Women and Teaching (extended Notes) 

Women & Teaching

1 Corinthians 14:34 talks about women remaining silent in church and it is addressed to particular women.  Early church hear the gospel and they see it is revolutionary.  Women were second-class citizens, both in Jewish and Greek culture so the new truth comes and it is embraced and over-emphasised from the woman’s perspective, so the women were talking, commenting/criticising in the meeting and this is the context. This be silent can’t mean being totally silent because previous chapters talk about gifts being used by women in the meeting. 

Earlier teaching in the letter is permissive of women speaking in congregational settings e.g. all may prophesy, (1 Cor 14:26 ‘everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction (teaching), a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation’ and 1 Cor 11:5 where ‘every woman who prays or prophesies’)

There are very few churches that interpret this ‘be silent’ verse absolutely literally, so the main contexts the verse was written to should guide our understanding/interpretation – Need to understand how the verse related to the cultural circumstances in Ephesus to which Paul was responding. It is rooted in a particular context. This does not make Paul’s prohibition purely relative or irrelevant to our time. The current application is for men and women to function relationally in appropriate ways, in order to serve, and reach the environment they are placed. So that God is truly glorified by how they function together and how they offer their corporate worship of praise, prayer and prophesy. 

What Silent Means In 1 Corinthians 14:34

The cultural context makes this understandable – whether Greek or Jewish, most women were not educated and would be unlikely to have a well-informed background from which to challenge or ask clarification in a helpful and meaningful way; it was considered shameful for women to address men in a public setting or speak in a public context with men to whom they were not related, potentially bringing shame on herself and her husband.  
Paul is writing into a social context that is patriarchal and wishes to prevent anti-social / offensive behaviour within the church in the light of common practice at that time (the structure of Roman households and marriage).  

By admonishing women to ask questions at home he is not prohibiting or restricting women learning, quite the opposite. He is requiring husbands to ensure that their wives do learn, which would have been counter-cultural in many if not most homes / marriages.  It’s about how wives related to and interacted with their husbands during public worship. It is the type of speaking and not the possibility of wives speaking that Paul prohibits.

He is restricting the context of ‘learning by asking’  He is therefore not imposing absolute silence on women and the issue about whether women can teach publicly is not really the topic being addressed because the context is about how learning takes place in a particular social context.

To get to its meaning on women teaching we need to do some serious wresting with the social context of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 

1 Timothy 2: 11-14.  Verse 11 is the same context as Corinth 

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (ESV)

We have to understand that there are at least 12 interpretations on this one verse alone.

The word ‘authority’ here is ‘authentein’ only used here in the whole NT! Not the normal word Paul uses and is tricky to get to the bottom of.

The considerable debate around this verse hinges on the meaning of - ‘teach or to exercise authority over a man’

Is it:- don’t teach from the position of elder?


Don’t teach heresy and domineer?

The word ‘authentein’ in v12 is notoriously difficult to translate and this is its only occurrence in the NT – translations opt for either ‘to dominate’ (abusive exercise of authority) or ‘to exercise authority over’ (exercise of authority per se).  It is probably significant that Paul uses this word when other words which clearly mean to have or exercise authority over were available to him.  

To understand the word to mean ‘dominate’ or ‘gain the upper hand’ fits non-biblical usage of the word at the time. Ancient Greek grammarians and lexiograhers suggest the meaning “to dominate, holds sway” in the first century usage.  

We could translate thus, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a dominating way.’

I feel convinced by the arguments that the word authentein should be understood in a negative sense: to usurp authority, or use it in a dominating way. 

Paul is urging women in Ephesus not to take authority which is not rightfully theirs. All proper use of authority is fine. The passage is essentially a prohibition on teaching false doctrine for the purpose of usurping/dominating men. In the context it seems Paul is primarily addressing women who were propagating heresy to gain authority over men.

So the key phrase, didaskein oude authentein, sees Paul as prohibiting women from teaching in a way that usurps men, and nothing else. (Newfrontiers Theological online Forum)

So if ‘authentein’ is negative in connotation the meaning of the phrase significantly shifts.
Whilst authentein is not always negative, but in context of one person doing it to someone else, the connotation is always negative. To control, restrain, domineer. It seems that a bit of a battle of the sexes was being waged in the congregation. 

Paul has deliberately used a different word when talking about authority in this setting (Normal word is eksousía used 102 times in NT), therefore he must have a different meaning in mind than the ‘normal’ exercise of authority. Therefore this cannot be a carte blanche prohibition but one which is probably best explained by the context it is written to.
The Letter was written to a particular people, in a Particular context, for a particular purpose.

Cultural backdrop of the cult of Diana was centred in Ephesus and so affects the context to which the letter was written. Ephesus was one where women dominated men. This would then fit the exhortation of 1 Tim 2:12.

The Ephesian context of the cult of Artemis in which women were exalted and considered superior to men. Women looked to the goddess to protect their virginity, give them fertility and see them safely through child-birth. This gives a local context for Paul insisting on a right heart attitude of women to men; asserting that in creation order, man was created first,  and women were the first to be deceived; and may make some sense of the ‘saved through child-birth’ in v 15. (Men and women created equal – Genesis 1.  Both men and women made in the image of God. The reality that God made both male and female to express God).

So we have men being urged to lift hands without disputing and women asked to keep calm and be submissive. General sense of calming things down in Ephesus! Paul is calling for peace between the genders in a church setting.

Remain silent- clearly women were not ‘silent’ in public meetings this word can also mean the sense of stillness and quietness. The word "silence" is mistranslated in verses 11-12. The same word is translated "quiet" in a preceding verse (v.2): "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life."

