I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach or Have Authority Over a Man, She Must Be Silent

First Timothy 2:11-15

Since feast of Weeks in Acts 2, believers have met together for prayer, fellowship, worship, the Lord’s Supper and teaching. Both men and women have participated in these times of public worship. In First Timothy 2:11-15, Sha'ul wrote instructions on the role of women in public worship to Timothy, his apostolic representative to the church at Ephesus. This is the key passage in understanding what the B’rit Chadashah has to say about women in ministry. This passage is difficult, containing some unusual vocabulary, awkward grammar, references to the TaNaKh, and important theological issues.

After Sha'ul's visit to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-11, 4:15; Acts 20:17-38), false teachers had surfaced. There is a possibility they were from within the church and may have included leadership (Acts 20:29-30). He was anxious to oppose them (1 Timothy 1:3-11, 6:3-10) and teach correct doctrine so as to ward off any further attacks by them (1 Timothy 4:6 and 13-16, 6:2 and 17-18), to promote godly living of the laity (1 Timothy 5:1-16) and leadership (1 Timothy 3:11-15, 5:17-25, 6:11-16), and lay a solid foundation for church practice (1 Timothy 2:1-15, 3:1-13). There were problems in Ephesian public worship. Sha’ul addressed four areas of concern in Chapter 2.

First, he was concerned about public prayer for all. Sha'ul begins by explaining the necessity of offering public prayers for all, especially those in authority with governmental positions, so that life might be peaceful for the church (2:1-2). These prayers have innate value and are acceptable before the LORD, Who desires that all come to repentance (2:3-4). ADONAI not only has the desire, but God has also provided the way by the cross (2:5-7).

Secondly, the inspired apostle was concerned about men with clean consciences. He taught the men to pray with a cleansed conscience, free from interpersonal strife (2:8). Although praying with raised hands was not uncommon, Sha'ul’s concern was not on the physical act, but on the heart attitude. The men are to pray with spiritually unpolluted hands. In addition, Sha'ul of Tarsus encouraged the men of Ephesus not to have a contentious spirit. He had given warnings against quarrelsomeness to church leadership (First Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7), men in general (First Timothy 2:8), deacons (First Timothy 3:8, Second Timothy 2:24) and believers in general (Titus 3:2) in his pastoral epistles.

Thirdly, the apostle was concerned that women would dress appropriately. He was concerned with both modest apparel (2:9a) and with a modest attitude (2:9b). They should not dress for show (2:9c), but as women who profess godliness, they should clothe themselves with good deeds (2:20).

Fourthly, Sha'ul was concerned that women learn with an attitude of quiet submissiveness.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission (2:11). This passage is addressed to women generally. First, in the preceding context, verses 8 to 10 instruct men to pray and women to dress modestly. Since men praying and women dressing are not limited to husbands and wives, it is unlikely that verses 11 to 15 are limited to wives. Secondly, like in Ephesians 5:22-23, Sha’ul does not view men and women as family members, but as part of a worshiping community. Thirdly, had the apostle from Tarsus been speaking of the husband-wife relationship, a definite article or possessive pronoun before to teach in verse 12 would be expected as in Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-29, 31, 33.

An exhortation is first given that a woman should learn. This verb is used seven times in the Pastoral Epistles. Here it carries the idea of learning by instruction as in Second Timothy 3:7 and 14, John 7:15 and First Corinthians 14:31. By saying that a woman should learn, Sha'ul is presupposing that women were a part of public worship and were included in the instruction. This was in sharp contrast to Greek thought, and the church at Ephesus existed in a city dominated by Greek culture and religion, but Sha'ul assumed women would learn and could learn. Later, in Second Timothy 3:6-7 for example, the apostle would record how false teachers had influenced some of the women. He probably knew how important it was to have them grounded in the Word.

There were two ways in which women were to learn. First, they were to learn in quietness.This word and its related forms are only used eleven times in the New Covenant, and ranges in meaning from silence (Acts 22:2; First Timothy 2:12) to rest in quietness (First Timothy 2:2; First Peter 3:4; Second Thessalonians 3:12). Here it is best translated quietness. The issue is not wordlessness, sound or content, but attitude. Secondly, the women were to learn in full submission. In First Corinthians 11:3, Sha'ul says: The head of every man in Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Women are to be submissive to men in the sense that they will respect and honor the leadership of qualified men that God has called to lead the local church.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent (2:12). This verse elaborates on three points from the previous verse. First, I do not permit a woman to teach parallels a woman should learn. Teaching, of course, is where much of the problem lay in the church in Ephesus. The straying elders were teachers (1:3 and 6:3), and the worthy elders, for whom Timothy was to serve as something of a model (First Timothy 4:11-16; Second Timothy 2:2), were those whose work is teaching (First Timothy 5:17). So the women were neither to teach nor have authority over men in public worship.

