Ordained and licensed ministers with Christian International Apostolic Network and Generals International.

Should Women Function as Pastors/Elders/Overseers in Today’s Churches?

How should we interpret Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:12 (NKJV) that women are not “to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence?” As you weigh the options presented you will be able to answer the question of whether or not women can serve as pastors/elders/overseers in today’s churches for yourself!

This article provides an in-depth and detailed look at I Timothy 2:8-15, and presents all the options for interpreting Paul’s instructions in v. 12 (NKJV) that women are not “to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” As you weigh the options presented you will be able to answer the question of whether or not women can serve as pastors/elders/overseers in today’s churches for yourself!

Literary Context

Beginning with the literary context of the passage, I Timothy 2:8-15 fits nicely into Paul’s flow of thought in chapters 2 and 3. First and foremost, he wants the Ephesian church to pray for the salvation of all people, which is the theme of the preceding passage (2:1-7). While they are praying, they must do it properly, not disruptively—not colored by anger or disputing—but characterized by holiness. Likewise, the women are not to disrupt the church by their improper dress and emphasis on externals. In speaking about women and the disruption in the church, Paul adds that they are not to seek roles that would place them in positions of authority over men. Thus the theme of the selected passage emerges as the conduct of men and women in the church. Enlarging upon that point, Paul then describes the type of person who is to be in leadership within the church—the theme of the following passage (3:1-13). As is his style throughout the Pastoral Epistles, Paul’s train of thought flows smoothly from one topic to the next. (1) The overall theme of the larger section of which 2:8-15 is an integral part is one in which Paul has a good deal to say about the way those who are called into ministry should live, as well as the conduct of others in the church. He insists on the importance of prayer (2:1-8), the way believers should behave, including women (2:9-15), qualifications of overseers and deacons (3:1-13), and believers in general (3:14-15). (2)

The structure or logic of 2:8-15 builds naturally, in much the same manner that the thought pattern flows naturally in the preceding, selected and following sections as stated above. This epistle is designed to aid Timothy as he fights the good fight. In the preceding section Paul urges that prayer be offered for all, especially those in authority, so that they may promote conditions in which people will come to salvation (2:1-7). Building upon the structure or logic of prayer for the salvation of all, the additional instruction to pray in the right spirit logically expands the passage’s structure. Paul’s logic then moves from men and the right spirit in which they should pray, to women and the right way they should dress and live (2:8-15). Then, leaving the subject of women behind he next discusses the qualifications to be sought in bishops (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-10, 12-13). (3) Paul continues using the same logic or structure he has throughout of switching back and forth between instructions for women, men and leaders as he interjects a short section on either deacons’ wives or female deacons (3:11). The relationship between these passages is that they all are directed towards a concern for the salvation of all people, using the logic that godly conduct on the part of both men and women in the church setting will create a positive environment that will point unbelievers to Christ.

One could propose that the theme of 2:8-15, men and women in the church, fits right into the purpose and plan of the entire book because the letter as a whole stands as a reminder that there are some truths that persist from age to age. This sheds light on the selected passage in that there are different duties for people in different stations, but all who profess to be Christians must be careful that their lives reflect their doctrines. In addition to this passage, there are similar or parallel passages that reference the conduct of various other groups within the church: older and younger people (5:1-2), widows (5:3-16), slaves (6:1-2) and the rich (6:17-19). The letter keeps reminding readers of the importance of upright Christian living. One commentator states, “The meaning of the gospel of Christ is not to be modified in the interests of Christians living in circumstances very different from those of Paul. In other words, this letter points us to a “given” in the Christian message. There are great truths that are to be embraced in every age.” (4)

Historical-cultural Background

A historical-cultural background of 1 Timothy begins with the letter being written by Paul and directed to Timothy as pastor in Ephesus. The circumstances at the time were that a problem arose in the Ephesian church because the church had turned away from Paul’s authority and from the salvation through Christ that he preached. So Paul begins the letter by asserting his apostleship as commanded by the same Christ that he preached. The solution presented in the letter is that the church is to listen to Timothy’s teaching since Timothy, not the opponents, is Paul’s spiritually legitimate son. The letter is private in that it is written to Timothy, but public in that Paul is writing through Timothy to the church. (5) Various cultural and historical influences were present during the writing of the book that particularly bears upon the theme in this particular passage of men and women in the church.

