Q&A: Paul's Fallible Opinion

Paul's Fallible Opinion

Question

In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul does not say, "God does not permit a woman to teach," or "It is sin for a woman to teach." He only says that he himself does not permit a woman to teach (which in another answer you take to mean "be ordained"). Could this possibly be Paul's personal preference and not a message from the Lord? Elsewhere in his letters, Paul admits that he has no specific message from God, but gives his own opinion anyway (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:25). Also, does the fact that Paul says, "I do not permit," imply that other early church leaders did permit women to teach? Was Paul just explaining to Timothy how he did things?

Answer

Yes, Paul did say, "I do not permit." However, there are two significant reasons that I do not think Paul was merely offering his opinion on the matter. First, he defended his position on the basis of Scripture, specifically on the implications of the account of the Creation and Fall in Genesis 2-3 (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul argued that Scripture (and thus God) had already demonstrated that women ought not to be ordained.

Second, in stating that he did not permit the ordination of women, Paul offered this opinion under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This suggests that his opinion was true and trustworthy. Nevertheless, elsewhere Paul made it clear that there are many matters of conscience on which believers may legitimately differ (e.g. Rom. 14). In line with this, in 1 Corinthians 7:25 he offered his opinion in an advisory capacity. But there he spoke of wisdom, which must be judged more or less applicable to each situation. He did not speak in terms of permitting and forbidding, or in terms of sin, but he allowed people to make their own decisions based on his sage advice (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:36-37). The fact that Paul did not permit women to be ordained indicates that he was not arguing from opinion or subjective advice, but rather that he was convinced that his position was absolutely true. He did not allow people to make their own determinations on this, but actually prevented what he saw as wrong. He did not permit women's ordination because he believed it to be objectively wrong. In my estimation of Paul and of the inspiration of Scripture, Paul would not "forbid" on the basis of an opinion which he held and which he knew to be subjective rather than universally applicable.

Also, I would point out that Paul did not say that "only he" did not permit this. He made no statement as to the practices of the other apostles or churches. However, you raise an interesting point in wondering why this instruction is even in the letter in the first place. Was the ordination of women something practiced by others in the early church? We have no evidence from church history or Scripture that would indicate that women were ordained as elders in the early church. Still, the fact that Paul included this statement might reasonably lead us to conclude that women may have been attempting to run the church where Timothy was ministering. This may also have been the case in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:34-35). Some women may have been engaged in certain teaching capacities (which I do not believe Paul forbids here). But whether or not they were engaged as teachers, it appears to me that at least some of them were seeking to be ordained as elders, and that Timothy needed guidelines from Paul on how he should handle the situation. As I understand 1 Timothy 2-3, Paul wrote that the women were not to be ordained as elders, but that they could serve as deacons.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.