First Timothy 2:11–12 and the Ordination of Women

Matt Pinson

(Editor’s note: This post is the fourth in a five-part series of talks given by the members of the Commission for Theological Integrity at this past National Association in Birmingham. Prior talks/posts can be found here, here, and here. Please note that this material wasn’t originally planned for print publication, which will account for the relative informality.)

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In my presentation, I’ll be discussing the role of women in church teaching and authority with special reference to Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11–12. Particularly, I’m going to be answering the question, “Does 1 Timothy 2:11–12 prohibit the ordination of women to the ministry?” The text reads as follows: “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.” (NKJV).

Does This Text Limit Ministerial Ordination to Qualified Men?

I’m going to begin by expressing the consensus of interpretation among complementarians—and Free Will Baptists—and that is that this text limits the ordination to the ministry to men. Then I will discuss some differences in interpretation of this text that Free Will Baptists, like all complementarians, have tolerated.

The consensus of the complementarian position is that this text prohibits women from usurping the authoritative teaching office of the church. Egalitarians, whether non-conservatives or evangelical feminists, tend to argue that Paul’s proscriptions for women in this and other texts are merely applicable to his own culture and not authoritative in modern contexts.

Despite areas of debate among complementarians, there remains a consensus that the authoritative teaching and preaching of the church is limited to males. If one believes that St. Paul’s instruction is authoritative for today, as Free Will Baptists do, then one is hard-pressed to see how ordaining women to engage in the regular authoritative proclamation of the Word could be in harmony with “I suffer not a woman to teach or usurp authority over the man” (KJV).

Even if one does not interpret this proscription to keep a woman from other sorts of teaching, even if there are men listening to her, it certainly bars women from the magisterial teaching authority of the church. In other words, complementarians see Paul’s assertions as authoritative for today because they are rooted in the order of creation and in the Christ-church relationship, which transcend cultural contexts. If one accepts this, then the question becomes not, “Can a woman be ordained to the magisterial teaching office of the Christian church?” Instead, “Must a woman be absolutely silent, or can she serve in subsidiary teaching roles?”

As Douglas Moo explains, “In the pastoral epistles, teaching always has this restricted sense of authoritative doctrinal instruction.”[1] It does not seem possible for a woman to engage in the regular, authoritative teaching of the church without engaging in the authoritative teaching of which this text speaks. Nor does it seem possible for a woman to be ordained to the authoritative teaching office of the Christian church—the elder, pastor or overseer (bishop), what the Treatise calls “the minister”—without “usurping authority over a man.” That is why the Free Will Baptist consensus is that ordination as a minister—an elder, pastor, or overseer—is open only to qualified men.

Evangelical egalitarians such as Richard and Katherine Clark Kroeger, have argued that authentein means other things than to usurp authority, things like “to domineer” or “commit violence against” or “proclaim oneself the author of a man.” Yet, as Henry Scott Baldwin has shown, there are 82 examples of this verb in ancient Greek texts and papyri, and they all contradict this reading. Wayne Grudem concurs: the Kroegers show no evidence that any ancient text supports their interpretation and that the meaning they give authentein “has been universally rejected by modern lexicographers as a mistake,” and it cannot be found in any lexicon. Other egalitarians argue that because authentein is a word found only here in the New Testament, we should not rely on it for doctrine. However, a word whose meaning isn’t disputed in all the other instances it is used in ancient Greek should not be discounted just because the biblical author used it only once.[2]

Absolutely Silent or Quiet and Submissive Spirit?

So complementarians differ from feminist interpreters who see Paul’s limitation of women’s roles as simply a culture-bound proscription not applicable to our day. Yet there is a debate among complementarians on whether to translate hēsychia, the Greek word for quietness or silence in verses 11–12, as “absolute silence,” or as having “a quiet and submissive spirit.” Many complementarian interpreters believe that hēsychia should be translated the way the KJV renders a word from the same word group earlier in the chapter, when Paul says Christians should live “quiet and peaceable” lives. Thus, the ESV translates 1 Timothy 2:11 as “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Most scholars believe that the false teachers Paul was dealing with in this letter were leading women to speak out against the husbands or male leaders in the context of the local congregation. Therefore, this would have been the impetus for Paul’s statements here and in 1 Corinthians.

There are different views among Free Will Baptists, as with other complementarians, on whether this means absolute silence or whether it means women having a quiet and submissive spirit. These differences of interpretation lead to different views on what women can and cannot do in worship.

