1 Timothy 4:11-12 In Depth Interpretive Passage Analysis – Should women be pastors or teach men in the church?

In the following article we will examine this passage and this question in depth, take a biblical look at the two main views, and then form a conclusion based on the the authoritave Word of God.

1 Timothy 4:11-12- “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

I. This passage has created an extraordinary amount of controversy for the church in an age where culture and the feminism movement are pushing forward the concept of complete equality of the sexes and non-discrimination. It is a very visible issue to the public and applicable to the church as it appoints leaders and teachers. Because it is such an important issue and so widely debated it is essential that this passage be understood and interpreted correctly so that the Church can correctly follow God’s will in the matter. This controversy has two chief views.

II. One view of this passage is complementary. Those who support this view take the passage as literal and the command regarding the role of women in the church to be universal and applicable to all cultures and times. There are several key points that are integral to this view.

According to William MacDonald this command in 1 Timothy is “consistent with the rest of Scripture on this subject”1. Therefore it is not an isolated command given to Timothy for a specific situation existing in the Ephesian church, but it is normative. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is consistently referred to as providing support from elsewhere in the Bible and says, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says… for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” Theologian of Dallas Theological Seminary, Charles Ryrie, also cites Titus 2:3-5 as a cross-reference, which specifically tells the older women to teach the younger women. Therefore the multiplicity of passages in the New Testament giving the same type of commands is often appealed to.

A second point is that the command prohibiting a woman to speak in church refers to the official function of public office2. In other words, Paul is “forbidding women from filling the office and role of the pastor or teacher… not prohibiting them from teaching I other appropriate conditions.”3 And in this passage Paul also forbids women “from exercising any type of authority over men in the church assembly”4 since one of the qualifications for church leadership was to be male according to 1 Timothy 3:2. Few, if any, people supporting this position would say it is wrong for a woman to talk in church, but merely that they shouldn’t exercise leadership, oversight, or authority over men in spiritual matters.

In addition, complementarians don’t deny that women have a very important role in ministry, but simply that it is different or “complementary”. Women are viewed as spiritual equals5. The proper outlet for women to minister is to “teach those of their own sex”6. According to Titus 2:4 this is not only acceptable, but encouraged and commanded. Another virtually universally agreed upon exception is that women “are permitted to teach children”7. Therefore the prohibition still leaves ample room for women to exercise their God-given abilities and insights by teaching others. It is a well known fact that many more women are interested in the gospel worldwide and many of these would rejoice at having a committed lady teaching them.

Against the charge that this command is cultural and doesn’t need to be applied today, the supporters of the complementarian view appeal to 1 Timothy 2:13, which says, “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” According to Walvoord and Zuck this passage demonstrates that Paul “based his view of male/female relationships in the church on the account of Creation” and that this is God’s “design for the human race”8. So Paul is using God’s order of Creation and natural design as reasons for his command. In a similar way Jesus appealed to Creation and God’s natural order for marriage when refuting the Pharisees and renouncing divorce (cf. Matthew 19:3-9). Looking at these two examples, the conclusion is that it is not a cultural command because God’s original design supersedes all cultures.

A summary of the complementarian view, also called the traditional view, is that “men and women are equal in dignity and worth, though women are subordinate to their husbands and barred from holding offices in the church of leadership over men”9.

Although the traditionalist view is held by most evangelicals a minority of evangelicals and most liberal theologians espouse the egalitarian view, which is the view that “women should be regarded as equals in authority in the home and given equal access to all positions of leadership in the church”10. Because egalitarians do not accept 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as a universal principle there are a number of different views, all of which reach the same conclusion of gender equality, which differing camps use to explain the verse. The key verse11 for their theology is Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Each camp generally refers to this verse in Galatians as setting forth the universal principle of gender equality, therefore concluding Paul is directing this command either to a specific situation or the Ephesians church, which was surrounded by a unique culture12.

A more extreme view of the passage in question is that Paul is merely giving a personal opinion (so he says “I do not allow”) and this isn’t a command from God13. Most of the theologians who work through “Christians for Biblical Equality” deny such an interpretation, in view of the fact that it undermines the inspiration of God’s Word.

