Women Teachers in the Church – Are They Permitted

At least since Augustine, most male church leaders have insisted that women have no place in leadership or teaching among the saints. Some believe women are to say nothing, to “keep silent” in the congregation, and that women have nothing to say. Those who believe women have at least some role are the minority to be sure, but biblical truth is not a voting matter.

When Scripture demonstrates women leading Israel, Paul affirming that women may pray or prophesy in the Christian congregation – requiring that they speak and the latter necessarily putting them in a leading role – when Joel clearly states that the women and maidens would receive the Spirit of God and prophesy, and when the original language of the New Testament letters uses the feminine form of the Greek words translated as “elder” and “deacon”, it’s past time that the conversation became biblical rather than traditional, or the church is guilty of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

We will look first at the text of 2 Timothy, a short letter used by those opposed to women leading or teaching, to support their position. Rather than dissect it, we will begin at the beginning to watch what is said and how Paul develops his message to Timothy:

2:1     “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2        for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

3        For this is good and acceptable (welcome) in the sight of God our Saviour;

4        “…Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Will => thelei = desires, is willing

Men => anthropos = humans, people

Pantas => all, every

Properly: Who is willing/wills all humans to be saved and to be coming into knowledge (epignosin) of truth.”

God’s will is that all humans be saved and come to knowledge of truth. This sentence cannot mean other than what it says, or it is completely meaningless altogether. It cannot refer to all members of some isolated group, as it specifically and clearly states all humans. This verse alone refutes the nonsense proposed by TULIP that God only wills to save a small subset of the human population, identified as those whom He supposedly pre-appointed to that outcome.

5        For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

         “for one (is) God and one is mediator of God and of humans, the human Christ Jesus…”

The human Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God & humanity. ‘Mediator’ literally means ‘in the middle’; a mediator is a go-between. It is Jesus Christ in His humanity who has stood between God and guilty humanity. The man Christ Jesus took to Himself the penalty for the sins of all men, standing between God’s exercise of judgment and wrath for men’s sins, and the men who are guilty of them. By receiving the punishment upon Himself, Christ enables humans to be pardoned by God without injustice through failure to exact due recompense for our wrongs.

Jesus in his humanity bore our penalty; it was his flesh that was crucified for us, not His spirit. (Eph 2:15; Col 1:22; Heb 10:20)  God did not and cannot die.

6        “…Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”

         “the one giving Himself ransom over all, the witness to seasons (eras) own.”

Jesus Christ gave Himself; no one forced Him to accept the penalty of the cross. Because His atonement was a voluntary sacrifice, it can be presented by Christ as a gift. The tremendous love of God toward humanity is openly displayed by Christ through His voluntary and willing sacrifice of His human life on behalf of sinful men. (John 3:16; Rom 5:8) Contrary to some unbelievers who like to portray Christ as the manipulated victim of a more powerful entity, Jesus Christ possessed both the power and the authority to both surrender His own life and to take His life back again (John 10:17-18) Importantly, the only party possessing the power to restore life back from the dead is God. By declaring Himself capable of taking His own life back after dying, Jesus is necessarily declaring Himself to be God; He did not say that God as a separate third party would resurrect Him, but that He would take His own life back up again, and that He possessed the power to do so.

To ‘ransom’ is to purchase a captive’s freedom. Jesus Christ gave Himself in order to purchase our freedom from our captor, death. Justice demands an appropriate punishment for every wrong-doing. Because all sin is first a rebellion against the Sovereign Lord YHWH, sin is equal to treason against the Living God. The just penalty for such rebellion is death. (Genesis 2:17; Rom 6:23) If we each had to stand our own sentence, we must all die, for we all make ourselves guilty in many things. However, God loves us, and has a purpose in creating human kind; God does not desire our death, but that we turn from our sin and live (Ezek. 18; 33) consequently, God in the person of the sinless man, Jesus Christ subjected Himself to the penalty of death – the death of a criminal – in order to serve justice and cover our sentence. In so doing, He is ‘legally’ able to forgive our debt, because it has been paid by another – Himself – and we are legally able to walk free.

Christ gave Himself for ‘all’. The Greek word is panton, which means exactly “all”. Verse 5 states that God’s will is that all (pantas) humans be saved. The verse 5 reference to ‘all’ qualifies the ‘all’ in verse 6. All means all, not all of some unnamed, unreferenced, un-implied subgroup of “all humans”.

The witness is to the fact of verse 4: God’s desire that all be saved is witnessed by the fact that Christ came in the flesh and gave Him self to purchase us back from our captivity to death because of sin.

