By Adam Brown –
The fifth instruction to the church is given in the negative by way of prohibition. Women are not permitted to teach men or to exercise authority over men:
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 12:11-12).
These two verses are bracketed by the exhortation that women are to remain “quiet.” This quietness is not a universal commendation against speaking, but is only related to the two specific prohibitions. That is, women are not permitted to teach men in the church. Secondly, women are not to govern men in the church.
In our cultural context these are shocking and obscene words. Indeed, these words have legions of detractors, both inside and outside the church. Surely these “misogynist” instructions are outdated, relics of a by-gone era. This may have been true two thousand years ago in Ephesus, but not now, not in Canada. As our Prime Minister so effectively reminded us last year, it is, after all, 2017.
The problem with the above thinking is that it has no room for God, for God’s design, or for God’s timeless purposes for humanity.
If we are going to carefully understand the reasoning for these prohibitions for women, it is essential that we first affirm the full equality of men and women:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).
“God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and each gender equally bears God’s image. As such, men and women are equal in value, nature, and personhood. Men and women share equally in the responsibility of benevolent dominion of the animal kingdom and the created order. Men and women also share equally in Jesus Christ and in salvation through the Gospel . . .” To this point, we have captured the essence of Genesis 1:26-27, as well as a host of other Scriptures, such as Galatians 3:28.
However, it is imperative that we also recognize a God-given distinction between maleness and femaleness: “. . . At the same time, the gender distinction between men and women is a part of God’s design for humanity. Adam was created to exercise leadership and Eve was created as a helper fit for him. This man-woman distinction has implications for the functional role of men and women in the home and in the church.” This latter half of this statement is heavily influenced by 1 Timothy 2:11-15, among other Scriptures, such as Genesis 2-3.
First Timothy 2:13-14 explain why women are not permitted to teach men or to govern men in the church. Verse 13 gives the reason for governance and verse 14 gives the reason for teaching. Notice that both verses take us back before human sin to the Garden of Eden. Therefore, these instructions are not culturally rooted. Nor are they time sensitive. These instructions drill down to the very reason that God created humanity in two genders. Let’s take a look at each verse in order.
Why are Women Not Permitted to Exercise Authority Over Men in the Church?
Paul gives us the reason in 1 Timothy 2:13:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
For a full treatment of this rationale, it is helpful to read all of Genesis 2. In this chapter we learn that God created Adam to be His representative in Creation. Thus, Adam is the leader, under God, in all Creation. He exercises supreme creaturely authority. Evidence of this is given in Genesis 2:15, which states that God put the man in the garden to work it and keep it. Further evidence is given in Genesis 2:19-20, which states that the man was given authority to name all of the animals, and that none of the animals were the man’s equal (“helper fit for him”). Thus, God’s reason for creating the man was that he have dominion by exercising authority over all that God had made. All of this is established before the creation of the woman.
Now, what is God’s reason for creating the woman? We see His reason in Genesis 2:18:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
The woman was not created to lead the man, but to help the man. It is for this reason that women are not to exercise authority over a man in the church. God’s purpose for womanhood has always been to help the man to have dominion. Note, however, that the role of helper is not an inferior position. Among all the animal kingdom, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). In other words, in spite of their created majesty, none of the animals were his equal. By contrast, when Adam is introduced to the woman, he declares:
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
In other words, “Finally! My equal!” And yet, Adam demonstrated his functional authority and leadership by naming her “Woman.” Thus, this partnership of equals intended by God exists functionally with Man as the leader and Woman as the helper. God intends His original, pre-Fall, design to be upheld in the church.
Why are Women Not Permitted to Teach Men in the Church?
Paul gives us the reason in 1 Timothy 2:14:
. . . and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
On the face of it, this seems like a pro-man, anti-woman statement. I assure you, however, that it is not. The deception of the woman only proves the intended order that God instituted for revealing His Word to humanity. Adam was not deceived because the Word had been revealed directly to him. Therefore, Adam was disobedient, which is worse than being deceived. The point Paul is making is that the possibility of deception is only possible because of God’s design for giving and teaching His Word to humanity.
This becomes more clear when we consider Genesis 2:16-17:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The timing of this command is very important. God revealed His Word to the man before He created the woman. This was not a mistake. God knew He was going to make the woman just a little later that day. However, God was establishing His design for entrusting His Word to humanity. As the leader, Adam was entrusted with God’s Word. It was, therefore, man’s responsibility to teach the woman what God had said.
In Genesis 3:1-3, we see that Adam did teach God’s Word to the woman. . . sort of:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
When we compare Genesis 2:16-17 with Genesis 3:2-3, we see that the woman has added something to God’s Word. God never told Adam that he was not to touch the fruit of the tree. Where, then, did this innovation come from? It either originated with the woman or it originated with the man. It seems more likely that Adam added this stipulation as an extra measure of protection. However, this legalism actually added to the deception, for when the woman touched the fruit and she did not die, she must have felt encouraged that there was not additional harm in eating it.
What’s the point? Adam failed to teach God’s Word faithfully and, thus, the woman was deceived. Therefore, ultimate responsibility for the Fall rests with Adam (Romans 5:12). Nevertheless – and notice this – God has not changed His original design. In spite of Adam’s failure to teach (note also Adam’s failure to lead in Genesis 3:6) and the subsequent failure of countless men since Adam, man is still expected to teach God’s Word to woman. God intends His original, pre-Fall, design to be upheld in the church.
In spite of man’s failure and woman’s failure, God is committed to His original design for humanity. God created humanity in His image, male and female He created them. We are equal partners, created for different reasons, that we might work together in our dominion over God’s created order. Together we represent the Creator. O how beautiful. O how glorious.