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1 Timothy 2:12 says:

“But I suffer not a woman to teach [διδάσκειν], nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (KJV).

The word 'didaskein' translated 'to teach' has me a tad baffled. According to Strong’s concordance, the prohibition is against women functioning as teachers in the church, or giving didactic teaching messages.

With reference to didaskein, according to Greek Scholar Spiros Zodhiates, the word ‘didaskein’ is a continuous tense which he says means that women aren’t allowed to teach in a continuous manner. For example, leaders/pastors/shepherds/elders are required to teach the flock on a regular basis, so women would be exempt from this ministry because they mustn’t teach continuously. Nonetheless, they are free to teach, but not in a leadership capacity. I don’t like forming conclusions on one person’s say-so, so I wondered if any Greek experts could verify (or challenge?) Zodhiates’ rendition here?

Whatever didaskein really means, it surely can’t be a wholesale prohibition against women teaching at any time, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to contribute towards any Christian conversation just in case someone learnt something from them.

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7 Answers 7

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The strict application of the complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 does not allow women to teach men in the church. Many churches will not allow women to teach in small groups, or in prayer meetings, and certainly not in weekly worship gatherings. Some do not even allow women to read the Bible in the service. John Piper does not support females lecturing men in ministerial and theological training (though he does endorse female theologians writing, because this “puts the woman as author out of the reader’s sight and, in a sense, takes away the dimension of her female personhood.” ).

Still, some soft complementarian scholars seek to find a way to allow women to teach in the church. Here are the three ways they do so: First, some allow women to teach men outside of worship gatherings. In special classes and courses, women may teach men, but not in the main Sunday meeting. The way they justify this is to argue that Paul speaks specifically about the church meeting in 1 Timothy 2, and therefore his prohibition is limited to that setting.

Second, some allow women to teach under the authority of the elders or pastors, and within the doctrinal parameters they set. To use an analogy, a conductor and a violin player “interpret” Beethoven. The violin player merely delivers the interpretation, but under the oversight and direction of someone else. In the same way, senior pastoral leaders define the doctrine, while others, including women, may deliver the doctrine.

Third, some allow women to “prophesy” and “exhort” in a sermon but not “teach.” They define “teaching” as “laying down the core apostolic doctrines.” Not all contemporary sermons are “teaching” in this sense, they say. Paul himself distinguishes between “exhorting,” “prophesying,” and “teaching.” Paul expects women to “prophesy” in the congregation, and never forbade women to “exhort” the congregation, so we should find a way for women to do that. As much as I commend these three well-meaning attempts to justify females teaching men, they are contorted attempts to sidestep their own misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12. This is why complementarian scholars keep on refuting them. But once we abandon the complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 however, we can tackle the topic in a much better way. We can then ask: Who, according to the Pastoral Epistles, should not teach? and What clear Scriptures about women teaching might enable us to better interpret the cloudy passage of 1 Timothy 2:12?

As for the first question, there are three kinds of people who should not teach. First, false teachers should not teach. Paul tells Titus that “they must be silenced, because they are … teaching things they ought not to teach.” Second, unteachable and unChristlike people should not teach. As I argued in chapter 7 of How God Sees Women: The End of Patriarchy, we should probably interpret 1 Timothy 2:12 as forbidding groups of people impacted by warped teaching to have proud, independent, self-asserting or domineering attitudes to others. What these kinds of people need is a fresh dose of humbly sitting under God’s word and being taught. Third, untaught people should not teach. Paul tells Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Having taught Timothy the apostolic doctrines, Paul asks him to teach them to others, so they in turn can teach it to yet more people. Note that these trainee-teachers are “people” not men—Paul uses the generic anthropoi, thereby including men and women. Although Paul envisions elders doing much of the teaching, he never limits the ministry of teaching to them alone. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews wishes that the entire community, men and women, based on their good doctrine and spiritual maturity, would be fit for the ministry of teaching when he says, “By this time you ought to be teachers, but now you need to be taught the elementary truths once again.” By the way, this verse gives us hope that even the Ephesian women may be restored to being able to teach in the future.

