June 14, 2024

The Proper Place for the Sexes in the Church

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. – 1 Timothy 2:12

So is one of the lightning rod verses of our time. What does Paul mean? Is this a cultural thing for the time, or is it something for all time. As more and more women achieve greater degrees of education, denominations start accepting women in the pastorate and leadership positions, and women start believing that they have a personal call to the ministry we find ourselves smacked in the face by this passage where we either have to agree with it or rationalize it away.

So, what is the context of the passage? This passage starts in verse 8 and starts with the men of the church. Actually, verse 12 may be one of the less challenging verses, because we find Paul making these commands for what women should be doing in church:

  • Women should adorn themselves in modest and not flashy apparel being adorned with good works
  • Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
  • Women are to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
  • She shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

In these verses, at this time period, Paul puts a lot of the responsibility of women on what she does, how she learns, and to whom she ministers. It’s interesting what he points out as a single man.

First, he does not want a woman to be concerned as much about her outward appearance as her inward. He wants her covering, as it were, to be that of good works, of holiness. What should attract a man to a godly woman isn’t necessarily her looks, her fine clothes or jewelry, but her character. This seems to be something that our culture continues to war with as we seem to continue to draw attention to the body and ignore the character of the person.

The Last admonition is something that all parents must have to be fully Christ-like– we need to have the attributes of holiness and purity and have them continue on in our children. Matthew Henry states it this way:

Though the difficulties and dangers of childbearing are many and great, as they are part of the punishment inflicted on the sex for Eve’s transgression, yet here is much for her support and encouragement: Notwithstanding she shall be saved, etc. Though in sorrow, yet she shall bring forth, and be a living mother of living children; with this proviso, that they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety: and women, under the circumstance of child-bearing should by faith lay hold of this promise for their support in the needful time.

It is this middle piece, however, that we find ourselves most interested and conflicted. What does Paul mean by being silent and usurping authority, and does that apply today? One church in New York believes that it does, and instructed a female teacher that she was no longer to teach men.

In order to appropriately address this passage, we first need to verify what Paul originally said. Fortunately, Stephen Kingston did a really good job of this in an earlier post:

There is no reason to suppose Paul meant anything but “authority” in this passage of his letter, and it is quite inappropriate to surmise anything further from the Greek.

So finally to the point in hand – the most likely interpretation for Paul’s words here is exactly what it appears to be – Paul will not suffer a woman to have authority in the churches of God.

The verse is problematic (as has been pointed out) but we have no valid reason for believing Paul meant to say anything different. We know however that Paul does not discount women from being deacons, although he seems to forbid them from being overseers. He does not forbid them prophesying and he affirms their role within the church.

So, he pretty much says that Paul actually meant that women should not have authority. I do find it interesting that Paul switches from “that the women adorn themselves” to “let the woman learn in silence” and that can be a topic for another time. What I want to do is go beyond Kingston’s analysis and ask the question: Is this for us today, or something that was specific to the church at which Timothy was a pastor?

I believe the key lies in Paul’s reasoning for having the women not be in the authoritative position. Paul could have said, “Timothy, these women should not have authority because Matilda has a weakness for the bottle, Estabula is known to gossip, and Julianna is not learned enough in our doctrine,” or something along those lines. He could have talked to their mental abilities, their testimony in the home, or anything else that would have been germane to Timothy’s church at that time, but he did not.

Instead, Paul appealed to Genesis:

For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Why don’t you want women usurping positions of authority over men, Paul? Because it was God’s choosing– Adam was created first and Eve was deceived first. Ever think through exactly what happened at the Fall? Eve was deceived, but Adam partook knowing that it was sin. Adam had heard God say it to him personally.

There’s a truth here that Paul is getting at– and it’s about what God knows about men and women. God knows our makeup, our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He knows the stuff we are made of and He knows who to place in the right positions. That being the case, I believe that this is not a cultural command, but a command that’s based in how God created us and the way we are supposed to work together. I think that one of the side effects of our culture is to mix up the roles and cloud God’s judgment and declare that we have a better way.

There certainly may be women out there that would make better preachers, teachers, etc. than certain men– but that’s not the way Paul said it should be in this passage, and that’s not the way it should be in our churches.

(Visited 31 times, 1 visits today)

14 thoughts on “The Proper Place for the Sexes in the Church

  1. Hi Min. The former me would have been appalled at the strictness of no woman being allowed to lead in a church, though when I attended church and did not believe it always made me uncomfortable to have a woman pastor. Go figure. I am certainly of the mind now that it is a man’s place to lead. Once I learned how to step out of that role in my life, my family improved. It in my opinion is the same in the church. Men are called to be leaders and as long as the men that you let lead you in life are leading you towards God and not away from him, then you are a wise woman. I have learned that I don’t have to be the leader to get to the top. I can follow and let someone else clear the path. ok so that rambled but you get the drift of what I mean.

