Can a woman teach men in the church?

Personal Questions | VBVM Staff | Feb-28-2010

Q. Is it ever proper for a woman to teach to men in the church? Some churches allow it while others do not.

A. The Bible teaches that women are to be under the headship and authority of male leadership in the church, and in one passage in particular (1Tim 2:12), the Bible forbids women to teach. Another comparable passage is found in 1Cor 14:34, where Paul requires women to remain silent in the churches.

The question, of course, is under what circumstances did Paul mean that a woman should refrain from teaching or speaking? For example, can a woman teach her own children or can a woman teach other women in the church? The answer to these questions is yes. Paul himself says elsewhere that an older woman should teach younger women (Titus 2:3), and the Proverbs speak frequently about mothers raising children to respect their instruction. So how are we to interpret Paul's statements that woman cannot teach or should remain silent in church?

These retraints are not universal prohibitions but rather specific limits intended to ensure the proper exercise of order and authority in the church. Paul taught that the Lord appointed man as the head of the woman in marriage and as leaders of His church. Paul describes the Biblical principle of male headship within the church in 1Cor 11, explaining that spiritual authority flows from Christ to the man and then to the woman according to God's design.

The principle of male headship within the church must be respected in any situation where authority is exhibited before the congregation. Teaching God's word is inherently an expression of authority within the church, so anytime a woman exercises her teaching gift, she is automatically assuming an authority position in the church. Therefore when a woman teaches men in the church, she implies she has authority over these men's spiritual lives, which is in violation of the Biblical principle of headship. Her teaching role leaves the impression (if not the reality) that she is operating outside the cover of male leadership in the church.

Consequently, before a woman is permitted to teach in a church, we must ask whether the woman's exercise of authority by her teaching will conflict with male headship in the church. Generally speaking, a woman may teach male and female children without jeopardizing male headship, since children do not hold authority in the church, and a women may teach other women without limitation. On the other hand, a woman should not provide Biblical instruction to men (or mixed groups of men and women) except under very limited circumstances where precautions are taken to ensure male headship remains intact. 

Though the specific procedures may vary, the effect must always be to project male leadership over the woman teacher and her teaching. While we generally recommend against women teaching to mixed classes of men and women, when it is necessary we recommend the following procedures to ensure male headship is always in place and made evident to our students. 

Specifically, a male ministry leader should introduce the teacher, explaining she is under his authority, while remaining present in the room during the study. This leader must have authority to correct the woman's teaching, on the spot if necessary, or even assume control of the class and deliver the instruction himself if required. Additionally, the male leader should field any questions from students in the class. By following these procedures, male headship is maintained during the teaching event. 

In a congregation setting (i.e., during a Sunday morning worship service), we offer a similar recommendation. First, churches should not allow a woman teacher in the pulpit, but at the very least they should adopt a similar set of procedures to guide the involvement of women teachers in the service. Specifically, a woman should not teach to the general assembly of the church (i.e., one that includes men) unless there is compelling reason to do so, and then the church must take precautions to ensure male headship is evident. A male teacher should be present and actively participating in the meeting, including introducing the woman teacher and reassuring the congregation that she operates under headship of the male teacher.

Furthermore, the male leader should offer to answer questions from the men in the audience, and he should end the event with a recap or review of the woman's teaching to make clear that it agrees with the leadership's views on the topic or passage of Scripture. These procedures communicate clearly that male headship is present and that the woman is operating under proper cover.

Though these procedures may help ensure male headship is maintained in the church, nevertheless we advise against a woman teaching to a mixed group to avoid violating the principle of scripture established in Paul's teaching. Whenever possible, the church should substitute a male instructor to teach men.

(You may also be interested in a related article on our website.)


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