Can women be pastors, elders, and deacons? This is a question that has become one of the central questions of the age in which the church finds itself, as more and more women seek out the call of God in church leadership positions. There is one passage, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, that has been used as the de facto passage against women in ministry. There are others such as 1 Corinthians 14, but it pertains to those who should “ask their husbands questions at home.” Of course, there are many complementarian advocates (those who believe women should “complement” their husbands or the male gender by providing support rather than leading in ministries in their own right) who interpret 1 Corinthians 14 without giving regard to the fact that in the Corinthian church, women were “praying and prophesying” before the congregation (see 1 Corinthians 11:5).
While 1 Corinthians 14 has been used against women (and is still being used against women), 1 Timothy 2 is the one passage cited by over 90% of complementarians as the passage that “puts women in their place,” I’ve heard it said at seminary.
Except, it doesn’t.
So, to find out just what this passage entails and whether or not it bars women from the church leadership positions of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon, we need to keep a few rules in mind.
Interpretive Rules regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15
The writer and recipient of 1 Timothy
Some have never even thought about this, but here’s something to pause and consider: the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, has placed words in various places in Scripture. The Book of Genesis, for instance, details creation and humanity’s subsequent history that has brought sin into the world. It is called “Geneseos” in the Greek, “the book of beginnings,” and that is what it was designed to do: give us the beginning of creation, zoom in on humanity, and then detail the downfall of humanity from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) forward.
In the same way, we have to remember a few things about the book of 1 Timothy (the book in which we’re interpreting a passage). First, what is the genre of 1 Timothy? 1 Timothy is an epistle, a letter, and, as is the case with letters written today, there is a writer and a recipient. The writer of the letter is Paul. Who is the recipient? The answer can be found in the opening verses of 1 Timothy 1:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope,
2 To Timothy, a true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)
Paul is writing to Timothy, “a true son in the faith,” endearing words Paul is using to describe his mentee, a man who is like a son to him. Paul has nurtured Timothy in ministry and sees him as a son; Timothy would see Paul as his father in the ministry. In the same way that elders have a pastor over them, Timothy had Paul over him in the ministry. He was a young man (perhaps in his thirties, commentaries tell us time and time again), but even then, he still had Paul who was some age older at this point. It is in 2 Timothy that Paul says the end of his life is near (“the time of my departure is at hand,” see 2 Timothy 4:6), so Paul was in his early 60s (around 61-62) when he dies at the hand of the Emperor Nero in Rome (AD 67). This would’ve made him nearly twice the age of Timothy, his son in the ministry.
In an epistle, it’s common to just think about this without pausing to do so, but it is customary that we read only one perspective: that of the writer. Here in First Timothy, we don’t read the reply or response of Timothy to Paul; all we get is Paul’s perspective. What this means is that Paul, writing to Timothy, would likely respond to things Timothy has written him that we don’t get access to because those writings never made it into the official canon of Scripture. So, we can’t just read Paul’s perspective in 1 Timothy without considering the “why” or purpose behind his statements. No one writes letters “out of thin air”; rather, letters are a response to 1) questions asked, 2) ideas proposed, or 3) a demand for advice, etc. With that said, Timothy could ask Paul questions and 1 Timothy record Paul’s answers. Paul writes in first person, giving his own advice to Timothy, and his use of “I” indicates as much. When Paul says that “I suffer not a woman to teach,” he is not giving a divine commandment but his advice to a particular situation in the church at Ephesus, and the advice is his own. Paul is writing to Timothy as a mentor in the ministry would write a mentee today. Remember that a letter has a writer and a recipient, and Paul is not writing to give Timothy commands but to encourage him in his ministry work.
The context of 1 Timothy: False Doctrine
As I’ve heard it said at seminary, “a text means what it means in its context.” You can’t become so application-hungry in interpretation that you skip placing the passage in its context before applying it to life in the twenty-first century. With that said, if a passage has a prohibition, such as women not teaching, you can’t just remove it from its context and say, “Women aren’t to teach men at all, ever, in anything.” The letter of 1 Timothy tells us that there is a context that drives the letter, that permeates the letter, and you can’t properly interpret a saying without first considering the situation in which Paul said that specific saying or thought. If you find your interpretation is problematic when taking the remainder of Scripture into account, then it’s likely you’re guilty of taking the passage out of context.
The overarching context of 1 Timothy is false doctrine.
Every letter, like every writing of some kind, has a context. When you write a letter, you’re usually writing with something in mind you’d like to say, discuss, or “get off your chest.” The same goes for 1 Timothy, Paul’s letter to Timothy. Since we are far removed from the time of the letter (the letter was written before Paul died in 67 AD), we have to do the hard work of discovering what the letter is all about. Paul tells us as much in the first chapter of 1 Timothy what the letter is all about: it is about false doctrine. Timothy is in Ephesus to put down false teachers and squash false doctrine. False doctrine is being propagated in the church, and Paul has to write and refute a lot of it. Then, Paul has to counsel Timothy on how to deal with false teachers because some are doing it for money.
There is the overarching context of the book (or letter), and then there’s the immediate context of the chapter itself. Since we’re examining 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we have to pay attention to 1 Timothy 2 and the conditions Paul is covering there. There is doubting, disputing, anger, and chaos in the chapter; things aren’t going as they should. Therefore, when the reader interprets the passage, he or she should keep the conditions of the chapter in mind. One cannot simply “lift” a passage from a chapter and interpret it correctly. In the same way that you cannot lift a statement from a letter written to you, you cannot lift a statement from a letter Paul wrote Timothy. There are interpretive rules that must be followed and observed. If the issue in 1 Timothy is false teaching, and false teaching is discussed, then the passage should have “false teaching” as a part of the interpretation. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a passage that fits into the letter of 1 Timothy, and, as such, is about false teaching, false doctrine. There are a number of bad interpretations that have nothing to do with false doctrine (we’ll go into those later on) because not all believers understand what it means to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” the same advice that Paul gave to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15. Readers today should not fail to interpret Scripture rightly, and they should take Paul’s advice to heart when rendering an interpretation that could affect church leadership, the call of women in ministry, and other Christian decisions. You can’t just read something “on the surface” and presume to know how to interpret it. This is why Paul tells Timothy to “study to show yourself approved.” Would to God that we’d all study to prove ourselves (studying takes time and effort, by the way, more than just a 10-second reading of the text).
