(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?