Women in Leadership: A Second Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Women in Leadership: A Second Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15
By: Melba Padilla Margay
Retrieved from Vol. 9 No. 2 (1993)

1 Timothy 2:11-15

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve; and Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (RSV)

In a culture where women have been traditionally acknowledged as important participants in both the cultic and political aspects of its life, it is a curious thing that in Protestant evangelical communities, women are told to be silent and take the backseat as mere adjuncts to the men. With increasing discomfort, women converts are initiated into a process where they feel psychologically disempowered by solemn injunctions to be submissive, and to see themselves as somehow inferiorly created based on male-dominant readings of passages like Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Women are silenced by veiled suggestions that true womanhood lies in surrendering their independent judgment, and shifting to a largely supportive role vis-à-vis their men when it comes to marriage or ministry.

Are women truly ill-equipped by nature to exercise leadership? Is it really biblical to relegate women to secondary roles simply because of their gender? What is the meaning of male headship? In what sense and in what context can it be affirmed? In what instance is it invalid?

In the following study of certain relevant passages, we shall attempt some generalizations on these complex questions. Resolutions to the tensions presented by the biblical data are at best fragile and tentative but at least are hopefully a way forward out of the stifling and oppressive readings that have dominated the interpretation of these passages for so long.

This passage is perhaps the strongest of the texts used to curtail the freedom of women to teach, preach or exercise authority in the church. It finds sanction in what Paul’s interpretation of creation and the Fall in Genesis 2 and 3. That man was formed first seemed to provide sanction for the notion that a woman should take a secondary position to a man. That the woman was deceived is used as an argument against women teaching or having authority over men.

What, exactly, does this passage say?

Surrounding references to shadowy sayings like women being saved through childbirth and instruction for women to dress modestly give the impression that the thought of Paul here is complex and is directed to women who were especially prey to false teaching and abusing the normal rights and opportunities for expression women had within the Ephesians church. At the outset, this should serve as a caution to those who readily take Paul’s statement here as supra-situational instructions for a church order that is meant to be universalized. 

The issues presented by this text may be summarized under the following:

1. What did Paul mean by the command for women to be silent, prohibiting them from teaching or having authority over men? Is this meant to be a universal command limiting women in ministry at all times and places? 

2. Is Paul’s appeal to the creation and the fall here a definitive statement about the nature of women in general? Does he mean that women are creational subordinate and unfit to teach because of a certain susceptibility to deception? Is the theme of redemption only marginally significant in a case like this where women appear to be consigned to an inferior position because of a fixed fiat of nature?

3. What fundamental hermeneutical keys are we to follow in interpreting passages like this which seem to contradict the egalitarianism of Genesis 1, the teaching and example of Jesus, the freedom charter of Galatians 3:28, the practice of the Early Church, and even of Paul himself? What in this passage can be rightly deduced as universally valid and what parts are ad hoc and occasional, valid only within a temporarily subscribed set of circumstances? 

On the first issue, much debate has been waged over the meaning of didaskein and authentein. Conservative scholars maintain that these words prohibit women from authoritatively teaching men. Others, like Scholer, see the injunction as specifically directed against women who are involved in false teaching and have tended to usurp authority or dominate male leaders in the church.

Scholars like Hurley who, short of entirely prohibiting women from teaching, allowing them to teach in the mission field under the authority of an elder or in bible study groups and the like, would limit the didaskein prohibition to the sort of authoritative teaching committed to the office of elder. It takes a lot of special pleading to come to this tortuous conclusion in the light of Priscilla’s known teaching ministry over the likes of Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), or Phoebe who was a diakonon, a masculine form of the word which Paul similarly uses to describe himself, Apollos and Timothy as “ministers” of the gospel (cf. 1Cor. 5:5, Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7, 1 Tim. 4:6). 

As to the word authentein, it is widely acknowledged that the term usually carries the negative sense of domineering or the usurpation of authority. It has been noted that Paul’s use of this word is unusual, for his normal term for the exercise of authority is exousia. This clear departure from his usual choice of word is a palpable indication that he intended a different nuance or meaning altogether. It would seem that the sort of woman being silenced here is of a domineering cast and from what we know of the context of the church at Ephesus what Paul is doing here is essentially damage control: the gangrenous spread of false teaching has to be stopped by shutting up those who were especially the focus of it. (cf. 2 Tim. 3:6, 7).

