Last Sunday as preached on 1 Cor 11:1-16 and 1 Cor 14: 34-35, I invited people to submit questions they would like answered. One such question was “What about 1 Timothy 2:11-12?” It is an important text to consider, not because it is the defining word on whether or not women ought teach and have authority over men in the church, but because the passage identifies a significant pastoral problem in the life of the Corinthian church and in the text, Paul specifies what ought to happen in response.
Almost without exception, when I have stated the case that I do not believe the Bible teaches the universal subordination of women to men, I am asked “what about 1 Tim 2: 11-12?”. Sometimes it’s a genuine question and sometimes its said with the attitude of “Check-Mate” as if the quoting of the passage is force enough to settle any dispute. In this third and final part of this blog on Women, Men and ministry in the Church, I will endeavor to provide a reasoned interpretation of the 1 Timothy 2 text and then provide some summary comments designed to assist positive equal partnership in ministry.
1 Timothy 2:11-14
The exceptional nature of this passage includes a restriction on women teaching at Ephesus when he allows it elsewhere (1 Cor 11) as well as the use of the term ‘exercise authority’ (authentein), used only here in all of the New Testament which describes the action of the women as a negative, problematic kind of teaching. Another ‘problematic’ issue is the inclusion of a reference to Adam and Eve in the text and the link with a supposed ‘creation order’ of universal subordination of women to men in the Creation narratives of Gen 1-3. In his textual work on this passage, George W Knight writes “The ground for the prohibition [that a woman must not teach a man] is now given: It is the order of creation of Adam and Eve as the architypes of man and woman and the implication of this order for headship and submission in such relationships … The verse [vs 13] is a terse statement of an argument that Paul has used before in connection with the headship of man to woman in 1 Cor 11:3ff.” This circular argument is an example of making a text say something that it is not actually saying by introducing evidence from another text that both appears to speak similar language while clearly advocating activity and behavior that is at odds with the primary text in discussion (in this case, 1 Tim 2)
Firstly, 1 Tim 2:11-14 does not at all indicate, let alone say that a woman ought to be subordinated to a man because of ‘this order of headship and submission’ (Knight); Paul simply states that the women in Ephesus ought not be permitted to teach men or have authority over men because ‘Adam was created first and then Eve and Adam was not deceived but Eve and in her deception she sinned.’ A fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture and this principle needs to be enacted. It would appear reasonable to conclude that Paul’s reference to the restriction in 2:12 is established on the creation account of Gen 1 and 2, and the following verses of 2:13-14 refer to a principle of creation. It is therefore important to determine what actually is the nature of this, so called principle? If we follow Knight’s reasoning, the principle is that as Adam was created first and Eve came from Adam, it follows therefore that Adam, as first created, is in ‘headship’ over Eve, who came from his side. In this case the term helper has been interpreted as assistant rather than equal complimentary partner. Two questions emerge from this process; (1) where does headship and subordination emerge from the text here, or if not here, from the Genesis creation account? (2) why is the reference to Eve being interpreted as Paul saying it’s a creation order thing when the ‘deception of eve’ is a matter relating to the ‘fall’ not to creation?
As we have noted, Knight (and others) usually move from 1 Tim 2 to 1 Cor 11 in order to show the ‘direct link’ with the created order and male headship. However when we go to this other text of Paul, written to another church (Corinth), we find that Paul commends the ministry of women in prophesying and praying in the gathered worship setting (just do it with her physical head covered). Also in verse 11 it is said that in Christ, neither man or woman is independent from the other, and that the women originates from the man and the man also comes (to birth) through the women.
It is recognized that this passage from 1 Cor 11 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret but there are some things that are clear; Women are not universally restricted from prophesying and praying and judging the prophecies, women are said to be empowered to exercise authority as to what to voluntarily do about how they go about prophesying and praying and women and men are not independent of each other in Christ. The reference to ‘head’ in verse 3 in 1 Cor 11 can either mean “authority over” or “origin” depending on the context. In the light of the findings above, the most appropriate interpretation of “head” is ‘origin or source’. Contrary to the arguments of a number of Bible commentators who hold to the permanent subordination of women to men, the overwhelming weight of research into the meaning of ‘kephale’ (head), in the context of 1 Cor 11, is that ‘origin’ is most preferred. (see this Blog part two for more on 1 Cor 11)
The key problem that was significantly damaging the Ephesian Church was the false teaching that was prevalent (see 1 Tim 1:3-7 and 6:10 which bookends the issue in the letter) and it would appear that the women in particular are embroiled in this false teaching exercise and engaged in deceptive action which is likened to deception that Eve was involved in, that is seen in Gen 3. This latter aspect explains the inclusion of the apparent creative order of Genesis and reference to Eve, for Paul’s concern is not with some subordinated creation order of the past (and I contend there is none in Genesis) but with a present day issue in Ephesus, “False teaching is almost certainly the reason for Paul’s reference to Eve’s deception by Satan in 1 Tim 2:14 as a basis for restricting teaching by women… Peace is the context where true teaching can flourish. This chapter focuses on what Timothy should do to suppress further false teaching by the people who were apparently most influenced by it: women.”
Paul’s intention then and now
Verse 11 tells us that a woman should learn with a quiet disposition – it does not say ‘silence’. This same verse also says that a woman ought to learn in ‘full submission’. Go on, read the text again yourself, not through the lens of subordination within the created order of male authority over the female, but simply read the text as we have it, and read it through the lens of the actual creation account which demonstrates equal partnership in the text of Genesis, prior to the fall seen in chapter 3. Now consider what the ‘full submission’ in verse 11 refers to in the text; yes, it refers to the process of learning not to the one teaching. The woman is asked to learn in full submission to the content of the teaching and the one whom she is learning about, presumably Jesus the Christ. And the only mention of ‘authority’ relates to what the woman ought not do. The inappropriate authority presumably relates to the false teachings that were present in Ephesus. At this point we ought consider the strange introduction of Adam being made first, then Eve and it was not Adam that was deceived but the women. The common thread in all this is not the created order of subordination of women to men but the process of deceit that envelops the women in Ephesus who are caught up in this false teaching. There is no justifiable reason to move from this 1 Timothy 2 passage, jump to the Creation narrative and universal subordination of women and conclude that women are to be submissive to men and ought be silent in the gathering. Such an interpretation relies on introducing concepts foreign to the immediate text and context.
It is my belief that, on the matter of men and women in ministry in the church, when we take time to understand the specific texts, in the light of the context and then interpret scripture with scripture, we reasonably end up at Paul’s stated theology of ministry in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. This Theology of Ministry is based on the Gifts of the Spirit exercised in Love – or we might even say therefore that it is the Gifts of the Spirit exercised through the Fruit of the Spirit - and results in the body of Christ being build up to maturity under him who is the head, that is Christ. If you are a member of GWAC and would like to dig a little deeper into this Theology of Ministry and explore what it means to serve Christ, not based along gender lines but on how you have been gifted and equipped and called, why not consider doing our next Heartbeat Spiritual Gifts and serving course; Register online at www.gwac.org.au/heartbeat
 Knight, George W, “The New International Greek Testament Commentary –The Pastoral Epistles.” (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992. P 142)
 Payne, Philip. ‘Man and Woman, One in Christ. (Zondervan; Grand Rapids, 2009. p 297)