For the first time, a major political party has a woman, Hillary Clinton, as the front runner for President of the United States. Gains in educational achievement and advances in the economic and social standing of women have been noticeable over the past 50 years. Their changing roles and status has an impact on the family, the church and society.
This blogpost is a survey of what some key passages in the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. These passages are commonly used to determine whether there are any limits to this role. After looking at what they meant in the first century, we present the range of meanings taken to apply today. These notes relate to a church meeting when men are present. So they don’t apply to an activity where men are absent, such as women’s ministries or children’s ministries.
- Galatians 3:28 (written AD 50)
ESV: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
HCSB: “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
NET: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
NIV: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
The letter to the Galatians is about the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ and whether new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises such as male circumcision.
The paragraph (3:26-29) is about all Christians about being children (or “sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29). Consequently, they share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ.
In Christianity there is a unity between people that was absent under the law of Moses. The diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. Regardless of race, social class or gender, now they all had the same spiritual status before God.
Note that as human role distinctions have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God, these aren’t being addressed in this verse. However, because of belief in gender equality, today some people include gender roles in the scope of this verse.
Because they are united through their common relationship with Christ, God does not recognize human distinctions amongst true believers. All true Christians are equal with regard to salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. Every Christian, regardless of race, social class or gender, has the same spiritual status before God.
Those passionate about gender equality, extend the spiritual unity to equality in gender roles in the church.
The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today.
- Accept all fellow Christians without showing bias, discrimination or favoritism. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7NIV). In this case, the role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
- Or, a more recent application is that women can take the same roles in the church as men. This assumes that women and men are equal in all respects, including participation in all church meetings.
Link to more detailed article
- 1 Corinthians 11:5 (written AD 55)
ESV: “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven”.
HCSB: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved”.
NET: “For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head”.
NIV: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”
The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.
The section (11:2-16) is about whether the head should be covered or not during prayer or prophesy (See Appendix). Paul describes their practice (v.2-5), and the reasons for it (v.6-16). He begins with a biblical principle (v.3) and then applies it to men (v.4) and women (v.5).
Many assume that the context is a church meeting, but this isn’t clear. Maybe “prayer and prophesy” imply a church meeting. The next section deals with the meeting of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). And a church meeting involving singing, teaching, prophesy, speaking in other languages and interpretation of these is addressed in 14:23-39.
When they pray or prophesy (see Appendix), women were to honor their man by having their head covered (11:5). In those days the man could be their husband or father or head of the household. To not do this would be to dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. It indicated that she respected the man’s authority over her.
The corollary for men was that when they pray or prophesy, they were to honor Christ by having their head uncovered (11:4).
Some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (Strongs #4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.
The principle behind the practice of head-coverings is said to be, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:3NIV). This means that a man is the head (in terms of leadership and authority) of a woman as God the Father is the head of Christ.
Verse 5 addresses the need to show respect to leaders and those with authority while engaged in spiritual activities.
The Greek words used in v.5 may mean man/husband or woman/wife, with the translation being chosen from the context. The ESV uses “wife” in verses that deal with wearing a veil, because they say it was a sign of being married in first-century culture. So their translation is “the head of a wife is her husband” (11:5).
The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to prayer and prophesy.
- Whether women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in church meetings when men are present is determined by other passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
- Or, assuming the context is a church meeting, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings
The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to head-coverings.
- Because of the range of interpretations of this verse, whether a women wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) is best left up to each woman’s personal conscience/conviction.
- Or, because head-coverings are no longer related to dishonor or shame, the application in the first century can’t be transferred to our modern world.
- Or, the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
- Or, women should wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) as the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9).
- Or, some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.
Link to more detailed article
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (written AD 55)
ESV: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”.
HCSB: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting”.
NET: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands”.
NIV: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.
The section (14:26-40) is about correcting disorder in their church meetings. In this case the meeting involved singing, teaching, prophesy (see Appendix), speaking in other languages and interpretation of these (14:23-39).