What clear Scriptures about women teaching might enable us to better interpret the cloudy passage of 1 Timothy 2:12? There are many: Paul commands both men and women to use their gifts of teaching; to teach and admonish each other when gathered for worship; and to bring a word of teaching in church meetings. All these passages use the Greek word didaskein that is also used in 1 Timothy 2:12. All of this, for example, fits with the Samaritan woman evangelising men, many doctrine-rich passages of Scripture crafted by women, and the account of Priscilla and Aquila who, after inviting Apollos to their home, “explained to him the way of God more adequately.”

As for Priscilla’s teaching ministry, the word “explained” (Greek: etitheto) is synonymous with the word “teach” and is used to describe Paul’s ministry in Rome where “from morning till evening” he was “explaining about the kingdom of God.” Yet, complementarian scholars obfuscate the straightforward meaning of Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos to fit with the Procrustean Bed of their wrong interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, which they believe disallows a woman from authoritatively teaching a man in church. Her teaching was private and informal, not public and formal, they claim. This assertion fails to recognize that the Ephesian church meetings happened in the very same home, and (unless we try to import much later church practices back into the mid-first century) were almost certainly intimate and informal.

As for the argument that her kind of teaching has nothing to do with the kind of “official” or “authoritative” teaching Paul mentions in his Pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, in reality Priscilla is a perfect example of the teaching ministry Paul tells Timothy to multiply in “reliable people who [are] qualified to teach others.” Priscilla was not merely sharing devotional thoughts—having been taught by Paul, she was engaged in a potent kind of teaching, instructing Apollos in doctrine and correcting his faulty and inadequate ideas. And notice the fruit of her teaching: Apollos, having received her teaching ministry, was later sent out, fully equipped, to be one of the great teachers in the early church era.

To sum up, according to a whole-Bible interpretation of Scripture, should women be allowed to teach and preach in churches today? Yes, absolutely. But on three conditions, which apply to men too: they must be reliable people who, having been taught, are now qualified to teach others; they must have the gift of teaching; and (we thank 1 Timothy 2:12 for this carefully excavated insight) they must do so in a way that is not coercive or controlling.

Adding strength to the conclusion that females can preach to men is the fact that the New Testament celebrates female prophets in the church, a declarative ministry which overlapped with the function of teaching, and was given even higher strategic importance than teaching. It makes no sense therefore to exclude women from the pulpit today.

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There may be some light in the expansive examination at https://www.gci.org/church/ministry/women10, including a wealth of scholarly references that provide further reading.

A few paragraphs particularly addressing this issue are:

Hurley writes: “Women were certainly free to speak in the Pauline churches (1 Cor. 11). Paul is speaking only of teaching situations here in 1 Timothy 2.”[22] In support of this interpretation, he notes that v. 12 is a conceptual repetition of v. 11. Learning corresponds to not teaching, and submission corresponds to not having authority. Just as Paul wants women to learn in a submissive manner, he does not want them to teach in an authoritative manner. [23] Hurley concludes that the verse means “that women should not be authoritative teachers in the church,” and he associates that with the office of elder. Paul did not forbid all teaching by women, Hurley claims. “What Paul disallowed therefore was simply the exercise of authority over men.”[24] Werner Neuer writes, “Paul excludes women from the office of teaching because teaching the assembled congregation would necessarily place them over men.”[25]

Moo acknowledges that the present-tense form of the verb “permit” could allow for a temporary situation,[26] but a present-tense verb can also be used for a permanent command (e.g., Rom. 12:1). Whether Paul indicates a temporary prohibition or a permanent rule cannot be decided by the grammar, but only by the context. Moo notes, “Paul’s ‘advice’ to Timothy is the word of an apostle, accredited by God, and included in the inspired Scriptures.”[27] Even an indicative verb—a statement—can be used to imply a command, as Paul does in verses 1 and 8.[28]

What sort of “teaching” is not allowed? The Greek word for “teach” can refer to a ministry that any believer might do (Col. 3:16), but it more often refers to a special gift associated with church leadership (Eph. 4:11). “In the pastoral epistles, teaching always has this restricted sense of authoritative doctrinal instruction”[29] (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:2). Teaching was an important part of the function of an elder (1 Tim. 3:2).

