By Lindsey Carlson
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12
This isn’t exactly one of those verses I’ve seen girls sport on coffee mugs or paint in scripted letters over their front door.
I’ll admit, I’ve squirmed in my seat while discussing them with flabbergasted feminist friends. At the reading of this passage, a woman clinging to her sense of independence and equality perceives her rights are being threatened, and perhaps her self-worth. It’s a culturally sticky subject.
But, in order to uphold scriptural authority, we need to address the elephant in the room. The words aren’t comfy, but they’re clear. It’s really a black and white matter: women are called to quietness and submission within the context of the local church.
Like it or not, these verses are no less valuable than the ones we scribble on post-its and frame in our living rooms. They are pieces of God’s unchanging word and he declares them good and worthy of being studied, understood, and embraced.
Is a woman’s silence still expected today?
When the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to Timothy about correcting rampant false doctrine among the church in Ephesus, his motivation wasn’t to address a cultural problem. Paul points to a breach in the created order. God created man first to exercise dominion, and woman second as his helper. The authority structure within the church is designed to reinforce this original order.
Because God’s created order is bigger than any particular time or culture, God still expects me to serve him with my silence and submission within the church’s structure of doctrinal authority.
As a woman, what is it I am being silenced from?
Paul’s letters to Timothy offered the young pastor instructions on organizing and leading the church. His command in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 relates to doctrinal authority; “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.”
By God’s design, men (as seen later in 1 Timothy 3) are called as pastors, overseers, and elders to guard the gospel; protecting and caring for the church as Adam cared for Eve. Women are exhorted toward gentleness and submission (vv. 10-11) to allow these men the governing authority established by God.
Because God designed this structure of authority, he asks me to willingly submit, trusting the pastors and elders of my church body to submit themselves to God in their given role of influence, on behalf of the gospel.
What does ‘learning with silence and all submission’ mean?
Silence and submission begin in the heart. It is not the adornment of personal rights and equality, but instead the good works of modesty and self-control (1 Timothy 2:10).
Because God requires my quietness and surrender, I rest, trusting in faith instead of fighting in opposition, with my church’s authority structure. When I’m tempted to disagree or doubt, I allow God to fight on my behalf or change my heart. Submission to authority on earth teaches me submission to God and vice-versa.
As a woman in ministry, am I being sidelined?
Absolutely not! The Proverbs 31 woman is said to have “instruction on her tongue.” Scripture affirms women have wisdom to offer the church (Proverbs 22:6, Titus 2:3-4).
God hasn’t called us to be silent in all areas of our lives. This passage calls us to intentionality in where we exercise our gifts of teaching, namely within the church’s God-ordained structure of authority.
Years ago, in a sermon on this passage, Pastor John Piper said:
“For men and women who have a heart to minister—to save souls and heal broken lives and resist evil and meet needs—there are fields of opportunity that are simply endless. God intends for the entire church to be mobilized in ministry, male and female. Nobody is to be at home watching soaps and reruns while the world burns. And God intends to equip and mobilize the saints through a company of spiritual men who take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.”
Culture’s loud voices of feminism may have trained us to bristle at Paul’s words to women, but God’s created order of authority, functioning healthily inside the church, is not a reason to recoil. It’s reason to rest.
Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston with her worship-pastor husband and their four active kids (all under age 9). Her home is filled with the sounds of childhood (galloping horses, swashbuckling heroes, and the occasional sibling brawl), the near-constant presence of music in some form, and volumes of great literature, old and new. You can catch her regular reflections on faith and worship at Worship Rejoices or follow her on twitter.
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