Women and the Bible – Church Roles

If anyone remembers, a friend of mine and I took on the task of combating the accusations in an article by Annie Laurie Gaylor, which can be found in the following post: Feminism and the Bible. I’ll be the first to admit that both of us got seriously side-tracked from this project, as you can see from the date of that post, a little over one year ago. I could make excuses, but I won’t. Let’s just work on into the article by Gaylor.

Other posts related to this issue:

Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

Women and the Bible – Heroines?

After her comments on Genesis 3:16, and the consequences for women she based on this, which I covered one of the the posts listed above, the next issue Gaylor brings up is I Timothy 2:11-14: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

Ouch. Admittedly, that is one of the most difficult Scriptures pertaining to women in the entire Bible, and I am not going to pretend to have the definitive answer on its meaning. I have read commentaries and conjectures on what it may mean based on cultural interpretations, but I have not heard anyone (who was credible and whose logic was viable) who gave an explanation of it, claiming to have the final word. Pretending like you understand something just so that you have an argument to present does not make you look more intelligent, nor does it grant any redemption to your viewpoint. Everyone sees through conjecture, and so I am not going to do it. I will state some facts, give some opinions, and try to delineate between the two.

What I believe it does NOT mean is this: that a woman is to sit quietly and never speak in church because she has nothing to offer. The two main reasons for this belief are this: 1) the literal translations of some of the words and 2) inferences from other Scriptures.

The literal definition of the word used for silence used in both instances in this verse means something more like desistance from bustle or language; peaceable, undisturbed. The connotation is one that is more of resting, being still and teachable rather than just keeping your mouth shut.

Bear in mind that it also says, “But I suffer not a woman to…usurp authority over the man….” That’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s a pretty Biblical precept that one is not to usurp authority at all. The definition of the Greek word used there is this: to act of onself; dominate. If you have not read my post on Genesis 3:16, now would be a good time. In it, I discuss a portion of the consequences of sin that are listed in that passage. The woman’s “desire” for her husband in that passage is an unhealthy “stretching out after” (literal definition), and by giving in to the nature of pride that Satan exploited in Eve’s deception, it seeks to elevate one’s own self over another by control or domination. That “stretching out after” has occurred in our broken system from then until this day, and is wrong no matter who the perpetrator is.

I mention that many people often use cultural interpretations to explain this passage away, but this does not mean we should not look at it through the appropriate cultural lens. We should simply never use it as a means to twist what is there. I do believe that the discussion of “submission” in the I Timothy passage should be viewed through this cultural lens. The education of women common in that day was severely lacking. Most women who were not in the aristocracy were only given a lower education, and that was basically focused on learning the duties attributed to wifedom or on the things they needed to know in order to educate their own children in basic knowledge or sometimes in something that could be turned into a trade. Even the education for the women in the aristocracy, though somewhat different, was focused on educating them for the purpose of being more satisfying partners for their husbands, studying things such as literature and music. Though their studies extended longer than the lower classes, it still ended far before their male counterparts, and left out education innately for the respect of a woman’s intellect. So, the discussion of women learning at all in I Timothy is a statement that women should be allowed to continue their education, giving no stipulations as to age or status or the purpose it would serve to men. So, while distasteful to us, it was probably necessary for the women to “learn in submission” at this time, being less educated than the men doing the teaching. They had some catching up to do. Perhaps this was part of the problem being addressed – that the women, though not considered inferior, were less knowledgeable, and trying to take over teaching before they were sufficiently prepared. Admittedly, there is some conjecture in this paragraph, and I could never represent this theory as fact. It is, however, a logical deduction based on the times.

Let’s also speak to the fact that if the author of I Timothy was speaking to the lack in the women’s education, this does not mean that he was stating that the less educated have less rights. A child is less educated than an adult, but may, in fact, be far smarter than said adult, and no one would say that a child should have less rights; just that their rights are more supervised until the time they are learned and mature enough to be responsible with them. Anyone in a learning stage on any particular subject needs supervision in order to grow.

I think it is also important to note that God does not view importance and worth in the same way we do. I Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” It also says in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” and in Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last….” We should be able to recognize that in the Bible, most of the figures that God uses to do mighty works are in the most unlikely of vessels – weak, broken, sinful. As Christians our place is to humble ourselves, regardless of gender. And by this, I mean not attempt to assert our own importance over another’s. Unfortunately, that is not in our human nature. But, honestly, women have the advantage here, being, albeit unjustly, pressed down by most societies, we are more readily open to being the humble vessel God can use, unless we let this brew bitterness in us instead of true humility. We can still stand up for what God has called us to (and more successfuly so!) without becoming embittered, angry and defensive.