As Paul begins this section he is thinking of specific, historical issues in chapters 2 and 3: the Ephesian’s refusal to pray for all people, the mixing of anger and prayer by the Ephesian men, the seductive and extravagant dress of the Ephesian women, the problem of church leadership in Ephesus, etc. Specific in regard to v. 8, the cultural standard posture of prayer in Judaism is standing, arms raised, with palms turned upward. (6) Specific to the section vv. 9-15, the social status of women was determined by their fathers or husbands. Although some held important positions, few professions were open to the majority of women. They had only limited access to education and social life, possessed few legal rights, and occupied themselves primarily with domestic duties and home industries. (7) From a legal standpoint, the wife’s status was inferior to her husband. Early marriage was the norm, and pregnancy and childbirth were considered a blessing. The birth of children was greatly desired; if a man had no children after ten years of marriage he was required to divorce his wife and marry another. (8) Both intertestamental and rabbinic literature agree that the obligation to educate boys was not extended to girls; it is unlikely that girls attended schools. (9)

There is some debate as to how closely connected to the Ephesian heresy these verses concerning women are. Some see a necessary link between the teaching in vv. 9-10 and the Ephesian heresy, believing the opponents are encouraging seductive and extravagant dress and this is Paul’s rebuttal of their instruction. One commentator suggests that the false teachers were encouraging the women to discard traditional female roles in favor of a more egalitarian approach. The opponents taught asceticism, including abstinence from food and marriage, and Paul’s desire for young widows to remarry and have children might suggest that family roles were being devalued (compare 1 Tim. 5:14 and 1 Tim. 2:15). Some also suggest that the Ephesian error included erroneous teaching on the wives’ relationships with their husbands. (10) The example of bearing children (v. 15) is probably chosen because the false teachers are downplaying the importance of marriage and therefore probably also of childbirth. (11)

Regardless of the connection to Ephesian error, in virtually all the Jewish and pagan texts of this time period, the rejection of external adornment was part of a woman’s submission to her husband and a recognition of her place among men in general. The use of external adornments such as pearls, gold jewelry, hair styling and expensive, provocative clothing indicated two undesirable characteristics—material extravagance and sexual infidelity. Thus, the progression of thought in vv. 9-15 moves from concern for women’s adornment (vv. 9-10) to concern for women’s submission and silence in public worship (vv. 11-12). These are two sides of the same coin in the cultural settings of the first century A.D. (12)

One commentator’s approach to the historical/cultural setting of this passage is to ascribe various strands of Paul’s teaching present and part of his method as restricting previous freedoms. So, for example, the proposed limitation on wearing jewelry in church is extended by Paul to all spheres of life. Originally women had no restrictions, but because of the rising threat of Gnosticism in the Ephesian church the role of women was restricted from the preaching office and eventually from all spheres of life. (13)

Word Studies

For the word studies segment for the selected passage, the first two words worth noting for study are in v. 9a, “modest,” and “moderation.” The word for “modest” in the Greek stresses well ordered in earthly life, or seemly, with the stress on outward appearance. (14) The Greek word for “moderation” suggests having complete control over the passions and desires so that they are lawful and reasonable, and synonyms include self-control or soberness, and sobriety. (15) Both words carry sexual connotations. The next words worth noting, “adorn” and “attire,” both have a duel meaning: clothing and a person’s general deportment. Paul’s central concern moves beyond appearances to behavior. It would appear that the women were dressing immodestly to the point that it was causing disruption. Therefore, Paul says they are to dress in a way that is in keeping with their Christian character and concentrate on what is most important. (16) In light of the fact that in Ephesus where Timothy was at this time women occupied a very prominent position (even functioning as priestesses) in the worship at the temple of Diana, which included prostitution and emphasis on sexuality, these word meanings seem accurate. (17)

