The Story: Women in God’s Story, Part 2

Let’s take a look at Paul’s most direct statement on the authority of women —

(1Ti 2:11-14 ESV)  11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Let’s start with a few observations that are often ignored —

* Paul plainly reasons from Genesis 2. He is not saying that he has received a new law from God just for the church. He is saying that his conclusions follow from what is written in Genesis 2.

Therefore, whatever he says was surely true in 1200 BC (when Deborah was a judge) and remains true today — except to the extent Paul is applying a universal rule to a temporary circumstance that no longer applies and also didn’t apply at the time of Deborah.

Genesis 2, whatever it teaches, did not skip over the Judges and land in the New Testament. It’s true and it’s always been true. But the application of the eternal principles in Genesis 2 may well change from time to time. (Just as the command to men to lift holy hands in prayer a few verses earlier doesn’t mean that God insists on a particular physical posture in prayer. It was a reference to a First Century custom.)

* Nothing in this text limits Paul’s words to the internal affairs of the church. In fact, Paul’s reference to Genesis 2 clearly argues in the other direction.

In the early 20th Century, most Church of Christ preachers applied these verses to the secular work place as well as church. And then when the economy shifted so that women needed to work, and many received large raises for supervising men, the preachers quietly forgot the old orthodoxy.

Over time, the scope of the passage has been contracted, not because of new exegetical or archaeological discoveries but because the economy changed — and most preachers have wives who work, many of whom exercise authority over men.

There was a time when it was unthinkable for a Christian woman to run for political office because of this passage. Now, many a very conservative church will gladly show up at the polls to put a female Christian into office.

Again, the desire to have Christians in positions of political authority has overwhelmed the older interpretation that considered such a thing evil.

The point isn’t that we’ve been very inconsistent or that our exegesis has been very undisciplined (although both are true). Rather, the point is that we’ve unconsciously limited this passage to the internal affairs of the church because women have repeatedly shown themselves very capable in politics and business and because we know the price of asking our wives and daughters to leave the political and business worlds would be too high.

Of course, we have no idea how high the cost of keeping women out of authority in the church has been. How much better led might our churches have been if women had been allowed to participate? Well, just how well led are our churches with men only? How well are they growing? How well do they heal relationships? How well do they serve the poor?

It’s hard to argue within the Churches of Christ that we’re doing so well that we just don’t need the help of the women in leadership! Indeed, there’s not a church anywhere that isn’t built on the hard work and passion of its female members. Imagine if that passion and work had been in a position of leadership …

* Genesis 2 does not speak to the relationship of men and women so much as husbands and wives. Eve was created to be a suitable helper for her husband, not all men! And who would teach his daughter that she must submit to every man she meets?

* As we covered earlier in this series, the Hebrew word translated “helper” does not suggest inferiority or subordination, unlike the English word “helper.” In fact, the Hebrew word is most commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to God as helper to Israel!

* Nor do we find in Genesis 2 some “principle of male spiritual leadership.” It’s just not there.

Some argue that  this principle is found in the fact that Adam was made first, but the animals were made before Adam.

Some find this principle in Adam’s naming Eve, but it’s quite a stretch to say that Eve must submit to Adam because he gave her a name.

* Finally, some find male spiritual leadership in the fact that Eve sinned first. But the Fall of Man wasn’t complete until Adam sinned, and Adam hardly comes across as a strong leader in yielding to the temptation.

Moreover, in Romans 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 45, Paul blames Adam for the Fall of Man. He was surely no less guilty than Eve. After all, when God gave the command not to eat, Eve had not yet been made. Adam is the one who violated a command he’d heard directly from God.

And so, the traditional interpretation just doesn’t fit the facts. It’s not consistent with Genesis 2, and we certainly don’t obey any reasonable interpretation of the text.

So what does it really say?

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  1. * Paul plainly reasons from Genesis 2. He is not saying that he has received a new law from God just for the church. He is saying that his conclusions follow from what is written in Genesis 2.

    Therefore, whatever he says was surely true in 1200 BC (when Deborah was a judge) and remains true today — except to the extent Paul is applying a universal rule to a temporary circumstance that no longer applies and also didn’t apply at the time of Deborah.

    Jay, you better watch out, I have been accused (by brothers in the church) of blasphemy against God, the sin that is never forgiven, for no more than what you have written here. 🙂
    Surely you are not suggesting that Paul’s letters contain anything other than the whispered word of God.

  2. Jay said,

    “Imagine if that passion and work had been in a position of leadership …”

    Go ahead and spit it out Jay, are we to have women elders in the church? If that’s what you’re advocating why did it take 2000 years for this “truth ” to be revealed? Just a bunch of pig headed men who wouldn’t relinquish control?

    That’s a weak argument IMO and one you yourself don’t like when some people say “we restored the true church some 1850 years later because no one got it right until then.

    Male leadership (with few exceptions) has been the case with every society down through the ages.
    The Bible from cover to cover proves male leadership. It has nothing to do with women being less than men as to their worth.

  3. Monty,

    The Churches of Christ are in numerical decline. Moreover, as a denomination, our reputation is bad in many places. According to Flavil Yeakley’s study, published by the Gospel Advocate, the children of our most conservative congregation are leaving the church — of any denomination — altogether. The present state of the Churches of Christ is not good.

