Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

The Differing and Complementary Purposes of Men and Women

Notes from a lesson on 1st Timothy 2:11-15…

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11–12, ESV)

Complementarian Position

“The term complementarian is the self-designation of the evangelical constituency that would see God’s created design for men and women as comprising male headship in the created order, reflecting itself in the requirement of a qualified male eldership in the church and the husband’s overarching responsibility in the leadership of the home.” (Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations of Manhood and Womanhood footnote 18, chapter 8)

“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3)

“Just as the Father and Son are equal in deity and are equal in all their attributes, but different in role, so husband and wife are equal in personhood and value, but are different in the roles that God has given them. Just as God the Son is eternally subject to the authority of God the Father, so God has planned that wives would be subject to the authority of their own husbands.”

“No, the idea of headship and submission existed before creation. It began in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. The Father has eternally had a leadership role, an authority to initiate and direct, that the Son does not have. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is subject to both the Father and Son and plays yet a different role in creation and in the work of salvation.”

“When did the idea of headship and submission begin then? The idea of headship and submission never began! It has always existed in the eternal nature of God Himself. And in this most basic of all authority relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability (for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in attributes and perfections). It is just there. Authority belongs to the Father not because he is wiser or because He is a more skillful leader, but just because he is the Father.” (Grudem, ibid.)

Egalitarian Position

“Christ did not take upon himself the task of world redemption because he was number two in the Trinity and his boss told him to do so or because he was demoted to a subordinate rank so that he could accomplish a job that no one else wanted to touch.” Furthermore, when the mission of redemption was completed, the Son resumed His former stature and full equality within the Trinity, leaving forever behind the role in which He had to submit Himself in obedience to the Father. As Bilezikian again comments, “Because there was no subordination within the Trinity prior to the Second Person’s incarnation, there will remain no such thing after its completion. If we must talk of subordination it is only a functional or economic subordination that pertains exclusively to Christ’s role in relation to human history.” (Grudem, ibid.)

In this view, there is no inherent masculine authority, and no need for a wife to submit to her husband, except as the husband also submits to his wife and all Christians submit to one another. However, I think validating this position requires the renunciation of an inerrant and throughly inspired Bible, or some novel hermeneutics when interpreting passages like the one we are considering now.

So, are women allowed to lead or teach in a church context? Are women supposed to remain quiet always?

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33–35, ESV)

Is the above teaching culturally bound? That is, was it only for the 1st Century Greco-Roman patriarchal world? Should application be limited to a time and/or place where men might be offended or intimated by feminine leadership (ie. Middle East). Is there something about the created order that should keep women from taking dominant leadership roles in church or in society? Is there theological teaching, perhaps even in a core area such as the Godhead that should guide our opinion? A thorough discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of our study, but I will try to answer the questions I’ve posed briefly.

Context is central to accurate Bible interpretation. One of the contexts we must evaluate is the historical situation of the original text. An important rule of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) is: in order to understand what a particular Bible text means for us today, we must first understand what it meant to the original recipients. What is the historical situation that precipitated Paul’s command for women to remain silent in church? In Corinth it would seem that women were interrupting church gatherings with questions. It is also probable that some were dominating the teaching and worship time, which would certainly be an annoyance regardless of the gender of the disruptive personality.

When it concerns the 1st Timothy 2 passage, men were disrupting the order of the Ephesian church with their anger and debating. Women were causing a distraction by the way they dressed, and inviting cultural disrespect because of the way they conducted themselves in gatherings. Typically in Jewish synagogues, women were separated from the men. This was not the case in Christian house churches It is likely that some women were seen at times to be dominating discussion, or interrupting the flow of worship. They may have been seen as disgraceful because of the perception in a patriarchal culture that women should always be silent and submissive to men. Paul sought to maintain social order to permit the Gospel an unhindered hearing.

So, should women always remain silent in church today? Can and should women teach or preach? Is it acceptable for a woman to be an elder or a senior pastor in a church?

Our culture is not the same as 1st Century Greco-Roman or Jewish culture. Therefore, any practice that is culturally bound is not a practice we are bound to follow. Is it disgraceful in our culture for a woman to speak, teach, lead? The answer is, of course, no. Therefore, we must evaluate whether women remaining quiet in the 1st century house church was intended to be a universal rule.  I don’t believe it to be binding today. Women are free to involve themselves in discussion, or to teach in an appropriate context. However, the passage we are considering goes further. It prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men. This would keep a woman from being and elder or a senior pastor in a church.

