Limitations on Women's Role

Many interpreters are uncomfortable with the limitations placed on women in 1 Timothy 2 and they suggest alternative explanations. The following is a list of objections to the above interpretation of 1 Timothy 2. The objections are placed in order from what I believe to be the weakest to the strongest.

(1) 1 Timothy 2 Must be Interpreted in View of Galatians 3:28.

This is a good example of what is commonly called “proof-texting;” that is, taking a passage out of its original context and then using it to prove something that the passage never taught. Paul is not discussing women’s role in the assembly in Galatians 3. The main theme of this book is the basis of salvation—not worship. Certain Jewish Christians were teaching that Gentiles could not be saved on the basis of faith in Christ without observing the Law of Moses. Instead, these teachers argued that the Gentiles must observe certain requirements of the Law, such as male circumcision (Galatians 5:1-4). Paul’s general argument in Galatians and Romans is that all are sinners and all must be saved on the basis of their faith in Christ and not on the basis of whether they observe the Law.

God’s plan of righteousness is now revealed in Christ: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed…” (Romans 1:17). Some Christians in Galatia were being turned away from God’s plan by those who taught that righteousness could be found by observing the Law. Paul explains that the Law was to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:21-25), that we are children of God on the basis of our faith in Christ (v. 26), and that if we belong to Christ we are of Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise (v. 29). It is in this context that we find verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The point being made is that no one has any special advantage over others regarding salvation; specifically, Jewish Christians who observe the law have no authority to tell Gentile Christians they must live like Jews. In other words, we are all sinners saved by grace through Christ (Paul elaborates on this point more fully in Romans 3:22-31). In this context, Paul is not discussing what takes place in the assembly of the church, or male spiritual leadership, or church organization, or restrictions on the role of women. To say this passage teaches that women are to be prayer leaders in church, or that they are to be appointed to leadership, or that they are to teach the men of the church, is to say the passage means what it never meant.

(2) The Prohibition is Limited in Scope

This explanation confines the prohibition only to certain women at Ephesus and not to women in general. It is argued that some women at Ephesus were ignorant of the truth and, until they learned more about the true teaching, they were not to teach. According to this view, these women would be allowed to teach men in the assembly at a later time. This interpretation, however, seems forced and out of harmony with the context because the main points of discussion in this section are male leadership, authority, and submission (vs. 8-15). This discussion is in the context of events taking place in the assembly and applies to situations “everywhere” or “in every place” (v. 8). Some argue that the context is not restricted to conduct in the assembly because Paul tells the women to adorn themselves “with good deeds” (1 Timothy 2:10), which would refer to activity outside the assembly. The point, however, is not that Paul is digressing from his discussion about the assembly, but that the ministry of women is to occur outside the assembly; or, that the assembly is not where women are to have a leading role. They are to bring a ministry of good deeds with them to the assembly, as the rest of the verse shows (”appropriate for women who profess to worship God”). In other words, instead of leading in the assembly, the women are to be noted for their good deeds.

Paul tells us that these principles were established in the order of creation (v. 13), which points to something beyond a particular group of women at Ephesus. Therefore, the most likely occasion for these instructions was that the conduct of some women in Ephesus was a violation of these principles.

(3) Not in a Domineering Way

Others suggest that Paul is not saying that women cannot teach men in the assembly, but that they cannot teach them in an authoritative or domineering way. According to this view, only one prohibition is found in 1 Timothy 2:12 and it relates specifically to domineering women teachers. But this does not seem to be the plain sense of the verse in either Greek or English. Notice that there are two separate but related commands: a woman is not to teach men and she is not to exercise authority over men. An example of similar wording in the New Testament can help us understand the sense of Paul’s instructions. In Philippi, some citizens brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21). Their claim was that they were not permitted to accept or practice the customs advocated by Paul. Notice that, just as in 1 Timothy 2:12, these are also separate but related commands; that is, they could accept or acknowledge the customs without having to practice them. However, they say they are forbidden to do both. Therefore, in the assembly of the church, women are not permitted either to teach or to exercise authority over the men. Instead, they are to receive instruction in a quiet and submissive manner.

J B Myers


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