    I once read a historical study of John Knox, who founded the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Knox wrote a tract condemning women in political power, asserting that the Bible prohibits women from having authority over men.

    However, when he considered the women who were queens in Europe at the time, such as Elizabeth I, it turns out that they were all leading their countries very well, in peace and to prosperity. The facts were very inconvenient to his biblical understanding.

    Even those many centuries ago, the church struggled to reconcile its traditional views with the facts.

    Indeed, even into the 1960s and 1970s, Church of Christ literature defended the traditional view of 1 Tim 2:11-14 by characterizing women as “gullible” and, by nature, incapable of leadership.

    Our views have changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and not because of me. In fact, the Churches of Christ are already in retreat from what was taught for many centuries: that women are innately incapable of leadership, that women should not have authority over men in business or politics (as well as church), that women should not vote, etc.

    In truth, the question is not: Should we hold to the view held for 1850 years? (no one does anymore), but: how far from that position should we move?

    No one continues to stand on the views held 100 years ago.

    Finally, one can hold to the position I take on 1 Tim 2:11-14 and yet not agree with female elders. 1 Tim 2:11-14 is not the only passage that relates to the question of female elders. And there are leadership roles in a church other than elder.

    For example, many churches struggle with having a woman oversee their children’s program and having men volunteer in that program.

    There’s been quite a controversy in some CoC circles over having female interpreters for American missionaries. Or women doing a sign language interpretation for the deaf church members.

    May a woman lead a short-term mission effort if men are part of the team? What if the “men” are baptized 12 year olds?

    May women participate as praise team members? (Those who object do so on grounds of authority, not silence, since they allow women to sing, but not in an authoritative position.)

    May women teach baptized teenage boys in Bible class? May girls pray aloud in mixed groups?

    May a woman oversee relief efforts after a hurricane if men are part of the volunteer force? What if this woman is a Christian but an employee of the city or state? Should we refuse to submit to her authority?

    May a Christian woman oversee male volunteers as part of a Rotary Club effort? Is it okay for her to use her gifts so long as she doesn’t do so in the name of Jesus?

    The authority/teaching question is far, far broader than the eldership question.

  4. Laymond,

    Paul himself refers explicitly to Genesis in his arguments. If we take him to speak the truth, then we can only understand his points if we can understand how he got from Genesis to his conclusions.

  5. Jay, you don’t need to convince me, I am just glad to see you admit that Paul wrote from other than ” God breathed whisperings” . or as some brothers say “from God’s mouth to Paul’s ear”

  6. Laymond,
    It took you this long to understand that Jay believed that Paul quoted text and had knowledge of events in the Old Scriptures which he referenced many times in his writings?

  7. Larry, Paul could not be using written references , and writing only “inspirational knowledge” .
    Jay said to me one time that “all of Paul’s writings were inspired”. They can’t be both written references, and whispered in the ear knowledge, then as Jay suggests still get it wrong. Yes I know that a lot of Paul’s writings were “hear-say” writing what he had heard or read, then adding his twist. But I have never heard Jay say that before. good for Jay. The inspiration of any writer was not comparable to that of Jesus, Jesus spoke the words of God.

  8. It seems to me to be rather pointless to try to subdivide inspiration into classes, such as Class A (tablets carved by God’s finger) or Class B (direct quotes from Jesus recorded by his contemporaries) or Class C (James’ “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”). For God to give us writings takes a lot more than a whisper and a transcription– which frankly sounds more like Joe Smith and the plates of Moroni than it sounds like walking in the Spirit. If we consider the copyists and translators and the councils who canonized the texts and the many other handlers of these texts over the millennia, inspiration is clearly an ongoing process in which God clearly has his hand upon even now.

    Too many people seem to see scripture as something like an old blues tune. They know there was an original master recording the original artist doing the tune, but it is long lost. Perhaps there is even some doubt as to the original songwriter. So they argue incessantly over the original recording.

    But I am reminded that the song itself has been preserved by a hundred cover artists and arrangers in their own personal ways, and is found in old 78’s and reel-to-reels and 8-tracks… all the way to I-Tunes downloads. It has been loved and cherished, as well as sometimes re-recorded and bent to other artist’s purposes. But the song itself remains alive, as long as there are people who love it.

  9. Laymond,
    You stated, “Larry, Paul could not be using written references , and writing only “inspirational knowledge”.”
    While trying to identify what sources Paul used for his writings, you mention that parts of his messages were knowledge of the older scriptures. Can you testify for certain that those texts were not inspired by God also? Unless you can then all the messages that Paul conveyed to were of inspiration of God just as the scriptures state.
    (2 Tim 3:16 KJV) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

    It seems that the message that you are promoting contests God’s inspired words. Would you also contest Moses’s writings as not being inspired? Moses wrote of the creating of the earth, details that probably Adam who was there in the beginning did not even understand completely. Moses surely did write with inspiration, and many others writing what is known as the scriptures continued to write with inspiration. Paul’s referring to and sometimes quoting these men does not destroy the inspiration (message from God) and place it into the present writer’s uninspired authorship.
    As I observe your communicating skills I fully believe that you have interjected your interpretation of the message, into what you think that Jay had said. Then as I study about your concept, that Paul did not always use God’s message as he wrote, it becomes apparent that you need that to be truth so you can ignore the text that he wrote in which you disagree.