“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
This is one of two NT passages in which Paul restricts the roles of women. Some say 1 Timothy was not written by Paul and should not be included in our Bibles. Others suggest this is an example of a flawed Paul’s misogyny and should be ignored. After giving both positions consideration, I am not convinced. I suggest we treat 1 Timothy as being of Paul and belonging in our Bibles. I reject the notion that Paul is a misogynist. Without a doubt, Paul is restricting women in 1 Timothy 2. The question for us to determine is what exactly is being restricted by Paul? Let me suggest two possible readings for this passage that should be considered in light of how they read in the context of 1 Timothy as a letter and the Bible as a whole.
The first reading: Paul is restricting all women in all places for all time from teaching or assuming authority over men. Paul explains his position by referring to the order of creation and deception. Adam was formed first, before Eve; therefore men have authority over women. Eve was deceived first, before Adam; therefore all women need to be led by men. God never intended for women to teach or assume authority over men. God always intended men to exercise authority over women.
The second reading: Paul is restricting unlearned women at Ephesus (or anywhere else) from teaching or assuming authority over men. Paul begins the passage by urging women to learn (a radical, non-traditional position in Paul’s day). Paul explains his instruction by referring to the order of creation and deception. Adam was formed first, so Adam had more time to learn from God than Eve. As a result, Eve was deceived first. Women in Eve’s position (unlearned women) should quietly learn rather than teach or assume authority over men.
Do churches choosing reading number one practice a more restrictive view than Paul taught even assuming reading one? In what way does a woman greeting the church or making an announcement violate the restriction regarding teaching a man or assuming authority over a man? The same question should be asked with regard to passing trays, praying, reading scripture, sharing personal reflections at communion, or leading songs. Do any of these involve authoritative teaching? Do they necessarily involve assuming authority over a man? What if men ask women to serve in these ways? How is passing a tray from front to back more authoritative than passing a tray from side to side? If we conclude leadership should be male rather than shared, and we think passing trays is an act of leadership, perhaps we need to rethink our view of what constitutes leadership. What did Jesus do or teach that would lead us to conclude something like passing trays was an example of Jesus-style leadership?
While sorting through this passage to determine which reading best fits and to examine our own practices, we need to remember the importance of humility, grace, and love. All of us, me included, need to be submissive learners.