1 Timothy 2:11-3:13
Truth be told, this is not the first time I have addressed what the Bible says about the role of women in leadership, but it is the first time since I was called by the elders and congregation of Meadowbrooke to serve as your pastor. To my knowledge, this is the third time in my 19 years serving as a teaching pastor that I addressed the role of women in ministry, and for the most part, what I believe the Bible says about women in ministry has not changed all that much; not because I am stuck in my ways, but because of the language and context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as it relates to 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
What I hope to do with the time that I have with you this morning is address four questions. Just so you know, I do not plan on spending a whole lot of time answering the first three questions because I believe the fourth question is the most important question of the four:
- What is the big deal with 1 Timothy 2:11-3:13 and why does it matter?
- Why am I willing to address a controversial subject like the role of women in leadership roles in the church?
- What are the three ways Christians have read and understood 1 Timothy 2:11-3:13?
- What does the Bible really say about the role of women in ministry?
The big deal with 1 Timothy 2:11-3:13 really has to do with what the apostle Paul meant by what he wrote in verses 11-12, which states: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a many, rather, she is to remain quite.”
There are three views regarding the role of women in the church:
- The Hierarchical view. This view teaches that women should only teach other women and children, but never men. According to the hierarchical view, women cannot be elders, deacons, serve communion, teach men, lead worship, or speak in a church service.
- The Egalitarian view. This view is the opposite of the hierarchical view and teaches that men and women are completely equal partners in every aspect of ministry. According to this view, all ministries and offices in the church are open to all qualified persons regardless of gender.
- The Complementarian view. This is the view that all church ministries are open to qualified men and women with the exception of the role of pastor-elder; qualified women can serve as deaconesses, teachers, worship leaders, full-time staff, and serve communion.
I said in the first sermon of this series that there are two ways to categorize the various teachings of the Bible. There are “primary issues” (what I also label as “Gospel issues”). A “primary issue” is something that is taught in the Bible that is so important that if proven false, it would call into question the legitimacy of Christian faith and the reliability of the Bible (i.e. the virgin birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus). Primary issues are those doctrines that you must believe to remain orthodox in our faith.
Everything that is not a “primary issue” is a “secondary issue.” Secondary issues are those things taught in the Bible that you believe to be true, but if shown that you are wrong, it will not wreck your faith. When it comes to secondary issues, there is room for disagreement without the need for breaking fellowship over such issues because secondary issues are not primary issues. While I believe that there is room for disagreement on secondary issues, I do not think that it is responsible or right to remain agnostic concerning such issues.
Because the Bible addresses secondary issues, we must seek to understand the truth of God’s word concerning such issues and hold on to the clear teaching of God’s word on such things. What the Bible teaches concerning women in church leadership is important, and I believe it is clear, but it is a secondary issue. Now, in categorizing the role of women in church leadership as a secondary issue, I want you to understand that Paul’s instruction to Timothy on the function of the role of men and women in leadership is motivated by a primary issue. So, now that I addressed the first three questions, we can focus the remainder of our time on the fourth question, which is: “What does the Bible say?”
Why did Paul Write 1 Timothy?
Timothy was Paul’s spiritual son in the faith and was called to serve as the pastor of the church in Ephesus after Paul spent three years in the city planting the church. Ephesus was a city whose economy depended on trade. It was frequently visited by people wishing to see and experience one of the seven wonders of the world of their day known as the Temple of Artemis/Diana.
The origins of Ephesus were tied to a mythological queen of the Amazon women, known as Ephos. The Amazons were considered to be female warriors; some depictions of them were part of the decorative art in the Temple of Artemis/Diana. The Amazons were portrayed as superior to men. The worship in the temple included temple prostitutes, and the worship experience involved demonic possession of the priests, priestesses, and those worshiping at the temple. Commercial trade, manufacturing, and making and selling of religious icons all centered on Diana. Needless to say, the church in Ephesus existed in a culture where the worship of Diana affected the way women and men were treated and understood.
When Paul brought the gospel of Jesus Christ into Ephesus, he brought a message that was countercultural to the lifestyle and religious practices of Ephesus. The people Timothy found himself serving as a pastor were people saved out of the demonic darkness of that city, but not everyone in the church belonged there. When Paul left Ephesus after three years of pastoral ministry he met with the elders of the church and warned them: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28–30). Regarding the purpose of his letter, Paul tells Timothy: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
Because the church is called to be a pillar and buttress of truth, Paul was especially concerned about the kind of false teaching he warned the elders of the church would arise, “speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30). So, throughout his letter to Timothy, he warned of the danger of false teaching and bad doctrine that threatened the church. At the beginning of his letter, Paul instructs, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith”(1 Tim. 1:3–4; see also vv. 18-20; 4:1-5). And in conclusion to his letter, encourages the young pastor, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20–21).
What is the Point of 1 Timothy 2:11-15?
What does Paul mean by instructing Timothy concerning the women in his church: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet.” (vv. 11-12)? How do you reconcile these two verses with the rest of the Bible? If Paul is telling us that women cannot teach men, why did he allow Miriam to lead his people in worship and to serve as a prophetess before his people (see Exod. 15)? What do you do with Deborah who served as both a Judge and a prophetess over both men and women in Israel (Judges 4-5)? Why was it okay for King Josiah who wanted to obey what he read in Deuteronomy to seek the counsel of Huldah the prophetess, and why was it okay for her to speak on behalf of Yahweh to a male priest and the men he was with (2 Kings 22:8-20)? Also, in Micah 6:4, Miriam is listed with Moses and Aaron as the three leaders sent to Israel by God as an example of his faithfulness and Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness.
