Teaching, Authority and the Women of the City of Ephesus

In Seminary, my Ministry 101 professor had the class debate several relevant issues over the course of the semester. One day he announced that the next debate would be on “Women as Pastors.” He asked who would like to be on the “against” side. Twenty hands shot up and he chose four. When he asked who would like to be on the “pro” side of the debate, two preppy Baylor grads on the front row immediately raised their hands. The professor nodded and said, “I need two more volunteers.” Silence. He cleared his throat and said, “Anyone else?” Nothing. I looked around the room. There were only two women in the class of thirty-five and they were staring at the floor. I rolled my eyes, sighed, and slowly raised my hand. The professor smiled and said, “Thank you, Mr. Orozco.” It was his turn to sigh as he said, “I guess we can do it with three.”

women teaching men


A Heated Debate

He polled the class before the debate and 80% were “against” women as pastors, 15% undecided (I was in this group), and 5% “for” (in a class of 35, that would be the 2 boys fresh out of Baylor). After the debate, the numbers were unchanged. That was not surprising to me.


What was surprising was the amount of sarcastic ridicule and anger that came from our four debate opponents. The Ad Hominem attacks were extremely disappointing (and also a sign of weak minds). They carried the thickest Bibles they could find to the debate platform, but rarely quoted from them. Mostly they just painted anyone who would disagree with them as liberals who don’t believe the Bible. It was a fiasco.


I know that this remains an emotional and controversial issue in Baptist Life. I have no desire to cause division. Neither do I wish to alienate those who disagree with me. Although I am engaged in rigorous debate with several imminent biblical scholars, I have the utmost respect for them and their scholarship.


I just needed to say that as we approach the most difficult and controversial passage in this debate. I have called 1 Timothy 2:12 the Hierarchists’ North Star. There are good reasons for that.


As I have shown, every other biblical passage referenced by hiearchists in this debate in no way directly prohibits women from preaching, teaching, prophesying, or praying in worship.


1 Timothy 2:11-15 is different.


Paul’s Letter to His Son in the Faith

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith …” (1 Tim. 1:1-2a). 


First Timothy is a letter from Paul to his protégée and “son” in the faith, Timothy. [367]


Paul had stationed Timothy as a leader in Ephesus. Ephesus served as Paul’s headquarters in Asia Minor. It was a place from which a number of house churches were started throughout the area.


In 54 A.D., Paul left Ephesus to collect a love offering for the Jerusalem church and make what he hoped would be a triumphant trip to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he planned to travel to Rome, and then to Spain (Rom. 15:23-28).


At some point, after he left Ephesus for what was most likely the last time, he placed Timothy in charge, asking him to deal with some of the problems that were arising in the house churches of Asia.


There are a few things that must be kept in mind when interpreting Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1. Paul had a long-time, father-son relationship with Timothy. As such this is one of the most intimate and personal letters from the hand of Paul. There is much care, affection, and endearment in the letter. On another note, Paul is also not afraid to speak plainly and forthrightly to Timothy.


2. The letter is highly polemical. Paul was clearly dealing with problems in the house churches of Ephesus and the surrounding area. One of the main problems was heretical teaching that was manifested in “strange doctrine … myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:3-5). The men and women who engaged in these teachings had a desire to be respected teachers, “though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim. 1:7). The words “teach, teaching, teacher, learn, and instruct,” are found 15 times in this short letter. Whatever else Timothy was dealing with in Ephesus, this much is certain: problematic teaching was a part of it.


Paul on Women in the Church

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12).


In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul seems to strike a hard blow to egalitarianism. Overall, his instructions are very similar to those in his Corinthian correspondence.


The women were not to wear their hair braided with fine gold and jewelry, or with costly costumes. They were to learn in silence, with modesty in dress, and submissiveness.


Paul stated that he did not allow women to teach, or have authority over men. The women must remain quiet.


As before he appealed to creation as foundational to his claims. His reasoning was that it was Adam who was created first, not Eve. And it was not Adam who was first deceived, but Eve.


Paul ends the subject with the most enigmatic statement in the passage: “women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).


In his letter to Timothy, like the Corinthian correspondence, Paul addressed women, hairstyles, learning, speaking, teaching, praying, authority, and creation. These seemed to be common themes with respect to the various roles of women in the Pauline churches.


Since false teaching was a major issue in Ephesus, it seems that the idea of teaching (and the consequent authority associated with it) was a primary focus of Paul’s instructions.


Paul first addressed the way women should pray in the public assembly. Again, the way women wore their hair as they prayed in public worship was addressed.


In Ephesus, the issue was not so much “up or down” with the hair, but rather the ostentatiousness of the hairstyle.


