The passage I’m dealing with today is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Admittedly, for both sides of this debate, it is a very difficult passage. VERY DIFFICULT. I say that not because “my side” is in any danger of being proved wrong, but simply because both in the original language and in our English translation, the true meaning is somewhat obscure in places. There are assumptions, on both sides of the argument, that seemingly must be made in order to understand these verses. That’s not easy for me… because as I’ve been harping on all along – we must let scripture say what it says! So that’s going to be my basic approach to this passage, as far as I can go with it…
Those “for” women leading/teaching
Those who seek to allow women to be in positions of leadership within the church will address Paul’s prohibition of women “teaching or having authority over a man” in this passage by appealing to the context of Paul’s letters to Timothy (a good thing). They point to passages such as 1 Timothy 5:11-15 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7 to show that a false teaching was going on in Timothy’s context and that the women in particular seemed to be prone to falling for it. This, they say, is the basis for Paul’s prohibition against women being the teachers… they were typically more unlearned and were falling for this false teaching more easily. Therefore they should not be allowed to teach or be in positions of spiritual authority. So, in the end, for these proponents of women in primary leadership positions within the church, it comes down to believing (from these passages) that Paul’s prohibition was for this particular time and this particular place – not a universal prohibition for all time.
The problem (as I see it)
I can’t deny that this line of reasoning sounds plausible. There was indeed false teaching going on in the church at Ephesus. That’s a large part of why Paul wrote to Timothy in the first place. (1 Timothy 1:3) I could easly buy that argument, IF…. If it weren’t for one thing that Paul says in the passage…
“I do not allow…”
Paul doesn’t say, “Timothy, here’s what YOU should do in THIS situation…” He says, “I do not allow…” a blanket statement that sounds very much like the overall way he does things. Something that is said in such an all-encompassing manner cannot be cavalierly taken as a “temporary, cultural restriction.” Paul gives no indication that such was the case, and in fact makes it sound very much the opposite by the language that he uses.
Paul’s “reason” for making this prohibition is tied to the creation account. Here’s where it gets a bit fuzzy for me, because I still don’t completely understand the truth behind this part of his argument. (That’s not a cop-out, just an honest bit of information about where I am in this.) Paul says he doesn’t allow women to be in positions of teaching or authority over men because “Adam was created first” and because “Adam was not deceived” but rather Eve was deceived.
If this were a temporary, cultural restriction I don’t see any way that Paul would use the creation account as part of his “justification” for it. It seems that he’s appealing to the way God made things, the way God set things up in the first place. Adam was created first – in my understanding – as the leader of the couple. That was his ROLE. He wasn’t better than Eve, or smarter, or more spiritually in tune with God. He was just appointed to that ROLE. He is the one who is placed in the position of “head” as I have previously discussed. Additional support for this is that Adam is the one spoken of by Paul as the representative “head” of mankind, not Eve. That lends more credence to the belief that Adam is viewed by God as the “head,” the one responsible to lead not only his wife, but also, initially at least, to represent mankind.
Those in favor of women being in leadership argue that this reference to the creation account was for illustrative purposes, showing what could happen in Ephesus if women (who had the lesser degree of knowledge in that day – as Eve did in her day) were allowed to teach or have authority over the men. It’s their position that the women of Ephesus, in order to be “protected” from the false teachings, needed to submit respectfully to the leadership of the men who were more learned and able to handle the challenge of the false teachers.
Again, I could buy that argument, IF… if Paul were not so broad in the way he states his prohibition. For Paul, it’s not an issue of “now” or “at this place.” He phrases it as an overarching principle – and in my approach to scripture, I have to believe that is what he meant.
I’m quite embarrassed at some of the wrangling and two-stepping that people on my side of this debate have taken in order to allow women certain ministry responsibilities (that are expedient at the time) and disallow them others that are very comparable. Some have even gone so far as to give women the responsibilities that a man in the same position might have, but withhold the title of “Pastor” to solve the dilema. I think that’s very inconsistent at best… and at worst, intellectually dishonest.
How do I apply this? It seems to me that the simple understanding of Paul’s words are very helpful here. He says these things to Timothy, a young leader of a local church. So we can rightfully assume he’s speaking about how things should be done within the local church when he gives Timothy this prohibition. How we apply this to Campus Crusade, Christian conferences, etc. is not addressed (because they didn’t have such in that day). So, I believe we can only go as far as the text CLEARLY allows. Here’s what I see…
- Women are not to teach or have authority over MEN. Boys are O.K. Children are O.K. Other women are O.K. So Sunday school on many levels is fine, as are women’s ministry and other forms of service within the church.
- Women are not to TEACH men – that would include any context where the woman is the primary teacher (Sunday morning worship, mixed gender adult classes or groups, etc.)
- Women are not to have AUTHORITY over men. That would be in a Pastoral role or an Elder role. I do NOT believe this applies to the role of Deacon. First, it is not a position of teaching OR authority, and secondly, I believe the original language shows that Paul allowed women to serve as Deacons. (I can cover that at a later date).
I could be missing some positions in the modern-day church that fall under these simple criteria that Paul lays down. If so, I’ll update this post as they come to mind. But beyond these, any further restrictions don’t seem to be justified by the text.
I don’t believe Paul wanted women on a leash or to be supressed. Nor did Jesus. Women are valuable within the kingdom of God and should be treated as such. The issue is one of ROLES, not value or competence. It appears to me that the scriptures allow certain ROLES for men and certain ROLES for women. My assumption is that God says that things work BEST when we follow these ROLES. So, I’m just simple enough to believe that and adhere to it…
In the end, that’s my position – simply because it’s what I understand the scriptures to instruct for the church. I don’t understand it completely, but I believe that God does – and I can trust Him!