Paul addresses speaking in foreign languages (v.27-28, 39), prophesy (v.29-33, 39), and women (v.34-35). Then he emphasises that these were God’s commands (v.36-38).
As the “silence” in v.28 and v.30 is conditional and temporary, so the “silence” in v.34 is also conditional and temporary. What is prohibited? From the context, some say critiquing (judging) prophecies (v.29), or it could be the main topic of speaking in other languages (v.27-28, 39) and prophesy (v.29, 39). And not disrupting the meeting by asking questions (v.35).
As the speaking in v.27, 28, 29 and v.30 was public speaking, the speaking in v.34 was public speaking, not chatting (or conversation).
“The law” may mean Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in 11:8-9.
The passage placed some conditional and temporary restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings so as to keep the meetings orderly. Several options have been suggested as to what was restricted.
The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply to church meetings today when men are present.
- Women shouldn’t preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in these church meetings. This is similar to the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which was written at another time to another place.
- Or, women shouldn’t speak during the evaluation of prophecies at these church meetings
- Or, wives shouldn’t ask questions at these church meetings
- Or women shouldn’t speak authoritatively at these church meetings.
- Or, women shouldn’t speak publicly at these church meetings.
- Or, women shouldn’t chatter in these church meetings.
- Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Corinth that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Corinth.
- Or, because 11:5 overrides 14:34-35, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
- Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 14:34-35, there should be no restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings.
Link to more detailed article
- Acts 2:17-18
ESV: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
HCSB: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NET: “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NIV: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy”.
AD 63. But reports an event that occurred on the day of Pentecost about AD 30.
This is part of Peter’s sermon given on the day of Pentecost after the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. On this occasion they miraculously spoke in other languages. As he was speaking to Jews (2:22), he used Joel 2:28-32 to explain what had happened. Then he told them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by David and that they needed to repent of their sins and over 3,000 people did this.
The book of Joel is about the restoration and blessing of Israel after judgement and repentance. God promises to judge their enemies (Joel 2:20) and bring prosperity (2:21-27) and pour out His Holy Spirit (2:28-29). Then the signs of the day of the Lord are given, when God intervenes in history (2:30-32).
Peter was applying a prediction in Joel to what happened on the day of Pentecost. The point of similarity was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. This was only a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy because there were no signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:18-19). The change concerned the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came on particular people on a temporary basis. For example, the Holy Spirit came on prophets to enable them to bring messages from God (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8). But now the Holy Spirit came to permanently live in those who trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for their sinfulness. The main point is that the Holy Spirit indwells “all people” who trust in Christ, regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”), age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves).
The Holy Spirit indwells anyone who trusts in Christ.
The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.
- The role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
- Or, women can preach or teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings like men.
- Or, women can participate in all church meetings like men.
Link to more detailed article
- 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (written AD 64)
ESV: “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”.
HCSB: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent”.
NET: “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet”.
NIV: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”.
The letter of 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).
A woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12). Instead she was to be submissive/obedient to the teacher (and to the Scripture being taught) and to the elders in the same way she submits herself in marriage.
So, a woman was not to teach Scripture to a man or exercise authority over a man. From the context it’s clear that the authority mentioned here is that of an elder in the local church (eldership is the next topic in the letter). An elder is a male who can teach, and who exercises authority (3:1-7).
Christian women shouldn’t preach/teach men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading.
Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. The reason isn’t because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because the Bible commands it.
The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.
- Women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing two activities (teaching and authority), not one activity (teaching). This is consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which was written at another time to another place.
- Or, women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church or take other leadership roles (including praying) in a church meeting.
- Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Ephesus.
- Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus because the women had been deceived (v.14) by false teachers and were teaching heresy (1:3-7). However, this is speculative and the women were the victims and not the propagators of heresy (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
- Or, because “authentein” (authority) refers to abusive or destructive authority (but most Bible translations don’t accept this interpretation), women can preach and teach men, as long as they aren’t abusive or destructive. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
- Or, because “authentein” (authority) has a sense of usurping authority, as long as a woman operates under a man’s (or elders’) authority, she can preach and teach men. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
- Or, because 1 Corinthians 11:5 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
- Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there should be no restrictions on women’s preaching, teaching in the church or leading the church as an elder.
Link to more detailed article
- Male leadership
Jesus selected and trained 12 disciples who were all male. He sent them out to preach to the Jews and heal the sick. Did Jesus only choose men to do this because He was following the cultural practices of that era? No! In fact, during His ministry He broke many social customs by mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes, speaking to women in public, eating without ceremonial hand washing, condemning Pharisees, and condemning merchandise at the temple. He also corrected teachings of the religious leaders on divorce and the Sabbath. So, Jesus was willing to break social customs.
The 12 apostles were the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2; 9:27). When churches were established in other places, elders were appointed to lead them (Acts 14:23). As the church grew in Jerusalem, elders were added to the leadership team (Acts 15:4, 6, 23). The qualifications of such an elder include being “a husband”, so women are excluded from this role (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) So, the leaders of New Testament churches (called elders or overseers) were all men. This means that although Hillary Clinton is the front running Democratic candidate for the US presidency, as a woman she couldn’t be on the eldership team of a church that functioned according to biblical teaching.
From the above summary it is evident that, according to various interpretations, some of these biblical passages seem to imply no restrictions on women in the church (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28), while others seem to imply some restrictions (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 1:12). These two viewpoints are called “egalitarian” and “complementarian”, respectively.
Of course some people also use extra-biblical sources to develop their viewpoint on this topic. For example, feminists tend to reject bible passages that they claim are based on a patriarchal system. In this case, the biblical meaning can be modified and over-ruled according to tradition, reason, experience or post-biblical revelation. I don’t use this approach because of the dominant impact of the extra-biblical factors.
Because of the clear biblical instructions on male leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) and male leadership in the family/marriage (Eph. 5:22-24), I take a complementarian viewpoint. Here’s a link to more detailed article on this topic:
But there are a range of options within the complementarian viewpoint. For example, in a church meeting where men are present, should a women be allowed to:
- Chair/Compere/Lead the meeting?
- Lead the singing?
- Preach and teach the sermon?
- Read Scripture?
The only one of these that is clearly prohibited in Scripture is preaching and teaching the sermon (1 Tim. 1:12). So there are plenty of other opportunities for women’s participation. What do you think?
- Appendix – What about “prophesy”?
Prophesy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophesy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophesy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophesy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, today we apply the biblical principles for prophesy to preaching and teaching.
The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400-year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the New Testament has been followed by a 1,900-year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).
Written, May 2016
Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
How do we show respect for authority?
Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church
Gender roles in the family and the church
Correcting disrespect at Ephesus
The Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct aims to promote and strengthen the reputation of football in Australia by establishing a standard of performance, behavior and professionalism for its participants and stakeholders. It also seeks to deter conduct that could impair public confidence in the honest and professional conduct of matches and good character of its participants. The code includes topics such as betting, match-fixing and corruption.
Today we are looking at God’s Code of Conduct for Christians at Ephesus. In particular, what is the good behavior for Christian women given in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.
In about 64 AD, Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). Paul had established the church in Ephesus about eight years earlier when he spent two years preaching and teaching there (Acts 19:1-41). Now he is telling them how to behave as Christians. (3:14-15). It’s like a Code of Conduct. These principles of conduct applied to people at Ephesus “in God’s household, which is the church of the living God”. In this sense the church is not a building, or a meeting in a building, but a group of people who follow Jesus Christ. So the letter of 1 Timothy addresses Christian behavior in many situations, not just church meetings. In fact there is no textural evidence that any section of the letter only applies to a church meeting. Note that the section headings in our bibles aren’t inspired. The heading of “Instructions on worship” (2:1-15) in the NIV implies a church meeting. But where is the evidence to support this restriction? For this chapter, I prefer the HCSB headings which are “Instructions on prayer” (v.1-7), followed by “Instructions for men and women” (v.8-15).
