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Part 1: Setting the Stage

 
 

The Bible makes some rather unsettling statements, such as the one in Psalm 137:9, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” [1]; or perhaps what Jesus says in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” But there is another unsettling statement that deserves more attention right now, because it has become a major point of contention in the current evangelical world. It comes from 1 Timothy 2:12, where the apostle Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul seems to forbid women from ever teaching or exercising authority over men, and this has raised concern in our culture about the Bible’s position on equal rights for women.

Many Christians agree; it just sounds too dehumanizing to restrict a woman’s role this way in the church. Recently, some Christians on social media created a firestorm of controversy over whether women are allowed to preach to men in a public worship service. Some think women can. Others are more cautious and think women could, but only under the supervision of male leadership in the church. Still others find it unacceptable under any circumstances. So, does Paul forbidding women to preach to men apply to our churches today or not [2]? The arguments are numerous, and the debate is fierce.

 
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To preach or not to preach, that is the question of our time [3]. But in this article, I want to ask another question that, I believe, gets lost in the discussion: Why does Paul forbid women to preach to men? Yes, we know that Paul said it. Yes, we know that there are many interpretations of it. But have you ever just stopped and asked yourself, “Why would Paul forbid it in the first place?”

I ask this question, because this is the real question everyone is asking. Behind all the rants on Twitter is a deep concern for the vindication of women’s rights. Does Paul hate women? If not, why would he forbid this? That’s what everyone really wants to know. The very reason this verse and its subject is so infamous and controversial is because we haven’t nailed down why Paul forbids it. 

Today, I want to answer that nagging question. I want to pinpoint Paul’s reason for forbidding women to preach to men. But before we get into the reason, I need to let you know what I will not be covering in this article: 

First, I will not lay out a thorough biblical defense for or against women preaching to men. Many have done this and I commend their works to you (see Further Reading below for some good resources). But my goal in this article is to address the biblical and theological reasons Paul forbids women to preach to men. The good news is, once we identify those reasons, we will also discover whether this applies to our churches today. 

Second, I will not get into any applications of what it means that women can or cannot preach to men, such as women counseling men, leading worship, leading a Bible study, etc. This is a great and important topic to discuss, but I do not have the time to give any attention to it in this article. I will only address the subject of women preaching to men within the realm of a public worship service.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into why Paul forbids women to preach to men. To do this, I will start broad and end narrow. In Part 1 of this series, I will set the stage by defining the overarching purpose of 1 Timothy. In Part 2 of this series, I will answer the question by examining 1 Timothy 2:12 in its immediate context. By giving you both the broad scope of the book and the narrow focus of the text, I hope to convey to you the fullest expression of Paul’s reason for forbidding women to preach to men.

THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out the purpose of a book of the Bible. But 1 Timothy is rather unique in that it clearly spells out its purpose at the center of the letter:

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 the truth (1 Timothy 3:14–15).

Paul just finished describing what church ministry should look like in 1 Timothy 1:3 – 3:13, and he’s about to turn his attention to how church ministry should live it out in 1 Timothy 4:6 – 6:19. But he pauses for an intermission between these two acts to define the purpose of the church, which just so happens to be the purpose of the book, as well (1 Timothy 3:14–4:5). It’s not only important for churches to understand what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it, but they also need to know why they should do it. The why gives us motivation to carry out the what and the how. And Paul defines the why, the church’s purpose, by giving it three nicknames in 1 Timothy 3:15:

  1. The House of God

  2. The Church of the Living God

  3. The Pillar and Buttress of the Truth

Each nickname tells us something about the purpose of the church; each one also builds on the one before it, in order to give us one composite picture of that purpose. When all is said and done, the three titles of the church merge to form one mission statement that aims to preserve the truth of the gospel.

