Should Women Teach in Church?


How has the Megiddo Message changed since the days of Kenneth Flowerday [pastor, 1958-1985]! When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy with these instructions: ‘I suffer [not] a woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man but to be in silence…,’ he was not contradicting his own words in (Gal.) saying there is neither male nor female in Christ. Paul did not suffer this for 2 reasons: ‘For Adam was first formed then Eve, and the woman being deceived was in the trespass.’ For God made the woman not to teach the man, but rather to learn of him. Because of this inherent tendency in the woman, it is both unwise and unsafe for her to be allowed to teach anyone other than younger women and anything other than those listed in the 2nd chapter of the letter to Titus.

Increased disregard for this has made itself apparent in many articles of your magazine. What was once a source of warm inspiration and exhortation seems to have become a pulpit for a pedantic schoolmarm. In the increasing number of stories which are centered on young boys and their admonishing mothers, where are the fathers?

This tendency of women to ‘take things over’ is ever increasing in our society and seems to have infected religion as well. But it can never be right or good so long as there are still men and women in the world. The man was not made for the woman, but the woman for the man. Surely this ’turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay.’ I have written to you since you are in the position of responsibility. May your magazine be redirected from the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of self-imposition to the encouraging principles of the New Testament.


I can certainly agree that modern women in their striving for equal rights have many times overstepped reasonable and realistic limits. God designed the two sexes with different built-in capabilities, and certainly there are tasks more appropriate for men, others more appropriate for women ….

However, our discussion here pertains to the role of women in the Church, a topic that has often aroused heated debate.

In many churches, women are barred from church boards and ministry, teaching and preaching, on the grounds that Paul did not permit women to teach (1 Cor. 14:34-36), and that Eve was deceived and became a sinner.

Paul should be good authority, and he spoke very matter-of-factly on the subject. But unfortunately, for us, he did not clearly define all that he said. So, we must use the rest of Scripture to understand him.

And, perhaps, we can not expect this to be easy. Peter, speaking of Paul’s letters said, “there are some things in them hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16, NRSV). Paul was a learned man and well acquainted with the use of symbolic language which he used freely in his epistles. If Peter, a man acquainted personally with Paul and also with the time these letters were written, saw them as hard to understand, we in this age should not be surprised if we find them difficult.

The texts you question are the following:

  1. One is the passage you cite in Galatians 3:27-28: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This passage indicates that there is no discrimination whatsoever and those referred to are baptized believers, those who had “put on Christ.”
  2. Another is his seemingly contradictory statement in 1 Tim. 2:11-12: “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.” Though this statement is made to believers, Paul does not specifically apply it inside or outside the Church.

When talking about the roles of the two sexes within the Church, Paul definitely indicated in the first passage that there was to be no distinction: “neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). And his actual practice, as we shall see later, supports this.

Now, how shall we harmonize this statement with the apparently contradictory passage in 1 Tim. 2:11-12? As I am sure you will agree it is not fair to Paul, or any other Bible author, to take certain statements and ignore others in order to prove a point. So we must be willing to consider other factors. First, Paul addressed his letters to the various churches, sometimes to individuals. When reading them, we should remember that we are hearing only one side: Paul’s reply. We do not always know everything we would wish to know about the other side, i.e., the problem Paul is addressing. We should keep this in mind while studying Paul’s letters.

Second, it may be helpful to understand something about the customs of the time. During the time Paul lived, prejudices were rife, especially against the Gentiles and women. About this period of time William Barclay has written:

“In the Greek world Sophocles had said, ‘Silence confers grace upon a woman.’ Women, unless they were very poor or very loose in their morals, led a very secluded life in Greece. The Jews had an even lower idea of women. Amongst the Rabbinic sayings there are many which belittle their place. ‘As to teaching the law to a woman one might as well teach her impiety.’ To teach the law to a woman was ‘to cast pearls before swine.’ The Talmud lists among the plagues of the world ‘the talkative and the inquisitive widow and the virgin who wastes her time in prayers.’ It was even forbidden to speak to a woman on the street. ‘One must not ask a service from a woman, or salute her’ “(William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series).

It is also possible that Paul was addressing a local situation, not stating a universal principle for all time. Paul instructed the women in this Church not to teach because he knew they were at that time not adequately prepared for it–not because they were women but because women in the Jewish society were not given the benefits of instruction that their male counterpart would have had. If they should try to teach when not prepared, the cause of Christ would suffer. By saying that they should learn “quietly and submissively” from their husbands, Paul may actually have been offering them a new and unheard of opportunity.

