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CAN WOMEN TEACH THE BIBLE?
A. Introduction: I Tim 2:12--Many sincere Christians are cut off from good teaching in the body of Christ because they believe women are not supposed to teach the Bible to men. In this lesson we are going to deal with what this verse means and whether or not women can teach.
1. As with any study of any verse in the Bible, we must begin with context. Everything in the Bible was written by someone to someone about something.
a. Before you can fully apply any verse, you must first determine the in-time, historical meaning of the verse. In other words, what did it mean to the people to whom it was first written?
b. You must also determine how a verse fits with every other verse in the epistle or book in which it is found, as well as how the verse fits with the entire Bible.
c. You cannot take a verse and apply it apart from its context without drawing faulty conclusions.
2. As we study the context of this verse we will find that I Tim 2:12 is not a universal, for all time ban against women teaching the Bible. It deals with a particular situation at a specific time and place.
B. To properly understand I Tim 2:12 we must get some background on who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and what it meant to the original hearers, in other words, the in time, historical context.
1. I and II Timothy and Titus are sometimes called pastoral epistles or letters. They were written by Paul to two young men, Timothy and Titus.
a. They were written to encourage and help them deal with the responsibilities of running a church.
b. Timothy was dealing with the church in the city of Ephesus and other cities in Asia Minor. Titus was overseeing churches on the island of Crete.
2. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to stop people from teaching other doctrine. I Tim 1:3
a. “Other doctrine” has the idea of something other than right doctrine. The seeds of false teaching were already beginning to grow by the time the pastoral letters were written.
b. One theme found in all the pastoral letters is -- stop false teachers from teaching. Titus 1:13,14
c. The problem Timothy faced at Ephesus and the problem Paul was addressing in his letter was false teachers. Some of those teachers were women.
3. I Tim 1:3 tells Timothy to charge some not to teach wrong doctrine. The word some comes from a neuter pronoun in Greek which means either male or female.
a. According to W. E. Vine, the author of the classic Greek dictionary of the NT, the word is better translated certain persons. If Paul was intending to say only men were teaching (because only men can teach), he could have used the word for men, ANER.
b. The use of this particular word indicates the possibility that women were teaching at Ephesus. c. The problem wasn't the gender of the teachers (whoever they were), but rather with what they were teaching (their doctrine).
C. The primary problem at Ephesus came from the Gnostics, followers of a heresy known as Gnosticism.
1. Many Gnostics claimed to be Christians, but what they believed and taught was contrary to sound, true, doctrine. Gnosticism took several centuries to fully develop, but the beginnings of this heresy were already present in Paul's day.
a. We can't tell much about Gnosticism by studying the scriptures. Most of what we know about Gnosticism came from the writings of the Church Fathers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Gnosticism had developed into a full blown heresy.
b. Church Fathers Clement of Alexandria (2nd century), Irenaeus (late 2nd century), and Hippolytus (3rd century) all wrote about the Gnostics.
c. The Church Fathers wrote to refute the doctrines of the Gnostics. In doing so they gave the names of Gnostic leaders (including women leaders) and explained the Gnostic doctrines.
2. The basis of Gnosticism was special or hidden, secret knowledge. The Gnostics taught that salvation came to an elite few through knowledge.
a. The word Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge, GNOSIS. The word science in
I Tim 6:20 is GNOSIS.
b. These few with special knowledge were considered mediators. The Gnostics believed that if you followed the secret knowledge of the mediators you could be saved. The Gnostics taught nothings about sin, guilt, or faith. They exalted the mind and taught that matter was evil.
3. The Gnostics had elaborate genealogies and myths about their beginnings.
a. They believed Eve was created first and that she was the “bringer of life” to Adam. Gen 3:20
b. They believed that when Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she received hidden, special knowledge. Her act was not sinful, but good, because she enlightened humanity.
From this myth developed the idea of women as mediators.
c. Hippolytus wrote about the Gnostics, “They magnify these wretched women above the apostles ... so that some of them presume to assert that there is in them something superior to Christ.”
