In recent days, certain voices have been questioning whether or not women should read, study, and teach the Bible. What exactly is God’s design for women in this world? That’s an important question considering that a great number of people don’t know how to define a woman, much less understand God’s design for women in the home, the church, and the secular sphere.
Women and Theology
The great goal of life is the pursuit of God. J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, writes:
What were we made for? Knowing God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.
He goes on to warn:
Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
How are we to know who God is? It’s not through the study of nature or the expanse of the stars above. It’s through the study of special revelation—in God’s holy Word. To be clear, theology is the study of God. To suggest that women are not permitted to study theology would be a grave error. That would mean they are not permitted to know God.
In Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, we find the following words:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
While he provides his design for women in the life of the church, he restricts her from the roles of authority and teaching men, but what was quite revolutionary was his encouragement for women to be learners. Women are called to learn and to study the doctrine of God, which involves the study of Scripture. This is one of the foundational reasons why G3 Ministries launched an expository teaching workshop designed for women. We believe that women need to know how to rightly handle the Scriptures in their personal Bible study and in their engagement in discipleship.
Women and the Great Commission
When Jesus gave his Great Commission to his followers in Matthew 28:18-20, he was including in his commission the need for both men and women to be active in this call to make disciples of all nations. In a real sense, women are on the front lines with their own children in their living rooms on a daily basis teaching the gospel and making disciples within the sphere of their own family. This is a woefully underrated calling for women in our age. Yet, it’s vitally important.
Mothers who are committed to home education seek to teach their children through a biblical worldview rather than a secular worldview. That process involves both evangelism and discipleship by teaching children the Scriptures faithfully. Mothers cannot teach their children to know God by becoming stargazers. Faithful mothers will point their children to see God through the special revelation of God in his sufficient Word.
Beyond their own homes, women are to be sharing the gospel of God in the local community as God opens up opportunities to share the hope of Christ with unbelievers. This is God’s plan for Godly women. For women to be muzzled and prevented from sharing the gospel with other women would be to setup an artificial boundary that God never intended.
Women and the Local Church
God’s Word is indeed sufficient and we know that God has spoken clearly on the subject of women’s roles and responsibilities within the sphere of the church. From the Garden, we see male headship and leadership established by God before the fall. Therefore, when Paul addresses Timothy in the New Testament regarding the local church, he cites the creation account from Genesis.
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. 1John MacArthur, “Can Women Exercise Authority in the Church?” [accessed 8-17-23]
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 then revisited the 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).2 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. 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 boundaries. This is a dangerous practice, since conferences are designed to strengthen the church and to model what the local church should be promoting in their local assemblies—i.e., 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.”3Ibid., 201-202.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul addresses Timothy by stating that women are 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. 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.4William Varner, To Preach or Not To Preach, (California: 2018), 50.
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 8-17-23]
|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.
|William Varner, To Preach or Not To Preach, (California: 2018), 50.