Ephesus was a wealthy city in a central location along the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was an important trading, political and intellectual centre and a port that was on three main highways. Greeks and Jews lived in the region and there was a Jewish synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 19:8, 10). Many Ephesians worshipped the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, being four times as large as the Parthenon.
At that time, women generally had a low position in Jewish and Roman society. They were suppressed. But in Ephesus some reacted against this and dressed to impress (1 Tim. 2:9) and dominated their husbands and perhaps aspired to be leaders in the church (1 Tim. 2:12). But Paul saw that this was wrong for those who professed to follow Christ and he implemented corrective action.
The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).
Their attitude (1 Tim. 2:9NIV)
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes”
This verse is linked with v.8 because it begins with the Greek word for “likewise” hósautós (Strongs #5615). Verse 8 says that whenever they pray (in the family and in the church), men should have holy lives (not unholy lives) and calmness (not anger) and make peace (not disputing). They were prone to unholy lives, anger and disputing, which hindered their prayers. These ungodly attitudes and behavior may have been aggravated by the false teachers in Ephesus who stirred up quarrels and strife (1 Tim. 6:4-5).
Verses 8-9 may imply that men have the primary responsibility for leading in prayer in the family and the church. But they don’t exclude wives/women from praying in the family and the church. Some believe that they imply that only men (and not women) should pray publicly in church, but there is no textural evidence that the context is a church meeting and it says nothing about the topic of woman and prayer. Meanwhile, it seems that both women and men prayed together after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:14).
The word “likewise” (or “also”) at the beginning could indicate that v.9 applies to when there is prayer or when wives/women pray, or it could just indicate what ungodly attitudes and behavior women were prone to. I prefer the latter interpretation.
The standard is that Christian wives/women dress themselves in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to themselves and doesn’t distract others. In particular they should have modesty (not sexuality), decency and respectability (not dishonor or shamefulness) and propriety and self-control (not self-indulgence). The examples given concern women’s hairstyles, jewellery and clothing, which were being used in Ephesus to display one’s wealth and attractiveness (beauty) and to enhance the status and honor of their husbands. This could lead to others having admiration and jealousy. Also, gold, pearls and extravagant clothing could indicate a sexually lax lifestyle. Such an emphasis on appearance suggests a desire to attract attention to oneself, perhaps to seduce.
As girls married at a very young age at this time and childbearing is mentioned in v.15, Paul is mainly addressing married women in this passage.
Peter gave a similar instruction to wives, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pt. 3:3-4).
The principle behind Paul’s instruction is that Christian women show an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly. They shouldn’t draw attention to themselves by their appearance. Our appearance matters because it shows our inner attitude and it affects others. This topic is continued in v.10.
Their testimony (1 Tim. 2:10)
“but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God”
As the Greek text in v.10 refers to women who profess “the fear of God”, I prefer “women who profess reverence for God” (NET) or “women who profess godliness” (ESV). The use of the word “worship” could add the idea of a church meeting, which is absent in the original text.
Rather than being distinguished by what they wear, Paul says that godly women should be distinguished by their good deeds. These include, “bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble”, managing their homes and caring for widows (1 Tim. 5:10, 14, 16). What they do should be more noticeable than their apparel. How they live is more important than how they look. Christian character is what counts.
When a woman claims to be a Christian then she should live so her good works support that claim. About four years earlier Paul told them, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Good works should characterise both Christian men and women. The good works confirm the testimony of one’s faith in Christ.
The principle here is that Christian women be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.
Next Paul continues his corrective action for the women in Ephesus.
