wrong! But, have you realized that we’ve all been wrong about one doctrine or another but are still saved? Ask the disciples who were frequently confused about Christ before and after His death and resurrection (John 20:9). We are all recovering and changing our minds (repenting) about error’s in doctrine. For years my understanding of the Trinity was modalism. No, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate persons in One being. Scripture declares it (Gen 1:26; 2:24; Psalm 110:1). And I never understood that Jesus was my righteousness until a few years ago – like most of us! Being wrong about one point of doctrine doesn’t make a person wrong on all points. Also, how are we, heir’s of the world, co-heirs with Christ, gonna take dominion of anything having nothing? It’s okay for the devils kingdom to have everything, but not the children of the King? Never mind that Solomon was the richest man in the world, and by today’s standards, he still is, estimated by today’s economy to be a trillionaire. We forget he was not only the wisest, but the richest (1 Kings 3:10-13), and God did that. Maybe the private-jet thing is a matter of having the faith to receive (1 Cor 12:9; Luke 5:4-10) – crazy faith attracting crazy Grace – possessing our possessions.

      We are all questionable, indeed. Well said, Paul. Thanks for doing your part to change the game for the kingdom!

      • nathanbeckrules // October 26, 2017 at 4:57 pm //

        Wow, I can’t believe you are defending her.

      • tatjana virant kramar // October 26, 2017 at 11:50 pm //

        if you take one tenth from all gullible sheeps you “pastor”( and pressure into giving by false teachings) its not blessing that you get rich- it is MATH

  8. Jeffrey Simon // October 26, 2017 at 6:44 am // Reply

    Jon Zens wrote specifically on these verses in his excellent book “What’s with Paul and Women?” Thank you for shedding light and bringing freedom to such a controversial and oppressive subject.

  9. Clarence Reyneveld // October 26, 2017 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Just a general comment:

    Some (Christian teachers) on the other side of this issue have said that they have no problem with women teaching younger and older women (in the Church). They also have no problem with women teaching in the home. This assumes that the teaching (that women do in these above-mentioned settings) is based on good themes of the Bible. These (Christian teachers) hesitate, however, when it comes to women exercise authority (sometimes shown by teaching) over men in the Church. They see that as a line that has been crossed but should not be normally be crossed, where normal male, mature leadership is available.

    I am not entering into the right or wrong of this article and what it says. I only wish to point out something just for general info.

    • Some Christian teachers haven’t heard of Deborah, a judge of Israel, or any of the other influential women leaders of the Bible. There’s no right or wrong of it; there’s just what the Bible says on one side and sexist stupidity on the other.

      • William MacDonald // October 28, 2017 at 12:50 am //

        I respect you brother, but you are simply wrong to refer to those who hold a different view to your own as sexist and stupid. Was Derek Prince a stupid sexist? Yet he believed leadership was male. Though I don’t agree with everything Derek taught, I do believe him to be a man of integrity. There are many others too like him who love and respect women, but due to their convictions believe God’s ideal for leadership is that it is male, being aware that there are exceptions to the rule. We need to be careful not to right everyone off as misogynistic if they don’t share the same convictions as ourselves.

      • Interesting example, since Derek Prince and I have something in common. We both have (or had, in his case) Danish wives who were teachers. You can choose to disagree, but there were many influential women in the Bible, some of whom were teachers.

      • John W Reed // October 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm //

        Interesting choice of words from a Grace preacher lol. Not sure if misogyny is at the root as is religious tradition. Tradition is a mighty powerful stronghold.
        That said I am actually glad you called out what you see. Grace has suddenly began to be defined as one who isn’t allowed to hold or share an opinion on politics, Government, patriotism, or a political party. Speak your convictions freely.

    • richard elson // October 26, 2017 at 9:46 pm // Reply

      I just wonder . . . when was the last time anyone here ever submitted themselves to a teacher because they had “authority”.
      I used to be involved with a church organization which stressed unity and conformity through their ” authority ” figures.
      Most people on the outside of the resultant bubble called it a cult. Those on the inside called it “family”.
      In was only the threat of being ejected from the so called ” family” that the Authority was underpinned.
      My point is, teachers don’t have authority, they offer perspective and insight, agreement is totally up to the hearer.

      • Been there, Richard, I have put myself under that type of authority. Thankfully, I see now that it should be love that keeps a family together. In that type of environment leaders are serving those they lead, just like Jesus.

  10. Paul told the Galatians they were all sons of God thru their faith in Christ Jesus (3:26). Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all one in Christ (3:27). Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise (3:29).

    Is it stretching things to say women become “sons,” and “heirs” by faith in Christ? (The explanation being, that only sons would be legal heirs to anything, not daughters. Saying “sons and daughters” of God, then, would not carry the same weight.) I do not mean to affirm the gnostic gospel of Thomas’ saying that “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom,” but Paul nevertheless delineates roles, not only in marriage, but also in the church, for men and women.

    Abiding by those God-given roles seems to be a test (or trial?) for everybody.

  11. Wonderful again, Paul, thank you so much!

  12. I think Jesus made it clear there are no leaders in the church besides himself. When assembled, the Holy Spirit leads us (ideally). For this reason I don’t think you can relate women or men OT leaders to the NT church body. IE neither men nor women are leaders/shepherds/under-shepherds.

