What a Woman Cannot Do
Men and women are similar but unique, and God has given each a specific role in the home and church. Join us as we explore what the Bible says women should not do.

Some would scoff at today's lesson title. They might say: "There is nothing that a woman cannot do! Women can do anything men can!" Although this is true to a large extent, no one can deny that there are gender differences. There are certain things males can do that females can't and certain things females can do that males can't.

But that isn't the direction I want to go with this lesson. This lesson is not so much about what a woman cannot do but what she should not do. There are things that a woman could do physically, but she ought not to do them. In other words, there are certain things that a woman cannot do if she is to please God!

Let me be quick to say that although this lesson emphasizes the negative, our next feature lesson will focus on the positive side of the matter: "What a Woman Can Do." At this time our focus will be upon I Timothy 2:8-15, where the Holy Spirit communicates some important truths through the apostle Paul regarding some things godly women will not do.

I Timothy 2:8 - "I desire therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."
The Greek word used here for "men" is a specific reference to the male gender. Males are to pray everywhere, which would include situations where public prayers are led. They are not restricted in leading prayers, but women are restricted, as will be explained in the verses that follow. To lift up "holy hands" means that God wants prayer leaders to be characterized by holy living, not rage or disbelief. The physical posture is not the emphasis here but the integrity of the prayer leader is. This verse should not be limited to just worshiping in the assembly. It applies "everywhere"! Women, no matter how righteous they are and no matter how eloquent their speech, ought not to lead prayers in the presence of men--period.

I Timothy 2:9,10 - "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works."
So, men are to pray in all places and overcome their tendency to be quarrelsome. Likewise, women should dress and behave properly. Women have a tendency to overdress or be immodest. Modest clothing is what God wants all to wear. God does not want anyone dressing in a manner that suggests lewdness or could possibly invoke impure desire. We should draw back from any indecent or immoral clothing. Women are to be prudent. In other words, they are not to concentrate on physical things such as gold, silver, and pearls, but rather their focus should be on spiritual matters. Virtuous women will not draw attention away from God and toward themselves. God is interested in good works, not good looks! Consider I Timothy 5:10 - "Well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work." Also, Proverbs 31:30 - "Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised."

I Timothy 2:11 - "Let a woman learn in silence [or "quietly" - ESV] with all submission."
The central thought of the passage is found here. Don't misunderstand--Paul was not a chauvinist. Women were typically not even allowed to learn in his culture. He was advancing female education in the first century. This passage applies to all women. Women are to learn "in quietness." This means they should be characterized by a peaceful attitude and a submissive spirit. It does not mean absolute silence here but submission to the male worship leaders. It couldn't mean absolute silence or else women would not be permitted to sing in the assembly--something they are instructed to do elsewhere (since all Christians are commanded to do so; cf. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)!

Women are to be submissive or in subjection. Being in subjection to someone does not imply that they are superior or that you are inferior. God the Son submitted to God the Father (cf. I Cor. 11:3; 15:27,28) but is not inferior to the Father. Rather, they had different roles to be fulfilled. Such is the case with man and woman. Neither is superior or inferior but they have been given different roles. Men and women are of equal worth in God's eyes. However, this truth must not lead either gender to abandon their divinely specified role and claim the role of the other.

I Timothy 2:12 - "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence."
Teaching spiritual truths is one form of authoritative behavior that women should not partake in "over a man" but any type of spiritually authoritative behavior is implicitly forbidden. Let me be clear: Women are not prohibited from all teaching. In fact, women must teach, but they cannot do so over the adult male with God's blessing. When it comes to spiritual truths, women should teach other women and also children (cf. Titus 2:3-5; e.g., II Tim. 1:5). Women should not teach adult Bible classes that are mixed-gender. Women should never preach to audiences that contain men. Although such is encouraged in our society, God's word is clear. Such must not be done by those who want to please God and honor the roles deity has assigned.

"But Stephen, what if all the men delegate their authority for a woman to teach a class or preach to them? If she hasn't usurped the authority, then it's okay, right?" Absolutely not! The KJV rendering does not favor the fuller meaning being communicated in the Greek text. Women are not to have spiritual authority over men, period. It must not be usurped or given to her by a man. God has not given this authority to her and men cannot transfer their authority. Even if all the men of a congregation are okay with the idea of having a woman preacher, such does not make it right with the Lord! The woman's role in a gender-mixed assembly is to learn with a quiet spirit of humility, not to teach or lead in any way.