Their role (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”
Paul now changes from the plural to the singular. The reason for this isn’t clear, but it may be related to the fact that he introduces Adam and Eve in v.13-14. The word for “woman” and “wife” is the same in Greek and the word for “man” and “husband” is also the same. Because of this and because the word “submission” is mentioned elsewhere in the context of husband/wife, some think that the context is husband/wife. But the text and the context favor man/woman. The text says “a man”, not “her man” and the prayer and dress in v.8-9 refers to Christian men/women and not just to husbands/wives. Clearly the passage governs conduct in the Christian community and not just the home.
What do the Greek words translated “learn”, “quietness” and “submission” mean in v.11? The Greek verb for “learn” manthanó (Strongs #3129) means “to increase one’s knowledge”. Paul also uses “learn” in 1 Timothy 5:4, 13 where people are said to learn by use and practice – it becomes habitual. The verse says that a woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. So women have the right to learn – “to come to a knowledge of the truth” of the gospel (v.4). This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law. For example, Mary of Bethany learnt from Jesus (Lk. 10:39). Now women need to learn Scripture for their roles in society, in the church and in the family.
The Greek noun for “quietness” hésuchia (#2271) means quietness or silence. It occurs twice in v.11-12. The only other occasion when Paul used this word is 2 Thessalonians. 3:12 where busybodies are told to “work quietly” and earn their keep, which means not meddling in another’s affairs. Paul used the verb form of this Greek word (#2270) in 1 Thessalonians. 4:11 where it means to mind your own business.
Paul used the adjectival version of this Greek word (#2272) in 1 Timothy 2:2 (the same chapter as our passage) where he said that believers should pray for kings and those in authority so they may have “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. This means not having the turmoil and upheaval of anarchy, revolutions and civil wars. This is the most probable meaning of the word in v.11-12 as well. So it doesn’t mean “silence”, but in this context it means not being disruptive, aggressive, or challenging. The implication is that the women in Ephesus were being disruptive when they were learning. They didn’t have a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pt. 3:4, the other instance of this word in Scripture). In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12).
The Greek noun for “submissiveness” hupotagé (#5292) means subjection or obedience. In 1 Timothy 3:4 this word is used to describe how children are to obey their father. The word also describes how Paul didn’t give in (subject himself) to the legalists (Gal. 2:5).
The verb form of this Greek word (#5293) means to submit, to place under, or to obey. It is used to describe how a wife is subject to her husband, a slave to their master, and a person to the rulers and authorities (Ti. 2:5, 9; 3:1). Paul used it in a letter written to them a few years beforehand to describe how a wife is subject to her husband (Eph. 5:21-22, 24).
There are four passages where a wife/woman is to be submissive (#5293) to a husband/man (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pt. 3:1, 5). In all these cases it states that a wife is to be submissive to her own husband. I think the “submission” in v.11 should be consistent with this, but it needn’t be identical.
So in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the female learner is to be submissive/obedient to the teacher and to the Scripture being taught in the way she submits herself in marriage. Women weren’t to be teaching, dominating, ruling or interrupting men in the family and in the church. Instead they were to be quiet.
What do the Greek words translated “teach” and “assume authority” mean in v.12? The Greek verb for “teach” didaskó (#1321) means to instruct; or to impart knowledge. It nearly always refers to teaching the Scriptures. The word is also used in 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2 to describe what Timothy was to teach.
The adjectives of this Greek word (#1317, #1318) respectively mean “able to teach” and “taught, instructed” (1 Cor. 2:13). A few verses after our passage, Paul says that an elder must be able to teach (1Tim. 3:2).
The nouns of this Greek word (#1319, 1320, 1322) respectively mean “instruction, or teaching” (1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16, 17); “teacher” (1 Tim. 2:7); and “teaching, or doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Consequently, in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “teach” applies to a woman explaining the Scripture to a man. So this verse means that a woman is not to teach the Scripture to a man. What about Priscilla and her husband teaching Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26)? In this case it was with her husband and privately in their home with the purpose of educating a preacher with a deficient understanding of Scripture. So the command in 1 Tim. 2:12 doesn’t apply to a husband and wife privately teaching another person. Of course, women can always teach children (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15) and other women (Ti. 2:3-5). So they are allowed to teach, but not teach men.
