The pulpit of a well known Bible teacher in recent history had a sign on the front of it that read, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” In our age of inclusiveness, should the sign read, “Preacher, we would see Jesus” in order to accommodate both men and women who would stand in the pulpit? The blessings of God on his Church is multifaceted and beyond comprehension. When we consider all of the blessings that God has given to us and those which are most clearly manifest in the context of the local church—the blessing of women should certainly be there near the top. How many godly men have served God’s Church through the years emerging from the incubator of a nurturing disciple-making home under the tutelage of faithful women like Lois and Eunice (1 Tim. 1:5)?
When we think of how women are used in the household of faith—we certainly see the value of faithful discipleship among the women who train the younger women and children (Titus 2:1-10). For nearly two millennia the Church understood their roles and responsibilities in regard to women teaching and exercising authority over men, and it wasn’t until the militant feminist movement of the 1960s that caused people to seriously question the boundaries of God—even among conservative evangelical circles. So, why should women refrain from teaching the Bible to men?
Lessons from the Garden
When God created the world, he did so with order and it was good. God is the divine designer, and he doesn’t operate from flippant disorganized positions. He created man and then from his side, he created woman. Adam and Eve were there in the Garden, brought together by God himself in what was essentially the first wedding where God officiated it and gave away his daughter to her husband. In this scene, God not only created the man first, he gave him authority over his wife which involved her care and instruction. When Adam was taught about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9), it was Adam who taught his wife Eve regarding the boundaries. From the very beginning, we see that God set in motion specific roles and responsibilities among his creation.
Satan is crafty and understands how to disrupt God’s good design. Notice how he questioned God’s plan in Genesis 3:1:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
It was Satan, in the Garden who approached Eve and, although Adam was present, it was Satan talking with Eve that led to this divisive decision of sin. In essence, it’s the first role reversal and it led to sin entering the world and bringing a curse of death upon God’s creation (Rom. 5:12). The egalitarian position was birthed in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when Paul writes about roles in relation to teaching and authority in the life of the church at Ephesus, it wasn’t merely a contextual issue that was at play. As Paul writes his letter, we must remember the Holy Spirit is breathing out His Word for Timothy in Ephesus and our local churches in our present day as well. This is more than a contextual issue that was bound to the church at Ephesus because of the image of Artemis in their culture or women who were teaching false doctrine—he built his argument upon God’s design in creation. Elisabeth Elliot is quoted as saying the following:
Supreme authority in both church and home has been divinely vested in the male as the representative of Christ, who is Head of the church. It is in willing submission rather than grudging capitulation that the woman in the church (whether married or single) and the wife in the home find their fulfillment.
Boundaries for Teaching and Authority
Boundaries are often viewed through a negative lens due to the nature of human depravity. We are constantly asking “how far is too far” and laboring to see how close we can walk to the edge of the cliff without falling. This is a most dangerous approach to life in general—and within the world of theology. When you play with fire, you will eventually get burned. The natural man has a problem with authority, and often he seeks to avoid it or usurp authority that he doesn’t possess. Historically, the liberals have embraced women’s liberation theology as a means of elevating women to their rightful position among men in the church. Such theology does much damage to God’s design for the home and the church. John MacArthur writes:
Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. That is true not because women are spiritually inferior to men but because God’s law commands it. He has ordained order in His creation—an order that reflects His own nature and therefore should be reflected in His church. Anyone ignoring or rejecting God’s order, then, weakens the church and dishonors Him. 
In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul articulates a clear prohibition related to women in the local church. He says, ” I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” There is a distinction between the teaching and exercise of authority that should be acknowledged. Paul was a bit of a revolutionary in his day, since women were often not permitted to learn, but Paul encourages them to be learners—studying out the faith and gaining greater knowledge of their God (1 Tim. 2:11). Although the Holy Spirit led Paul to stretch the boundaries of women in one cultural area, he revisited historic boundaries in the area of teaching that God had already put into place back in the Garden. Women, as Paul stated, were not to teach men. This is a reversal of roles.
The word teach, “διδάσκω,” according to Thomas Schreiner, has in mind the public teaching and involves authoritative transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; James 3:1).  While women are permitted to discuss biblical theology in a mixed group setting such as a Sunday school class, women teaching children or other women (Titus 2), or in a private setting such as with Apollos’ instruction that was gleaned from meeting with Priscilla and Aquila—biblical teaching, when among the church as a whole or a mixed audience should be led by men. It seems clear that Paul was addressing an issue that was taking place in the life of the church and needed to be corrected.
