Is 1 Timothy saying women can’t speak in church?
Many people have this question in their minds as they read the book of Timothy, and much of that misunderstanding has to do with the cultural lens through which we see this passage. What isn’t immediately obvious to some of us in the modern Western world is the fact that Paul, as Jesus did, is actually lifting up women as he writes both this letter and other Scriptures, giving women appropriate status and value before a world that did not esteem women highly at the time.
The words there in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, “let a woman learn” at first sounds restrictive, but it is really permissive in an affirming sense, giving women permission to learn alongside men as church family in a culture that typically only offered such learning to men. The text does get restrictive when it says not to let women speak, but then it clarifies what it means when we read further, as the “don’t let them speak” relates to “teaching or exercising authority over a man.” That is the true issue at hand.
The very next section of this letter to Timothy just a few verses later moves right along to say that leaders/shepherds/elders of the church are to be men and are the ones who lead in teaching. Women are restricted from holding those positions of authority over men because of God’s created order described in the 1 Timothy 2 passage, and that is what gives us our understanding for how to take the admonition for women not to “speak” or teach in church. Elsewhere God’s word affirms women are meant to teach one another and children, so they aren’t restricted from all teaching.