Should women teach men the Bible?

Question
Based upon 1 Timothy 2:11-14 it seems that women should not teach in the church. Is this true?
Answer

1 Tim. 2:11-14 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.

God created both men and woman. He designed them both with honor and dignity (Psa. 8:1-9). They each have worth, value, and are respected by God their creator. However, by God’s own design they also have differing roles which glorify Him.

Male and females having different roles is biblical. While each is fully God, even the three member of the Trinity have differing roles. For instance, the Father ordained salvation, the Son went to the cross so his people would be saved, and the Holy Spirit applies salvation to His elect. Different roles, but still fully God. Likewise males and females each have different roles, however they are still each “one” in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). So, men and women should treat each other as biblical equals but with differing roles.

In 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul first begins to inform us how men should behave. Paul then precedes to inform us how women should behave (1 Tim. 2:9-15). Then in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 he adds some other godly qualifications for men who seek to be an elder or deacon, most which should also be sought even by those not desiring office (i.e. the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, etc.). So, it seems that Paul is equally concerned about how both men and women should live.

In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul forbids women from doing two very distinct but related things. Within the confines of church activity: (1) they may not teach the Bible to men and (2) they may not exercise authority over men. The context includes not only church worship (1 Tim. 3:15) but Bible Studies, Sunday School, etc. where there are men present as well. [1]

These facts are re-emphasized in the chiastic structure [2] observed in 1 Tim. 2:11-12.

  • A. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness (1 Tim 2:11)
    • B. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man (1 Tim 2:11a)
  • A’. rather, she is to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11b)

Notice that Paul’s two commands (B above) are sandwiched between A. and A’. Note that the word “quiet” [GK. hésuchia] is used twice for emphasis. Paul comments on a godly woman’s attitude as well, that being “with all submissiveness” (cf. Gen. 3:16). This is one of the roles a woman engages in to honor God.

This is similar to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which states:

the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Paul limits several groups in the Corinthian worship setting – not just the activity of women (“keep silent,” 1 Cor. 14:28, 30, 34). He states that this specific command is established by “the Law” – that is the creation order established by the Trinity found in Genesis 2:18-24 where Adam was created first and then his helpmate, Eve.

It’s important to note that Paul does not prohibit women from teaching males in every situation. Women may biblically teach other women (Tit. 2:3-8), children (2 Tim. 1:5), and even evangelize men (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 8:4; 18:25-26). They may also speak at appropriate times, such as in prayer (cf. Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 11:5).

Under the authority of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Pet. 1:21) the apostle gives two reasons for his commands in 1 Timothy 2:11; (1) the creation order and (2) the fact that Eve was deceived. As to the first, it wasn’t a cultural thing that Paul used to ground his divine commands. It wasn’t something unique that was happening at Ephesus. Paul grounded his argument in the creation order itself.

Paul states, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). In molding the first couple (cf. Rom. 9:20), God formed Adam first and then afterwards Eve. The Creator made Eve for the sake of Adam, that is to be his helpmate (Gen. 2:18-25) and his glory (1 Cor. 11:7-9, 11). Adam was made the head of his wife Eve (Gen. 2:18-24) and even today the husband is the head of his wife (Eph. 5:22-24), not only at home but in the Church as well (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

God said to Eve in Genesis 3:16, “… Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” In this way she may be considered a “weaker vessel” – in that she should be submissive to her husband (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7). [4] Biblically men were created to lead (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9) and women to follow. All the covenant heads were male, the 12 tribes were named after men, the kings of Israel were all male, the 12 apostles were all men, etc. So, by God’s design leading His church is part of a godly man’s role. No one should attempt to usurp God’s given order.

As to the second, Paul says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:14). Paul’s argument concerns Eve’s being deceived in the Garden where the first sin took place (Gen. 3:1-6). Eve fell when she: (1) ignored her ruling position over the serpent (Gen. 1:26); (2) instead of remaining submissive to God she desired to be “like God” (Gen. 3:5); and (3) because Adam followed and did not take his rightful position as leader, Eve decided to lead (Gen. 3:6, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate”). Instead of following in the path of righteousness, Eve led in the way of sin and became a transgressor. Eve, not Adam, was deceived.

This said, men may be deceived as well. In context, Paul even mentions three male false teachers (Hymenaeus and Alexander [1 Tim. 1:19-20] and Philetus [2 Tim. 2:17-18]). All that’s meant by Paul’s statement is that Eve was deceived in original sin.

