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.

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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.


How are men impacted by the teaching about women?

On Friday I posted about eighteen things I had been taught about women as a young Christian–things which impacted me for decades of my life. To be honest, even as I wrote them down, I found myself angry (hopefully with a righteous indignation) at the cage I had been trapped in. Thankfully, Tony, my husband, is a wonderful and gracious husband, but even today, I remember well him trying to explain to me why I had been removed from a leadership team because of my gender–because our church had just come under the influence of teaching that didn’t allow women in leadership, but that it was okay because I could exert an influence through him.

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I’m not blaming the guys, They were taught these things as much as I was, and for some of them, the strain of trying to live up to this view of the man’s responsibilities must have been just as difficult as it was for us as women. What about the man whose wife is naturally more outgoing, where he is more content to be in the background?  Or the man who is more pastoral and less apostolic than his wife?  Is it fair for one person in a partnership to be responsible to always make the correct decisions? Tim Day had a thought-provoking post on this over the weekend too–well worth pondering.

I’d be very interested to hear how this teaching about women has impacted the men. What stories do you have?

Why are some women passive in church?

Here’s what I was taught in my early days as a Christian. As a woman

  • I am always to be under a man’s covering or authority. If I’m unmarried or my husband is not around, I have to find a man to whom I will submit.
  • I cannot teach a man under any circumstances–unless they are under the age of 13.
  • Of course I can lead, but only through my influence on my husband.
  • I can never hold any position of strategic influence or leadership in the church.
  • Because Eve was deceived, I, as a woman, am more open to deception than a man.
  • God only uses a woman when a man isn’t available. (This permits women on the mission field.)
  • My husband is the leader; I am there to serve his calling and vision. His destiny is the one that counts.
  • My husband is the priest of our home.
  • I have to be very careful about what I wear in case I cause a man to lust.
  • A strong woman probably has a “Jezebel spirit.”
  • I shouldn’t take the initiative but pray for my husband to do so in order that I can follow his lead.
  • I  always have to obey my husband, willing submitting even if  I know he’s wrong.
  • If God uses me to lead/teach men in any way, it’s like God speaking through Balaam’s donkey–an aberration.
  • God created Adam before he created Eve. Therefore men lead; women follow.
  • Women are more likely than men to lead the church astray.
  • There are no such thing as women elders.
  • Once I have children, my place is in the home.
  • There are plenty of ministries I can involve in–prayer and women’s ministries, Sunday School and making the coffee. I should be content with this and not seek to use my gifting outside of those prescribed boundaries.

The obvious conclusion? God, for some divine reason, prefers men. Women are therefore inferior to men, comparatively unimportant in the bigger scheme of life in the Kingdom.

A whole generation of women has been brought up to believe these things are true. We have become conditioned to living within these boundaries because we have been taught this is what the Bible says about us.

Is it any wonder that some of us struggle when we are given the freedom to take the initiative?

What has been your experience?

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Eve was deceived…

As a  young Christian I was taught that  because women are more prone to deception than men, therefore men should be the teachers. Adam was created before Eve, and therefore all women should be in submission to male leadership–whether that’s husband, pastor or some other Christian man. (I shudder even now to think how, albeit unwillingly, I swallowed these maxims. But I wanted to be a good Christian woman, and if that’s what it took…)

The idea comes from 1 Timothy 2

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.(vv 12-14 NKJV)

Two incontrovertible facts:

  1. Eve was deceived and then sinned.
  2. Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Let’s review the background from this letter. Paul was writing to combat heresy in the church in Ephesus (I Tim 1:3).  In Acts 20, Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come in, including some men who would distort the truth. The book of 1 Timothy is full of warnings against false teaching:

  • People were spending their time in meaningless discussions, wanting to be known as teachers of the law (1:6-7).
  • Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples who had deliberately violated their consciences and shipwrecked their faith and Paul had  thrown them out (1:20).
  • In the last times some would follow deceptive spirits and demonic teachings, saying it’s wrong to be married or eat certain foods (4:1-3).
  • Paul exhorts Timothy not to waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales but instead to train for godliness (4:7).
  • Some younger widows had already gone astray to follow Satan (5:15).
  • People who contradicted Paul and Timothy’s teaching were arrogant and lacked understanding, stirring up arguments that resulted in jealosy, division, slander and evil suspicion. Their minds were corrupt and they were using a show of godliness to become wealthy (6:2-10).
  • Paul gave a final exhortation to Timothy to avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who have wandered from the faith.