I cannot move on without addressing the verses preceding the portion that Gaylor included in her article. Verses 9 and 10 of I Timothy 2 speak to a woman’s modesty: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

Just to clear something up before continuing, “shamefacedness” here means something like awe or reverence. One can infer fairly conclusively from this passage that the women were attempting to substitute high fashion for good works. If this were the case, it would obviously be distracting to an atmosphere of learning, and would further validate the need for their subjection mentioned in verse 11. The writer of I Timothy could have simply been trying to get their priorities straight.

So, you viewed I Timothy 2:11&12 based on these views, in modern English, it would read something more like this:

Let the woman learn, undisturbed, with humility. But do not allow a woman to teach taking authority away from a man, but to learn in peace.

And though this will be unpopular, I will reiterate what I spoke in my discussion on Genesis 3:16. I do believe that there is an order of authority that God intended, and we broke it with our choice to step outside of His will, which also takes us outside of His protection. I believe wives are actually to be in submission to their husbands, but not in that pandering, servant-like way that we imagine today. Their submission is first to God, and the submission to their husbands is a responsibility of helping. God says in Genesis 2:15 that He is making Adam a “help-meet”, which means counterpart or to view from the other side. It does not say anything about servant. God wanted Adam to have someone who could look at the other side of things along with him, challenge him, encourage him. And again, if you understand what God asks of husbands, which is to “love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25) and to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). Submission hold absolutely no fear when you are submitting to someone who loves you in this manner. It is not a punishment, but a gift of love, a gift of someone who is commanded to love you more than he loves himself. And based on this explanation, I maintain that even if the passage is referring to submission, it is not the kind of submission you have any reason to be offended at.

Let’s move on to verses 13 and 14 of this passage. I will also be including verse 15, as I believe they are all needed in order to grasp a few important things.

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

So, “Adam was first formed.” What does this mean for us? I don’t, personally, think it means much. I could be wrong, but I just think it means that he was formed first. It may have something to do with the order of authority I mentioned above (which in the Biblical sense is in NO way discriminatory), but “first” should never be confused with “better”. Going back to the adult/child reference, is an adult “better” than a child because they came first? Not in the sense of being more important, that’s for sure. The adult may be better at playing chess or better at balancing a checkbook, but “better” in the sense of a higher being, no. So, men may be better at some things than women, but women are also better at some things than men. And “first” is just first.

I think now is a good time to integrate the meanings of “equal” and “same”, as well. Our society, as a whole, confuses the two. People think that because someone may be different, they deserve less – or more – rights. Different is feared and looked down upon. Therefore, our tendency is to try to make everything equal by making it the same. This is a huge mistake. Women should not have to prove their worth as people by showing how like men they can be, and this is, if I may interject an opinion, what the feminist movement encouraged. It maintains that women should be treated equals, and tried to attain this goal by proving that women can do everything that men can do. This does not heighten the importance of women, but simply creates more man-like figures in the world. It is, in a sense, stating that women are innately less important, but answering to that something like, “But, look! If we do all of the things that men can do, we can make ourselves just as important!” I maintain that women should be treated as equals because they are human, not because they are the same. Because they are not the same. No one can, in reality, pretend that they are. I am not trying to imply that they should be limited in their pursuits by outside forces denying them rights and privileges, because they are “different” and not suited for some tasks. This is what discrimination does, as a whole, to any minority. I am, however, stating that a woman’s nature is something beautiful that should be taken into consideration when life decisions are being made, and that this choice has actually been taken away by the feminist movement. I agree that women should be allowed to join the work force, and that before the feminist movement, this was unjustifiably looked down upon. However, the end result is that women, by and large, no longer have the option to choose. Most families require both incomes for a family to manage their finances. The women who do not feel the emotional need to enter the workforce and have a desire to care for a family instead are largely denied that option, resulting in many women who are over-worked, dissatisfied and under excessive stress. The “equality” we have gained is not equality, as statistics will show. Even in two parent homes where both parents work full-time, the most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the wife does 31 hours of housework a week, while the husband does only 14. That’s hardly equal in my book. Note that the men have never pushed for the same type of “equality” that women did, which entails the “privilege” of taking over all of the opposing gender’s responsibilities. I would have been happy to stick to my own responsibilities, thanks. The point is that both roles are necessary. One person was never meant to have to do the work that was intended for two, and without roles or “job descriptions”, no union, relationship or business runs smoothly. You can redefine the job descriptions as you like to suit personal preferences in your own marriage and family life, but there still must be roles, and “equal” as “same” has simply muddied the waters.

