Many people have asked what the Bible has to say about women's roles in church. Rather than doing a lengthy study on each passage that people often use in order to restrict women's eligibility to serve in certain capacities, I'll restrict my own study to this particular scripture passage today. The other passages that people use to suppress women's influence, I'll deal with later.
Before we tackle the real issue, I want to address some verses early on in this 1 Timothy 2 passage, that have gender-words. Paul writes (in the KJV):
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.In verse 4, the word translated as "men" is anthropous, which actually means "people," not "masculine people." God wants all people to be saved--not just men. Again, the word the KJV translates as "men" in verse 5 is a general word for humanity, not specific to men. When it says "the man Christ Jesus," again, the scripture uses the generic word which distinguishes Jesus as human, not as a man (which, of course, he was, but that's not the point that Paul was making).
Then, Paul claims his authority as a preacher and an apostle (he insists that he really is a preacher and an apostle, that he's not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity (truth). This, of course, doesn't mean that Paul is infallible. What follows next is very important, and upon the next few words hang the future of women's roles in the church. Here's what Paul says (in the KJV):
8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
The key words that we must understand here are found in verse 8, "I will," and in verse 12, "I suffer not (which, of course, means 'I do not permit')." Paul is giving his opinion here--plain and simple. He is not giving a command from the Lord. Just because the Bible says something, that doesn't mean that God is dictating it. For example, just because Solomon said to divide a child with a sword, that doesn't mean that the church should take up child-division in order to settle conflicts. Specific situations call for specific solutions. In this case, Paul is giving a specific solution to a specific problem.
Paul makes reference to the specific situation in v. 7, when he says that he is a teacher to the Gentiles. People who were coming to the faith from outside of Judaism had all sorts of backgrounds. "Gentile" is not a culture, but a word that simply means "Non-Jew." Therefore, it was impossible to predict the ways that people were used to behaving, prior to coming to Christ. But now Gentiles were flocking to the church in droves. By the power of Christ, many women were saved out of prostitution, positions as temple oracles, and other careers that had hardened them into brazen people. This brazenness would have been offensive to the Jewish people in the church, and Paul had to decide how to deal with creating a "church culture" that could be acceptable to all. Rather than enforcing Judaism on the Gentiles, and rather than letting the gentile culture overrun the Jewish believers, Paul simply set down some standards of conduct for the young church. What he suggests is a middle way.
This is why Paul says in v. 8 that he (Paul) wants men (andras, which means male people) everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. Perhaps the wrath and doubting that they had been experiencing had stemmed from uncertainty over gender roles in the church. So, Paul was now clarifying this, so that their church culture could be one of peace.
In v. 9, Paul suggests that women should dress modestly (which, I believe is still good advice, if you want the men to be focused on God, rather than letting their attention wander to where it doesn't belong). Next, we get these words (in the KJV), "shamefacedness and sobriety." This word kosmios, translated here as "modest" doesn't mean "homely," but "well-appointed," or "virtuously attractive." The word that's here translated as "shamefacedness" is aidous, and ought to be translated as "modesty." Note the way that the KJV wording seeks to oppress women, making them feel as they ought to be ashamed of their gender. The KJV uses the word "sobriety" for the Greek word sophrosynes, which is often translated as "self-control" or "soundness of mind." Interesting, that the Greek suggests that women practice self-control, rather than being controlled by outside restraints. Next, Paul gives several examples of what he (Paul) considers to be excessive adornment. He tells them to avoid "broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array." in v. 10, Paul gives alternate fashion advice. Rather than adorning themselves outwardly, Paul suggests they decorate themselves with good works. Again, the grammar points back to the "I will" in verse 8. This is Paul's opinion.
Honestly, I'm amazed at the inconsistency in the ways that some churches will use the Bible to justify their oppression of women. I mean, those who insist that the "I will" in v. 8 comes from God and not from Paul, who tell women that they aren't allowed to teach in church, should also impose on their women the fashion rules cited in v. 9. A little consistency, please! If you want to oppress women, then you should oppress them all the way! None of this halfway oppression stuff. If you're not going to let them teach, then take away their braids and jewelry too, by all means! In my own life, I've known many women who say that they believe themselves unqualified to teach men in the church--and they cite this scripture as the reason. Still, they come to church wearing jewelry or with done-up hair. Does anybody else see a problem with this kind of thinking?
In vv. 11-12, Paul says, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." I don't believe that Paul was trying to subjugate women, but that he was trying to quell a growing problem in a transitioning church. As the church shifted from mostly-Jewish to mostly-Gentile, women began to dominate in a formerly patriarchal church culture. Paul could sense the friction, and gave this admonition. Today, we find ourselves in an equal-rights kind of world. We aren't in transition. We're firmly in a position where women can take just as much leadership as men, because today we recognize their equal giftings.
Some point out that Paul didn't use a cultural argument, but instead gave a theological reason for the subjugation of women. In vv. 13-14, he says, "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." We can chalk this up to the fact that we're still in the mode of listening to Paul's opinions, and not to divine mandate. Has Paul forgotten that Adam was just as deceived as Eve was? Has Paul forgotten that since the man was formed first, that doesn't make him more important or better--but it makes Adam even more culpable in the Fall? After all, it was Adam who received direct instruction from the Lord, not to eat from the tree. Eve only got her instructions second-hand. So, who's more to blame--Adam or Eve? In this particular case, Paul's theology doesn't hold water--any more than does his statement that women "shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (v. 15)." Nowhere else in scripture does it say that women will be saved through childbearing--but they will be saved the same as men are, through faith in Jesus their Savior.
At this point, some will say, "Greg, you're meddling with the Bible--with the Word of God." Actually, I'm taking issue with one of the places in the Bible where someone is clearly expressing an unfounded opinion. My issue isn't with God's perfect Word. The Bible is perfect in that it perfectly gives us a glimpse into the way things were in New Testament times, as people struggled with the issues of their day just as we struggle with the issues of our day. Neither Paul's well-intended but misguided idea that women should sit down and be quiet, nor his notion that they will be saved through childbearing, exhibit the character of Christ. Because of this, I believe that while we find these opinions in the Word of God, that doesn't mean that they are the word of God. This is a very difficult distinction to make, but also a very important one to make, if we are to rightly divide the word of truth.