Women and church leadership (part 2)
When coming back to a difficult passage, we need to remind ourselves of the three rules:
1. Context is key.
2. We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3. We let the author speak for himself
In the previous post, we discovered how important these rules are – because sometimes our first impression (i.e. – assumption) of what the author meant isn’t always the correct interpretation. A couple of paragraphs after our subject verses, after Paul finishes his entire discussion regarding the qualifications of church leaders, Paul tells Timothy the following:
1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
As such, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s intention for this section of his letter was so that Timothy and the Ephesian believers will know how people ought to act in God’s household.
As a refresher, here are the verses we reviewed last time. If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest going back a reading it before going further with this post. However, if you did read Part 1, reading the verses again will help form the context for the verses that follow:
1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.
A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.
Last time we discovered that the education system of Paul’s day held the expectation that pupils would receive instruction from their teachers in silence and with full submission. We found that these two phrases describe a student who peacefully conducts themselves while they are respectfully under the authority of their teacher. We also realized that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man was only in regard to the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church. His directions to Timothy are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family.
Now, let’s see how Paul supports these directions for the church:
1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.
Paul notes that Adam was created first, then Eve. God could have made them both at the same time, but instead, He created them at different times and in unique ways – with Adam being formed from the dirt and Eve being fashioned from Adam’s rib. There were distinctions in origin and design from the get-go, from which God has specified a distinction in roles within the family and within church leadership. God entrusted Adam with leadership responsibility over his wife. Before God, Eve was not responsible for Adam in the same way that Adam was responsible for Eve.
God had an order and a plan for both men and women from the start, and Paul says the structure within the home-family should be the blueprint for the church-family. Paul’s instruction here builds upon his previous teachings to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).
Avoiding deception, especially concern against women being deceived, is frequently repeated in Paul’s communication with the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7). Paul was concerned that the women in Ephesus were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, just like Eve had been.
One last note, on Paul’s last statement. The Greek word saved can mean to be rescued from something or can mean to be returned to a previous state. Given the context here, saved clearly does not refer to eternal salvation from sin’s penalty; instead, Paul emphasizes that women can be restored to their pre-fall status, and find leadership fulfillment within her family, provided she continues to walk with God. Additionally, I think it would be acceptable to apply this concept to both naturally born children or to those spiritual children that a woman directly mentors.
With this, Paul wraps up his discussion on what women should not do with something they alone can do. It was pointed out to me recently that perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leader up front and we unfortunately minimize the influence and mentoring of those who got them to that point. It’s been said that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, and there is a lot of truth in that statement. In fact, before Timothy met Paul, his entire spiritual instruction came from his mother and grandmother. Without them preparing Timothy’s foundation, he would never have grown into the influential leader he was in the first century church.
In short, Paul’s directions in this passage to the believing women in Ephesus is to take God’s design for their immediate families and extend those characteristics to the church family. As we all live out the talents, opportunities, and roles God has designed for us, our lives will become the walking gospels that point others toward God – and not to ourselves. Ultimately, though, we are responsible before God for how handle His instructions. If God is who we claim Him to be in our lives, then we should be able to trust Him in all aspects of life – even in the difficult passages.