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1 Timothy 2:11-15: Women's role in leadership and the body of Christ

1 Timothy 2:11-15

New International Version

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

If there is a passage of scripture that has caused much contention in the body of Christ, this is the one. The role of women in leadership in the church has been debated and written about through the centuries. But it is important for us when examining scripture to do so by the leading of The Holy Spirit and not based on cultural norms or expectations.

We live in a world where gender and sexuality according to God’s design are not only challenged, but they are rejected. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, there has been continued rebellion against God’s order when it comes to family and marriage. Paul in 1 Timothy is writing a personal letter to Timothy to give direction and wisdom on church leadership. Ultimately what Timothy was dealing with was confusion and chaos. God is a God of order. In creation itself it was God who spoke “let there be light” and it brought order out of chaos.

In this passage we examine the role of woman in leadership in the church. It is important when examining any scripture that we look at the scripture in its context. Who was the scripture written to? How does the scripture fit within the surrounding verses and the entire letter or book it is contained in? How does the scripture fit within the entire revealed word of God from Genesis to Revelation? We know that scripture will never contradict itself. It is inspired by The Holy Spirit. It is inerrant and infallible. The Holy Spirit came upon men as the wrote scripture and led them and inspired them to write the word of God that we have today (2 Peter 1:21).

Everything we do as Christians must be based on sound doctrine. It cannot be based on man’s wisdom or understanding. Even when we study scripture, we must seek The Holy Spirit not only to understand but also how it is to be applied in our day. The word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It means that the word of God is not simply for those it was originally written for, but for us today it molds and shapes our lives as the Holy Spirit renews our minds and we are transformed.

Paul begins verse eleven by stating a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. Does this mean that a woman is not allowed to think for herself or is simply not allowed to speak at all in a public worship service. We must remember that much of what Paul is giving instruction on is the public worship gathering. God gives us freedom in our public worship gatherings, but there must be order to all things and it must be led and guided by The Spirit of God.

We also know that Paul in previously letters gave instructions about women not only praying but prophesying during public worship (1 Cor 11). We also know from Paul’s previous letters that he spoke about women who were helpful to him in ministry. So based on other scripture passages it is clear that what Paul is confronting is women who has become disorderly in the public worship service. We know during Paul’s day that the status of women in society were viewed more as property. So, when they came to saving faith in Jesus Christ there was a freedom, they found that was brand new. This may have emboldened them during the public worship service to not only question out loud things that were being taught which would become a distraction, but also try to take on the role of a teacher over the entire assembly and would have given room to greater false teaching and error.

The word for woman in the Greek can be translated either woman or wife. By Paul stating quietness and full submission, it doesn’t mean that women are called to be mindless robots who have no opinion and cannot think for themselves, but it would protect against disorder that was taking place in that day. Women at this point in history were for the most part uneducated and unlearned. So, the ability to be influenced by false teaching would have had a greater impact. Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit states the greatest way to confront this disorder in the public worship setting is that women are to learn in quietness and full submission. Questions concerning doctrine could take place in the home with their husbands or outside of the public worship gathering in a more personal setting as not to bring disorder and disruption. We must always remember that God doesn’t place higher value upon men over women. Both men and women have complimentary roles not only in the home, but in the body of Christ as well.

Paul continues stating “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”. Does this mean that women are to have no teaching role whatsoever in the body of Christ? That is hard to conceive as we see today there are many gifted women teachers who are a great blessing to the body of Christ. I believe the emphasis here is they are not to teach or assume authority over a man. Within the body of Christ there is room for women to teach both children and other women. A great benefit that women bible teachers hold for other women is they bring a level of experience that a man doesn’t have when it comes to teaching and ministering to women.

But I also believe within the church of Ephesus the false teaching that was infiltrating the body like a cancer was being increased by women who were consuming it and turning around and teaching it to the greater body. Paul will go on to give the qualifiers for an elder and he is clear under the leading of the Holy Spirit that elders are to be men (1 Timothy 3:1-7). To be an elder one of the qualifiers would be that of being able to teach which would give them the responsibility to have oversight over the entire flock as a shepherd. Because of this, I believe Paul is stating that women are not to teach or have authority over a man. They are not to teach and have an authoritative role over the entire body. We see today in some ministry circles that this is not the case. In some churches today cultural norms have greater authority than scripture. But if we truly desire to walk in obedience to the Lord and His ways, we must do all things as God has laid out in His word. Jesus has told us that those who love Him will obey His commands.

