Whose Voice Should Be Heard? Another Look At 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Neal Pollard

Paul averred that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NIV). Its source is God. Its value is exhaustive.  Its result is practical.  That is how the all-wise God intended it.

In the first letter to Timothy, Paul gives his thesis statement that all he wrote in the epistle was to give the young preacher knowledge of how the church was to conduct itself in various matters (1 Tim. 3:15).  One of several matters addressed in the letter was what role Christian women were to take in “the household of God” (the church) in matters of teaching and leadership.  We read about that in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  Here is what we find:

  • The Christian woman must receive instruction with entire submissiveness (11).
  • The Christian woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man (12).
  • The Christian woman is to remain quiet (12).
  • There are biblical reasons for this, reasons that go all the way back to creation (13-14).
    • The order of creation (13)
    • The deception of the woman (14)
  • The Christian woman has an honored role to help the church thrive and grow (15).

What is remarkable is the lack of ambiguity regarding this teaching.  It is clear and straightforward.  No cultural issues or problems are stated to occasion these words.  One does not find contradictory instruction in another New Testament context to offset or clarify the words here. Perhaps it is the straightforwardness of the words that have chaffed many who appear desirous of bending truth to fit the culture.  Such bending is not limited to this issue, but as the culture regresses from truth more and more matters are getting reexamined in order to change truth to fit the culture.

We must understand that all such efforts, in effect, place human beings as the authority in place of God and Scripture.  It causes people to say, “You have read this, but I say unto you.”  The problem is that it is not our place to say that Scripture does not mean what it says.  That authority belongs to Christ, and He exerts that authority through the men who wrote down His will in the New Testament.  It is His voice and their voices that need to be heard.  Whoever they say should teach and lead is whose voices need to be heard.  Any other voice is speaking without the utterance of God (1 Pet. 4:11).

17 thoughts on “Whose Voice Should Be Heard? Another Look At 1 Timothy 2:11-15

  1. ole olsen

    Neal… Thank you for this timely message, as the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin Tennessee has recently hired a young lady named Lauren King as a “preaching minister.” She was quoted as saying,”Jesus is calling us to change.” However, Jesus doesn’t call us to change… He calls us to obey Him, and His written Word! We must stay “Inside of scripture”, in all things!

  2. Searching for truth

    What you have said here goes right along with what I’ve heard my whole life but as this issue has risen in many congregations recently I’ve heard a question I never thought of. How do we distinguish longterm commands from cultural commands? A couple verses before the ‘women’s roles’ verses, there are verses that we read as cultural dealing with what women wear, their hairstyles, and their jewelry. I’m not a Greek scholar or anything but I was wondering where is the definitive line?

    1. Lynn Burgess

      From my personal studies and reading multiple ideas on the subject you raise in your question, it appears that Paul is warning women to not come to worship for the reason of showing how affluent they are with jewelry and expensive hairdos. Also, there was a trend for women to dress and cut their hair like men so they would get more respect than they would as a woman. Something to remember is that Paul was writing to Gentiles that had become Christians and they were trying to combine their own religious practices with the Christian worship. This is not cultural. People all over the world are still mixing what they desire in worship with the pure teachings on worship in the bible. The Holy Spirit ensured that the teachings in the New Testament would apply to mankind for as long as necessary. It is up to us to pull the meaning out and not fall into the trap of picking and choosing which scriptures apply to yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

      1. Thank you for weighing in, Lynn. What Paul positively calls for is “modesty” and “discretion.” His application for these women was the extravagances you mention. Principally, she could be guilty today–either by showing affluence or doing anything that accentuated her outward rather than inward person. Much of what you mention, however, I cannot find in the text. What we do have, however, is Paul’s simple instruction. It is unambiguous and straightforward. This is no way demeans her worth or value to the kingdom, anymore than it does for every member who is in subjection to the eldership. Christ, whose church it is, has the right to distinguish and define roles. What He desires is that all of us do within the sphere of work He gives us the very best we can to grow His church and reach a very lost world. Thanks for not only reading, but taking the time to write. I appreciate your apparent love of the Lord and His will. God bless.

    2. To “Searching For Truth”:
      Sometimes it can be difficult. Regarding this passage, however, here’s a clear line for us. Paul leaves the culture of that day and goes back to a different culture and time to support his command, referring to Adam and Eve in the next few verses. Regarding context, you have a specific situation where culture may have differed but which contains a timeless principle as well. Paul has a “she should do this” and “should not do this” approach. His call in those verses (9-10) is for modesty and discretion. He gives a specific application for their circumstances, but it does not negate modesty and discretion. There is a continuous flow here that is timeless. Those Christian women at Ephesus emphasized their outward person through excess and extravagance. That would be as wrong today. You’ll notice Paul sets this at contrast with those inward qualities she was to emphasize (cf. 1 Pt. 3:3-4).

