I have written previously on the meaning of the verb “to have authority over” in 1 Timothy 2:12 with regard to the role of women in the church. Paul is prohibiting women in the church from teaching or having authority over men based on the order of creation rooted in the concept of primogeniture. But among complementarians who believe that there are certain roles in the church which are limited to men, some argue that women can still teach men in the church as long as they are under the authority of the elders or if their teaching is non-authoritative in nature. John Frame argues that women can teach men in the church as long as it is not the same kind of teaching that the pastors do. Jonathan Leeman responds by noting that this argument is rooted in a Presbyterian understanding of authority which Baptists do not share. As such, those who hold to congregational church government cannot consistently use Frame’s arguments.
In this article, I will be critiquing the arguments of Frame that women can teach men in the local church in a general or non-authoritative way. The main problem with his argument is the artificial distinction he makes between authoritative and non-authoritative teaching in the local church. The first text he uses to argue his point is Colossians 3:16:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”
Since we are commanded to teach and admonish one another, he argues that women are called to teach men in the local church. But the problem with this argument is he assumes that the command to teach “one another” means that everyone is called to teach everyone else. But this is not how we interpret Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21 when he speaks of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” If Paul is teaching in this verse that everyone is called to submit to everyone else in the church, then that would mean parents are called to submit to their children. But since we know this is not how the parent-child relationship works, Paul’s words must be interpreted in light of the rest of Scripture. When he calls us to submit to one another, he means that those who occupy positions of submission in the church and home submit to those they are called to submit to: children to parents, wives to husbands, and slaves to masters. Likewise, husbands do not submit to their wives because that would reverse the God-ordained role of headship in marriage. The husband has authority over his wife because he is the head of her just as Christ is the head of his bride the church. Christ does not submit to the church, but the church to Christ.
In Colossians 3:16, Paul does not mean that all Christians should teach all other Christians in the church because not all Christians have been given gifts of teaching and that would contradict his teaching on women in 1 Timothy 2:12. Rather, Paul means that those who have been given a gift of teaching use it to teach the church. For those women who have been given a gift of teaching, they are to use it to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4). Their teaching is directed toward other women, not the men of the church. If Colossians 3:16 means all Christians are to teach all other Christians in the church, then we should allow believing children to teach as well because they too are part of the church.
Frame also cites Acts 18:26 when Apollos is instructed by the husband-wife team of Priscilla and Aquila to argue that women can teach men:
“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
This is an important verse to bring up because it demonstrates that not all teaching that is done is that which takes place in the context of the local church such as in 1 Timothy 2:12. A woman can offer correction to a man from the Bible outside of the local church. This distinction is not one of authoritative versus non-authoritative teaching, but one of teaching publicly in the church versus teaching in a private encounter outside the church. And Priscilla was with her husband Apollos the whole time.
Another text Frame uses to establish this distinction is 1 Corinthians 14:26:
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”
The term “lesson” here is better translated as teaching or instruction to describe the act of teaching in the church. Because Paul says “each one” has one of these things, Frame argues that women must be able to present their teaching before men in the church. But the false assumption here is that anyone in the church can bring any of these things before the congregation. The only people in the church who can bring a revelation or tongue before the church are those who have been given the gift of prophecy or tongues. So likewise, the only people who can bring a teaching before the church are those who have been given the gift of teaching and are qualified to do so. Since Paul has placed limits on the role of women teaching men in the church, we must interpret this verse in light of 1 Timothy 2:12.
A final set of passages in the Bible Frame appeals to are those which speak of female prophets in the church who prophesied to both men and women (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 11:5). But the gift of prophecy is completely different from the gift of teaching. When someone engages in prophecy, he or she is not the one doing the teaching. That person is merely a mouthpiece for the very words of God which are infallible. Every word from a prophet is the exact word of God which does not come from man. On the other hand, the content of teaching does come from man and is not infallible. The words that a pastor speaks are not the very words of God though he is called to base his teaching on the Word of God. When women engaged in prophecy in the first century, they were not teaching or having authority over men because it was not them who was speaking, but God. They merely acted as passive agents when God literally spoke through them.
The assumption of the New Testament is that it is the elders who are called to teach the church. If Sunday school is to be done in the church, it must be as an extension of the teaching authority of the elders in order to have biblical warrant. With the growth of Sunday schools, churches are in desperate need for teachers. As a result, many churches select teachers who do not meet the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3. But James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). The assumption is that each church would only have a few teachers in comparison to the rest of the church and all of them would have the gift of teaching.
If teaching in the church is based on God’s Word, then by definition it is authoritative because it is the teaching of God when rightly interpreted. Non-authoritative teaching is an oxymoron because the only authority Christians have is the Bible which is always authoritative. When Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” these are actions, not offices. Paul does not say, “I do not permit a woman to be a pastor,” but he prohibits actions that are contrary to the order of creation.
Others argue that women can teach men in the church as long as they are under the authority of the elders. But no one can give someone else permission to disobey the teachings of God’s Word. The result of Frame’s position is that he turns “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over men” into “I do permit a woman to teach men.” If he can do that, he can make the Bible say anything he wants. In fact, this is exactly what he does in his book Theology at the Movies where he says it is OK for Christians to look at nudity on film as long as they don’t actively seek it out:
“Similarly, if film actors wish to commit sin before the camera, that is their responsibility. I don’t believe I commit sin when I, in the normal course of my cultural pursuits, observe what they, without consulting me, have chosen to do in public.”
Disobedience to one of the commands of Scripture leads to disobedience in other areas.