1 Timothy 2.12 (02).jpg

1.    THE HOUSE OF GOD

 

It may not surprise you that the church is sometimes called the “House of God.” Christians do this from time to time. But what may surprise you is that this title is rarely applied to the church in your Bible. In fact, this is actually one of only three times throughout Scripture that the New Testament church is called the “House of God.” [4] Our familiarity with this nickname does not so much originate in the New Testament about the church, but rather in the Old Testament about the temple, where the title appears over 75 times! That’s because the church picks up the mantle of the temple in this New Covenant era. What the temple stood for back then is what the church stands for today. So, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What did the temple stand for?”

For starters, the temple stood for God’s presence. When Israel finished construction on both the temple and the tabernacle (a mobile predecessor to the temple), the Bible describes how the glory of the LORD filled each one (1 Kings 8:10–11; Exodus 40:34). The temple was a way for a holy God to engage with a sinful people in a personal relationship. Most Christians stop right here, but there’s more to this story that we need to understand. The temple/tabernacle stood for God’s presence . . . as a reflection of His perfect presence with humanity in the Garden of Eden. We see evidence of this in the style and architecture of the temple and tabernacle themselves. For example, the tabernacle was enclosed by blue and purple curtains with cherubim artwork woven into it to illustrate the color and setting of the sky (Exodus 26:1), and various parts of it was to be furnished with gold and onyx stones to resemble the land surrounding the Garden of Eden (Exodus 25:11 – 26:37; 39:6; cf. Genesis 2:11–12). As another example, Solomon lined the inside walls of the temple with cedar and the floors with cypress (1 Kings 6:15), and he carved cherubim, palm trees, and flowers into the wood (1 Kings 6:29, 32, 35). Solomon designed the temple in such a way that it mirrored the forests of Eden. 

In other words, the Garden of Eden was the first temple. Better yet, the tabernacle and the temple were second and third Gardens of Eden. What this means is that the Garden was the first manifestation of God’s presence. Every iteration that followed, whether it was the tabernacle or the temple, pointed back to the perfection of God’s presence with man in the Garden. The tabernacle and temple, then, served as a visual announcement that paradise was not lost. God has a plan to bring back the hope of paradise and reconcile the broken relationship we have with Him. Therefore, the tabernacle and the temple broadcasted this mantra: We have the answer.

When we fast forward to the New Testament, is it any wonder that Jesus calls Himself “the temple” (John 2:21)? Jesus, being the perfect presence of God with man (Matthew 1:23), signals to the Jews that He is the one who will usher the world back to paradise (1 Timothy 1:1; 6:14–16). He’s not just claiming to have the answer; he’s saying: I am the answer.

And now that we live in an age where the answer has come, the church picks up where Israel left off: We have the answer. But the difference between our message today and Israel’s message back then is that we can now put a name to the answer. Jesus is the answer.

2.    THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD

The church is not only nicknamed the “House of God”; it is also called the “Church of the Living God.” The key word in this title is “living”. Paul wrote to His apprentice in the faith, Timothy, who was the pastor of a congregation in Ephesus. Ephesus was a city located on the west coast of Asia Minor and served as a critical port that connected most of the known world to Rome, the capital of a vast Roman Empire. As a result, Ephesus became a prominent city that featured one of the most luxurious buildings in the western world: The temple of the Roman goddess Diana. [5] The worship of Diana controlled Ephesus’s culture, economy, and entertainment (Acts 19:23–41). But Paul elevates the church above Diana’s temple. He calls it the church of the living God in contrast to an assembly of a dead god, like the temple of Diana (Acts 19:26).

Paul raises the stakes for the church. We not only have the answer; we have the only answer. Nothing else can solve the problems of this world. Sure, many other answers exist. There were Roman and Greek answers back then. There are Muslim and Buddhist answers today. But nothing else besides Jesus Himself will escort the world back to paradise: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is in Christ, and in Christ alone, that the world has any hope of seeing Eden again. The church, then, not only advertises that we have the answer; but it must make it undeniably clear: We have the only answer.

