Should A Woman Teach?
“12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” -1 Timothy 2:12-14
“33As in all the churches of the saints, 34 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. 35 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.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 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. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.” -1 Corinthians 14:33b-40
Yeah, I don’t want to talk about this, but I’ve felt prodded for some time about it and needing to articulate a clear position. So before I begin let me say this, I am here articulating a theological position that does have practical implications. So let me begin by going through what I am not saying, and what scripture is not saying, and then we’ll go through what it is saying.
What Paul Is Not Saying
Paul is not saying that women are less than. Paul is not stating that women are not allowed to defend themselves when being victimized by leadership. He is not saying that women are not valued in the same way in Christ as men are. Women are made in God’s image in the same way that men are, and in that hold within their person the same divine spark that men hold. This makes them completely and totally equal to men in their value and worth, they are not second class citizens, but are co-heirs with Christ just as men are. Any person abusing women because of the above text is a person who curses the name of Christ and makes themselves an enemy of God. It is never ok for this to be done and we must be sure that in practicing this ecclesial command that we are not crushing spirits but encouraging women to ministries that allow them to exercise their gifts within the boundaries set by scripture.
What Paul Is Saying
Paul is saying that a woman should not teach or exercise authority over the general assembly. Now I am not interpreting Paul in this way because I’m some kind of woman hating chauvinist. People who know me know that I am not; in fact, I am a person who truly wishes Paul had NEVER written these words. With this being said, he has, and so because of this we must deal with them in the most honest way humanly possible. Despite what many have said with regard to texts that limit the role of women within the church the two most prominent are set sturdily within literary contexts, that make their contents very hard to limit to only immediate issues. These two texts are the two quoted above and it is within them that I would like to really come to understand where the apostle Paul sat on this issue.
Firstly, in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Paul appears to be appealing to his own authority as an apostle, and to the authority of the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 14:36-40 Paul is adamant that anyone claiming to be a prophet be in agreement with all that he just wrote (not parts but ALL). For him, if a person did not recognize that he was writing a command from the Lord then they themselves would not be recognized as prophets of God or even spiritually discerning.
I’m not sure how a letter that was circulated among the churches with such a strong command and reproof could only be intended for the community for which the epistle was named. Paul knew that these letters were circulating with some of the apostles (such as Peter) referring to them as Scripture. If Paul had felt that this text was being misused and misunderstood in other contexts, would he not have sent a corrective? Of course, he would have! But not only did he not do this but he echoes this command from 1 Corinthians very similarly in 1 Timothy 2:12-14. In this text, Paul justifies his prohibition with Scripture citing the order of creation and the intention of that order as the reason women should not teach/ hold authority over men. So it would appear that in both instances Paul is meaning to set a standard for the church that is in fact universal, not conditional.
A Little Greek to Clarify
This is where many pastors stop, and in so doing mare the text with their antiquated misunderstanding of the original language. In my mind, with texts like this the original language is where the pastor/theologian should be working, not from their English translation. The words used in each section are nuanced, intriguing, and far from black and white. So let me hit on 1 Corinthians 14: 33b-40 first. Firstly, within the context here Paul is speaking with reference to ordered worship assemblies. It is in this setting then, that Paul gives this prohibition. Now in my mind, the translators are less gracious than the Greek, which is unfortunate and in my mind misleading. Paul is not saying women are not allowed to speak, but that they should not address the general assembly as an interpreter of tongues or as an interpreter of prophecy.
I am not sure why this text is ripped from its immediate context by so many, but Paul is prohibiting the use of tongues and their interpretation by women in the general assembly. The words for “stay silent” (sigaō) and “speak” (laleō) are also used earlier in the chapter in reference to how tongues should be utilized within the general assembly. So then, Paul stating a specific circumstance in which women are to stay silent certainly isn’t prescriptive over every instance of speaking within the Christian life, or even when the church comes together in worship. Many translations separate this chapter into two parts, and I think that unwise. Many have followed this split and have mistakenly believed that the beginning of chapter 14 does not apply to the verses in question when in fact it does. Reading chapter 14 as a cohesive unit is likely the better reading and it is for this reason that I stand on the exegetical ground I now stand.
Within 1 Timothy 2:12-14 are some other interesting issues. Perhaps the most interesting of which is the use of “teach” (didaskō) and “exercise authority” (authenteō). The latter is especially interesting as the Greek term used there is only found here. This is significant, because the word authority is used extensively through the New Testament. So why is this the only instance in which authenteō appears? The term here seems to exude the idea of coercive, abusive, and lorded authority. While this certainly doesn’t seem to fit the context, the question then becomes; in what way did Paul intend this verb to be read?
I think the answer is near impossible apart from the preceding verb of “teach”. For me and other scholars these words are tied together and are intended to be two components that are speaking to a single issue. If this is seen as the case, than the use of the Greek term here makes some sense as Paul seems to be eluding that women are barred from teaching with authority in the same way as an elder or apostle. In other words, while a woman could teach (and did so, even to men as seen in Acts 18:26 most notably) she could not do so in the capacity as the leader of the church. This was a role distinctly given to men as heads of house and home. This rendering is strengthened even more so in that directly preceding this section Paul begins to go into what the qualifiers of what such a leader would be. Set within these two contexts, women then are given specific parameters for which teaching, interpreting, and speaking to the general assembly is inappropriate.
With these exegetical understandings in mind, we need to take the proper ecclesial steps towards obedience. Some churches are too restrictive, keeping women from speaking in general, even sometimes to children or youth without a man present. This is ridiculous and violates what Paul is trying to get across through these two texts. It is time for people who hold to such views to stop harming their female members and begin empowering them in the Spirit to be bold proclaimers of truth to the world and to the community of faith. On the other hand, it is also time for those on the other side of the equation to recognize that men and women are intended for different roles within the Christian family, just as male and female roles are different within the familial structure.
I am hoping that this be a catalyst for change on both sides of the debate, that some read these from each extreme and come to the understanding that Paul is being more liberating for women than conservatives recognize, and more restrictive than liberals want to admit. The truth is somewhere in the middle, where Paul prohibits speaking, and teaching within certain contexts, with certain parameters. The prohibitions are not comprehensive, but are specific to situations that the church deals with in community. At the same time, they are prohibitions that are general and intended for the church at large not just those communities which bear the name of their respective epistle. I pray that this find all of you well, and that the Lord help soften hearts and bring about correct understanding in this matter while taking what is said within text seriously. Peace and Blessings and as always thank you for reading.
With Love in Christ
Justin (A.K.A. The Nerdy Theologian)
Good stuff, thank you. I have come to different conclusions from you, based on my understanding of the Greek, but it’s good to have solid, well-reasoned, scriptural arguments form both viewpoints, so again, thank you 🙂