The context of 1 Timothy 2 is not pleasant. There’s a lot going on in worship, and most of it, according to Paul at least, is chaotic — the exact opposite of what worship to the Lord God should be. After all, this is the same Paul who told the Corinthians,”33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). In other words, the nature of worship matches the nature of God: if God is a God of peace (He is, for He gives peace better than what the world offers), then worship should be peaceful because worship given to God should properly and accurately reflect who God is.
So, with that said, there’s chaos in the church at Ephesus. If you read 1 Corinthians 14, you’ll find that there was chaos in worship in the church at Corinth as well. Ephesus wasn’t alone in having problems (no single church in one location is alone; all churches have problems).
But Ephesus did have its own particular problems that Corinth didn’t have. One of those problems pertains to the nature of teaching. For some reason, Paul only prohibits women from teaching here in 1 Timothy 2, in his letter to Timothy at Ephesus. Now complementarians read this passage at face value without context, but how can they do that if there’s only one occurrence of it in all of Scripture? If Paul only disallows one group of women to teach in one specific church or group of churches, then there must have been some specific reason, specific to the church at Ephesus, that brought it about.
So what was the specific situation Timothy faced at Ephesus that drove Paul to disallow women to teach? That’s the question I’ll answer in this post.
Immediate Context: 1 Timothy 1
One rule of biblical interpretation is that you read the chapter(s) before a passage and the chapters after the passage to find out where the chapter in question fits within the book of Scripture itself.
When one does this, there’s little doubt that false teaching is a theme that engulfs the first Pastoral Epistle. We see this from the beginning of the epistle until its end:
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia — remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith…from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:3-7).
First, we see that some are teaching other doctrine: Timothy is sent to Ephesus to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies.” False doctrine is prevalent in the church at Ephesus, and Paul specifically sends Timothy to the church to put down the false doctrine and pave the way for godly reform in the church’s doctrine. Timothy’s chief purpose at this church is to put down false doctrine. Why wouldn’t false doctrine be at the heart of the issues in 1 Timothy 2 in the church, if false doctrine is the main reason Timothy is sent to Ephesus in the first place?
In 1 Timothy 1:6-7, there are some who “have strayed” from the truth and “have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law.” These strayed individuals have turned aside to false doctrine but they want to be teachers (“desiring to be teachers of the law”). Now when you take a strong desire to teach and merge it with false doctrine, what you have is a spiritual catastrophe in the making. It’s understandable that Paul took offense at this.
This explains why Paul goes on to say that these individuals that have strayed and turned aside to “idle talk” have no understanding: “understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7). What Paul means by this is that first, they don’t know what they’re saying. They’re not making sense but the things they say are making sense to them and few others. Next, “the things which they affirm” is a reference to the false doctrine. Since these individuals don’t understand what they’re saying, they’re also guilty of agreeing to things that are false doctrine.
When someone lacks understanding, he or she can agree to almost anything yet not understand the implications of their agreement or the ramifications of adherence to something wrong or false. So with that said, the individuals in question had a godly desire (to teach) but ungodly response to their desire (affirming false doctrine and spewing it in the church). False doctrine should certainly not be believed, but it also shouldn’t even be spoken in the church of God. After all, God is truth and His Word is truth, and whatever we say about Him, whether in His House (the church) or not should be truth. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be uttered. We dare not utter one false word about our true God and Lord.
The remaining verses in chapter 1 of First Timothy continue to drill the theme of false teaching:
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)
These next verses in chapter 1 continue to sound the theme of false doctrine. First, Paul says that “the law is good if one uses it lawfully,” a phrase that implies that, “if one uses the law badly, the law is bad.” Paul says that the law can be good when used rightly, which means that there’s a right way to use the law and a wrong way to use it. Again, this implies that the law was being used in a wrong manner, hinting at false doctrine. The law was likely being interpreted falsely and was then being used to act badly in the church.
At the end of 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul mentions “any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,” a reminder that the law is designed to combat false doctrine, any teaching contrary to the Scriptures themselves. Once again, Paul is mentioning the Law of the Old Testament and how it can be used to put down false doctrine and erroneous teaching.
All this sets the stage for why Paul doesn’t allow women to teach in 1 Timothy 2:12.