Again, the background to 1 Timothy is to deal with false teaching in a culture that was dominated by a female-centered religious cult.

Jon Zens in his excellent book,What’s With Paul and Women? makes the following points:

  • “First” is a function of time, not of superiority. Nowhere in the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 where both Adam and Eve are given the command to have dominion over creation, or in I Timothy 2:12, is there evidence that women are to be subordinate to men.
  • The worship of Artemis, goddess of the Ephesians, was a female-dominated cult ruled by women priests that included public sexual displays and fancy clothing and jewelry.
  • This cult taught that Artemis was born before her twin, Apollo, and that women, as the superior gender, therefore could dominate men.
  • Women in Ephesus looked to Artemis, the mother goddess. for protection–for their virginity, for aid in barrenness and for help in labor.
  • The history of the church shows that most false teaching has been propagated by males.
  • Eve being deceived by the serpent was not an example of what goes wrong when a female usurps male leadership, but of disobeying one of God’s commands. Paul uses the same example in 2 Corinthians 11:3 to show how an entire congregation can be deceived, both males and females.
  • It’s not right for anyone to teach with the goal of dominating others.
So is 1 Timothy 2 a “timeless universal restriction” on women? Or was it written into a specific situation where certain women in Ephesus had been deceived by false teaching and were passing it on to others?  Do we run into danger if we allow a cultural understanding to balance a literal obedience to the word?
What do you think?

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Guest post by Jon Zens: Selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 3)

This comprehensive list by Jon (see parts one and two) of how God used women in the New Testament is both instructive and far-reaching.  Two passages have been used to muzzle women for centuries–1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. But in the passages listed by Jon, we see that the trend and tenor of Scripture does not support the traditional interpretation of these two passages. And both can be interpreted with integrity in other ways. We are wise not to use individual verses to disprove or negate the general principles and examples of Scripture.

Again, my thanks to Jon.

Here is the completion of Jon’s list.

  • Junia and Andronicus (wife/husband or sister/brother) were greeted by Paul as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom.16:7).  They were his relatives and had been in prison with him.  There were people called “apostles” who were not among the Twelve, like Barnabas.  Junia was also among such apostolic workers.  There is no reason to think that she was the only such female apostle.
  • Among all the people Paul greeted in Romans 16, ten were sisters among whom were “Tryphena and Tryphosa [who may have been twins], women who work hard for the Lord” (Rom.16:12).
  • In line with Acts 2:17-18, Paul encouraged brothers and sisters to prophesy in the gatherings (1 Cor.11:4-5; 14:23-24).
  • The open meeting Paul described in 1 Cor.14 envisioned all the men and women – “the whole assembly” – “each one of you” – “you may all prophesy one by one” – functioning together in an encouraging manner.
  • Gal.3:28 indicated that “in Christ” human distinctions, like male and female, are no longer norms of judgment in the congregation.  In the first century, prejudices abounded in folks’ minds when certain people like “Gentile,” “Jew,” “slave,” and “woman” were mentioned.  Paul stated that in the body of Christ this should not be the case.
  • Women were prominent in the assembly at Philippi, beginning with Lydia’s home.  In Phil.4:3 Paul asked for two sisters – who must have had no small spiritual influence in the body – to be at peace with one another.  He called Euodia and Syntyche “co-workers” and “co-strugglers” in the gospel.
  • 2 John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.”  This probably referred to a respected sister in whose home the saints gathered.  She had apparently exerted significant spiritual influence upon a number of people.  Women’s homes were mentioned as meeting places for the brethren in Rom.16:5, 1 Cor.1:11, 16:9 and Col.4:15.
  • In Rev.2:20-24 Christ rebuked the Thyatiran congregation for allowing a false prophetess, nicknamed “Jezebel,” to “teach” some of the Lord’s servants to sin grievously.  If it was such a crime for a woman to teach the brethren, why didn’t the Lord just condemn the assembly for even allowing a woman to instruct others?  This incident in Thyatira implies that the assembly permitted other male and female prophets to teach the truth.  Christ’s bone to pick with them wasn’t that a woman taught, but that what she taught was false teaching.

This survey of Biblical highlights concerning women is important because it reveals the freedom of the sisters to function in the kingdom.  In the general flow of the New Testament there are no jitters about “restrictions” upon Christ’s daughters.  Such a survey should also serve as a corrective to those who squelch and intimidate the sisters by using their interpretation of two passages – 1 Cor.14:34-35 and 1 Tim.2:12 – to cancel out the ministry of sisters unfolded in other Scriptures.

