Complementarians claim that 1 Timothy 2:12 is universally applicable because they say it was written for the church to know how to behave. According to John MacArthur, in God’s High Calling for Women part 1, 1 Timothy was written to “set the church in order”.
First Timothy 3:14-15 gives us the overall intent of the letter: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. ” First Timothy was written to set the church in order.
MacArthur appears to deny that Ephesus had godly women as he states that the Ephesian women were “desecrating” the worship service.
First Timothy 2 focuses in on another problem involving women. Under the pretense of coming to worship God, they were flaunting themselves and desecrating the worship service. Their dress and demeanor betrayed an evil intent rather than a heart of worship.
While John MacArthur’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:9ff is about women with an “evil intent”, a statement completely foreign to the text, yet he claims that the prohibition that follows in verse 12 is all about the “biblical role” of all women in the church.
From his discussion of the problems women were causing in the worship services, Paul branches out into a discussion of the biblical role of women.
In the “biblical role of women” given universally for the church, the apostle Paul, according to John MacArthur, states that women must come to church with a “proper sense of shame”.
A. Godly Fear
The Greek word translated “godly fear” (aid[ma]os) refers to modesty mixed with humility. It connotes a sense of shame–not shame in being a woman, but in any way inciting lust or distracting others from a proper worship of God. A woman with a proper sense of shame will dress in such a way as not to be a source of temptation.
While Mr. MacArthur says that women are to come to church with “a proper sense of shame”, this meaning is foreign to 1 Timothy 2:9 where the meaning is that of reverence. The WordStudy dictionary says:
It implies reverence for the good as good, not merely as that to which honor and reputation are attached. Only in 1Ti_2:9; Heb_12:28, reverence, veneration.
Is John MacArthur right that Paul was writing 1 Timothy 2 to the Church universal to set the Church in order and this “order” calls for women coming to church with a sense of shame? Let’s look at the verse that he and other complementarians quote:
1 Timothy 3:14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;
1 Timothy 3:15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
1 Timothy 3:15 in the Analytical-Literal Translation renders this verse:
(ALT) But if I delay, [I write] so that you shall know how it is necessary to be conducting yourself in [the] house of God, which is [the] Assembly [or, Church] of the living God, [the] pillar and foundation of the truth.
The Greek is singular. It is written to Timothy so that Timothy will know how to conduct himself in the house of God. Timothy is to know how to conduct himself with false teachers (chapter 1), how to chose godly leaders (chapter 3), how to pay attention to his own spiritual gift and not to pay attention to those who look down on his youth (chapter 4), how to rebuke elders and how to honor them as well as how to treat widows (chapter 5), and chapter 6 highlights what things Timothy is to pursue as well as what Timothy is to flee from (chapter 6).
While Paul made it clear that he was writing Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3; 3:14, 15) so that he (Timothy) should know how to act in the church that Paul had left him behind to care for and set in order, we cannot take everything that Paul writes to Timothy and make the entire letter universally applicable. It is not written universally but it was written to an individual. The fact is that Paul writes no letter to the church in general where he stops women from teaching men. Paul was perfectly capable of creating a universal prohibition against women teaching the congregation if he wanted to. There is no universal prohibition against women teaching in any of the letters that Paul wrote that were written to the churches. Isn’t this odd if 1 Timothy 2:12 was a universal prohibition? There is also no record that Paul stopped Priscilla from teaching even though it is recorded in the book of Acts that she participated in teaching Apollos. It is also important to note that Paul never gave a warning of a consequence for women who taught men nor did he give a reprimand for churches who allowed women to teach men. Should women be kicked out of the church for teaching? How should women teachers be disciplined and how serious a matter is this? There is no instruction for disciplining women teachers and there is no list of “teaching” in any of the “sin” lists.
The fact is that those who claim that 1 Timothy was written to the entire audience of the church are wrong. 1 Timothy is a personal letter written as a personal instruction to Timothy, a young man left behind in Ephesus. It was written to Timothy in order to instruct him how to carry out a very serious work with a church that had many unique problems. While we may pull out many wonderful applications from the book of 1 Timothy, we do not have the liberty to take Paul’s instruction to Timothy about “a woman” and make it applicable beyond Timothy and the church at Ephesus. There is no verification in any other book of the bible which would verify verse 1 Timothy 2: 12 as having a universal application. We simply cannot change a private instruction into a universal prohibition without a second witness. Where is the second witness? There is no such witness because 1 Timothy 2 was not written to stop one half of God’s bride from having the ability to minister in their gifts for the benefit of the entire body.