Both vv. 11 and 12 use the word, “silence.” The Greek noun form of this word occurs four times in the New Testament. The cognate adjective form occurs twice and the verb form “to be quiet” four times. As you might expect, the basic meaning is desistance from bustle or language, and “quietness” could be used as a synonym for “silence.” (18) The meaning of “quietness” or “silence” must be understood against the backdrop of the situation of the Ephesian women. Some of the women are characterized as learning to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, gossiping (or talking foolishly), and in general being busybodies (1 Tim. 5:13). They were anything but quiet. Evidently the lack of constraint was a problem in Ephesus. (19) One commentator suggests this reference to silence in the Ephesian context had to do with the fact that the women led in the mystery religions of Paul’s day, which included sex orgies. If this is the case, Paul was cautioning women not to speak publicly with the idea of making an appeal on the basis of sex. (20) I prefer the position that it is unlikely this word meant that Paul was commanding women to be in total silence, as this is unsupported by the whole of Scripture (Joel 2:28; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5, 14:31). Also, we must remember that in Greek and Middle Eastern culture during the first century, women did not have educational opportunities, and in fact it was considered disgraceful for them to learn. Thus, a call to learn in silence with all submissiveness was Paul’s calling for teachableness in these new female followers. Because they had not been trained to understand the Scriptures (and in fact, denied the opportunity) they needed to approach the Scriptures with reverence and a submissive attitude. Paul was calling these women to listen and to learn. He was not telling them to shut up and be invisible. (21)

The word “teach” (v. 12) is also of note. Essentially it means what one might expect, “to give instruction.” (22) However, in the context of the early church bizarre gnostic heresies were circulating throughout the region at that time, and these false teachings posed a serious threat to the infant Christian churches that were budding in that part of the world. That’s why so much of Paul’s message to Timothy deals with how to guard against false teaching. In a few instances Paul actually mentions the fact that women were spreading these dangerous doctrines (1 Tim. 4:7, 5:13). When Paul introduces his reason for writing this book, he says, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct “certain men”not to teach strange doctrines (1 Tim. 1:3). What is translated as “certain men” is the indefinite Greek pronoun tisi. Paul is saying, “Instruct certain peoplenot to teach strange doctrines.” Later in 1 Timothy it becomes evident that women were doing the teaching of these strange doctrines, at least in part. Thus, considering the unhealthy attitudes fostered by the women in Ephesus through the cultic worship practices involving the temple of Diana, it is likely some were claiming to be teachers and most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teaching with strange heresies. So he forbade these domineering women from continued teaching, and commanded all the women in the congregation to be submissive so they could learn correct doctrine. (23) This appears to be the correct meaning of the word “teach” in this context.

Also from v. 12, the meaning of the Greek word used for “authority” (authentein) is very interesting. This rare word, used just this one time, appears nowhere else in the New Testament and means to dominate or domineer over; usurp authority over. (24) Bible scholars have noted that authentein has a forceful and extremely negative connotation. It implies a more specific meaning than “to have authority over” and can be translated “to dominate,” “to usurp” or “to take control.” We can assume that because this word is used here, women in the Ephesian church were dominating church meetings, usurping the authority of church leaders and proclaiming themselves teachers when they had not been properly taught, and Paul was putting a stop to their usurping authority of the leaders he had appointed to teach there. (25)

