I received an email recently asking me to write on 1 Timothy 2:11-12. This reader had stumbled upon a social media post referencing these verses. The writer of the post concluded that all women pastors are guilty of rebellion against God. Is that what Paul meant in this passage? Can a woman be a pastor?
1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” NIV.
I grew up in the Catholic church, so it doesn’t surprise me that women can’t be priests. But I have been in many Protestant churches where there are women pastors and have thought nothing of it. Surprisingly to me, however, this is a hugely controversial passage. People have written numerous books on the topic (refuting this statement and in agreement) and alternative understandings abound.
I tackled this subject with the same faithfulness, prayer, and truth seeking I always do. My Bible teachers taught me to always consider the context of a Bible verse. This includes not isolating one verse, but reading the verses before and after, and learning about the setting, customs, and language to help with interpretation. God’s power, wisdom and guidance have guided me so far; I’m relying on Him in this post as well.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
Facts about the Church in Ephesus
Paul wrote to Timothy at the church of Ephesus to give him encouragement and instructions. False teachings had flourished, and Paul urges Timothy to continue to squash this misrepresentation of the Gospel in the church:
“… Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.” 1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV.
Ephesus was a thriving major port city where men and women enjoyed equal opportunities. It was famous for its magnificent Temple of Artemis (Diana.) Females almost exclusively ran this cult, and it was a lucrative business. Acts 19:26-41 even speaks about a riot in Ephesus because Christianity had threatened their business and culture. As they converted these women to Christianity, it seems their behaviors and dress (1 Tim 2:9-10) were a distraction to the new church.
It is to these problems and the backdrop that Paul writes to Timothy.
1 Timothy 2:11 Meaning
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”
We need to put the emphasis here on “a woman SHOULD learn…” First century Jewish women could not even study God’s Word. Paul’s statement then, that women should learn, offered all women an amazing new opportunity.
It brings to mind the story of Mary and Martha, where Jesus commends Mary for sitting at His feet; listening and learning. Mary decided to forego the female traditions of the day to learn all she could of Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus heartily approved! Paul shows here he also commends learning for women.
Moving on to “in quietness”- some have unfortunately read this and believe that women should never speak at church.
Greek Word for Silence
The Greek word did not mean total silence. It translates as “peaceable” and “without contention.” It was used to express an attitude of learning with peacefulness and composure.
The women in the Ephesus church were used to their Artemis temple worship style- shouting questions and comments and asserting their authority.
Paul writes at other times of women praying and speaking in church, so he wasn’t advocating total silence.
(We’ll look at the “full submission” part later in this post…)
1 Timothy 2:12
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
Paul uses this word for “authority” only one time in the entire New Testament. Its meaning has a sense of abusing power and acting under one’s own authority.
He commonly uses other words to show someone having “authority over.” Paul’s choice in verse 12 would make sense for these Ephesian women.
Paul seems to tell Timothy not to put any woman into a leadership and teaching position in the church who was not yet mature in their faith. That same principle should apply to any person seeking a leader/teaching position in the church!
Some take verse 12 as a broad-brush statement that women may not preach to men or speak in church. Was that Paul’s intent, or was he speaking about a particular circumstance specific to a time and place?
Some interpret this verse that Paul meant women should never teach in church, but there are many instances where Paul did not forbid women to teach, and there are places where he even affirms them.
Women of God in the Bible
•Paul commends Timothy himself for the faith that was instilled in him by his mother and grandmother:
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” 2 Timothy 1:5 NIV.
•Paul also commends his co-worker Priscilla for teaching Apollos (Acts 18:24-26).
• He speaks highly of Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), one of the first deaconesses of the Christian church and allows her to read aloud in church.
•Paul mentions Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3) as side-by-side coworkers with him in proclaiming the Gospel.
•He names Junia as an outstanding apostle for Christ! (Romans 16:7).
•Deborah was an Old Testament judge and prophetess that had political and religious authority- even over men. God worked through her as a spokesperson, judge, and worship leader.
•God also used another woman named Huldah, a prophetess. When men went to “ask of the Lord” about a scroll that was found, they went to her. God used Huldah to give his words to the men of Israel. (2 Kings 22:15-20).
God was willing and able to use these women to teach men, even though He could have chosen men. He even put them in Scripture for us as an example to learn from. It doesn’t seem God has an issue with women speaking His authoritative truth to men.
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First Woman to Preach in the Bible
The woman at the well was the first woman to evangelize an entire town- men and women- and begin Christ’s public ministry.
Female Preachers in the Bible
Along with all the women mentioned above, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth (whose words are recorded in the Bible!) were the first to recognize the blessing God had bestowed upon them and preached His glory and favor in song and word.
Anna, Miriam (Moses’s sister), and Philip’s four unmarried daughters were all prophetesses- spokespersons for God. They spoke the words God gave them- to men and women.
Mary Magdalene had the honor of being the first to proclaim the news of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus gave her the direction and authority to go to the apostles (men) with His instructions.
