May Christian Women Teach Christian Boys?

By Wayne Jackson

“Is it a sin for a woman to teach a young boy in her Bible class, especially if he has been baptized into Christ?”

This question frequently is asked by sincere Christians, who desire to serve the Lord correctly, and who want to respect the role God assigned for women. Unfortunately, some have misunderstood the New Testament instruction regarding this matter. On some occasions, this misguided zeal has created not a little difficulty.

The key passage around which this issue revolves is 1 Timothy 2:12.

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (ESV).

Elsewhere we have discussed the theme of woman’s role in some detail (see “Woman’s Role in the Church”); for now, however, our focus will be upon the term “man.”

A Christian woman is forbidden, in some sense, either to teach, or exercise authority, over a man. The Greek text does suggest that “teaching,” under certain circumstances, can be an act of “authority.”

For our present consideration, special attention will be given to the term “man,” as found in this context. The Greek word is aner. First of all, unlike the generic word, anthropos, which includes both male and female (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1,4), aner is a term generally restricted to males (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8) . See, for example, Acts 8:12 and 17:12, where the word is used in contrast to women.

Second, aner was used to distinguish an adult male from a boy (see J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&. T. Clark, 1958, p. 45).

Note that aner is used in contrast to “children” in Matthew 14:21 and 15:38. Here “children” (paidion) refers to youngsters, generally “below the age of puberty” (F.W. Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago, 2000, p. 749). But Thayer characterizes the “children” of the two passages just cited as “partly grown” (p. 473).

Paul contrasts “man” with “child” (nepios) in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Nepios generally signifies a “young child,” but the term can apply to one who is as yet just a “minor,” i.e., he has not yet reached the legal age (cf. Gal. 4:1-2). In this connection J. Baur describes aner as “the mature man” (Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1990, p. 99). It is plain to see that there is some flexibility in the use of these words.

Here is another point for consideration. Jesus is referred to as a “boy” (pais) when he was twelve years of age (Lk. 2:43), and he was still “subject” (hupotasso, present, middle, i.e., he kept on submitting himself) to both his father and his mother (2:51). Obviously the Lord, at the age of twelve, though already “about his Father’s business” (v. 49), did not think it inappropriate to be under the authority of his mother. It is ludicrous to think that a mother no longer has authority over her son when he is ten or eleven — or even when he is a young teenager. My mother never entertained such a theory. Nor did I — while I still lived under her roof!

One must remember this point also. Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not merely that a woman is not to exercise authority over a Christian man; rather, she is not to function inappropriately as an authority-figure over “man” — period.

In view of the strict application of this passage that is made by some, a woman could not teach a class containing any males — Christian or otherwise — if all young males are to be considered “men.”

I see no problem whatever in a woman teaching a Bible class wherein young boys are students — whether or not they have been baptized.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.