The final word chosen for study from this passage is “saved,” from the phrase “she will be saved” (v. 15). Sōthēsetai, “to save,” is used in the New Testament to mean to deliver or protect (93 times), make whole (9 times), heal (3 times), be whole (2 times), preserve or do well (3 times). (26) There are many suggestions as to the possible meaning of the word in this context of women being “saved” in childbearing. It would seem evident, however, that this cannot mean literal actual salvation through God’s grace and mercy appropriated by believers by faith, which is the doctrine of salvation throughout the Pauline epistles. Nor can it mean salvation by works, much less salvation by procreation. (27) One plausible meaning of the word is in the context that some forms of Gnosticism depreciated male/female distinctions, which may have been part of the Ephesian heresy. Certain gnostic groups forbade childbearing and marriage because they pulled the soul atoms back into material bodies instead of liberating them to ascend to their ultimate source. Thus the meaning of Paul’s strong reminder of the importance of marriage and bearing children was that it would “save” them from such heresy. (28) Another possible meaning of the word is to see it as a reference to Mary bringing the Savior into the world. Thus as one woman, Eve, brought sin into the world by being deceived, one woman, Mary, brought salvation to the world through bearing a child. (29)

Grammar Study

A grammar study for the selected passage begins with the category of evaluating types of connectives used. The logical connective “therefore” indicating inference used at the beginning of v. 8 in the phrase “therefore I desire,” parallels the beginning of v. 1, “therefore I urge.” The repetition has the effect of initiating a new discussion. This becomes important because without this grammatical distinction it is possible to see v. 8 as the conclusion to vv. 1-7 and the discussion on prayer, and begin the section with v. 9. However, despite the logical connective, some see the strongest argument for including v. 8 with vv. 9-15 as that it shares a basic theme with vv. 9-10, namely that disruption in the church must cease.

It is usual to divide vv. 8-15 between vv. 8-9, the first dealing with men and the latter with women. However, under the category of verb forms, grammatically some see v. 9 as dependent on v. 8 since it does not contain a finite verbal form, and believe v. 10 must be read with the preceding, so that the break at v. 11 is more substantial, grammatically and contextually. This becomes important because if seen as such, from a grammatical standpoint, the problem being discussed in vv. 8-10 is disruption in the church. The men are acting in anger, even during times of prayer; the women are dressing immodestly and putting too much emphasis on external appearances while neglecting the more significant aspects of Christian life and godly behavior. Thus Paul begins the section by addressing these concerns. Some see a tighter connection between vv. 9-10 and vv. 11-12, based not as much upon grammatical analysis, but upon theme. (30)

A modal connector is found in v. 9, “likewise,” or “in like manner also.” Some see this as indicating comparison, and as emphasis that women, like men, have to do their part in stopping the disruption of the church. Others see it as parallel and continuative, as in “I desire men to pray… women to adorn.” In any case, it provides another grammatical link to support those who see v. 9 as being close in thought to v. 8—“I want men to pray without anger and [I want] women [to pray] with respectable clothing.” (31)

Within the category of considering other grammatical elements in order to identify any items significant for interpretation, in v. 11 the verb for learn is followed by the modifier and prepositional phrase “in silence, ” or “in quietness.” The noun form for “quiet,” occurs only four times in the New Testament. The cognate adjective form occurs twice and the verb form, “to be quiet,” four times. In light of the fact that the cognate adjective form is used nine verses earlier to denote a quiet demeanor (v. 2), together with the idea that total silence is not required either by the context, or by the parallel with “to teach” in v. 12, it seems that translation would be most favored. Thus neither the grammatical analysis nor the context of vv. 11-12 holds up the ideal woman as one who is totally passive. (32)

Under the category of verb forms, the phrase, “I do not permit” in v. 12 uses the present tense of the verb. It could be argued that because the present tense is used, it should be translated “I am not presently allowing a woman to teach.” Using this grammatical analysis of the phrase, Paul wanted to restrain the women at Ephesus from teaching the men until they themselves were well instructed. If Paul had intended the instruction to be for all time, he would have used another form such as the imperative or future indicative or aorist subjunctive, or otherwise specifically indicated such. (33)

