Does 1 Timothy 2: 11 prohibit women from serving in leadership positions?

1Timothy 2:9-15 does not eliminate the role of women in leadership in the church. It specifically prohibits them from teaching or having authority over a man. There has been much said about this pericope and it has cause more of a split in the body of Christ than unity. Some have used this text to repress and oppress women and others have taken the text out of context to support a position, which does not edify the church. These reasons alone can cause one to have a hermeneutic of suspicion. What is Paul’s goal for writing this prohibition in this first letter to Timothy? What we do know is that Paul’s main concern was the fear of false teaching spreading throughout the church(s) in Ephesus and their teaching was close to the apostolic teaching, which cause the ‘heresy’ to have success. Furthermore, women were the targets of these opponents of sound doctrine and young widows seem to have a problem with gossip and old wives tales. Therefore, to protect the church Paul deemed it necessary for Timothy to set order in the church, so he began with prayer and gender roles in the church.

A better interpretation of 1Timothy 2:9-15 has to begin with verse 8 because of the Greek verb boulomai.The Greek verb boulomai is the only active verb in vv.8-9 and gives insight into the issue being confronted in v. 9. The adverb hosautos indicates that v.9 is connected to v.8, as Paul desires the men to pray ‘likewise’ the women to adorn themselves. These prohibitions have more to do with the ethical manner in which worship was to be conducted in the household of God. However some readers focus more on making it a gender issue. Bruce Winter, in Roman Wives, Roman Widows, gives insight to the cultural issues that may have affected Paul’s reasons for this prohibition with the rise of the ‘new Roman woman.’Other scholars have alluded to this issue of the possibility of a feminist movement in Ephesus, which women exercised a new freedom including their dress code but Winter appears to be on to something. With Winter’s insight into the issue of the ‘new Roman woman,’ it raises the issue whether Paul meant “women to adorn themselves” or “wives to adorn themselves.” Winter’s evidence would favor wives with his argument concerning the dress codes for the different social classes in the Roman law. However if we were to look to the letter for intertexual evidence, there is the issue with widows, which would put holes in the argument that Paul limits this prohibition to wives only.

In vv.11-15 Paul defines the gender roles in the household of God. The women were to learn in silence and all submission. They were to be in submission to the Bishop or the male leadership who were entrusted with the apostolic teaching. He prohibited a woman from the teaching office and from exercising authority over a man due to his interpretation of the law. He use the creation story in Genesis in Timothy and also to the Corinthian church also as he wrote, “Nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man (NKJV 11:9).” This verse in 1Corithians 11:9 can give a better understanding of what Paul intended to convey in v.13. Additionally, he use Genesis 3:13 as the basis for pointing to the woman being deceived and falling into transgression. He uses the law to refute the “deceivers” who taught a different doctrine and indirectly relates it to the serpent that was called a deceiver who taught a different doctrine to Eve, which caused her to fall into transgression of God’s command. It is possible Paul saw the probability of something similar happen if a woman was to teach and became beguiled by the false teachers and spread their doctrine through the church. The issue concerning salvation through childbirth in v.15 continues to be debated. The healthier interpretation would be that it is concerning salvation and not being saved by bearing children. There are some issues with clause b being plural (if they…) and clause a being single (but she…). Nevertheless, Paul would have preferred that women or wives had children to refute to teaching against marriage.

In conclusion it can be deduced that Paul is writing about the ethical manner in which worship was to be conducted and he begin by dealing with the gender roles. His concern was not just with wives but all women including widows and other single women in the church. He wanted the men to cease from anger and wrath when praying and women to be mindful of their dress. He did not want women in teaching positions or exercising authority over any man in the assembly. Finally, because of the women’s gullibility he wanted the responsibility of the apostolic teaching to be entrusted to faithful men whose lifestyle embodied the teaching and set an example for the household of God.

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