Next we tackle Paul’s prohibition of women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 which turns out to be one of the strangest passages in the New Testament, in my opinion,
” 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. “
How are women saved through childbearing and what does it have to do with teaching and deception?
I wrestled and wrestled with this. It just didn’t make sense on several levels. The first level was this – how does Paul prohibit women from teaching men when women taught men in some instances in Paul’s day. We know this is a fact with Priscilla and Aquilla teaching Apollos. This is usually dismissed by Aquilla’s presence. And that may be the explanation. Then there is Junia who is an apostle. That certainly has a teaching function. One might presume she was only to teach women or to teach with her husband present only to a non-Christian per Priscilla/Aquilla and Apollos. We also have public women prophets like Anna (in the gospels pre-resurrection) and Philip’s daughters (post-resurrection in Acts). Some say the prophetic role and teaching role are not the same so that is also explained away per Eph 4:11. Timothy himself was instructed in the faith by his mother (2 Tim 1:5).
The presence of these women teachers in the New Testament at bare minimum gets my attention and leaves me with a few important questions to ask about 1 Timothy 2.
One question is, is this an all-time universal prohibition of all teaching by women to a mixed or male assembly? Or is it situational/occasional to what is going on in Ephesus? That is a very important question to ask. What clues can we get from the text to tease that apart? We do know Paul’s letters were written to address particular issues in particular churches and so we have to learn to listen to the letters through that lens.
Was there something going on in Ephesus (where Timothy is when Paul writes him – 1 Tim 1:3) that led to this prohibition or, again, is Paul intending this to be an all time, every time thing? If so, would Paul have been condemning of the examples listed above, which he doesn’t seem to have been? Again, we have our explanations of those other passages, which I have alluded to above, but are those explanations sufficient?
What would happen if we read 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in light of the entire letter of 1 Timothy? Here is what we notice:
- False doctrine is being taught by “Christians” in Ephesus – 1:3
- This teaching includes “myths and endless genealogies” – 1:4
- Some have “deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” – 1:6-7
- “in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods…” – 4:3
- “Have nothing to do with profane myths or old wives’ tales.” – 4:7
- Young widows have learned “to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. For some have already turned away to follow Satan” – 5:13-15
- “Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” – 6:3-5
We get a bigger picture of what is going on in Ephesus. There is false teaching being taught. It has something to do with asceticism (to abstain from certain things/indulgence in pleasurable things – food, marriage/sex, etc). This teaching was catching hold in the church and was being spread by various people but especially by young, childless widows (5:13-15).
Is this false teaching that the young, female, widows, are teaching the impetus for Paul’s prohibition against women teaching? Paul says in 5:15 that some are now following Satan. Does that fit with what Paul wrote in 2:14, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”?
These are important questions, again, are these universal, all time truths or situational to what is going on in Ephesus that Paul prohibits women from teaching when it was the women who seem to have been passing these teachings along at that time?
Paul isn’t saying women are more easily deceived than men as a general rule. We know that is not the case. He is making a parallel between what is happening in Ephesus with what happened in the garden where the women were not just the ones deceived (Adam was too) but the ones who were perpetuating the deception.
But what about being saved through childbearing? This connection was first brought to my attention in Gordon Fee’s book “Listening to the Spirit in the Text,” p.74-75.
How are women saved through childbearing? Paul uses two words for childbearing in 1 Timothy. One is in 2:15 and the other is in 5:14. Both are the only times these two words are used in the entire New Testament. They are rare. They are also connected. He tells how women are saved through childbearing in 5:13-15,
“Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. 15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan.”
Paul notes these women are spreading false teaching. They have been deceived by Satan and are now following Satan (much like Eve in chapter 2). How does this get better? They aren’t married and don’t have kids – they have time to be idle, to listen to the false teachings and to perpetuate the false teaching. So Paul instructs them to get married, have kids, and then they have households to manage which removes them from the influence of the false teachers. Saved through childbearing.
Saved through childbearing isn’t some existential change of status from lost to save when a woman has a baby. It is practical.
What we know for sure is that women were teaching false things in Ephesus. What we are less sure of is whether or not this is all Paul was prohibiting based on this verse alone. What you and I have to wrestle with is whether or not the body of evidence of women teaching and proclaiming freely in the early church is sufficient enough for us to say what Paul prohibited in 1 Tim 2 was universal or occasional.
At least a more coherent picture is formed out of what is going on in these verses than just a slam down proof text to end all discussion, which is how these verses are too often handled.