The general consensus among egalitarian theologians, therefore, is that the command was culture specific, given as a “temporal, local command only for the church at Ephesus due to the culture in which this church was enveloped”14. There are several possibilities given why Paul gave this injunction specifically to the church at Ephesus. One such view is that Paul barred women from teaching “because he did not want them to teach false doctrine or to exercise or usurp authority inappropriately or abusively [due to the fact that] women at this church at this time were not theologically equipped” for such a responsibility15. Whether it was this exact reason or another, most egalitarians presume it was related to the prevalence of the pagan cult of Artemis in Ephesus, whose radical feminism positions were touching the church and bringing the possibility of abuses by the women in the church16.

First Timothy 2:8-9 are appealed to: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands… Likewise I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing… not with braided hair and gold or pearls and costly garments”. The logic is that since these two commands in the immediate context are cultural so also is the command in verses eleven to twelve. The women were commanded not to have braided hair or wear gold or pearls for the same reason: the pagan cult was widespread in that culture and the ladies would want to avoid the appearance of evil. So although there are differing egalitarian interpretations of this passage the core view is mostly the same. This core view is that the command against women teaching in the church was given specifically to the believers at the church of Ephesus, and is thereby cultural in nature and not a universal principle which the Church needs to apply today.

The complementary, or traditional, view appears to be correct based on five hermeneutical principles, which will be applied to the problem. The first of these principles is to relate the problem to the literary context. This principle is extremely important for understanding any Biblical passage because “each statement must be understood according to the its natural meaning in the literary context in which it occurs”17. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 needs to be understood in its larger context within the book of 1 Timothy, the other epistles, and ultimately the whole Bible. These two verses are part of a larger section encompassing most of chapters two and three, in which Paul instructs Timothy regarding the structure and qualifications of church leadership as well as content of worship. The literary context of chapter three clearly shows that only a man could become an overseer or deacon in the church. It is implied continually with words such as “man” (3:1), “husband” (3:2), “He”, and “his” (3:4), “man” (3:5) and so on throughout the entire section. Paul’s instructions in these chapters are obvious: men are to be the leaders in the church.

Many argue that these instructions were cultural, intended only for the church at Ephesus. In verse thirteen of chapter two, however, Paul explicitly gives God’s creation order as the basis for this commandment. If he gave this instruction because of a unique situation at Ephesus, he almost surely would have given that as the reason for his prohibition against women teachers, not creation! Verse fourteen clarifies this even further. He shows that the fall is a direct result of God’s natural order being reversed.

Critics often point to two possibly cultural commands in the preceding verses to demonstrate that the prohibition against women teachers was also cultural. Those two commands were for men to lift “up holy hands” (verse 8) and for women to not braid their hair or wear gold and pearls (verse 9). It is true that those commands were probably related to culture. However, for both commands a universal principle was given that transcends all cultures. For prayer and lifting up hands the principle was to do so without “wrath and dissention” (verse 9). Therefore the attitude of worship was the key point, not the outward style, which differs from time to time. In reference to clothing and style Paul lays out the universal principle of exercising proper behavior and godliness that should guide women’s actions, as opposed to concern for beauty. But there is no other universal principle mentioned in regards to women teachers. It is the universal principle, and that is shown by Paul’s reference to Creation. If it was merely cultural it would stand to reason that some lasting principle can be derived from that command besides prohibition against women teachers in the church. However, none can be found. Based on the immediate context there is no convincing reason not to take the command at face value. One would have to expend great effort in order to explain it away.

Looking at the larger context of the other epistles, even more evidence can be found for the complementary view, which proves this was not a cultural command. Paul gave a virtually identical command to the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. That is very problematic for those who argue that the command was intended only for the church at Ephesus. In the pastoral epistle of Titus Paul again gave the qualification for elders. These are very similar to those in 1 Timothy, and again Paul refers to such elders as a “man” and “husband” (Titus 1:6), eliminating the possibility for women leaders, at least of this kind. It is important to note that Titus was ministering to the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5). This is the third different group, representing different situations, backgrounds, and cultures, that Paul gives similar instructions to. It is evident that at least Paul considered these to be universal principles and applicable to all churches and situations.

Peter also affirms the headship of the husband (a point often denied by egalitarians) in 1 Peter 3:1. All the apostles chosen and taught by Jesus were men. Therefore this theology is not “Paul’s theology”. God’s complementary order of men spiritual leaders, and women helpers is consistent throughout the Bible. It was established at Creation. It was taught by Peter and Paul, practiced by Jesus, and held true for the churches at Corinth, Ephesus, and Crete. There is no convincing evidence either in the immediate context of First Timothy, the larger context of the epistles, or the complete context of the whole Bible that the command should not be accepted as literal and universal.