What about what we read in the New Testament? If Paul was telling Timothy that women were not to teach men in the church, then how do you reconcile 1 Timothy 2:11-12 with Peter’s sermon on the day the Church was birthed and his quote of Joel from the Old Testament? Listen to the prophesy Peter said had been fulfilled the same day they received the promise of the Holy Spirit:
Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:14–18).
You may say, “Well that is talking about the end-times when things will be different.” Oh really? So, I ask you then, what do you do with Philip, the deacon, whose four daughters prophesied in Paul’s presence (see Acts 21:7-9)? What do you do with Paul’s instruction for the way a wife should prophesy while in public (1 Cor. 11:5; see also 14:1-5)? If women are not to instruct men, why did Aquila and Priscilla (a husband-and-wife couple) pull Apollos aside to correct him regarding something he taught (see Acts 18:24-26), and why didn’t Priscilla keep her mouth shut and just let her husband correct Apollos?
If women are not to instruct men, why was Mary Magdalene allowed to witness the resurrected Jesus first and why did he tell her tell her, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:11-18)? When Jesus commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20), are women only permitted to teach women and children to observe all that he commanded?
This is why it is so important to read scripture within its historical and grammatical context. To pull verses like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 out to make a point without considering the overall point Paul is making is irresponsible and dangerous. So, what is it that Paul is saying in these verses then? Look at the connecting word in verses 13-15; Paul uses the word “For” which serve to clue us in to the point of the verses that precede it: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:13–15).
To help you hear what Paul is saying to Timothy, consider what it was that Adam did not do while he stood next to Eve as she entertained the lies of the serpent. Eve was deceived by the false teaching of the serpent when Adam should have intervened by correcting the serpent’s dangerous doctrine. You see, while Eve was deceived, Adam understood that the serpent was teaching Eve something God did not say. Adam heard from the voice of God, yet he decided to eat the fruit God said would cause death anyway.
In Genesis 1:26-27, we learn that both Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. God not only created Adam and Eve as male and female, but he created them equal as image bearers of God, but different. Eve was not created first, but instead it was Adam who was first created. After God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, the Bible says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In other words, God created Adam as one uniquely called to protect and provide(these are very important words).
We further learn from Genesis that as Adam managed the garden by naming the animals, he found he had no helper fit for him. So, Genesis 2:21-24 states God’s response:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
When we consider this passage along with the one found in 1:28, which is the command to be fruitful, we discover that while Adam was by design called to be the protector and provider of his family, Eve was called to be the life-giver and helper of her family. It is not that either of them was better than the other, but that they were created to serve each other in different ways: Male as provider and protector, and Eve as life-giver and helper (nurturer).
Men and women are created as equals, but also very different by design. Adam and Eve were designed to complement each other as God intended design within the institution of marriage. The other reason why Paul uses Adam and Eve in these verses is because marriage is also a microcosm of God’s intended design of the Church.
Where are All the Women Pastors?
Now that you understand why Paul used Adam and Eve’s story to set up what he wrote in chapter 3, I can answer the question regarding women in leadership. The role of overseers is synonymous with elders. I also believe that the role of overseer and elder includes the role of the person called to the preaching and teaching ministry within the local church, primarily because of what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” In other words, there is an elder or elders set aside to labor in preaching and teaching as a shepherd and overseer within the local church.
What is also important to note is that overseers are not the only individuals spiritually called or gifted to teach the scriptures. Every Christian is gifted with talents and spiritual gifts to, “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). The overseer is an office in the church held by called individuals who meet a list of qualifications related to their character and spiritual maturity who serve the church by providing, guarding, and protecting sound doctrine. The language used in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is gender exclusive to men not because women are incompetent, too emotional, or inferior, but by design. In his letter to Titus (another pastoral epistle), Paul includes in the responsibility of the overseer that he, “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, we discover that unlike the role of overseer, the role of deacon is gender neutral. The word “deacon” literally means “servant” and it can be used to describe either a man or a woman. Deacons are the life-giving nurturers in the Church. The deacon provides the hands-on care to the family of God. If you are reading from an ESV, KJV, or a NKJV you need to understand that 1 Timothy 3:11 is an example where the bias of the translators is imposed on the text. The word for wife is the Greek word, gynē which can also be translated, “woman.” The same word used in 1 Timothy 2:11 is the same exact word used in 3:11 (it is not even in the genitive). The NASB and the NIV get it right in the translations: “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Timothy 3:11, NIV).
Paul’s life was seasoned with godly women who often made his ministry possible, one such person was Phoebe of whom Paul wrote: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [diakonos] of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well”(Romans 16:1-2).
So, when it comes to the office of overseer, I do not believe that the Scripture leaves any room for a woman to serve in that role, not because she is incapable, but because of design; this applies to the one who has been set aside for the regular preaching and teaching ministry within the local church. This does not mean that under the oversight of the Elders (overseers), a woman cannot teach, lead worship, evangelize, or even preach where men are present so long as she serves under the protective guidance and oversight of a plurality of biblically qualified men who serve as overseers/elders.
Consider the following points and what I think is important for you to walk away with from this sermon:
- God has created us as equals as His image bearers. As men and women, we both bring unique qualities to the Church that are God-given that transcend culture.
- As men and women, we bring our unique giftedness to the Church and each and every single Christian in this room makes up a part of the Church body as a whole, and every single female and male follower of Christ is important to the health of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-20).
- We should not look at the different offices of the church in terms of status, but in terms of service, service according to God’s plan and pattern. The moment we begin to think of an overseer, deacon/deaconess, youth pastor, Life Group leader, or any other role in the church as positions of status instead of places of service we have missed the point of what it means to serve Jesus.
 Elders and Overseers are used to describe shepherds in Acts 20:17, 28.