The Donahue - Miles Debate

on I Tim. 2:11,12

Donahue's First Affirmative

 I Timothy 2:11-12 reads, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Since this passage forbids a woman from teaching or usurping over a man, many gospel preachers have correctly pointed out through the years that women should not teach or lead over men in spiritual activities like worship services, Bible classes, and prayer. But does this passage only apply to spiritual activities? The following ten arguments show that the context proves conclusively otherwise.

Arguments For Secular Application

Argument 1:

First and maybe foremost is the fact that the context does not specify that only spiritual matters are under consideration. The reason we know that I Corinthians 14:34-35’s prohibition against women speaking applies to the church assembly, is because the context specifies such in verses 23 and 34-35. But the context of I Timothy 2 does not do likewise. Verses 11-12 do not say that a woman is not to teach nor usurp authority over the man "in spiritual matters;" instead, the passage just says that a woman is not to teach nor usurp authority over the man, period. Since the Bible leaves it at that, so should we.

Argument 2:

Verses 1-2 of the chapter instruct Christians to pray for all men, particularly for those in authority. Surely we understand that the church assembly and Bible classes are not the only places we should pray for rulers. We should also pray for our rulers when at home and in other secular locations. Therefore the context of this chapter starts out by including the home and other secular locations. It is not limited to just the church assembly and Bible classes.

Argument 3:

Verse 2b gives the intended result of these prayers for rulers: "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." Is this only talking about quiet and peaceable worship services and Bible classes? Are we only supposed to be godly and honest in spiritual matters, but not in secular matters? Again, the indication is that the chapter context includes the secular. Furthermore, isn’t the wearing of clothing which becometh women professing "godliness" referred to in verse 10 supposed to be a part of the life of "godliness" mentioned in verse 2? Likewise, isn’t the "quietness" (NASB) of verses 11-12 also a part of the woman’s "quiet," peaceable, and godly life mentioned in verse 2? Since verse 2b includes secular matters, then verses 11-12 must also, since verses 11-12 are but a partial elaboration of verse 2b.

Argument 4:

Verses 9-10 teach that women should dress in modest apparel. Does this only apply when women are engaged in church services, Bible classes, or prayer? Obviously not. Any preacher worth his salt has used this passage to condemn immodest apparel on the beach. Such preacher obviously then has no problem understanding that verses 9-10 apply to secular activities. Since verses 10-11 immediately follow, these same preachers should then have no problem understanding that the extent of its application is just as far reaching.

Argument 5:

Though not conclusive by any means, it is significant to note that the Greek verb (didaskein) translated "teach" in verse 12 is not the verb form for "gospel" (euaggelizein), which is many times translated "preach" and might imply a teaching of the gospel / good news. To the contrary, didaskein in verse 12 could refer to teaching secular matters (e.g., mathematics), as well as to teaching the Bible.

Argument 6:

Verse 15a talks about the woman being "saved in childbearing." This does not mean that a woman has to bear children in order to be saved. Passages like I Corinthians 7:8-9 prove that a woman can be saved just fine, even without ever getting married. "Childbearing" is being used in I Timothy 2:15 as a synecdoche (a part standing for the whole) for the role of women. Bearing children is a typical part of the role of women. But if I Timothy 2 is referring to spiritual matters only, it would seem strange that Paul would pick a non-spiritual activity (childbearing) as the part to stand for the "spiritual activity only" role of women.

Argument 7:

Verse 15b explains that the woman will be saved in her role in the same way as others will be saved in their different roles. The idea is that all (regardless of their role) must "continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety," in order to be saved. The question significant to this article’s discussion would be, aren’t women to demonstrate faith, love, and holiness in their secular activities also? If yes, then we have another admission that verses 11-12’s immediate context extends its application to more than just spiritual activities.

Argument 8:

Most Christians would agree that the I Corinthians 11:3 phrase "the head of the woman is the man" has basically the same extent of application as the I Timothy 2:12 phrase "I suffer not a woman to … usurp authority over the man." Assuming that agreement, and since all agree that I Corinthians 11:3’s application at least includes the husband and wife hierarchical relationship, then I Timothy 2:11-12 must apply as well to the husband and wife relationship. And there are many things about the husband and wife relationship that do not fall into the category of church related activities (I Corinthians 7:3-5 being one easy example).

Argument 9:

But the just previous argument is most likely unnecessary since there is already general agreement that I Timothy 2:11-12’s application includes the husband and wife relationship. And since this relationship includes non-spiritual matters, then the necessary conclusion is that I Timothy 2:11-12 applies to non-spiritual matters as well as to spiritual matters.

Argument 10:

I Timothy 2 actually spells out for us what the extent of its application should be. Verse 8 uses the phrase "every where" to describe when and where the instructions apply. To confirm that "every where" really means "every where," consider the modifying phrase, "lifting up holy hands." Passages like Psalms 24:4 ("He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart") and James 4:8 ("Cleanse your hands, … and purify your hearts") indicate that "lifting up holy hands" in I Timothy 2:8 is not referring to the lifting up of our literal hands. Instead the phrase is figurative for living a holy life. Now ask yourself this question, when are we supposed to live a holy life "without wrath and doubting"? Is it only during spiritual activities, or does it apply all the time? Obviously we need to keep our lives holy at all times, so I Timothy 2 doesn’t just apply to church services; it doesn’t just apply to Bible classes; it doesn’t just apply to spiritual activities only; instead, it applies "every where."

What Are Some Secular Applications?

Since the context applies the teaching of I Timothy 2:11-12 to "every where" (including spiritual and secular activities), we should make the same application. If we can see that I Timothy 2:11-12 forbids a woman from teaching a class of men when the topic is spiritual (a Bible class), then we ought to be able to see the non-spiritual parallel: I Timothy 2:11-12 also forbids a woman from teaching a class including men when the topic is not secular (like a college or high school mathematics class).

If we can see that I Timothy 2:11-12 shows that a woman cannot be a boss over the men in a church capacity (she cannot be an elder), then we ought to be able to see the non-spiritual parallel: I Timothy 2:11-12 also shows that a woman cannot be a boss over men in a secular capacity. She should not be a mayor of a city, or a governor over a state, nor should she be a boss over men at any secular job.

Many can see that I Timothy 2:11-12 forbids a woman from having an equal say in deciding church matters (in business meetings). Tom Roberts said in a debate about women in church business meetings (Truth Magazine, August 18, 1994), "A woman voting … is not ‘meekly expressing her opinion.’ A vote is a decision equal to that of a man (a violation of I Tim 2:11-12). A woman is not in subjection while voting; her vote nullifies her husband’s or another male’s vote." If we apply Tom’s exact words to the non-spiritual parallel, we must conclude that I Timothy 2:11-12 also forbids a woman from having an equal say (vote) in deciding political matters (elections). If we can see that I Timothy 2:11-12 teaches that women should not have an equal say in the final decisions in the church and family realm; why can’t we see the same in the political realm?


Instead of letting our emotions (what seems right to us, Proverbs 14:12), or the majority (Matthew 7:13-14), or what has "always been taught" (Matthew 15:9) decide when and where I Timothy 2:11-12 applies, we should let the text itself decide. And the text appears to be very clear on the matter.

--Patrick T. Donahue



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