1 Timothy 2 and the created order

Recently I started talking about the Biblical position on women bishops, and mentioned 1 Timothy 2:8-15, the passage which is generally the centre of the discussion around women in authority or leadership roles in the church. Obviously there is a huge amount that could be said about the whole passage: for example, there is some controversy over whether the word authentein (translated ‘to have authority’ in the 1984 NIV but ‘to assume authority’ in the 2011 NIV) means having authority in a negative sense. It’s a hapax legomenon – i.e., it only appears once in the whole New Testament, and (as far as I can tell) pretty rarely outside it. But, in general, the real clincher in the argument seems to be Paul’s appeal to the created order. Because, the argument goes, Paul talks about Adam and Eve, he must have in mind a universal principle rather than something specific to the Ephesian situation. So, what I’d like to do in this post is examine that specific argument: how does the argument work, and does it hold water?

First of all, then, here is the passage in question (1 Timothy 2:8-15):

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

As I’ve been reflecting on this passage, I’ve been finding it more and more puzzling. It’s just not that easy to interpret! Here are a few questions I’ve come up with about Paul’s usage of Genesis (the part in bold). In no particular order:

  • The reference to Adam and Eve is talking about a marriage relationship. What relationship does this have to all men and women in the church? It is true that the church is described as the household of God (2 Timothy 3:14-15), but that doesn’t preclude Paul talking about husbands and wives as opposed to men and women. The Greek words gyne and aner which are used here could be translated ‘woman / wife’ and ‘man / husband’.
  • Why is Adam being formed first a reason against women having authority? The animals were formed first – does that give them authority over us? It just seems that this is an argument which is not made in Genesis. There is an argument about a woman being a ‘helper’ for man (in Genesis 2), but our Old Testament lecturer talked about that and said it’s probably not a good translation. (He also said that Genesis was not the place to fight complementarian battles).
  • Why does Paul even include the reference to Eve being the one who was deceived? Surely, if this is an appeal to the created order, it wouldn’t be necessary to include this? I just cannot understand this reference if that is what it’s supposed to mean: is he saying that women are more gullible / susceptible? Clearly, both Adam and Eve were culpable at the Fall – as proved by God’s judgement in Genesis 3. What’s interesting is that in Romans 5, Paul says “sin entered the world through one man“. In other words, in another of his writings he doesn’t mention Eve at all. I can’t see why Eve being deceived should preclude women from roles in authority.

So those are my questions specifically related to Genesis and the ‘created order’. But there are a couple of other related questions:

  • Is that passage in Genesis used in the same way anywhere in the Old Testament? Although there may have been a pattern of male leadership, a pattern is not the same as a command. Indeed, Deborah was a judge of Israel and I can’t see any reason given why that was a bad thing.
  • This is perhaps tangential, but most people who view the 1 Timothy 2 passage as referring to women in authority and leadership in the church don’t seem to have a problem with a man serving under a woman in a secular situation. In the UK, for example, we have a Queen as the monarch. I’m curious to know, if the prohibition Paul makes is grounded in the created order, why is it not applicable to secular situations as well as church ones?

I’m also not entirely sure how this understanding of the created order fits with the final verse (‘will be saved through childbearing’), if women in general are in view.

Well, I think that’s enough for the time being. What I’d like to do in my next post (on this subject) is outline an alternative reading of 1 Timothy 2 which I think makes more sense to me. That could take some time though (watch this space…)


3 thoughts on “1 Timothy 2 and the created order

  1. I look forward to what you have to say here – I think I disagree with you: I do think that 1Tim 2 (and other passages) do set up a distinction between the roles that men and women are to exercise, with teaching and leading the assembly being reserved for men. That was not the view with which I grew up – nor the one that is easiest for my relationships with family members – but I do think that is is what the text is saying.

    That means that I think that there are answers to each of the problems that you flag up, but I am looking forward to seeing how you see this text playing out.

    • Hi Tim

      I think this is a very problematic passage, and it’s not surprising that people come to different opinions on it! If there’s anything I’ve learned from what I’ve read on the subject, the issues are many and complex. I do think I find the “alternative” reading more persuasive to me, though – but I will post about that next time!

      I’m not 100% convinced either way, really – I grew up with the opposite view to you (i.e. that it was not right for women to lead), in fact to be honest I always saw it as the one of the key areas of Biblical orthodoxy, so maybe that’s why I want to question it!

      Anyway, thanks for commenting, maybe we can have a productive discussion about it next time.


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