7        To which I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.

8        I will therefore that men (andras) pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

         “I intend then the men to be praying in every place lifting up holy (benign) hands apart from anger and debate (arguing).”

Therefore: Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles, having presented Christ as the sole mediator and ransom for humanity’s sins, begins to outline the expectations of conduct among those who profess Christ.

Paul intends that adult males (men; andras) in every place shall pray, ‘lifting holy hands’ without anger or arguing. The term to “lift holy hands” refers to putting the hands to use in a holy manner. The phrase is used in a similar manner in Psalm 118:48, and is linguistically comparable to the phrase to “lift a finger” to do something. In each case, the understanding is not about the literal raising of the named body part into the air, but is a figure of speech referring to engaging in a particular task. The word translated to “holy” in this sentence is hosious and means to be apart from sin. When men put their hands to a task – when they engage themselves in any pastime – their actions are to be free from sin. Paul is telling the men among his audience therefore, that he wants men everywhere to pray, to conduct themselves in a holy manner, to eschew anger and arguments.

9        In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

         “Similarly also, the women/wives – (gunaikas) in orderly (kosmios) clothing with modesty (aidous) and (sophrosunes) soundness of mind (self-control or ‘sanity’/clear thinking) be adorning(decorating) themselves, not in braids or pearls or expensive clothing, but what is appropriate (behoving) to women professing reverence for God through good works”

Continuing to address the appropriate behaviour of adults within the body of Christ, Paul turns to the women. Women are to “adorn themselves” with modesty and soundness of mind. Many people misunderstand the word modesty as pertaining to sex and applying specifically to women, both of which are false. The Greek word translated in the KJV as ‘shamefacedness” in this verse, is translated as ‘reverence’ in the only other instance where it is used, Heb 12:28. The Hebrews passage follows the author’s warning that God will ‘once more’ shake not only the earth but the heaven, removing both to replace with what cannot be shaken, and is used by the author to describe the appropriate attitude of those who know these things and await the unshakable kingdom: “… for which reason we, receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire.” The word appears to be a compound of the negative particle “a” with the word “aidos” which means to look, see, perceive, or know, and apparently gives the sense of having down-cast eyes in honour, reverence, or modesty. Based on the information provided by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, an appropriate antonym would be ‘brash’ or ‘brazen’.[1]

It is interesting that Paul did not say to fail to adorn oneself, or to do so with ‘modest apparel’. Rather, the descriptor for the apparel a godly woman should wear is ‘orderly’ (kosmios). Interestingly, this Greek word is likewise used in only one other passage in the same letter, chapter 3, verse two, in which Paul advises Timothy of the necessary qualities of those who would be overseers of Christ’s church, including that they be kosmion, there translated in the KJV as ‘of good behaviour’. Young’s Literal Translation uses “decent”, while the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer translates the word as “decorous”. So the clothing godly women are to wear is described with the same word used to describe the character or behaviour of men qualified to be overseers. In both cases, the presentation should be ‘orderly’, which is above reproach. Orderly clothing, like orderly conduct, will never draw unnecessary or inappropriate attention to the wearer, which is also the outcome of modesty.

Modesty is one of two character traits indicated by Paul as imperative to women of Christ and is the first of two ‘adornments’ of a godly woman. Modesty entails the regarding of oneself in a proper light, respecting others appropriately, humility, and good manners. Modesty is the quality of true beauty, which is why Paul can instruct women to ‘adorn’ themselves by it. The second “adornment” named by Paul is that of sensibility, or “soundness of mind”. Sensibility produces clear thinking, sound reasoning, and good judgement, all of which equip the woman of Christ to live godly in a world that largely repudiates Christ. Foolish behaviour or poor reasoning contradict the claim that one has received the Spirit of Christ, and is now led, taught, corrected, and held by the Holy Spirit. A sensible woman knows when and how to conduct herself in diverse situations in such a manner as to avoid profaning her own reputation or the name of her Lord. She is not flighty, irrational, or reactive, but thoughtful, and considers the situation in order to work within it as God would desire.

Sometimes people misunderstand this sobriety to mean humourlessness, or lack of joy. A sober person is one who takes life seriously; who recognizes that this earthly time is the precedent to eternity, and that eternity is a serious matter. “A merry heart does good like a cure”; God doesn’t expect His people to be dull and morose; rather we should be full of joy, hope, and rejoicing because we have received the greatest gift: the knowledge of Christ and the expectation of eternal life. So we are free to be happy, to laugh, to enjoy the blessings God lavishes upon us here, as long as we keep sight of the fact that this world and its things are temporary, and that eternity is of far greater significance than our pleasure.

