Please turn in your Bibles this morning to 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and if you would, please stand and read along as I read aloud from God's word. <Read 1 Tim 2:8-15>.
What do you do when you are confronted with a finding in scripture that either goes against what you've always believed or at least contradicts what you would like to believe? There are really only two choices. Understand it, accept it and conform to it or reject it and go on doing whatever you want.
There is no doubt that our current topic in first Timothy for the last few weeks has been a culturally unpopular one. It is interesting to note, as I did last Sunday night, that it most certainly is not the most important doctrine in scripture; but as Christians we don't have the liberty of merely tossing out segments of scripture we have problems with. We must wrestle with the text in order to discern both its meaning at the time it was written and after determining the timeless principles make appropriate application to our lives today.
If having done so, we surrender joyfully to it's instruction as obedient children of our heavenly Father, we will find – in that moment of obedience – peace and joy. But resisting against what we know to be truth will invariably lead to the Lord's loving discipline, for he does discipline those he loves. The path to freedom is the narrow gate of God's word, the path to bondage is the wide road of our self centered opinions and preferences.
If we remember the context of the letter from 1 Timothy 3:15 we discover that this letter written to Timothy in Ephesus as an instruction manual concerning how we should "do church" or Church 101. We don't have a problem with prayer or teaching; and we can acknowledge them right away. But suddenly we come up against this smallish doctrine concerning the role of women in the church and we are tempted draw back because the world's pattern of thought is different.
If we have a hard time with Paul's conclusion it is not because the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12 is ambiguous, it isn't. The text is rendered correctly in most modern English versions of the Bible. God wants his daughters to learn; requires mature women to teach the younger women (Titus 2) but prohibits a woman from taking the pulpit and authoritatively teaching or holding authority over men.
I came across one person who disagreed with the conclusion but was honest enough to agree with the meaning of the text. German Scholar Judith Hartenstein confesses that "the text demands a hierarchy between men and women…" She goes on to say however that she has, "…a different, far more critical view of the Bible, I need not accept it as God's word. (It helps that I do not regard 1 Timothy as written by Paul.)"1
If we accept God's word as authoritative then we have to acknowledge there is a difference between men and women, but it is not a difference of inequality but rather a difference of design and intent. This brings us back to the question concerning verse 12. Why does God declare through Paul that a woman shouldn't hold authority over a man, nor teach him with the authoritative proclamation of God's word? That is precisely the question answered in verses 13-15.
As God allows we'll deal with each verse in turn and then hopefully fuse them all back together. For the moment, please look at the thirteenth verse which presents the first explanation for this teaching.
I can fairly well assure you that the first century Christians were probably taken back by Paul's statement as well as any twenty-first century American. But that was due to what he permitted: learning rather than what he did not permit: teaching or having authority over men.
Now that most modern Christians have learned the first lesson: women must learn the scriptures2; we have need to learn again the second lesson: the restriction on teaching and holding authority over men. But it's a hard one to take because like many doctrines it goes against the grain of American culture.
To comprehend why Paul isn't merely a chauvinistic wet blanket we need to know the theological rather than cultural reasons for his saying so. It starts as an issue of Chronology.
Typically the arguments for the egalitarian interpreters will either seek to discredit the pastoral letters as non-Pauline or failing that they'll agree that Paul wrote it, but it's not the word of God3. Else, they will seek to typify Paul's restriction as being a reflection of the culture.
However, as if in answer to the claim that the Apostle is being moved by his own cultural bias, Paul bases his restriction on the Chronological order of creation. Contrary to the opinion of some4, Paul does not write based on some fabricated idea that women are dumber than men, or that they can't handle the position because of it's stress. Any wife or mother can testify to the high stress levels of those jobs. The restriction has nothing to do with capacity but has everything to do with chronology. There are three specific elements regarding the Chronology of Creation which help us to understand this explanation: Design, Purpose and Headship.