Some say that this passage is addressed to women who were teaching heresy, but there is no textural evidence that any of the false teachers mentioned in 1 Timothy were women. Instead, when Paul addresses false teachers, it is obvious what he means (1 Tim. 1:3-4, 6-7, 19-20; 6:3-10).
The Greek verb for “assume authority” authenteó (#831) means to govern, to exercise authority, or to exercise dominion. It has also been defined to mean, “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to”. Other translations say “have authority” (ESV, NLT) and “exercise authority” (HCSB, NET). According to the English dictionary, to “have authority” means to have the right to rule, govern, command, control or determine. As this is the only occasion that this Greek word is used in the Bible, it’s better to use the surrounding context to determine the meaning instead of consulting extra-biblical usage. In this case it’s an authority associated with teaching fellow believers in a local church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:15). Those with such authority in the local church are the elders who comprise the leadership team. In fact the next topic in this letter is the qualifications of church elders (or overseers) (1 Tim. 3:1-7). So after saying who shouldn’t be elders, Paul specifies who can be elders. As elders need to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), if someone was prohibited from teaching, they would also be prohibited from eldership. Besides this, one of the qualifications for leadership in the church is “faithful to his wife”, which rules out women (1 Tim. 3:2). Also, elders govern and teach, which are the two roles that aren’t appropriate for women to exercise in the church over men (1 Tim. 5:17).
So in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “assume authority” means to exercise the authority of an elder in the local church. Women can have authority, but not the authority of a church elder/overseer.
Some say that v.12 refers to one activity (teaching with authority) and not two (teaching and authority). This depends on the interpretation of the Greek conjunction oude (#3761). Paul uses this word three times in this letter.
• “For we brought nothing into the world, and (#3761) we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:7). Here oude links two different ideas “we brought nothing into the world” and “we can take nothing out of it”.
• “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or (#3761) can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Here oude links two different but related ideas “no one has seen” and “no one can see”.
• “I do not permit a woman to teach or (#3761) to assume authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Therefore, the best interpretation (to be consistent with the other two instances of this word) is that here oude also links two different (but maybe related) ideas: “a woman to teach a man” and “a woman to assume authority (exercise the authority of an elder) over a man”.
So there is no textural support in this letter for the idea that there is only one activity described in v.12 and not two.
Putting this all together, we see that Paul’s instruction is that a woman can be taught from Scripture provided she respects (is submissive/obedient to) the teacher and the Scripture being taught. In the family she is to respect her husband and not teach or dominate/rule him. In the church she is to respect the preachers/teachers and the elders and not teach men or lead the church. The husband is to lead the family and men are to be responsible for the teaching and overall leadership (eldership) in the church.
What about when Paul wrote “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (11:5)? Doesn’t this mean that women prophesied in church meetings at Corinth? The subheading of 11:2-16 is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! The focus of this passage is on the need for a head-covering when they prophesised, not on “worship”. And there is no definite reference to a meeting. So from 11:2-16 it is debateable as to whether women prophesised in meetings at Corinth or not. In this case, the best exegesis is to use the clearer example of 14:34 which definitely implies that women didn’t prophesy in meetings when men were present at Corinth.
The principle here is that Christian women not preach/teach to men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading. They were to be respectful instead of being disruptive. Next Paul gives the reason for this instruction.
Their design (1 Tim. 2:13-14)
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”
God’s design for men and women was given in the original creation. He created differences between them. Adam was made first and then Eve. Eve was created for Adam and not vice-versa (1 Cor. 11:9). She was made to be his helper and to be submissive as his wife (Gen. 2:18, 20). She was to live under his provision and protection. As Eve was to follow Adam’s leadership, wives are to follow their husband’s leadership (1 Cor. 11:3). Also, the husband is to provide for and protect his wife, and the wife is to live under this provision and protection. But since the fall into sin, there has been conflict when wives seek to turn this around and rule their husbands.
