This is an explosive subject that is, unfortunately, the subject of "cafeteria" theology - picking verses that suit one's taste and leaving the rest.
The Short answer to this question of gender in Christian officers is that 1 Tim 3 cannot be used to restrict the gender of elders and deacons in the church because the male word διάκονος is used of Phoebe in Rom 16:1.
- Paul had female co-workers, in Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2, 3) as well as Junia the apostle (Rom 16:7). Nympha appears to be the leader of the church that met in her house at Laodicea (Col 4:15). John also addressed an epistle to a female church leader (2 John 1).
- Women were allowed to teach men. The female leader, Priscilla taught the Apostle Apollos “more adequately”, Acts 18:26. It is significant that Priscilla is listed before her husband, Aquila, in this passage. King Lemuel was taught by his mother, Prov 31:1-9.
- Women were permitted to pray and prophesy in public meetings, 1 Cor 11:5.
- Gal 3:28 declares that all gender distinctions are out of place for the Christian congregation
I can now hear the cries of some who ask about some troublesome texts in the NT about women being "silent". They are tricky so I will deal with them in the appendices below.
APPENDIX 1 - 1 Tim 2:11, 12.
The Greek text of 1 Timothy 2:11, 12, according to Nestle-Aland (UBS 5th Ed) is the basis for most translations in English. According to the Majority Text (eg, Farstad et al), the Byzantine Text (Robinson and Pierpont), Family 35 text (Wilbur Pickering), the Patriarchal text, and the Textus Receptus, the order of the first three words of v12 is reversed, but this changes neither the translation nor the meaning of the text.
As commonly translated in modern versions, the NIV is typical, but its margin offers a significant alternative.
“(v11) A woman [wife]margin should learn in quietness and full submission. (v12) I do not permit a woman [wife]margin to teach or to assume authority over a man [husband]margin; she must be quiet.” 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 NIV.
It is no wonder that this single passage is both the magna carta of ecclesiastical sexism and a thorn in the side of gender equality.
Therefore, how are we to understand this verse? Understanding this verse is complicated by the fact that the central verb, “authenteo”, translated “assume authority over” occurs only here in all the New Testament. It is immediately obvious that such a translation is inconsistent with both the theology of Scripture and its practice. See the above list to observe the remarkably liberated status that women enjoyed under Bible ideals.
Therefore, to properly understand this verse, we must better understand the vocabulary and idiom, because it is clear that such a simplistic translation, as above, is out of place in Paul’s writing and the rest of the Bible.
This verb, “authenteo” is used only here in verse 12 in all the New Testament. It is an unusual choice if Paul simply intended the idea of “authority” for which a variety of more common words are available. Indeed, the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek NT (Friberg et al) entry is, “strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over”. The BDAG entry is even stronger: “assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to, … practically = ‘tell a man what to do’”.
Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (400 AD) translates this word as “dominari” = domineer.
A very impressive study by Albert Wolters clearly shows that this verb (and its cognate relatives) means to “have mastery over”. (See also its use as a noun in Wisdom 12:6, “murderer”, and 3 Macc 2:29, “master”.) Cynthia Long Westfall agrees, “In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō [which includes the infinitive authentein] refers to a range of actions . . . . However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden, because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”
Such behaviour is out of place in both the home and the Christian congregation for anyone including women. Indeed, Jesus and the apostle Peter specifically forbade Christian leaders (or anyone else) “lording it over” other members of the congregation (Matt 20:25, 26, Mark 10:42, 43, 1 Peter 5:3). Thus, a domineering attitude is inappropriate behaviour for both men and women, but presumably, Timothy had particular problems in his congregation(s) with some difficult and bossy women that Paul advised him to address.
Further, Paul’s advice in Eph 5:21—28 gives authority to husbands over wives, but only consistent with the loving, self-sacrificing attitude of Christ to the Church. Again, complete mastery of anyone over another is out of place in the Christian community and home (Eph 5:21) by both men and women.
It is very instructive that that the immediate context of this instruction is vs 9 and 10 where Paul instructs women to dress with modesty and decently (ie, not provocatively or to call attention to themselves). It appears that he then expands upon this point about how women are to teach – without being domineering; and to learn in calmness.
In verse 12 there is a Greek construction, often used by Paul, called “hendiadys”.
In 1 Tim 2:12, the construction, “neither teach nor domineer”, idiomatically means, “do not teach in a domineering way”; “do not ram your ideas down men’s throats in an overpowering way”, or similar.
Silence or Quietness?
The final sentence of this tricky verse 12 contains Paul’s injunction, “she must remain quiet” (NIV), or, “she is to keep quiet” (NRSV), or, “but to remain quiet” (NASB), or, “but to be in silence” (KJV & NKJV), or, “she is to remain quiet” (ESV), etc, with similar results for v11.
We first observe that the phrase in v12 begins with the conjunction, “but” which necessarily introduces a related but opposite idea. Again, it is clear that Biblical women were NOT required to be silent and this is clear by a simple comparison of the translation of the same word, hesuchia, earlier in the same passage, verse 2, which applies to all Christians to be “peaceful/tranquil and calm”. As used here, this obviously does not imply that Christians are to remain silent or quiet!
Therefore, for consistency we should use a similar idea in verse 12, thus rendering the latter part of verse 12, “but to be calm”, without implying quietness or silence.
Singular vs Plural
Up to verse 10, Paul uses the plural, “women”, presumably applying to all Christian women. However, in verses 11, and 12, he switches to the singular, “woman” or “wife”. I am inclined to think that Paul specifically has wives in mind here, hence his change of grammatical number. However, whether this is true or not does not alter the point – silence is NOT advocated so much as calmness.
Again, the same word, hesuchia, is used to describe the way a wife should learn and teach; and, again, it does not imply quietness; indeed, both the Socratic and Rabbinic teaching methods involved much discussion and dialogue between the student and teacher .
Therefore, Paul simply states what modern pedagogy has confirmed: that a student cannot learn while arrogant or surly. Thus Paul says (v11), “Let a wife learn in calmness and subjection.” As such, this is a perfect introduction to what comes after in verse 12 about eliminating domineering attitudes in the family.
Of course, such advice is applicable to husbands (as shown above) as well as wives but the more urgent problem in Timothy’s parish was possibly with overly bossy wives, as further evidenced by the “reason” quoted immediately after about Adam and Eve to encourage over-confidant women to be a little more humble and less arrogant.
Translation of 1 Tim 2:11, 12
Let us now translate 1 Tim 2:11, 12 using the above principles:
“Let a wife learn in calmness and subjection. I do not permit a wife to foist her ideas on the husband, but to be calm.”
With this understanding, we have much better agreement with the rest of Scripture and a more sensitive handling of the Greek idiom. Further, it is consistent with other Scriptural instruction to be humble and imitate Christ such as Matt 11:29, Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
APPENDIX 2 - 1 Cor 14:34, 35.
Again, the NIV provides a good, representative translation of this verse.
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 1 Cor 14:34, 35.
We should immediately observe three points about this text that are obvious:
- The women (or wives) being in subjection should be read in the context of ALL Christians being subject to one another (Eph 5:21)
- Paul’s instruction here does not mean that women (or wives) should remain silent in church or that they are forbidden to speak or preach. 1 Cor 11:5 makes this clear by providing instruction on how women were to speak and preach.
- The advice Paul gives is in the context of calming the rabble that had developed in Corinth as various “prophets” competed to speak in tongues and prophesy. Thus it is not a plea for silence as much as order as confirmed in 1 Cor 14:40, “let all things be done decently and in order”.
There may have also been a local cultural component to this advice as well.