The letter within Scripture
Yes, 1 Timothy is a letter, but one must interpret a letter not only according to its message throughout the epistle but also throughout all of Scripture. One interpretive rule says that Scripture cannot contradict because God does not contradict, Scripture cannot be “double-tongued” because the Lord is not double-tongued, so we have to read the epistle of 1 Timothy and interpret it consistently with the message of the remaining books of Scripture (whether they be epistles, songs, narrative, etc.).
With that said, if you, the reader, receive an interpretation of a passage that clashes with the rest of Scripture, including what Paul says about women elsewhere (since we’re dealing with 1 Timothy 2:11-15), then your interpretation is wrong. This is a rule that bears repeating: If your interpretation clashes with the remainder of Scripture, then your interpretation is wrong. The Holy Spirit moved men to write Scripture, and He would not move men to “undo,” contradict (meaning “against that which is spoken”) that which men have said in earlier verses and chapters.
As long as these interpretive rules are kept in mind, you can appreciate what Paul says in this epistle.
There are terrible interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and we’ll cover them as we get through the passage itself.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
1 Timothy 1: False Doctrine and Those Who Want to Teach
1 Timothy 1 is essential to a proper interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 because it comes before, and a good inter-book rule in interpretation is to read the chapter before the one you’re reading and to read the chapter after the one you’re reading. To put it into perspective, then, you cannot read 1 Timothy 2 without reading 1 Timothy 1 (chapter before) and 1 Timothy 3 (chapter after).
1 Timothy 1 tells us that the situation in Ephesus pertains to false doctrine, that there are false teachers in the church, and that there are those who “want to teach” but are propagating the false teaching and don’t realize what they’re saying, nor the nature of the false doctrine itself:
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:3-11, NKJV)
1 Timothy 1 gives us a lot to ponder as we consider the message of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 because, first, we see why Timothy has been sent to Ephesus: he was sent to stop false doctrine, put down the false doctrine in the church. As Paul says, “remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:3-4). There is false doctrine in the church at Ephesus, and Timothy has been sent to Ephesus to tell false teachers in the church not to teach false doctrine, to stop their recent activities. False teachers are not alone in the church: they have listeners, those who “have turned aside to idle talk.” These individuals, we’re told, “desire[ing] to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7). The students of this false doctrine “desire to be teachers of the law,” they desire to teach Scripture. “The law” here refers to the Old Testament, since the New Testament wasn’t written at this time, so these students susceptible to idle talk that have strayed have turned to the false doctrine to keep them entertained. And yet, despite their mistakes and their failure to discern truth from error, they want to teach the Old Testament. Naturally, Paul would be concerned about those who want to teach giving themselves over to false doctrine. We wouldn’t want those who want to be teachers listening to false doctrine today; Paul’s concern was no different in his epistles to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul’s concern, I’d dare say it, are women who want to have authority in the church but are spewing false doctrine. The false doctrine there is a misinterpretation of Genesis in 1 Timothy 2 (we’ll cover this as we get to the verses in question).
In verse 8, Paul says something significant: despite the false doctrine and how the Old Testament Law is being mishandled and misapplied, “we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). The Law is good, Paul says, but the key is how one applies it (“if one uses it lawfully”). The discussion of how good the Law is here is due to what Paul has just said about false teachers and students propagating the false doctrine: despite their misuse of the Law, it is still good but they must learn how to use the Law. Nothing is inherently bad, but lots of neutral things can be used to cause damage and destruction when they’re used wrongly. The same can be said about the Law, the Old Testament. A car, for example, is a great thing to have. You can’t travel without having a vehicle of some kind; and yet, the same car that gets you from place to place can also be used to take the lives of innocent drivers in accidents. The car itself is neutral by design, but that “neutral” vehicle can cause the death of someone when its driver speeds down the road and doesn’t pay attention to him or her and other drivers. Cars can be used for purposeful reasons, but they can also be used for carelessness.
The Law is made to correct transgressors, wrongdoers, those who are doing wrong, and this is what’s good about the Law: it corrects and rebukes. Paul is telling Timothy to continue in the Law, to continue correcting and rebuking those who are wrong with the Law, and this is what Paul himself will do when he writes 1 Timothy 2:11-15: he will correct women who are misusing and misapplying the Law. From these words alone, one can see how 1 Timothy 2:11-15 fits into the context of 1 Timothy 1.
Paul goes on to say that he was formerly a blasphemer and persecutor of the gospel but that “I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). When he says that “Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (v.16), Paul is saying that, in the same way Christ has had mercy on him and given him grace, Paul himself is “a pattern” for those who are going to believe on Jesus. Future believers can look to Paul as an example of longsuffering: even in ignorance, the mercy and grace of God were greater. Perhaps Paul is saying that these students who want to be teachers are in ignorance, but that, in the same way that God’s grace was with him because he was ignorant when persecuting the church, so God’s grace will be with these “ignorant” students of the Law (the word “ignorant” is not being used pejoratively here, but rather, means “to not know,” to not be aware of something).
1 Timothy 2
In beginning 1 Timothy 2, Paul prays “for all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (v.1), and this opening of chapter 2 tells us that the problems in the church likely relate to authority in the church, those who are in leadership in the church. Then, Paul goes into the problems in Ephesian worship services. First, the men are lifting their hands in worship in “wrath and doubting” (v.8), and we know this because Paul says he doesn’t want the men to raise their hands in anger and in doubt.
The women are “in like manner” to have their hands raised in worship, but are also called to be holy. The women are in worship with provocative hair styles and clothing: Paul says the women are to be “with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or costly pearls” (v.9). We know from this statement that women were dressing extravagantly and provocatively, and Paul wanted to encourage the women to focus more on their good works before God, not their hair, clothing, or riches. Rich people want to display their wealth, but life in Christ is not about wealth and riches but about “being rich toward God,” as Jesus says (Luke 12:21).