The historical-context is also important to hermeneutics and is closely related to the literary context. Biblical authors did not write in a vacuum. The issues they dealt with were directly related to things that they encountered. Generally egalitarians rely heavily on the culture in which commands regarding women’s roles were given. It is certainly true that the Middle Eastern culture in which the New Testament was written had a low regard for women, to say the least. One famous Jewish Rabbi even said that it would be better to burn the Talmud than teach it to a woman. Therefore a commonly accepted held belief is that Paul didn’t want to create a stir by going against the cultural norms of his day.

When actually examining Paul’s life and teachings along with the practices of Jesus and the other disciples it becomes quite evident that they didn’t simply follow the culture, but they actually were outcasts of the culture and much of what they did was progressive and even radical.

Throughout the Bible women are given a much higher position than was common in society. Paul’s first instruction that the women were to “learn” (1 Timothy 2:11 NIV) was radical in itself. Learning and receiving an education was considered unfit for women. Yet Paul specifically allows them to join church activities and receive instruction on an equal basis as the men. In Ephesians Paul commands husbands to “love [their] wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25 NASB). Again, in that society it would have been almost unheard of that a husband needed to love, respect, and take care of his wife to this extent. Extra-biblical literature written at that time period contains virtually no such injunctions. Paul also pronounced that women and men were equal in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28), a concept totally foreign to the culture of his day! Jesus went against culture by forgiving the adulteress and letting her go free. In addition several of His closer-in followers were women, like Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary (sister of Martha). His resurrection was first made known to women, who were to spread the good news (showing that it is proper for women to spread the gospel).

All of the disciples were considered virtual rebels by leaders of their respective cultures. Eleven of the twelve died for their un-orthodox teachings. These men were not afraid to go against culture. They were even said to have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NKJV). Therefore Paul’s teachings on women’s roles were not based on the culture’s influence on him. They were based on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He supported a high role and position for women, one that was equal to that of men, but not exactly the same.

Having said that no author writes in a vacuum, Paul did not either. Though the exact situation is unknown to us almost two thousand years later it is probable that some situation in Ephesus and Corinth triggered Paul to lay down God’s codes for church leadership. Perhaps women were usurping authority in the churches and God directed to Paul to instruct the churches more properly. Whatever the original stimulus there is no reason to conclude Paul’s command in this area was only applicable to that culture. Indeed, if Paul were still alive to see the present situation in churches around the world, where the feminism movement so popular in today’s culture has made huge inroads into the church and taken it away from God’s Biblical design, it seems sure that he would once again feel it necessary to give similar commands against women usurping spiritual authority.

Two other hermeneutical principles take into account word meaning combined with grammatical relationships and follow the principle that the “correct interpretation of Scripture is the meaning required by the normal meaning of the words in the context in which they occur”18. The English meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is relatively plain. However, these principles emphasize the importance of the original languages. The words in these verses should be consulted to see if there is any exception for Paul’s command or if his meaning is something different than the plain, literal reading of the text. Several questions should be asked. What kind of silence, quietness, or submissiveness did Paul have in mind? What kind of teaching is this referring to? What does it mean that Paul didn’t “permit” a woman to teach?

The Greek word that is used here for “silence” or “quietness” (depending on the translation) is “hesychia” and does not denote a complete silence or absence of any talking. It is also used in Acts 22:2 and 2 Thessalonians 3:12 and in both instances means “settled down, undisturbed, or unruly”19. This is what one would expect it to mean based on the English. Thus, the command is not for women to never speak in church, but that she should be subdued and maintain an attitude of submissiveness, while not attempting to control the situation. “Didasko” is the Greek word used for “to teach”, and refers to a condition or process. This word is closely related to “didaskalos”, which is translated “to be a teacher” and is used consistently to refer to an office of a teacher in the church. Therefore, based on this word and its use in other passages (cf. Ephesians 4:11), Paul is forbidding women to exercise the same role of teaching in a church that belonged to the church leaders who held that office. “The Greek word for ‘permit’ is used in the NT to refer to allowing someone to do what he desires”20. The implication is that although women at that time, and indeed until now, may desire authority in the church and the right to teach men, Paul was prohibiting them from it. The Greek words used in this passage leave little wiggle room and strengthen the complementary position of taking the text literally and straightforwardly.