  2. I understand what you’re saying, Shelli. It seems that there’s a lot we have lost on our way to where we are that, when we look back, we wish we still had.

    For example, looking back in time we were a whole lot more trusting of people when we didn’t have news media scouring for anything bad that happened in the day to let us know about it and have 24 hour coverage of it!

    We have greatly changed in many areas, and more and more people are wishing for a simpler lifestyle– this is part of it.

  3. Ah yes, I totally agree with the post, and am grateful to you for giving me a clear and appropriate reason to believe it isn’t just a “cultural” thing. Now, I never believed it was, you see I believe the Bible is supra cultural, and take it to be quite literal, except where it is OBVIOUSLY intended to be a parable. But this will work as an even better arguement than my general “the Bible is supra cultural” arguement.


    I also agree with what you posted Min, about the TV news etc… I was just thinking about that the other day as a matter of fact. I have delivered to my home (for free) one VERY secular and stupid parenting magazine. I almost NEVER find anything in it I agree with, but it arrives at my door as a “gift” from someone. SO i read it, mainly so i can dispute it with my friends… anyway i digress… well one thing that this magazine publishes every month is a warning page. on the warning page it starts “It happened to me…” and then proceedes to tell a horrible story about how one person lost a kid or had an accident one time with some random toy or play equipment. I think the premise is to call attention to danger, but in so doing people are infused with fear that this random and insignificant accident happened to someone half a world away, and it could therefore happen to them. *sigh* imparting a spirit of fear is awful, all in the name of news, and safety.

    Mrs. Meg Logan

  4. There are certainly some instances where Paul was giving specific instruction to a given church. I mean, not every church has what the Corinthian church has in it– a man who was having relations with his mother! In any case, the Bible definitely has principles that are relevant for all times, if not every specific command for all churches!

  5. What is at the heart of women wanting to lead at church? Men who don’t lead. Men who are uncomfortable with praying, or leading adult SS. Passivity. How many men teach youth SS for that matter? And women all over always talk about how they’d like their hubby’s to lead their whole family in nightly devotions. But when their hubby does take a stab at leading devotions, the wife is too eager to jump in and “suggest” things rather than follow his lead.

    My thinking, is if fewer women stepped forward, more men would. Out of necessity. Yet, women are more comfortable in the role of nurturer/teacher (children’s SS, VBS), and we want to help. Our assertiveness and intellectualism about the Bible intimidate the men. So we get impatient and jump in with both feet, and “do it ourselves”.

    If you think you are detecting some bitterness in my above comments, that isn’t so. I’m thinking out loud here…and I know it’s a full circle…back to Monday’s post about powerful women yielding weak men.

    My dad (a pastor) has always been burdened for the men, because they don’t show up. 99 times out of a 100, it was the church shopping wife calling our parsonage asking questions about our church doctrine and kid programs…not the husband. At my grandparent’s church, the congregation was made up mostly of “Sunday widows” and children…with a few overworked male deacons on the side. Dad likes to focus on Paterology, whereas most churches zoom in on Christology or the power of the Holy Spirit. Paterology appeals to men, because it’s about God the Father.

    Another aspect, is many churches don’t try hard enough to get the men involved. Our church promotes this often, by having different men take turns leading the announcement time (which is accompanied by a mini-devotion to prepare everyone for the singing), at our Awana we have as many men helping as women. Our elders are all men, but there are women on the Spiritual Life Committee. (I should inject that my dad is retiring from the ministry and we are at different churches due to geography).

    Men need to feel needed, and they need to be encouraged not corrected. Women need to be patient, and available…and do more listening/praying than talking.

  6. “not every church has what the Corinthian church has in it: a man who was having relations with his mother”

    Well that may be true, but many churches have this same SORT of problem, and this is a directive on how to handle it any time it comes up. SO I still say it isn’t specific to that church. It is specific to that SORT of situation. It still isn’t a cultural thing.

    And Mary, while I agree that men seem to be passive and that women “step up” to fill in where they leave off, I think that this is actually a problem that surfaced during and after the Women’s Lib movement. When women rebelled, they decided to say not only that they were equal to men, but that they could do anything a man could and do it better. They USURPED authority from men to begin with. Now, should men stand up and take it back… yeah I tend to think so, but many men do not do this, and the ones that do are labelled “controlling” and “abusive” and “demanding”. You are right that women need to stop stepping in. I have had to learn this myself in my marraige. But it isn’t entirely men’s fault that they do not attend church. This whole thing started with the usurping of authority by women in rebellion against men.


