Women in Ministry Leadership

This week was my turn to deliver a message on Timothy.  It fell to me to cover the end times, starting with 2nd Timothy 3 as the base text.  If you’re interested, the audio is available here.  One of the stranger things in this passage is Paul’s[1] concern for overwhelmed women (γυναικάρια σεσωρευμένα) in verse six.  Paul has a lot of strange things to say about women in 1st and 2nd Timothy.  Perhaps the most notable example is 1st Timothy 2:8-15, where he ostensibly forbids women to teach men.

I want to make it clear from the outset that I do not intend this post to be exhaustive.  There are several passages in play, and several issues to consider.  However, there are many who malign the egalitarian position (i.e. that women can hold all the same positions as a man) as ignoring or explaining away all the difficult texts.  This passage in 1st Timothy is particularly difficult, as it seems to ground Paul’s prohibition in the created order.  Put simply, it seems to be saying that women can’t teach men because men were created first.  So, while I can’t examine everything in this post, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the matter to help explain why I hold to the egalitarian position.[2]  This is going to be a longer post, so buckle up.


As always, Crystal did a phenomenal job.  

First, let’s look at the text.  Here’s my translation:

(8)Therefore, I want men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath or dissension, (9)likewise also women to adorn themselves in orderly attire with modesty and sobriety, not in braided hair or gold or pearls, or costly garments,[3] (10)but through good works, which are fitting for a woman confessing godliness. (11)A woman should learn in silence [and] in all submission, (12)but I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man,[4] but to be[5] in silence. (13)Because Adam was formed first, then Eve.  (14)And Adam was not deceived, but the woman[6] being thoroughly deceived has been born[7] into transgression. (15)But she will be saved through the birth of a child,[8] if they[9] remain in faith, and love, and holiness with sobriety.

At the outset we have to notice that the other commands here (i.e. women shouldn’t dress with gold, pearls, costly garments, or braided hair) are not taken as for all time.  This isn’t the nail in the coffin, as it were, but it does need to motivate us to tread carefully when universally applying another part of the text.

But moving beyond that, let’s focus on the why.  Look at verse 13.  Because Adam was formed first, then Eve.  Okay, so women need to be silent, because Adam was created first.  What does that have to do with anything?  This should be troubling, no matter how you interpret the passage.  What does the order of creation have to do with anything?

Well, Paul clarifies.  Not only was Adam created first, he wasn’t deceived.  Eve was.  Apparently Adam sinned knowingly.  If we go back to the story, this becomes clear.  Here again is the text (Genesis 3:1-7) in my translation:

(1)Now[10] the serpent[11] was the most cunning of all the beasts[12]of the field which YHWH-God created.  And he said to the woman, “Has God really[13] said, ‘Neither[14] of you shall eat of the tree of the garden.’?” (2)And the woman said to the serpent, “From all the fruit of the garden we may eat, (3)but fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden…[15]God said, ‘Neither of you shall eat from them and neither of you shall touch it, lest you die.[16]’”  (4)So the serpent said to the woman, “You will certainly not die.[17]  (5)Because God knows that in the day that you eat[18] them both of your eyes will be open and you will both be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (6)And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and it was appealing to their eyes and that the tree was desirable to make one prosperous, she took from the fruit and ate it and gave it also to her husband[19] who was[20] with her and he ate.[21]  (7)And both of their eyes were opened, and they knew their nakedness and they sewed together fig leaves and made for themselves clothes. 

Pay careful attention to the narrative here.  Who is present?  Read in most English translations it seems as though only Eve and the serpent are present.  But the serpent speaks in plural language.  He’s talking to both Adam and Eve.  But Adam is silent.  If we pay careful attention to Eve’s responses, they don’t line up with God’s actual words.  But Eve wasn’t present when God gave those commands, so how would she know what he said?  Adam.  It had to have been Adam’s responsibility to relay God’s commands to Eve.  But even if it wasn’t, Adam knew what God had said, so he’s at least responsible for speaking up when Eve misquotes him.  Thus, a careful re-reading of this narrative reveals the silent participant in the fall.  Adam is there the entire time, mysteriously silent.[22]  But the pronouns make his presence clear.

It is this relationship that Paul imports into his letter to Timothy.  Paul is concerned with women who have not yet been taught properly as well as men who are not speaking up when they ought to.  Therefore, Paul uses Genesis contextually, artfully drawing on a well-known story which tells of the consequences of the failure to properly convey the oracles of God from those who have learned them to the initiates.  Eve’s misquotations of the commands of God and Adam’s silence tell us all we need to know.  There was a breakdown in communication of some sort, and that led to a catastrophic end.

As I said before, there is a lot at play here.  I haven’t mentioned the cult of Artemis, or the prevailing culture in Ephesus.  In spite of all this, you may conclude that egalitarianism is flawed.  That’s fair.  There are reasons to come to that conclusion.  After all, as respected Greek Scholar Bill Mounce said, “If one position were truly clear or obvious, then there would not be significantly divergent positions held by respectable scholars.”[23]

[1] There are those who suggest Paul didn’t actually write this letter.  For our purposes, I’m going to assume that he did.  Even if he didn’t, the overall point of what I’m saying here isn’t affected much, if at all.

[2] If you’re interested in a paper I’ve written on the topic, it can be found here.  It’s 27 pages, with 92 footnotes, and a two page bibliography.  Put simply, there are a lot of suggestions for where you can go if you’re interested in investigating this further.

[3] ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ here indicates something like an external show of wealth.  ἱμείρομαι indicates a strong desire according to Thayer’s, and πολυτελής indicates something that is costly.  So the combination indicates something like “costly things that are strongly desired.”

[4] This is an interpretation of the genitive ἀνδρός, which could be “of a man” or even “of a husband.”

[5] Perhaps to remain.

[6] Note the shift from Eve.

[7] This is a fairly interpretive translation of γέγονεν (perfect tense), but given the context, and later use of τεκνογονία in a redemptive sense, this seems to be justified.

[8] Again, this is an interpretive choice, but τῆς τεκνογονίας is singular, and I think context supports it.

[9] Notice the shift to plural here.

[10] Translated this way because of the disjunctive vav.  See Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 651-2.

[11] There is debate regarding the character of the serpent.  Some see him/it as the personification of Satan or evil.  Others see him only as the antagonist of this particular story.  Arnold sums this up well on page 62 of his commentary on Genesis: “Christian readers routinely identify him as satan because of allusions to this text in the New Testament…However, there is nothing in Israel’s Scriptures that would equate the serpent with Satan, especially since ancient Israelites did not embody all evil in a single personage.”  His coverage continues to the following page.  Sarna spends little time on the debate, but roundly rejects that this is Satan (24).  However it is not only Christians who accept that this character is Satan.  See early Rabbinic interpretations found in Kvam, 85-86.  See also 32-33 in the same.

[12] Waltke and O’Connor, 270.

[13] Francis Brown, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 65.

[14] Translated this way to indicate the 2nd person plural.

[15] The syntax is shattered here.  The verb ideally comes first in any Hebrew sentence and yet here it is the sixth word.  This is what informed the broken syntax in English, which is an attempt to catch the tone present by the broken syntax in Hebrew.

[16] Waltke and O’Connor, 511; Ronald J. Williams, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ©2007), 73, 163.

[17] Williams, 85.

[18] Williams, 155.

[19] Waltke and O’Connor, 240.

[20] Waltke and O’Connor, 74.

[21] The flow of the narrative is interrupted here.  The last half of this verse is a barrage of verb after verb, seemingly indicating the rapid succession of these events.

[22] Jewish Scholar James Kugel discussed this briefly in his Weekly Torah Reading, providing some very interesting early sources concerning Adam’s silence.

[23] Mounce, 103.  He would know.  Mounce’s bibliography spans from page 94 to 102 and cannot be more highly recommended as a resource for this topic. For more introductory treatments see Linda L. Belleville, Two Views On Women in Ministry, rev. ed., Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2005), and Bonnidell Clouse, Robert G. Clouse, and Robert Duncan Culver, eds., Women in Ministry: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©1989).  Also, a fair summary can be found in Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 937-944.  For an excellent treatment dealing specifically with Paul’s use of the OT, see Beale, 893-898.

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