Solutions of Major Interpretive Problems

In addressing solutions of major interpretive problems for this passage, the first, and most broad major interpretive problem is the question of how much of it should be viewed in light of the culture of Paul’s day and how much of it should be viewed as relevant universally and for today. A second major interpretive problem is the question of how much of this passage should be interpreted within the context of the Ephesian church to which it was written, which had issues with the teaching of false doctrines and had been influenced by certain cultic worship practices involving female priestesses of the Greek fertility goddess, Diana. These women priestesses promoted blasphemous ideas about sex and spirituality, and they sometimes actually performed rituals in which they pronounced curses on men in attempt to spiritually emasculate them or to declare female superiority. This teaching most certainly bred unhealthy attitudes among some women in the Ephesian church. (34) A third major interpretive problem is determining what Paul meant in saying that women should not teach or have authority over a man, but be silent (v. 12). A fourth major interpretive problem is the question of what Paul meant by his statements concerning Adam and Eve, and the woman being saved in childbearing (vv. 13-15).

The first, second and third interpretive problems overlap, especially in considering Paul’s instructions that women are to remain silent and refrain from teaching and having authority over a man. One interpretive option is to see it as relative to the cultural context, as presented in the first problem. As noted in the historical and cultural background section, women in Greek and Middle Eastern cultures during the first century did not have educational opportunities, and in fact it was considered disgraceful for them to learn. Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, held the view that women were ignorant, unteachable and distracting because of their sexuality. Thus interpreted, Paul’s words about silence are simply calling for teachableness in his new female followers. Because women had not been trained to understand the Scriptures (and in fact had been denied the opportunity), he was calling them to embrace the discipline of learning the Word of God. He was not telling them to shut up and be invisible, but fully expected them to teach and preach what they had been taught when the process of discipleship was complete. (35)

Another aspect of interpreting this same phrase relates to the context of the women in the Ephesian church who were influenced by cultic religious practices, as presented in the second interpretive problem. As noted in the word studies section, the Greek word for “authority” used in v. 12 has a forceful and extremely negative connotation. It implies a more specific meaning than “to have authority over” and can be translated “to dominate,” “to usurp” or “to take control.” We can therefore assume that the Ephesian women were dominating church meetings, usurping the authority of church leaders, and proclaiming themselves teachers when they had never been properly taught. Paul’s decree was not so much about the gender of those who were usurping authority but about the fact they were not trained to teach and yet were pretending to be experts on Christian doctrine. (36)

A completely different interpretive approach to this same passage which seems to prohibit women from teaching or having authority over a man sees it as central revelation, or that which never changes, and interprets it as Paul saying women should not teach as elders (or pastors or overseers) in the church. Instead, women should listen willingly and attentively to the biblical instruction of elders and the God-ordained leaders in the church when they are teaching the Word. This option believes women should only be allowed to teach in accord with elder instruction, but allow for various sorts of teaching possibilities for women outside of elder leadership. Thus interpreted, women are prohibited from leading as elders/pastors/overseers in the church, and are to gladly submit to the servant leadership of elders. Supporters cite as evidence that just as God revealed good design in the home between husband and wife (Gen. 1-3; Eph. 5:22-23), there are also complementary roles for men and women in the church (37).

The fourth problem, interpreting Paul’s statements in vv. 13-15, has numerous alternatives or options. One interpretive option is to see it as Paul giving a reason, possibly two, as to why his rule that women cannot participate in church leadership is valid. If taken as such, the specific application of this principle is that Ephesian women should not try to reverse the created order by being in authority over men. (38) This option sees v. 14 as a continuation of the thought and to be understood as teaching something about the nature of women in general. Just as Eve was deceived and Adam was not, so also the Ephesian women were more open to deception than the Ephesian men; therefore, the authority in the Ephesian church should rest with the male leaders. (39) Most supporters of this option see this principle as universally applicable to women and relevant to today.