Another misunderstanding of the verse comes from those who assert that a woman may therefore not braid her hair, or wear jewellery, or clothing considered ‘costly’. Whether or not these forms of apparel are appropriate is for a different discussion. Paul’s words to Timothy do not prohibit the wearing, but rather instruct that a woman’s adornment is not to be these things but those attributes of character and behaviour ‘that become women professing godliness’. Paul is instructing on appropriate conduct among the people of God, and desires that what makes a woman beautiful, rather than her physical presentation, is her character and conduct.

 10     But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

         “… but what is appropriate to women professing reverence to God; through good works”

Her “adornment” or beautification, was to be with good works, the reflection of the profession of godliness being made.

11      Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

         “Woman/wife in peacefulness let her be learning in every subjection / under-setting (hupotage).

         Let (a) woman/wife be learning in peacefulness in every setting in which she is under (someone)…

While this passage may be directed to either a wife or a woman, it is most reasonable to recognize that it continues as an instruction to women in general, as it follows consistently with Paul’s previous instruction that women be ‘sensible’ or sound of mind. The theme of his advice is orderliness. Women – as men – were to be orderly in every environment, in the public square and in the meeting of the saints.

The word translated ‘silence’ in the KJV is the Greek word hesuchia. It is the same word used in 2 Thess 3:12 admonishing the people that those among them who were busybodies and causing disruptions were to do their own work to provide for their own means, and to engage their work in ‘quietness’ as contrasted to the disruption they were causing in their idleness. Women learning in hesuchia is not about not speaking, but about being disorderly or disruptive. Rather than the physical lack of sound often claimed as the meaning of the Timothy verse, Paul is admonishing the women, in keeping with his instructions to orderliness, that they are to remain peaceful when they are under someone’s teaching.

Further, while the KJV has “with all subjection”, the original language reads, “in every hupotage.” In every situation in which someone else is teaching, the woman is to be a respectful student. When the woman is in a learning environment, she is forbidden to be disruptive. (This is not to suggest that being disruptive is permitted in other circumstances, but limits Paul’s reference to learning environments in which someone else is teaching.)

Paul does not contradict his earlier teaching that women may both pray and prophesy in the congregation of the saints (1 Cor 11). Women are permitted both activities, which fact is reinforced by Joel 2, and the book of Acts in which we read of both male and female prophets, of Priscilla’s involvement in the correction of Apollos, and of Timothy’s instruction as an adult under his mother and grandmother. Moreover, God established women prophets in Israel, including Deborah whom He established as a judge over the nation (Judges 4 & 5), and Abigail who rebuked David’s rage (1 Sam 25) and Huldah whom Josiah consulted (2 Kings 22), and prophesied that women would indeed receive the Spirit of YHWH, and the ministry of prophesy.

The misunderstanding begins with a wrong view of the relationship between men and women in the church due to a misapplication of the passage in Ephesians about submission, and continued through virtually every other New Testament book where the topic is mentioned. It is first necessary to know that the Greek language did not have distinct words for woman vs wife, or man vs husband. Although there is more than one word for each gender, all words for each gender may be used for either the general reference to adult members of that gender, or to married members specifically. As with all situations in which one word may have more than one meaning, context necessarily determines which meaning is correct or most appropriate. Sometimes it is necessary to refer to other passages that do not specifically pertain to the topic under consideration in order to eliminate false choices, or to confirm the correct one. Occasionally, there is no clear indicator of which understanding is correct. Under this circumstance, we are obligated to take the whole teaching from the Scriptures related to the details of the passage being studied, in order to recognize the most probable, or in some cases necessary, understanding. This will be addressed further as it comes up through this letter.


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

         “But I am not permitting to woman/wife to be teaching nor to be domineering of man/husband, but to be in quietness (stillness; hesuchia as above)

First of all, Paul does not say that the Lord does not permit, but that Paul does not permit. The multiple situations in which God directed men to women for instruction, admonition, or rebuke, as well as God’s Spirit of prophecy upon women by God’s own word, make it impossible for women to be universally forbidden to teach men. Paul left Timothy to guide the church in Ephesus, particularly dealing with false teachers and their false doctrines. It is possible that a situation existed in the Ephesian congregation wherein some woman or group of women were a cause of the doctrinal troubles, and Paul advised to prohibit them all from teaching rather than try to ascertain which ones were troublesome and which were sound. As convenient as this may appear as a problem-solver, it is unlikely to be the correct understanding, as Paul was very aware of God’s repeated prophetic word that every person would stand judgment for their own sins (Ezek 18 & 33).