Scriptures in Support of Female Pastors
•“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 NIV.
We are all heirs of Christ. No one is more privileged or superior to anyone else regardless of our differences in race, sex, or nationality. These are Paul’s own words.
•Paul speaks of the giving of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:6-8, and Ephesians 4:7-13. Nowhere does he mention restricting the gifts of teaching or leadership to men only. In fact, he states, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body”– the oneness that unites us.
The Holy Spirit gives us our gifts and actively works within us to bring forth fruit for His kingdom.
When some put limitations on these gifts, saying some are for men only, does that attempt to compromise or undermine the Spirit’s work?
•Under Paul’s words for Holy Living we read: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” Colossians 3:16 NIV. There is no instruction that this is only for men.
•Peter said to women and men, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV.
•Jesus said, “Go ye, therefore and teach all nations..” Matthew 28:19a KJV. Jesus gave all believers the Great Commission to teach others, to spread the Gospel and make more disciples.
Should Women be Pastors?
I have read copious amounts of arguments (including some by well-known male preachers) that affirm Paul’s one line statement forbidding women to preach. It many times hinges on the women shall have “no authority over a man” argument and the word “submission” mentioned in verse 11.
But we’ve already seen that God used women to have authority over men and put their stories and words in Scripture. (Deborah, Huldah, and more).
“Submission” is an often-misunderstood concept, and it never means superiority. Paul uses the same Greek word in 1 Timothy 3:4; translated as “proper respect” for the teaching that is being received. He wants the women to show respect to both the teacher and the content they were learning.
Even in the beginning, God said he would make a “helper” (“ezer”) for man. He did not use the word for slave or servant (“eved”). God’s idea of marriage was oneness between man and women, with one goal- honoring God. God created men and women with complimentary attributes- none superior over another.
Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” NIV. Again, a “oneness.” Submission is not about docile subservience, but giving honor to each other and to God.
Should Women Preach?
I see these verses as Paul instructing Timothy on how to fix a problem that cropped up in the Ephesian church, not a blanket statement against women teaching before men in church. In the verses just before these, Paul admonishes the women to dress modestly, to never braid their hair, and to not wear gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.
Because these women came from families with wealth and they were used to dressing in this manner as temple priestesses. Do we then take Paul’s word literally for how women should dress and wear their hair in church today? I don’t see any pastors coming out with demands for all women to follow these rules, yet they come directly before the verses in question.
Does it make sense for Paul to forbid these women as new Christians to teach and lead? Absolutely! They were immature in their faith. They were false teachers from a cult where female superiority (not oneness) and unruly services were the norm. He doesn’t discourage them completely but asks them to continue to learn Scripture and modify their behaviors.
Jesus looks at each person and asks us to invite Him into our hearts. When we respond, man or woman, He can use us in any way He chooses. I have seen nothing in His loving nature or the way He treated women in Scripture to exclude them from teaching His Word. Does He want the attitude of our hearts to be one with His? Yes. Does He want us to continue to learn and pray and serve with humility and submission? Yes. If He calls a woman to proclaim the Gospel and preach in church, I pray she says yes!
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10 thoughts on “Can a Woman Be a Pastor?”
Paul said exactly what he meant. He believed women were less than men. But we are reading works from 2,000 years ago… of course, some of the traditions and comments will not age well. We need to be able to separate actual mandates “thou shall not kill” from norms and conventions at the time (women shall not speak or wear pants). I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that no woman is going to hell over some pants.
I don’t believe Paul believed women were less than men. There are many instances where Paul did not forbid women to teach, and there are places where he even affirms them. Jesus certainly held women with great regard as well. Understanding the context (including the norms and conventions of the times) is extremely important, which I go to great lengths to research. This topic has many opinions, however, which I am now well aware of! God bless you!
Why in the new testament, in the 12 disciple that Jezus choose there where no women?
Women were not allowed to go to Torah school, only boys, so they were considered less learned then the men. They were not allowed to be witnesses in the Jewish court system. Jewish culture was patriarchal, even though men were taught to respect their wives more than themselves. So even if women had been allowed to be a disciple, the society they lived in would not have listened to them. Jesus did have many women disciples who were important contributing members of his ministry!
I think you used a word I learned from Les Feldick. You BLENDERIZED gospel verses to fit your own studies. I disagree with you. A woman should NOT assume the pastoral position.
Hi Dee! I appreciate your comment and am glad you posted your opinion! I am also glad that even with differences, we can be united in Jesus Christ and “with all humility and gentleness, with patience”, bear with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2.)
This was great, Ann. Very insightful!!
I enjoyed that article and know that God calls women as Pastors, teachers, witnesses of His word, and in all areas of the ministry. Thank you for insightful word of wisdom about a delicate, controversial subject. God will use anyone that will let Him. Thanks, Madelyn Shields
Thanks Madelyn! I feel like you do, but realize all do not. I was at peace after my research into the Scriptures. I appreciate your kind words of support.
Thanks Cindy! This topic was way more involved than I imagined!