Here at The Essential Church, we’ve been examining 1 Timothy 2 this week, particularly verses 11-15, what they mean, and how to best put them into context. So far, we’ve established that there was chaos in the worship service, with anger, wrath, doubting, and opulent appearance characterizing the believers at the church at Ephesus, rather than believers there being clothed in good works, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:10. What Paul leads into with verse 11 and 12 shows that the women in Ephesus aren’t exactly doing good works but rather, bad works, and he has to correct the bad going on in the church.
But Paul’s words begin with “I do not allow” in 1 Timothy 2:12. This is important because Paul distinguishes his view using the pronoun “I” from the Word of the Lord and God Himself. This distinction is important because it brings a factor into the discussion of how to interpret 1 Timothy 2 that makes the case for women in ministry.
Just what is that factor? That’s what I’ll get into below.
The Significance of the Pronoun “I” in 1 Timothy 2:12
Why does Paul use the pronoun “I” when giving advice to Timothy? That’s a question that complementarians have often ignored or not even thought about. But it’s important because Paul was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was formerly Saul of Tarsus, a man who persecuted the church and even witnessed the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60). Paul was a man who was born in Asia Minor yet studied under the prophet Gamaliel in his day. He had both Jewish and Roman citizenship (similar to the more contemporary Josephus) and went on to become the greatest human missionary outside of Jesus Christ Himself. Secularists refer to Paul today as Christianity’s Founder, though Christians themselves would credit Jesus with founding Christianity instead — since, after all, Christianity does have Christ as its root word.
So when we arrive at Paul’s epistles, letters of encouragement, admonition, and counsel to the earliest churches in first-century Christianity, we’d expect Paul to give a commandment from the Lord concerning women. Well, complementarians who believe that the man’s leadership in church ministries stemming from “Adam was first formed, then Eve” believe that. In fact, the idea that Paul makes such a claim in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is a common and frequent complementarian argument that still exists today.
Paul distinguishes between “I” and “the Lord”
And yet, if Paul were giving an argument from Scripture about women not teaching in the church, why doesn’t he say “this is a commandment from the Lord”? Paul distinguishes between his own advice/counsel and Scripture/doctrine in his letter to the Corinthians for example:
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:10-16, NKJV)
In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says “I command, yet not I but the Lord.” Just two verses later, Paul says “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say.” In verse 10, Paul gives a commandment from the Lord; in verse 12, Paul gives his own advice, but he’s specific enough to say “I, not the Lord, say.” In Paul’s discussion of marriage and divorce, he wanted to distinguish between what he said and what the Lord says in His Law, an important distinction to keep in mind. As believers, we, like Paul, often give our advice and counsel to other fellow believers, but we must distinguish those times when we give something we think or assess as right versus what Scripture says is right. What we say is not always biblical or faithful to Scripture.
So Paul recognizes that when he tells believers to remain with unbelievers, and tells believers to let unbelievers depart if the unbelieving spouse chooses to depart. He recognizes what the Lord says when he tells married spouses not to depart from one another. In the event of a divorce between believers, both can choose to either stay divorced or reconcile and remarry post-divorce. He distinguishes his advice from the Lord’s. The Lord says that married spouses aren’t to divorce each other.
It’s likely that, in receiving a letter from the Corinthians (for Paul says “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me,” 1 Corinthians 7:1), the question was asked about a believer who married as an unbeliever, whose spouse was still unbelieving despite his or her own conversion. In such a case, what could a new believing spouse do with an unbelieving spouse? What decision should he or she make? There’s nothing in Scripture Paul can marshal to say, “This is the commandment of the Lord,” so he gives counsel based on his own interpretation of Scripture and God’s Word concerning divorce in the Old Testament Law.
How does 1 Corinthians 7 and the use of “I” versus “the Lord” tie back into 1 Timothy 2:12?
The discussion related to Paul’s use of “I say” versus “The Lord, not I say” is an important one in 1 Timothy 2:12. For in the passage that complementarians tout as the “gold standard” on the place of women in the church, Paul doesn’t quote the Lord or the Old Testament Law as a reason for telling women not to teach, but rather, uses the word “I.”
