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Women, Teaching, and DeceptionPrimarily because of one Bible verse, 1 Timothy 2:12, many churches do not permit women to preach or teach when there are men present.[1] 1 Timothy 2:12 has been interpreted and applied by these churches as effectively prohibiting all women from teaching any man for all time, especially on theological topics.

Many of these churches believe Paul gave this prohibition because women are supposedly more susceptible to deception than men.[2] They see in 1 Timothy 2:14—where Paul says that “it was the woman who was deceived”—a reason for Paul’s words in verse 12. Yet, even though Eve herself admits in Genesis 3:13 to having been deceived, the Scriptures never state or show that women in general are more likely to be deceived than men.

Churches which do not allow women to preach or teach in a church service, where many people, including “non-gullible” men, can hear and assess what is being taught, often allow women to teach young impressionable children in settings where, typically, very few adults can hear and assess what is being taught. These same churches also often allow women to teach other women.[3]

If these churches truly believe women should not teach men because women are more easily deceived, logic would suggest that they should not be trusted to teach vulnerable children and other, supposedly gullible, women. Yet women are often encouraged to teach children and other women, but remain barred from teaching grown men. This simply doesn’t make sense. Surely Paul was suggesting something other than the idea of “female deception” when he brought up Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14.

I do not think Paul restricted a woman from teaching and domineering a man in the Ephesian church[4] because the first woman Eve was deceived or because he thought women were more easily deceived than men. As I have stated in my series on 1 Timothy 2:12, I believe Paul mentioned Adam and Eve to correct a false teaching that was circulating in the Ephesian church which claimed that Eve was created first and that Adam was the one deceived. There are several Gnostic texts which state this false, topsy-turvy thinking. (Early church fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian quoted from 1 Timothy and identified the heresy in Ephesus as an early or incipient form of Gnosticism.)

Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word meaning “to teach” may well be tied to the Greek word authentein which can mean “to domineer” or “to bully”. This is an important consideration. Paul was not writing about sound teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12. He was probably disallowing false teaching done in an overbearing, coercive manner.[5] Moreover, Paul’s instructions were written in response to a particular problem in a particular congregation, and may have been about a particular woman and man in the Ephesian church.

If Paul’s prohibition was meant to be universal and timeless then there is an implication that no woman, ever, has anything of vital spiritual or theological importance to teach any man.[6] Paul did not think that way. He valued women, such as Priscilla, both as ministry colleagues and as trusted friends.

I am dismayed that some Christians actually think this way and are perpetuating the dogma that women are not permitted to teach in church meetings when there are men present. I do not believe that Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 was universal or timeless. I do not believe that Paul’s intent was to institute a rule which restricts capable Christian women from teaching in any setting or situation.

I’ve only touched on some elements in 1 Timothy 2:12 in this article. I’ve written more about this verse and surrounding verses here.


Endnotes

[1] It is unwise for churches to make strong doctrinal statements based on one or two Bible verses.

[2] In the Genesis account, Eve thinks about the serpent’s advice before being ultimately deceived, whereas Adam seems to take the fruit without hesitation (Gen. 3:1-6). Surely, being impulsive and thoughtless are undesirable traits in church leaders. Yet men are not stereotyped with these qualities to the same degree that women are associated with the trait of deception. Why is that?

[3] Titus 2:3-6 is used by some Christians to affirm that women can teach other women; however this verse is not about doctrinal or theological teaching. [More on Titus 2:3-5 here.]
The Greek verb in Titus 2:4, sōphronízō, does not typically mean “teach”. In texts outside of the New Testament it can mean “to bring to one’s senses”. In Titus 2:4, and in other literature, it has the sense of training or instruction in “prudence or behaviour that is becoming and shows good judgement” and can be translated as “encourage”, “advise” or “urge”.
Walter Bauer, “σωφρονίζω”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 986.

[4] Paul wrote 1 Timothy when Timothy was working as Paul’s envoy in Ephesus. One of the main reasons Paul wrote this letter was to give Timothy advice about how to deal with the problem of a syncretistic, or proto-gnostic, heresy that was causing problems in the church (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-4, 6:20-21).

[5] If “to teach” and authentein are not tied together to form one idea (a hendiadys), then “to teach” is not tied to the word “man”, only authentein is qualified by “man”. Didaskō (“teach”) verbs take a subject in the accusative case; authenteō verbs usually take a subject in the genitive case, and the word “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is given in the genitive case. (Also didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein are not positioned together in the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12.) So “to teach” and “to dominate a man” may be two separate prohibitions. If two ideas are being given in 1 Timothy 2:12, I suggest Paul is saying, “I am not allowing a woman to teach false doctrine [to anyone]—this false teaching is then addressed and corrected in 1 Timothy 2:13-14; and, I am not allowing a woman to dominate or bully a man—this is then addressed in 1 Timothy 2:15. I explain 1 Timothy 2:15 here.

[6] A further implication of this faulty dogma is that the most ill-informed, spiritually immature man has a greater right to teach in church services than the most well-informed, godly women.

© 18th of February 2011, Margaret Mowczko


Further Reading

This post by Laura Ziesel is excellent: The deceived shall teach our children?


Related Articles

Women, Eve and Deception
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Why 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are not timeless regulations
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?