It is more likely that Paul has now narrowed his point of reference to wives and husbands. The special situation between spouses is unique within the community; each spouse is obligated to the other spouse above all others in the church. Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4 provides the clarification: all saints are to submit to one another, but a woman (wife) is to submit to her own man (husband) as to Christ. It is not possible for one woman to be ‘under’ all men as would be necessary if the passage meant what is widely taught in the church today. In order for a woman to have an exceptional, exclusive, submitted relationship with her own man (husband) she by definition cannot be similarly submitted to any other men.

Since Paul already addressed the general situation of a woman sitting under someone else’s teaching, it would be redundant for him to take up as though a new statement the same theme in the following verse. It is rather more plausible, and consistent with the rest of the teaching of the Scripture and particularly the NT, that the passage refers to husbands and wives. To be ‘domineering’ is to be over-bearing, or to ‘take over’ on someone else. A woman cannot be respectfully peaceful or modest when she is domineering. Paul has determined that a woman must not teach over or be over-bearing to her husband – it is not possible to domineer over someone in a modest manner – but is to be peaceful as previously described. A modest, orderly woman is not domineering over anyone else, including men, and certainly not her husband.

13      for Adam was first formed, then Eve.

“For” Paul’s prohibition against wives teaching or domineering over husbands is based on the relationship between Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were spouses. Eve was formed from Adam’s body for Adam’s benefit, not the benefit of ‘men’ in general. She was Adam’s companion and peer-helpmate, not every man’s. Her role in Adam’s life was to help, not to over-run. The comment is about husband/wife relations, not women to men, but woman to man. This comment reaffirms the limitation of the previous passage to spouses rather than the general population of women and men.

14      And Adam was not deceived (seduced), but the woman being deceived(seduced) has become in transgression.

Many people wrongly read this statement as the woman was in transgression because she was deceived, but Adam was not in transgression. This is clearly false, and contradicts the mass of Scripture that assigns the condition of the human race specifically to the consequence of Adam’s sin, not Eve’s.

Adam did not sin because he was deceived; he openly chose to disobey God’s clear and direct command issued personally to him by God in the garden before Eve was created. Even sinned because she was deceived; had she not been wrongly persuaded, she may have not disobeyed. Both Adam & Eve were guilty, but the impetus for their sins was qualitatively different. Neither is pardoned – Eve is no less guilty because she was fooled; rather she is guilty of only the disobedience, not the outright rebellion against God’s injunction.

15      Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

         Yet she shall be saved through the child-bearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with sound-mindedness.

It is obvious that women are not saved from sin by having children, and it is certainly false to suggest that Christian women somehow avoid the pain and difficulty of pregnancy and childbirth. Since neither of these can possibly be the meaning of Paul’s statement, we need to think a little more carefully about the words he has used in this sentence.

The child-bearing is believed by some to refer to the birth of Christ. The passage reads that ‘she’ shall be saved through the child-bearing, if “they” remain in faith. We must identify “she” and “they” in order to understand the passage.

[1] 127 αιδως aidos ahee-doce’ – perhaps from 1 (as a negative particle) and 1492 (through the idea of downcast eyes); TDNT-1:169,26; n f

AV-shamefacedness 1, reverence 1; 2            1) a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect

For Synonyms see entry 5882;

1492 ειδω eido i’-do or οιδα oida oy’-da       a root word; TDNT-5:116, 673; v       AV-know 281, cannot tell + 3756 8, know how 7, wist 6, misc 19, see 314, behold 17, look 6, perceive 5, vr see 3, vr know 1; 667

1) to see

1a) to perceive with the eyes

1b) to perceive by any of the senses

1c) to perceive, notice, discern, discover

1d) to see

1d1) i.e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything

1d2) to pay attention, observe

1d3) to see about something    1d31) i.e. to ascertain what must be done about it

1d4) to inspect, examine

1d5) to look at, behold

1e) to experience any state or condition

1f) to see i.e. have an interview with, to visit

2) to know

2a) to know of anything

2b) to know, i.e. get knowledge of, understand, perceive

2b1) of any fact

2b2) the force and meaning of something which has definite meaning

2b3) to know how, to be skilled in

2c) to have regard for one, cherish, pay attention to (#1Th 5:12)


For Synonyms see entry 5825