11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
In my previous blog, I talked about 1 Timothy 2:11 and so now we need to face the big one – women not permitted to teach, or have authority over a man. Why would Paul say such a thing? It’s not as though women aren’t able to do those things. But ability is not the point. The point seems to be in creation. So let’s take the Adam and Eve comments first as this seems to underlie what Paul is saying about women in the present (at the time he was writing, and to us today).
Anchored in creation
“Adam was formed first” seems to suggest that Adam has superiority because God happened to make him before Eve. But there is a lot in that simple statement. In Genesis 2 we are given a more detailed picture of the creation of Adam and Eve than the one in Genesis 1. God created Adam in v7 and then:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
Here, God gives Adam two tasks, he is to steward the garden, and he is to guard the first command given by God.
Eve is created in v22 after which we go straight into the account of the Fall. The serpent says “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
So it appears Adam passed on the information about the tree, but thats where his leadership stopped. He took some that Eve gave him and ate too. Eve sinned in that she believed the serpent over the word of God. Adam sinned because even before Eve took the fruit, he was derelict in his duty to guard the command he had been given by God. He did not defend God’s word. He did not lead her with the teaching that he had been given by God. This does not take away Eve’s sin, but it does show that Adam sinned equally, and in the very area that he had been given responsibility. He was created first and “bore the first and final responsibility to obey and lead his wife in obeying those words.”1 “Leading” in that sense was not being authoritarian or superior, it was teaching, explaining and defending God’s command to Eve. He should have stepped up to defend God’s word against the serpent. He didn’t.
Illustrated in the choice of apostles
This Genesis passage is the main Bible passage that persuades me towards a complementarian position. More so when we look at who Jesus chose as the 12 – all men. Yes, there were women disciples and women with authority in his movement, but the 12 trusted with his primary teaching were all men. I am persuaded that Jesus’ choice of the 12 is an outworking of the created functionality we see in Genesis. If the responsibility for teaching authority were to be equal, up to 6 of the 12 should have been women (or at least 1). But the 12 were specifically chosen by Jesus and they were all male. What Paul is writing about is the pastoral outworking of Genesis, which was exemplified in Jesus’ teaching through the choice of the 12.
Now of course we know that women did teach in different contexts – Paul even writes to them (1 Cor. 16:19 where he mentions the church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila). So is this Paul being inconsistent? It is good here to look at what teaching Paul is talking about and in what context.
What is meant by “teach”
The passage forms a neat “inclusio” – that is a balanced text with the purpose of underscoring a central message. An inclusio is marked by a same work at the beginning and the end:
2:11 in quietness
|learn||with all submissiveness|
|2:12||(not) to teach||(not) to exercise authority over men|
Claire Smith argues that this points to the setting of this learning and authority – in a Christian gathering. She points out that not all men have the responsibility to teach and lead (just some men who have been appointed the teachers and leaders), and women are not told to submit to all men all the time, but to those authoritative teachers within the gathered household of God.
The “what” is being taught is also important. Claire Smith also shows that the Greek word used here as part of the word play of the inclusio shows that what women are to learn as disciples – and this is balanced with what they are not to teach, that is, the authoritative teaching of God’s word.2 For us in our modern context, that is the preaching that our ministers do on Sunday from the front.
Prohibited from all teaching?
Outside of this context teaching occurs in what has been termed capital “T” Teaching (which only the male authoritative leaders of a church do) and lowercase “t” teaching which all of us do.3 I teach in Bible study, in conversation, in my writing (which I think a men read from time to time!). We are all to do this teaching, but Teaching is an authoritative act that was given to Adam, that was illustrated through Jesus’ choice of the 12, and which Paul is now pastorally working out in these letters.
There seems to a locational context too. The prohibition on authoritative teaching is within the gathered house of God. But women can speak in this gathering – in 1 Corinthians 11 (in another much debated passage) notes that women pray and prophecy in church. In Acts 18:26 when Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” They taught him together and privately.
Prohibited from all leadership?
Women have positions of leadership, and as a complementarian, I can honestly say that they should do. As a complementarian, I just don’t believe that women can hold THE position of leadership in a church. That is the position of leadership which is on view in this passage. That is the male church leader, who’s authority is exemplified in his Teaching.
In other leadership roles, I think it unwise for church leaders, presiding over a 50+% congregation of women to not have women on their staff who can speak into issues from a woman’s perspective. I also think that prohibiting women from any position of leadership is pushing Scripture and the complementarian position too far. I would highly commend Grahame Beynon and Jane Tooher’s Embracing Complementarianism for wisdom in redressing this imbalance.
Managing the effects of the Fall
But I also believe that the curse as a result of the Fall speaks to the subversion of a created functional order. Adam was created and given responsibility to Teach and lead. Eve was tempted and sinned and in so doing, took the lead over Adam. There was sin in both Adam and Eve in this by not listening to God’s word and switching the functionality established by him. The curse that Eve’s “desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” provides that functional order again but with a power tension in it. We now seek to rule over each other, taking the lead from each other, ascribing value to different roles where there was none, one is superior now and the other is inferior.
This was not the relationship that God created. The created relationship was perfectly harmonious. But the Fall changed all that. Which is why this passage is so problematic.
Bringing it all together
But by the thread I have laid out, this passage reads something like – If women want to learn as disciples, they should, and be encouraged to do so, and they should learn with respect and reverence. Women shouldn’t preach/Teach the authoritative message to other men within the church gathering but should humbly sit under the teaching authority of the leader which is a functional order established by God at creation (but by which superiority/inferiority should not be inferred).
When we pick it apart and look at it like this, it takes the heat out of it for me, even when I know it has been misused. Women have been kept out of leadership positions altogether. Women have been treated as inferior. Women have been excluded, silenced. This is not what this passage is saying. This passage is a pastoral outworking of a created functionality that was illustrated to us by Jesus. Within Jesus’ outworking though, he did not exclude or silence women. He welcomed them and gave them a voice and a place in his gospel message.
It is hard to read this passage as a woman, all of us having experienced sexism and misogyny. But study is key. Looking to God first is key. As Beynon and Tooher point out in their book, this is not about manliness and womanliness, but godliness, and living out our godliness in a gendered way that is appropriate to our applied theology. I know women feel called to teach and preach and lead. And I know many who are absolutely able to do it. But our obedience is to God, not to a sense of calling or ability. That is a hard teaching. But when we go back to God and harmonious creation he formed, I remember that it is we humans who broke it, not him. And we now live with the brokenness as best we can until he comes again.
I appreciate this blog is not a deep academic dive – it is not meant to be. I know that other people hold different views that me. I wanted to present my views in a logical narrative to help understand this passage for people who struggle with it. I hope to give women confidence to dig into these passages for them selves and not be afraid of Scripture.
The Bible is Gods communication to us. We need to be bold and prayerful and wise so we can hear what he is saying to us.
1 Kathleen Neilson, Women and God, 51
2 Claire Smith, Women, Sermons and the Bible, Location 1833 and Andreas J. Kostenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner (eds), Women in the Church, 187
3 Grahame Beynon and Jane Tooher, Embracing Complementarianism, 75