Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

How restrictive are those verses in the title? Does the Greco-Roman household offer any guidance for reading them? What about other verses in the NT?

There are many churches which say that women can only teach young women–or they bend the rules a little (as they read things) and permit the older women to teach only women of any age, even though the biblical text literally says “young women.”

Should a female youtube teacher announce disclaimers in every video before her teaching begins that men and women her age or older must never “like” and “subscribe” because she is allowed to teach ‘only’ young women? “Click out now, women my age and older! Men of all ages, click out now! The Apostle Paul said so!”

But where did Paul say so? In those titled verses.

The Christian Post reports in August 2022:

Most pastors responded that women at their churches may teach coed adult Bible studies (85%) and serve as deacons (64%). In comparison, a slight majority (55%) stated that women can become senior pastors at their churches.

Only 1% of the sample led churches that forbid women from serving in all of those roles. (Source)

These results tell me that things are changing, yet certain pastors and teachers with large ministries tell us these results are unbiblical. Women are not allowed to teach men or become pastors in any circumstance. Some of the pastors and teachers must belong to the one percent, yet they are influential and vocal, claiming that only they have biblical warrant.

Let’s look into this.

As usual, I write to learn for my own growth and clarity.

If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.

This post is divided into these main sections:

TRANSLATION

COMMENTARY

REPLIES TO POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

CONCLUSION

Let’s begin.

TRANSLATION

I include Paul’s instruction about older men, just for the context. The target verses are vv. 3-5. Paul is writing to his apprentice or helper, Titus, and he was sent to Crete to shore up the churches there.

Titus 2:1-5

Greek Text

My Translation

1 Σὺ δὲ λάλει ἃ πρέπει τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ.

2 Πρεσβύτας νηφαλίους εἶναι, σεμνούς, σώφρονας, ὑγιαίνοντας τῇ πίστει, τῇ ἀγάπῃ, τῇ ὑπομονῇ·

3 πρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, 4 ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους, 5 σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται.

1 But you, speak what is suitable for sound teaching.

2 (Let) older men be worthy of respect, prudent, sound in faith, love, and endurance.

3 (Let) older women likewise (be) reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, teachers of virtue, 4 so that they may urge young women to be of sound judgment, affectionate (toward their) husband, affectionate (toward their) children, 5 prudent, pure, managers of (their) household, good, submissive to their own husband, so that the word of God may not be profaned.

COMMENTARY

Before we begin to answer the question of women teachers, let’s look at a few words.

First, in v. 5 wives must be managers of their own households, just as male elders are called to manage their own households (1 Tim. 3:4-5). It is a team effort.

Professor Linda L Belleville writes of the Greco-Roman historical context on the household:

[…] the homeowner in Greco-Roman times was in charge of any group that met in his or her domicile and was legally responsible for the group’s activity. Moreover, households in the first century included not only the immediate family and relatives, but also slaves, freedmen and freedwomen, hired workers and even tenants and partners in a trade or craft. This meant that the female head of the house had to have good administrative and managerial skills. For this reason, Paul places great emphasis on a person’s track record as a family leader, as it is an indicator of church leadership potential 1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:14). (Two Views on Women in Ministry, rev. ed. Zondervan, 2005, pp. 56-57).

She goes on to note that the Greek verb for female “head of household” or “manage (her) household” in 1 Tim. 5:14 is oikodespotein, which is much stronger than the verb for a male elder overseeing his household (prostēnai) (1 Tim. 3:5). Women had to be sharp and exert some level of authority. Here in Titus 3:5 it is oikourgos (literally “household worker”), which means as the lexicons guided me to translate it. These definitions assume, naturally enough, that women worked primarily in the household, so of course Paul would tell the matron to teach young women in the same domestic sphere.

However, this administrative and management skills spilled over into the church that may have met in her home. She and her husband had to manage the meeting, together. Both were leaders of their house church. In this setting, segregating women and men was hardly logistically feasible.

In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul uses the noun kubernēsis (“leading” or “administration”), which is related to kubernētēs, which can mean in some contexts “the captain” or “navigator” (of a ship). In vv. 4-6 Paul writes that these gifts are distributed by the Spirit, as God works them in everyone, including women. And so it goes with leadership in v. 28–women may lead, too because none of 1 Corinthians 12 is gender specific (to men only).

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

Second, “submissive” is in the middle voice, which means women voluntarily submitted. There is no such thing as submission by coercion. And we learn from Eph. 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (See also 5:28 and 33 for a repeated command to husbands to love their wives). Husbands need to work on their love, instead of demanding submission from their wives. 

Now let’s look at the heart of the issue: women teachers and their audience. As usual, I like to number my points for clarity and conciseness.