Another interpretive option for vv. 13-14 is that Paul was placing limitations on women because the women lacked education, specifically theological training, and that once women had had opportunity to be educated Paul would have allowed them to teach men. Some who hold this position ague that the issue in the Garden was also one of education, and that Eve had not been taught God’s command so her deception illustrates the danger of untrained people taking leadership roles. Still another option is that Paul is prohibiting women from teaching error. Evidence for this has been cited in the previous discussion on the interpretation of Paul’s statement that women are not to teach or have authority over men. And some propose the interpretive option that an underlying principle other than male leadership is the background for the text, and that the principle at work in Paul’s mind in these verses is his desire for the church to be at peace. (40)

An additional interpretive option for vv. 13-15 argues that Ephesus was home to an ancient feminism that taught the priority of Eve, specifically that Eve taught Adam, and this provides the backdrop for Paul’s limiting instructions, as Ephesus was distinctive in the ancient world for being a bastion and bulwark of women’s rights where attitudes of female exaltation or superiority existed. In this case, Paul’s instructions (in vv. 11-15) were directed toward this specific Ephesian problem with no implication outside Ephesus. (41) A final interpretive option for these verses, still within the specific context of Ephesian women, sees them as related to the women who were completely unlearned, but were spreading false doctrines, and in some cases claiming to be teachers of the law and demanding an audience. They were most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teachings with strange heresies and warped versions of Bible stories—to the point that some even taught that Eve was created before Adam and that she “liberated” the world when she listened to the serpent. Therefore Paul was attempting to put a stop to the spreading of these kinds of fables and the chaos that threatened the church. (42)

The final element of this fourth interpretative problem, the reference to the woman being saved in childbearing (v. 15) also has a number of interpretive options. One is to see it translated not as “childbearing” but as “the childbirth,” namely the birth of Jesus. There are several different interpretations under this option. One is that although Eve fell into transgression and this has had its effects on women throughout the centuries, women will still be saved through the birth of Jesus and the salvation that He brings. (43) Others interpret it as a direct reference to Mary. How are women are saved? By childbearing—because Mary brought the Savior into the world. (44) As previously discussed in the historical-cultural background section, some forms of Gnosticism deprecated male/female distinctions, and this may have been a part of the Ephesian heresy. Therefore a final interpretive option is to argue that the example of bearing children is probably chosen because the false teachers in Ephesus were downplaying the importance of marriage and probably therefore also of childbirth. (45)

There is no way one can interpret this particular passage based solely upon Biblical knowledge, grammar or word studies or the like, without bringing some form of personal opinion into it. I believe it is a subject, to some extent, where Christians must agree to disagree. That said, concerning the four stated interpretive problems listed in the first paragraph, I see the overlapping interpretive problems involved in Paul’s prohibition of women from teaching and having authority over a man (v. 12) as largely cultural and specific to the problems in Ephesus—namely that women lacked education and that unlearned women were teaching false doctrines to the point of dominating and usurping authority from those who had been appointed to teach. The supporting evidence for this option, which I believe to be the strongest, has already been given in the preceding paragraphs, and proves that this is not intended to be applied universally, but viewed through the lens of the culture of that day and the context of the problems specific to the Ephesian church to which Paul was writing.

The interpretative problems presented by vv. 13-15 are much the same. There is no way, regardless of scholarly study, to unequivocally determine the meaning of these verses without some level of personal opinion influencing interpretation. Again, evidence for each option has been cited above, and it is my conclusion that the best interpretation of these verses is to see it through the lens of the context of culture and the particular problems within the Ephesian church—namely that the Ephesian women were most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teachings with strange heresies and warped versions of Bible stories—to the point that some even taught that Eve was created before Adam and that she “liberated” the world when she listened to the serpent. Paul was attempting to put a stop to the spreading of these kinds of fables and the chaos that threatened the church. My personal belief is that the reference to childbearing cannot be interpreted conclusively, but is most likely chosen because the false teachers in Ephesus were downplaying the importance of marriage and probably therefore also of childbirth. It was a response in attempt to reinforce the cultural emphasis on the role of women to bear children, as well as to counteract the influence of the cultic worship practices in Ephesus that promoted female superiority.

