Q. How do you justify your teaching that women should not be in leadership positions over men in the church, based upon 1 Timothy 2:12 when this instruction was addressed to Jews, and we are Gentiles?
First, Paul addresses women’s role in leadership in 1 Timothy chapter 2, and nowhere does this epistle indicate that it is addressed primarily to Jews or to Jews only.
Further, Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7). The Epistle to the Galatians is written to correct those who were making false distinctions between Jews and Gentiles based on race. Paul’s strongest words are used to rebuke those who would preach a different gospel, resulting in a false distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
In addition, Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy who was in Ephesus at Paul's direction. When we read of Ephesus in the Book of Acts Luke makes it clear that both Jews and Gentiles were reached with the gospel (see Acts 19:10, 17). When Paul writes about the church in Ephesians chapter 2 he makes it clear that God has saved both Jews and Gentiles and has made them “one new man” as the church:
14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16, NASB).
Paul’s teaching in the New Testament does not make the distinction which you assumed. Indeed, he specifically refutes this when he explains to the Corinthian saints his reason for sending Timothy:
17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17).
Later in 1 Corinthians when Paul is dealing with a woman’s head covering, he reiterates the universal nature of his teaching:
16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16).
One further comment is necessary, because some are inclined to respond to Paul’s instructions regarding women in the church by saying, “that’s just Paul.” The assumption seems to be that Paul was speaking for himself, with all of his biases, and not for Christ. Paul deals with this himself when he writes:
as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment (1 Corinthians 14:33-37, emphasis mine).
When Paul is speaking for himself he makes the distinction very clear:
6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her (1 Corinthians 7:6-12).
As I look again at the Book of Galatians I find in Paul’s last chapter his explanation for why some in the church were so insistent that Gentile believers be circumcised:
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh (Galatians 6:11-13).
I wonder if some who aggressively resist the biblical distinctions between what men and women can do in the church is due to their reluctance to take the heat (persecution) for doing so.
Several conclusions are apparent to me. First, Paul makes it clear when he is speaking with the Lord’s authority, and when he is not. Regarding the conduct of women in the church, Paul speaks for the Lord. Second, the Scriptures speak clearly when they distinguish between the roles of men and women in the church. Third, our culture speaks clearly regarding its disgust and rejection of this teaching. Thus, we must decide whether or not we will obey men or God.
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).