Should women preach in church?


In-article links: 1. The Context | 2. "And" not "or" | 3. Paul's Opinion | 4. Hair and Reproduction | 5. Conclusion

Does The Bible forbid women from ever teaching or preaching in church?

I would like to offer my opinion on this very important topic. Not everyone agrees with me on this; some think my view is too liberal, others think it's too conservative. My goal is to be biblically accurate and consistent.

1 Timothy 2:12A (ESV) "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…"

The Context

I do not believe that Paul is forbidding women from teaching in the church in any and every context, to do so here would contradict the many times women teach, prophecy, or serve apostolically (and even carry apostolic office) in the NT (Acts 18:26; Philippians 4:2-3, Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 14:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9; Philippians 4:2-3; Romans 16:7).
Paul is, I believe, advising Timothy not to let women set the doctrine focus and direction for a local church. As Dr Michael Eaton puts it in The Branch Exposition of the Bible:
Given the situation in Ephesus I suggest that the “teaching” is the authoritative teaching needed to steer the entire direction of the churches in Ephesus.

In a similar vein a captain’s rank is required to command a vessel at sea, but, once underway the captain may leave the bridge under the command of a lower ranked officer, one who does not have the authority of a captain. That officer has the ability to handle operations under the vehicle's directive. He or she is authorized to deal with changing weather conditions, emergencies, course corrections, and similar issues; but he or she is not authorized to change the operational directive of the ship; that is the Captain's responsibility under direction from his or her commanding officers.

The context of the Ephesian churches in this matter were fairly similar to those in Corinth at the writing of Paul’s first letter. In the Corinthian correspondence, however, the issue was not women taking the headship position, it was disorderly conversation during the church service, more of an undermining rather than a usurping of God ordained headship. To this Paul says: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 "The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Again, Paul is not suggesting that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church in any and every situation but he is in favor of churches operating within legitimate, God ordered, authority structures. Between these two out-of-bounds extremes, there is not only room for gifted woman teachers to exercise their gift in teaching or preaching under the direction of the eldership team, as is evidenced in many NT passages, there is actually a necessity for it.
On a side note, I also believe that all prophets, all visiting itinerant preachers, all evangelists, teachers, and apostolic types, and all preachers in training, ought likewise to submit to the local eldership team, whether they are male or female. The ordained local eldership team, comprised of qualified and ordained men, are to select the appropriate doctrinal focus, and the direction of the church they lead; they are also to exercise the discipline of the local church that they lead. They alone are accountable before God for the wellbeing and continuation of the church they lead as stewards (Hebrews 13:17).

"And", not "or"

In support of this claim the word translated as “or” in 1 Timothy 2:12A is a negative conjunction (it's negative because the following statement is also negative like the first, "and not"). Strictly speaking “and" would be a much better option than “or" here. Other scriptures using the same conjunction show the context is not “either” condition being met, but “both” conditions being met, Paul does not allow a woman to teach AND to exercise authority over men.
Matthew 6:20 is a good example because it contains both prepositions... "or" and "and":  “...neither moth NOR rust destroys” “nor” is a disjunctive, the statement requires either condition being met; but "where thieves do not break in OR steal” is the example of the same negative conjunction that Paul used in 1 Timothy 2:12: “break in AND steal” is certainly implied and strictly much more accurate, for how would a thief steal without first breaking in?
Other examples of this same negative conjunction can be found in Mark 16:13; John 8:11; Matthew 6:29; and Mark 13:32. Since Paul could have said "or" and he instead said "and" we must interpret that he meant Timothy to understand that he, Paul, does not permit a situation where both these conditions are being met: 1. a woman teaching AND 2. holding authority over a man.
It should also be said that, in this conversation with Timothy, is Paul also not giving all men authority over all women in the church.

Paul's Opinion

We ought also to remember that Paul is comfortable expressing his opinion in his writing (usually as advice, Paul often recalls what his common practice is to advise his target like a mentor). He seems to know–and expects his readers to know–the difference between a divine command and his–albeit weighty–advice. 1 Corinthians 7:12 "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)” is a far cry from 1 Corinthians 7:10 "To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)”. In both 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 11:16 Paul similarly gives no such command or charge from The Lord, but rather he advises from the authority of his common practice; and therefore we must conclude that he intends us not to read it as an all-time command from God for His churches.

Hair and Reproduction

A last, very important, point is required to be made. That there are very dark, and perverse spiritual implications that we cannot ignore regarding female lead families and churches. This may be distressing, or even offensive, but it should not be ignored.
Dr Michael Heiser in his book Reversing Hermon discusses Paul’s teaching on hair and head covering in the church in
1 Corinthians 11:2-16, here is an extract: "7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels."
Dr Heiser states:

The covering for women was commanded to protect women from sexual scandal in society and supernatural violation by angels. This dual rationale focused on social boundaries and sexual vulnerability, along with the precedent of angelic violation of women in the past… Paul was concerned with sexual modesty and fidelity, and that the violation of Genesis 6:1-4 never reoccur… Paul wanted women to have their hair covered as a sign that they were sexually taken, that they belonged to a man, their husbands. Why? Because of the angels. Apparently, Paul was concerned that if women didn’t show this sign of sexual fidelity and ‘ownership,’ a woman could be at risk of sexual violation by angels. After all, it had happened before (Genesis 6:1-4). Paul didn’t want to see such a violation of cosmic order happen again... the medical knowledge with which Paul and his readers were familiar explicitly associated a woman’s hair with the conceiving of children. In fact, a woman’s hair was the counterpart to the male testicles when it came to how women became pregnant."

Dr Heiser quotes from Troy W. Martin’s thesis: Paul’s Argument From Nature for the Veil in 1 Cor. 11:13-15: A Testicle instead of a Head Covering:

"Paul appropriately instructs women in the service of God to cover their hair since it is part of the female genitalia. According to Paul’s argument, women may pray or prophecy in public worship alongside with men but only when both are decently attired… Since the physiological conceptions of the body have changed, however, no physiological reason remains for continuing the practice of covering women’s heads in public worship, and many Christian communities reasonably abandoned this practice."

This probably explains Paul’s reluctance to make this a “charge from The LORD” but rather to lean on the authority of his common practice.


What I understand the Scripture to be saying here is that God has established a male-lead church authority structure and that women are not to attempt to go above it or to usurp it, especially in teaching and preaching. The Message provides a welcomed rendition of this passage in this regard: "I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do.

There are other Pauline texts which address this same topic and which confirm this interpretation. Given the many women who prophesied, who were apostles, who labored as qualitative equals alongside Paul in preaching and prophesying, 1 Timothy 2:12A is clearly not meant to forbid women from ever teaching and preaching in the church.

These brief comments give us very good reason to not just allow qualified and recognizably gifted women to teach, and to preach in church, they also seem to indicate that we are poorer without them. As my friend Ryan Strydom puts it:
Paul is saying that women *should* have authority placed on them (a symbol of it on their heads). He is actually making an argument that women are not separate from the men and actually ought to be a part of everything, and should even have authority within the same church.
At the same time these, and other, texts also reinforce that women are not to serve in the directive, doctrine setting, and discipline function of a local church; those responsibilities are reserved for qualified and ordained men only, in part "because of the angels".