The famous verse 1 Timothy 2:12 is widely referenced in discussions regarding women church leaders:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

My specific question is when Paul says "I do ..." why is this seen as instructional to the global church by those who hold that view, rather than him recounting what he does? Is Paul viewed as inerrant when he does give instruction?


6 Answers 6


Similarly, an author can write, my god, my gospel etc. it doesn't mean it is a personal unique opinion. On Romans 2:16, "according to my gospel", Utley comments:

"according to my gospel" In context this referred to Paul's preaching of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The pronoun "my" reflected Paul's understanding of the stewardship of the gospel that had been entrusted to him (cf. Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:11; 1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 2:8). It was not uniquely his, but as the Apostle to the Gentiles he felt an awesome sense of responsibility for spreading the truth about Jesus in the Greco-Roman world.

Paul does forbid women from speaking and teaching in the assembly and to have an authoritative role in the ministries that includes elders, pastors position 1Tim 2:11-12; 1Cor 14:33-38, it was his rule as he says, "in all the churches", no commandment was unique to one church and time. It says, I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. In Timothy, he adds the authority of the Genesis story of Adam Eve, by reminding them of the commands and tradition of the law, none of which are his personal opinion, but law.


There are really two reasons why Christians have taken this passage as a command rather than a statement of Paul's current practice.

First Paul enjoys a very special place in the history of the early church, having written a huge amount of the New Testament (as believed over most of the last 2000 years) and his founding of so many early churches. Many Christians take the authority of his commands as second only to Jesus himself (in the case of Dispensationalists, even more authoritative than Jesus). It is unsurprising that if Paul writes "this is how I do something" then many Christians take it as "this is how it should be done".

Secondly Paul's practice in this area has agreed with the expectations of the culture over almost all of the last 2000 years. In almost all of that time it has been almost universally believed that women should be subservient to men, should play no real part in society and were incapable of intellectual discourse to the same extent as men. There are exceptions to this norm, but it has been the norm for 2000 years, at least in the parts of the world where Christianity flourished.

The view that women should be permitted to rule over men would be considered radical and contrary to natural order for most of this period. It is unsurprising that any passage seeming to gainsay this view would receive wide acceptance.

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    Your last paragraph isn't true. The people of that time were surrounded by pagan cults with priestesses. And "culture at the time" argument might hold water if Paul had been silent about WHY. But he wasn't. He went on to say, "Because Adam was created first." Not "well, people at this time..."
    – B. Goddard
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 16:43
  • When I said "this period" I meant the one I referred to in the sentence before - 2000 years of Christian history, in the parts of the world where Christianity was dominant. I didn't mean the Biblical period. Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 20:31
  • "The view that women should be permitted to rule over men would be considered radical" - that isn't an reason in itself. Jesus' teaching was radical as was the entire Christian faith. The early disciples weren't frequently killed for nothing.
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 9:56
  • Another perspective to look at this is God's choice of leadership from the old testament. - Man created before woman, and woman created from, and for the man - Noah picked to build the arch - Abraham picked as the ancestor of Christ - Isaac picked - Joseph picked to save Israel - Moses picked to lead Israel out of Egypt - The Levitical priesthood just men - The judges mostly men, except in cases were men were not available to lead. - The kings, men - The apostles of Christ Men Commented Apr 10 at 11:50

Paul says elsewhere, Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ. That is an imperative, a command, and includes all that he spoke ; and all of his, behaviour as an example.

Nothing that Paul said or did can be excluded from his command :

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. [1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV]

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    While the mood in 1 Cor 11:1 is "imperative", none of the moods in 1 Tim 2:12 are "imperative", rather they are "indicative". Imperative is a command. Indicative is a simple fact. Paul didn't allow it at that time, but that is not to say he meant it to remain forever. Please correct if I missed something.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 21:22
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    @SLM 'Be ye' is a command which incorporates the copular verb. It is not an invitation. It is an authoritative exhortation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 7:42
  • Yes, that was my comment. "Be ye" is imperative, a command. But there are no imperatives in 1 Tim 2:12. There are only "indicatives", statements of fact. In looking at your answer, you haven't answered the OP. Just because Paul says elsewhere is no reason to assume Paul says the same re women teachers. So, -1.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:44
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    You have not understood my answer. If Paul says be ye followers then they must follow all he says and all he does. No exceptions. That is my answer. Yes, you 'missed something'. But it is not my place to correct you, All I can do is re-iterate what I said.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 16:27
  • Thank your for clarifying your answer, but we can be glad that some do not think "no exceptions". Eph 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; "Be obedient" is imperative.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 19:01

My church people (a branch heavily influenced by the Anabaptist movement) teach that this example is teaching for the church. Building a bit on Nigel J's answer (who can freely contradict me, if he would like, in the comments):

A bit of a side-note: This passage does not specifically mention church leadership; it is more general. As you can see, it tells men "everywhere" to pray, lifting up holy hands, and the whole tone of this part of the letter is rather broad than restricted.

But the apostle taught it, and we take it as teaching for the Church, since he mentions "women who fear God", and we suppose that the men who are supposed to pray everywhere also part of the church by being made disciples and being born again. This view that apostolic example is an example for the church in general is in line with the "Regulative Principle", which teaches roughly that if Christ and the apostles as a group can be shown to have taught and practiced something,the church should obey and follow their example (especially where it touches public worship); otherwise (if Christ and the apostles did not teach and practice some doctrine), it is not for the church to innovate.

