A gracEmail subscriber writes, “Paul said he didn’t allow a woman to teach a man (1 Tim. 2:12). What do you think Paul meant?”
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In making this strange statement, the apostle was undoubtedly correcting some specific misbehavior at Ephesus, for it is inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament if taken as an absolute and unqualified rule. Two of Timothy’s own most significant teachers from infancy had been his Grandmother Lois and Eunice his mother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-16). However, women’s teaching was not directed solely to little children, for Priscilla (as well as her husband Aquila) instructed the well-known preacher Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Nor was it limited to private circumstances since women prophesied publicly in the first century church (1 Cor. 11), a ministry aimed at edification, exhortation and consolation (1 Cor. 14:3). Similarly, no one today to my knowledge frowns on women singing in church assemblies — also a medium of teaching according to Paul (Col. 3:16).
We do not know the exact conduct Paul was correcting in First Timothy 2:12-15 but the words Paul uses give us a strong hint. The Greek verb translated “exercise authority over” in verse 12 occurs only here in the Bible. However, in secular literature it meant to dominate in an autocratic manner or even to murder. It is possible to read this second verb as modifying the first (“to teach”). In that case, Paul says that a woman is not permitted to teach in a domineering or autocratic manner over a man. (Nor, of course, was even Timothy himself, according to Second Timothy 2:24-25).
In contrast to that, these women are to be “quiet” (v. 12). But Paul does not use the word for “silent” (which he did in correcting disorderly prophets, tongue-speakers and wives in First Corinthians 14), but another word that describes a restful or undisturbed life (see the same word in 1 Tim. 2:2).
I believe that we have allowed a male-dominated culture of the past several centuries to shape our thinking and cause us unknowingly to misread and misapply the two passages of Scripture which might sound like they prohibit the public exercise by women of speaking gifts (1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12). When we look at the Scriptures more carefully, we discover that the qualifying principle for Christian service is giftedness, not gender (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor. 12:4-11).