Women should be doing that “which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (v.10), meaning that they should profess and possess, not merely profess or merely possess (but both profession and possession). This means that the women are to live out their faith, seek to do good works, to ensure that their works line up with what they say, that their actions confirm their words (and vice versa).
Now Paul gets into the passage we’re examining here:
11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
The context, as we’ve seen in verses 8-10, pertains to worship: the men are angry, the women are dressing provocatively and are now guilty of “bad work” instead of those good works Paul told them to do as believers. When Paul says in verse 11 to “let a woman learn in silence with all submission,” he’s giving an exhortation to Timothy, the word “let” implying volunteer effort or choice. It’s up to Timothy and he should let the women learn “in silence with all submission.” In order to learn, the women must be quiet and submit to what is being taught. Why would Paul say this? Because, if Paul is telling Timothy to tell the women to be quiet, we presume they were talking during the worship service. They are to learn, but to learn by being quiet. After all, how can someone learn if they’re talking every minute? Whether male or female, you can’t learn any other way than being quiet and inwardly listening to what is being said. This is what Paul advises Timothy to do. And they were told to have “submission,” to “learn with submission.” Now we’re starting to see why Paul starts 1 Timothy 2 with prayers for “all who are in authority”: because one issue in the church with the women is that they are arguing against and battling against their spiritual authorities — namely, their teacher(s).
Remember, Paul is letting them learn, but learning is in contrast to teaching: “But I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Some have said that this lack of permission is for all women, but that isn’t the case because Paul mentions “childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15; only married women are to bear children, and God does not smile with favor on fornicating women (including single women) who bear children out of wedlock — even 1 Timothy 1:10 says the Law is to correct “fornicators,” and Hebrews 13:4 says that God will judge fornicators though the marriage bed remains undefiled. The King James and New King James versions, as do a number of other translations, use “woman” here, but the context is that of a married woman, a wife, not a single woman. If Paul is telling the women to have children and “save” or preserve themselves, then he’d only tell married women to do that. Of course, he does tell the young widows to “marry, bear children, manage the home” (1 Timothy 5:14), but again, he wouldn’t tell single women to marry for the sake of marrying when he told the Corinthians that “it is good for them if they remain even as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Paul wouldn’t have forced single women to marry; he only encouraged the younger widows, many of whom would want to remarry and would prove to be busybodies rather than mind their own affairs (1 Timothy 5:11-13).
When it comes to letting women learn but not letting them teach, first, we can notice that the NKJV translation above uses the word “and” as translation of the Greek preposition de, which normally means “but” and is in contrast to what was said before the preposition. The contrast here means that Paul is “splitting the wood,” so to speak, between learning and teaching: while the women are allowed to learn, they are not allowed to teach.
Notice that Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach…”? These words in verse 12 show us that, though Timothy has control over allowing them to learn, Paul doesn’t give Timothy power over teachers in the church. He is the apostle, the founder of the Ephesian church; he is Timothy’s father in the ministry, and, as such, doesn’t give up this power or level of control to Timothy. The word for “let them learn” is the Greek word manthaneto, meaning “to learn.” Paul tells Timothy to “let them learn,” but he alone makes the decision regarding whether or not they are allowed to teach — and he says no.
He says, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” the word for “permit” being the Greek word epitrepo. Think about it: if Paul is having to proverbially “put his foot down” and say no to the idea of women teaching, then this means that there was no set law available regarding women teaching. As we’ve seen in 1 Corinthians 11:5, women were praying and prophesying in the church, so there was nothing forbidding women from teaching in the church.
We see the word “teach” there, the Greek word didaskalein, but notice that the issue here is teaching, not preaching, pastoring, etc. The words “or have authority over a man” have been considered to refer to a broader reach of power that Paul denies women, but that doesn’t make sense. After all, the issue at bay is false doctrine within the context of 1 Timothy 2, and, if you read 1 Timothy 3, you’ll see that Paul encourages women to be deacons in the church:
8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. 11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
The word for “wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11, as the New King James translates it, is the word for “women.” Of course, when discussing children and houses, we get the impression that marriage is the subject of the discussion here. As can be seen, though, Paul doesn’t forbid women in leadership because women deacons would be over men in the church (some of them, anyway), as the diaconate is a position of church leadership and authority. Therefore, if Paul is forbidding women to teach “or have authority over a man,” the focus there cannot refer to all church leadership positions.
Returning to the passage, Paul allows women to learn, but they must learn “in silence with all submission.” At the end of verse 13, Paul again says to be “in silence.” Paul’s emphasis on “silence” here indicates that Paul wanted these women to be quiet, to stop talking, to stop saying anything — to sit, learn, and close their mouths so that their ears could hear and their hearts and minds could learn the truth.
The women are not allowed to teach, and teaching is the major effort here. There is no other gift mentioned, so the teaching seems to be the issue at bay here. This matches what we saw back in 1 Timothy 1, which bears repeating here for instruction:
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
These people want to teach but “understand[ing] neither what they say nor the things they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7). They didn’t know what they were saying, and they didn’t know the things they agreed to. They were propagating false doctrine, ignorant of how wrong it was. These are those that Paul is not allowing to teach. Since they want to teach but are propagating false doctrine and can’t tell the difference between a lie and the truth, Paul doesn’t allow them to teach. Women are not allowed to teach in the church because they are propagating false doctrine.
False doctrine, as I said earlier in my section on interpretive rules, is the overarching context of Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, and false doctrine can’t be thrown aside when discussing why Paul doesn’t allow women to teach. If women are praying and prophesying in the churches, then there has to be some particular, context-specific reason as to why Paul wouldn’t allow them to teach.
What some have yet to consider is that there is a difference between “not allowing” something and “forbidding” it. “Forbidding” something means that it can never happen, not at any time, but the use of “I am not allowing” shows that, though there is a possibility that women could teach, Paul doesn’t allow it. Notice also, that Paul doesn’t say “God doesn’t allow it, the Lord says it shouldn’t be.”
