To Teach or Not to Teach?

By Not Known

1 Timothy 2 is a difficult chapter because it raises numerous issues that rouse gender sensitivity. When read plainly, Paul seems to prohibit women from teaching and having authority over men in the church (v12). But before the battle line is drawn for or against Paul’s instructions, let’s keep in view the central focus of the chapter: …there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men… (v5). Whatever you conclude about gender roles in verse 12, do recognise that this is not a core matter of faith. Having said so, this is not a license for lesser obedience.

1 Timothy 2:1-8 can be read as one section where Paul exhorts Christians to pray for those in authority because God is over all (v5). There is a missing ‘therefore’ at the beginning of verse 8 in the NIV which links it to verses 1-7. Hence, verse 8 can be read in parallel to verses 1 and 2 with the former stipulating ‘what’ to pray and the latter stipulating ‘how’ to pray.

1 Timothy 2:9-15 can be treated as a new section that primarily concerns women in worship rather than man-woman relation. For some interpreters, the reasons for Paul’s prohibition of women preaching and having authority over men are: (1) God’s creation has ordered the headship of Adam, the man, over Eve, the woman (v13); (2) Eve/woman, in usurping Adam/man’s authority, has paved the way for the Fall (v14). Man’s authority is not one of lording over the woman, but of exercising prudent judgement and loving protection. Adam, in failing to exercise his headship, is ultimately responsible for the Fall.

There are three broad responses to Paul’s prohibitions. The traditional view argues that Paul’s prohibitions apply to all churches in all ages, regardless of contextual circumstances. The “egalitarian” view stresses on the equality of men and women, and argues against role differentiation in the church. The “complementarian” view stresses the men and women have different but complementary roles in the family and the church. Gender equality does not negate role differentiation. Male headship is to be modelled after Christ who is Lord over all (Eph 5:21-33).

Whichever view one adopts is debatable. However, what is unarguable is Paul’s reference to God’s creation order in Genesis as proof that man is to exercise headship in the church (and at home). What should obedience to this foundation truth look like in churches across cultural orientations and circumstances? How should men and women respectively honour God in their roles as worshippers? To teach or not to teach is not an issue of the battle of the sexes!


Benson Goh