Concerning the specific doctrine of man-only church leadership, it is given more particularly (or reinforced, if you take the I Tim. passage as foundational to the teaching) in the letters to the Corinthians:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (I Cor 14:34-35)

For the record, we do not teach that "women should be subservient to men, should play no real part in society and [a]re incapable of intellectual discourse to the same extent as men", as DJ's answer points out, at least in theory (I'll just say that we have varying degrees of success in carrying out the practical equality of value that is clearly taught by the apostles elsewhere). Indeed, many of the women among us are intellectually superior to the men, and better at discourse, and more socially able. In stead of "subservient", we teach that the women "should be quiet and learn in submission" (as Paul taught in the passage that you quote), especially in the church.

  • It's interesting that I don't know any church where women are required to be silent. Do we conveniently ignore this part? Why is it 'disgraceful' - that's a pretty strong term. I don't know if this should be a separate question, but feel free to expand on anything if you would like to
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 10:30
  • @Mr.Boy Yes, it is fairly strong language. Our folks don't follow it to the letter--we all sing (both men and women) in the meetings, for example. And why Paul said this was so, is beyond me, except that he says "as the law says" (And I don't know where the law said that, either!) However, these passages (along w/ I Cor 11), in context of the Reg. princ., are the reason that we don't allow women to lead in the church, in spite of how much more qualified they may be.
    – Conrado
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 13:28
  • It's interesting Paul also talks in the context "if they wish to inquire about something" - does that mean in their church it was common for people to engage in debate, shout questions to the leaders, etc?
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 11:51
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    @Conrado - where in "the law" it says women are to remain silent is more-or-less everywhere: the only people allowed to serve in the Temple were men. They were the ones responsible to teach, lead, etc.
    – warren
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 13:32
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    @warren Yes, that's a fair interpretation I think -- I was trying to remember some particular prohibition, but you're right, in general the men were explicitly made responsible, and that could be what Paul refers to.
    – Conrado
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 14:09

Paul says "I" simply because this was personal letter (1:1-2), and he is writing to personally instruct someone (Timothy) how to conduct themselves in the church (1:3ff), and to command what he writes to others (1:3, 4:11).

Do you think his "urge" in 2:1-2 was time-bound or only meant for the recipient? ("I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity")

Of course not! The very next verse says, "Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior".

In other words, this epistle is authoritative, Apostolic instruction to the church.

Delivered in singular form to Timothy, but intended to be spread far and wide.


It's an interesting argument from Paul. I don't let women teach because Eve was deceived. Huh? Aren't there numerous examples in the Bible of men being deceived? Are all women deceived?

It would seem something else is going on that troubles Paul at the time. After all, in the next letter to Timothy, Paul praises Timothy's grandmother and mother for instilling unfeigned faith in him.

When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. 2 Tim 1:5

Why was Eve deceived? At the time, there was no written Bible. The snake asked did God really say? Paul knows there are deceitful men, wolves in sheep's clothing.

But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 2 Time 3:13

What is the solution that Paul is waiting on?

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2 Tim 3:15

Timothy's women teachers knew the Old Testament and some of the New, but the New was not yet codified, not yet fully written.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 2 Tim 3:16

All scripture had not been written. All scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction. Until then, it was important to restrict the sex of the teachers. In Christ, however, there is no male or female. From an instruction point of view, it simply awaited the canonization of Scripture.

So, why do some still believe women should be silent? Perhaps they teach Tradition, the unwritten did God say?

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    This argument is complicated, and I can't follow the logic.
    – Conrado
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 20:56
  • @Conrado Paul's argument was Eve was deceived. But he also says some women are not. He also says some men are deceived. So, what is Paul's point? The all of scripture had not been written and codified, but it was some of scripture by which Timothy's relations taught him unfeigned (true, no deceit) faith. How again? By scripture. Scripture is Paul's standard of truth, once it is all written and assembled by the end of John's life. Scripture is profitable for doctrine, correction, instruction. Your sex doesn't matter once scripture is complete. There is no male/female in Christ.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 22:27
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    Paul's "I do not allow" is simply because the standard of truth had not been completed at that time of the end of Paul's life. Scripture, not your maleness or femaleness, is what is used for doctrine, correction, proof, instruction. I understand this is a "new" argument of what Paul is saying, but I believe it fits all of the facts shown in that standard of truth.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 22:30
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    Yes, I think I understand the logic now. We also know and teach that the women are equally co-heirs of the gift of life (See I P. 3:7), and that in this regard their sex does not matter. However, in many other areas of life: "Vive la différence"! and this is certainly born out specifically by the same NT Writings.
    – Conrado
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 11:41
  • It hink this answer is trying to weave passages of scripture into a doctrine in a manner that clearly does supports Paul's writings. Whilst I have trouble with the idea Paul does not appear to support women teaching as priests in the church, this answer is inadequate in its attempt to reconcile the modern church habits with the old interpretation and implementation of Paul's writings.
    – Adam
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 0:12

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