When Eve acted independently of Adam she was deceived by Satan. The Greek verb exapataó (#1818) means “thoroughly deceived”. The same verb occurs in “Eve was deceived (thoroughly) by the serpent’s cunning (2 Cor. 11:3). She was the first person to fall into sin. Adam also sinned by submitting to Eve instead of leading her. This shows she needs a leader. Paul is saying that wives were designed to have husbands as their leaders. Likewise, women in the church are designed to have male overseers/elders as their leaders. So the overseers/elders need to lead the church and the women and other men need to follow them.
This design for men and women isn’t cultural because it is based on Genesis chapters 2-3 and not on the Jewish culture or Roman culture of that time. The pattern of male leadership and female submission was to be the pattern for the church in Ephesus. And it was consistent with the biblical pattern of male leadership and female submission in marriage.
Furthermore, these roles are not based on any alleged local shortcomings of the women at Ephesus such as a lack of education or the existence of heretical female teachers.
But we may think that this gives women a minor role in the church. Next Paul shows how they can have a great influence in the church and in society.
Their contribution (1 Tim. 2:15)
“But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”
This verse is difficult to interpret, but it is agreed that that it is intended to lessen the impact of v.13-14.
The Greek noun for “childbearing” teknogonia (#5042) means child bearing or the rearing of a family (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing). As childbirth doesn’t fit the context, the latter meaning is preferred. Wives have babies and rear them through childhood to adolescence and maturity.
What are they saved from by raising their children? The Greek verb for “saved” sózó (#4982) means save, rescue or deliver. We have seen that Eve was thoroughly deceived and the first person to sin (v.14). By raising godly offspring, mothers are delivered from the shame of Eve leading the fall into sin. In this way they are leading the development of godly men and women. Although this work is done in the home, the fruits impact society and the church. Behind every godly man and woman there is probably a godly woman. For example, Timothy was taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).
This is consistent with young widows being advised to marry, to have children and to manage their homes as the best protection against self-indulgent ungodly living (1 Tim. 5:6, 11-15).
This is a conditional promise. It depends on women having the attitude and testimony described in v.9-10. This means that their appearance indicates godly attitudes and their testimony is vindicated by good works.
Through godly motherhood, women have a great impact on the next generation. This is a major contribution that women can make to society and the church. So their primary role in Ephesus was caring for their children, not leading or teaching the congregation (1 Tim. 5:14-15; Ti. 2:4-5).
A similar explanation (also using synecdoche) is that the faith of Christian women will be preserved if they embrace their God-given female roles and responsibilities (indicated by “childbearing”, which is one of their roles). This is similar to the faith of Timothy’s hearers being preserved if he persisted in godly living and true teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).
The principle here is that Christian women will be rewarded if they obey Paul’s instruction and carry out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.
What about Galatians 3:28?
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”
Some use this verse to claim that as the gospel eradicates the differences between men and women, there should be no restrictions on women’s ministry in the church. But this verse doesn’t address the roles of men and women in church. It has a different context which is the unity that salvation in Christ brings to a diverse group of people. Race, social status and gender make no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings. In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female. There is now no division in Christ Jesus (also see: 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).
But does Galatians 3:28 abolish all sexual distinctions? Can Christians now approve same-sex marriages? No! It doesn’t address these topics and others like husband-wife roles or male-female roles in the local church.
Lessons for us
As 1 Timothy was probably written about AD 64, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then. Also, this is Paul’s final passage on this topic (1 Corinthians was written nine years earlier).
1 Corinthians 14:34
Nine years earlier Paul corrected disorderly meetings at Corinth. The main principle we deduced from this was that women are not to preach or teach if men are present as this is a male role (1 Cor. 14:34). This is a conditional silence as other verbal activities are acceptable. And it is consistent with our findings in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
These principles for Christian women are:
• To be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.
• Not drawing attention to themselves by their appearance. Showing an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly.
• Carrying out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.
• Not preaching/teaching men or leading the church (as elders), and respecting the men that do such preaching/teaching and leading.
