My response to Alexander’s thoughtful comments regarding this passage is too long for the comments, and so I’m posting it here.
We are talking past each other — and making little progress. Several arguments have been stated, but the core argument I’m trying to make isn’t getting across. I’m going to state it more formally. I apologize to those readers who will find this hopelessly tedious.
You argue that Paul’s argument is —
A. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”
C. Therefore, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man”
I more or less agree.
The missing step
Where we disagree is how Paul gets from A to C. Under either your interpretation or mine, Paul’s argument is an enthymeme, that is, an argument stated with a missing step. The question is: what is the missing step?
You see, it’s not obvious why Adam being made before Eve requires all women in church (and only in church) to submit to all men in church.
Now, it’s common among all people in all times and places to skip steps in arguments — even mathematicians do this. Paul surely thought Timothy knew the logic that go him from A to C, but nearly 2,000 years later, it’s not so obvious.
So what is B? What step completes the logical flow?
Well, one possibility is that B = “Whomever God makes first has authority over whomever God makes second.” (Call this B1) That’s the classic argument. There are several problems with it.
First, the real premise would have to be: “Whichever gender God creates first rules over whichever gender God makes second” (Call this B2). After all, Paul somehow generalizes from Adam and Eve to all men in church and all women in church. You see, many female members of my church were made before my 18-year old son, but under the traditional view, they are subordinate to him. Hence, the real argument is B2, not B1.
Another problem is there is nothing in either B1 or B2 (or A or C) that tells us why the rule only applies in the church and does not apply to Deborah and does not apply in the workplace.
So you can argue over and over that B1 or B2 is true, but it doesn’t complete the argument as applied in contemporary Christianity.
Or you could argue that Christian women should not have authority over men in the workplace either, and that at least follows from B2, but no one seems willing to accept that conclusion.
Rather, even the most conservative among us want to insist that C is really “Therefore, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man [but only in internal church matters].” Call that C2.
To get from A to C2 you need a B that logically implies C2 from A. And I’m aware of no such argument. Even if 1 Tim 3:15 tells us that C is really C2 (which I dispute but doesn’t change the conclusion), you still have to logically get to C2 from A by some missing step. What is it?
Now, there are those who get frustrated at this point in the discussion and say “Paul said it and I believe it and that’s all there is to it!” But Paul didn’t say C2. He said C. And C2 is not a reasonable inference from A if you can’t explain how A implies C2.
You see, Paul gave us the reason for C. He was quite explicit. And he expected to be understood. And if we interpret C to really be C2, and if C2 can’t be inferred from A, then we were wrong to interpret C as really meaning C2.
That’s the formal argument. Of course, that argument doesn’t answer the question. I merely shows that the traditional argument has significant logical flaws. That flaws can be partly (and only partly) cured by teaching that Christian women cannot have authority over men in the workplace, but it’s only a partial solution because it doesn’t deal with Deborah.
There are three usual rebuttals to the Deborah argument —
• Many commentators solve the problem by ignoring her.
• LaGard Smith argues that God empowered her because the men were so weak, but there’s no evidence of this in the text at all. It’s just not there. And God often used weak men to lead his people. Consider Gideon, for example.
• Finally, some argue that God gave her special gifts via the Spirit, which empowered her to lead. But these same people would refuse to admit that a woman given the gift of leadership or teaching (Rom 12:7-8) today could lead or teach men — whereas Deborah led men.
Thus, to make A imply C, you have to overcome the Deborah argument and explain how the order of creation only applies in internal church affairs as a logical conclusion from A or else both overcome the Deborah argument and accept that Christian women cannot have authority over men in the workplace.
A better explanation
Now, the above is all true as a matter of logical necessity whether or not I have a better explanation, but I have a better explanation.
Point I. “Woman” is a reference to a wife. The Greek word (gune) is entirely ambiguous and must be interpreted from the immediate context. The same is true for the word translated “man.”
There are at least two reasons to take it as meaning “wife” in this context.
I.A. 2:15 refers to being saved through childbearing. Paul is obviously not thinking of single women!
I.B. It’s just not true that all women are subordinated to all men in Genesis 2. Eve was made the suitable helper for her husband, not for all men. There is nothing in Genesis 2 that remotely suggests that all women are to be subject to all men.
Therefore, I take Paul to really be saying,
A. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”
C. Therefore, “I do not permit a [wife] to teach or to exercise authority over a [husband]“
Now, translated this way, what is B? Obviously, B = “Eve was made second to be a suitable helper to her husband, a relationship that should be true of all marriages at all times.”
Indeed, Gen 2 says —
(Gen 2:24 ESV) 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Moses himself generalizes the lesson of Genesis 2 to all marriages — but not to women and men who are not married to each other.
Therefore, the traditional interpretation insists on a conclusion that cannot be inferred from the reasons stated by Paul, whereas the interpretation I suggest results naturally and easily from Genesis without having to invent doctrines not found in Genesis.
Notice, that these conclusions flow without reference to the culture of Ephesians and the relative ignorance of the women in that congregation.
Now, there are other questions that could be addressed, such as –
* Should “exercise authority” be translated “usurp authority”?
* Is “to teach or to exercise authority” translated incorrectly (as Carroll Osburn argues)i?
* What is the point of “(1Ti 2:14 ESV) 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”? Is he arguing that women are more gullible than men? Or that all women inherit Eve’s penalty? Or something else?
But the heart of the question is, to me, confronting the difficulties with how Paul gets from A to C.