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Women preachers and 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Submitted: 2/10/2005
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Question: Could you please explain 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in light of women feeling that they should be preachers in a pulpit?

Answer: 1 Timothy 2:11-3:1 says: Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do 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. 3:1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.”

The work of a bishop (literally overseer) involves teaching and exercising authority within the realm of a local assembly. Paul did not permit women to serve in this capacity. This does not rule out all teaching roles; it simply rules out the role of teaching in a pastoral capacity. Paul was explaining why this was necessary when he wrote that even though Eve was the second one formed, she was the first to fall. She was deceived, but Adam was not. Because of this, God told Eve, “In pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

The issue Paul was discussing here was not the limitations on the role of women in a local assembly, but the leadership structure. He was not ruling out the possibility that a women may have insights and understandings that would bless and edify the assembly. What he was saying was that because women are more easily deceived, they are not to be the leaders. The head of the women is man. Wives are to be subject to their husbands.

The Mystical Pulpit

The reason some people have such difficulty with allowing women to speak to the assembly from behind the pulpit is because, in the minds of some, the pulpit is synonymous with the exercise of authority. In other words, who ever stands behind a pulpit is exercising the authority of the pulpit. But that is Catholic mysticism. A pulpit is nothing but a piece of furniture upon which you can set your Bible and your notes. Authority is in the person, not where he or she happens to be standing.

The same Paul who wrote that women should be in silence also wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...” (Colossians 3:16). This verse is not limited to men. And it could certainly have application both in teaching and in leading worship.

The phrase “to be in silence” is troublesome for some. The New International Version of the Bible says it this way, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). This is not a command to absolute silence; only silence with respect to teaching and exercising authority over men. What Paul is saying is simply, “No female pastors.”