When it comes to teaching men in our present day, we have the conference culture that often stretches these complementarian boundaries. This is a dangerous practice, since conferences are designed to strengthen the church and to in many ways model what the local church should be promoting in their local assemblies—ie., expository preaching, sound biblical theology, and other important, if not essential, practices. Therefore, to have women stand and open the Bible and teach a group of men in a conference setting is not beneficial to the Church represented in the conference from many different local churches. Such stretching of the boundaries is a common practice in our day and we should be cautious when we see women teachers invited to speak to a mixed audience.
Paul also points out that women should not have authority over men. This is most likely a reference to the office of elder in the local church. The office of elder is a teaching office and is connected with oversight authority, but the idea of teaching and authority can be distinct among themselves. For, one can teach the Bible with authority without being an elder in a local church, but he cannot be an elder without authority nor can he preach without authority. While there are overlapping connections, there are distinct qualities that must be acknowledged as well.
When referencing authority, Paul uses the word, “αὐθεντέω” as he addresses this boundary for women in the church. When Paul makes his statement, he goes on to explain by writing, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). This is not a curse on women because of the fall, but rather a design from the beginning instituted by God. This was God’s good design and pointed to the role distinction between men and women. To reverse the roles is dangerously irresponsible. This in no way means that Paul was a male chauvinist who degraded the value of women in the church. Thomas Schreiner rightly states, “It is a modern, democratic, Western notion that diverse functions suggest distinctions in worth between men and women. Paul believed that men and women were equal in personhood, dignity, and value but also taught that women had distinct roles from men.” 
Why Women Should Not Refrain from Teaching
The last thing that we should do in the local church is to discourage women who have the gift of teaching to suppress their gifts. They should labor to teach, explain, and expound the meaning of the Bible on an ongoing basis in the life of the church and in the context of religious conference settings—but there are still boundaries to observe in the process. The Church of Jesus Christ needs faithful women who bloom with the glory of God’s design for women and teach, instruct, and make disciples. Paul never suggested that women should not teach, but that they should merely refrain from teaching men and having authority over them. When asked if women should preach, John Piper responded by saying:
So I would conclude: No, that is inappropriate for churches to do that. God loves his Church. He loves men and women. He loves to see all of us flourish in the use of our gifts. No man or woman should sit on the sidelines of Christian ministry. Let that be plain. No woman, no man sits on the sidelines in Christian ministry. The question is not whether all men and women should be active in ministry. They should. The only question is how. 
Women are commanded by Paul to remain “quiet.” This word denotes an idea of submissiveness—especially in relation to male headship in the home and in the local church structure. In other words, women are not to be in authority in the church, but they are permitted to learn and to speak for that matter. The speech of women is not to be proclaimed in an official sense—from the pulpit or from the office of elder, but they are permitted to speak, teach, make disciples, and be involved in the life of the church. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ own treatment of women in his day as well as Paul’s high esteem for women such as Phoebe and the many others listed in Romans 16.
We must avoid legalism at this juncture, but we must not go the route of liberalism or antinomianism. The progressive attitude seeks freedom from authority, but God has never designed authority to be a burden to his people. William Varner, in his excellent book, To Preach or Not To Preach, writes:
The issue involved in 1 Timothy 2 is not an inherent inferiority of woman’s intellectual and spiritual capabilities, but her function in ministry. She is not subordinate in her capability, but she is to be subordinate in her role. Let it also be noted clearly that Paul does not ground his reasoning in the male-dominated culture of his day. He does not write: “Women should not teach because men will not accept them as teachers.” He grounds his teaching in the order of creation and fall. The mores of culture changes with time, while the order of creation is supra-cultural and is valid whatever the time and place. 
To capitulate on any area of headship in the family or leadership in the church is a grave mistake. The smallest sin can lead to the greatest catastrophe just as a small spark can set an entire forest on fire. Whatever God expects from us as clearly stated in the Scriptures, rather than working diligently to find loopholes—it would be for our joy and our good to submit. Beware of those who are constantly looking for ways around God’s commands.
- John MacArthur, “Can Women Exercise Authority in the Church?” [accessed 4-17-18]
- Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 190.
- Ibid., 201-202.
- John Piper, “Ask Pastor John Podcast” Can a Woman Preach If Elders Affirm It? [accessed 4-17-18].
- William Varner, To Preach or Not To Preach, (California: 2018), 50.