The meaning of I do not permit has been interpreted by some as mere personal preference, but I believe the usage here is the same as that of not allowed in First Corinthians 14:34. There, the apostle to the Gentiles stated that women were not allowed to speak and highlighted the importance of this instruction by saying: What I am saying to you is the Lord’s command (referring to First Corinthians 26-36, which included verse 34). In addition, Sha'ul was probably using his personal authority as an apostle to back up what he was saying such as in First Corinthians 11:16.

Sha'ul wrote that women were restricted in two aspects of public worship. They were not to teach or have authority over a man. First, what is meant by the phrase: I do not permit a woman to teach? The correct understanding of Sha'ul’s words are dependent upon the tense of the Greek infinitive and the grammatical rule pertaining to it. In the case of the infinitive, the Greek has a choice between the present and the aorist tenses. When the Greek desires to refer only to the fact of the action denoted by the infinitive, without referring to details, it uses the aorist. Should any other tense be used, the writer is going out of his way to add details. Thus, the student must pay particular attention to his choice of the tense. In addition, the aorist infinitive denotes that which is eventful or particular, while the present infinitive indicates a condition or process. As a result, because the aorist tense is not used here, Sha'ul is not forbidding a woman to teach universally. So he does not forbid all teaching, but because the present tense is used, Sha'ul is saying, don’t become the teacher. The present infinitive always indicates the one who is doing the authoritative teaching in the church. It’s as if he was saying to women, “Do not take that kind of leadership, but be submissive to the authority in the local church.”

The inspired apostle is denying to women the kind of teaching spoken of in Acts 13:1, First Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11. But there are other places in the New Covenant that tell us about women teaching that help us to know what is appropriate and inappropriate. Titus 2:3 shows older women teaching younger women. Timothy is shown as being taught as a child by his mother and grandmother in Second Timothy 3:14, and in Acts 18:26, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and explain to him the way of God more adequately. As a result, letting Scripture provide some parameters for Rabbi Sha’ul’s statement, it seems clear that women can teach other women, children, and, under the authority of their husband, can teach a man, men or mixed group as a team. So Sha'ul does not mean that women can never teach, but he is denying to women, in regards to public worship in the church, a kind of teaching that relates to authority.

Secondly, not to have authority over man parallels being submissive in every way. But what kind of authority is Sha'ul of Tarsus describing here? When we look at First Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:9; Acts 20:28-30, and especially First Timothy 5:17, two spheres of authority are in view. One is ruling, governing or generally being responsible for directing the affairs of the church. The other is preaching, teaching or doctrinal guardianship of the church. So teaching and authority are the two spheres of responsibility of elders, and I do not think it is coincidental that those are the two specific things forbidden to women in First Timothy 2:12. Therefore, Scripture tell us that it is inappropriate for women to be bishops, pastors, elders or overseers in the local church.

But what do we really mean when we say that elders have authority, and how does this relate to the prohibition of women in the church? Elder authority is servant authority (Luke 22:26), it is edifying authority (Second Corinthians 10:8, 13:10), and it is exemplary living (First Peter 5:3). This is why teaching is part of, really the essence of, the exercising of biblical authority. Because elder authority is exerted through persuasion and teaching and not through coercion or political maneuvering, teaching and authority go hand in hand in the B’rit Chadashah. Leading people freely into obedience and truth is the kind of authority that elders are supposed to exert.

Thirdly, the former Pharisee concludes she must be silent, again better translated in a quiet demeanor, which exactly repeats the prepositional phrase learn in quietness and full submission of 2:11. Therefore, here in verse 12, he is inspired to record that women are not permitted to teach men nor have authority over men in public worship. Instead, as Sha'ul as already directed in verse 11, they are to receive instruction with an inner attitude of quietness and full submission to the truth of God’s Word through His chosen teachers. The apostle concludes his discussion by giving two reasons why women were to learn in quietness and full submission rather than teach and assume a position of authority over men.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve (2:13). First, Sha'ul begins his reasoning by pointing us back to Genesis 2, and later to Genesis 3. There are those who do not consider Genesis 2 and 3 relevant to the discussion here, but I don’t think anyone should say something is meaningless when an inspired apostle says it is meaningful. The inspired spokesman is a better authority for the interpretation of Moses than anyone living today and Rabbi Sha’ul places Genesis 2 and 3 into the context of the issue of women in ministry.

It is important to understand that the apostle is not referring to two verses taken from Genesis 2 and 3. Instead, he is using a common rabbinic method of referring to the TaNaKh, a method known as summary citation. That is, he used the summary statement in First Timothy 2:13 to point the reader to the entire periscope describing the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2:4-24, and in First Timothy 2:14 he is referring back to the entire periscope detailing the Fall in Genesis 3:1-25. Consequently, Rabbi Sha'ul was not limiting his focus to two specific, isolated thoughts; rather, he was drawing on two complete narratives.