Another fact was that contemporary Jewish culture dictated that women not confront men publicly. If Christian women should do this, it could cause contention and division in the Church and again, the cause of Christ would suffer. Paul’s purpose, then, was to promote Church unity, not to teach about the role of women as opposed to that of men. A parallel point is the position Paul took on eating meat: “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).

Yet another fact may have bearing upon Paul’s words to the church in Corinth. The Corinthian Church was in a city known for its drunkenness, immorality and debauchery. Mr. Barclay writes of this:

“Above the isthmus toward the hill of the Acropolis, …stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. To that temple there were attached one thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth, until it became a Greek proverb, ‘It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.’ “

If such were the social conditions at the time Paul wrote his letter, doesn’t this suggest why Paul may have requested that women in the Church refrain from certain activities or manners that would make them appear indiscreet or contemptible in the eyes of the people of the time? His advice may not have been because such activities were wrong but because of the possible effect on those outside the Church. Along the same line he wrote to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:22), “Abstain from every form of evil.”

This thought may apply also to the passage you question. It was not because it was wrong for a woman to speak in Church, but an outsider coming in would have thought the Church no better than the Aphrodite temple.

The General Teaching of the Bible

The general teaching of Scripture never implies that only men should teach. We have no examples where a woman was removed from a position of teaching because she was a woman. On the contrary we have these definite principles:

  1. God is no respecter of persons (see Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; Jas. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:17). He does not respect nationality, color, race or any physical quality–how then could He discriminate against anyone because of sex? Is not all His creation by His design and pur­pose?
  2. Paul again speaks on the subject in Col. 3:11. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (NIV). Notice that the last statement “Christ is all and is in all,” is all inclusive.
  3. Paul says again, in the passage quoted earlier, that in Christ there is neither “Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Being “in Christ” or Christ being “in you” are terms indicating “likeminded” with Christ. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:14, NIV). Christ said the same thing a little differently:

“…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one…”(John 17:22-23).

You mentioned 1 Tim. 2:13-14, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Can we be sure Paul is pointing out what you call “an inherent tendency in the woman”? Whatever we conclude from the Genesis event, Adam was fully as much a sinner as Eve. What is the difference in his position before God because he sinned second instead of first? The literal story would seem to add nothing to Paul’s argument if he is using it to establish a difference between the ability of the two sexes to serve in the Church.

And according to the Scriptures the man shares this “inherent tendency” to sin just as much as the woman.

“The heart [no distinction for man or woman] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jer. 17:9).

The word “man” is used in the preceding verses and does not seem to change in gender before this statement. The word “man” (literally, Adam) includes both male and female (see Genesis 5:2). If not, then we see in this verse that the male’s heart is desperately wicked, not the female’s.

(One more point: If we admit that the word “man” is in many instances in Scripture used as a generic term for the human race, including male and female, then we must also admit that many passages speaking of “men” working in spreading the Gospel also include women.)

You say in your letter that “God made the woman not to teach the man, but rather to learn of him.” Though I am sure that you would allow that many factors enter into one’s being qualified to teach besides one’s sex. Certainly a poorly trained, compromising, easily swayed man (of whom there have been and are many) would not be nearly as good a teacher as a well-instructed, strongly disciplined and fully committed woman.

In the case of Timothy, Paul certainly implies that he had been taught by his mother and grandmother. He mentions specifically the sincere faith of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and also his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). There is no mention of either his Greek father or grandfather having taught Timothy. Therefore, it seems a logical sequence that Timothy owed his knowledge of the Scriptures to his maternal parent and grandparent.

Men and Women Witness for God

If Paul literally meant for women to keep silent and never to teach or exercise authority over males, then why do we find women giving voice to the words of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament?

Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel. Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided (Judges 4:4-5). She usurped authority over Barak, Israel’s military leader, who went to war against Sisera, the king of Canaan, on condition that Deborah go with him (Judges 4:6, 8-9).

Huldah was a prophetess in Israel. She must have been well known in Jerusalem because King Josiah sent five men, the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Michaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asahiah to Huldah to inquire of the Lord. Notice that Huldah held authority even over the priest in religious matters. Men, even the king, held her in high regard. Notice also that the king did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Ki. 22:2, 12-20; 2 Chron. 34:23-28).

In Acts we find four daughters of Philip who were prophetesses. “On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9). They had no husbands. From whom did they ask for their knowledge?