If complementarianism is right, and God forbids women to have positions of authority in the church, I have two questions for them: 1) Why is it that Paul doesn’t appeal to the Law of God? Even when Paul tells the women in the Corinthian congregation to “ask their husbands at home,” he appeals to the Law:
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
Paul appeals to the Law when telling women to be quiet and stop talking in church; why doesn’t he appeal to the Law here, if women were always forbidden by God to not teach or have any church leadership authority? Paul doesn’t appeal to God here because he’s not giving the Word of God regarding whether women should teach; instead, he’s giving pastoral advice to Timothy regarding a situation in the church at Ephesus. This situation is not a typical situation, which means that it doesn’t merit a typical response from the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul also doesn’t say, “What does the Scripture say? It says “women are not to be over men,” or something along these lines. Paul often appeals to Scripture or “the Law” when it comes to theological discussion, but he doesn’t appeal to Scripture here.
Why is that? As I said above, the issue is particular, unique, a situation that doesn’t have a specific prohibition in Scripture. This should tell us that, if Paul couldn’t find a specific Scripture to address the issue of women preaching, that complementarianism is wrong and that today’s churches shouldn’t use 1 Timothy 2:11-15 to browbeat women into “staying in their place” while they are being denied their place in God’s church — dictated only by their God-given gifts and talents.
Next, there’s an even better reason as to why Paul says “I do not allow.” The reason? It pertains to the genre of writing. I said earlier that 1 Timothy is a letter, an epistle, written from Paul to Timothy. Perhaps it’s the case that Paul’s letter is in response to Timothy’s letter (after all, the letter addresses things that only Timothy and Paul would’ve known). Since Paul says in the beginning of the epistle that he sent Timothy to Ephesus to put down false doctrine, then it’s not unreasonable to assume that Paul’s letter to Timothy is a response to an unknown letter that Timothy wrote to Paul (a letter that didn’t make it into the New Testament). Paul would only know about these women in the congregation and the anger and doubting of the men in the congregation (along with the apparel of the women) by way of Timothy, who was there as the church Pastor and could attest to all the chaos going on. When Paul writes that “Let a woman learn in silence…but I do not allow a woman to teach,” perhaps it’s the case that Paul is responding to Timothy’s correspondence. The response between them would’ve gone something like this:
(Timothy writes a letter): “There are these women in the congregation who are eager to teach, but they are arguing with their teachers and spewing false doctrine. They’re so disruptive that I’m thinking about keeping them from learning altogether.”
(Paul gets the letter and replies): “No, let them learn. They need to learn, but learn in silence by being quiet. But, despite their learning, I am not allowing them to teach because they’re teaching false doctrine.”
In other words, Timothy has a situation at Ephesus and doesn’t know how to handle it; Paul writes back and creates a compromise: the women can learn, but they won’t be able to teach. Paul’s response is to a letter Timothy wrote him, a letter in which Timothy asked for his advice on how to proceed. Paul doesn’t have any Scriptural warrant, so he gives what he believes to be the best way to handle the situation.
I haven’t said anything about the phrase “to have authority over a man,” but let’s look at it now. The Greek phrase is authentein andros, with the word authentein referring to “to usurp authority” (as the King James Version translates the Greek verb). The word “usurp” implies taking something that doesn’t belong to you; in context, the women would be taking some authority and power that doesn’t belong to them.
The New King James and some other translations say “have authority over a man,” but that makes the verb neutral; it isn’t neutral in the context, however, which is somewhat chaotic and negatively charged. What authority would these women have over men? The word authentein consists of the infinitive ending “ein” as well as the Greek verb authenteo, meaning “to exercise” or “govern.” The authority the women were trying to usurp can be found in the nature of the false doctrine they were propagating, if context helps any.
The spheres in the discussion of having authority are likely the church and the home. We can see this because the women are prevented from teaching (church), and Paul encourages these wives, married women, to have children and maintain “self-control.” Perhaps these married women want to be more in the church and in a different role at home, and the false doctrine has given them ignorant boldness by which to bully their husbands and their teachers. We’ll get into more of this below.
Paul is denying their “having authority over a husband,” which some take to be the nature of the false doctrine being propagated in the church at Ephesus. The construction of “to teach…nor to (Grk, authentein) a man” shows that the teaching is all about having authority over men. The word “authentein” does seem to have the word authentikos embedded in it. The word authentikos means “authentic” or “original,” so the teaching could be centered around the woman teaching that she was the “origin” of man, that she was the start of human creation. I’ll get back to this in my commentary on 1 Timothy 2:13-14 below.
The married women in this church are not being allowed to teach, and some would throw their hands up and say, “This is Scripture; women cannot teach men.” And yet, there’s a problem: if women were forbidden by God to teach, why doesn’t Paul lift up a verse? And, what about the Scriptures that show that women did have leadership roles in the church, such as Acts 18?:
24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:24-28)
Aquila and Priscilla, represented by the pronoun “they,” are responsible for Apollos’s correct information and improved teaching. “They explained to him the way of God more accurately,” it says in Acts 18:26. Aquila wasn’t the only one explaining the Scriptures; Priscilla did, too. Priscilla not only taught Apollos, she also was the head of the church that met in her home (and she was a married woman):
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. (Romans 16:3-21)
When you look at the bold phrases above, you can see that “my fellow worker” is a phrase Paul used to refer to those who were working alongside him in planting churches. Timothy is a fellow worker (v.21), Urbanus is a fellow worker (v.9), and Priscilla and Aquila are, too (v.3). Do you notice that Priscilla’s name comes before Aquila (“Priscilla and Aquila,” v.3), and Paul tells the Romans to “greet the church that is in their house” (v.5)? This tells us that Priscilla was no wife dragged into ministry work because of her husband; she wasn’t a “Pastor’s wife,” but was one of the Pastors herself. Yes, Priscilla was a “fellow worker” with Paul, she was an apostle with Paul, a church planter, someone whose church met in her own home with her husband Aquila. The fact that we’ve seen her name mentioned second in other places (Acts 18) but first in a passage that greets church leadership and workers (Romans 16) is not a mistake.