Interpretive Summary

As one begins an interpretative summary of the selected passage, it is worth noting it is the most discussed in all of the Pastoral Epistles today, and perhaps one of the most highly debated as to relevance to our day. Starting with v. 8, the message of this passage begins with the admonition that men pray everywhere—meaning not only men, but women as well. (See also 1 Cor. 11:5, in which women are referenced in the context of public prayer.) As Paul states earlier in chapter 2 (vv. 1-7), he wants the Ephesian church to pray for the salvation of all people. Verse 8 continues the thought with the additional instruction that prayer is to be done without disruption (without anger and arguing), and with an attitude of holiness (the lifting up of holy hands). The emphasis here is not on the posture of prayer, but on the hands being “holy,” meaning the conduct of the person praying should be acceptable and appropriate to God.

Verses 9-10 continue the flow of thought, the message again being public worship without disruption, and one’s conduct being “holy.” In this case the women are instructed to worship without over-focusing on external things such as clothing and hair, but instead focus on good works. It is the internal (rather than external) that really matters, and which should be the byproduct of godly living or conduct. Again, as with prayer, this proper conduct in worship should draw all men to the God of salvation.

The various options for interpreting vv. 11-12 have been covered in depth throughout the earlier segments of this article, along with evidence supporting each option. My conclusion is that these two verses instruct us that women are to remain silent and be teachable when they have not yet been properly educated in the Scriptures—until such time as they have received instruction themselves, after which time they can begin to teach others as they themselves have been taught. The particular instruction to women not to teach or have authority over a man (v. 12) must be interpreted in light of Paul’s choice of the Greek word authentein, used for the word “authority,” which is used just this one time in the whole of the New Testament. As noted earlier, it implies a more specific meaning than “to have authority over” and can be translated “to dominate,” to “usurp” or “to take control.” We can therefore conclude that the women in the Ephesian church were dominating church meetings, usurping the authority of church leaders and proclaiming themselves teachers when they had not been properly taught. So Paul’s message in these verses was not so much about the gender of those usurping authority but about the fact that it is not permissible for anyone to teach or pretend to be an expert on Christian doctrine when they have not been properly taught.

The message of vv. 13-15 is contextual to the specifics of the Ephesian church to which it was written. As previously stated, the women of Ephesus were completely unlearned, but were spreading false doctrines, and in some cases claiming to be teachers of the law and demanding an audience. They were most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teachings with strange heresies and warped versions of Bible stories—to the point that some even taught that Eve was created before Adam and that she “liberated” the world when she listened to the serpent. Therefore Paul was attempting to put a stop to the spreading of these kinds of fables and the chaos that threatened the church. Also as previously discussed, some forms of Gnosticism deprecated male/female distinctions, and this may have been a part of the Ephesian heresy. The message of v. 15, which uses the example of bearing children, was intended to counteract the false teachers in Ephesus who were downplaying the importance of marriage and therefore probably also of childbirth.

Concerning the main theological or doctrinal themes of this passage, while some believe this passage teaches doctrine specific to the role of women in ministry or church leadership, my conclusion is that it does not. One reason is that one cannot take each and every passage of Scripture literally. So while it is good to take Scripture literally whenever possible, if done with each and every passage we would all be walking around without hands, feet or eyes! (See Matt. 18:8-9.) Thus, under the category of Hermeneutics, this passage teaches us to not take Scripture literally in all instances, but to consider the whole of Scripture on the particular subject addressed in the passage, as well as the context of the specific audience to whom the passage was written. We should also recognize that not every passage in Scripture is intended as a doctrinal statement for all churches through the ages.

Under the category of church leadership, this passage teaches us to make sure that those who are untaught in the Scriptures are not released to teach until they are properly taught themselves, and that no one, regardless of gender, should be allowed to dominate, or usurp the authority of those who have been properly taught and set into positions of leadership within the church.

Application for Today

Under the category of application for today, the first application of the truths of this passage, beginning with v. 8, would be that men and women in today’s churches should be consistently engaged in prayer—doing so without disruptions such as contentiousness or arguing, and while being committed to a lifestyle of acceptable and appropriate conduct before God. In applying vv. 9-10, women in churches today also ought to avoid disruption in public worship by obsessing over external details such as extravagant dress and hairstyles. Instead, they should understand the importance of what really matters—an inward commitment to a lifestyle of godly conduct accompanied by good works.

