Women are not allowed to teach. Really?

My last post about a female Indian church planter who  was not allowed to share in class obviously struck a chord with many. In response, someone asked me how he could answer those who use 1 Timothy 2:12 as the basis of their belief that women are not allowed to teach and shouldn’t have authority over men.

I don’t believe those who silenced my friend are deliberate misogynists. My guess is that they are genuinely trying to follow the Scriptures. The problem is, they take a legalistic viewpoint on an English version of a verse that can, with total integrity, be interpreted in a different way.

So here’s the question: is 1 Timothy 2:12 an absolute prohibition on women teaching men? Is it right for the men in her class to forbid my friend to speak?  Or are there other Scriptures that provide a balancing view, in which case, a different interpretation is acceptable.

People sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to accommodate this verse, as my Indian friend discovered.


Photo Credit: potamos.photography via Compfight cc

Consider the following in trying to understand 1 Timothy 2:12

  • 1 Timothy 2:12 is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women are not allowed to teach men.
  • Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4;17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus. Even more surprising that Timothy allowed women to teach and the practice needed to stop.
  • Paul acknowledged the very real role that women had in teaching Timothy  (his mother and grandmother).
  • Priscilla (named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for “each one,” hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 and from Acts 2 that this includes women. If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it then?
  • A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but again there’s no qualification here that women are not allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no,” there is no implication that any of these gifts are gender specific.
  • Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another.
  • In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. It’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.
  • The Great Commission, in which disciples are commanded to both baptize and teach is not limited to men.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic passage on discipleship. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say…  entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than gender specific.
Let this form the backdrop of how 1 Timothy 2:12 is interpreted.

 

16 thoughts on “Women are not allowed to teach. Really?”

    1. Thanks, Bob! I love the training an elephant analogy. It’s similar to the flea one (putting fleas into a jar and they learn not to jump high) but in this context, I prefer the elephant example!

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  1. Thanks Felicity, I always enjoy your articles. Sadly we are all a product of our teaching. It’s a shame people don’t look at the ‘local’ context (not universal) of the book of Timothy, and the problem that Paul wrote for Timothy to address…false teaching. One also doesn’t have to be Einstein to see the parallels in this passage with the Artemis cult that consumed the people of Ephesus, and then understand how new christians (coming into the church) would have had baggage from this cult. It all makes sense as one reads about braided hair, adam born first, women deceived, the ‘authory’ word, and women saved through child bearing.

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    1. I totally agree, Jolie, and thank you for the encouragement. To me it’s interesting how often we contextualize some things but not others. So we’re willing to say that slavery was for those days and that context and those verses can be applied differently now, but we don’t do the same for this verse in 1 Timothy 2:12.

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  2. Sister to sister: As someone who began toddling along with Jesus 25 years ago, I have been obliged to church-hop all over the USA, experiencing most denominations, numerous non-denoms, and house/cell groups galore….which is to say, I have observed the winds of doctrine coming, and going.
    I wondered what the Indian church-planter thought she needed from THEM… but admired her respectful behavior. Where I am, as a woman, not limited by the men, I limit myself to my own understanding of the Word.
    Have you noted that the principles of headship order extend far beyond male and female, and are expounded upon throughout the entire Bible? One of numerous ripples from this latest rock tossed into the pond: as the women step up, more and more men tend to fall back. As they do, we ladies begin to lose out (at the very least) on the natural inclination of the male to protect. Was not Eve first deceived? A small child knows mommy is probably the softer-touch, if he or she wants something. If you were the devil, out to scam somebody, which one would YOU have approached? Do we think that has changed? Is it conceivable that God could have known what He was doing, when He breathed out His instructions through the apostle?

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    1. My experience is different from yours. In the circles I move in, I don’t see men failing to step up as the women take a role. I see a huge synergistic effect as men and women work together for the sake of the Kingdom.

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  3. Sorry but I lost faith in this post very early. Timothy being raised and taught by female relatives is in no way related to teaching and guiding a Church. Are you seriously suggesting that Paul would say mothers or grandmothers shouldn’t teach their children? You have improved the case against women teaching.

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    1. Nathan, I’m guessing you have very fixed views on the role of women in the church. You’re entitled to those views. We’ll have to agree to disagree, but I’d prefer if it was done lovingly and graciously. (And since this is my blog, I can set the standard when it comes to comments)

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      1. Nathan, forgive me if I misinterpreted your comments. What I understood your last sentence to say is that my post was sufficiently inadequate that it reinforced your belief that women shouldn’t teach. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but if it is, I find that disrespectful–although note, I haven’t deleted it. If it isn’t what you wanted to say, perhaps you would explain what you did mean.

        Obviously mothers and grandmothers will teach their kids, but many people believe that women shouldn’t teach boys after the age of 13.

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      2. In a way it is what I wanted to say. To say that because Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him is support for women teaching the Church does kind of suggest poor thinking. Obviously all mothers and grandmothers teach their children. This would seem to be a very different kind of teaching to what Paul is talking about when he says ‘it was Eve deceived, not Adam’. Obviously he wasn’t saying, ‘mothers shouldn’t teach their children’.

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      3. Nathan, I hope you had a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.

        To disagree with me is one thing– I love to debate Scripture, and will happily engage in dialog on that. I find it disrespectful someone makes those remarks personal.

        You also pick one point to disagree on — and I agree with you that any mother/grandmother is going to teach their children. (Although as I commented above, it isn’t uncommon for women to not be allowed to teach an older boys’ class). But you have ignored all the other points I made–or at least dismissed them as “improving the case against women teaching.”

        By the way, part of the reason I’m calling you out on this is because I know that with the book I’m compiling on women, I’m painting a target on my back. I need to learn to respond to comments like yours with grace and firmness. You’ll have to tell me if I’ve succeeded 🙂

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      4. The picture is not to be taken seriously! It was just a stock photo from the internet. (If you thought that was what I’m looking for, it explains a little of your negative reaction to my post.) But it is kind of a caricature of what some people think a woman leader would be like–masculinized and forceful. It’s sad that some women try to be more masculine in their characteristics in order to be accepted in leadership. One sees the same in the business world.

        Women bring different gifts and strengths to the body of Christ.

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