I'd like your input concerning a confrontation that I had with two ladies after services last evening. We have a 14-year-old boy who is not yet a Christian. His mother has been teaching him in our Sunday morning Bible class. I mentioned that we need to assign a "Christian man" to teach him. One lady said that since the boy is not a Christian there's nothing scripturally wrong with a Christian lady teaching him. I objected because we have Christian men available and one of them should be teaching him. The other lady got in my face and said: "Are you sure? You mean if I have a chance to teach a man who isn't a Christian that I am not scripturally authorized to do so?" My answer to her was: "Yes! I'm sure! If there were no Christian men available I do not believe she would be violating the Scriptures. However, the church here does have capable men and one of them needs to be teaching the boy. Otherwise, it's a violation of I Timothy 2:12. I see no difference between a woman teaching a teenage boy than a woman leading prayer, song leading, making announcements, etc. when there are qualified Christian men available".
What say you?
Your conversation raises a number of interesting issues. Let's break them down so that the issue can be more clearly addressed.
When does a boy become a man?
I Timothy 2:12 says "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." Yet we know that this must be balanced with the obligations that a mother has in teaching her children. "Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8). Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother (II Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15). Hence, we must conclude that Paul's statement does not apply to males of all ages. Mothers have authority over their sons.
Few have problems with women teaching children and most understand that a woman is not to teach adult males, but it is the determining when a boy should be counted as a man that causes a bit of difficulty. In many congregations, the division is made when a boy decides to obey the gospel. This is generally the age when a child matures enough to distinguish between good and evil; yet, a child often gains this ability long before we would call them an adult.
By "adult," we are talking about the time when development ends in a person, both physically and mentally. We find the Bible talking about four aspects of maturity. "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). Children mature mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. However, they don't reach maturity in all four areas at the same time. Most boys are physically mature by the age of 18, but recent studies show that mental maturation continues up to the age of 24 or 25 in males. Until the early twenties, the portion of the brain that governs judgment and restraint is not fully developed. But just because a boy, say of thirteen, is impulsive, it does not imply that he doesn't understand the difference between good and evil (i.e. spiritually mature).
The teenage years are the time for transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The transition should be gradual. The teenager gradually assumes more responsibility while the parents slowly release the limitations on his actions. Even though a fourteen-year-old boy is not an adult by any stretch of the imagination, he is close to the age where he needs to be treated as an adult in limited areas. I would recommend that he start studying under adult males, not because the women can't do the job, but because he is entering the phase of life when he must learn his role in life. He needs males that he can use as role models to help guide him through the time of transition.
Does this mean his mother is to stop teaching him? Absolutely not! She has some of the most challenging lessons to give in the upcoming years. But in the public arena of the church, perhaps it is time to begin transitioning him over.
When can a woman teach a man?
The key point in I Timothy 2:12 is that a woman is not to exercise authority over a man. Please notice that this command is not qualified as to whether we are dealing with a Christian or a non-Christian man. Nor is the command qualified to limit its application to only within the church's activities. Nor is there qualifications as to whether there are men available to not. Some have pointed out that the surrounding passages do indicate that we are talking about public roles. Hence, it would be incorrect for a woman to lead a class where men are present. It would be taking on a position of authority that was not granted to women.
Does that mean a woman cannot speak in public? No! "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness" (I Timothy 2:11). The word for quiet in this passage does not mean utter silence, but to behave in a meek manner. She can speak as a student, but not as a teacher. The same word for "quiet" is used in II Thessalonians 3:12, " Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread."
A woman can help teach a man in private. When Apollos was making incorrect statements in public, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside to teach him. "This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:25-26).
Women can teach indirectly by their example. "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (I Peter 3:1-2). Such a method of teaching does not exert authority over another, but gently guides by example. An older preacher gave me a beautiful example of this from his own life. When he first began to preach as a young man, he was nervous and jittery as you might expect when anyone begins a new job. The congregation was small, but there was one woman there who was the glue that held it together. She helped him to find contacts in the community. When he had a study she went along "to take notes." She would sit near this young preacher so that he could see the notepad, though those they studied with could not see it. She wrote notes, not about what was said, but verses that should be considered and points that he needed to remember to make. Whenever he was stuck, he knew he could glance at her notepad and find helpful hints. In a real sense, she trained him to be a good minister, but she never took on the "teacher" role.
What is missing is any proof that a woman can teach a man simply because he is not a Christian. Nor is there evidence that a woman can take on the authority of a teacher for a non-Christian man in the absence of Christian men.