The instruction to the men to “lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing”, seems to suggest a kind of abstention from leadership roles in the worship of the church, a vacuum created perhaps by the endless controversies among them over myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-4). It is possible that the women who have been taken captive by false teachings have stepped into the breach, presuming to be teachers of the law, when like the contentious men whose teachings have seduced them, “they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim. 1:6-7), thus, the injunction for the women to first of all “learn in quietness and full submission.” This reading is consistent with the position of those scholars who observe that there were women in the Ephesians church who needed to be instructed first before they were qualified to teach, influenced as they were by a form of Gnostic heresy then prevalent in the church.1

Both context and textual evidence suggest that what Paul is prohibiting here is women   taking it upon themselves to teach in a way that bullies or lords it over men exercising undue authority for which they were not qualified. It is not a restriction against any form of teaching by women, whether in small meetings or in a large public assembly and neither is it a blanket exclusion of all women from positions that wield authority over men. It is an interdict specific to a serious situation of an error where women happened to play a prominent role.

That the ban is not intended to be permanent is supported by scholars like Williams who notes that “the verb for permit (verse 12), is in the present tense, I am not presently permitting women to teach or to rule.”2 C.F.D. Moule helpfully points out that “the Greek present indicative normally denotes linear action in present time, and it is therefore wise in any given instance to start by seeing whether it can be translated by the English periphrastic present. By contrast, the Greek periphrastic present is rare in the New Testament.” If indeed, verse 12 is best translated in the English periphrastic present, “I am not at present permitting a woman to teach or to have authority, we are on fairly solid ground in interpreting this prohibition as historically circumscribed by the heresy situation in Ephesus.”

On the second issue of Paul’s creational argument, eminent evangelical churchmen like JRW Stott and JI Packer base their insistence on male leadership on the fact that Paul seems to draw his argument from the Genesis 2 account of creation and not on the Fall. “I continue to believe from Scripture that the principle of male headship is a revealed and creational one, and therefore universal of permanent truth,” says John Stott, who reacts to suggestions that Paul’s interpretation of creation in this passage is bound by culture and his rabbinical training by firmly stressing that “headship is creational and not cultural.”3   J.I. Packer is somewhat more emphatic: “Paul used his apostle authority to keep women from leading the church in worship and justified this from the story of the creation and the fall, which he treats as disclosing universal truth about the two sexes, 1 Timothy 2:12-14.”4

Scholars like Scholer, on the other hand, assert that the references to Genesis 2 and 3 have been used selectively to suit the needs of the argument at hand. Like Eve who was deceived, the women of Ephesus had fallen prey to false teachers and were being deceived. The use of Eve’s deception as a rationale for the restriction is ad hoc and is no more a timeless comment about women than the use of the same point in 2 Cor. 11:3.5

In the said passage, Paul was afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning the minds of the Corinthians may be led astray by their overweening reach for worldly wisdom. Similarly, Paul in his letter to Timothy bases his prescription against women overbearingly teaching by reminding them of the order of creation and the historical fact of Eve’s deception. It is unfortunate that Paul’s reference to creation and the fall here has been overstretched and turned into a declarative statement about the nature of women in general. 

The habit of abstracting an imperative out of a historical fact is not to be ruled out of court when it is treated as an object lesson, as Paul seems to do here. There is something wrong, however, when the historical is interpreted as ontological, as when for instance, it is argued that since the twelve apostle and most elders in the early church were men, it follows that it is in the order of things that women are to be excluded from such positions of authority. We might as well say that since the writers of Scripture did not normally count the women in their reckoning, we should likewise do so and treat the women as of little consequence statistically. (Moses estimated that there were about six hundred thousand men who trekked out of Egypt, Ex. 12:37; all the gospel writers numbered those who were fed the five loaves of bread and two fish at five thousand men, excluding the women and children, Mt. 14:21, Mk. 6:44, Lk 9:14, Jn. 6:10).

We cannot escape the fact that the timeless Word has been made incarnate in a language and culture whose conventions happened to be male-biased, as was true with much of the world at that time. The wearing of a headcover, the treating of women as of no significance in a trial court or in the meeting of a synagogue for which ten men had to be present, the lack of access to religious education since they were required to leave their segregated worship before the teaching of the law6— all these were functions of the sociological context of Judaism at the time. They are cultural accidents, historical limitations which defined the roles of women at that time. They are no more theologically significant than the fact that Jesus was a small-town Jewish boy whose influence was confined to the narrow borders of Palestine. The God of the universe himself was circumscribed within the limitations of the class and culture in which he chose to dwell and take root. Similarly, the gospel of grace had to work its way within a socio-historical context in which social, racial, and gender inequality were taken for granted as part of the state of nature.