I got a little off track there, so let’s get back to the Bible. Moving on to I Timothy 2:14, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” This verse cannot be used to imply that Adam did not transgress, because he did, and was given the consequences of his choice, just like Eve was. In fact, if you look at it logically, is it not worse to choose to sin knowingly, rather than being deceived into thinking it is a good idea? Eve had a good excuse; Adam just followed the crowd.

And then we are up to Verse 15, “Notwithstanding she shall be saved [preserved, healed, made whole] in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Verses 13, 14 and 15 when taken in context with one another are obviously sort of a shadow referring to Genesis 3, because he incorporates the fall, and then the woman’s consequence because of it. However, the writer is explaining that the consequence can be undone and redeemed. He is, in no way stating that women must have babies in order to be granted salvation in the Kingdom of God. He is stating that despite the transgression, childbearing does not have to be thought of as that negative consequence, but that a woman will be preserved in it through her faith and love and holiness and sobriety or “soundness of mind”. He is encouraging women not to revel in their misfortune, but to grow in God’s truth, and redeem their circumstances. He could just as easily say the same thing to men about their travail in the work world – and He does, in more generic terms all throughout. “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) If we do labor, man in work or woman through childbirth (referring back to the consequences in Genesis 3), if we do it for Him, the burden of it is lifted. Verse 15 is a promise, not a punishment.

And now that we have worked our way through my commentary on the verses, I will list some Bible verses from which we can determine what I Timothy 2 does not mean.

Judges 4 and 5 – Deborah is identified as a prophetess and listed as a judge over Israel and even goes to battle. This is most definitely a position of authority, and she was respected enough by the leader of the battle (Barak) that he said he would not go into battle unless she would accompany him. I am uncertain whether she actually fought in the battle.

Acts 18:26 – Aquila and his wife Priscilla are equally mentioned as instructing a pastor named Apollos more perfectly in the way of God.

Acts 21:9 – in which four young women prophesied (defined as: “speaking from inspiration”), so, clearly, speaking is allowed.

Romans 16:1 – Phebe is referred to as a minister or deaconess, using the feminine form of the same word used to refer to male deacons, so she was even serving in a position.

Romans 16:3 – Aquila and his wife Priscilla are addressed equally as Paul’s helpers, which is translated “fellow worker”, which denotes no lower connotation for Priscilla.

I Corinthians 11:5 – This verse addresses the apparel of a woman, and is a disputed passage among some denominations. However, it clearly states that a woman will be praying and prophesying in church.

Galatians 3:28 – I will quote this one, as it is more of a broad statement than a specific example of one thing. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” If this verse does not promote equality on all faces, I don’t know what would.

I think this will do for now. I will end with the repeated disclaimer that I am not the final word on any of this. This knowledge and these opinions have been gathered from various sources, and I have attempted to represent everything as accurately as I can.

My closing thoughts are as follows: Through other verses and reading, I still have some idea that there may be limits to the leadership roles a woman should take. However, I have not found anything that can clearly delineate what these limits may entail. There are so many times when women were the vessels through which Christ was made known, and the Great Commission is clearly for every believer. Here, Jesus commands: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you….” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

What I do whole-heartedly believe is that if there are, in fact, limitations, viewed from God’s point of view, they are not meant as restrictions, but as gifts, much in the way that submission to someone who loves you above his own well-being would be no sacrifice.

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4 Comments

  1. July 3, 2008 at 10:30 am

    […] Finally more on the Feminism Issue « Taste the Sea said, […]

  2. July 3, 2008 at 11:08 am

    […] May 9, 2007 at 5:41 pm (Christianity, Discipline, Expectations, God, Humility, Individuality, Jesus, Religion, Society, Women, feminism, prayer) Tags: Annie Laurie Gaylor Original post is below, but find my first response to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (also below) here: Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16, and the second response to it here: Finally More on the Feminism Issue. […]

  3. July 19, 2008 at 8:57 am

    […] Finally More on the Feminism Issue […]

  4. July 31, 2008 at 1:05 am

    […] Women and the Bible – Church Roles […]


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