And, as always, Junia is listed here in Romans 16 as being “of note among the apostles” (v.7). Complementarians have tried to take Junia’s name and give her a sex change (rename her “Junias”), but the Latin manuscripts are overwhelmingly in favor of Junia. The next trick of complementarianism regarding Junia has been to diminish her apostleship: “she was a messenger for the church, but she wasn’t really an apostle.” Sadly, these same complementarians overwhelmingly approve of the idea that Andronicus, her husband, was an apostle — but Junia? “She can’t be,” they say, “Because you know what 1 Timothy 2 says about women.”
I had to engage someone on social media several months ago who had this absurd argument with regard to Junia: in his mind, Junia wasn’t an apostle like Paul, but Andronicus was. Andronicus and Junia were “my fellow prisoners,” Paul says of them in Romans 16:7, a label that alerts us that Junia was as much an apostle as Paul was. Paul even says that they were saved before him, that they are older in the faith than he is (“who also were in Christ before me,” see verse 7). As an apostle, Junia and Priscilla (yes, she also hosted a church in her home) would’ve had the same power as Paul, able to start churches, appoint preachers, teachers, and elders, and remove and install leaders for whatever needs the churches they founded may have had.
This doesn’t take into account the female prophetesses of the Old Testament, such as Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah. In Deborah’s case, she was married but was more spiritually powerful in Israel than her husband, and the same can be said for Huldah. These female prophetesses in the Old Testament told the people, “Thus says the Lord” (Huldah in 2 Kings 22:15, among others). In other words, they preached God’s Word, God’s message, to the people. They were the preachers of their day, and all of Israel, including the male kings, had to visit them to discover what the Lord’s Word was, or what His message was to the people at any given time.
With Priscilla teaching as an apostle, Junia as an apostle, the Old Testament prophetesses who preached and proclaimed the Word of the Lord, and the praying and prophesying women in churches such as the church at Corinth, how could Paul have given women a prohibition from God’s Word? He couldn’t. The only instance in which Paul could bar women from teaching and having any authority in the church is if he was motivated by the risk of false doctrine: that is, if by their teaching, false doctrine would be spewed throughout the church.
What was the nature of the false doctrine? The answer is found in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” This statement says that Adam was formed first, Eve was formed second. Why does Paul say that Adam was formed first? Doesn’t Scripture say this? Yes it does. When one reads Genesis 2:18-23:
18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:18-23)
Genesis 2 reports that Adam was created first, and then, after Adam sees there is no one on earth like him, God puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs, and forms the woman. The events of Genesis 2 are not disputed in the Word of God (there is no conflict in Scripture), but there was conflict about Genesis 2 in the church at Ephesus. Remember the context of false doctrine? Remember that the people wanted to be teachers of the law but didn’t know what they were saying, a statement Paul makes in 1 Timothy 1? Well, we see here exactly what the nature of the false doctrine was here in verses 13 and 14: the argument pertained to creation. Paul upholds Scripture, the events of Genesis 2, and has to do so because the false doctrine is attacking Genesis 2.
Now, I’ve heard the false interpretations of what Paul is saying here. Some have said that, if one reads the text at face value, “Paul is denying women from teaching and having spiritual authority in the church because the male was created first.” When one decides to go with a certain interpretation, there must be good evidence for it; the question becomes, “where is the evidence in Scripture for the male being the only leaders in the church because they were created first?
The closest evidence biblically is found in 1 Corinthians 11, where we see that the creation order is used to justify women having “a sign of authority on their heads” or head coverings when ministering before the congregation:
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-12)
The early church, specifically the church at Corinth, had a discussion about head coverings, saying that women should wear them “because woman [is] from man” and “woman [was created] for the man.” Paul also discusses the creation order here: the woman comes from the man, not the man from the woman. At the beginning of creation, Adam was formed first, then Eve — a view that matches Paul’s own in 1 Timothy 2:13. And yet, even with the created order in place, there is a new created order with the human race: “For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Corinthians 11:12). As Paul says in the prior verse, “Neither is man independent of the woman, nor woman independent of the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). In other words, if a head covering or the principle that all women praying and prophesying should wear head coverings, is done for the sake of making women have “authority” on their heads because they’re married (notice that the argument of 1 Corinthians 11 does not pertain to single women but wives who have husbands), then women need not wear head coverings because the 1) the created order has now been reversed (man comes through woman) and 2) neither gender is independent of the other in the Lord (husband and wife can’t be married without the other; Adam wasn’t whole without Eve in Genesis).
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes that the original order of male first, then female isn’t all of the created order; the new created order today is that the female gives birth to the male. “So, in terms of wearing a sign of authority, women need not wear it because women have no less created order authority than men,” Paul says in his own way. If Paul nullifies women having to wear a sign of authority in 1 Corinthians 11, why would he then rob women of authority here? If Paul had no problem with women praying and prophesying in the church at Corinth, why would Paul not want women to teach, preach, prophesy, etc., at Ephesus? Paul is restraining these women and not permitting them to teach (even though he could permit them to, as the word “permit” implies he has the power to do to the contrary) because of a particular situation that has nothing to do with Adam being formed first, then Eve.
What is Paul saying about Genesis 2? That the events of Scripture, “the law,” as he calls the Old Testament in 1 Timothy 1, is correct in what it reports. The women were saying out loud and proclaiming that it was Eve who was formed first instead of Adam; they were proclaiming the very opposite of what the Law said. Remember, they wanted to be teachers of the Law, but they don’t know that what they’re saying and agreeing to is wrong, wrong, wrong. Perhaps they believed that, since men come through women today, the Genesis 2 proclamation that woman came from the man (man is formed first) is wrong because it is illogical to their minds. This may very well be part of the endless genealogies Paul tells Timothy that “cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). I’ve even read a theory that says that “Eve” in the Greek is “Zoe” (Greek for “life”), so Eve became the “life-giver” that gave life to Adam (and thus, Eve was created before Adam, so the theory goes). This theory is one provided for further details regarding the nature of the false doctrine. The “endless genealogies” would take the genealogy of humanity that we have, that all humans descended from Adam, and create something of an infinitum ad absurdum (Latin meaning “infinity to the absurd”) whereby the genealogy becomes never-ending. The women were proclaiming false doctrine, and Paul was telling Timothy that he wouldn’t allow these women to teach because they were propagating false doctrine. False doctrine is the context, not the theme that “men are superior to women” or “women need to know their place.” The traditional interpretation, that “men are created first,” is nowhere in Scripture and is thus totally erroneous.