In the light of the culture-bound nature of revelation, how do we distinguish between commands for a specific historical circumstance and those intended to be universal and permanent?  How, in short, do we separate the wine from the wineskin, the timeless imperatives of our faith, and the accidents of time and culture in which they are embedded? In this passage, what is meant to be universal and what is merely a temporarily subscribed set of instructions?

It has been proposed that Paul’s interpretation of the creation and the fall in this passage is culture-bound, a product of his rabbinical background which in this critical moment of arresting heresy re-asserts itself. The difficulty with this approach is obvious: how and where do we draw the line whenever Paul the Jewish rabbi takes over from Paul the apostle of grace to the Gentiles? The dangers this poses to apostolic authority and teaching have inevitably subjected it to severe scrutiny and censure by those who wish to safeguard the boundaries within which one can be safely speculative about the circumstances surrounding the text.

An alternative approach is, on the one hand, to discern those passages that are in keeping with the major themes of our faith, and on the other hand, to be “hermeneutically suspicious” as the Latin Americans say about those passages which seem to contradict or are not quite in line with the forward movement of grace that those themes suggest.

In this passage for instance, much has been made out of the fact that “Adam was formed first”, a creational precedence now used as a sanction for the absolute character of male headship. That the woman was deceived persists as a justification for the continuing suppression of women in ministry. We may ask, is this interpretation consistent with the broad theme of equality as set forth in the creation account of Genesis 1 and Paul’s own foundational theology in Galatians 3?

Hurley, like other conservative scholars, reads the rights of primogeniture into the Genesis 2 account: “The firstborn inherited command of resources and the responsibilities of leadership in the home and in worship. Paul’s appeal to the prior formation of Adam is an assertion that Adam’s status as the oldest carried with it the leadership appropriate to the first-born son.” He goes on further: Paul’s comment that man should teach and exercise authority because the man was formed first, fits in with his familiar patterns of thought and it is intended to say, in effect, that the man is to exercise the role appropriate to the first-born male.”7

As to Paul’s reference to Genesis 3, the theologians Ryrie comments: “The woman’s yielding to the wiles of a serpent shows her to be an unsafe guide.”8 Guthrie in his commentary makes the same point: “Paul is concerned primarily with the inadvisability of women teachers and he may have in mind the greater aptitude of the weaker sex to be led astray.”9

What do we make of these attempts to abstract a principle from Paul’s arguments in vs. 13-14?

The thesis about Adam as first-born would have been true if Adam in Genesis 2 were truly portrayed as such; as it was, he was not even “first-created” as Hurley later qualifies. His creation is depicted as the climax of God’s creative work on the earth, the vice-regent who shall fill the waiting vacant earth previously made and till it and keep it as he has been mandated. If there is anyone to whom Paul ascribes the privileges of the title, it is not Adam but Jesus, he who is the “first-born of all creation” (Col. 1:15-18), the “first-born among many brethren” as Rom. 8:29 puts it.

Also, if in Genesis 1 the emphasis is on gender equality, the emphasis in Genesis 2 is complementariness between the sexes and not male supremacy by virtue of prior creation. Nowhere in the narrative do we get the impression that precedence in creation implies priority. When God said, “let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule”, he had in mind the creation of both man and woman who together shall image his being (Gen. 1:26, 27). From the very start “man” to him was plural – “let them rule” – Eve was not an afterthought, created after it became clear that Adam needed someone more like himself. What the Genesis 2 account does is to elaborate on the theme of equality and partnership in dominion set forth in Genesis 1, emphasizing in its telescoped process of creation the cry of Adam’s nature for mutuality, for someone who is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” as his exultant love song puts it. Eve was not created to become an assistant, as modern notions of the word “helper” (ezer) would suggest.10 She was formed precisely because Adam could not perform his mandate alone and needed someone who was like himself. As Andrew Kirk puts it, “He is ish, she isha. God decided to create the female sex by taking her out of man, not to show subordination, even less, inferiority, but to stress sameness.” The fact that she was formed after him was perhaps merely a matter of sequence; it was necessary that Adam be formed first since God had intended that she share his nature by being formed out of him.

As to the supposed unfitness of women to teach or exercise authority, we know from elsewhere that (a) Paul took for granted that women pray and prophesize in public worship (1 Cor. 11:15, 13); (b) Phoebe was a diakonon, a masculine word Paul used in Rom. 16:1, the same word he uses when describing himself as a :minister of the gospel”; (c) Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26); (d) Enodia and Syntyche were Paul’s co-workers who “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel” (Phil. 4:3), almost certainly involving some form of ministering the word. This is not counting women like Lydia or Nympha whose households hosted churches and must have exercised considerable influence in view of the peculiar significance of the household community or oikonomia in the life of the Early Church (Acts 16:14-15, Col. 4:15).

