Egalitarians like to argue that Paul’s unequivocal words, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet,” apply only to Ephesian women. Is this true?
Egalitarian Presupposition #1: This was a problem in Ephesus.
Objection: Where does it say this was a specific problem in Ephesus? No historical document or mention in the Scripture exists. This is simply made up.
Egalitarian Presupposition #2: Paul was giving a command specific to the Ephesisan church, and not the Church at large.
Objection: Paul writes in unequivocal terms: “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15).
Interestingly enough, Paul never has a change in his wording in the letter, saying, “This is how we do it in Ephesus, now let’s talk about a different subject and what I say here is binding everywhere!” The household of God is the Church, the Church is Christ’s body, His body transcends the city of Ephesus! The body of Christ covers all churches!
In fact, immediately before 1 Tim 2:12, Paul even specifically frames the discussion so that is clearly refers to the entire Church:
“Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women…” (1 Tim 2:8-9).
Paul could not have been any clearer. For this reason, I completely reject the egalitarian line of thinking, and those out there whose ears itch waiting for such a teaching cannot be convinced by me. If they can, they would have obviously been convinced by what the Scripture plainly says. The context mitigates against your conclusions in very simple terms, for everyone to see.
Being that the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth, how did the earliest interpreters of 1 Tim 2:12 understand the phrase?
Jerome relates a story of a woman who was extremely intelligent (he appears smitten by her, honestly) who asked to be taught from him. He decided to teach her and the following occurred:
This much only will I say, that whatever in me was the fruit of long study and as such made by constant meditation a part of my nature, this she tasted, this she learned and made her own. Consequently after my departure from Rome, in case of a dispute arising as to the testimony of scripture on any subject, recourse was had to her to settle it. And so wise was she and so well did she understand what philosophers call τό πρέπον, that is, the becoming, in what she did, that when she answered questions she gave her own opinion not as her own but as from me or some one else, thus admitting that what she taught she had herself learned from others. For she knew that the apostle had said: I suffer not a woman to teach, 1 Timothy 2:12 and she would not seem to inflict a wrong upon the male sex many of whom (including sometimes priests) questioned her concerning obscure and doubtful points (To Principa, Letter 127, Chap. 7).
Here is an example of a brilliant woman, so smart in fact that in Jerome’s absence that men went to her to get answers on religious matters. However, how was she careful to be obedient to the Scripture? They went to her to find out not what she thought, but what Jerome had told her. She did not speak from her own authority, or hold an office of authority (i.e. the “priests”/elders). Obviously, both she and Jerome understood the passage to mean she could not hold an office in the Church or teach men from her own authority.
In short, women can speak to men about theological matters (obviously, this is what Priscilla did in the presence of her husband with Apollos.) However, they cannot exercise the office of teacher in the church setting.
Chrysostom (also conversant in Greek unlike us) relates specifically this understanding:
In what sense then does he say, I suffer not a woman to teach? 1 Timothy 2:12 He means to hinder her from publicly coming forward 1 Corinthians 14:35, and from the seat on the bema, not from the word of teaching. Since if this were the case, how would he have said to the woman that had an unbelieving husband, How do you know, O woman, if you shall save your husband? 1 Corinthians 7:16 Or how came he to suffer her to admonish children, when he says, but she shall be saved by child-bearing if they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety? 1 Timothy 2:15 How came Priscilla to instruct even Apollos? It was not then to cut in sunder private conversing for advantage that he said this, but that before all, and which it was the teacher’s duty to give in the public assembly; or again, in case the husband be believing and thoroughly furnished, able also to instruct her. When she is the wiser, then he does not forbid her teaching and improving him. And he does not say, who taught much, but who bestowed much labor, because along with teaching (τοὓ λόγου) she performs other ministries besides, those in the way of dangers, in the way of money, in the way of travels. For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake. In this way they went travelling with them, and also performed all other ministries. And even in Christ’s day there followed Him women, which ministered unto Him of their substance Luke 8:3, and waited upon the Teacher (Homily 31 on Romans, verse 6).
The above probably surprise a lot of readers here. They are not mean spirited, misogynistic screeds against women. They are biblical synopses of what the Church has always taught about women using their gift to teach, but within the proper context God has specifically assigned for them. It is when we go beyond what the Scripture teaches, adding presuppositions that cannot be substantiated to our understanding, where we err.