By Gregg Bing
Continued from Sep-Oct Issue
“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.” (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
These two verses penned by the Apostle Paul are often misunderstood and have caused great controversy among believers regarding the role of women in the local church. People often take extreme views of this passage of Scripture. Some think Paul is saying women should be seen and not heard, that they have no place in the work of the Lord. Others insist this passage of Scripture is culturally out of date and has no bearing on the ministry of the church today. Neither of these views is correct. The place of women in the local church requires a careful examination of the meaning of these Scriptures in their context, without being swayed by the current culture, traditions of men, or church creeds.
Conduct in the Local Church
We must keep in mind that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy as he was serving as pastor in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). It was written to provide guidelines for conduct “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Chapter 2 deals with the roles of men and women in local church services. Verses 1-8 describe the importance of public prayer in these services, a ministry that is to be carried out by the men of the congregation. Verses 9-15 then address the role that women play in the local church, and in particular, the public services of a church.
Since the Greek words for “men” and “women” can also mean, respectively “husbands” and “wives,” some insist this passage is limited to the roles of men and women in the marriage relationship, however, the context of 1 Timothy is not conduct in the home, but conduct in the local church.
This passage begins and ends with the idea of women being “in silence.” Are women not to make a sound in church? Can they not participate in congregational singing? Can they not acknowledge the truth of the Word with a heartfelt “Amen”?
The answers to these questions rest in the meaning of the word “silence,” a translation of the Greek noun “hesuchia.” It can mean to refrain from speech, but more specifically it speaks of stillness, tranquility, or quietness. Strong’s Dictionary says that it means “to be still (undisturbed and undisturbing).” Vine’s Expository Dictionary says it “indicates tranquility arising from within, causing no disturbance to others.” The word describes a person who does their own work and does not meddle or intrude into the affairs of others.
Paul exhorted the Thessalonian saints to “work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). He was not saying they were to work in silence, but that they were to do their own work, in contrast to those who were “not working at all, but were busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11), meddling in other people’s business.
Paul told Timothy that prayers were to be made “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). A “peaceable” life was not one of absolute quiet or silence, but a tranquil life, one that was undisturbed by others.
When the Jerusalem Jews heard Paul speak to them in the Hebrew language, “they kept all the more silent” (Acts 22:2). They did listen in silence, but even here, the idea is that they did not disrupt Paul’s speech.
The “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” in the heart of a Christian woman is “very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:4). This “quiet spirit” is the same idea as “silent” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and is the proper disposition of “women professing godliness” (1 Tim. 2:10).
How a Woman is to Learn
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” (1 Tim. 2:11)
A godly woman is to “learn in silence.” She is to grow in her knowledge and understanding of spiritual truths, but she is to do so in quietness, not causing disturbances in the local church, not meddling in the work God has given to men in the local church.
Not only is the Christian woman to learn in silence, she is to do so “with all submission.” Submission means recognizing and submitting one’s self to the authority of someone else. In her home, a godly woman will submit to the authority God has given her husband as the spiritual head of their family (Eph. 5:22-24). In the local church, a godly woman will submit to the authority God has given to men as spiritual leaders in her church family (1 Tim. 3:1-12). The offices of a bishop (lit. overseer), which is the same office as that of an elder or a pastor (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:1-2), and the office of a deacon must be filled by one who is “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2,12). This requirement clearly excludes women from serving in these roles.
These requirements of “silence” and “submission” for women in the local church result in the restrictions we see in the following verse.
Women Not Permitted
“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1 Tim. 2:12)
Because Paul says, “I do not permit,” rather than “God does not permit,” many assert that Paul was just expressing his personal opinion and not the will of God. What people fail to understand is that Paul was “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” and, as such, he spoke “by the commandment of God” (1 Tim. 1:1). We must also remember that Paul’s writings were inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16 with 2 Pet. 3:15-16), thus He was declaring the will of God for conduct in the local church.
Paul identified two areas in which women were restricted by God: “to teach or to have authority over a man.” A closer look at this passage helps correct some misconceptions about what Paul meant here.
Women and Teaching
Does this passage forbid a woman to teach at all? Clearly, this is not the case. Paul was thankful for and praised the faithfulness of Timothy’s mother and grandmother who taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from the time he was just a small child (2 Tim. 3:15, 2 Tim. 1:5).
Paul, in his letter to Titus, told him to instruct the older women to be “teachers of good things,” in particular to “admonish the young women” (Tit. 2:3-4). The word “admonish” carries the idea of teaching or training.
Paul not only permits women to teach, he even instructs them to do so, particularly children and other women, both at home and in the church. But are women permitted to teach men?
Consider the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla to Apollos. Apollos was “an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures,” a man who “had been instructed in the way of the Lord,” but, when “he began to speak boldly in the synagogue” at Ephesus, and Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they could see that “he knew only the baptism of John.” So, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26).
It doesn’t say Aquila, the man, taught Apollos, but that “they,” meaning both Aquila and Priscilla, took him aside and taught him more accurately. What an impact the ministry of this faithful husband and wife team had on Apollos’ life and ministry. As Apollos continued his ministry in Achaia, “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.”
What does Paul mean, then, when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach”? The restrictions placed on women in the local church, “teaching” and “having authority over,” are both qualified by the final words, “a man.” Women are permitted to teach, even in the local church, but they are limited to teaching children or other women; they are not permitted to teach men there. Through the years, women have had tremendous ministries in local churches teaching children’s Sunday school classes, VBS, children’s church, Bible camps, and women’s classes.
Outside of the local church, there are no restrictions. Women can be used of God to teach anyone, even men, as we saw with Priscilla teaching Apollos. Women today can teach friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members, even their own husbands.
Women and Authority
The focus of this verse is leadership in the local church, including the offices of pastor (bishop, elder) and deacons. The role of pastor, whose responsibility centers on the teaching of God’s Word, and the role of deacon are restricted to men (1 Timothy 3), in spite of what many churches and denominations practice.
A woman is not permitted “to have authority over a man” in the local church. The King James Version says a woman is not permitted to “usurp authority over the man.” This expression is from the Greek “authenteo,” which describes one who works something himself (or herself), such as an author, or one who acts on his (or her) own authority to exercise dominion or control.
Paul reiterates that women are to “be in silence,” meaning they are not to cause a disturbance by seeking to take the authority for leadership roles in the local church which God has entrusted to men. With a meek and quiet spirit, they are to submit themselves to the will of God regarding this issue.
Why do we see such movement away from these clear instructions in God’s Word regarding the distinct roles given to men and women in the local church? One reason is the departure of an increasing number of churches and denominations from the truth of God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:1, 2 Tim. 4:4).
Another reason we sometimes find women assuming the position of leadership in their own homes or in churches is that the men have abdicated their roles and responsibilities as spiritual leaders. If Christian men would step up and fulfill the roles God has entrusted to them, there would be no need for women to have to do so.
When both men and women follow God’s instructions for the home and the local church, the result is order and spiritual blessing in the work of the Lord.
Continued Next Issue: “Reasons for a Woman’s Role”