One of the key verses in the debate about the role of men and women in the church, especially in relation to teaching, preaching and leadership is 2 Timothy 2:12 which says:
“12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
There has been some discussion about whether the verse excludes two things teaching and exercising authority or whether it amounts to the same thing “authoritative teaching.” This is what is technically referred to as hendiadys. However, this view has been questioned as the syntax doesn’t seem to quite work. You would expect the verse to talk about “teaching and having authority” rather than “teaching or having authority.”
I want to suggest however that Paul might be talking about one thing but by a different route. Rather than seeing “teaching” and “authority” being the same or linked thing (authoritative teaching) I would treat them as distinct things. It is possible to take responsibility for teaching someone and it is possible to take responsibility for having authority over them.
- Teaching then would be concerned with conveying knowledge to the student
- Authority would be concerned with using wisdom to apply and to act on the knowledge.
It is worth noting that the aim of teaching in a church context is in order to encourage action. As we put it on faithroots “what we believe affects how we live.” Further, that authority in a church context can and should only be exercised on the basis of what is taught. Therefore, whatever the syntactical implications, it is logically impossible to talk about teaching in church without talking about authority and vice versa.
Now, think through the implications of this. What is someone doing if they teach someone in order to see them grow in godliness and to serve Christ with their gifts? What is someone doing who gives authoritative instruction to a Christian about how to live and act in service to Christ. I think we would describe this as “discipleship.”
Therefore, the two things do come together towards one goal. Paul is saying that he does not permit a woman to disciple a man. I think this has implications for our understanding of how we apply the NT’s teaching on gospel ministry and leadership for men and women but I intend to leave it there at this stage as my primary aim was to just look at what Paul was actually saying in this particular instance. To reach fuller conclusions we need to look more widely at the NT.
If you want to find out how I approach the wider questions of male/female relationships in the home and in church leadership then please have a look at these two documents.