There have been attempts to downplay the critical roles these women played at this time. Ryrie argues that Phoebe was one of those women who rendered important services to the church but was a diakonon in the general and not in the official sense. While he concedes that the term prostatis, use of Phoebe in Rom. 16:2, denoted having authority or some kind of leadership, it ought to be understood in the general sense of service. Thus, his conclusion: “Women workers yes, women deacons, no.”11

Knight likewise notes that the word deacon is only applied self-consciously to men and not to women. As to the joint ministry of Priscilla and Aquilla, he goes on to say: “The personal and the private ministry with her husband in no way negate the teaching of the New Testament that excludes the women from a public ministry of teaching and ruling in the church.”12

Howard Marshall, on the other hand, writes of Priscilla: “After the initial mention of the couple, they are named as Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:18-26, Rom. 16:3, 2 Tim. 4:19, 1 Cor. 16:19). This reversed order shows the wife was the more important and perhaps the more active as a Christian. They shared in Paul’s Christian work as well as in their common trade of tent-making; it would be totally anachronistic to draw a distinction between private and public, or between formal and informal instruction at this stage in the development of the church; we cannot employ such casuistry to play down the significant place of Priscilla.”13

It is very likely that at this stage of the primitive church there was also no clear distinction between those who exercised leadership in the “official” sense and those who like Phoebe, “helped many” by sheer exercise of servant-hood or force of calling and charisma. Even in the pastoral letters, where some evidence of institutionalization has taken place, the office of bishops and deacons is less a formally installed position than a function assumed by those who wish to serve: “The original Greek does not refer to the office at all. It simply says, “if anyone desires to be an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1 ff.). The structural aspects of the task, which one would expect to see if institutionalization was advanced, are still absent from Paul’s thinking at this point.”14

Given the incipient character of church organization at this time, is it possible that the injunction against women teaching or exercising authority is an exigent measure regulative of free-forming centers of power and influence in the Ephesians church rather than a permanent disbarment from formal structures of church authority as we now know them? If this is the case this passage may not even be relevant to modern questions like the ordination of women. The text is speaking not towards tightly organized hierarchies of ecclesiastical power, but to a situation where authority is loosely structured and hence, vulnerable to being taken over by those who are eager but unfit.

It may be asked, what then is the theological significance of Paul’s reference to creation and the fall in this passage? What is the exact connection between the command and the reasoning that follows?

Closer reading suggests that Paul here is not making universal statements about women in general, saying in effect, such improbable things as “all women are too gullible to teach”, or that, “all women are to take an inferior position to the men because of the order of creation”. Instead, what he seems to be saying is that a woman is not to arrogate to herself the task of authoritatively teaching on matters over which she is largely ignorant, or to domineer and lord it over the men (authentein); to do so is to overturn creation and repeat the deception to which the woman was especially subject at the fall.

Paul’s appeal to creation and the fall here are as object lessons, things we do well to take into account whenever there is a situation where women tend to transgress and go beyond the boundaries of normal rights and privileges accessed to them by the experience of grace. That “Adam was formed first” and that “the woman was deceived” is an appeal to history, just as, for instance, the injunction to the Hebrews to persevere and not drift into hardened unbelief finds its force in the memory of Israel’s rebellion and judgment in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7-19). To draw the conclusion that women are always to play second fiddle because “Adam was formed first” or that women are unfit for leadership because they are, on the whole, more deceivable is to turn tragic accidents of our history into inexorable laws of behavior, cast iron patterns of nature beyond the reach of redemption.

To conclude, both the linguistic peculiarities of the text and the surrounding context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 seem to suggest that it is a pastoral instruction specific to a situation of false teaching focused on women. Paul’s reference to the prior creation of Adam and Eve’s deception is best read as an appeal to history, lessons in the Ephesians church needed to learn at a time when women susceptible to heresy were abusing the normal rights and opportunities available to them in Christ. It is not to be read as a generalization on the nature of women as a whole. 