However, in Protestant churches, authority is based in Scripture, not in the preacher. Does modern preaching involve the same sort of authority? Moo argues that it does, since “the addition of an authoritative, written norm is unlikely to have significantly altered the nature of Christian teaching…. Any authority that the teacher has is derived…but the activity of teaching, precisely because it does come to God’s people with the authority of God and His Word, is authoritative.”[30]

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  • Thanks for that Fay. I'm not sure whether the act of preaching is always authoritative. If preaching falls into the realm of exhorting brothers and sisters, comforting and building them up, then preaching is really prophecy according to 1 Corin 14:3, isn't it? Also, women are allowed to prophesy, and others will learn by it (1 Corin 14:31), so there must be situations where women are free to speak Scriptural things which some men might learn from, but which nonetheless are not delivered in the same authoritative way as a leader/elder might deliver a 'word of encouragement'.
    – Marisa
    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:42
  • As I understand things, the Scriptures definitely prohibit ladies from functioning as elders/leaders and from teaching in an authoritative way, but I just wondered whether 1 Tim 2:12 prohibited all manner of teaching when men were present. E.g. if a lady had a blessing while reading God's Word in the week, is she free to share what she learnt, or would that be deemed 'teaching'. If her motive is to encourage, not to lead, and if her attitude is submission to the headship of male leaders, would it be OK to share the things she's learnt from Scripture? Thanks for your initial reply Fay.
    – Marisa
    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:45
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Cross-referencing the rest of the New Testament finds didaskein used mainly to describe the teaching of Jesus (Mark 4:1, 6:2, 6:34, and 8:31) and the apostles in Acts. Followers often referred to Jesus as Rabbi or Teacher, which was a position of respect & authority in a Jewish Rabbinical culture, so to teach a man was akin to exercising (or usurping) authority over him. Paul's instructions to Timothy (in Gentile Ephesus) place didasko in the present infinitive didaskein. Yes, that is from the present ongoing, but the verb tense is more due to necessity in sentence structure. Paul's use of the present tense active verb "do" is more important than the tense of didaskein.

I agree with the Hurley and Neuer quotes in Rowland's answer above, but with the caveat that I read of a female missionary in the field teaching Scripture to a chief and his village. The story can be found in And the Word Came with Power by Joanne Shelter. Interestingly, upon a basic reading of 1 Timothy 2:12, the chief politely insisted that he acquire the knowledge to teach Scripture. The chief then would take what he learned and teach his people so she would not need to go against his interpretation of Paul's teaching.

Deborah is another example of a female leader installed as an exception to what was a line of male judges. Yet, Deborah is conspicuously left out of the honored judges list in Hebrews 11.

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  • Thanks Jeremy. Does this mean that women are free to teach from the Scriptures within mixed congregations, but only on the premise that everyone understands she submits her teachings to the male oversight, i.e. she's happy to stand corrected and acknowledges their headship role? I don't get why people who say women can't teach in church, nevertheless say women are free to teach other women. If the issue of teaching in church is linked to her susceptibility to deception and leading others astray, then there's the same chance of her teaching doctrinal error to ladies alone.
    – Marisa
    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:53
  • A better scenario (perhaps?) would be for the ladies conferences to have godly men there who can oversee the things being taught by the ladies and put things straight if they're going skew whiff. But if that's the ideal scenario in a ladies conference, why can't women similarly share things from God's Word in mixed congregations, where the male headship still has oversight and can put them right where necessary?
    – Marisa
    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:55
  • Good questions and points, but we are probably venturing into governmental interpretation and opinion here (not quite the design of this forum). I personally think the best women's conferences would have male oversight. To me there is a difference in sharing (or reading) an encouraging Scripture within mixed congregations and teaching, which provides interpretation and application. Paul makes it clear in multiple letters that authoritative oversight & teaching to men is a role for men.
    – Jeremy
    Aug 26, 2016 at 14:34
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This is a Wuest Commentary:

Paul is still dealing with the conduct of women in the assemblies. This admonition to the effect that women are to learn in silence with all subjection, is made clear as to its meaning by 1Co_14:34-35, where the women were disturbing the church service by asking their husbands questions, presumably about that which was being preached. The silence here and in our 1 Timothy passage has to do with maintaining quiet in the assembly, and does not forbid a woman to take an active part in the work of the church in her own sphere and under the limitations imposed upon her in the contextual passage (1Ti_2:12).

The correct understanding of Paul’s words, "I suffer not a woman to teach," are dependent upon the tense of the Greek infinitive and the grammatical rule pertaining to it. In the case of the infinitive, the Greek has a choice between the present and aorist tenses, and he can use either at will, since the time element in the tense of the infinitive is not considered. When the Greek desires to refer only to the fact of the action denoted by the infinitive, without referring to details, he uses the aorist. Should he use any other tense, he is going out of his way to add details, and the student must pay particular attention to his choice of the tense.

Dana and Mantey in their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (p. 199) have this to say on the subject: "The aorist infinitive denotes that which is eventual or particular, while the present infinitive indicates a condition or process. Thus pisteusai (aorist) is to exercise faith on a given occasion, while pisteuein (present) is to be a believer; douleusai (aorist) is to render a service, while douleuein (present) is to be a slave; hamartein (aorist) is to commit a sin, while hamartanein (present) is to be a sinner." Thus, didaxai (aorist), is to teach, while didaskein (present 1Ti_2:12), is to be a teacher. Paul, therefore, says, "I do not permit a woman to be a teacher." The context here has to do with church order, and the position of the man and woman in the church worship and work. The kind of teacher Paul has in mind is spoken of in Act_13:1, 1Co_12:28-29, and Eph_4:11, God-called, and God-equipped teachers, recognized by the Church as those having authority in the Church in matters of doctrine and interpretation. This prohibition of a woman to be a teacher, does not include the teaching of classes of women, girls, or children in a Sunday School, for instance, but does prohibit the woman from being a pastor, or a doctrine teacher in a school. It would not be seemly, either, for a woman to teach a mixed class of adults.

The expression, "usurp authority," Vincent says, is not a correct translation of the Greek word. It is rather, "to exercise dominion over." In the sphere of doctrinal disputes or questions of interpretation, where authoritative pronouncements are to be made, the woman is to keep silence.

Translation: Let a woman be learning in silence with all subjection. Moreover, I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, neither to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.

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  • Please break this answer into separate paragraphs, each with a main sentence. Please quote the text of the verses you cite and indicate which translation or witness you are quoting. Please use the ">" sign at the beginning of a line when you quote verses. Thanks.
    – user17080
    Aug 26, 2017 at 17:15
  • The whole of this answer is a quote from a commentary. That does not meet this site's requirement to "show your own work". If you think that a particular work is valuable as an answer, then "showing your own work" might be simply a matter of summarising the salient points of the work, and then drawing a conclusion.
    – enegue
    Aug 26, 2017 at 21:47
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I think using the verb teach or a verb like instruct is correct. The possible interpretations can be in a footnote, unless the translator (claims that he) is god-inspired.

It cannot be interpreted as a prohibition to teach something not related to the church outside the church though, based on the context.

Zodhiates was a Bible scholar with a Doctor of Theology degree from Luther Rice Seminary of Jacksonville, Florida.

The aspect of the verb here is imperfective indicating an ongoing, continuous, or repeated action. So, it's not about something that happens once but it is not about something necessarily continuous either.

One possible translation of "γυναικὶ δὲ διδάσκειν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω" is

I do not allow women to instruct

But I think something about the verb aspect is lost.