Some Unclear Texts Explained

Some biblical texts may seem at first glance to challenge the biblical interpretation above. For example: Miriam (Exod. 15:20); Deborah (Judg. 4-5); Priscilla (Acts 18:26); Phoebe (Rom. 16:1); and prophetesses in general. But Scripture agrees with Scripture. If anything the examples just mentioned highlight the truths of Paul’s commands.

Miriam

Miriam was prophetess. At the Red Sea she echoed Moses song and she sang and danced with other women – not men (Exod. 15:20-21). However, later we read in Numbers 12:1-9 that Miriam and her brother Aaron complained that they didn’t have the same prophetic relationship with God that Moses did. Moses had a “mouth to mouth” relationship with God and even saw His form (Num. 12:7-8) while Miriam had only visions and dreams as God ordained (Num. 12:6). Though Aaron’s and Miriam’s sin were similar only Miriam was struck with leprosy. Isn’t this strange? Not really.

In the Hebrew text, it is clear that Miriam was the instigator of the rebellion. Her name is mentioned first in Numbers 12:1 and the word “spoke” is feminine. [5] Moses had a different calling, that is a different role, than Miriam. At this point in redemptive history, Moses was the covenant head and leader of God’s people. So, God directed His righteous anger towards Miriam because she was attempting to take to herself a role that wasn't hers. Similar to Eve she was seeking to lead and not follow.

Deborah

Deborah appears in a unique period of redemptive history. Some context helps us understand how she became a judge. In the book of Judges, we observe a repeated cycle:

1. Israel fell into sin.
2. Israel would be overwhelmed by her enemies.
3. Then Israel would repent.
4. So, God would raise up a judge who brought Israel deliverance.

Israel repeated this cycle numerous times (Judg. 2:11-19). The normal way for God to select a judge is that He would “raise up” one. We observe this in numerous texts:

Judges 2:16 Then the Lord raised up judges…
Judges 2:18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them …
Judges 3:9 the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel …
Judges 3:15 the Lord raised up for them a deliverer …

Though such phrases aren’t used of Deborah we can be sure that she was called by God (Judg. 4:4-5). She was a judge over Israel; that is more or less a magistrate, handing down legal decisions.

Judges 4:5 states, “… the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.” Why did Israel go to a prophetess instead of the priest? The fact that the Israelites didn’t go to the priest may because they were corrupt (cf. 1 Sam. 2:11-12, see Daniel Block’s commentary on Judges, pgs. 229-253). Additionally, Judges 4 makes it clear that the men at that time failed to lead. They were more or less followers. This is demonstrated in our text by the person of Barak. He had been commanded by God to lead Israel’s army against Sisera and his army (Judg. 4:6-7). He was guaranteed victory! However, he refused to lead unless Deborah went with him (Judg. 4:8). She indeed did accompany Barak, but rebuked him for not taking his proper position as leader saying, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judg. 4:9). Indeed, Sisera did die at the hands of a woman (Judg. 4:21-22). So, Barak’s actions speaks to the fact that men were not following God’s creative order of leadership.

When men won’t preform their godly roles, God may divinely intervene and call whom or whatever he wills (cf. Matt. 3:9; Luke 19:39-40). “God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.” WCF 5.3.

Priscilla

In Acts 18:24-28, we observe that Priscilla and Aquilla are said to have “explained” to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). First, the text informs us that Apollos didn’t fully understand some of the gospel (“he knew only the baptism of John”). So, Priscilla and Aquilla had a private (“they took him aside”) – not public – conversation with Apollos. They introduced him to some more of the gospel – to Jesus (Acts 4:12). So, in essence Priscilla and Aquilla biblically evangelized Apollos. This is what all saints should do (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).

Phoebe and other helpers in the Church

Paul commends many individuals – including women – in his thirteen letters. For instance, in Philippians 4:2-3 he commends two women named Euodia and Syntyche. Paul doesn’t commend these faithful workers for holding an office, but rather as being “fellow workers” in that they that “labored side by side” with him. Absolutely nothing is said of them teaching or ruling over male members of any church.

Phoebe is mentioned in Romans 16:1. She is called a “servant” or in Greek diakonos. This Greek word is also translated as “deacon” in some texts. So, some assert the Phoebe was a deaconess. But was she?

The Greek word diakonos is masculine – not diakonia, which would be feminine. It was used in general by the church to mean “servant.” It was used of the servants that drew the water that Jesus shortly thereafter turned into wine (John 2:5). Paul uses the same term in Romans 13:4 (twice) of secular government. Of the twenty-nine times diakonos is used in the N.T. it is only translated three times as deacon (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). The Bible’s normal usage aside, Phoebe – a female – wasn’t qualified to be a deacon as she doesn’t meet the biblical qualifications given by the Holy Spirit and written by Paul himself (see, 1 Tim. 3:11, 12). If Phoebe was a deaconess, why would Paul by the Spirit later write [6], “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:12; cf. 1 Tim. 3:11)?