    Mrs. Meg Logan

  7. I agree completely with you as to where it started, the devil, always sly, knew to go for the women…just like Eve.
    That’s why it’s so foreign to churched women to tell them to calm down, step back. “We” think we’re filling that gap and being a “helpmeet” by doing it all. And we should “helpmeet” in this way, but not without our hubby’s blessing. I don’t believe a believing wife should attend church if her unbelieving husband resents it. Definitely, she shouldn’t tithe his money. Unless she has his complete approval.
    I love the verses about a husband being won WITHOUT A WORD by his wife’s gentle, submissive nature. This could apply in church as well.
    I love speaking up during Bible studies, and I’ve been convicted about it. I have a cousin, who actually wore a head covering (not because she felt it was Biblically mandated–she wasn’t sure, it’s hard to tell) but mostly because it provided a personal “check” with her spirit, reminding her to keep quiet. She caught a lot of flack for it, but personally, I admired her and her reasoning.

  8. When we were married (VirtuousBlonde and I), a pastor and and his wife gave us each a book on marriage and the marriage relationship. My wife got one with a work book, and I think I got the one with more work. Then again, it’s usually the guys that need more of it!

    Anyway, one of the chapters in my book talked about how hard it is for a guy to be a spiritual leader when the woman has a better spiritual education. And it’s true. Men tend to be 90% ego 10% hungry and they want to be the best, competitive, etc, so it takes a lot for a man to want to lead in a place that he feels weaker. He may also get all practical on you and say something like “well you know it better, so you should leave.” It’s a great excuse!

    In any case, I don’t believe women could have taken this leadership away had they not allowed it to happen, and I think you’re right in bringing up the Eve parallel. It was the first time that Adam chose to do something not because he desired the fruit, but because his wife gave it to him and he did eat.

    I believe it’s Solomon in the Proverbs that says there’s something about a man with a maid. The effect you women have as a submissive wife is tremendous– stronger than the professional wife I believe. And you can really effect your family tremendously by what you invest in your husband.

  9. Now if only I could get back to pleasing my hubby… seems of late I have been a bit less than submitted and respectful. But you are so right, a submitted woman is a gift to her husband.


    I want to wear a head covering too, for the same reason as your cousin. I don’t think it is mandated, (see the post MIn did on head covering for my opinion on it.), but I do see how it could help me personally. To serve as a reminder. (Plus I feel quite uncomfortable praying especially in public without one.)

    I keep praying that the Lord would make me more meek and gentle and submitted. I am looking for His changes within me! I try my best to do what I can too!

    Mrs. Meg Logan

  10. I would under no circumstances like to preach and have the responsibility for the spiritual life of the people in my church. No way. This is not my role, not my character, not my calling.
    It is sometimes hard – when your old nature fights with your new one (Romans Ch. 7), and when you in your professional life are the one with a position. But when you know what is at stake, and what is good for you, and you see it working in your life for good, you understand and live it.

  11. I really don’t see what all the fuss is about with this!

    Personally I don’t care whether I can speak in church or not… And if the Bible (the reason I even go to church in the first place!) thinks I should not, then all the more reason not to. :dizzy: Or am I missing something?

    I find it very STRANGE that there are women who want to be ministers when the VERY BOOK that governs all of Christianity says that they shouldn’t do that!

    That’s like somebody who claims to believe and law and order, who yet think they should be entitled to commit bank robbery.

    I am a very new Christian, so maybe my opionion does not count for much. But why do so many women have a problem with it!?

  12. Cordelia, nice to have you here at MInTheGap! I think the problem is that you’re assuming that everyone that is a Christian is in it to follow Christ. The problem is that some try to use it either for money or position. In Acts 8:9ff Phillip leads Simon the Sorcerer to Christ, but we see that he was really in it for the miracles, for when Peter and John show up he wants to buy the ability to lay hands on people to give them the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t claim to be able to judge motives of people, especially women, I do know that being a pastor is more than being a leader, it’s a position of recognition and honor. Like you said, if the Bible’s clear about who’s supposed to be there, then why are the women there?

  13. Good post. Much needed in these times of confusion over God ordained roles of Man and Woman. It is amazing that ladies are speaking up on these issues! Very encouraging, sisters-in-Christ. Keep it up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge