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 suggests that teaching is an act of authority under certain circumstances.
For our present consideration, special attention will be given to the term “man,” as found in this context.
What Is a Man?
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.
aner was used to distinguish an adult male from a boy (Thayer, 45).
aner is used in contrast to children in Matthew 14:21 and Matthew 15:38. Here “children” (
paidion) refers to youngsters, generally “below the age of puberty” (Danker, 749). But Thayer characterizes the children of the two passages just cited as “partly grown” (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” (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 (Lk. 2:51). Obviously the Lord, at the age of twelve, though already “about his Father’s business” (Lk. 2:49), 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!
Authority Over “Man”
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 as men.
I see no scriptural problem whatever in a woman teaching a Bible class wherein young boys are students — whether or not they have been baptized.