Prophetesses

Prophetesses are mentioned throughout Scripture. For instance: Miriam (Exod. 15:20); Hulda (2 Kings 22:11); Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3); Anna (Luke 2:36); Phillip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9); those women that prayed and prophesied at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:5). This is simply a non-teaching office that the Lord ordained early in the life of the church. Such prophecy isn’t necessarily teaching. [7] Since Paul himself wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy he is either disagreeing with himself and more importantly the Holy Spirit who inspired both books or Prophetesses didn’t teach or have authority over men.

Some Feminist’s Arguments

Feminists have attempted to water down Scripture. Why? Like Miriam they desire a role that God did not ordain for them. They raise numerous arguments. Among these are:

False Doctrine Argument

Some feminists assert that some woman at Ephesus were teaching false doctrine, so Paul’s aim was to eliminate it. So, the problem was situational and not universal in all the curches. However, the only false teachers mentioned by Paul in 1 & 2 Timothy were all male (Hymenaeus and Alexander [1 Tim. 1:19-20] and Philetus [2 Tim. 2:17-18]). If there were false female teachers than why aren’t they named?

This argument also seeks to prove too much. Let’s say for the sake of argument that women were teaching at Ephesus. If there were some false women teachers in Ephesus then why would Paul unjustly punish the entire congregation by depriving them of the godly women teachers?

Braids and Jewelry Argument

Some feminists state Paul’s prohibitions of braids and jewelry in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 are no longer applicable today. So, based upon this premise they add neither does Paul’s command of women not teaching or having authority over men. However, a proper understanding of the text reveals that Paul is saying that woman should adorn themselves with godliness and good works and not worldliness. So, Paul is simply making a compare and contrast argument, emphasizing the importance of godliness and good works as opposed to the adornment of worldliness. This is still applicable for Christian women today (cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-6).

Formal Education Argument

Some assert that Paul forbids women teaching and having authority over men because they didn’t have a formal education. However, their argument proves too much as very few in that day and time had any formal education. This includes men as well. Scripture does not dictate that one must have a formal education to teach (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15).

How then should the Church train?

If men don’t biblically lead, then the kingdom of Christ will suffer. While ultimately it will be victorious, the more Christians live in accordance to Scripture the quicker the kingdom of God will come to its final consummation!

If Adam had properly led in the Garden we won’t be in this sinful mess of a fallen world. Instead of following “the” righteous path he allowed Eve to lead and he just followed. He could have stopped it, but he succumbed to temptation. Men – including myself – must take their biblical role more seriously.

Women have extreme glorious value in the kingdom of God. They should be commended and championed for their efforts in godly ministry. The Church and home is incomplete without righteous women. Women have several God-given gifts that are needed in the body of Christ. For example, effective ministry to other women and children. Counseling other women and the gift of hospitality are just a few ministries that are always needed. So, they need equipping and biblical support from godly men – and others – to help them be successful. Men have a responsibility to biblically lead!

Men and the Church have an obligation to pray for women. Through the Spirit, God uses prayer to bring about maturity in both sexes.

The Church has an obligation to identify women of godly character and train them to minister to other women and children. In addition, men need to be trained to be biblical leaders both in the home and the Church. They need to learn how to wisely share the gospel with both sexes. They need to continuously share the whole counsel of God with all. This is part and parcel of their leadership role.

Pastors must intentionally minister to women so they may biblically mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). This promotes the reputation of Christ. However, the reputation of Christ is threatened when our roles in both the home and Church don’t fully reflect the gospel (Tit. 2:3-5). Therefore, the gospel must be taught and the saints need to learn to biblically apply biblical truths.

Men we’ve to get to work in biblical leading. Women you must get to work in biblical submission.

Time and space don’t permit me to write more. However, further study and comment is definitely needed. For more in-depth reading on this theological topic please consider reading Wayne Grudem’s book called, “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.”

In Conclusion

There’s no real mystery as to what 1 Timothy 2:11-14 teaches. Paul simply writes in very clear language in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul penned these words as he was moved by the Holy Spirit. They mean what they say.

Footnotes

[1] In 1 Tim. 2:8 Paul states, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Notice the phrase “in every place.” This wasn’t only in Church, but a normal way to pray in any given place. Additionally, in 1 Tim. 2:9-10, Paul teaches about the proper adorning of women, not only when they are in Church, but at all times. This context flows into 1 Tim. 2:12 and therefore the restriction on teaching the Bible and exercising authority over men extends not only to the main worship service but to all Church activities where men are present and Scripture is taught.