Why Paul doesn’t allow women to teach in 1 Timothy 2:12
Why doesn’t Paul allow women to teach in 1 Timothy 2:12? To answer this question, think back to what has been said above. First, we see that Timothy was sent to Ephesus to put down false doctrine. We see this in the first few verses of 1 Timothy 1, a reminder that context never leads us astray (only erroneous interpretations do). Next, Paul mentions the Law being good “if one uses it lawfully,” that the Law puts down “anything that is contrary to sound doctrine.”
So when Paul says “I do not allow a woman to teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12, while letting her “learn in silence with full submission” in 1 Timothy 2:11, he’s saying that women need to first learn before they teach. And when they learn, they must fully submit to what is being taught by “learning in silence.” When’s the last time you learned something from a teacher while talking with the teacher simultaneously? If you don’t learn by being silent, how else can you learn?
Why doesn’t Paul allow women to teach? As he says it in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
Why does Paul mention “Adam was formed first, then Eve”? Some say it’s because he’s saying that Adam was created first and thus, women can’t teach because they’re not men. And yet, that isn’t the case because Paul also argues that, whereas Eve once came from Adam, today’s men are born of women — thereby turning the genealogical argument of men over women on its head in 1 Corinthians 11:7-12.
Well, one can see why Paul argues Adam first, then Eve, when one examines the next phrase: “And Adam was not deceived.” Why does Paul say “Adam was not deceived?” He says it for the same reason a Christian would say, “The disciples did not steal Jesus’ body.”
What is that reason? You’re defending what Scripture says. Paul was giving a defense of Scripture when he argues Adam was created first and Eve was deceived, not Adam. He’s simply upholding the Law (Old Testament) as it is recorded in the Book of Genesis. Remember, the false doctrine pertained to “endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4), and Genesis is full of them. Adam was not deceived because God told Adam what would happen if he ate the forbidden fruit.
And yet, the false doctrine at the church at Ephesus said that “Adam was deceived,” which prompted Paul to correct such a statement in 1 Timothy 2. So the false doctrine would say, “Adam was deceived.” “Adam was not deceived,” Paul responds in his letter to Timothy. In other words, Paul was disagreeing with the false doctrine and recorded his response in his letter so Timothy could read it to the church and correct those listening to false doctrine and spewing it in the church.
To conclude the post, it’s important to look back and assess what we’ve covered here.
First, we’ve seen that the context of 1 Timothy 1 pertains to false doctrine: Timothy was sent to Ephesus to instruct some not to teach false doctrine. Next, the Law is good but must be used rightly, and yet, there are some in the church who are spewing false doctrine and don’t understand it’s false. In 1 Timothy 2:12-15, we see that the false doctrine pertains to the Old Testament Law, specifically, the events in Genesis about genealogy: Adam and Eve’s creation in Genesis 1-2 and the Fall in Genesis 3.
As for the women learning in silence with full submission, they must learn quietly because they’ve been too disruptive in worship already: arguing with their instructors, spewing false doctrine, longing to teach doctrine yet unable to discern true doctrine from false doctrine. In order to teach, one must learn true doctrine, and in learning true doctrine, one must separate oneself from and expose false doctrine. With these women longing to be teachers yet still ignorant of right doctrine from false doctrine, they weren’t ready for the calling and office of teacher just yet.
And even in the midst of Paul’s stern approach, he gives them hope by using himself as an example:
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:16-17)
Paul says in so many words that he is an example of the longsuffering of God, that what he did was done “ignorantly in unbelief” when he waged war against the people of God and didn’t realize who the true God was. And this is an example for those women who can’t teach yet: though they’ve spewed false doctrine, with enough time, divine longsuffering, and submission to their teachers, God can show as much grace to them as He did for the Apostle Paul.
The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is false doctrine, and Paul refutes false doctrine within the controversial passage by agreeing that Adam was not deceived and Eve fell in the transgression. This is exactly what Scripture says.
Why does Paul tell the women not to teach in 1 Timothy 2:11-15? He tells them not to teach because what they’re saying is false doctrine, but they don’t know it.
Complementarians, once again, have made a text about gender that pertains to false doctrine more than anything else.