By Johnny Stringer
One of the most controversial issues of our time is the role of women in our society. Christians are especially concerned with determining the woman’s role in the spiritual realm. In view of the prominent place That teaching occupies in the religion of Christ, we must ascertain the woman’s responsibility in the teaching of God’s word; and in order to do this, we must consult the final authority in all religious matters, the word of God.
General Principle: Women Are to Teach
The general principle is clear: Women are to teach. When persecution in Jerusalem forced the Christians to flee to other places, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). This included women. Moreover, the writer of Hebrews was writing to both men and women when he said that they ought to be teachers (Heb. 5:12). The instruction to teach through singing is directed to all Christians, including women (Col. 3:16). Older women are to teach younger women (Tit. 2:3-4). Priscilla participated in teaching Apollos (Acts 18:26). Some women were given the gift of prophecy, which involved teaching (Acts 2:17; 21:9). Seemingly, women taught Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5).
There are two passages, however, which place a restriction on a woman’s teaching. In obedience to the general principle that she is to teach, a woman may teach in any capacity or circumstance which does not violate the restriction these passages place on her. The passages are 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. In this article we will discuss 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and in a following article, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
1 Timothy 2:1-12
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
Paul is emphasizing the woman’s responsibility to maintain her place of subjection. This teaching was based not, as some suppose, on the culture of the day, but on the facts that Adam was formed first (v. 13) and that the woman, not the man, was deceived (v. 14).
1. The Prohibition. “But I suffer a woman not to teach” does not mean that she is not allowed to teach at all in any situation. If it did, it would contradict the passages cited above, which require her to teach. It would mean that she could not obey the command of Colossians 3:16 to teach in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It would mean the older women could not obey the command to teach younger women (Tit. 2:3-4). In fact, it would mean that a mother could not tell her small child that Jesus is the Son of God or that God made the flowers; this would be teaching, and she could not do it if Paul meant that she is not to teach at all.
It is obvious, therefore, that Paul was not forbidding all teaching. Paul wrote these words in connection with the woman’s responsibility to be in subjection. The kind of teaching that would be forbidden in that context is teaching which would violate the principle of being in subjection.
What we have determined from the context and related passages, some Greek scholars say can be ascertained from the grammar of the Greek text. They affirm that the expression “nor usurp authority over the man” is explanatory; that is, it explains that the teaching of which Paul speaks is that which usurps authority over the man.
Lenski, for example, affirms, “. . . `neither to exercise authority over a man’ states the point involved in the forbidding to teach.” After expressing agreement with Lenski, Homer A. Kent, professor of New Testament and Greek at Grace Theological Seminary, remarked, “I regard `neither to exercise authority over a man’ to be somewhat exegetical of the previous clause and giving one of the reasons why the prohibition to teach is made.” Finally, Stephen W. Paine, professor of Greek at Houghton College affirmed, “… the interpretive step which identifies `to teach’ with ‘to take (the) authority’ is justified and Lenski is grammatically correct.”
Greek scholarship, however, is not necessary. Remember, we learned it from the context and related passages before hearing from the scholars.
2. Learn in Silence. When men are present, rather than directing the study, she is to “learn in silence,” maintaining her place of subjection. The command to learn in silence does not mean that she is not to utter a word in a Bible class. The word translated “silence” (hesuchi) is the same word that is translated “quietness” in 2 Thessalonians 3:12, where Paul exhorted men “that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” If it means in 1 Timothy 2:12 that women may not utter a sound in a Bible class, then it means in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 that men may not utter a sound on the job.
Obviously, this is not the meaning. The woman is not to be loud and boisterous. She is to manifest a meek and quiet spirit (1 Pet. 3:4). She is not violating this principle if she quietly and meekly asks a question or submits a point for the class’s consideration. Inasmuch as the principle under discussion is subjection, Paul means that she is not to be loud, dominating, or boisterous so as to be out of subjection. Being under subjection involves a quiet, calm disposition.
This passage clearly restricts the woman’s teaching. She may not be in charge of a Bible class in which men are present, nor may she proclaim God’s word from the pulpit to an audience including men. To do so would be out of subjection, for she would be in control of the study rather than learning in quietness.
The woman may teach in any circumstance in which she does not violate the principle of remaining in subjection to men. Another passage emphasizing this principle is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which will be considered in the next article.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 8 p. 20-21
April 20, 1995