If we suppose that it is about a position inside the church

I do not allow women to be instructors

So, maybe it can interpreted even as a prohibition on ordaining women

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The present tense (form) in Greek means what it means in English. There is no mystery to it. The only difference in Greek is that it lacks continuous tense, so the present is used to denote continuous. "I write can be translated "I am writing". It has present participle, which basically denotes the continuous sense.

John 1:38 Jesus turned and saw them following (participle) and said (says) to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher Διδάσκαλε), “where are you staying?”

Τί ζητεῖτε; What do you seek? Can be translated "What are you seeking" ποῦ μένεις; Where do you live?, can be translated “where are you staying?”. These are justifiable reasons for stylistic purpose to make the narrative very precise, however it is not necessary. These stylistic and readability changes has happened only in the modern versions. The actual reader of the KJV or RV does not get confused when he reads simple present tense: What do you seek, where do you live, etc. However, at some places it is essential to render it continuous, in the progressive sense:

κύριε, σῶσον, ἀπολλύμεθα (Matt 8:25) Lord, save us! We are perishing! (NRSV)

αἱ λαμπάδες ἡμῶν σβέννυνται (Matt 25:8) our lamps are going out

θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε (Gal 1:6) I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away

The iterative, progressive, durative sense of the context is clear from the context and words. There is no need to change the translation to convey our supposed interpretation. For this reason, it is a common myth among people that the present tense in Greek always means continuous or iterative or progressive. Many writers of the Greek Grammar books themselves twist the plain and traditional reading of the text to suit their agenda to undermine the commandments.

For this reason, as you mentioned:

With reference to didaskein, according to Greek Scholar Spiros Zodhiates, the word ‘didaskein’ is a continuous tense which he says means that women aren’t allowed to teach in a continuous manner.

I would discredit Mr. Greek Scholar Spiros, and would not permit him to teach to my friends. The context itself makes it clear that he forbids women to teach. Fe forbids not the habitual and continuous manner of teaching, as though occasional violation is allowed. (As they teach about John's epistles, saying, he forbade only continuous sinning, not occasional ones.) There is nothing about the manner of teaching in the context, but it is about the kind and authoritative teaching. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. He forbids women to be professors, teachers, scholars or Rabbis over men; to have any authority over men or in the church. She can surely teach other women & children (Titus 2:3) or she can preach and evangelize like Priscilla, and serve & assist the church like Phoebe. The context does not justification to pervert the basic language of present tense in any language. Although the mainstream "scholars" of the Bible work hard to twist the plain scripture with their linguistic fallacies and misconceptions, they admit to the fundamental fact that the context is above all for translating and understanding.

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διδάσκω is a pretty unambiguous word. It means to teach or instruct in all of the senses of the English words "teach" and "instruct". It appears over 90 times in the New Testament and over 100 times in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

The understanding was that women would not teach in the Church. Elsewhere Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 14:35).

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

John Chrysosotom explained the mandates as follows:

Let the woman learn in silence; that is, let her not speak at all in the church; which rule he has also given in his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says, It is a shame for women to speak in the church. And the reason is that the law has made them subject to men. And again elsewhere, And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. Then indeed the women, from such teaching, kept silence; but now there is apt to be great noise among them, much clamor and talking, and nowhere so much as in this place. They may all be seen here talking more than in the market, or at the bath. For, as if they came hither for recreation, they are all engaged in conversing upon unprofitable subjects. Thus all is confusion, and they seem not to understand, that unless they are quiet, they cannot learn anything that is useful. For when our discourse strains against the talking, and no one minds what is said, what good can it do to them? To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming.

Chrysostom's reference to "the Law" (i.e. Torah) ties to the Fall described in Genesis 3:

If it be asked, what has this to do with women of the present day? it shows that the male sex enjoyed the higher honor. Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor 11:9) Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards. For the woman taught the man once, and made him guilty of disobedience, and wrought our ruin. Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or rather her equality with him, God made her subject to her husband. Thy desire shall be to thy husband? (Gen 3:16) This had not been said to her before.

Thus from the beginning and in the ancient Church, women had no place in the Church hierarchy outside of serving as "deacons" (διακόνοι), an essentially administrative role.

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