The application of truth for vv. 11-12 flows out of the context that the Ephesian women were dominating church meetings, usurping the authority of church leaders and proclaiming themselves teachers when they had not been properly taught. No one—whether man or woman—ought to be allowed to teach before they have been properly educated in the Scriptures. Until then, they should remain silent and teachable—until such time as they have received instruction themselves, after which they can begin to teach others as they themselves have been taught. Churches today should not deny women the positions of elders/pastors/overseers based on these verses. As long as women are properly educated in the Scriptures and meet biblical qualifications, they should be allowed to hold these positions. Paul’s intent was to put a stop to the chaos certain uneducated Ephesian women were creating. That same type of chaos, whether caused by men or women, should also not be allowed in churches today.

The application of vv. 13-15 for today would be similar to what Paul’s original intention was for writing to the Ephesians. As previously mentioned, the women of Ephesus were completely unlearned, but were spreading false doctrines, and in some cases claiming to be teachers of the law and demanding an audience. They were most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teachings with strange heresies and warped versions of Bible stories—to the point that some even taught that Eve was created before Adam and that she “liberated” the world when she listened to the serpent. Just as Paul was attempting to put a stop to the spreading of these kinds of fables and the chaos that threatened the church, churches today should also put a stop to any false teaching or heresy. Paul’s reminder of the importance of marriage and childbirth, given due to the fact the Ephesian heresy had apparently deprecated male/female distinctions, reminds us that churches today should avoid doing the same.

Endnotes

(1) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 105.

(2) Carson, D. A.; Moo, Douglas, J.; Morris, Leon. (1991).An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, p. 376.

(3) Ibid, p. 372.

(4) Ibid, pp. 376-377.

(5) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 4.

(6) Ibid, pp. 107-108.

(7) Scott, J. Julius, Jr. (1995). Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, p. 114.

(8) Ibid, pp. 248-249.

(9) Ibid, pp. 258-259.

(10) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 109-111.

(11) Ibid, p. 146.

(12) Ibid, p. 104.

(13) Ibid, p. 105.

(14) Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 1196.

(15) Ibid, p. 1404.

(16) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 109.

(17) McGee, J. Vernon. (1991). First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon: Thu-The-Bible Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 43.

(18) Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 1132.

(19) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 118.

(20) McGee, J. Vernon. (1991). First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon: Thu-The-Bible Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 45.

(21) Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, pp. 55-56, 60.

(22) Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 1032.

(23) Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, pp. 57-58.

(24) Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 999.

(25) Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, p. 58.

(26) Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 1402

(27) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 144.

(28) Ibid, p. 146.

(29) McGee, J. Vernon. (1991). First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon: Thu-The-Bible Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 45-46.

(30) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 103-104.

(31) Ibid, p. 112.

(32) Ibid, p. 119.

(33) Ibid, p. 122.

(34) Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, p. 57.

(35) Ibid, pp. 59-61.

(36) Ibid, pp. 58-59.

(37) Platt, David, Akin, Daniel L., Merida, Tony. (2013). Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, pp. 43-45.

(38) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 130.

(39) Ibid, p. 136.

(40) Ibid, pp. 134-135.

(41) Ibid, p. 135.

(42) Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, pp. 57-58.

(43) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 145.

(44) McGee, J. Vernon. (1991). First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon: Thu-The-Bible Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 45-46.

(45) Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 146.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A.; Moo, Douglas, J.; Morris, Leon. (1992). An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Grady, J. Lee. (2000). 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Hamon, Jane. (2007). The Deborah Company.Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.

Jacobs, Cindy. (2012). Women of Destiny. Ventura, CA: Regal.

McGee, J. Vernon. (1991). First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon: Thu-The-Bible Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Mounce, W. D. (2000). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Platt, David, Akin, Daniel L., Merida, Tony. (2013). Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group.

Rienecker, Fritz. (1977). A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. 3.Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Scott, J. Julius, Jr. (1995). Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Strong, James. (2001). The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

 

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