It should be assumed that the women were wearing their hair up (and not hanging down like the prostitutes and pagan priestesses). However, they were showing off by wearing fancy hairstyles, laced with jewels and gold. They were also wearing expensive clothes.


This had the effect of drawing attention to themselves, alienating the poorer female population, distracting from the glory of God (1 Tim. 2:9).


Paul then addressed the way women should learn in the public assembly. Here Paul seemed to be turning his attention from women in general (1 Tim. 2:9-10) to wives, in particular (1 Tim. 2:11-15). He appealed to the husband-wife relationship in Genesis 2 and concluded that the wives were “saved through childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15).


1 Timothy 2:11 — Quietness

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Tim. 2:11).


1 Timothy 2:11 is not at all controversial or unusual. Paul was simply describing the posture of any disciple, male or female. The disciple learned from the rabbi in “quietness,” (hesuchia) and “total submission.”


This was the learning position of all disciples, male and female. In fact, Paul gave the same mandate to kings and all people in 1 Timothy 2:2, using the same word (hesuchia).


Does this mean that citizens were not allowed to speak? No, of course not. It simply meant that they were to live quiet, peaceful lives, in harmony with those around them, not lording their position over others.


The same is true of Paul’s instruction to the married female disciples. It is not that they cannot speak, only that they are to learn in quiet (hesuchia) respect (thoughtful, reflective, and slow to speak), not leveraging their teaching position to have power over their husbands.


Paul used the same word (hesuchia) as he instructed all the Christians (men and women) in Thessalonica to live harmonious lives, working “quietly,” and doing good (1 Thess. 3:12).


Luke reported that when Paul was addressing the Jews in Jerusalem in their own Hebrew language they became “quiet” (hesuchia) as they listened to his teaching (Acts 22:2). Finally, Peter used the same word when he described the true beauty of the faithful wife as her “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).


The same word, then, for “quietness” (hesuchia) is used of Kings, male learners, all Christians, and wives (or women).


It is obviously not a word that describes a mutation of speech, but only quiet reflection and serious thought before speaking or asking questions.


Paul also called the wives (women) to learn in “full submission.” To whom was she to be submissive? Perhaps to her husband. The husband is mentioned in the next line. However, more likely it was to whoever was teaching (which in most cases, in the household-church experience, would have been her husband).


In any case, the position of submissiveness to the teacher was expected of all disciples, male and female. [368]


The wives (women) then were to learn in respectful and reflective quietness, and in full submission to the one teaching them. In 1 Timothy 2:11, Paul was not asking the wives to do anything that was not expected of all disciples.


The Enigmatic Words of Paul

“But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Tim. 2:15).


1 Timothy 2:12-15, however, is another story. Most of the debate is focused on these four verses. The issues are legion. There are no less than eight debatable questions in this brief pericope: [369]


(1) Should the words anyar and gune be translated “men” and “women”, or “husbands” and “wives”?

(2) How do the two verbs “teach,” and “have authority over” relate to each other and the noun they serve?

(3) What is the meaning of the word, authentein (authority)?

(4) What does Paul mean by repeating, in verse 12, that women must remain quiet (he used the same word as in v.11, hesuchia)?

(5) Was Paul stating a universal principle, since he emphasized that this is only how he handles it?

(6) What point was Paul making in referencing Adam’s priority in creation?

(7) What point was Paul making when he stated that “it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner?”

(8) What did Paul mean when he said that “Women will be saved through childbearing?” (What about women who aren’t able to have children?)


Few of these questions are easily answered. There are capable scholars who fall on all sides of each debate. [370]


One thing is clear, whatever is decided about the meaning of this passage, no one can be overly dogmatic or confident in his or her interpretation. There are too many places to stumble.


In my next blog article, I will attempt a brief overview of each question, drawing some preliminary and tentative conclusions.






367. See Luke Timothy Johnson, “The First and Second Letters to Timothy,” The Anchor Yale Bible, (Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 3-98, for an excellent overview of the history of Interpretation of First Timothy, as well as a thorough examination of the question of authorship.

368. William D. Mounce, “Pastoral Epistles,” Word Biblical Commentary, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), p. 118, where Mounce writes, “While this way of learning [quiet submissiveness] may not characterize much of current American education, it has done so in the past and was characteristic of ancient rabbinic instruction.” See also Craig S. Keener, “Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul,” (Baker Academic, 1992), pp. 107-108.

369. D.A. Carson, RBMW, p.140-153.

370. For a concise overview of the three primary interpretive approaches to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Philip H. Towner, “The Letters to Timothy and Titus,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), pp. 198-200.






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