3.    THE PILLAR AND BUTTRESS OF THE TRUTH

Now that the stakes are raised, Paul calls the church to action with his final nickname: It is the “Pillar and Buttress of the Truth.” Once again, a connection to the temple is envisioned by the structural elements of a pillar and a buttress. [6] The church has the answer and it’s the only answer. But the church is the only institution charged with the responsibility to uphold this answer (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). Just as pillars in the temple bear the full weight of the structure, the church of God bears the full weight of the truth of the gospel. If the church fails to uphold it, not only will the entire doctrinal edifice collapse, but hope for the world will disappear as well. It must stand its ground on doctrine; it cannot compromise in any way, because the only truth that can save the world is on the line. 

 
 
 
1 Timothy 2.12 (03).jpg

This puts a premium on the role of the church. Not only is our answer the only answer, but now our institution is the only institution upholding the only answer. What the church does and how it does it is not inconsequential. It must take its mission seriously, because it is the only keeper of the only truth in the world. The church, then, must not only communicate that we have the answer or that we have the only answer, but that we have the only answer worth fighting for.

When we bring everything together, we see that the church is meant to hold out hope for the world. It recognizes the importance of its ministry (we have the answer), the importance of its message (we have the only answer), and the importance of its mission (we have the only answer worth fighting for). These principles create for us a composite that impresses upon the church the gravity of preserving the truth of the gospel. There is no other truth and there is no other institution. The church must take a stand for the gospel.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO 1 TIMOTHY 2:12?

But the question remains: How does any of this relate to forbidding women to preach to men? That’s a question that I will answer more fully in Part 2 of this series. But I will leave you with this: Preserving the truth of the gospel begins with our conduct. Notice why Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15 says he’s writing this letter, “I am writing these things to you so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” [7] Behavior is the key to preserving the gospel. Behavior refers to the what (1 Timothy 1:3 – 3:13) and the how (1 Timothy 4:6 – 6:19) of church ministry. In other words, everything Paul mentions outside of his purpose statement from 1 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 is game for upholding the integrity of the gospel. First Timothy 2:12, where Paul forbids women to preach to men, is located in that block of text. It is part of the conduct that preserves the gospel. 

This may be hard to grasp. Sometimes, I think we treat doctrine and conduct as mutually exclusive. Doctrine is what you know and conduct is how you live, and we just can’t imagine how they’re compatible. But that’s not the way Paul sees it in 1 Timothy. Your daily conduct at or away from church aids in preserving the truth of God’s Word and upholding the integrity of the gospel. That’s how Paul has stacked the deck of his letter and in Part 2 we will see just how 1 Timothy 2:12 plays into that.

 

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version, 2016, unless otherwise stated.*

[2I have intentionally made a jump in logic here. Some people actually do not believe that Paul is forbidding women to preach to men in 1 Timothy 2:12, because the language of the verse says that they are not allowed to teach, but it says nothing about not being allowed to preach. However, I believe there is good evidence that preaching falls under the umbrella of teaching, and so I have not taken the time to prove an association between the two. From this point forward, I will be using preaching interchangeably with teaching. If you want to read more about why preaching may fall under the category of teaching, see Douglas Moo, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pp. 185–86; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles (NIGTC), pp. 140–41.

 [3] I borrowed this line from the clever title of Dr. William Varner’s book, To Preach or Not to Preach: Women’s Ministry Then and Now.*

[4] The other two times are Hebrews 10:21 and 1 Peter 4:17.*

[5] Diana is also known as Artemis in the Greek pantheon.*

[6] “Pillar” (στῦλος) is used frequently in the Old Testament with reference to the pillars in the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 26:15; 1 Kings 7:16).*

[7] Emphasis mine.*

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

*Click the number at the front of the endnote to return to where you left off reading.

FURTHER READING

I found the following books to be very helpful in putting together this video and article. 

To Preach or Not to Preach: Women’s Ministry Then and Now

William Varner

pp. 39­­­­­–84

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism
Douglas Moo (Editors: John Piper and Wayne Grudem)

pp. 179–193

The Pastoral Epistles (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)

George W. Knight III

pp. 140–144