4. Ephesus itself was a very sensual, wicked city. Most of the converts to the church at Ephesus were Gentiles or former pagans. They brought many false ideas with them when they came to Christ.
a. Ephesus was home to the great shrine of the goddess Diana. There were thousands of temple prostitutes in the city. They believed that fornication brought people into contact with deity.
b. Lewd sexual practices were part of many ancient religions and the Gnostics also used sex to bring flesh and deity together.
c. Seeds of this immorality tried to creep into the church. In the Book of Revelation when Jesus gave John messages for the seven churches in Asia Minor (which is where Ephesus was located), His message to Thyatira concerned a women teaching false doctrine. Rev 2:20,21
1. Notice, this church was letting a women teach. If women are not supposed to teach, why was she teaching? Jesus had no problem with the fact that she was a women. Rather, He took
issue with her doctrine.
2. Jezebel taught heresies combined with sexual immorality. She was possible a Gnostic.
D. There were definitely problems with women at the church of Ephesus.
1. I Tim 2:8,9--Paul had to give instructions on modest dress for women when they prayed in public.
a. v8--He told men how to pray, with uplifted hands, without wrath, without doubt.
b. v9--Then Paul tells women how to pray. In like manner (likewise) refers to the previous statement. Women were to pray with raised hands, etc. Many commentators say that, for grammatical clarity, the word prayer should be in v9 as well as v8. (Conybeare)
c. Paul goes on to tell women they must dress modestly. In this culture wealthy women used “excessive adornment”, especially in their hair (they braided it with gold) both to flaunt their
wealth and to draw attention to their physical appearance.
1. Paul is not saying women can't wear make-up or jewelry. There is a cultural context to this verse -- excessive ornamentation. That is what it would have meant to the original hearers.
2. Paul tells them they need shamefacedness or a sense of modesty and sobriety or soundness of mind and self control in the way that they dress.
2. I Tim 2:10--These women who were dressing immodestly, improperly, were also promising godliness.
a. The word professing in the Greek is EPAGGELLOMAI, not the common word, HOMOLOGIA,
b. This word means to promise something to someone. It is also used in I Tim 6:21.
3. I Tim 5:11-15--There were young women going around talking about things they should not have been.
4. II Tim 3:1-7--Women at Ephesus were being influenced by false teaching. The context does not tell us who taught these women strange doctrine, but the social customs of the day make it highly unlikely that men were sneaking into houses to teach women. It was probably other women.
E. With all of this background information (historical and cultural context) in mind, with the information from the epistle about the problems with women at Ephesus, let's look at the context of I Tim 2:12 in the epistle.
1. Paul has told Timothy to stop people from teaching false doctrine (1:3), and he has told Timothy to instruct certain women how to pray and dress in public (2:8,9). These women were promising godliness to people (2:10).
2. These women who promised godliness were some of the Gnostic teachers Paul told Timothy to keep from teaching. How can we be sure?
a. Historical records tell us Gnostics were a problem at this time in this place.
b. Gnostic women promised godliness to those who followed their teachings, their secret knowledge, their hidden wisdom.
c. Gnostic women considered themselves mediators who brought special, secret knowledge to men to enlighten them as Eve did to Adam. Paul addressed the subject of mediators right here.
1. I Tim 2:1-7--Paul makes it clear there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus.
2. Then, he urges men and women to pray (v8,9). They don't have to go through a mediator. They can go directly to God because of Jesus.
3. I Tim 2:11--Paul says, “Let these women learn.” In other words, they need to learn proper doctrine before they teach. What women? The women in v10, the ones promising godliness.
a. They need to learn in silence with subjection. Paul is not talking about women submitting to men.
b. The word silence (also used in v12) is the same word translated quiet in I Tim 2:2 and it has the idea of “tranquility from within causing no disturbance to others.” (W. E. Vine)
1. The learning style of the day was questions and answers. But, it could lead to endless discussions and questions without respect for the teacher. I Tim 1:4; 6:20
2. Paul wasn't demanding quiet women, he was asking for submissive students -- students submissive to the word who would learn without interrupting the teacher.
