“I do not permit a woman to teach…”? (1)

taped shutA friend of mine wrote asking that if I held that there was a real equality of gender, race and rank in the church (according to Galatians 3:28), then how could I explain 1 Timothy 2:12? Here it is: “ I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[a] she must be quiet…”

The first thing to notice is the footnote. The Greek word translated “woman” (gune) specifically refers to wives, so the NIV footnotes “a man” as “her husband.” This should tilt our understanding just a little bit, for otherwise, this is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women cannot teach men.

But before we consider the verse itself, it’s as well to consider some of the historical context. Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some years , and Timothy would have been aware of any prohibition on women as teachers(I Cor 4;17). It would have therefore been very surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the beginning of the work at Ephesus, (and even more surprising that Timothy was allowing women to teach and the practice needed to stop).

Also, of course, Paul acknowledged the important role that women had in teaching Timothy  (his mother and grandmother).

Again, within the context of Ephesus, Priscilla (who is named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)

1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for each one, hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 that this includes women.

If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it ?

A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but there’s no qualification here that women aren’t allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no” there is no implication that some of these gifts are gender specific.

Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another. No gender restrictions.

In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. The point is that it’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.

2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic verse on this issue. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say…  entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  But it needs to be underlined that the word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than a gender specific term.

This verse, then, appears to contradict what Paul says in other places. So is there another explanation for what Paul says in this verse?

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