I have some questions regarding I Timothy 2:11-12. Are these verses concerning a woman learning and teaching general commands or are they specific to the assembly? What in the context determines this? Further, I am no Greek scholar. Those who are familiar with the Greek, what is the proper understanding of verse 12? Specifically, is it to be understood that "I do not permit a woman to teach (over a man) or to have authority over a man" or simply "I do not permit a woman to teach (period), or to have authority over a man"?

I would like to respond by starting with the whole context of the passage.  I Timothy 2:8-12 says, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.  I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" (NIV)

Understanding the context, I feel will help us understand the direction that Paul was heading when he made the comment about women and silence.  (I normally like to wave my arms around when I explain this, so you'll just have to imagine it.)  When Paul was telling men to lift up "holy hands in prayer" are we to understand that as a specific posture for prayer or as opposed to having them lifted in anger?  If you can see a man in a fighting posture, with fists raised and ready to strike, that is what Paul is telling men they should not be.  The opposite of the cocked fighting position is hands that are open --  ready to plead, ready to pray.

Note that Paul did not have to tell women those things.  Paul knew when he was talking to his audience that men have issues that they needs to work out and women have their issues.  It does not take much observation of the world to notice that men are far more prone to road rage, fits of anger, and violence than women.  Paul does not leave women out.  In verses 9 and 10, he digs at women for self-absorption and wanting to be adored for what she looks like or wears.  In opposition to what is on the outside, he is telling them what should be on the inside. 

Into this context, we are told that a woman should learn in quietness and submission.  Unlike its modern connotation, submission is not a bad word.  We are all told to submit to rulers (Romans, 13:1), masters (1 Peter 2:18) and one another (Ephesians 5:21).  Women are told here to submit to teachers.  I would suppose that he is insinuating that women may have problems with this concept -- just like men having struggles with the anger issue.  It may only be that women only have this problem when they have to listen to a man teaching, but it may also be learning in general no matter what gender of person is leading the class.  It is hard to determine for sure because in our "politically correct" world, such a concept of difference between men and women would be ridiculed and therefore no serious study given to it. 

Now when we hit verse 12, he says that women are not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man.  A sampling of various reliable translations:
(Young Literal) "and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness,"
(ASV) "But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness."
(KJV) "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
(NKJV) "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence."

Depending on the translation, the English rendering can be a little stiff.  However, we know that women are not barred completely from teaching because Titus 2:4 tells us that older women have an obligation to teach younger women.  Also we have the example of Priscilla who taught (a man no less) in Acts 18:26.  In order to get the meaning "I do not permit a woman to teach (period), or to have authority over a man" would require a completely different set of punctuation than any of the translations have ever used.

That doesn't imply that the meaning is crystal clear.  Young's Literal translation gives the impression that the prohibition is against a certain type of teaching, possibly teaching that is lecturing, berating, or demeaning.  The "teaching" in some way is related to the idea of rule, dominion or authority.  Like the earlier statements, he is giving contrasts here.  It is not to be one way, but it's opposite.  The opposite is submission, quietness and silence.  The prohibition is against "teaching" and rule, dominion, or authority with regards to a man. 

Paul doesn't stop in verse 12 either, but goes on to explain why this is the arrangement.  He gives three reasons why this is the arrangement.  (1) Adam was formed first, (2) the woman was deceived, and (3) women have children. 

By citing Adam being formed first, he is stating that there has to be an order to things, otherwise chaos would result.  It is not a value judgment on who is better, just a statement that someone has to be in charge and God stated the basic order by creating one gender before another.  It is always harder to be in the submission role than it is to get to be the one in charge.  I think that is why submission to God in general is tough even though we know he is the creator and has all authority over us.

By citing Eve's sin, he may either be implying that it is within women to be more easily swayed by deception or that because a woman led the downfall of mankind that she lost the opportunity to be the one in charge.  The latter may seem harsh judgment due to an ancestor's action, but "death" was also introduced by the same action and we are all condemned to follow that also.  

By talking about child bearing or rearing, I think Paul is implying that women have a teaching role that is already large enough.  I think this is lost on us because we live in a microwave type society.  As a society we value things that have immediate results over those things that may take years.  Being the teacher of a Bible class is valued above a woman who teaches children over a 20 year period to love God with all of their soul, heart and mind.  Paul says that there is value there -- very important value. 

The meaning of verse 12  goes back to mean exactly how it is worded in nearly all of the common modern translations.  The context alone would not allow a reading that would prohibit women from teaching in all situations.  Such a rendering would place it in opposition to other passages and would go well beyond what the passage is trying to get to.  At the same time, it is not restricted to an assembly any more than men lifting holy hands has to be in an assembly only.  Otherwise you get to a point in logic where you say it is okay for men to be angry -- just not in the assembly. Men are expected to lift holy hands always.  Women are expected to be modest in conduct always.  I would suggest that verses 11 and 12 are in the same context.  

Darrell Hamilton

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Women's Role
Questions and Answers regarding Teaching