God had created Adam as the head of earth's creation. Eve was created to be Adam's helper. (Note: "helper" not "servant". She was created to serve with him not under him.) Early on God decreed that it wasn't good that man was alone and then God said, "I will make him a helper suitable for him…" (Genesis 2:18). Yet immediately God begins parading all the animals in front of Adam as if to demonstrate to Adam that he was missing something. The conclusion isn't missed when the text concludes: "but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:20). That is why God created Eve – to fill in the blank spot.
Ladies you are custom designed by God to bring wholeness to your husband. And every married man in here who dares to be honest would readily admit that life as he knows it would be impossible without you. Men and women are different by design, and that is good.
Understanding how The Chronology of Creation explains the restriction means recognizing the issue of design. "…man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake." (1 Corinthians 11:9) God created Eve because Adam was incomplete without her. Moreover men and women were created with a purpose.
Together they were instructed to fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28)
Going back to the sixth day of creation we see that Adam was formed first, then Eve. It's significant to note that the early text of Genesis could be understood to indicate that every creature on the planet was created in quantity. It appears that multiple birds, fish, reptiles and bugs were created apparently in mass quantities and with a mixture of male and female among them. Apparently they were created simultaneously. Whatever the case, it is certainly pointed out to us that God created Adam first. That is not because Adam was more worthy of being created: he started out as a mud pie for goodness sakes!
Paul explains the purpose of the creation order in 1 Corinthians 11:7. Adam was created in God's image so that he would reflect the glory of God. The woman is created from the man's side – in order to reflect the man's glory which is itself the reflection of the glory of God.
It's the purpose of God's glory being passed on which infuses the second layer of meaning in the Chronology of Creation. It is not just mere chronology in view, but that which chronology implies.
And finally Chronology implies leadership or what the Bible calls "Headship5."
Throughout the Old Testament the status of "firstborn" is continually lifted up as the rightful heir of leadership and authority. In the context of Creation Adam is the firstborn and Eve the second. Thus in Paul's mind the rights of the firstborn which are chronologically imparted are due to Adam not to Eve. As the many instances in which God reversed the pattern (e.g. Jacob and Esau – / Ephraim and Manasseh – ) indicate the right to lead is not a moral issue of good and evil. Thus again, the fact that men are to exercise godly headship and women are to exercise godly submission is completely removed from issues of superiority and inferiority as well as being separated from issues of women somehow being more sinful than men. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In this we see God's perfect design for why men are to lead the church Specifically why Paul wouldn't permit a woman to hold authority over a man and it has nothing to do with superiority. But has everything to do with the reflection of God's character and nature which is seen in his design revealing itself to the world through the church.
When God designed Men and women he designed each of us differently with different purposes. He desires that we live within that purpose. Most importantly he desires that his church reflect the beauty of his design to the watching world.
As we choose to live in accordance with God's design we will live with peace and joy; and by living in obedience to God's word we are released from bondage to the self centered whims of shifting opinion and preferences into the wide open spaces of God's freedom.
1Cref: Köstenberger's response to Judith Hartenstein's review (p3.) of Köstenberger, Andreas J., Studies on John and Gender: A Decade of Scholarship (Studies in Biblical Literature, Vol. 38). New York: Lang, 2001. Pp. xiii + 378. Hardcover. ISBN 0820452750.
2The Focus is upon the manner of "quietly" and yet to expand on this here would be to start another unnecessary rabit trail.
3As Judith Hartenstein review (p3.) of Köstenberger, Andreas J., Studies on John and Gender: A Decade of Scholarship (Studies in Biblical Literature, Vol. 38). New York: Lang, 2001. Pp. xiii + 378. Hardcover. ISBN 0820452750.
4The list is too long and disheartening. But many otherwise trustworthy commentators, due perhaps to a lack of scholarship or because of their own bias have resorted to some brand of the argument that "women can't handle hard decisions because they're too emotional" or some other such blather. How I wish I could get them to recant. The same could be said of all men, that they cannot make hard decisions because they're minds and hearts are corrupted from the fall. I must simply reiterate what has been said, women are not stupid – that is neither my argument nor Paul's.
5Compare Knight's comment on primogeniture: George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 143.