Paul commended Priscilla and Aquila as his helpers in Christ (Rom 16:13), and they were said to have instructed Apollos, whose preaching was deficient (he knew only the baptism of John–Acts 18:24-26). They–Aquila and Priscilla–took him aside and instructed him; and from anything we can read, Priscilla was not condemned for being in on this teaching of a man.

Phoebe was a deacon of the Church in Cenchrea. The apostle Paul held her in high regards: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchrea, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well “(Rom. 16:1-2, NRSV). The term “deacon” is derived from the Greek word diakonos. Paul referred to himself as a deacon or minister [diakonos] of the Gospel (Col. 1:23). In the New Testament, the noun is used to refer to ministers of the Gospel, ministers of Christ (1 Tim. 4:6). “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant [diakonos] of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed”(NRSV). It stands for servants of God (2 Cor. 6:4, NIV, NRSV), those who follow Jesus (John 12:26), and in many other similar ways (see Holman Bible Dictionary).

Paul made special mention of a woman named Mary, “who labored much for us” (Rom. 16:6). Junia was a fellowprisoner. “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7). It seems that Junia was well respected by the Apostles, a woman of note, likely for her steadfast zeal in spreading the Gospel, even to the point that she was imprisoned.

In Romans 16:15, Paul mentions Julia and the sister of Nereus. “Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”

Just before the day of Pentecost we read about women followers of Christ assembled with the men. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). And to the best of our knowledge it was to this same group that the Holy Spirit power was given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). This means that both men and women received power. If women were to remain silent, why did God give them the gift of prophecy that they should speak to the nations? It was God’s doings that both men and women prophesied. Both men and women had received the Holy Spirit and were prophesying to people from many different places and languages.

Peter also quoted Joel’s prophecy for the future, and it specifically says that women will be speaking by the power of God: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy”(Acts 2:17-18, NRSV).

Paul said definitely that women in the Corinthian Church prayed and spoke publicly, and gave instructions on how it should be done properly (1 Cor. 11:5-6).

We hear Anna prophesying when the infant Jesus was taken to Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph to present Him to the Lord. “One, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel… coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36, 38).

Who did the angel, and shortly afterward, Christ Himself, send to bear the news of His resurrection to the Apostles? It was none other than “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matt. 28:1-10), two women that were not to keep silent. Their mission was clear: “Go quickly and tell his disciples… “–these women were told by an angel to instruct men.

Paul entreats others to help certain women who labored with him in the Gospel. We are not told exactly what their role was, but could it not have been in preaching or teaching the Gospel as did Paul? “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:3).

You mention the tendency of women to “take things over.” I cannot find any statement where Paul recognized this as a “tendency of women” or warned against it.

It was mentioned earlier that we need to understand something about the times these Scriptures were written to fully understand what was being said. We have seen several occasions where women did take an active role and were approved of God. I am very certain that the Gospel did not mention every incidence. Nor do we need examples of every incidence to show that women do have equal authority with men. During such times as when Paul lived it must have taken a very brave, strong and determined woman (or man) to go forth teaching the Gospel. Even some of the men did not fare so well. At such a time it seems only natural that men would do the preaching and teaching, particularly to the outside world, both because they were physically stronger and also, perhaps because the Christian message would be better accepted from men than from women in a culture where preaching was considered inappropriate for women.

But what is to keep the dedicated, well-instructed and committed woman from taking an active role in the Church today–except prejudice against her by the male counterpart?

Suppose some men stood in the way of the women that received Holy Spirit power on the day of Pentecost, or the ones Jesus commissioned to “go tell.” Would they not be standing against the will and work of God Himself? If we have women who are knowledgeable of the Gospel today, have we any right to prevent them from speaking? Do we have any Biblical basis for preventing any godly one–man or woman–from speaking the Word of God?

The few isolated texts that appear to forbid women from taking an active role in Church leadership must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and the context of the time in which they were written.

You mention that we have published stories about young boys and theft admonishing mothers, then you ask where are the fathers? After reviewing the stories published since the first of 1996, I would have to conclude that there is a good. balance. I see stories about mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and fathers and daughters. The father seems to be represented in most of these stories. In some, the mother has a dominant role, but if a story is published that was written in the previous century when it wasn’t necessary for both parents to work, is it not entirely possible that the mother spent the dominant amount of time with the children?

In conclusion we feel confident that Paul did not intend for those learned in the word and ways of God, whether men or women, to remain silent on matters pertaining to faith, salvation and godly living.