There are 3 interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12-15, concerning the role of women in the church. Both letters to Timothy were written to help him deal with an uprising of false teachers in the church of Ephesus. These false teachers, Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus (these are the one’s Paul names) were not women, but they were influencing the women.
1 Tim 2:12 (NLT) I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward, he made Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
- The first interpretation is that only men should be leaders period and Adam was made to lead Eve so the church should be run explicitly by male leaders only.
- The second is that women can’t have full authoritative positions like being pastors or bishops, but can speak in church as ministers of the gospel as long as they are following the lead of the men in charge.
- The third is that this instruction was specific for the Ephesus church because there were specific women being influenced by false leaders Hymenaeus and Alexander, so those specific women were corrupted. Evidence of this is in the first chapter. Later on in the letter, we find that there are wealthy women treating the church meetings like a fashion to show off their social power. This would have given them the impression that they could usurp authority and be disrespectful looking down on others with haughty eyes. In the normal course of society women of their status would never be caught dead around poor people, orphans and slaves, yet this is what the kingdom looks like. Also, the young wealthy widows lazily sat around all day gossiping and causing strife (1 Tim 5:11-15). Some are wealth widows who are taking advantage of the charity system and Paul has to put the hammer down to filter out people who abuse the system. In this view, Paul blames all of this on corrupt men who teach false doctrine and mislead women. The comment on Adam and Eve in this view is comparing it to the fact that Eve sinned because of deception, and these women are only corrupted because they were deceived by false male teachers, and Timothy was supposed to guide them out of that deception. Paul is saying that these women need to be sat down and learn how to treat people and walk in the spirit.
This is how Paul starts his arguments in 1 Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:3 (NLT) When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God. 5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7 They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.
As you can see, this issue goes deeper than just disrespectful women in the church of Ephesus. We must take the context of the whole letter into consideration. Context whether it be historical, cultural, or linguistic is key to understanding what we are reading in the bible. God has provided the holy spirit and the human resources to understand these things so that we can learn.
All believers are commissioned to speak the gospel and that includes women according to Paul in Gal 3:23-29, and Peter when quoting the prophet Joel about the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32). The modern structure of pulpit and pews we have today wasn’t exactly the same as back then. Back then, with the exception of some Messianic Synagogues, believers primarily met in houses and were a part of city-wide and regional networks of small groups. They always had to be wary of Roman and Jewish authorities that would have them arrested. In some cases, women who were widows and had a big house would host the group and lead in prayer, worship, and such. Even in those cases some say a male would have been the spiritual head of the group, but the hostess has authority over her actual household and keeping things organized for the group in general, so there may have been variations.
In a house meeting, anyone can talk to or pray for another male or female, women aren’t to sit in absolute silence. In the second view, it’s more about letting men be the leaders and women helping them in any way possible including speaking with them or for them if necessary. As long the men are speaking the truth, the women will speak the truth because the men will lead. If the men are false then the women will be false. In the third view, women can lead, but they are to be held to be the same accountability standards as any male leader and Paul directly address bad teaching from male leaders like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20).
There are women who have specific jobs and special positions in the 1st-century churches mentioned by Paul, like Junia (Romans 16:7) and Priscilla (Acts 18:26). Pheobe and Priscilla are an example of the second interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15. Pheobe is called a patroness in Romans 16:2, meaning she was in charge of certain affairs. Priscilla and her husband Aquila both ministered to Apollos in Acts 18. Even though, 1 Timothy 3:12 talks about deacons and their wives, one can clearly see with Pheobe in Rom 16:1-2, that women functioned as deaconesses. 1 Tim 3:12 is clearly referring to male deacons who are married, and for them to be respectful husbands. This goes in line with the qualifications of male leaders mentioned throughout the whole chapter, which says that married male deacons should follow the example of the proper elders described earlier in the chapter. It doesn’t bar single men and women from being deacons. Deacon is based on diákonos the Greek word for servant, it’s not a magical term for a church leader, and therefore not explicit to men. This shouldn’t be a problem even for someone that believes women should never lead, since deacon just means servant, and everyone is called to serve the kingdom.