The next part of the false doctrine says that Eve was deceived: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14). Here, Paul defends that Eve is the one who was deceived and “fell in the transgression,” not Adam. Adam falls, of course, but Adam doesn’t fall because he’s deceived; after all, God told Adam not to eat the fruit. Adam heard the voice of God audibly with regard to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve, however, is the one who cries out that she was deceived back in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
21 Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:1-21)
Eve tells God, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate” in Genesis 3:13. Eve was the one who was deceived, not Adam. Adam never states that he is deceived when he sins. So when Paul says “the woman, being deceived, fell in the transgression,” he’s also acknowledging what Genesis 3 says. Again, Paul is upholding the Law, the Old Testament Scriptures. The false doctrine being propagated said that Adam, not Eve, was deceived, that, when Eve passed the fruit to Adam, she was passing Adam knowledge because the fruit was from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” By passing Adam fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, she was “giving Adam knowledge,” or something to that effect. And yet, Paul made it clear that Eve didn’t sin because she was enlightened but because she was deceived as to what would happen when she ate the fruit. Paul uses the phrase “the woman” with regard to deception because it was the gender that was being attacked: the false doctrine said that “the man” was the one deceived, but Paul places the deception back in the right gender.
Now, at this point, I acknowledge there’s false teaching on this false doctrine today. For one, it’s not the case that, as Wayne Grudem says, that “women are more prone to emotion and men are more given to thought and rationality” (a paraphrase of Grudem’s words on feminism). That view of Grudem’s may make him and a few male chauvinist readers feel good about themselves, but it simply isn’t true. Lots of individuals can be deceived, including men. Men are not so rationally strong as to avoid deception. There are a number of men that have been victims of credit card scams, ponzi schemes, and the rest of it. John Piper has tried to provide some biological tests that he thinks “seal the deal” for the emotional women/rational men argument, but again, it’s all a fluke. There’s no such thing as a female deception tendency. Deception is present throughout life, and any human, no matter how smart, can be deceived. There are some men who’ve married the wrong woman — only to wake up and regret their decision twenty years later.
Those who believe that Paul is telling Timothy these women cannot teach or have any authority in the church because 1) women were created second in the created order and 2) women are more emotional and at risk for deception than men have to find proof of this. If these things are true, then we’d expect biblical warrant. First, Paul nullifies the created order bragging rights by arguing that men come through women today. Secondly, Paul never says that women are more prone to deception, or that their emotional nature makes them “fragile” and more at risk for destruction by Satan.
Some say that women can not be in spiritual leadership in God’s church because to do so would require them to “be over their husbands whereas, in the home, their husbands would be over them.” To those who follow this line of argument, I say the following: who is the head of the home? Scripture is very clear that the man is the “lord” of the home, but even man’s headship in the home doesn’t exclude women from leadership in the church. The reason? Take a look at 1 Timothy 3 again:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. 11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:1-12)
Verses 4, 5, and 12 are in bold font; notice that none of them mention “ruling their wives”? If the diaconate and pastorate (bishopric) are all male-exclusive, then why, in mentioning ruling children, does it not mention “ruling their wives”? The answer is clear: women can be deacons (1 Timothy 3:11).
Some would say to this, well, men are the leaders in the church because they are the leaders of the home; “as goes the home, so goes the church,” I’ve often heard. And yet, that’s simply not true. Men do not lead the church, men are not the head of the church. If you read Scripture, you’ll discover that it is Jesus Christ, not human males, that is the Head of the Church:
23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:23-33)
In Ephesians 5:23-24, Scripture tells us that Christ is the Head of the Church. Neither male nor female rule the house of God; only Christ does. This is why 1 Timothy 3 says that one “rules his own home” but “cares for the house of God” — because the Pastor is just a servant in the house of God, not the ruler over it. I realize we live in such politically-charged times where some Pastors live by a “Divine Right of Pastors” rule where they think they must only answer to God and no one else, but that’s not a biblical stance. It’s political, and the only political agenda that should be advanced in the house of God is God’s own agenda, His Kingdom, and His will being done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Since Christ is the Head of the Church, and we the members of His church are the Bride, then our gender isn’t an advantage either way because, whether male or female, both genders constitute “The Bride.” The male gender doesn’t rule the church any more than the female gender does because even the male members of the church are part of the Bride of Christ, just as the women are. God rules over His church, and He can call and choose whom He pleases. God did not pass the baton to males when He made man the head of the home. So many have presumed a direct, 1:1 correlation between the home and the church to avoid what they deem to be a conflict in human reasoning, but they’ve traded in one conflict in human reasoning for another: rather than face the issue of submission in the home/leadership in the church head-on, they’ve gone and made the male the head of the church in place of God.
