I Suffer Not a Woman: Was Paul a Male Chauvinist?
5 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:11-12 Does Not Prohibit Women From
Functioning in Authoritative Roles in the Church
Eddie L. Hyatt, D.Min., M.Div., M.A.
1 Timothy Is a Personal Letter
First of all, the letter of 1 Timothy was written to an individual, not to a church. It is a “personal” letter. We should expect, therfore, that the things written in this letter are related to the situation of the individual, i.e. Timothy, to whom it was written. Good hermeneutics demands that this be taken into consideration.
Paul wrote three personal letters at this time as he was nearing the end of his life; two to Timothy who was in Ephesus and one to Titus who was on the island of Crete. These letters contain instructions and requests, some of which are obviously related to the recepient of the letter and cannot be applied to all Christians everywhere. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:9-15, Paul exhorts Timothy to come quickly to him and bring a coat he left in Troas along with the books he left there.
In 1 Timothy 5:9-14 Paul exhorts Timothy that widows under sixty years of age should not receive support from the church and that younger women should marry. It is interesting to note that those who are so intent on literally applying 1 Timothy 2:9-11 do not have the same concern for 1 Timothy 5:9-14.
1 Timothy was written to encourage and instruct Timothy in his very specific assignment to the church at Ephesus. Nowhere does Paul ask Timothy to read this letter to a church. It is a personal letter.
1 Timothy Addresses A Unique Local Situation in Ephesus
Verse 3 of chapter 1 reveals that 1 Timothy was written as a follow-up to encourage Timothy in his assignment to combat heretical teaching in the church in Ephesus. Paul had given this assignment to Timothy when they were together in that city. Paul now writes to encourage and instruct Timothy in carrying out of that assignment.
Paul obviously was not issuing universal edicts for all churches of every time and place. He is addressing the unique issues related to Timothy and the church in Ephesus.
A Strange Greek Word
That Paul is addressing a unique situation in Ephesus is further borne out by the fact that the word “authority” in 2:12 is a translation of the Greek word authentein which is found only here in the entire New Testament. If Paul is here giving a universal edict for church order, why doesn’t he use the normal word for authority, exousia, which he and all other New Testament writers use.
The obvious answer is that Paul is here dealing with the unique situation that exists in Ephesus. If he had been giving a universal rule for church order in this passage, he would have used the normal New Testament word for authority.
The Structure of Chapter 2 Indicates That Paul May Have Been Referring to A Particular Woman in 2:11-12
In vss. 9-10 of chpt. 2, Paul refers to “women” in the plural. But when he comes to the restrictive admonition of vss. 11-12, he changes to the singular and refers to “a woman.” Afterwards, in vs. 15, he returns again to the plural. This may indicate that, in writing this passage, Paul had a particular woman in mind who was was primarily responsible for spreading the false teaching in Ephesus. Be that as it may, Paul, in this passage, is obviously addressing a unique, local situation in the city of Ephesus.
Women Pastors/Leaders in the NT
There are numerous women leaders in the New Testament, some who obviously functioned in pastoral roles of oversight. Paul mentions 2 of these female pastors in Rom. 16 as well as a female apostle.
Phoebe, a Woman Pastor
In Romans 16:1 Paul commends to the church at Rome our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Paul refers to Phoebe as a servant which is the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos, or its verb form, is translated minister in 23 other places in the New Testament. For example, in Eph. 3:7, Paul says that he became a minister (diakonos) according to the gift of the grace of God. Phoebe, therefore, was a minister, probably a pastor, from the church in Cenchrea. This is borne out by vs. 2 where Paul refers to her as a helper of many and of myself also. The Greek word translated helper in this verse is prostates and, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, means to set over, to rule, superintend, preside over, protect, and care for. When this passage is examined apart from our traditions and prejudicial assumptions, the evidence is overwhelming that Phoebe functioned in what today we would call pastoral ministry.
Priscilla, A Woman Pastor
In verses 3-5 of the same chapter, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a husband and wife team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately. In the Greek, Priscilla is always mentioned first. Since Paul reversed the culturally accepted manner of mentioning the husband first, he obviously wanted to make a point about her leadership role. Many commentators conclude that Priscilla is mentioned first because she was the spiritually gifted one and the leader of the church that met in their home. Again, the evidence is overwheliming. Priscilla functioned as a pastor.
Junia, A Woman Apostle
In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a feminine name and so we have here a woman who is recognized by Paul as an apostle. The early church father, John Chrysostom, commenting on this verse, said, "Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle." If a woman can function as an apostle, may not she also function as a pastor.
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