Paul now moves on to confront objects that may be made at this point. Someone reading this today may especially argue against Paul and scripture. Labeling this both sexist and hateful. But by the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul lays out the reasons why women in a public worship setting are not to teach or have authority over a man. Paul states “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”. Paul points to God’s original created order. We must remember when God created all things, He brought order out of chaos (Genesis 1:1-5). When God said let there be light, light was created, and the creation process began. Before God spoke, we are told that the earth was darkness and void, it was without form.

When God created humanity, He created them male and female. The order by which God created them was that Adam was created first and from Adam’s rib God made women. Before sin entered in, Adam had a position of authority over Eve. Their relationship was one of perfectly complimenting one another. Eve was not made from Adam’s skull as to have authority over him, nor was even made from Adam’s foot so Adam would tread on her and have dominion over her. But Eve came from Adam’s rib and was to be a perfect complement and helper to Adam.

But when sin entered in, it changed everything. But when sin entered in we see that it was Eve who was deceived by the serpent and then Eve deceived Adam. It was Adam who was given the words by God to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was Adam’s responsibility and role to communicate this to Eve. But when the fall took place it was Eve who was first deceived and then presented the forbidden fruit to Adam and Adam was deceived. It doesn’t mean that Adam was innocent because Adam had heard directly from God. Adam had the greater responsibility. But when we place this in the context of what was happening in the church in Ephesus, we see that false teaching was most likely bringing great deception to the women in the congregation who were turning around, taking on the role of teachers and continuing to bring even greater deception to the body that Timothy was having to deal with and confront.

When examining this passage, it is again important to see that Paul is not making women out to be the villain, nor is he degrading their role. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul is writing and giving command. But Paul was confronting real issues that were taking place in that day and by following the leading and guidance concerning women in leadership, it would bring order back into public worship. Satan’s desire is to bring confusion and chaos. If he can bring confusion and chaos to the public worship service, it hinders what God is accomplishing in His people.

Paul concludes stating that women will be saved in childbirth. Does this mean that salvation for women is dependent on them having children? That would be ridiculous especially in light of what Paul has writing throughout the letter to Romans that clearly lays out that salvation is by faith alone because of the grace of God. What I truly believe Paul is pointing to is the importance of roles within the body of Christ. Women and Men have distinct and complimentary roles. Women by God’s created design are the only ones who can bear children. No matter how much our culture today desires to argue against it, they can’t change biology which clearly shows because of the sexual organs women are created with they are the only ones who can bear children.

But I believe Paul may also be pointing to the fact in the Genesis account that through child birth the Messiah would come and ultimately would be God’s answer to sin and rebellion (Genesis 3:15). Because of childbirth, Jesus would be born to the virgin Mary and by faith alone through the grace of God we could find forgiveness of our sins and salvation. I believe Paul is truly speaking about the God given role of women not only in the body of Christ but also in the home. Again, not all women are able to bear children and if there salvation was dependent on bearing children, it would mean it was not dependent on what Jesus has done. But I truly believe Paul is pointing to the role of women as God designed when he writes of bearing children.

Paul ends this section by stating “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”. These instructions again point to a godly lifestyle which brings great benefit not only individually but corporately. If one of the major issues Timothy was dealing with concerned false teaching and it being increased by women perpetuating it, then if women continued in faith, love, and holiness with propriety it would guard and correct against this issue.

When examining all that Paul wrote, it is clear that Paul is not against women in the church or stating they have no role at all. But Paul does make it clear that women are not to teach or hold a position of authority over men. I don’t believe this is for the cultural context of his day only, but this instruction is for the entire church age.

Even though today there may be women pastors who hold a position of lead pastor over congregations, it doesn’t mean it is right or scriptural. Personally, I could never attend or be apart of a ministry in which the lead person was a woman. I believe both men and women hold complimentary roles in the body of Christ. I believe if a woman has a gift to teach it can be used in either teaching children or teaching and leading other women. But I believe scripture is clear when it comes to order in public worship and in the body of Christ as a whole that the highest levels of authority are held by men, and it is men who are called by God to teach to the body of Christ as a whole. When we examine God’s original created design and His design for family and marriage, we see that the order He calls for in the body of Christ is to mirror that which is designed and called for in the family.

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