Therefore, when Saul of Tarsus points us back to Genesis 2:4-25, he is saying that we should not overlook that fact that ADONAI, God chose to make the man first, to put him in the Garden and give him the responsibility for caring for, literally guarding, it. The inspired apostle is saying that its important to understand that the LORD gave man the primary responsibility for receiving, communicating, and being held accountable for the moral pattern of life in the Garden. After some time, ADONAI, God made woman from his side, equally in his image, to be his partner in carrying that responsibility into action. The woman’s responsibility for her own moral conduct before the LORD was not compromised by the fact that ADONAI, God would hold the man responsible for what went on in the relationship. Sha'ul looks at that and says it means something. As a result, verses 11 and 12 are not based on any temporary situation in Ephesus, or cultural circumstance. Those two verses were based on the pattern that God set in motion before sin came into the world.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (2:14). Saul’s second reason that women should learn in quietness and submission is that when ADONAI, God’s appointed order is abandoned, bad things happen. The apostle to the Gentiles again points us back to Genesis, but this time to the Fall in Genesis 3:1-24. He points our attention to the fact that the Adversary approached Eve first and drew her in as the spokesperson for the couple. The deceiver treated her as the guardian of the Garden, and Adam followed right along. The leader responding and the responder leading, a classic role reversal that destroyed ADONAI, God’s pattern for harmony between men and women, as it brought sin into the world. Sha'ul’s point is that this role reversal that caused such devastation at the beginning must not be repeated in the church. The woman must not be the one who leads the man in obedience to her.

When some women are told that they are free to participate in any ministry in the congregations of God but one: Do not teach or to have authority over a man, many say, “Then that’s exactly the one I want.” They act just like Eve did in the garden of Eden when she was deceived. ADONAI, God told her,You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden but one; you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17a). But eventually she would say, “Then that’s exactly the one I want” (Genesis 3:6).

In his book A Symphony in Sand, Calvin Miller not only pictures the devastating results of the reversal of God’s appointed order, but also Adam’s responsibility in all of it when he writes, “Adam’s ghost walked through Hiroshima’s ruins giving apples to the dying, begging for forgiveness.” Even though he followed, he was still held responsible (see my commentary on Genesis Bf – Your Desire Will Be For Your Husband, and He Will Rule Over You).

Least anyone think that Sha'ul didn’t believe that women could be saved, even though they were to be in subjection to men in the worship service, he completes this passage with this: But women will be kept safe through (the) childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (2:15). I believe the meaning of being kept safe, literally pulled from danger, here means spiritual salvation. There are four reasons for this. First, because the context of this verse has to do with Eve; she must be the subject of will be kept safe. Consequently, it is relevant to consult Genesis, and Genesis 3:15 tells us that the ancient Serpent’s victory will not be final. The Seed of the woman will crush Satan’s head. This points specifically to Christ’s birth, not to childbirth in general.

Secondly, a spiritual catastrophe is the subject of verse 14, and spiritual deliverance is to be expected as a part of the discussion. Eve’s salvation was secured because God promised deliverance through His Seed, Jesus Christ. By the great childbirth, by that which has produced the Savior, the childbearing of Mary has undone the sin of Eve.

Thirdly, the definite article that appears before childbirth indicates a definite and particular event, rather than childbearing in general. There is certainly a more obvious inference to be drawn from the presence of the article. The Greek language had a very simple way to indicate childbearing in general. All that was necessary was to omit the article. This would throw emphasis upon the quality or idea in the noun, rather than individualizing it. The presence of the article makes the birth of Yeshua Messiah the more credible.

Fourthly, the preposition dia, meaning through, is very important. It comes from the Greek word duo, meaning two, and directs our attention to a connection or channel between the two points. The two points are the fallen Eve and her salvation. This channel is the childbearing. It was through the Seed of the woman that salvation was possible for her and for all women.

In First Timothy 2, Sha'ul deals with four areas of concern in public worship in the church at Ephesus and gives guidelines for correcting them. First, believers should pray for all, especially those in government services (verses 1-7). Secondly, the men must pray with cleansed consciences, free from the pollution of quarrelsomeness (verse 8). Thirdly, the women should dress appropriately, with a modest attitude, clothing themselves with good deeds (verses 9-10). Fourthly, women should learn with an attitude of quiet submission to church authority rather than improperly teach and lead men because it is the men who are held responsible by God for what goes on in the local congregation (vers 11-12).

Paul gave two reasons for this admonition. First, the pattern of male headship was established in creation and he wanted to see this principle affirmed in the church (verse 13). Second, the principle of male headship was violated through the reversal of authority roles in the Fall with devastating consequences, and Saul wanted believers to avoid such a role reversal and its consequences in the local church (verse 14), but Satan’s victory in the Garden is not the final word. The spiritual catastrophe of Eve was undone through the spiritual deliverance, the childbearing of Mary, making salvation possible for all (verse 15).


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