Difficult sayings like women being saved or kept safe through childbirth, the sharp dissonance with Paul’s teaching and practice elsewhere, the reference to extravagant apparel and apparent abstention of the men from worship duties due to fierce controversies all caution against taking this passage as a permanent limitation on women in ministry. The tortuous prescriptions and obscurities of this passage must be interpreted as at best minor qualifications to the main theme of equality in ministry already made plain in other passages of Scripture. The cultural circumstances around this passage argue against an all too facile universality of its injunctions based on a misreading of Paul’s use of the creation argument.

Hermeneutical considerations constrain us to take a line of interpretation that is consistent with the central themes of our faith. We need to ask, “Is our interpretation of this passage ultimately liberating and brings forward the movement of grace in our lives?”


Equal but subordinate: Some Hermeneutical Comments

Circulating as current orthodoxy among evangelical communities today is the notion that women are “equal but subordinate”, a position articulated by some of its most eminent churchmen. While seeking to be sensitive to the clamor of some women for equal standing, it retains a belief in masculine headship based on 1 Corinthians 11. This headship is thought to be a revealed and a creational one, to be publicly and visibly expressed as John Stott suggests, say, in male team leadership in a local church or diocese as an appropriate cultural symbol in the twentieth century of what veils and silence were in the first century.15

What does the text say?

As we have earlier noted, Kephale in the sense of headship finds its focus not in 1 Corinthians 11 but in Ephesians 5, and the argument that supports it is not creational but Christological. In other words, it is possible to think of male headship only within the gender-based relationship of marriage, and only as a function of the mutual subjection enjoined in Christ. A woman submits, not because of something intrinsically inferior in her nature, but out of reverence for Christ. In return, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. His headship is to be expressed, not primarily in terms of authority or dominion over the woman, but in caring servant-hood.

It seems that headship in the sense of Ephesians 5 has been extrapolated and read into the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. A more precise reading constrains us to restrict headship to the more biologically-rooted relationship of husband and wife and not extend it to the wider context of ministry in the church or leadership in society at large. In these contexts, the more central and comprehensive themes of redemptive grace, equality in Christ, and the matter of gifts ought to be taken into account as far more compelling principles than obscure references in 1 Corinthians to male authority based on uncertain words whose lexical definitions are far from settled and on apparent misreadings of Pauline interpretations of creation and the fall in 1 Timothy.

It is a principle in hermeneutics that “the plain things are the main things”; the more obscure parts are to be interpreted in the light of the great events of our faith.

We have already seen how Paul struggled to maintain in the church equality in Christ against those who would set up barriers of race, class, and gender. Those who seek to restrict this equality to ‘salvation in Christ’ are indulging in metaphysical fiction; Paul wrote his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans (not to mention Philemon) precisely to resolve the social crisis posed by the problem of how the Jew and Gentile, the slave and free, the emancipated female and the entrenched male can live together in unity under the lordship of Christ. Paul in Galatians 3:28 was not making an abstract theological statement. He was making an answer to problems caused by a socially mixed church and those who would seek to exclude Gentiles, women, and slaves from having equal access to privileges found in Christ.

That Paul in Galatians is articulating a new theological reality that is meant to be far-reaching in its social implications is affirmed by scholars such as F.F.Bruce who maintains its hermeneutical primacy: “Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus as in 1 Corinthians 14:34 following, or 1 Timothy 2:14, they ought to be understood in relation to Galatians 3:28 and not vice versa. Therefore if we take Galatians 3:28 as the starting place for Paul’s view on women, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to come to the traditionalist conclusion.” Likewise, Ward Gasque comments: “This passage represents the climax of Paul’s argument and is the focus of his theologizing throughout his writings. It is hermeneutically illegitimate to set up as theologically normative passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where Paul is dealing with concrete local situations.”16

If we are to take equality in Christ as a key hermeneutical principle, in what sense can we continue to speak of women as subordinate, creatures who are supposedly bound by nature to play secondary roles to the men because of an inherent propensity for bad judgment?

Part of the difficulty of maintaining that women are “equal but subordinate” is that it is only possible to conceive of this in purely metaphysical terms; in concrete social terms “equality” is hard to see when at the outset we rule out women from certain job opportunities simply because of gender. All things being equal, why should the male necessarily take leadership in a team situation?  Isn’t the character of God better witnessed by the partnership of a man and a woman who together image more fully the God that they serve?

