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Why does the Bible say to let the woman learn in silence (1 Timothy 2:11)?

let the woman learn in silence

Paul instructs Timothy on a wide variety of topics. In chapters 2—3 Paul discusses some gender distinctions and roles. In the discussion are instructions to “let a woman learn in silence with all submission” (1 Timothy 2:11, NKJV). This is immediately followed by a statement that a woman in the church should not “teach or . . . assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12).

In this context Paul gives specific instructions to men and women in the church. He prescribes that men should be prayerful, lifting up hands that are holy and without wrath and dissension (1 Timothy 2:8). Paul introduces his instructions to women by saying “in the same way,” or “likewise” (verse 9), indicating that he is talking about women in the same context as he had just discussed men. Paul discusses how women in every place ought to engage, and what he wanted them to do. He directs them not to find their adornment in braided hair, gold, pearls, or costly garments (1 Timothy 2:9), but to be adorned by good works and godliness (1 Timothy 2:10). He adds guidance that (translated literally) “women in quietness should learn with all submissiveness.” This is not a prohibition against speaking in general; rather, it is in the context of teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12). Paul explains that the basis for these directives is the order of creation. Adam was created first, and then Eve (1 Timothy 2:13).

Decades earlier, Paul had given similar instruction to the Corinthian church about women and their public use of the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Paul instructed that women should keep silent (with respect to the use of those gifts) in the public assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:34). It was shameful in Corinth for a woman to speak in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:35). Paul emphasizes the seriousness of these instructions (1 Corinthians 14:36–38) and prescribes they be followed to maintain order (1 Corinthians 14:40). As in his instructions to Timothy, Paul pointed to the order of creation: the woman was created for the man (1 Corinthians 11:9), and men and women are interdependent (1 Corinthians 11:11–12). The order of creation does not detract from the equality of man and woman, but it does provide for different roles and activities in line with their unique designs.

By bringing up the order of creation in 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul points Timothy back to the Genesis account and the idea that the woman was created as Adam’s opposite, helper, or counterpart. She was created as an equal to help him fulfill God’s design for humanity. Timothy would have been aware of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians and would have understood Paul’s directions to him within that context. This could further help explain why the overseer of a church was to be a man (1 Timothy 3:1–2). The gender distinctions were not simply about a woman learning in silence or a man serving as overseer in the church—the different roles helped remind the church and outside observers of human origin and God’s design. This is why Paul was intentional about the distinctiveness of the two genders, even to the point of being deliberate about how they wore their hair (1 Corinthians 11:14–15). Man and woman are fellow heirs of the grace of Christ (1 Peter 3:7), being completely equal in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28), yet they fulfill different roles to illustrate God’s plan and design.

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Why does the Bible say to let the woman learn in silence (1 Timothy 2:11)?
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This page last updated: May 11, 2023