A Woman's Place in Christ

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But we cannot divorce the counsel given here from what we find in other parts of Scripture. Elsewhere Paul mentions "women who labored with [him] in the gospel" (Phil. 4:3) and others, such as Priscilla and Phoebe, whom he recognizes as teachers and deaconesses (see Acts 18:26; Rom. 16:1,3,12). So he can't be saying that women are to have no input regarding spiritual matters in the church.

In fact, let me begin by addressing verses 11-12: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." These verses are commonly interpreted to mean that a woman is permitted to teach only other women; in particular, older women may teach younger ones, as Titus 2:4-5 suggests.

But if this is true, it is true only in the United States. As soon as a woman goes abroad as a missionary, she is allowed--even expected--to teach, and not just other women.

And what happens if she becomes a writer? We put no sign at the top of her articles warning men not to read them--"Caution: This article was written by a woman and could be hazardous to your spiritual health."

So why the dichotomy? Because the word "silence" is mistranslated in verses 11-12. The same word is translated "quiet" in a preceding verse (v. 2): "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life."

You can't take the word that is used in verse 2 to mean one thing and then claim it means something totally different in verses 11-12. And the two translations of the word are not interchangeable. It wouldn't make sense for Paul to tell Timothy to pray that those in authority would take away the right to speak so that he could live a "silent" life, a life in which he never got to say anything.

What he is telling him, on the contrary, is to pray that he'll have the kind of government that will allow his life to have a serene quality about it--a sense of peaceableness. In the same way, when Paul says let a woman learn in "silence" (really, "quiet") he is making an appeal that has to do with the dynamics of male-female relationships in general. He is calling for peace between the genders in a church setting.

And women are to learn not only in a spirit of serenity, according to Paul, but also "with all submission." Some people take the word "submission" to mean "subjection." Subjection, or subjugation, is the term that defined the action of the ancient emperors when they would overwhelm an enemy and bring them under dominion. "Submission" is not even a remotely similar concept.

In real life, this erroneous idea of submission would give us a picture of a wife who just keeps her mouth shut, no matter what her husband does or says. She would just bite her lip and wait for him to ask her, "Well, my dear, do you have anything to offer? It's difficult to imagine you would, considering that I am primary in the purposes and mind of God and you are only secondary. But go ahead."

A more valid understanding of submission shows a wife who says what she thinks in a very simple and open--not insistent or demanding--way, with a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Pet. 3:4). Then she trusts God to help her husband understand the value of partnership--to see that he and his wife are co-heirs in the life of God (see Rom. 8:16-17)--and respond appropriately.

Serenity and submission are not characterized by misty-eyed pacifism, but by the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace and so on. A woman is not to insist on her rights; yet she should be free to express herself in a gracious way as she feels led. If her husband does not receive what she says, she must look to the Lord to take up her cause.

Suffer Not a Woman to Teach If you look at verse 12 of 1 Timothy in the context of the whole Bible, you will see that Paul couldn't be prohibiting women from teaching, or even from teaching men. If he were, why would he give rules in another epistle for women to follow when they are prophesying? (See 1 Cor. 11:5.)

In that epistle, he is referring to prophetic utterances given in the midst of an entire congregation--one that includes men. And we know that prophecy can come by itself, or it can accompany either preaching or teaching. Therefore, Paul allows for the possibility of women speaking in church in the capacity of teacher.

The problem with this verse is similar to the one we found in verse 11: The Greek word translated here as "man"--anair--actually means "husband." So what Paul is really saying is that he doesn't allow women to push their husbands around, to try to seize their authority. He is addressing the natural tendency that women have had, since the fall, to clutch for the rule, or authority, that their husbands have been given over them (see Gen. 3:16).

You see, God did in fact give husbands authority over their wives; He made them head over their wives as Christ is head of the church (see Eph. 5:23). But this authority is not for the purpose of quenching women into nothingness; rather, it is for husbands to act as releasing agents, doing everything possible to maximize their wives' potential and bring them into the highest possibilities of their created beings.

God's initial plan, of course, was for men and women to be equal. That's the way it can be in Christ, if men and women will submit to the redemptive process God has ordained. The redemptive process requires that the husband take leadership and the wife submit (see Eph. 5:22-24).

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