A Most Difficult Scripture
Perhaps the most important verses used to argue against the active role of women in church are found in 1Timothy.
"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." (1Timothy 2:11-12)
This passage is usually interpreted to mean that during church services, women are to remain silent in the presence of men, thus showing their complete spiritual subjection to God and Jesus. Their role, therefore, is not to teach during Sabbath school, nor are they to teach in any manner during the preaching service, for to do so would be usurping authority over the men that are present.
These verses are also invoked to prohibit women from having any authority over men in any and all activities, whether during church services or otherwise. Thus prayer or speech of any fashion in the presence of men is said to be prohibited by Scripture. There are four major assumptions made when interpreting 1Timothy 2:11-12.
That the singular "woman" means "all women," whether married or not
That the singular "man" means "all men, "whether married or not
That the term "silence" means "absolutely mute"
That the command specifically applies to church services
Paul was writing to the young evangelist Timothy, who was serving church brethren at Ephesus at the time. The year was circa 66 A.D. The Jewish Wars with Rome had just begun. The subject under discussion in 1Timothy 2 is the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (1Timothy 2:7). Paul therefore reminds Timothy that all Christians (men and women) should pray for kings and all that are in authority, to the end that the gospel might be preached in a setting of peace and tranquility (1Timothy 2:1-4). Timothy was therefore to teach that Christian men to pray (verse 8).
Praying, in other words, that this gospel would go to the Gentiles, in due time, in a proper atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Timothy was to teach Christian women to pray the same thing. Only instead of admonishing the women to pray without "wrath and doubting," they were to pray another way.
"in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel . . . " (1Timothy 2:9).
The word translated "modest" is the Greek kosmios and in this context carries the meaning of a Christian woman who is quiet and tranquil in her worship of God, especially in church. It means a woman who fulfills her Christian role and the duties which are incumbent upon her; a woman who is sensible, self-controlled and who voluntarily places limitations on her Christian freedom.
The word translated "propriety" is the Greek aidios and has the meaning of a modesty which has an innate moral repugnance to a dishonorable act; i.e., a reverence for the good as good. Aidios is used only here in 1Timothy 2:9 and in Hebrews 12:28. The word "moderation" in the Greek is sophrosune and has the meaning of soundness of mind, sanity or self-control. Thus it means placing voluntary limitations on one's spiritual freedom of thought and behavior.
Marriage and the Gospel
Sophrosune gives us an important clue to the context of Paul's statements in 1Timothy 2:11-12. The fact that Paul is indeed referring to the marriage relationship is revealed by the words "woman" and "man." When Paul stated, "Let a woman learn" he was actually commenting on the Christian role of the wife. "Woman" is translated from the Greek gune (wife), and "man" is translated from the Greek andros (husband). When used with anthropos (man or mankind), gune may mean women in general. But when used with andros, it can only mean "wife" and must be translated so. Paul is not discussing here the general relationship of women to men, but the specific relationship of wives to husbands.
The real question is what is the proper role of the converted husband and the converted wife in relationship to preaching the gospel of Jesus. Paul addresses this question in verses 11-15 of 1Timothy 2. The context reveals Paul's answer: the natural order is not to be disturbed IN THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. This natural order, ordained by God, is the role of the husband as head of the wife as Paul argues (1Timothy 2:13-15).
What does Paul mean then, when he commands that women should learn in "silence" and in "submission?" The Greek word translated "silence" is hesuchia and refers to tranquillity of spirit or a state of being undisturbed. Thus Paul is not requiring Christian wives to remain absolutely silent but to speak with calmness and self-control.
Paul is encouraging, indeed commanding, that wives speak up in church, ask questions, learn of God's plan of salvation, but that they do so in a manner that does not undermine the husband's position as head of the family.
The word "submission" must also be understood in this context. The Greek word is hupotage and simply means "to place in proper order." Hupotage refers to the natural order that God established between the husband and the wife. Paul simply shows here that in the wife's desire to learn, whether in the family or gathered in Christian fellowship, her proper role requires that she always respect her husband's position as her leader (see 1Corinthians 11:3).
Is it wrong for women to teach men?
The question still remains, what did Paul mean when he commanded the following.
"And I do not permit a woman (wife) to teach (the plan of salvation to her husband) or to have authority (dominate over) over a man (husband), but to be in silence (maintain a tranquil spirit)." (1Timothy 2:12)
The apostle Paul did not intend that a wife's role was to remain completely silent in relation to her mate! A correct understanding of this verse is contained in the phrases "to teach" and "to have authority." The phrase "to teach" means "to teach [the plan of salvation] continually." The phrase "to have authority" (over the husband) literally means to act as oneself, or it can also mean to dominate. Christian wives should not, in public or private, go beyond her ordained God-given marriage position and undermine her mate's position of the primary salvation teacher within the church or family. This, however, does not apply to women who are single.