Men and women are ontologically equal. This reality is found in the original creation of both in God’s image, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV) Jesus supported this: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4, ESV)

When people come to Christ they are reborn and made new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Galatians the Apostle Paul writes the following about men and women who are new creations in Christ: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27–28, ESV)

We are all equal. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. However, equality does not mean uniformity. Men and woman are created differently each with a unique gift, calling and purpose. It is inordinate to believe and live as though this were not reality. We are seeing the bitter fruit of such dysfunctional thinking in our culture today. People are taught to reject the obvious differences between men and women, to consider masculinity and femininity as fluid, to regard gender as a cultural construct rather than a reality grounded in anatomy and DNA. This is what happens when we reject the truth that God is our Creator.

It is ironic when those who state such a belief will choose to act in a way that corresponds to the purported artificiality of gender. A biological woman begins wearing men’s clothes, taking testosterone, has a mastectomy, all because she feels like a man trapped in a woman’s body. Yet the actions she is taking demonstrate the reality that men and women are indeed different. She simply identifies with being a man. This is a break from reality. Whatever one’s belief or feeling, being a man or a woman is far deeper than clothing, or even anatomy. It is part of the created order: “he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” Putting on makeup, wearing women’s clothes, taking estrogen, even having body altering surgery, will not turn a man into a woman. You are what you are in the deepest part of you. Choose to be who God created you to be, not what you feel, or what culture teaches. Find your identity in Christ.

In the passage under consideration Paul theologically validates the prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over men, grounding it God’s created order, and by appealing to the consequences evident in the fall of Adam and Eve.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:13–15, ESV)

Two reasons are presented for the prohibition of women taking authority over or teaching men.

  1. Adam was created first.
  2. Eve was deceived, not Adam.

We have to go back to the creation account referenced by Paul in order to understand his theological reasoning. In creating man first, God is not making him more important. In fact, one could easily make the case that God saved the best for last! Woman is the crown of creation. In creating Adam first, God indicated his purpose for men: to lead.  In creating Eve from the side (the rib) of Adam God demonstrates his purpose for woman: to help and to sustain relationships. Men focus on tasks; women focus on relationships. While there are individual differences, this describes the most fundamental difference in God’s purpose for creating two unique genders.

In Genesis one, we are taught that human beings are created male and female, both in God’s image.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Next, it is revealed what human beings were originally created to do on earth.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

The difference in the way Adam and Eve were created is deeply significant, It signals that men and women will focus on different parts of the divine mandate found in Genesis 1:28. The woman will be more focused on children and sustaining the family, which fulfills God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” The man will be more focused on “subdue it (the earth) and have dominion over…every living thing.”

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”” (Genesis 2:18, ESV)

Eve is created to fulfill God’s stated purpose to give Adam a “helper.” This should not lead us to think woman is inferior to man. In fact the context teaches the opposite. All of the animals were brought to Adam and he named them, but none was found which fit or “corresponded to” him. The animals were inferior and unlike Adam because only he was made in the image of God.

Grammatically the Hebrew word ezer (helper) means someone who helps from a position of strength. In the Old Testament the word is used 17 times to refer to God as our helper, and three times to refer to a military ally. So, the helper is strong not weak. If this were not the case how would they offer any real assistance? 

The helper is equal not inferior. A person who needs help has probably initiated an action (even if inspired to do so by another), which he is unable or unwilling to complete alone. For example, when God is my helper, I may have started to do something and prayed for his assistance. That certainly does not make God inferior to to me in any way. Still, God’s function in a helping act is different than the person whom He is assists. It is supportive. The one needing help is focused on the task, but the helper’s interest and focus is on the person they’re helping. So, this defines the basic difference between men and women and God’s purpose for each gender.

Next, the Apostle Paul indicates that a woman should not teach or command a man due to the fact that Eve was deceived, not Adam. 

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV)

In chapter three of Genesis tragedy unfolds as the Serpent tempts Eve who succumbs then gives some of the fruit to Adam, who has been watching silently all along. After Adam sins, both their eyes are opened, and they seek to hide from God. The first pair failed in their collective responsibility (to be obedient to God), and perverted their purposes. 

Eve was supposed to help nurture their relationship so that they would be whole and strong to do God’s will. Instead she disobeyed God’s will, then helped Adam to sin. It is Adam who should have focused on doing God’s will, ensuring that they kept His command and pursued His purpose. Instead, he failed to disagree with or correct his wife’s sinful decision — which he clearly knew to be wrong (Genesis 2:17), and was likely responsible for sharing with his wife (Genesis 3:2-3).  

