Women, Helpers, and Ribs: Part 3 | CBE International

You are here

Women, Helpers, and Ribs: Part 3

On February 23, 2016

This is the last article in a three-part series on two passages that converge within the scriptural discussion around the role of women: the creation account (Genesis 1-2) and some of the words given to Timothy as he led the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 2). See Part 1 and Part 2.

For sake of those just coming to the series, my argument is that, while complementarians contend that their understanding of men and women’s roles is established from “the original creation order,” the beginning chapters of Genesis do not support their view.

Rather, they have taken their own particular perspective on male headship, read 1 Timothy 2 in light of that view, and stamped it as God’s original intention by reading that interpretation back into the creation account.

However, they fail to recognize two important points: Genesis 1-2 sets no precedence for inherent male headship (that’s what we’re exploring in this series) and it is essential to faithfully ground the 1 Timothy 2 text in the ancient Ephesian context in which it was written.

We considered the phrase, “suitable helper” (‘ezer kenedgo), from Genesis 2, so we can now move on to a final phrase worth considering from the text: “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man…” (vs22).

We saw that the word “helper” in the ancient text of Scripture does not carry the same meaning as it does in our modern world. A helper did not necessarily conjure up sentiments of a secondary assistant, one being unequal in function or role with their partner.

As with complementarians tripping over the phrase “suitable helper,” many also imagine that, since God formed woman after man and out of man’s side, this shows an inferior status.

The assumption would be: If woman had equal status with man, then God would have formed her at the same time as man and out of the dust as man had been formed out of the dust, rather than out of his side.

Yet this is such a restrictive conclusion on God’s formation of woman.

In contrast to such a conclusion, that woman was taken out of man is a recognition that she stands on equal footing with him. This was a beautiful, creative act of God that communicated that man’s suitable helper, the one actually fit for him, would come from him.

God would grace man with a mutual partner, given the same commission as he—and this was underlined when she was formed out of his side.

This is exactly why Adam could proclaim with excitement and wonder:

This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man. (2:23)

Man was filled with awe at the glorious wisdom of God as he made his equal helper out of him!

So what does the original creation order of Genesis 1-2 establish about man and woman?

Equality
Mutuality
Togetherness
Partnership

It does not establish these false notions about man’s relationship to woman:

Headship
Superiority
Authority
Primacy

Then what are we to make of the infamous statement in 1 Timothy 2?

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Reading these words, we might easily conclude that man has inherent authority over woman, right? This is Hermeneutics 101!

Well, not so fast.

Scripture comes to us in a storied narrative. It’s not an abstract text completely removed from a concrete, real life situation. Thus, when we look to understand it within the context of Ephesus, the meaning becomes far clearer. Now that is Hermeneutics 101!

Paul is writing to Timothy with instruction on how to lead the church in the city of Ephesus. If you notice in Paul’s “pastoral” letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), the word doctrine, or teaching, comes up quite a few times. As in many early church situations, and this remains true today, Paul is helping Timothy combat specific problems of heresy.

In light of this, there is one major thing we should keep in mind about the city of Ephesus. It was a city with many devoted followers to the pagan goddess, Artemis, also known as Diana (see Acts 19:21-41). Even more, there was a massive temple built to this goddess (see Acts 19:27). It was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! This pagan religion had a major impact on the life of the Ephesian people.

With so many people following the pagan goddess, there would have been false teaching regularly available within the city of Ephesus, especially from the women who followed this female god.

It is also highly probable that some former Artemis worshipers were becoming followers of Christ, but, unfortunately, some of their former teaching would likely have been brought into the Christian community (see 1 Timothy 5:13-15 and how these women affected the church in Ephesus).

Knowing this, it becomes clear that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 serves to address false teaching. It was a serious situation, one that was most likely being championed by some problematic women.

Honestly, I’ve read a few different angles on this not-so-crystal-clear passage (of course it’s not crystal clear, noting that vs15 speaks of women being saved through childbearing!).

But my sense is that Paul’s words in vs11-15 serve to correct a particular false teaching within the Ephesian church. Hence, the need to restate some details of the original creation narrative in vs13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

Perhaps, in light of the dominant culture of Artemis-worship, those people were dealing with a pagan feminism, if you will.

Imagine the teachings: woman is supreme, she was created first, man must submit, and more.

As a matter of fact, I’m not fully opposed to vs11-12 being a temporal clamp on the situation, all as an effort to refocus the church toward healthy teaching and away from the prevailing heresies of the Artemis cult. The women needed to quiet down, submit, and not teach—if this was the mess they were conjuring up.

But to argue that the 1 Timothy 2 instructs us that women must never teach or have leadership over men, all because the passage is grounded in the original creation order, is simply not true. It’s rubbish.

Why?

Because we’ve already seen what Genesis 1-2 tells us:

Same image
Same commission
Suitable helper
Celebrated as taken out of man

Each of these attributes points to the mutual partnership God has given to man and woman.

Not every woman will be a leader and not every man will be a leader. Forcing leadership on a specific gender, age, or other category of people is disastrous. But God can and does call both women and men to lead his people.

This is what we truly see in the original creation order.


This is a forum for conversation and learning. Please keep dialogue constructive and engage respectfully with those who have different perspectives. We also encourage you to share our articles on Facebook and Twitter. We need your help to spread the message of gender equality. 

The CBE Scroll accepts submissions. We encourage you to submit your work to the CBE Scroll at cbe@cbeinternational.org.

Join the Cause

CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

Learn More