What qualifies a person for leadership in God’s church? Is it being male? It is, if you talk to some. Fortunately for one half of the church, being male doesn’t exclude women from leadership. God can and will call you, whether male or female, and gender doesn’t get you special access to certain church positions or exclude others who aren’t that particular gender. What qualifies a person for leadership in God’s church is that first, they are a child of God and have come to believe on the name of Jesus Christ and trusted Him as their Savior. Next, they have undergone Believer’s Baptism to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection symbolically and spiritually. After that, they have allowed the Holy Spirit to move in their lives and He has confirmed for him or her what gifts the individual has. And it is the gifts that determine the office. So when God gifts a person to be Pastor, he or she is already a Pastor — even if there’s no church to recognize it just yet or there is no installation service in a local congregation. The church is not “God”; it doesn’t get to determine who has what gift and who doesn’t get “x” gift. That’s up to the Spirit of God:
4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
The Holy Spirit gives the gifts “as He wills,” correct? Yes, according to 1 Corinthians 12:11. If He does, then who are you (and I) to say that “God can’t gift a woman to Pastor?” Are we God? Do we know who God wants to give the gift of Pastor to? No. What the Word tells us is that the Spirit gives “some” to be Pastors:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16)
We recognize the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, but we rarely stop and think about the gifts that Jesus gave the church. The five-fold ministry gifts include pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists. What this means is that these gifts exist currently in the church and are based on what the Lord chooses to give each believer. Not every believer will have one of these five-fold gifts, and the word “some” in “He gave some to be apostles,” and so on, tells us that it is God’s divine prerogative that determines who receives these spiritual gifts, not us. If Pastor is a gift (it is), and our Lord gives the gifts, then who are we to say that God could never gift a woman to be Pastor? If God can do what He wants, then He can gift a woman. If He doesn’t tell us specifically that “God only gifts men to be Pastors,” then He can gift women. When complementarians assert that God only gifts men to be Pastors, I ask them to show me a verse of Scripture that says that. Usually, they’re dumbfounded, point out 1 Timothy 2:11-15, or point to Jesus choosing twelve male apostles. And then, I respond with, “well, if Jesus chose twelve apostles to lead the church, why is it that you have a one-Pastor team leading your church?” That usually ends the discussion.
In our discussions of male headship in the home, it’s easy to assume that the male leads the church; and yet, we know from Scripture that Jesus is the Head of the church, not human males. What this means is that it doesn’t matter which gender is pastor of the church because both male and female members comprise the Bride of Christ.
Another interpretation I read on social media recently says that “Women cannot be Pastor because Eve fell in the Fall.” Well, if women can’t be Pastor because Eve fell, then what about men? Didn’t Adam fall, too? Scripture says that Adam is the one to blame for the Fall:
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)
“Through one man sin entered the world.” That one made is Adam, not Eve. Therefore, if Adam fell and men are still able to be Pastors, then, despite Eve’s fall, women can still be Pastors, too. The argument that women are barred from the pastorate because of the Fall when men can still attain unto it doesn’t hold up against Scripture.
Last but not least is the verse on women and childbearing. I noted at the very beginning that the word “childbearing” tells us this passage is pertaining to husbands and wives, not merely men and women in general. Thus, this passage isn’t addressed to single women, in my perspective, because single women may not be called to ever become married. Paul has instructions for single women to continue to work and pursue the Lord in ministry (1 Corinthians 7:32-35), but his instructions here are to married women, young married women (these are not widows, mind you; he addresses widows in 1 Timothy 5).
Here’s the verse we’ve all been waiting for:
15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15)
“She will be saved in childbearing” has been seen as a statement referring to the women: the women would be saved in childbearing. The issue with this is that you have to define the word “saved.” We know that Scripturally, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, so the word “saved” here must refer to something other than salvation. The Greek word sozo (meaning “to save”) can also mean “to be preserved” from something evil, and perhaps that is what motivates Paul here. He tells the women to have children because he wants them to be preserved from the false doctrine that is causing so many to stray from the faith in the church at Ephesus:
18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. 7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. (1 Timothy 4:1-7)
20 O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— 21 by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20
False doctrine is wreaking a havoc in the church at Ephesus, with some having already given up or abandoned their faith because of some of it. Old wives’ fables, endless genealogies, teachings on abstaining from foods and marriage, and others are causing believers to abandon what they’d been taught in the gospel and the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, for women to be “saved in childbearing” is to preserve themselves from apostasy (giving up their faith and the Christian doctrine they’d been taught).
While women can be preserved from apostasy and the false doctrine through bearing children, I believe that the “she” here doesn’t refer to women, but instead, to Eve. After all, Paul mentions “Eve” in verse 14, so it’s only natural to conclude that Eve is the “she” of verse 15. The word “nevertheless” is designed to say, “despite Eve falling in the transgression, her reputation can still be preserved from further degradation if you wives will bear children and tend to your home and marriage duties.” It’s likely that the false doctrine that these women were saying out loud in church and agreeing to was designed to rid Eve of her bad reputation in theology. After all, Eve is the one who gave Adam the fruit to eat. Though Romans 5 gives responsibility to Adam, Eve is the one often blamed for the Fall in the Garden. Well, it’s not entirely Eve’s fault; after all, the serpent went to Eve instead of to Adam because Eve didn’t hear God say it; she heard her husband say it. Eve should’ve resisted the serpent, but she didn’t. And then, she gave the fruit to her husband, an action that men all over Christendom have labeled “the beginning of the Fall.”
Perhaps the women in the church at Ephesus believed that Eve was to blame and wanted to get rid of the blame being placed on Eve. Today, women in Christian churches would say that “Adam is the one God told; therefore, Adam is guilty,” but these women felt as though the sequence of events in Genesis made Eve look bad, because “if Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit and passed the fruit to Adam, the Fall would’ve never happened.” That mindset could’ve been the motivating factor behind why these women were propagating the false doctrine in the church.
To defend Eve’s reputation and prevent her from the bad reputation she’d been given, the women devised a new interpretation that claimed 1) Eve was created first and 2) Adam was deceived. And yet, the false doctrine was just that — false — but it was motivated to defend Eve’s reputation. Paul says here that Eve’s reputation will be defended if the daughters of Eve, Christian women, would bear children, manage the home, and continue in right doctrine and resist Satan:
11 But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, 12 having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. 14 Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some have already turned aside after Satan. (1 Timothy 5:11-15)
The false doctrine had turned some aside after Satan, and the last thing Paul wanted was to see more and more believers throw away their faith and turn aside to the “doctrines of demons” as he says in 1 Timothy 4 (quoted above). For these wives to bear children and manage the home would be their best defense against entertaining the false doctrine and leaving themselves open to Satan’s devices.
