“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
I would be willing to bet that there is no other passage in the entire Bible more openly ignored, avoided, slandered, and excused (unless it be the sister passage of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35) as these verses here. People within the Christian community (I will not say “within the church”) have given 101 reasons as to why we can rest easy in our disregard for Paul’s explicit command here.
These reasons range from the pragmatic reasons: Some women are willing to teach and the men are not. Let’s get the women into positions that need to be filled.
To cultural reasons: This is western civilization in the 21st century. Must we really confine ourselves to a version of the world as directed by a clearly sexist zealot like Paul?
To “theological” reasons: Galatians 3:28 states that there is neither male nor female in Christ. Clearly the gospel erased all previous roles as ordained by God for the sexes.
Regardless of how one arrives at egalitarianism (the belief that men and women should function and be utilized on equal terms and are virtually interchangeable in every dimension), it doesn’t change the fact that the egalitarian believes something that is not substantiated by Scripture and is actually forbidden by Scripture. Egalitarianism maligns the character of God by calling His good creation “bad” and encourages sinful behavior by preaching rebellion against the created order. Egalitarianism is heresy. Those who preach it are heretics. This is a position that must be repented of.
If this position is so harmful, so evil, so absolutely contrary to the will and character of God, then why do so many people who claim the name of Jesus Christ teach it? That question demands a logical explanation to what is foundationally illogical. Sin is never logical because sin (by definition) is rebellion against God who is (in His Word/will/character) always logical. You’re asking why sinners sin? Well…because they’re sinners. In other words, people teach egalitarianism because they desperately want it to be true, not because Scripture teaches it. Blinded by their own sin and desire, they muddy the waters made so clear by the Holy Word of Almighty God.
We must be clear what the issue is. We are not discussing the worth of men vs. women. They are both image bearers and thus of perfectly equal worth (Genesis 1:26-28). The issue is that of purpose. I hate to come out and say it, but a man is not a woman and a woman is not a man. They are different. That difference is not arbitrary, but purposefully designed. God created men and women, of equal worth, for different purposes. But here’s the pill that’s hard to swallow: When men and women reject that God-given purpose/role they are in open rebellion against their creator.
If God has clearly designed men and women to function in different capacities, then rejection of those capacities is nothing less than open rebellion against God. These verses help to explain this very thing.
Looking At The Context
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness
Remember that Paul has just finished exhorting the Ephesian elders that men are to come to worship with cleans hands and a clean heart while the women are to come to worship adorned with good works (vv. 8-10). Church members are to come prepared to worship. The context of the weekly gathering of the saints to worship God has not changed. This is not a command for women to be seen and not heard (get back in the kitchen and make me a sammich!).
This is a command (the first imperative used in the letter thus far) given to the church and pertains to the meeting itself.
Within the context of the weekly gathering, a woman must receive instruction. The verb (μανθάνω) is the same root as the word disciple (μαθητής). A woman must learn, receive instruction, and learn as an apprentice while in the meeting. This should not be seen as a condemnation but a joy! Many religions do not place much emphasis (if any) upon teaching their women the core pillars of their faith. In fact the Babylonian Talmud (an ancient Jewish tradition) states that men come to the synagogue to learn while the women come to hear. If she happens to pick something up, great. But no one really cares if she learns anything or not. An educated woman is of no consequence.
Within the Christian church, a woman should come prepared to learn. But she is to do so quietly and in all submissiveness. Again, this command does not extend past the gathering of the church. Women are not bound by Scripture to seek permission to speak within her home or in public. But within the meeting her command to learn is not an interactive event. She will demonstrate her role of submission as she listens and learns in silence.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
For the life of me I cannot see how you can read this verse and think that it’s ok for a woman to get behind the pulpit, lead an adult Sunday school class, or pretend to be a pastor/elder/overseer. And yet that is the growing attitude of people claiming the name of Christ.
But let’s not become too distracted here. Paul does not allow a woman to teach. Why? There is a link between teaching and authority. You cannot teach someone without assuming a certain amount of authority over them. For a woman to teach within the gathered assembly would be to place her in authority over a man, which is tantamount to a full scale rebellion against the created order and her God-given role and purpose. To make himself abundantly clear, Paul repeats the attitude with which she should attend the gathering: but to remain quiet. Under no circumstances will a woman assert herself over a man within the context of family or the church. The remaining verses explain why.
Explaining the Text
After giving explicit instruction as to the conduct he expects from women, Paul gives three reasons why women in the church must submit in silence.
Reason #1) The Woman Was Designed to Submit
“For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve”
Paul is clearly referencing the creation account as told by Moses in Genesis chapter 2. The Bible student would do well to compare this verse with 1 Corinthians 14:34 (the other dreaded text) and note that Paul gives very similar commands in both places. But we must take care notice of what Paul is basing these commands on. Unlike those who reject these teachings based on their assumptions that Paul was a cranky male chauvinist, Paul’s argument is built upon previous revelation and not his own opinions.
1 Corinthians 14:34 compares the commands of Paul and claims that they are compatible with the writings of Moses (just as the Law also says). If one were to read the books credited to Moses (a novel concept for some to be sure), one would notice that this particular subject is brought up only in Genesis 2&3; the first by giving purpose to God’s image bearers and the second in response to the curse. In our current text Paul makes explicit reference to both instances.
