5 Reasons Those Who Would Limit the Participation of Women
in the Church Can No Longer Claim Paul as Their Authority

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is considered by many to be the Bible’s clearest statement against women functioning in authoritative roles of leadership in the Church. It reads, Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (NKJV). For many, this passage has become a canon within the canon and is used as the standard by which every other passage about women is measured. Passages that clearly recognize women functioning in authoritative roles of leadership are not given equal consideration but are subordinated to this passage and forced to fit within the narrow parameters of the interpreter’s take on this verse.

Typical of this approach is that of the popular Spirit Filled Life Bible (which otherwise has much that is commendable). In commenting on Rom. 16:7 where Paul recognizes a female apostle named Junia, the commentator argues that this could be a man named “Junias.” This very weak argument is made in spite of the overwhelming manuscript and historical evidence that this was a female apostle named Junia.

Why would this commentator argue for the possibility of this apostle being a man named “Junias” when every ancient Greek manuscript has the feminine form of Junia? The answer is found, perhaps, in the commentary section on 1 Tim. 2:11-12 where the commentator’s bias against a woman functioning as an apostle is obvious. He says, “The prohibition of vs. 12 refers to the authoritative office of apostolic teacher in the church.” No explanation is given for this conclusion, which is not surprising since there is nothing in the text to suggest that this is what Paul had in mind.

What does become clear is that, in the mind of this commentator, Junia, of Rom. 16:7 is probably not a woman because it would violate the standard of judgment he has chosen on this matter, which is his own interpretation of I Tim. 2:11-12. He thus subordinates the clear statement of Paul in Rom. 16:7 to his own unclear interpretation of 1 Tim. 2:11-12. His interpretation of I Tim. 2:11-12, which does not allow women to function as apostles, thus serves as his canon within the canon and he subordinates all other passages on women to this. This is poor hermeneutics, but happens when we impose our own traditional prejudices and presuppositions on the text rather than allowing the text to speak to us and challenge our traditions.

On the surface and out of context, 1 Tim. 2:11-12 can appear to be a very clear statement against women functioning in leadership in the Church. But a different picture emerges when, instead of reading into the text our own prejudices, traditions and assumptions, we take into account five obvious facts about the letter and the passage in question. Taken together, these five exegetical considerations clearly demonstrate that Paul is not restricting women from any function of leadership in the Church. The five exegetical facts presented in this article are:

(1) 1 Timothy is a personal letter, written to an individual, not to a church, indicating that Paul is addressing personal issues related to Timothy and his unique situation rather than universal issues applicable to all churches everywhere.

(2) Chapter 1 and verse 3 indicates that Paul is addressing a particular problem that is plaguing the church in Ephesus and what he writes must be considered in the light of this real-life, local situation.

(3) The word translated “authority” in vs. 12 is not the normal word for authority and is found only here in the New Testament, indicating that Paul is not addressing the normal exercise of authority in all churches, but is addressing the unique problem plaguing the church in Ephesus at the time.

(4) When Paul comes to the passages in question he suddenly switches from addressing “women” (plural) in vss. 9-10 to addressing “a woman” (singular) in vss. 11-15, leading some commentators to conclude that he is addressing a particular problematic woman in Ephesus.

(5) Paul, in his other letters, recognizes women who functioned in various authoritative roles of leadership and these must be given equal weight when considering if the New Testament imposes limitations on the role of women in the Church.

Reason #1
I Timothy Is a Personal Letter

Paul wrote three personal letters as he was nearing the end of his life, two to Timothy who was in Ephesus, and one to Titus who was on the island of Crete. These letters contain instructions and requests, some of which are obviously related to the recipient of the letter and cannot be applied to all Christians. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:9-15, Paul exhorts Timothy to come quickly to him and bring a coat he left in Troas along with the books he left there.

In 1 Timothy 5:9-14 Paul exhorts Timothy that widows under sixty years of age should not receive support from the church and that younger women should marry. It is interesting to note that those who are so intent on literally applying 1 Timothy 2:11-12 do not have the same concern for 1 Timothy 5:9-14.

1Timothy was written to encourage and instruct Timothy in his very specific task of confronting false teaching in the church at Ephesus that was being spread by both men and women. Good hermeneutics demands that the historical context of this letter and its personal nature be taken into consideration when interpreting the passage at hand.

Reason #2
Paul is Addressing A Unique Local Situation in Ephesus

Verse 3 of chapter 1 reveals that 1 Timothy was written as a follow-up to encourage and instruct Timothy in his very specific assignment of confronting heretical teaching in the church in Ephesus. Paul had given this assignment to Timothy when they were together in that city and he found it necessary to move on. Paul now writes from Macedonia to encourage and instruct Timothy in the carrying out of this particular and difficult assignment.
Paul was not writing a manual of church order that he wanted implemented in all churches. He is addressing the unique issues related to Timothy and the church in Ephesus at the time. Timothy’s situation and the specific nature of Paul’s instructions must be brought to the task of interpretation.