These can be difficult to accept because they go against our culture today where: women often draw attention to themselves by what they wear, these principles are deemed to be sexist, contraception reduces the number of children in a family, and child-care and home-duties have low status.
The Head Coach of the Sydney Football Club has been fined $5,000 for breaching the Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct. The coach made comments about refereeing that brought the game into disrepute in the post-match interview after a football match in January 2015. Likewise, breaching God’s code of conduct has an adverse impact on our families and churches.
Do we encourage girls and women to learn God’s truths in Scripture in church, in small groups, or by reading, or studying through Bible College (which can be done online)? Are they using this knowledge to live godly lives and teach children and other women?
Do husbands support their wives’ spiritual roles and responsibilities in the family, church and society? Are women being recognized and praised for their good deeds?
How do we influence women to have an attitude of modesty and self-control? Can this be modelled by godly women?
Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t preachers/teachers) to respect those who preach/teach from the Scriptures? Are those with the gift of preaching/teaching encouraged to teach Scripture to children and women?
Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t elders) to respect the elders who lead our churches? Are those with the gift of leadership encouraged to lead children’s and women’s ministries? Are wives encouraged to respect their husbands?
From an assessment of the text and context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 we have seen that God had a Code of Conduct for Christian women at Ephesus. Families, the local church, and society would have benefitted when this was followed and suffered when it wasn’t followed. As the principles behind these practices at Ephesus also apply to us today, let’s encourage Christian women to be known by good deeds rather than by their appearance and by their valuable female roles and responsibilities, including respecting their church teachers and leaders.
Written, December 2015
The Bible teaches us to submit to various authorities. But what if an authority makes a law that requires us to disobey God?
Although Christians are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), they must also submit themselves to all forms and levels of human government (Tit. 3:1). God established human government after the flood; and Genesis 9:6 introduces the concept of governmental authority when it speaks of capital punishment. Governments help maintain law and order, keep the peace and avoid anarchy. Our attitude to authority is an important part of our Christian life.
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities because they are established by God and viewed as His servants (Rom. 13:1-7). The governing authorities are set in place by the permissive choice of God and their power is from God (Jn. 19:11; Rom. 9:17). Their weapons are a sign of their authority. So when people disobey a human ruler, they indirectly disobey God.
It’s good to be law-abiding citizens, because if we don’t submit to authority we will have a bad conscience. We are to pay our taxes to those in authority and never join in rebellion against the government or seek its overthrow by violence.
Paul quoted Exodus 22:28 when he said, “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5 NIV). He also said that we should pray for “all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). It should be noted that the governing authorities were probably pagans when these passages of the Bible were written.
Here are three examples from Scripture of those who respected authorities in difficult circumstances.
- David honored wicked King Saul and called him the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:6) even though he sought to kill David.
- When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus, He said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21).
- Nero (a godless brutal ruler) was the Roman emperor when Peter wrote “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).
Christians should obey God, but not place the authorities above God (Jn. 14:21-24; 15:10; Eph. 5:24; Heb. 5:9; 12:9; Jas. 4:7). A Christian is not required to obey if an authority orders him to sin, to disobey God or to compromise his loyalty to Jesus Christ. When the apostles were commanded not to preach they replied “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29).
Here are two examples from Scripture of those who disobeyed authorities instead of disowning God.
- When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commanded that everyone should bow down to an idol, three Jews – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – chose to follow God’s command instead (Dan. 3; Ex. 20:3-5). Because of their faithfulness, God protected them from the fiery furnace and they were promoted in Babylon.
- When King Darius issued a decree saying that anyone who prayed to a god other than the king would be thrown into the lions’ den (Dan. 6), Daniel kept praying to his God “just as he had done before” (Dan. 6:10). When he was punished by being thrown into the lion’s den, God protected him, and he even prospered.
Scripture shows us that we should obey all authority, unless that authority requires us to disobey God, who is the highest authority.
Published, February 2010