When Can Women Teach?

Can Women Teach or Not?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man;

rather, she is to remain quiet.

1 Tim 2:12-13 (ESV)

She opens her mouth with wisdom,

and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Prov 31:26 (ESV)

Today, I am preparing to preach for this Sunday, Proverbs 31: 10-31 on ‘The Wise Woman.  As I studied Proverbs 31:26, the statement about “teaching” seemed at first glance to contradict the Apostle Paul’s explicit instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12 about women not teaching men. I did some research and found an essay by John Piper and Wayne Grudem which directly addresses this subject with brevity and clarity.

Are You Saying That It Is All Right for Women to Teach Men Under Some Circumstances?

John Piper and Wayne Grudem (edited by David Kotter)

When Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” we do not understand him to mean an absolute prohibition of all teaching by women. Paul instructs the older women to “teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women” (Titus 2:3-4), and he commends the teaching that Eunice and Lois gave to their son and grandson Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14). Proverbs praises the ideal wife because “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26). Paul endorses women prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:5) and says that men “learn” by such prophesying (1 Corinthians 14:31) and that the members (presumably men and women) should “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). Then, of course, there is Priscilla at Aquila’s side correcting Apollos (Acts 18:26).

It is arbitrary to think that Paul had every form of teaching in mind in 1 Timothy 2:12. Teaching and learning are such broad terms that it is impossible that women not teach men and men not learn from women in some sense. There is a way that nature teaches (1 Corinthians 11:14) and a fig tree teaches (Matthew 24:32) and suffering teaches (Hebrews 5:8) and human behavior teaches (1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:1).

If Paul did not have every conceivable form of teaching and learning in mind, what did he mean? Along with the fact that the setting here is the church assembled for prayer and teaching (1 Timothy 2:8-10; 3:15), the best clue is the coupling of “teaching” with “having authority over men.” We would say that the teaching inappropriate for a woman is the teaching of men in settings or ways that dishonor the calling of men to bear the primary responsibility for teaching and leadership. This primary responsibility is to be carried by the pastors or elders. Therefore we think it is God’s will that only men bear the responsibility for this office.

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