As is usual when going from theory to practice, this is a bit more complicated. In the theoretical realm you can deal in absolutes more freely: "God does not permit women to teach the assembled church." But then you take it into practice and the issue takes on more shades of gray. On the one hand, I think there is a tendency to deny the presence of gray and just not let women ever open their mouths in church. On the other hand, I think there is a tendency to make everything so gray that 1 Timothy 2:11-14 basically has no bearing on our practice. I think a biblically faithful application of the text will avoid either extreme. Now for my thoughts on what Paul means by "teaching" here:
A simple greek word study here does not seem to me to do justice to the issue at hand. The greek word didasko is used pervasively in the new testament. The best I can do is offer some trends I noticed in my less than exhaustive look at it:
- In the gospels, Jesus is often described as teaching (didasko) large crowds and in the synagogues. In these instances his focus seems to be on doctrine or ethical command (i.e. he's not "teaching" them a story about his life as a 20 year old, he's "teaching" them that the Son of man must suffer many things, or that adultery is a heart issue) (Mat. 4:23, 5:2, 7:29, 9:23, Mk. 8:31, 11:17, 12:35, Lk. 4:15, 31, 13:10, 19:47, Jn. 7:14, 8:2, 18:20)
- In the gospels Jesus' opponents are also described as teaching false doctrine (Mat. 5:19, 15:9, Mk. 7:7)
- In Acts where we find the action of teaching by the NT church, in many cases teaching refers to the statement of what is true for the sake of instructing others (Acts 5:42, 15:1, 21:21, 21:28). They don't say "this is how Jesus changed me," they say "Jesus is the Christ!"
- This teaching in Acts also seems to have attachment to the Word, although it is used more broadly than this in Acts (Acts 15:35, 18:11).
- In Paul's usage, he teaches in the church (1 Cor. 4:17), attaches teaching to preaching the Word and warning (Col. 1:28, 3:16), describes the content of teaching as the apostolic message (2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim. 2:2) and instruction in doctrine (1 Tim. 4:11, 1 Tim. 6:2).
I'm not a greek scholar so I don't want to go too far with that, but that's just a little survey of the use of didasko in the NT. Some trends I would pull out: It takes place among the assembled church, it is based on the Bible, its goal is instruction in doctrine and the application thereof. At this point I think it's also worth noting what teaching is not:
Teaching is not praying or prophecy. In 1 Cor. 11:5 Paul suggests that it will be normal in the church for women to pray or prophesy. This is nowhere prohibited in scripture, though 1 Cor. 14:33-36 does prohibit women from testing the spirits of the prophets (see D.A. Carson's chapter on this in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). I think I need to at least give a quick description of Biblical prophecy and how it's different from teaching, while acknowledging that this is another can of worms that I can't really do justice to within this miniseries of posts:
- 1 Cor 14:3 says that "the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." So the goal of prophecy is not instruction in doctrine and the application thereof or exposition of the Biblical text. It is to speak words of encouragement basically.
- 1 Cor. 14:29-30 suggests that the source of prophecy is revelation from God, which is delineated from a "lesson," presumably the source of teaching, in 14:26. In the description of events in 1 Cor. 14 it seems such revelation is of a more spontaneous character than a "lesson." So the source of prophecy in the NT is spontaneous revelation from God.
All that finally brings me to my tentative conclusion: In 1 Tim. 2:12, teaching refers to a prepared message delivered to the assembled church, the function of which is to instruct the audience in doctrine and the application thereof by exposition of the Biblical text.
Now that still leaves room for gray, which is again not something I'm trying to avoid, but I do think it gives us some guidelines by which to evaluate whether teaching is occuring:
- Does it take place in front of the assembled church? So I don't think Paul has conferences, seminars, classes, even potentially small group Bible studies in view here. I think he's generally referring to any situation where people are assembled under the notion that at this meeting there will be a Christian message delivered to the audience. This would then also not restrict the scenarios in view to Sunday morning church, but would also include meetings of parachurch ministries and others like it. It is certainly a loophole of loopholes for a parachurch to do the exact same thing a church is doing and then say "ah-ha, we're a parachurch, so we don't need to submit to God's will in this area!"
- Is the content a prepared lesson? Has the speaker spent her time preparing instruction, i.e. "here's the beliefs I want people to leave with, or the actions I want people to change" or has the speaker focused on words on encouragements, i.e. "here's something God's done in my life that I want to encourage others with."
- Does the message teach doctrine? By this I don't mean to ask if the message uses doctrinal buzzwords like "propitiation" or "substitutionary atonement." Certainly plenty of doctrine is taught without the use of such terminology. I mean is the content propositional? Does it assert truths to be believed or does it share words for encouragement and upbuilding? Consider "Jesus is Lord over all creation" versus "I experienced great change in my life when I submitted to Jesus' Lordship over my relationship with my family." A word of caution at this point: it won't do to teach doctrine and just preface it with phrases like "in my life God showed me this: Jesus is Lord over all creation." That's still doctrine.
- Does the message make specific general application to its hearers? By this I'm referring to instruction in how we are to live differently as a result of the message. Consider "because Jesus is Lord over all your life, I'd encourage you to consider what areas of life you aren't submitting to him and to seek repentence in those areas" versus "what it looked like for me to submit to Christ's Lordship over my family was to seek reconciliation with my mom."
- Does the message exposit the Biblical text? Notice I'm not saying women shouldn't be allowed to read scripture aloud. I think women can use the Bible as they speak and should in fact be encouraged to do so, as long as the focus does not fall on explaining in propositional terms its meaning. Consider "1 John 4:10 really shows that our love is ultimately rooted in God's love for us in the death of His son" versus "God used 1 John 4:10 to show me how great His love is for me and how amazing Jesus' sacrifice is." The same words of caution apply here as in (2). Just because the speaker isn't using exegetical language like "aorist tense" doesn't mean she isn't doing exegesis, and simply prefacing what is really exegesis with "this is what God showed me" won't do.
I hope that is practically helpful. After all that, I would want to make sure I affirm two things loud and clear: the issue is still gray and men still have a ton to learn from women. Even my guidelines are subject to error both in their form (I'm far from God) and in their practice (they don't alleviate all the gray). As I discuss this with others I continue to see gray areas arise. Due to that fact and the fact that Paul does not go to great lengths to define what he means by teaching, I think charity is the best policy in the question of where to draw the line between what constitutes teaching and what doesn't (as long as we agree that there is a line that needs to be drawn, i.e. we're both committed and happy to support the complementarian position I've outlined in Part 1 and 2). In discussions with other complementarians I know we draw the line at different places, and while I obviously feel I'm right or else I'd change my position, I feel completely comfortable continuing in ministry and fellowship with them.
Also, women are an amazing gift from God. They have so much valuable insight and wisdom that myself and other men can learn from. I would never want to say that women have nothing worth saying or no avenue through which to say things. I would love to hear words of encouragement from any woman God has lead to share them.
I hope this has gone a long way to at least giving some guidelines for application of 1 Tim. 2:11-14. However, I don't think the application ends there. How are we to go about implementing this? What should we do if we're in a situation where we feel there is disobedience to this command of God? How should men interact with women on this sensitive subject? I hope to take up these issues in Part 4.