  3. Yes Sir thank you for not shying away from what is the truth from our loving Savior, the Chief Corner stone His words His church. Very black and white, as with anything spoken with love. God Bless

  4. Nick

    This post left me just feeling sad. A message of “Women in Church need to sit down and be quiet” is just not right. Your blog post used proof texting to support a traditional stance on the role of women in the Church. You can’t take 2:11-15 as an mandate from God and then choose to not take 2:9 the same way — you either have to take them all as mandate or all as suggestion. 1st and 2nd Timothy were letters from Paul to Timothy and laced with Paul’s opinions on how Christ’s Church should function. Take his liberal use of the word “I” as in “I urge”, “I want”, “I do not permit”. This is very different language than saying “God commands” or “Jesus instructed”. Without Paul’s personal letter to Timothy and only the words of Christ in the gospels you’d be hard pressed to support a stance that suppresses the voice of our Sisters. My wife is a staff minister in the Church of Christ, I stand by her and value her voice as much as I do the voice of the male ministers she works alongside.

    1. Nick, I’m sorry that my post left you feeling sad. I want you to know I never set out to do that to anyone. I believe your desire to be the same as mine–to please our Savior. I’m not sure I can agree with what you say regarding Paul’s use of “I”–whether liberally or sparingly used. Remember 1 Thess. 2:13, where Paul commended the Thessalonians, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” We can’t forget who Paul was–an apostle of Christ. To the very church where Timothy ministered, Paul writes, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” If you and I opine and speculate, we can be dismissed. The same is not true of Paul and the other N.T. writers.
      As to the flow of context, you are right that we cannot pick and choose. What you see in verses 9-10 is a principle with a specific application. The principle, timeless in nature, is “modesty” and “discretion.” The specific area of concern is what he mentions there. Verses 11-15 go beyond the Ephesian, 1st-Century Gentile culture. Paul takes the readers all the way back to Creation–a different time and place. What we must ever avoid to do is to try and pit one passage or N.T. writer against another. To do so, it seems, is to misunderstand both the author and the intent of Scripture. The Holy Spirit moved men to write what they did. If the Bible was written independent of His work and influence, I’m not sure why we’d want to believe or follow any of it. I hope you know I love and admire your whole family, brother. Again, I’m sorry to have saddened you by what I wrote. God bless you as you see to follow Him.

  5. Mark Burgess

    One of many questions is answered in the phrase,”I(Paul) do not allow a woman to userp authority over a man. The man is not alone in the decision of who is userping that authority. If the men do not see it as over-riding their authority and yet it praises and serves God, there shouldnt be a problem. The women in the bible who took the lead did so because men would not or could not. Its like the jewelry and hair issue. Is it an issue? Does it cause some to stumble? Does your conscience argue with you? Then prayer and the word must override opinion and current trends.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Mark. Unfortunately, the King James does a disservice with its translation of αὐθεντέω as “usurp.” Other versions say “exercise” (NAS), “have” (NIV, NKJ). The word literally means “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (BDAG) or “to control in a domineering manner” (Louw/Nida). Man has no right of himself to grant or forbid. God is the one who is giving the instructions here. Anytime we have a command given, it becomes an issue for us. We are not at liberty to permit or change what the Lord, through His apostles and prophets, have “tied down” in Scripture. I appreciate you taking the time to read the blog. I hope your day is a blessed one.

  6. ok, so my question is more of a fire pit type, meaning one that may or may not have an actual answer, but out of curiosity, what if by chance a group of women formed a church of Christ. We’ve seen many times throughout history, where women are alone in their village/town, either due to war, or something of that nature. But let’s say that they take it upon themselves to form a congregation, following the NT to the “t”. And then one day, a man shows up, knowing nothing about the Word, but yearning to learn. What happens then? If we say that Paul’s word of a woman not having authority in worship over men, is unquestionable, then are they allowed to teach and preach to him?

    I hope you get a chance to answer the question… As a student at SIBI in Lubbock, I have many questions, that would probably take way to much time out of class.

    Thank you for your work

    1. Hi, there. Assuming that one is not a Christian man, I think we see biblical precedence for her/them to teach him (see Aquila and Priscilla with Apollos, as “they” taught him). We remember that the purpose statement of this first letter to Timothy is 3:15. That non-Christian man is not part of the “household of God.” I hope that’s helpful and satisfactory. If not, let me know. God bless your efforts to study and grow.

      1. That’s pretty much the conclusion that I had as well. I’ve had this discussion before, and it mostly ended the same way, but I had friend pose this question afterward, ” so once he becomes a Christian, does he step up to lead, become an elder/deacon/preacher, or does he stay just a member? Bc we aren’t all called to be that type of leader.”…

      2. This happened in a small church in Slavyanagorsk, Ukraine. They coped as well as they could until he grew and a Christian man from an area church came to help. So it does happen.

  7. Pingback: Friday's Family Friendly Finds {February 6, 2015 edition}

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