The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah in a fortified tower looking decidedly medieval.
Illustration is from the 13th-century Morgan Bible. (Wikimedia Commons)
Some Christians believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a timeless prohibition that forbids a woman from teaching a man and exercising authority over him. They also believe that verse 13 contains a reason for this prohibition.
Biblical scholar Douglas Moo is one person who believes that “these restrictions [in verse 12] are permanent, authoritative for the church in all times and places and circumstances as long as men and women are descended from Adam and Eve.” But I’m not so sure of the universal scope of 1 Timothy 2:12.
If the created order of man first, woman second, somehow signifies a divine, universal, and incontrovertible principle, why then are there many examples of women in the Bible who did have authority, and who did teach and direct certain men? And why did none of these men have a problem with this guidance from women? Surely we are meant to understand that these men and women are descended from Adam and Eve, aren’t we?
The following men didn’t seem to consider that the created order was a factor, let alone an impediment, in regards to a woman teaching or leading, and they listened to what women had to say.
Two Israelite spies followed the directions Rahab gave them to the letter. By following her directions, they escaped from being caught by the King of Jericho’s men (Josh. 2:16, 22). Furthermore, the intelligence the spies brought back to Joshua is Rahab’s own words, and her words are now part of scripture (Josh. 2:9, 24).
Barak, the general of Israel’s army, depended on Deborah’s leadership. And the Israelites, presumably both men and women, came to Deborah for her decisions on important matters (Judges 4:4-6, 8). Some of Deborah’s words are also part of scripture (Judges 5:1ff). (More on Deborah here and here.)
David accepted the prophecy of Abigail (1 Sam. 25:2-42), and King Lemuel accepted the oracles of his mother taught him (Prov. 31:1-9). The words of these women are recorded in scripture where they still instruct both men and women.
Joab, the general of David’s army, heeded the words of the Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah who acted as a spokesperson and negotiated with him for the safety of her town (2 Sam. 20:14-22). Joab agreed to her plan, as did the townsfolk who implemented it (2 Sam. 20:22).
King Josiah sent a prestigious all-male delegation to the prophetess Huldah in order to inquire of the Lord concerning the rediscovered book of the Law (2 Chron. 34:19-33, etc). Huldah spoke to men on behalf of God, as did other prophetesses.
Mordechai and Abraham did what their niece and wife, respectively, directed them to do, and so the men aligned themselves with the will of God (Esth. 4:17 NIV; Gen. 21:12).
There’s no reason to think the men in the temple, those who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, had a problem with the prophetess Anna when she spoke to them about the Messiah (Luke 2:37-38). Rather, Anna is presented in Luke’s Gospel as a respected prophetess.
Jesus didn’t stop the Samaritan woman from telling the men of Sychar about Jesus (John 4:4-42). And later he expressly gave instructions to Mary Magdalene to tell his “brothers” the amazing message that he was alive (John 20:17-18).
Neither Luke (the author of Acts) nor Apollos seemed to be concerned that Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, corrected Apollos (a teacher and up-and-coming apostle) and explained theology to him.
The church historian Eusebius reveals that Philip’s four daughters were famous prophets who ministered in the early church. There is nothing to suggest that their ministry was limited to women.
This list of men includes kings, generals, a patriarch, and a teacher, yet there is no indication that any of these men felt affronted by the women who guided and advised them. Nor is there any indication that their masculinity was threatened or diminished because they followed directions and instructions given by women. (These things seem to be a problem for a few men such as John Piper.) Instead, it appears that these men respected the women and their words.
Moreover, in all these and several other episodes recorded in the Bible, there is not the slightest hint that the men were acting improperly by heeding the words of women. Rather, the men benefited by listening to women, as did, in some cases, whole communities and even the nation of God’s people.
There is not the slightest hint that God had a problem with these men who were being directed by women. Perhaps, after all, the created order has nothing whatsoever to do with who can teach and lead, and who can speak for God.
There must be something more to 1 Timothy 2:12-13 and Paul’s use of Adam and Eve because, the fact is, there are many examples of godly women who God authorised and used to counsel and guide men, even in matters of theology.
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25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Many women leaders in the Bible had this one thing in common
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
Women, Teaching, and Deception
Women, Eve, and Deception
Various articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.
Authority in the Church