(1). Titus 2:3-5 does not say that the elderly women may teach only young women. To be even more technical, the compound noun (kalodidaskalos) says that an elderly woman must be a teacher of good or virtue, indicating she was a teacher (didaskalos means “teacher”). The lexicon Liddell and Scott correctly says the compound noun means “a teacher of virtue.” So she had the role or gift of teacher. In her teacher role, she admonished young women because they occupied mainly the domestic sphere two thousand years ago, so Paul’s counsel to Titus assumes this. The advice is general, not rigidly restrictive. If it were rigidly restrictive, he would have written “only.”

We saw in other posts that women really were teachers (if one understands Greek). In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes generically:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col. 3:16, NIV, emphasis added).

And he writes:

When you come together, each one has a song, has a teaching, has a tongue, has an interpretation—let everything be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26, my translation, emphasis added)

The author of Hebrews also uses the general, inclusive pronoun:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Heb. 5:12, NIV, emphasis added)

In Greek, “you” and “each one” is generic, which means everyone in the assembly, that is, men and women. The only way that traditionalists or restrictionists (who call themselves Complementarians) can exclude women from those generic words is to presuppose that women cannot be teachers in the first place. But this is the question under discussion, so let’s not assume the answer in advance.

Further, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists three gifts to the body of Christ, even numbering them: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers. As noted, that verse comes in the context of everyone experiencing the gifts flowing through them as the Spirit distributes them (vv. 4-6). The Greek is clear about Junia being an apostle within the larger apostolic community:

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Women could be prophetesses, not only in the OT (Exod. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Is. 8:3; Joel 2:26), but also in the NT: Anna (Luke 2:36); all women (Acts 2:17); Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9).

So it is easy to believe that women could be teachers of a broader group than just young women. Priscilla was a teacher, functionally speaking, so her real-life role clarifies Paul’s general instructions in 1 Timothy 5:9-10. Female teachers who clarified doctrines or teachings did exist, though the majority of widows may not have belonged to this group of teachers. Yet functionally, in a household setting, it is easy to imagine, as noted, that at least one widow–particularly former priestesses in the temple of Artemis who had really powerfully converted and learned not to dominate in their teaching–taught some gospel truths on some occasions.

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

(2). Since these settings were house churches, the lines between the public assembly and the domestic sphere were blurred. It is impossible (for me at least) to believe that a Christian shopkeeper’s wife would never say one word when a customer walked into his shop–the public domain. She may have to instruct the customer on how good the product was. Further, it is impossible (for me) to believe that during the gathering of the church in her house, whether a small gathering or a large one, she did not say one word of instruction or speak a revelation (see Reply no. 1, below). Things were not so restrictively neat and tidy and exclusive in the house church.

(3). Now let’s have a little fun–but with a serious purpose–as we interpret Paul’s silence with the modifier “only”; he never wrote the word, but let’s pretend that he did.

A.. Consider: if a mature man wanted to listen in on a mature woman teacher, how could this be stopped, practically, during a house-church meeting? And why would it be stopped out of legalism, particularly when she may have been as talented as Priscilla? Maybe he wanted to listen. Good for him.

B.. Further, how rigidly, literalistically, and restrictively do we take Paul’s words “young women”? What if an older woman (say, sixty-five years old) were listening to a mature woman (say, forty-five years old), who was teaching young women in their twenties? Would the forty-five-year-old woman have to shoo away the sixty-five-year old? “Shoo! Go away! I can teach only young women! Paul said so!” “But I’m your mother!” “It doesn’t matter. Paul said only young women! Go away!” No, Paul did not say only.

C.. Consider: now the woman teacher is forty-five years old, and a woman who is also forty-five walks in the room. She may be the twin of the teacher, and the twin was born five minutes before the teacher. What now? She has to get up and leave when her twin, the teacher, stands up to teach. Why? Because Paul said she may teach only young women. The twin in the audience is not young. Now what about a forty-six-year-old woman? She has to leave too! Nor is a forty-year-old or even a thirty-five-year-old young. Do they have to walk out too? None of these women have to leave because Paul did not say only. And no doubt he would laugh off these nitpicking interpretations of his general rules and these absurd restrictions he never intended.

To wrap up this subsection, I don’t believe the lines were so rigid in the house churches that women could in no way and at no time teach men and others but only young women. Let’s not be so legalistic and rigid that we try to pick up grains of sand one at a time with tweezers, as we read Paul’s general advice. This over-analyzes his counsel and the cultural assumptions behind it.

Paul allowed women to teach. Priscilla and Aquila, wife and husband, taught the mighty Apollos (Acts 18:26). No doubt this was done in their house. No doubt she taught with authority.