This is why I think that the “she” in verse 15 is “Eve,” and the “they” in verse 15 refers to the women in the church. Remember, the Lord said in the passage concerning the Fall that He would defeat Satan by “the seed of the woman”:
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)
It was through bearing children that “the seed of the woman” led to Jesus, who crushed the serpent (that old serpent, called Satan, see Revelation 12:9; 20:12). Similarly, by these women, daughters of Eve, bearing children, they would preserve themselves as well as Eve’s reputation. Though Eve has received a terrible reputation in Christian Theology, she is to be commended and respected — for it is through her ability to bear children that the promised Messiah, the Christ, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, would come. Only women can bear children; only a woman, Mary, could give birth to the Messiah, the Child that would rule the nations.
Perhaps Paul’s use of Adam and Eve here is for more than just refuting false doctrine (though it is primarily that, if one examines the text and performs what scholars call biblical hermeneutics or biblical interpretation). Perhaps Paul uses Adam and Eve to not only refute the false interpretation of Adam and Eve by the false teachers and these potential “teachers of the law” who were spewing the false doctrine, but also to make a statement to the students of the church, the married women who were in error. He used the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent to warn the church at Corinth:
Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)
“The serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:3, and Paul connects the Fall and the serpent’s craftiness and deception of Eve to the situation that the Corinthian church faced in his second epistle. False doctrine was being brought into the church. In Ephesus, the situation had begun in his first epistle to Timothy, and the potential “teachers of the law,” these married women who were wanting to teach the Law, were, like Eve, susceptible to the false doctrine. The “serpent” in the situation at Ephesus was the representation of the false teachers, who were telling women what they wanted to hear (that is what false teachers and false prophets do, right?), and the women were being a little too much like Eve in that they were having itching ears toward the false doctrine. And Paul was saying to the women in Ephesus that the way to preserve Eve’s reputation was not to fall into the false doctrine, as she did when she listened to the serpent, but to bear children, manage the home, and be active in their marriage with their husbands. With little free time, they wouldn’t be idle and the ideal target for “the serpent’s” tactics. In other words, Paul was telling the women, “you can save Eve’s reputation by not listening to The Serpent’s lies — that is, the lies of Satan himself.”
We’re at the end of our journey into 1 Timothy 2:11-15. From the outset, we’ve examined the context of the epistle: that is, false doctrine. False teachers were bringing false doctrine into the church, deceiving believers and causing some to stray from the faith — to apostatize, depart from the faith (as the Holy Spirit Himself said, 1 Timothy 4:1). The context is false doctrine, and we cannot forget this in interpretation. Remove a statement from its context, and you can create all sorts of false doctrines that are touted as truth today.
Paul tells us in the first chapter of the epistle that some women want to be teachers of the law but don’t know what they’re saying or what they’re agreeing to. These are the ones that Paul is referring to when he tells Timothy “let a women learn in silence…but I do not permit a woman to teach…” Since the only letter barring women from teaching is this letter, and since other prohibitions against women refer to “asking their husbands at home” as in the case of 1 Corinthians 14, we can gather that the situation is a particular one, an unusual one, not something that was happening in all the churches.
When Paul writes that women are not to teach “for Adam was first formed, then Eve,” Paul is not saying that women cannot teach because they were created second in the created order. He refutes the created order in favor of men in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding head coverings for women, so why would he resurrect such an argument here? Those who say Paul is doing this very thing (that he’s refuting the argument in one place, resurrecting it in another) are guilty of claiming that the Scriptures contradict. I don’t believe the Scriptures contradict, and I doubt you do, too.
One other major issue concerning 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that I’d like to discuss is this: Nowhere in Scripture is there any prohibition against women in leadership. When Paul writes Timothy, he can’t give anything in the Law, the Old Testament Scriptures, to assert that women aren’t to teach; thus, Paul has to give some pastoral advice based on the situation — the situation that Timothy writes to tell him about, the situation that we’re not privy to because Timothy’s own letter never made it into the canon of the New Testament. Paul isn’t writing Timothy for the sake of telling women their place; he’s writing to set things in order:
14 These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
Paul writes Timothy regarding conduct in the house of God, “how you ought to conduct yourself’ (1 Timothy 3:15). Now, why would Paul have had to write Timothy if everything was “copasetic”? This tells us there was chaos and destruction, and the women were part of it. So were the men, since they were “angry and doubting” when raising their hands in worship (1 Timothy 2:8). When Paul writes to Timothy, he makes a play that is in his control to make. He allows the women to learn the Law, but does not permit them to teach. He doesn’t forbid them because the Law doesn’t forbid women from teaching. However, there seems to be some power play by these married women to aim for teaching positions in the church while neglecting their duties at home. Paul tells the women not to neglect their home and marriage duties, to bear children and be faithful in their marriage. Only by faithfulness in their marriage could they ever qualify for church ministry. As he wrote about women deacons in 1 Timothy 3:
11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:11-13)
You can’t be “faithful in all things” if you’re neglecting your home and marriage obligations in order to have a ministry position in the church. God doesn’t want married couples to put off their marriage and home duties and allow their families to self-destruct, in order to covet teaching positions or leadership roles in the church. Remember, Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3 that, “(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (v.5) These women could not neglect their homes because their home lives would be an indication of how well they would serve in God’s church. If a man or woman cannot care about their own homes, their own children, their own possessions, how will they care about God’s house, God’s things?
Can women be pastors, elders, teachers, deacons, etc.? The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”. Women can be whatever God calls them to be, utilize whatever gifts He gives them, and serve in whatever capacity He places them. After all, it is His house, His gifts, His call, and these women are His creation. He gave them dominion over the earth alongside of men, rulership in their homes alongside of men. The same God who gave them dominion over the earth has given them a place of leadership in His church — and their gifts have been given for the benefit of all, including men:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
The gifts are given to grow the Body of Christ, to benefit every member in that Body. Women’s work benefits not only women but also men — but how will it benefit men if women’s leadership is only for women in women’s ministries? By putting women in women’s positions only, minimizing their impact in the church of Jesus Christ, men have not only stunted the growth of women in ministry but also the growth of the church.
May we repent and return to the truth.