Both the man and the woman were tempted in their area of weakness and succumbed. Further, the consequences pronounced upon their sin are in line with their differing functions in the creation order. According to Robert. D. Culver in his article for Women in Ministry, the traditional curses of Genesis chapter 3:14-19 are not so much curses, as natural results of the fall that must be endured by humankind (Clouse and Clouse, p. 40).  

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”” (Genesis 3:16–19, ESV)

When God pronounced His judgment and the consequences of their sin, it followed a familiar pattern. The result of Eve’s sin is the fall of woman in the area of relationships. The result of  Adam’s sin is the fall of man in the area of achieving the divine mandate itself. 

 The woman is told that two major consequences will abide as a result of her sin: 1) the pain of childbirth will be increased, and 2) although her desire will be for her husband he will rule over her. I do not believe the multiplication of pain in bearing children refers to physical birth alone, but to the whole responsibility of the mother in raising children from bearing them in her body to worrying about them the rest of her life. From this we should not to infer that the husband’s responsibility to raise their children is lessened. Rather, the mother will be naturally primary, and her responsibility will be painful at times. The second part of the curse (or result of the fall) is that the woman’s relationship to her husband will become one of subordination. Whereas the intent of God was for the man and woman to rule together, with the woman providing the emotional and relational strength and the man providing the specific direction to achieve God’s purpose, now the man will extend his natural dominance over his wife.

Adam’s consequence for following his wife into sin is complication in achieving the divine mandate to subdue the earth. Now the ground will be cursed and his work will be frustrating and unfulfilling at times. Work itself is not the curse, since in 2:15 God gave Adam responsibility to tend the garden. Instead, the curse makes man’s work in following God’s will and achieving any intended purpose more difficult. This is true because man has chosen independence from God by virtue of putting self will above God’s will. This was Satan’s sin, so man is now deformed into the likeness of God’s supreme enemy. Now there is an ongoing civil war between what the man knows to be right and what he desires to achieve for himself. 

Therefore, in both creation and fall we find support for the complementation view, which agrees with the Apostle Paul’s teaching in our passage that a woman should not be in authority over or teach a man. Eve became dominant in the garden (v, 15b), so a woman taking the position of priority or authority over men in the church could have negative effects. We may avoid repeating original sin by following God’s design for men and women. As Eve was deceived, so women may be inclined to trust their feelings and be led astray as Satan manipulates emotions, or perverts compassion, or offers to give godlike power to overcome insecurity. The man who knows what he should do, yet fails to do it, sins as Adam did. The man who idolizes his wife by putting her feelings, desires and will above God’s becomes an idolator of the first order.

What is a woman in Christ? The New Covenant assures that she is equal to a man in standing and worth. All Christians are viewed as one in Christ. However, although we are one in Christ the Spirit gives a diversity of gifts (I Corinthians 12; Romans 12:3-5). At the creation, before the fall, both the man and the woman are given the same mandate to accomplish (Genesis 1:28). However, they have different ways of achieving it. In both the natural creation and in Christ’s spiritual re-creation of humankind, there is unity and there is diversity. In answering our question of the role of women in ministry both of these concepts must be taken into account. 

I believe it is obvious that individuals not only possess different natural and spiritual gifts, but there are gifts established through God’s design and creation of man and woman which are typical for each gender. The man is typically gifted to fulfill the role of authoritative leader. The woman is typically gifted to fill the role of supportive or relational leader. Therefore, to be a man or a woman is more than biological: it is spiritual. Only in Christ can fallen men and women fully realize the potential of their gifts, and then only when each seeks to live as God’s new creation in Christ.

There are exceptions. God may sovereignly choose to use any person He wants to accomplish his will and purpose, whether male or female. It is obvious in both Bible and church history that the Lord has raised up strong women leaders such as: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Lydia, and Phoebe, usually in keeping with a woman’s gifting and purpose, but sometimes they as more dominant.

In the Old Testament Deborah was one of the Judges. It is obvious God raised her up as an authoritative leader. However, she sought to encourage the military commander Barak to lead, demonstrating again the gift of being a helper. In the New Testament Priscilla and Aquila were a husband and wife team who assisted Paul in leadership. Priscilla is sometimes named first, which signals she was the more visible (perhaps more dominant and outspoken).

So, should a woman be allowed to lead in any position a man does? The question we should rather ask is, has God called and gifted that particular woman to accomplish the ministry in which she seeks to be involved? If so then let us find the right context and the most supportive environment and position for her to be what God has called her to be: His minister.

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