Women’s Teaching Roles in the Church


            Recently, there has been significant discussion on the women’s teaching role in church operation. Beth Moore’s leaving the Southern Baptist Convention signified a final break with their restrictions about women teaching. John McArther’s address on Beth Moore was telling: “It is a state of disobedience on a massive level.”[1] On the other side, most mainline and Pentecostal denominations have opened their doors to women for all roles. The more progressive denominations seem to interpret the primary scripture about women teaching in the church (1 Timothy 2:12) the same as their opponents but reject that scripture. So the question is, what is the scriptural mandate for women teaching in the church? What is the right balance in women’s church teaching leadership, and how can the church remain faithful to scripture?

            This essay will review both the complementarian (women have limited roles in the church) and the Egalitarian view (women are free to operate in all church functions) regarding women teaching. Following this comparison will be a personal reflection and interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

“A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet.”(CSB)


            Both positions have to answer whether or not Paul meant this directive for all Christian churches for all cultures and time. The complementarian, to different degrees, answers in the affirmative. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is a universal command. The reason complementarians give, according to Allison, is twofold. In the verses immediately following (vss. 13-14), Paul appeals to the creation order: God, then Adam, then Eve.[2] Clowney expands on this idea in that “Paul is not just accommodating the current culture to win respect from the Christian community. He urges the church to express a fundamental principle revealed in God’s creation order.”[3] The second reason is that Eve was deceived at the fall, and Adam was not deceived.[4]

            It is a matter of subordination. Jesus is subordinate to the Father, every man is subordinate to Jesus, and the wife is subordinate to the husband.[5] In the passage, Paul uses κεφαλή, meaning head or authority, when describing these subordinate relationships. It does not mean that women are not filled with the Holy Spirit and do not possess the gifts of teaching, but they have a different role in the church.[6] Men and women are spiritually equal (Galatians 3:27-28), but they have different roles that complement each other. In the softest form of complementarianism, women can teach and proclaim the gospel but not hold the Elder or Pastor’s office. In the hardest of complementarian views, women are not allowed to speak or teach at all in the church unless they are children or other women.


            In contrast to the complementarian view, the egalitarian view interprets 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as being written by Paul to Timothy, who presides over the Ephesian church. It is not a command for all churches in all cultures throughout time. Keener focuses not just on vss. 11-14, but starts his interpretation at the beginning of the chapter. Paul calls for public prayer for all rulers in authority, calling men to pray without anger or conflict.[7]       Continuing in the passage in vs. 9, Paul allows women the freedom to pray, but there are two problems in the Ephesian church: how women dress and their teaching.[8] I will leave aside the controversy of a dress code. The focus turns to teaching. Teaching required the students (disciples) to be silent.[9] Order was to be maintained.

In regards to vss. 11-12, the phrase αὐθεντέω which means assume or take authority. Keener notes that Scholer observes that the term carries a negative sense of domineering or usurping authority.[10] In this way, the directive is not that all women for all time in every culture are disallowed from teaching, but that the women in Ephesus, led by Timothy, whom Paul leads, are not to teach in such a way as they domineer men.[11] This interpretation would make sense in Ephasus, a center of worship for the god Artimus, a female god who had domineering female followers.


            When weighing the two arguments, up until recently, I have been persuaded that the complementarian view was the most solidly Biblical interpretation. However, recently I have done exegesis on the passage in question and have switched my view to egalitarian. I do not find Allison or Clowney’s arguments persuasive. I believe 1 Timothy 2:12 is best interpreted as forbidding women in Ephesus from domineering teaching over men.

            While this is not an issue to separate over, I do believe that it is suitable for all teachers, male and female, to submit to church authority in humility. That is what Paul was getting at in the passage. If this were a directive for all cultures for all time, it would be significantly out of place in Pauline directives. It would be closer to a legalistic system that he was so passionately against. Many other passages support the role of women in the church. However, it is crucial to remember that this is not an essential church doctrine and is not worthy of harsh rhetoric from any side.

[1] “John MacArthur Response to Beth Moore.” YouTube, 7 Nov. 2019, youtu.be/QQqXwSHILjw.

[2] Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church  (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 226 – 227.

[3] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 217.

[4] Allison, 227.

[5] Ibid, 228.

[6] Ibid, 238-239.

[7] Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Letters and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 1992), Kindle Edition Locations 1913 – 1920.

[8] Ibid, Locations 1931-1934.

[9] Ibid, Location 2031.

[10] Ibid, Location 2051.

[11] Ibid.

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