Do you not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. On account of your desert–that is, death–even the Son of God had to die.”–Tertullian, early church father.
“In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” ~Paul, 1 Timothy 2:9-15
This is the main verse cited to bar all women from obtaining any “official” positions in the church that would put them “over” men or have any say in the decision-making aspects of church government: no teaching, no preaching, no leading, or anything that could be construed as having authority over men. However, if we are to use this verse to exclude women from the “top” levels of ministry, we must also embrace the reasons this verse seemingly cites to justify women’s exclusion, which are:
1. Eve was formed second
2. And was the one who was deceived, falling into transgression
Then to top it off, Paul declares that despite this fact that “woman” was deceived, “she” will be saved through childbearing…” All this taken literally implies women are easily deceived and therefore should not be allowed to teach men, lest we ruin them as Eve did with Adam (which is the longstanding ‘traditional’ interpretation of this verse) and that women obtain salvation through childbirth. The last line (if taken literally) is heresy. Women are saved by the blood of Jesus, just like men, not through bearing children. Other translations remedy this puzzling choice of words by making the verse say women will “survive” or be “kept safe” through childbirth. But even this reading begs the question, is Paul really promising that christian women will never die during childbirth, even though countless have, especially during this time? And if all women ARE somehow more prone to deception than men, why are they admonished to teach at all? Why would they be allowed to teach other women and children? Would they not just pass on their deception to other deception-prone subjects?
It is Paul’s reference to the creation order that convinces complementarians that his forbidding women to teach or exercise authority over a man is universal and all-time binding. Are all women prone to deception because of Eve? Was Eve created with an inherent lack of discernment, thus all women inherit this trait as well? Are women, covered in the blood of Christ, to be eternally held accountable for the failure of our ancestral mother?
Fortunately, the cultural and historical context of 1 Timothy is one of the easier to reconstruct. Ample evidence exists both in other biblical passages and in historical/archaeological evidence to shed light on the environment of Ephesus and the nature of the false teachings plaguing the infant-christian church of Ephesus. Oddly enough, the nature of these false teachings directly correlates to the descriptions and commands given in 1 Timothy, especially 2:9-15.
The next post will expound upon these false teachings and how it brings out a clearer meaning to Paul’s letter to Timothy. Without a contextual understanding, Paul’s words seem harsh, ludicrously stereotypical, and border on heresy, for all are “saved” by grace through faith, not through childbearing. If we want to bar all women from teaching based on this passage of scripture then we must also believe the reason for their exclusion is because Eve was the first deceived, first to fall into transgression, and all daughters of Eve take after her, therefore must not teach. The literal reading irreversibly ties the prohibition against women teaching with Eve’s deception, not just the fact that she was formed after Adam.