Think about it: if the Law really said for women not to teach in the church, why didn’t Paul say that? As I’ve said before, Paul distinguished between his advice and the commandment of God. And, when it came to women speaking in the church incessantly, Paul appeals to the Law to tell these women to learn how to keep silent in the church and stop asking questions in disruption of the worship service:
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that “the Law also says” for women to keep silent in the churches. And then we read 1 Corinthians 14:35 about “if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home.” We know from this that the women in question were married women, for single women don’t have husbands at home. The reason why Paul tells women to keep silent in the churches is that the Law says so, but the issue of women keeping silent isn’t about telling women to never talk in church but rather, to not disrupt church service with incessant questioning.
The Law could not forbid married women (or single women) from teaching, especially when one considers that Deborah, a married woman, was also a prophetess “in the congregation of Israel” (Judges 20:1; 21:10, 13, 16). Deborah was married, yet she was over men in the Israelite congregation — and she was God’s spokesman for the people. If she could deliver the word of the Lord to the congregation in Israel, and she was something of an ancient-day preacher, then women can teach in the congregation of believers today.
If Paul isn’t telling women they can’t talk in church but that they can’t talk in a disorderly manner (by interrupting teaching with questions), then he wouldn’t disallow women from teaching except under chaotic/disorderly circumstances.
Why does Paul use the pronoun “I” in 1 Timothy 2:12?
Paul uses the pronoun “I” in 1 Timothy 2:12 to distinguish between himself and the Lord because of the situation in the church at Ephesus. The wives desiring to be teachers of the Law don’t know what they’re saying or what they’re agreeing to (or where it comes from), so Paul makes a power play: that is, Timothy writes asking Paul what to do and Paul gives godly counsel that he recognizes as his own without claiming that it is a divine commandment.
We can appreciate this about Paul for a few reasons. For one, it shows us that the Law did not disallow women to teach; so, if Paul disallows women, there must be an emergency reason for so doing. This means that there was no standard way of dealing with such a situation in the churches yet, in the early church days.
Paul does what an apostle would do. Since he’s placed Timothy as the Pastor of the church at Ephesus to put down false doctrine and warn believers against teaching it (1 Timothy 1:3), Paul gives Timothy advice on how to deal with the situation in worship where believing wives are propagating false doctrine and then using it to avoid their home duties. This is why Paul encourages the wives in “childbearing”: they are avoiding home duties and coveting instead the teaching ministry in the church.
We value what Paul has said in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and we consider his advice godly and worth listening to and implementing. And yet, we dare not forget that Paul lets us in on his personal advice to Timothy. Paul doesn’t allow these wives to teach, though they are allowed to learn. Why would Paul “let them learn in silence with full submission” if he wasn’t trying to get them to learn the truth before teaching it? This is the same Paul who told Timothy to teach men who would teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2); surely he wouldn’t want these women to just learn sound doctrine without teaching others.
Paul’s use of the pronoun “I” was done to provide advice to Timothy about what to do with the wives in his church who were propagating false doctrine and disrupting church worship teaching with it. Timothy didn’t know what to do because there was no biblical solution for how to deal with it at that time (the Bible at that time was purely the Old Testament, no New Testament).
Timothy, thus, in his frustration, writes Paul about a solution for the problem pertaining to believers propagating false doctrine. These women are not teaching false doctrine (they’re not teachers), but they are propagating it and spreading it in teaching sessions. That makes them as dangerous as the false teachers themselves, and a threat to a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith, as Paul says (1 Timothy 1:5). When Paul writes, then, he has to give counsel for a problem for which Scripture (the Old Testament) doesn’t provide a solution. Thus, he gives his personal decision using the pronoun “I.”
Paul’s personal decision and personal pronoun demonstrate that the Scriptures are not opposed to women teachers. Deborah was both judge and prophetess in the “congregation of Israel,” the Old Testament tells us in the Book of Judges, which means that she was God’s spokesman in the congregation the same way that the preacher/teacher/Pastor is today. Thus, if the Scriptures allow women to speak on God’s behalf in teaching and preaching, Paul had some particular reason to disallow these women from teaching — and the reason in question had nothing to do with “Adam being created first” or women being easily deceived.