Should women be silent in Church? Many Christians get this idea when they read 1 Timothy 2:12-13. It seems like Paul is sending a very direct message. And that message is a command for women not to speak in Church. As our culture struggles with new gender norms, this passage is seen as outdated and misogynistic. But does Paul’s command extend to Christian believers today?
We know from other verses of scripture that Paul gave direction to women to both pray and prophesy in Church (1 Corinthians 11:5). So how do we make sense of this seemingly harsh restriction against women? First, let’s take a look at the verse itself so we get a clear picture of what’s at issue here.
12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
One important aspect of making sense of any verse in the Bible is understanding who that particular verse was written for. We as Christians are often guilty of claiming promises that are made to other people groups in the Bible. And while there are timeless truths and commands in the Bible, there are also situation specific commands that exist.
Specific vs. Universal Commands
These verses from 1 Timothy are addressing a specific situation in a specific Church at certain time in history. It is not a broad command for all women at all times. There are several factors in play here.
First, notice the use of “a woman” in verse 12. Paul could have said “any” or “all”, but he chose to use the phrase “a woman”. Had Paul used one the other words I mentioned, then any man would have authority over any woman, even another man’s wife. This is clearly not what is in play here.
Second, 1 Timothy was written to believers in Ephesus. Ephesus was home to a large pagan cult dedicated to the god Artemis. The group had a matriarchal priesthood that exercised authoritarian power over the males in the congregation.
Lastly, the women in this culture were largely uneducated in general, and in scripture specifically. We should always strive to make sure our teachers are giving correct interpretations of Scripture. And far from restricting women from learning, Paul admonishes the patriarchy over keeping women from learning.
The reference to Eve being deceived is a failure on the man’s part. It shows how crucial it is for women to be included in the learning. Every believer regardless of gender should be taught extensively so they do not fall victim to false ideas or beliefs. Those who are not learned in these things should be willing to listen attentively to teachers, and not be disruptive during the teaching. And that is the essence of what is being communicated in this verse.
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