The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah in a fortified tower looking decidedly medieval.
This illustration is from the 13th-century Maciejowski 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.
New Testament 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 of male leadership, why are there many examples of women in the Bible who had authority, and who taught and directed certain men? And why did none of these men have a problem with this guidance from women?
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. They listened to what women had to say, followed their directions, and gained from it.
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 these words are now part of scripture (Josh. 2:9, 24). (More about Rahab here.)
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 listened to Abigail’s conciliatory words which prevented a blood bath, and he accepted her prophecy (1 Sam. 25:2–42). And King Lemuel accepted the oracles 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. (More on Abigail here, and King Lemuel’s mother here.)
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). (More about the Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah, and other Bible women with authority, here.)
King Josiah sent a prestigious all-male delegation to the prophetess Huldah. The purpose of the delegation was 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. (More about Huldah here.)
When Belshazzar, king of Babylon, was terrified by the writing on the wall and no one could help him, the queen (perhaps the queen-mother), heard the commotion and entered the scene. Before the assembled dignitaries, which included a thousand princes, she gave a speech with valuable information and advice. Belshazzar followed the queen’s instructions (Dan. 5:10–13).
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). (More about Esther here.)
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. (More about Anna and other prophetesses, here.)
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). (More about the Samaritan woman here, and Mary Magdalene here.)
Neither Luke, traditionally thought to be the author of Acts, nor Apollos, a teacher and up-and-coming apostle, seemed to be concerned that Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, corrected Apollos and explained theology to him. (More about Priscilla here.)
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. (More about Philip’s four daughters here.)
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 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 women who God authorised and used to counsel and guide men, even in matters of theology.
© Margaret Mowczko 2016
All Rights Reserved
A Spanish translation of this article is here.
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Many women leaders in the Bible had this one thing in common
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
Are Gender Roles Rooted in Creation?
Women, Teaching, and Deception
Women, Eve, and Deception
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.