I Suffer Not A Woman



1 Timothy 2:8-15

8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

This section of scripture, especially verses 11 and 12, causes much discussion.  Many interpret this section to mean that women cannot teach in the church, or that they are not allowed to teach men.  Let’s study this section of scripture and try to determine what Paul was really intending to say.

In verse 8, Paul is instructing men to pray “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting”.  Lifting the hands in prayer is a sign of submission, and when men lift their hands “without wrath and doubting”, they are submitting to God without anger or hesitation.   In other words, men are to submit to God willfully and with assurance that it is the correct thing to do.

Verse 9 discusses how women are to pray – adorned “in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety”.  So women are to wear clothing that is not gaudy or revealing, but that reflect her desire to please God.  She is also to pray with “shamefacedness and sobriety” or reverence and soundness of mind.

The verse goes on to state that women should not have “broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array”.  Does this mean that women cannot braid their hair? Paul was referring to elaborate hairstyles and jewelry which would certainly not show modesty and reverence, but would be an attempt to draw attention to oneself.  So women are also to submit to God willfully and respectfully and not dress in a way meant to draw attention to themselves.

Verse 10 states that women should adorn themselves with “good works”.  In other words, people should know women by the things they do for God, not their flashy hair and clothing.

Now we get to verses 11 and 12 – “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”.  There are some who feel these verses are very black and white and mean exactly what they say.  Does this mean that she couldn’t even teach her husband how to cook a roast or wash the whites?  They feel women should be quiet unless specifically addressed and should not teach or hold any position of leadership or authority.

Others feel that it means that women can only teach children or other women and cannot hold any leadership positions within the church.

One thing we need to determine is if Paul was speaking a universal truth or addressing a specific concern within a specific church body.  If the phrase “I suffer not a woman” applies to all women everywhere, then it uproots the precedents set by Deborah, Huldah, Miriam, Esther, Junia, and many others.  Paul stated in Romans 16:7 that Junia was one of “my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles”.

Lee Stoneking defines an apostle as one who is commissioned of the Lord and of the church to go into a different area or areas to establish the Gospel and to set up the church.  In order to establish the Gospel, it is necessary to teach.  So if Paul recognized Junia as an apostle, he would have expected her to teach.

If Paul was not speaking a universal truth, what specific concern could he have been addressing?  Ephesus, where Timothy was working when this letter was written, was dominated by the female-centered religion of Artemis, or Diana. In this religion, Artemis was born before her brother, Apollo, and was considered superior to him.  Many new converts held on to this view of female superiority and tried to bring that influence into the church.

A budding Gnostic movement combined Oriental religion and Greek philosophy and they believed that you could gain salvation by higher knowledge.  The Gnostics absorbed elements of various religions and would masquerade as proponents of those religions.  Some Gnostics claimed to be mediators between God and man.  They taught detailed genealogies and myths about their beginnings.  They also claimed to possess secret truth.  Among the Gnostics that had been raised as Artemis worshipers, Eve was exalted as the “bringer of life” to Adam, hence her name, “the mother of all living.” When she ate of the tree of knowledge she allegedly received the hidden knowledge God had kept from them, and then it was she who “enlightened” Adam. Rather than calling her act sin, they exalted it as superiority.

In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul told Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine”.  He went on in verse 4 to say, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies”.  These instructions strongly suggest that Timothy was dealing with Gnostic teachings in the church.

Verse 13 places emphasis on the correct order of creation.  Many Artemis worshipers and Gnostics taught that Eve was created first and Adam followed.  This was a false doctrine that Paul and Timothy were working to remove from the church in Ephesus.

This correction continued in verse 14, where Paul reminded Timothy that Eve was the one deceived by the serpent, and that it was Eve that had committed the first sin.

Paul concludes this line of thought in verse 15, with the understanding of salvation coming through the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15) for those who stay within the faith.

What other scriptural evidence is there for Paul’s feelings about women’s role in the church?  Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-29, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”This scripture emphasizes that all those who are baptized in Jesus name and filled with the Spirit are one body, no longer separated by nationality, gender, or any other worldly trait.

In Acts 18, we learn of Aquila and his wife, Priscilla.  Paul lived with them while he was in Ephesus.  Acts 18:24-25 tells of Apollos, a Jew who came to Ephesus and began teaching the things of the Lord, but he knew only of the baptism of John.  Verse 26 states, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”  This verse clearly states that both Aquila and Priscilla expounded unto Apollos.  They both taught him the Gospel.

Paul mentions Priscilla in both Romans 16:3 “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:” and also in 1 Corinthians 16:19 where Paul states “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Aquila and Priscilla held church gatherings in their home, and would have been known for sharing the Gospel.

We are left, then, with the understanding that Paul was not placing a blanket ban on women as teachers.  He was, however, instructing Timothy to not allow those who were not fully persuaded by the fullness of the Truth to teach.  Paul was also stating that women were not to claim authority that they did not possess.  Women claiming authority over their husbands or other men of the church in order to teach false doctrine was not acceptable.  However, women who are properly submitted to their husbands, the authority of their church leaders, and most importantly God, should be allowed and encouraged to teach.