In other words, Paul prohibits women from teaching within the church because that would place them as an authority over men. To do so would be a direct rebellion against the created order where woman was taken from man to be his helper. A careful reading of Genesis 1 and 2 reveals that while men and women are equals, woman was created to help man with man as her head. The husband/wife relationship is not dominate owner with an in-house servant nor is it a partnership with two votes. It is a loving relationship with a single head (man) and a submissive helper (woman). The church is to mirror this.
When Paul basis is argument upon Adam’s priority, it is not simply to say that Adam got here first and thus called “dibs.” Adam’s priority, being molded before Eve, was necessary because of where Eve came from. Eve was fashioned from an already created Adam. For a woman to pretend to be the source of man within the church or the family (both of which are creations of God, not man) is to deny the reality of God’s original creation of the human race.
By God’s perfect decree, in an environment that was very good, men were designed to lead while women were designed to submit. A woman cannot teach or exercise authority over a man because she was designed to help him, not govern him.
Reason #2) Failure to Submit Brings Calamity
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression
What happens when people throw off the commands of God and operate under their own rules? Frankly, all hell breaks loose. But we need to take note of a few things.
First, this first does not exonerate Adam from guilt. Romans 5 is very explicit that through one man the entire human race fell. Yet there is no other way of interpreting this passage other than to take it at face value and say that Adam most certainly was NOT deceived. In other words, he entered into sin with both eyes open. Rather than exonerating Adam, this verse brings a decisive amount of condemnation down upon him.
Second, Paul’s thrust is not to point fingers but to establish the fact that Eve (and Adam) was operating outside of her perspective role. This verse does not by any stretch of the imagination imply that women are stupid or that they possess inferior cognitive abilities than man. But it demonstrates what happens when men and women step outside of their roles.
The text of Genesis 2 and 3 is very interesting. Eve is never mentioned by name until after the fall and only referred to by her relationship to Adam (his wife) until chapter 3. It is there, in the account of rebellion that Eve is referred to as an autonomous individual (the woman) rather than by her God-given role. It is there that the enemy of God approached her, and by her own confession she was deceived (Gen. 3:13). The rest, as they say, is history.
The point is not to place the blame of the fall upon Eve. Not in the least! The point is to highlight the fact that when men and women fail to operate within their designed purpose, only catastrophe occurs. Adam should have led her, guarded her, shepherded her. But he didn’t. Eve should have sought Adam’s guidance, leadership, and counsel. But she didn’t. Adam’s failure to lead and Eve’s failure to submit plunged the entire human race into sin and death. Eve was the first egalitarian and her husband was in full support.
Reason #3) Submissive Obedience is the Fruit of Repentance
But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint
What in the world is going on here? Is this some strange teaching of works based salvation by which women can only be saved if they have children? Not even close. But what then does it mean? To get to the bottom of that, we need to ask three questions of this verse:
1) What is meant by “women will be preserved”?
2) What is the connection between preservation and child bearing (what does through mean)?
3) How does this fit into the context?
Let’s take these one at a time.
What is meant by “women will be preserved”?
It’s worth noting that the Greek here is actually the same word for saved (σῴζω) as is reflected in several other English translations. But does this refer to physical salvation (from some sort of danger or calamity) or from spiritual salvation (from sin and death)?
If we were to examine the broader context then we would see that the answer is not that difficult. Paul has already used this word twice in his letter to Timothy (1:15; 2:4) and both times the word clearly refers to spiritual salvation from sin and death. It is not impossible that he is using it in a different sense here, but that would not be abundantly obvious to the original audience or us. It’s a safe bet that Paul is speaking of spiritual salvation.
What does “through” mean?
Paul does not mean that bearing children is the means by which a woman comes to salvation. This preposition (διά) can be used in just such a way, but it can also be used to communicate an action that is happening at the same time. In other words, child bearing does not bring about salvation, but it is happening in conjunction with it. What on earth does this mean?
How does this fit the context?
The entire point is that women are to stop rebelling against their God/creator/savior and fulfill their role as wife and mother. A woman who has submitted to the command of the gospel (repent and believe) will also submit to God’s call on her life (to be a helpmate and mother). Paul is not indicating that childbearing saves women. Rather his point is that a woman is adorning herself with righteous good works (vv. 9-10) by submitting to her God-given task of mothering rather than pursuing a role that does not belong to her (teaching).
This submission is not only an outward conformity to “the rules” but is simply the fruit of faith (belief/acceptance of the gospel), love (for God and man), and holiness (obedience to the commands of God and separation from this evil and perverse generation), which is always characterized with self-control.
The modern feminist movement of the culture and the push for egalitarianism within the church is an abomination to the Lord. It defies His very good creation and prostitutes His bride by undermining the basic concept of submission. If submission is somehow evil, then the gospel cannot save. It is good for women to submit to male headship just as it is good that men lead the church and their families. A family or church that is not led by men with submissive women helping and supporting cannot please God because they are in open defiance to God’s created order.
This text is not meant to be a club with which to batter women into submission. It’s a call for both men and women to fulfill their God-given roles and submit to HIM. There is either submission to Christ or there is rebellion against Him. There is no middle ground.