‘Teach’ – Is their still a prohibition on teaching? 

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul seems to be stating the exact opposite, namely, that as long as creational gender distinctions are maintained and as long as women dress with modesty and decorum, men and women respecting, and honouring one another. (Head covering & head shaved has a particular meaning in biblical days and their culture.  The lack of head covering including a head being shaved, could mean that a woman didn’t respect her husband and is not being sexually pure.  Our society doesn’t look at hats in the same way but there are still principles – respect husbands and dressing in a way that is not sexually provocative for example). Then men and women are both free to engage in the same activities of prayer and prophesy in corporate worship.

So given the context, the sentence structure here, many argue, is more ‘teach ‘n’ dominate’ or ‘teach a man in a dominating, domineering way’ To gain the upper hand.

I do not permit women … to dominate men.

Logic of the word order:-

I do not permit a woman to teach with a view to dominate a man or I do not permit a woman to teach with a view to gain mastery over a man.

Many scholars argue there is no first-century warrant for translating authentein as “to exercise authority”

So what Paul is really saying is that he does not allow women to push men around, to try to seize authority. He is addressing the natural tendency that women have had, since the Fall, to clutch for the rule, or authority, that their husbands have been given over them (see Genesis 3:16). (God did, in fact, give husbands serving authority over their wives; He made them head over their wives as Christ is head of the Church (see Ephesians 5:23). But this authority is not for the purpose of quenching women into nothingness; by being insensitive, uncaring, or passive. Rather, it is for husbands to act as releasing, responsible agents, doing everything possible to maximize their wives' potential and bring them into the highest possibilities of their created beings). harsh, quenching,

The ‘for’ at the beginning of v13 does not imply women must not teach men because God created men to lead but rather explains why women are not permitted to teach men in a domineering way – she was created to be a partner to man, not his boss.

Willian Mouce concedes that “the context thus limits the universal application to some extent,” since elsewhere women did teach (Acts 18:26, Col 3:16: 2 Tim 1:5: 3:15: Titus 2:3-4).

From my reading I do not think Paul intends a once for all prohibition of women teaching men or leading in any kind of ministry with authority. The NT shows that women did teach men in the early church. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18;26) Apollos was a bible teacher but Pricilla and Aquilla in Acts 18 have to put him straight on a few issues.  They did chat normally, Pricilla is first and normally mentioned first because she stood out.  They taught him – there’s a woman teaching a man there. And 1Cor 14;26 – each one has a word of instruction. Phoebe in Romans 16 functions as a deacon in Paul’s team, a deacon is someone with authority, authority that released her to serve. Timothy was taught by Mum and Grandmother. Acts 21:9 Philips four daughters were prophetesses, Many scriptures are quotes from women Mary’s exhortation in Luke 1. John 4:28 People listened to and followed the Samaritan women and learned from her.

Proverbs praises the ideal wife because “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

Gifts of the Spirit:

Acts 2; 17-18a
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants

1 Corinthians 12:11
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, he is referring to prophetic utterances given in the midst of an entire congregation-one that includes men.  Paul endorses women prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:5) and says that men “learn” by such prophesying (1 Corinthians 14:31) and that the members (presumably men and women) should “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).

If prophesy is intended to teach (i.e not just foretelling but but a forth telling of God’s word) and authoritative (i.e., an inspired word that comes from God) then the conclusion we must reach is that women did indeed teach men with an authoritative prophetic word.

But some say women must not teach men because God created man to lead. (Following the creation order of male then female) 

However if the sense of 1 Timothy 2:12 is that women are not permitted to teach men in a domineering fashion, then 1 Timothy 2:13 would provide the explanation: Eve was created as Adam’s partner (Gen 2:24) and not his boss. 

Others suggest Paul is using Eve as an example of what can go wrong when women usurp through teaching the male’s created leadership role. And Adam was not the one deceived;  it was the woman (1 Timothy 2:14) This view is without scriptural support. Eve was not deceived by the serpent into taking the lead in the male female- relationship. She was deceived into disobeying a command of God, namely, not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Something that both men and women are vulnerable to (2 Cor 11:3)

We struggle to define what teaching and having authority over a man looks like in practice, and tend to be inconsistent

So we will allow women to lead large children’s ministries, to lead men within them and set the teaching agenda.

We allow women to lead worship of mixed groups

We allow women to lead small groups; as long as they are submitted to the elders, but that’s the same for men who lead small groups. Small groups have men in them, so when does it become ‘having authority over a man’?

Some churches allow women to teach on Sunday as long as it isn’t ‘foundational’ and the woman is submitted to the elders. It is very tricky to define ‘foundational’ there is no NT distinction. So in some quarters if a woman speaks to the whole church it can only be called ‘sharing’ – again a subjective and arbitrary distinction.

Women teach mid-week to a mixed group of men and women, it would be inconsistent to not allow gifted, anointed and called women to do the same Sunday morning

What happens if a women becomes a writer? Does this verse mean men can’t read her book?


A reasonable reconstruction of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would be as follows: The women of Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by false teachers) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatorial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing.

This interpretation fits the broader context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul aims to correct inappropriate behaviour on the part of both men and women (1 Tim 2:8, 11) It also fits the grammatical flow of 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in demeanour” Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that arises to get the upper hand - not teaching per se. (Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Gorden Fee. Page 223)


A Woman's Place in Christ by Jack W. Hayford
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy
Gender equality in the church. Andy Merrick (Hope Church Glasgow)
Gender Equality - Mark Churchward (Southend Christian Fellowship).
Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) Michael F. Bird
Newfrontiers theological blog



Jamie Lee, 20/10/2014