In his 1990 commentary on 1 Timothy, Dr. Stanley Outlaw interprets “in silence” and “with all subjection” in 1 Timothy 2:11–12 as learning in a quiet and submissive spirit—“not getting into doctrinal and philosophical arguments with the men or defying the authority of male leadership.”[3] He states, “I do not believe that these instructions are so absolute as never to allow a woman to speak in the church in any situation.” Instead, he says, Paul is arguing that women “must never speak in such a way as to challenge or show disrespect to the male leadership in the church.” Whatever they say “should be with the agreement and under the direction of the church’s male leadership.”[4]

First Corinthians 14:34–35 uses even stronger language: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”

However, many complementarian exegetes think this cannot mean absolute silence. Instead, it must be read in the light of what Paul has already said to the Corinthians earlier in the letter, in chapter 11, where Paul has already explicitly stated that women can pray and prophesy if they have their head covered as a sign of submission to male authority. This is the position of Dr. Robert Picirilli.

In his 1987 commentary, Dr. Picirilli says, “Paul says things in other places that clearly give women permission to speak in the assembly.”[5] Thus, according to Dr. Picirilli, Paul’s concern is that

wives must not do anything that will not be appropriate for their role of submission to their husbands. Putting v. 34 with 11:5, then, we may say this much: so long as the wife could pray or prophesy publicly—wearing the head-covering, of course—without involving any manifestation of lack of submission to her husband, that was permitted. But she was not permitted to speak (or even to ask a question) in any circumstance when lack of submission would be indicated.[6]

Dr. Picirilli says,

My own view falls within the traditional pattern, although not as extremely so as some who would deny women any role, in church, except teaching other women and children. I see no Biblical principle that would forbid women any role except those where ordination leads to positions that would put wives in authority over their husbands—or the husbands of others, for that matter.[7]

Any Kind of Teaching or the Magisterial, Authoritative Teaching of the Church?

This brings us to the next question debated among complementarians. Verse 12 says, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.” The interpretation of “teach” in this text is a point of debate. Some complementarians believe this is saying women should never teach or address men, even in the context of a Sunday school class or a devotion. Others believe this is simply a proscription of women usurping the teaching authority of men in the church.

One example of the latter is Dr. Stanley Outlaw. Outlaw correctly notes that, “like men, Christian women need to learn about God’s word, with regard to both doctrine and practice. In most ancient societies women were not granted the privilege of learning in any formal sense. Christian society is not to be that way.” In New Testament Christianity, women were “exalted to a position of privilege and respect,” “equal participant[s]” in the “benefits of salvation in Christ.”[8]

Dr. Outlaw reminds us of two truths: First, in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thus, there is “great freedom which has united races, classes, and sexes in Christ.” Second God has instituted “mutual roles and responsibilities” for men and women. Their “God-ordained” roles “were established in creation itself.”[9]

Dr. Outlaw says, “In today’s society Christian women have much wisdom that can benefit the church, and Paul’s instructions would certainly not forbid hearing the advice of wise female counsel, providing that it is given under the right circumstances. Similar instructions are given by this same apostle to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34, 35).”[10] Dr. Outlaw says that, while some “have felt that this command should be taken absolutely” and forbade women any teaching position, it “seems obvious that Paul’s second phrase is intended to define and qualify his first command.” This interpretation sees the language in 1 Timothy 2:12 as in line with “the normal patterns of parallelism where a second phrase both explains and expands upon the first phrase. It seems certain that that is what we have here. . . .”.[11]

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[1]Douglas Moo, in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 181. Access to this book can be gained free at https://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/RBMW.pdf.

[2]Sam Storms, “Ten Things You Should Know about 1 Timothy 2:11 – 15 and the Relationship between Men and Women in the Local Church,” Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (May 10, 2017), https://cbmw.org/2017/05/10/jbmw-21-2-ten-things-you-should-know-about-1-timothy-211-15-and-the-relationship-between-men-and-women-in-the-local-church/#_ftn6; Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than 100 Disputed Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 313; Henry Scott Baldwin, “An Important Word: Authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 39-52.

[3] W. Stanley Outlaw, “1 Timothy,” in 1 Thessalonians through Philemon. Randall House Bible Commentary, ed. Robert E. Picirilli (Nashville: Randall House, 1990), 209.

[4] Outlaw, 209-210.

[5]Robert E. Picirilli, 1, 2 Corinthians. Randall House Bible Commentary, ed. Robert E. Picirilli (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 208.

[6] Picirilli, 208.

[7] Picirilli, 210.

[8] Outlaw, 209.

[9] Outlaw, 209.

[10] Outlaw, 210.

[11] Outlaw, 210.

2 Comments

  1. Dr. Pinson has adequately presented the position with textual clarifications. I do think the “silence” texts need further consideration. DDwyer

  2. This raises another Ques, concerning Ch 3. Does elder refer to all clergy or is it specificly to the overseer,[Bishop, senior pastor] leaving room for women to be set aside as “exhorters” missionaries, children’s ministers, etc.? Some churches make this distinction& I am told Wesley did

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