[2] What are Biblical Chiasms?

[3] 1 Cor. 14:34-35 isn’t forbidding singing in Church or teaching children in Sunday School, etc. Moreover, woman exercise many other gifts, such as hospitality, helps, serving, administration (i.e. like a secretary), etc.

[4] From the remainder of the context the phrase “weaker vessel” seems likely to mean that women had less authority in the marital relationship. Just prior to 1 Pet. 3:7 Peter mentions: (1) “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (2 Pet. 3:1); (2) “by submitting to their own husbands” (2 Pet. 3:5); and (3) “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (2 Pet. 3:6).

[5] Note the use of the feminine תּדבּר (“spoke”) in Numbers 12:1. Deborah instigated this incident. Though still guilty of sin, Aaron was more of a follower.

[6] Romans was written somewhere between 55-57 A.D. and 1 Timothy was written between 62-64 A.D.

[7] Paul told the church at Thessalonica, "Do not despise prophesying, but test everything, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess. 5:20-21). However, if such prophecy equaled God's Word in authority, he wouldn’t have told the church to test it.

Paul told the church at Corinth to weigh what was prophesied (1 Cor. 14:29). As clearly seen such prophecy is not on equal footing with Scripture. In 1 Cor. 14:30, Paul says that one prophet can interrupt another. However, if such prophets had been speaking God's very Word – equal to Scripture itself – it is difficult to envision that Paul would allow an interruption.

IMO, Paul puts the matter of localized prophecy vs Scripture to rest in 1 Cor. 14:37-38. He states, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” No prophet in the church could biblically claim authority equal to Paul’s. The implication is that such prophecy had authority less than O.T. prophecy (Isa., Jer., Ezek., etc.), apostolic speech, and Scripture itself. This said, true prophecies of this sort were nonetheless based on something that God had revealed and then reported in the prophet's own words.

Teaching and prophecy differ. While teachers may explain prophecy, prophets don’t necessarily always teach, but at times just utter a truth. Indeed, the age of prophets no longer exists. Heb. 2:3-4, written around 70 A.D., refers to the sign gifts in the past tense. But teachers still exist.

Follow-up Question:

Doesn’t 1 Tim. 3:15 mean that women shouldn’t teach at church only on Sundays? Therefore it’s proper for them to teach in other settings when men - even their own husbands - are present?

Thank you for your follow-up question. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 states:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

This pericope has a phrase that needs defining – “household of God.” Most interpret this as meaning the church and they would be entirely correct. However, Paul didn’t use the word “church” (GK. ekklēsia), but rather “household” (GK. oikos) of God.” Why did Paul through the Spirit use a different word? Paul is making a particular point of how the Holy Spirit views his church.

In context, the Spirit and Paul are viewing the church as a family (“household”). This point is made very clear earlier in the chapter when in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 Paul states the qualifications for an elder, include:

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? (cf. 1 Tim. 3:12).

As one may see Paul is comparing one’s natural family with his spiritual church family.

So, who is the head of the natural family unit? According to Paul the husband is the head of his wife even as Christ is the head of his bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). So, since men by God’s design are the head of the natural family, 1 Timothy 3:15 supports women not teaching men (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 13:34-35).

Second, 1 Timothy 3 contains the qualifications for both male elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and male deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13). However, these qualifications shouldn’t be thought of as only applicable in the church on Sundays.

Paul states, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7). How can an elder be thought of as well by outsiders if they behave unlike Christians when they leave church on Sunday? Are deacons only to be non-devious in speech on Sundays? (1 Tim. 3:8). Certainly not! Though these are qualifications for the church’s leadership, they should be sought after by all Christians. After all the leaders (shepherds) are examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, 3).

Therefore, even when Christians meet on other days of the week Paul’s teaching to Timothy on women not teaching men is still applicable even in small group meetings, etc.

Third, the definition of how many people need to be gathered together to be the church needs to be understood as well. In speaking concerning church discipline (Mat. 18:15-20) Jesus stated, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). The first church consisted of only two people - Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of God in the Garden (Gen. 3:8) which implies there were other meetings when the first couple and God communed. However, when Adam the male didn’t take his proper leadership role and Eve decided to lead, the first couple fell into sin. The same is still true today, even when Christians meet in small groups. Even if a husband and wife are studying the Bible together it is a church activity.

While many women certainly have a marvelous gift to teach, biblically they shouldn’t teach men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35). While Paul is certainly emphasizing proper conduct during church worship in 1 Timothy 3:15, he also understood that genuine worship is a 24/7 affair. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is a creation ordinance. It applies even in small groups and other church activities where men are present.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).