It simply will not do to functionally dismiss and throw out as irrelevant all the positive revelation about women that has been presented. We can be sure that the intent of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 was not to silence the sisters. We can also be assured that it is an improper use of Scripture to elevate these two passages in a way that causes all other information about the sisters to be invalidated.

For a detailed interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15, one can read my What’s With Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2 (2010)

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Guest post by Jon Zens: selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 2)

Jon Zens continues his list of examples that reveal the role of women throughout the New Testament. Women should not be silenced by the two “challenging texts”–1 Corinthians 14:34-34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The weight of Scripture demonstrates that women do not have to “tape their mouths.” The first post in the series can be seen here. Jon writes:

  • Jesus applauded the evangelistic efforts of the Samaritan woman (John 4:35-38).  After experiencing a revelation of Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went to her city telling men, women and children about the Messiah (John 4:28-29).  Everyone in Sychar knew about her history of broken relationships, yet she boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah – a Redeemer even for those outside of Judaism!
  • In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the male disciples fled, yet the women were present and they helped in his burial (Matt.27:55-56,61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25-27).
  • A woman’s testimony was disallowed as evidence in first century courts.  Yet the Lord chose females to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection (John 20:1-2, 11-18; Luke 24:1-11, 22-24; Mark 16:1-8; Matt.28:1-11).
  • After Christ’s ascension, 120 men and women prayed together and chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:14-15).
  • The Spirit came upon the 120 disciples and they spoke the wonderful works of God in many foreign languages (Acts 2:1-4).
  • Some thought that what was occurring on the Day of Pentecost was evidence of too much wine, but Peter insisted that it was a fulfillment of what Joel prophesied would come to pass – “your sons and daughters will prophesy….I will pour out my Spirit on my male and female slaves and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).  There is no suggestion that males may prophesy freely, but that females are restricted in some ways.
  • Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  We would not be wrong in assuming that there were many other sisters who had this gift, not just Philip’s offspring.
  • Paul entrusted his letter to the Romans to Phoebe, and she delivered it.  She was a deacon in the assembly at Cenchrea and Paul had the highest regard for her (Rom.16:1-2).  Paul recognized her as a prostatis, which carried with it the idea of leadership (cf. 1 Thess.5:12).
  • Paul designated Priscilla and Aquila as his “co-workers” (Rom.16:3).  The same word is used with reference to people like Timothy and Titus.

To be continued:

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Guest post by Jon Zens: Selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 1)

I am so grateful to Jon Zens and the contribution he makes to the conversation about women. Jon is a Biblical scholar who has made a long-term study of the Scriptures about women and he carries an authoritative voice on this subject. Jon is author of several books including What’s With Paul and Women? and No Will Of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood Jon is one of the contributors to the book I’m co-writing on women. Here are Jon’s insights.

 Is it right to use two passages to mute the voice of so many others?

 If a person you were talking with about Christ brought up John 14:28 – “because the Father is greater than I” – and used it to prove that He was human, not divine, what would you say? Well, one vital perspective you could rightly raise would be, “Now, wait a minute. You can’t just magnify this one text and negate the input of many other Scriptures that reveal more about the Lord.”

Unfortunately, there are those who do the same thing with regard to female functioning in the body of Christ. They cite 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as if these two passages settle once and for all that women must be silent in the ekklesia.

But is this a proper way to use Scripture? Absolutely not. One must look at all the revelation about a matter, not just a few texts. And when a person pays attention to the flow of Scripture, it is readily apparent that Christ’s daughters do not have to tape their mouths.

Consider the following overview of women’s participation in Christ’s kingdom. It is imperative for us to receive the impact of this overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham’s daughters painted in the Scriptures. This information cannot be dismissed or forgotten when reflecting on the two “problem” passages.

  • Female prophets functioned openly and without issue in Israel.
  • Neither the Gospel narratives nor the recorded words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of women.
  • Jesus fully accepted women as his disciples and they accompanied him in his travels with the male disciples (Luke 8:1-3).  These women also supported the mission of Jesus with their own resources.  These facts may be much more significant that it initially appears.  In the first century it was unheard of for a Jewish rabbi to have female followers. Luke reports this rather matter-of-factly, yet this band of women, men and Jesus was hardly kosher to the curious onlookers as they went from city to village.
  • After Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and saw God’s salvation, Anna the prophetess “gave thanks to God and spoke of him [Jesus] to all the ones expecting redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38).  Anna did not just proclaim Christ to women, but to “all.”

To be continued…