Reason #3
A Strange Greek Word

That Paul is addressing a unique situation in Ephesus is further borne out by the fact that the word “authority” in 2:12 is a translation of the Greek word authentein, which is found only here in the entire New Testament. If Paul is here giving a universal edict for church order, why doesn’t he use the normal word for authority, exousia, which he and all other New Testament writers use?

Paul’s use of authentein, which meant “to dominate” or “gain the upper hand,” may indicate a feminist movement of sorts in the church in Ephesus, probably with roots in Artemis the mother goddess who claimed priority and originality in creation (remember the chant “great is Artemis of the Ephesians” in Acts 19:28!). Paul’s use of a word that is not found any place else in the New Testament confirms that he is addressing a unique situation in Ephesus for which authentein is the appropriate word. If he had been giving a universal rule for church order in this passage, he would have used exousia, the normal New Testament word for authority.
Reason #4
The Structure of Chapter 2 Indicates That Paul
May Have Been Referring to A Particular Woman in 2:11-12

In 2: 9-10, Paul refers to “women” in the plural; but when he comes to the restrictive admonition of vss. 11-12, he changes to the singular and refers to “a woman.” Afterwards, in vs. 15, he returns again to the plural. This may indicate that, in writing this passage, Paul had a particular woman in mind, one primarily responsible for spreading the false teaching in Ephesus.
In vs. 12, the ongoing present tense of the verb (permit) also indicates that Paul’s restriction is temporary and that he may have a particular woman in mind. It literally reads, I am not permitting a woman to teach . . ..

In 1:18-20, Paul reveals that he has turned two of the false teachers who are men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, over to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. In regards to this unnamed woman he wants her to be allowed to learn in silence (quietness, without turmoil) but not allowed to teach or to authentiein, i.e., dominate or gain the upper hand. This is a temporary solution to a very real problem in Ephesus.

Reason #5
Women Pastors/Leaders in the NT

There are numerous women leaders in the New Testament, some who obviously functioned in pastoral roles of oversight. Paul mentions 2 of these female pastors in Rom. 16 as well as a female apostle.

Phoebe, A Woman Minister & Pastor
In Romans 16:1 Paul commends to the church at Rome our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, and he exhorts the Roman believers to receive her with respect and to assist her in whatever business she has come to carry out in Rome. Paul refers to Phoebe as a “servant,” which is the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos, or its verb form, is translated “minister” in 23 other places in the New Testament. For example, in Eph. 3:7, Paul says that he became a minister (diakonos) according to the gift of the grace of God.

Phoebe, therefore, was a minister, probably a pastor, from the church in Cenchrea. This is borne out by vs. 2 where Paul refers to her as a helper of many and of myself also. The Greek word translated “helper” in this verse is prostatis and, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, means “one who presides” or “a woman who is set over others.” When this passage is examined apart from our traditions and prejudicial assumptions, the evidence is overwhelming that Phoebe functioned in a leadership role similar to what we would call pastoral ministry.

Priscilla, A Woman Pastor
In verses 3-5 of the same chapter, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture, which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a husband and wife team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately.

In presenting this couple, Paul always uses plural pronouns (they or them), but goes even further and reverses the culturally accepted manner of mentioning the husband first and, instead, mentions Priscilla first. He obviously wanted to make a point about her role and function in the relationship. Many commentators conclude that Priscilla is mentioned first because she was the spiritually gifted one and the leader of the church that met in their home. Again, the evidence is overwhelming that Priscilla functioned in a leadership role and was probably the pastor of the church that met in their house.

Junia, A Woman Apostle
In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a feminine name and so we have here a woman who is recognized by Paul as an apostle. The early church father, John Chrysostom, commenting on this verse, said, "Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle."

Although some have tried to argue that the name should be “Junias,” which is male, every ancient Greek manuscript, without exception, has the feminine form of Junia. In addition, the name “Junias” is unknown in ancient history whereas the name Junia was quite common. In other words, “Junias” is a hypothetical name that has been created by translators who cannot accept the fact that Paul recognized a female apostle in the early Church.

When considering why some translations, such as the NIV, have used “Junias” in this passage, Dr. Dr. N. Clayton Croy, professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, says, “It is hard to see any other reason other than the translators’ bias against the possibility that a woman could be an apostle.” Well-known New Testament scholar, James G. D. Dunn, says, “The assumption that the name must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.”


In addition to the women above, there are numerous women mentioned by Paul who functioned in leadership roles and are referred to by him as “co-laborers.” These would include at least 3 women in Romans 16 and the 2 women of Phil. 4:3 whom Paul says “labored with” him in the gospel. The expression “labored with” is a translation of a rare Greek word sunethlesan, which describes athletes working as a team side-by-side and indicates that these women had worked closely with Paul in the ministry.

When all the evidence is examined it is obvious that Paul, in I Tim. 2:11-12, is not excluding women from teaching and leadership roles in the Church, nor is he limiting their roles and function in the Church. Those who would marginalize or limit the participation of women in the Church can no longer claim Paul as their authority.