Can women teach men in the church? — 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:11-15 is an important passage of Scripture about the question, “Can women teach men in the church?” That is, can women teach the Bible to men in the church or in a Bible study? It is important to accurately understand this passage in order to please the Lord Jesus. A wrong understanding of this passage will result in sin. What follows has two parts: 1) the cultural setting and 2) the meaning of the passage. 1 Timothy 2:12 is probably the key verse in this passage.
Meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-12
First, let’s discover what 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says. Verse 11 says,
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 1 Timothy 2:11 (NASB)
In this verse, God gives us a command. He says that women must receive instruction, as opposed to giving instruction. The Greek word for “quietly” is hesychia. It has the sense of being “silent” or “to maintain a state of silence” with a focus on an agreeable attitude. The point is that a godly woman is to be more eager to learn the Bible rather than being eager to teach.
Now this command does not apply to every teaching situation where women are in attendance. The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is a church worship service or the gathering of a group of believers, such as a Bible study. In these settings she is to be in “all subjection.” That is, the literal meaning of the Greek word for “submissiveness,” hupotage. The word is also translated as “obedience” (2 Corinthians 9:13), “subjection” (Galatians 2:5), and “under control” (1 Timothy 3:4) in the NASB. This Greek word is a compound word of hupo and tage. Hupo means “under” and tage means “arrange.” So, the word means to arrange herself under. Kittel’s lexicon defines it as “submission” in the sense of renunciation of initiative. This helps us understand the sense of submissiveness. She is to willingly submit herself. She is to take the initiative to submit.
Verse 12 broadens the command to prohibit women from teaching adult males when the Bible is being taught, including not being an elder in a church.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12 (NASB)
It is clear from Scripture that women are to teach their children (male and female children), and 1 Timothy 3:11 teaches that women can be deaconesses in a church (Romans 16:1). So women have teaching roles in the home and women can teach children the Bible in the church (Proverbs 6:20; 22:6, 15; 23:13; 29:15; 31:1). Therefore, the message of 1 Timothy 2:12 is that women are not allowed to teach or have authority over adult men. This excludes women from teaching in the church worship service or teaching a Bible study when adult men are present. Once again, the Holy Spirit adds that women are “to remain quiet” or ”silent.” This further makes the point that women are not to teach adult men since teaching requires speaking.
Some have eagerly claimed that the word “authority” does not mean authority. But that is a distortion of the meaning of the Greek word. In fact, the Greek word refers to someone who has a position of authority. That is, she cannot have a position of teaching, which by definition is an act of authority, nor can she be one of the elders of the church. This also agrees with 1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:5-6 which state that an elder must be a husband of one wife (one-woman man). That is, an elder cannot be a woman. The point is that other biblical passages preclude a woman from being an elder of a church. This passage concurs.
In summary, the divine principle that is given to us by the Holy Spirit is that women are to take the initiative to be in submission when the Bible is taught, as opposed to being in a teaching position or in a leadership role.The answer to the question, “Can women teach men in the church?” is no. That is the divine principle.
Cultural Context of 1 Timothy 2:13-14
When we come to verse 13, the Holy Spirit now explains why this divine principle exists. The Spirit says,
For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 1 Timothy 2:13 (NASB)
This statement transcends culture. That is, the divine principle was not established because women were untaught in the times of the apostles and therefore, were not capable of teaching. Some present-day teachers make that claim. But such a claim misses the point that surely there were men who were untaught also. Why would God prevent uneducated women from teaching but allow uneducated men to teach? The answer is God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
So the Holy Spirit rescues us from this error by giving us two reasons for this principle. The first reason occurs in verse 13. He reminds us that Adam was created before Eve. That is the teaching of Genesis 2:18-25. That is, men are to teach but not women because of the order of creation. This reveals that women are not inferior, but women have an assigned role. Jesus Christ also has an assigned role of submission to God the Father. Scripture repeatedly teaches that Jesus obeyed the Father (John 5:30; 6:38-40; 8:28; Philippians 2:7-8). Yet, He was not inferior to the Father. He was equal to the Father (John 10:30).
The second reason for the divine principle is given in verse 14.
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 1 Timothy 2:14 (NASB)
Here we are told that Eve was deceived when she sinned. Genesis 3:1-6 teaches us that Satan tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The passage reveals that Satan lied to her about what God had said, and she was eventually deceived by him and ate of the tree. 2 Corinthians 11:3 also teaches that Eve was deceived. The verse says,
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:3 (NASB)
So, the second reason for the divine principle is that Eve was deceived and sinned but not Adam. Adam was not deceived. He knew that he was sinning when he ate of the tree. When he ate the fruit, then all of his descendants including us sinned. Romans 5 says, “all sinned” (Romans 5:12, 18). The message of Scripture is that when Adam sinned, everyone sinned. Now, we inherit a sin nature at birth. We are sinners at birth. The message of Scripture is that because our ancestor Adam sinned, we are sinners.
At this point we have a theological issue. Why did we become sinners because Adam sinned? There are different theological views that have attempted to explain that question. But probably the simplest explanation is that Adam acted as our legal representative when he sinned. This is called federal headship or representative headship in theology.
This helps us understand what happened when Eve sinned. Now we apply the same principle to Eve and all women who come after her. That is, Eve was the legal representative head for all women. Just as all mankind became sinners because Adam sinned, all women are affected because Eve was deceived.
This passage is not teaching that women are less intelligent or inferior. It is merely a consistent application of the same principle cascading from our original parents. So, the second reason for the principle that women cannot teach adult men is that Eve acted as the legal representative for all women when she sinned as the result of being deceived. That is part of the consequence of the fall in Genesis 3.
1. Louw & Nida. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. United Bible Societies. 1989. Vol 1., P. 402; Danker and Bauer. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press. 1979. p. 440.
2. Gerhard Delling, “Τάσσω, Τάγμα, Ἀνατάσσω, Ἀποτάσσω, Διατάσσω, Διαταγή, Ἐπιταγή, Προστάσσω, Ὑποτάσσω, Ὑποταγή, Ἀνυπότακτος, Ἄτακτος (ἀτάκτως), Ἀτακτέω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 46.
3. Arndt, W. F. A Greek-English Lexicon, University of Chicago Press, 1973, p. 120.
4. MacArthur and Mayhue state, “Though historically referred to as federal headship, the label representative headship is preferred since it better conveys the fact that both Adam and Christ act as the legal representatives for those who are reckoned to be in them. As explained above, this position makes the best sense out of the parallels between Adam and Christ articulated in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.” MacArthur and Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine. Crossway. 2017. p. 466.
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