Some may argue that the phrase “I do not allow a woman” indicates that this command comes from Paul’s own personal opinion. To take such a view, however, seriously undermines the authority of Scripture and can’t be entertained by any who believe in the divine inspiration of God’s Word. Paul also implies a connection between teaching, exercising authority, and speaking by linking those thoughts together: “to teach or exercise authority, but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 4:12 NASB). Therefore the three parts of this command go hand in foot. Women are not to teach men, usurp authority over men, or disrupt a church service by being loud or unruly.

Another helpful hermeneutical strategy to employ, especially for such a challenging passage as this, is to ask several questions of the text which might help to indicate if the teaching is universal or merely occasional. Several questions mentioned in the textbook can shed light on the issue. “Does the larger context of the book [of First Timothy] limit the application of [the passage in question] in any way or does it promote a more universal application?”21 By looking at chapter three, it is evident that Paul intended a universal application. Nowhere in the book does he limit the command to a specific instance, church, or situation. “Is the rational for the application rooted in a creation ordinance, in the character of God, or in part of his redemptive plan for humanity?”22 The command against women teachers in the church appears to be rooted in a creation ordinance and therefore is universal. In a similar way to 1 Timothy 2:13, Jesus rooted sexual ethics to creation in Matthew 19:5. And above the important question if “the command or application [was] at variance with standard cultural norms of the day”23 was answered with an emphatic “yes”! Paul’s view of women was much higher than the societies’ as a whole. By asking these questions of the text it becomes even more clear that the passage should be seen as universal in application for the church.

After closely scrutinizing the passage using these five hermeneutical principles, in addition to seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is a convincing argument that the application of this passage is universal and timeless. At the same time there is a glaring lack of evidence that Paul intended it to be only cultural. In conclusion, a quote from a wise person aptly describes the suitable interpretation for this passage: “when the common sense reading makes good sense, seek no other sense, to do so is nonsense.”

1 MacDonald William. Believer’s Bible Commentary 1989. Page 2084.

2 Macarthur John. Macarthur Study Bible. Word Publishing 1997. Page 1863.

3 Macarthur John. Macarthur Study Bible. Word Publishing 1997. Page 1863.

4 Macarthur John. Macarthur Study Bible. Word Publishing 1997. Page 1863.

5 Macarthur John. Macarthur Study Bible. Word Publishing 1997. Page 1794.

6 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary. As seen on PC Study Bible.

7 MacDonald William. Believer’s Bible Commentary 1989. Page 2084.

8 Walvoord, John F and Zuck, Roy B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. SP Publications 1983. Page 734.

9 Counterpoint – Debate on Inclusive anguage.https://www.apologeticsindex.org/cpoint1-6.html. Retrieved on April 22, 2005.

10 Counterpoint – Debate on Inclusive anguage.https://www.apologeticsindex.org/cpoint1-6.html. Retrieved on April 22, 2005.

11 Information from www.cbeinternational.org. Retrieved on April 21, 2005.

12 Christians for Biblical Equality. https://www.cbeinternational.org/new/free_articles/timothy_meaning.shtml. Retrieved on April 21, 2005.

13 Role of Women in the Church. https://fundamentalbiblechurch.org/Foundation/fbcrollof.htm. Retrieved on April 22, 2005.

14 Role of Women in the Church. https://fundamentalbiblechurch.org/Foundation/fbcrollof.htm. Retrieved on April 22, 2005.

15 Christians for Biblical Equality. https://www.cbeinternational.org/new/free_articles/timothy_meaning.shtml. Retrieved on April 21, 2005.

16 Role of Women in the Church. https://fundamentalbiblechurch.org/Foundation/fbcrollof.htm. Retrieved on April 22, 2005.

17 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, JR. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. W Publishing Group 1993. Page 160.

18 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, JR. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. W Publishing Group 1993. Page 183.

19 Walvoord, John F and Zuck, Roy B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. SP Publications 1983. Page 734.

20 Macarthur John. Macarthur Study Bible. Word Publishing 1997. Page 1863.

21 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, JR. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. W Publishing Group 1993. Page 412.

22 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, JR. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. W Publishing Group 1993. Page 417.

23 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, JR. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. W Publishing Group 1993. Page 418.

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