REPLIES TO POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

Some readers may have doubts, so let’s answer them

1.. Paul may not have said the actual word only, but he implied it. Why didn’t he just say elderly women can teach whomever they want, even men?

As noted, Paul was speaking according to the division of household duties. Women primarily oversaw the domestic sphere, and their teaching was done by example and by words to the young ones. In other posts we saw that the door to women being teachers was open to them.

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

And we already quoted Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Heb. 5:12, which had generic pronouns that were not gender restrictive (men only). Priscilla was a teacher, functionally speaking, so her role clarifies Paul’s general instructions in 2:3-5.

2.. But Pricilla’s life is found in descriptive passages, while 2:3-5 is prescriptive. Those verses issue commands, while the other passages merely describe. The prescriptive passages always trump the descriptive ones.

This sets up a needless dichotomy between the two types of Scripture. The two mutually clarify and explain; one does not “trump” the other.

Paul wrote that we are supposed to learn even from the (descriptive) stories in the Old Testament:

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV)

We need both types of Scripture to explain each other. I see both types as essential and part of the inerrant, authoritative word of God. Both types are mutually explanatory and clarifying. Don’t pit one against the other, or else you will turn Priscilla and other women (e.g. in Rom. 16) into transgressors of the “prescriptive” commands of Paul. Bad idea.

3.. The plain reading of vv. 3-5 says that elderly women are restricted to teaching young women, even if Paul did not say only. There is no way that the cultural background can overcome Paul’s plain and stark restrictions on an elderly woman’s audience.

Those verses were not written two weeks ago, in modern America and among certain quarters of the American church which work hard at restricting women, but two thousand years ago, in the Greco-Roman world. Scripture must not be read as if it is one-dimensional or flat. It is absolutely required to understand those verses in their original context, particularly when women’s ministry is at stake and when women in the Old Testament had powerful ministries in their ancient culture. When a reader turns the pages of the New Testament, women are mentioned on many pages. They are active and involved in ministry. I believe we need to work hard at using them as examples in order to foster women’s ministries today, particularly their teaching roles, instead of working hard to restrict them. Let’s be generous and open the doors to women’s full involvement in ministry.

4.. Your illustrations about twins and forty-six-year-olds and forty-five-year-olds–all the illustrations–were ridiculous.

Of course they were. They illustrated reductio ad absurdum–reducing these too-restrictive interpretations to their absurd conclusions. Something has gone wrong.

If we don’t interpret the verses in their original context, we may miss something, so that we restrict women too stringently today in their God-called ministry.

CONCLUSION

Women teachers existed in the New Testament. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul was writing from a cultural point of view. Women occupied their own household and had to manage it. And older women naturally taught young women how to manage their own household, to love their husbands and children, and develop the virtues, because young women also occupied the domestic sphere. But we must not over-read Paul’s words, when the church met in their household. It is easy to imagine that when the church service was going on, walls of separation between men and women sharing their faith, their songs, their revelations and their teachings collapsed.

When a matron stood up to offer a teaching, it is impossible (for me) to believe that the men filed out of the room or covered their ears with their hands and said “la-la-la-la!” so they could not hear her. On the contrary, why wouldn’t a twenty-something grandson listen to his sixty-five-year old grandmother who was sharing an insight or a revelation or a brief (or lengthy) teaching? How far do today’s Bible teachers take their restrictive interpretations? They ignore the original context to the detriment of women teachers today.

Paul was merely speaking generally and culturally.

Therefore, I say we should listen to any godly woman in our churches who can offer a teaching to the whole assembly, men and women of any age. If not, then restrictive seminaries should fire every women professor / teacher or exclude men from her classroom. These seminaries should never have hired women in the first place. Moreover, women youtube teachers who decry progressive Christianity (and they should denounce it) must shut down their channel or provide disclaimers everywhere that they can teach only young women. They must give their age at the beginning of each video and announce that any woman who is the same age or older must now click out of their video–now! For sure men, even young ones, must click out immediately. Paul said so, right?

Wrong. This is foolish. The fact that extra-conservative seminaries do not fire female professors (or they hired them in the first place) shows me that they sense Paul’s words are cultural, not universal.

In my view we should all work hard to exegete the passages in a way that supports women teachers. And no, this does not twist the Scriptures, any more than the Complementarians twist the Scriptures (though I believe they often misinterpret them). Let’s be generous and let women exercise the five ministry gifts of God, as the Spirit enables them. There is nothing in Scripture, properly interpreted, that prevents them.

RELATED

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

And no, this is not a post advocating Western progressive, postmodern feminism. I speak out against it and progressivism generally:

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming

 

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