Female Authority

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.”  

- 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Although it is hard to know everything the false teachers in Ephesus promoted, most commentators believe these “instructors” had many women followers (2 Tim. 3:6), including young widows who embraced the heretics’ asceticism, which included such things as avoiding certain foods and shunning remarriage (1 Tim. 4:1–5; 5:11–15). Paul’s words about jewelry (2:9–10) also indicate the presence of wealthy women who likely allowed churches to meet in their homes, the normal way the earliest Christians gathered for fellowship and teaching. These rich ladies probably let the errant elders infiltrate worship, and in turn they likely allowed the women to teach men.

Our look at 1 Timothy 2:11–12 cannot ignore this setting, but we must not assume that the passage’s cultural context means that its teaching is invalid today. Many people disagree, saying that Paul forbade women to hold authority over men in the church only temporarily and that women may now serve as elders. To answer this position we must look at what else the Bible says on the subject. Paul also addresses women in public worship in 1 Corinthians 14:33b–35, calling for their silence in a different context. This application of a similar principle in separate settings (Ephesus and Corinth) points to its universality. The universality of 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is also grounded in principles inherent in creation, which we will investigate further tomorrow. None of these principles, however, supports male superiority, for the Bible knows no such thing.

What Paul says in today’s passage is that women are barred from preaching and teaching in worship, not every kind of speaking. Paul assumes women will prophesy in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:4–5) and throughout Scripture women engage in speech acts in the worship service (like singing, see Ex. 15:20–21; Col. 3:16). First Timothy 2:11–12, then, is calling women to be attentive and not interruptive, prohibiting their ordination to the office of elder. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes, “Paul is saying that women can be involved in all kinds of…ministry in the church but…the role of juridical authority or of governing authority is not to be held by women” (Now That’s a Good Question, p. 346). 

Coram Deo

Dr. John MacArthur says, “Paul is forbidding women from filling the office and role of the pastor or teacher. He is not prohibiting them from teaching in other appropriate conditions and circumstances” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,783). All of us have been blessed by mothers, women missionaries and Sunday school teachers, and other females who have taught us the Word without being elders. Let us thank God for the many godly women in our lives.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 11:1–30
Mark 3:13–19
Acts 1:12–26
1 Timothy 3:1–7

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