    Some NT verses about women’s ministry are referring to outside of assembly and some in assembly. Preaching is something done to non believers outside of Christian assembly which is mostly proclamation(ironically what we see done by leaders inside churches today). But teaching is done with Christians inside assembly, which is where the difficulty lies. But If the Holy Spirit leads the church body during assembly then we don’t need to worry ourselves with the role of women using their gifts.

    I think these difficult NT verses concerning women must seen more as specific guidelines for their conduct when not exercising their gifts, otherwise the bible would be contradicting itself. Eg, we know NT women used their gifts and prophesied and taught other Christians. So we know that no NT verses can be interpreted to restrict women from speaking during assembly.

    • Ephesians 4 is how the ascended and descended Christ gave his gifts for His Church…there are 5….Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and some Teachers……these are to equip the body for the work of the ministry………each saint has his Christ given ministry but is equipped because of the 5 gifts of Christ who work together as one……..UNITY!! Have you seen this church anywhere??? This is what Christ has called me to do……and that is to set it up in this manner. Certainly will be a change from the present Evangelical Pastor head ran operation. If you note, this is the only place in the NT where Pastor is used, but he is not a separate entity to Christ’s church…. Hmm, do we have it wrong in the foundation of our local churches? Who is equipping the saints for ministry, one man as pastor??

  13. Oh how I wish the churches near me subscribed to this truth. As a woman I really struggle with the leadership of men only in church, men only teaching from the pulpit frequently relying on sports analogies, men presuming spiritual authority over me and the women around me agreeing to it all “for the sake of order.” Paul, will you be writing on any of these? In particular I’m curious of the grace perspective on what it means for an elder to have spiritual authority.

    • I have read all of the comments to the article which is so good and had a couple days to read God’s words and let this sink in. I took the time to read Paul’s letters, for the major part he starts all of them with the phrase, “to the saints, to the brethren, to the church, then he goes on to state to “all the saints”. After looking up these from the Greek meaning he is speaking to the body of Christ as His church and in that body are many members, but one body, 1 Cor 12:12 “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit “are we all”-kjv, web, asv, “we were all”-nkjv, niv esv, rsv, [pastense]…[all is all], for by one S[irit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drik into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. 12:18, But now (means now), God has set the members, each one of them , in the body just as He pleased….. 22… No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23….And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor….. 25… that there should be no schism in the body, ……the members should have the same care fo one another…..26…if one suffers, all suffer with it…or if one honored…all rejoice with it….and God has appointed these in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teacher, after that miracles….etc….” NO WHERE HERE DO I SEE A MALE OR FEMALE GIVEN A POSITION. Sorry but I see the church being made one and Christ is giving the appointment to whom He chooses… Blessings… Desire the best gift…..love!!

  14. Geraldine, I am with you in part of what you say.. our church is pastored why men and women, which is great, but when the men preach they are too prone to using sports analogies which just baffle me!

  15. In verse 12 Paul uses the woed ‘authority’ or authentein.
    authentein here makes its one and only appearance!
    Koine Greek writings in general use it in several ways:
    ‘Precedence (coming first)’ which ties in with the Gnostic doctrine of Eve creating Adam
    ‘domineering, usurping authority’ like that of the Gnostic teachers.
    ‘To murder a wife and take her place.’ Again, extreme usurpation and violence!

    Most of these meanings are about the abuse of power. The following translation is a perfectly permissible translation of the Greek text, and best suits the Gnostic context:
    I do not permit (such) a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator of man; she is to be in conformity (to the scripture teaching) for Adam was created first, not Eve….
    A woman who does not peddle Gnostic rubbish but who holds sound doctrine should teach and can hold proper authority, in line with Paul’s teaching elsewhere! Eve was deceived and a sinner, not enlightened and perfect as the Gnostics taught! This is far removed from saying that because Eve sinned all women are unfit to speak or lead.
    The clinching verse is 15, because out of the Gnostic context it makes no obvious sense at all; is it saying good women don’t die while giving birth (they do) or that they are saved by having children? Paul was denying the Gnostic doctrine that having children would hinder a woman’s salvation. Paul teaches that salvation depends on faith in Christ, not on whether or not you have babies!
    The final proof that Gnosticism is behind many of the statements of Paul in this letter comes in 1 Timothy 6:20:
    Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, (A.V. ‘science’) which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.
    The word ‘knowledge’ there is, you’ve guessed it, GNOSIS. (Strong’s 1108) Could Paul be more plain?

  16. My last comment is edited from an article by “Peter Baylis”.
    search his name and “women teachers” for the full article.

  17. Spoken like a true feminist!

    • Real men empower others to be greater than themselves, and are proud of themselves to the same measure that they are proud of others. Their boast is in the Lord.

  18. Good day. Please note that my email address has changed to…

    • Hi Leonie. Please note I have zero control over your subscription preferences. If you would like to change them, click the link that says “Manage Subscriptions” found at the bottom of the last email you received from E2R.

  19. To quote Jason Elkins, “Good stuff, man”

  20. Hi Paul
    Great stuff.Opened my eyes to right believing That if GOD has blessed a woman with the ability to teach Grace
    gospel let her teach. Paul Please do not mess with GOD’s word ie. (My paraphrase of 1 Tim 4:12) Not Good!!

  21. I think the answer is right in the verse itself:
    “I suffer not a woman to teach, or usurp…”
    (to teach or usurp what exactly?)
    “… authority over a man.”

    No problem with teaching correct Gospel, just don’t teach usurping of authority over a man.
    I don’t see any reason for it to be any more complicated than that.

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