“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
These statements from 1 Timothy 2:11-12 have been fiercely debated over the years but perhaps this is to be expected. You see, the same Holy Spirit who inspired Paul the Apostle to write these words also inspired the Apostle Peter to author the following message…
“…our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16 HCSB).
Since God has forewarned us regarding the challenging nature of some of Paul’s Biblical writings, our look at this passage should be guided by a helpful principle from Acts 20:27: “…I did not keep from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (MEV).
As we’ll see, a person who reflexively insists that these verses promote sexism and inequality is someone who fails to take the entire counsel of God into account. We might also say the same of those who attempt to use this passage to justify the exclusion of women from every leadership position within the church. With these things in mind, we can seek to obtain an accurate perspective on these verses using the whole counsel of God.
We can begin by observing that there are no legitimately self-appointed leaders within the church. The call to church leadership (in any form) originates from one source: “Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11 CEV). This tells us that God is ultimately responsible to place men and women in leadership positions as He sees fit.
The following verse goes on to explain God’s intended purpose in establishing these leaders: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). These job responsibilities have one ultimate purpose- to build up God’s people and prepare them to complete the work He has given to them.
While it may be easy for 21st century readers to focus upon the directive to “learn in silence with all submission,” we should not overlook the first portion of this message: “Let a woman learn…” That edict served as a radical departure from the societal norms of Paul’s era and we’ll take a closer look at it next.