It’s interesting how certain words connote certain emotional reactions. For example, at the word ‘vacation’ your body may immediately loosens up as you think about a tropical breeze across your bronzed arms, whilst when ‘mother-in-law’ is mentioned you suddenly feel agitated and begin second guessing yourself, and perfecting your meatloaf recipe. For many reason, when the word ‘submission’ was brought up in conversation, my body would instantaneously react with feelings of hostility, pride, and annoyance. I would quickly dismiss all biblical references with the idea that somehow I could distort scripture into saying that it doesn’t apply to me.
But I quickly found out how unfulfilling disobeying Scripture actually is. I started to research Feminism, the Sexual Revolution, and Biblical Womanhood. I realized how perfect and necessary this idea of submission is in my life. I realized that the vision of complementing the men in my life via submission is “beautiful and satisfying…not onerous or oppressive. It does not promote pride or self-exaltations. It conforms to who we are by God’s good design” (Piper 33). It is not a matter of superiority and inferiority, for Jesus Christ himself submits to the will of the Father (Luke 22:42) but instead a matter of order and intentionality. Though these truths play out in many areas in our lives, I will be addressing only the roles and responsibilities of women in the church according to the inerrant Word of God by means of the Pastoral Epistles.
The main text I’ll be working from will be found in 1 Timothy 2:8-14, it reads as follows:
“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
That’s quite a mouthful. For me it formulates three key questions that I’ll be addressing in this paper. 1.) Why did Paul find it of utmost importance to write Timothy concerning this particular subject? 2.) What exactly is Paul saying/how did the original recipients understand his instructions? 3.) Does this apply to me today?
Let’s start off with a little background. What was going on spiritually? False teaching, that’s what. If Ephesus could have just gotten a dime every time false teaching was being spread, Paul never would have had to build another tent the rest of his life! The two most emphasized false teachings of that day were Gnosticism and Asceticism. Both taught abstinence from certain foods, marriage, and sex; while belittling the role of both mother and wife (Piper 181).The women were no longer identifying themselves with their husbands. They could show this defiance outwardly by wearing ostentatious outfits. Something else I found very interesting is that their head coverings represented their marriage status, so by not wearing your head covering you are declaring singleness. It is culturally equivalent to contemporary married women never wearing their wedding rings in public (Grudem 204). There was outright insubordination in the church, not just to their husbands, but to all men in leadership, responding consistently with criticism and dispute. This not how a church should function. Paul’s mission statement for 1 Timothy is stated clearly in chapter 3 “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth”. So this is why he wrote. He wants God sheep to understand how to behave in the church.
How did the original recipients interpret this letter? Is Paul demanding mindless, numb, female followers? No, of course not. When he commands them to “learn in quietness and full submission”, there is a (sinful) pull to want to focus on the HOW. Ms. Feminatzi starts jumping up and down, “Look, look!” she says, “Paul is telling all women to be quiet and submit all the time. How terrible! I don’t want to be quiet! I have opinion too! Look at me! Look at me! I am strong! I am smart! This is wrong!” Okay, okay, calm down. First of remember how this passage is for THE CHURCH; and instead of just looking at the HOW and making it the WHAT, realize what the WHAT actually is. LEARN. He wants women to learn, to be educated, to be able to properly understand, defend, and articulate their beliefs in a way that is God-honoring. That’s a big deal .That is exciting. That is encouraging! What’s even more exciting is that he commands women to teach in church.
That’s right. Titus 2:3-4 says that women are to teach other women and teach children. This is the line. This is the black and white. There is no gray. It doesn’t get much clearer Ladies. Do NOT hold a position of teaching men. DO teach women and children. Timothy himself was taught by TWO different women (2 Timothy 1:5) Paul knows that spiritual gifts were given to both men and women (1 Cor. 12:7-11). The gift of teaching is not a gender specific gift. There are a lot of Christian men who do not have the gift of teaching and a lot of women who do and vice versa. Women are indispensable to the life and growth of the church just as men are; but the roles are different.
The point of a women not having authority over a man within the Christian community seems just as simple to me. 1 Timothy makes it clear in chapters three and five that governing activities in a church are ascribed to elders. So the formula is simple:
A=Elders are the leaders in the church
B= Elders cannot be women
C=Women can be leaders in the church
THEN… A+B ≠C
So lastly, we move to the point, does this apply to me today? Perhaps it was just time period specific? Or situationaly specific? Just as we culturally tweaked “head-coverings” to mean wedding bands , can’t we also change “teach men” to mean “preach to men”? That is much easier to agree on. A woman cannot be a head pastor, isn’t that enough? Fortunately, no. We look back to the text and examine Paul’s argument. He goes back to where it all starts. Dawn of time. We realize that “by citing creation rather than a local situation or cultural circumstance as his basis for prohibitions, Paul makes it clear that, while these local or cultural issues may have provided the context of the issue, they do not provide the reason for his advice” (Piper 150). This is Paul’s foundational reasoning. It’s the relationship roles that God created and instilled in Adam and Eve. Therefore, for a woman to have authority over a man is to ignore the reason for Paul’s principle. It wasn’t because of any specific event or activity, but based solely on the fact that this is how God designed us to function.
Understanding my vital role in the church is an exciting and yet humbling realization. Exciting because I know I will be most fulfilled when I am glorifying God, and part of that fulfillment in being part of a local church. It’s good to know my responsibilities. I also say that it is humbling because it made me twinge at first. I don’t want to submit. As fallen humans, we (and I mean all of us) NEVER want to submit. Because in our pride and selfishness we think we know what is best. I had a hard time with the idea that I couldn’t lead men in a church setting because my focus is on myself and not on Christ. I want to be in the limelight leading us to VacationBibleSchool victory! But it is not about me.
A=God created men and women with different strengths and responsibilities
B=Those strengths are to benefit the Body of Christ