4. I Tim 2:12--Paul is not saying women can't teach. Suffer is more accurately translated, “I am not permitting”. (NIV, Rotherham, Weymouth, Concordant Literal, Conybeare, etc.)
a. Paul is not saying he never lets women teach. He is saying: I am not permitting women to teach at Ephesus, not because they are women, but because they are teaching false doctrine.
b. Paul could not be saying he never lets women teach because he let Priscilla teach. He actually worked with her and commended her for her work.
c. Paul met Priscilla and her husband Aquila in the city of Corinth. Acts 18:1,2; I Cor 16:19
1. Acts 18:18,19; 24-26--They went with Paul to Ephesus where they taught a man, Apollos.
2. In Rom 16:3 and II Tim 4:19 Paul mentions Priscilla before Aquila. That was contrary to the custom of the day, unless the wife surpassed the husband in some significant way.
3. Many Bible scholars believe that Priscilla, not her husband, had the teaching gift, and that he was a support to her in it.
5. I Tim 2:12--Usurp authority in the Greek is not the usual word for authority, EXOUSIA, which is used thirty two times in the NT (Luke 19:10). If Paul was meaning women take authority over men by teaching he could have used EXOUSIA.
a. The word used here is AUTHENTEIN. It is found only here. It is a rare Greek verb. It was not a common secular word. It was considered coarse and vulgar.
b. In Paul's day, Greek dramatists used it for suicide or for family murder. It also had a sexual connotation. Not until the 3rd or 4th century did the word come to mean rule or usurp authority.
6. Many Gnostics combined sex with their teaching. These women teachers at Ephesus were combining sexual enticement with their teaching.
a. That was not uncommon in the culture. Female teachers in Greek schools were courtesans or prostitutes with a wealthy, upper class clientele. They made it very clear to their males students in their lectures what their second job was.
b. The readers of this letter would have understood AUTHENTEIN to mean causing erotic or symbolic death. Proverbs many warnings about the sensuous woman who leads men to death.
Prov 2:16-19; 5:3-5; 9:13-18
c. In other words, Paul is telling Timothy: Don't let these women teach false doctrine and entice their male students sexually.
7. I Tim 2:13,14 give us more proof that Paul was combating women teachers at Ephesus who were Gnostics. He now attacks two of their false teachings.
a. Paul clearly stated that Eve was not created first, Adam was. And, Eve did not receive hidden knowledge when she ate from the tree. She was deceived and committed sin.
b. v13,14 are linked to v12 by the word “for”. v12 is based on the facts listed in verses 13 and 14. Women can't teach this sort of doctrine.
8. I Tim 2:15-- Paul faced a dilemma at this point in his instructions to Timothy.
a. Jewish theology (which was another source of problem in the early church) considered women inferior and considered them to be property.
1. They based these ideas on the creation order (man was created first) and the fall (Eve took the fruit first and gave it to Adam).
2. Paul knew these ideas were used to keep women in bondage in the church. He did not want to contribute to these false ideas by what he just said.
b. So Paul reminded Timothy that the fact that man was created first is balanced by the fact that women give birth to men. I Cor 11:8-12
1. v15--The consequences of Eve's (she) part in the fall were cancelled by childbearing which ultimately led to Jesus. Gen 3:15
2. v15--But they, the Gnostic women, all women, must walk in faith, love, soundness of mind, and self control, to benefit from Christ's sacrifice.
F. Conclusion: When we read I Tim 2:12 in context -- both its historical, in-time, context and its context within the epistle and its context in connection with the rest of the NT -- it is clear that Paul is not
forbidding all women for all time from teaching. He was dealing with a specific, historical incident.
1. Paul is against Gnostic women teaching because they don't know what they are talking about and because of AUTHENTEIN or offering sexual favors to men.
2. But, because Paul serves the God of hope, he offers these women hope. If they will become submissive students, submissive to the word of sound doctrine, they, too, can learn, correct their faulty ideas, and go on to fulfill their destinies as true Christian women.