The biblical data before us seems to indicate that the nearer a relationship is to the rough-hewn part of us which we call nature, as for example the biological attraction between a man and a woman, or the natural symbiosis that usually occurs between the strong and the weak, the more dominant masculine headship seems to be surfacing as a controlling principle in the relationship. On the other hand, the closer the relationship approximates the work of grace in us, the more mutuality seems to be the governing principle, as we can see from the call to mutual subjection in Ephesians 5:21, Jesus’ affirming acceptance of the ministrations of women or Paul’s hearty commendations of his women colleagues. While the latter examples can be said to be limited by the male-dominant social context of the time, they were nevertheless gestures germinating a new social order, signaling new arrangements of reality as grace comes to historical fruition.

The tension between nature and grace, between the world, as we know it now and the world as we hope it to be, perhaps accounts for the backward and forward movement of Paul’s teaching on women. Faced by a heresy situation where women figured prominently as susceptible accessories, he harks back to the analogous memory of Eve’s deception and puts women in their place by surfacing the glossed-over fact of Adam’s prior creation. He makes a great leap forward, however when penetrating enough to see Peter’s refusal to sit at the table with the Gentiles was no mere breach of social etiquette but a denial of universal access to grace in Christ, he puts forward a thoroughgoing social vision of what it means to have a common baptism in Christ.

This complexity of movement between the “now” and the “not yet” aspects of women’s liberation in Christ is, unfortunately, missing in the pronouncements of those who have fixed the subordinate condition of women as eternally part of nature, Unwittingly, this turns women’s tragic history into a law of nature, making Eve’s failure exemplary of the nature of women in general. It may be asked, in what particular way have women sinned such that they cannot be redeemed by the work of Christ?

There is something very disturbing for instance, about Paul’s assertion the “The man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible. This is part of the reality of creation, the given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.”17

In the first place, male headship as we have already shown is not ordained. The only way it can be argued is from an appeal to a prior submission in Christ. The only clear and direct command for women to submit is in Ephesians 5 and it is based on redemptive and not on creational grounds.

In the second place, it could be asked, is redemption merely restorative and not transformative of mere nature?

If there is anything grace tells us, it seems to be the fact that we can start again, that we need not be mere creatures of our sordid history nor bound forever by the limitations imposed by temper or the habitual cast of nature. We are in the language of Paul, a “new creation”, not just a remake of an old edition of what we were, but an entirely new work which, while based on material that is continuous with the old creation, is yet altogether new as it gets transformed from one degree of glory to another. It is a sea-change, and like the pearls that were once our eyes, we grow into something immensely rich and strange. The earth itself we are told begins with a garden and ends with a city; we do not go back to Eden but forward to a new Jerusalem, to a city where the wealth of the nations shines (Rev. 21:24, 26), a splendid cultural hoard that is histories away from the wild fecundity and rough formlessness of uncultivated nature (Gen. 2:4-6).

The story of redemption tells us that while women have had a tragic history it is through her Seed that the Serpent has been crushed. While her very desire now brings her pain (Gen. 3:16), it is through that pain-bearing that all of humankind began to have a new story. Perhaps this is what Paul meant by that cryptic reference to the woman being saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15). If at the Fall, something in her nature has caused damnation that very same womanhood has become an instrument of redemption. Such is the glory and grace of God that the very nature of woman, considered frail and infirm, has been elected fit to carry within her the seed of our redemption.

Notes:

[1] Willard Swartley, op.cit. p. 182.
[2] Quoted by Swartley, ibid.
[3] Compare John R.W. Stott, op.cit. p.268.
[4] J.I. Packer, “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters,” Christianity Today, February 11, 1991.
[5] David Scholer in  Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Michelsen, IVP Illinois USA 1986 p. 201.
[6] Tidball, op.cit. p. 85.
[7] Hurley, op. cit. p. 207.
[8] Quoted by Swartley, op. cit. p. 179.
[9] Donald Guthrie, “The Pastoral Epistle: An Introduction and Commentary”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, IVP, Leicester, England 1977, p. 76.
[10] Scholars estimate that of the 21 times the Hebrew word ezer was used in the Old Testament, 17 were in reference to God. As the Mennonite scholar Swartley notes: “If the word ezer is to be interpreted as an assistant of inferior status, this would contradict its constant use in the Old Testament. Op. cit. p. 155.
[11] Ryrie as quoted by Swartley, op. cit. p. 175-176.
[12] Knight as quoted by Swartley, op. cit. p. 177.
[13] Howard Marshall in The Role of Women (When Christians Disagree) op. cit. p. 182.
[14] Tidball, op. cit. p. 130.
[15] John R.W. Stott, op. cit. p. 268.
[16] See Ward Gasque article in Women, Authority and the Bible, op. cit. p. 188.
[17] Packer as quoted by John R.W. Stott, op. cit. p. 288.

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