I believe the remaining verses in the chapter were written to explain why God has assigned the male and female roles as He did. Since God is sovereign He is certainly not required to explain anything to us regarding His commands and expectations, but it is helpful that He has chosen to reveal some rationale in this area.

I Timothy 2:13 - "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."
Let it be observed that this fact has nothing to do with culture. It has been God's will from the beginning for men to have the authority and for the women to be in subjection--that's why God created man first. It was not a haphazard decision on God's part to create man first. This was intentional and indicated the priority that Adam was to take as leader.

Yet some will say: "So what! Why does it matter that Adam was formed first?" Studying the early chapters in Genesis is helpful in answering this question. From that context we learn many things about the importance of man being formed first. Consider the following list compiled by Dave Miller:

God, through Paul, is telling the Christians that the men are to be the leaders in the church and in worship. God wants men to be the spiritual leaders! It's always been that way. The fact that we live in a "liberated society" does not change this truth! Don't be deceived by a culture that is opposed to the Bible standard. The Scriptures are clear on this matter.

I Timothy 2:14 - "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."
Some commentators believe that this is a second reason for women to be subordinate, but such is not correct. It is true that men and women are different emotionally, sexually, etc., but those differences have nothing to do with a superior/inferior relationship. Are women more susceptible to deception? No. Many women are intellectually smarter than men (e.g., Delilah contrasted with Samson in Judges 16; Abigail contrasted with Nabal in I Samuel 25; etc.). The Bible has a lot to say about people being deceived, and hardly any of it is specific to one gender. Women are not inherently more likely to be deceived than men.

I understand this verse to teach that when Eve took the lead, she violated and reversed the role that God had given her. Adam submitted to Eve, allowing her to lead him into sin--this was wrong! Adam had no excuse for following Eve in this matter! God was displeased with Adam and his lack of leadership (cf. Gen. 3:17). It's not that men shouldn't listen to their wives, because they are to assist us. God's point was that Adam wrongly allowed his wife to be the leader, a responsibility God had given to him. And to make matters worse, she led them in the wrong direction!

Where was Adam when Eve was deceived? Genesis 3:6 tells us he was right there with her! He should have saved them both from the wiles of the devil. Adam was responsible for his family. Once Eve took the initiative and took the authority over Adam, the human race was bound for trouble. If Adam would have taken his responsibility, this fall could have been prevented! Adam knew what they were doing was wrong (he wasn't deceived in this case), but he followed his wife instead of leading. He purposely chose to please her rather than God. Such is the undoing of many men even today. Some women today have a strong desire for leadership in the home and church, but such is not her proper place.

I Timothy 2:15 - "Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."
The fundamental fact of creation is that man is to lead and woman is to submit. Paul here records a positive way in which a woman (not just Eve) can fulfill her role. The word "saved" as used here is not a reference to soul salvation. Rather, it refers to preserving (or saving) her from assuming leadership that God hasn't given to her. Women will have an easier time of submitting if they bear children (which is just a figure of speech used here to represent the whole of woman's role). Women who apply themselves to their divinely-given role of being the best mothers and wives possible in faith, love, holiness, and self-control will have no trouble submitting to male leadership as God would have them do. If, however, they set their mind against such and seek personal glory and honor, they will likely struggle to submit or learn with a quiet spirit.

In conclusion, women are authorized to pray and teach over other women and children--but not over men. This leaves some wondering: "Can a woman ask a question or make a comment in a class without being authoritative?" I believe she can do such in a spirit of quietness, but care must be exercised. Prayer, unlike asking a question, is an authoritative act for whomever leads it. Women should never lead prayer where men are present.

It should also be noted that women can teach in such a way as to not exercise authority (e.g., Acts 18:24-26). Additionally, women can exercise authority in non-religious realms (e.g., Deborah and Esther; cf. Est. 9:29,32; Prov. 31:14,16,24). Women are only forbidden from exercising authority in the religious realm. Lydia was a business woman and certainly exercised authority in such (Acts 16:14; cf. 8:27).

Dear listeners, may our love for God be strong enough that we will gladly limit ourselves to the roles and areas of service God has prescribed. We will consider the positive side of this subject in our next feature lesson: "What a Woman Can Do."

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.