It happened many years ago. I was having a discussion with a male friend. We had taken opposing sides on a theological question, one having nothing whatsoever to do with the role of women in the church. It soon became apparent that the weight and substance of the arguments were mounting up in behalf of my position. Perhaps I was displaying some satisfaction in that, or perhaps it was just becoming obvious to my friend that he didn’t have much of a point. I don’t remember all the details clearly, but I remember the shot. Perhaps it was after I had too confidently made a statement too liberally sprinkled with “I think...” that he drew and fired, “The Bible says women are to be silent.”
After the split second it takes for these things to register I replied (with a sense of complete humiliation), “Yes. It does.” And just as quickly, my friend told me he was only kidding.
But the conversation was over. It had been shot dead. He was right. The Bible does say that women are to be silent (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:12-14). I felt I had been put in my place by God himself. In spite of my friend’s assurances that his comment was just a joke and that we should continue the discussion, I could not. I tried to smile and made a hasty getaway.
Was he joking? Perhaps on the most superficial level he was. Yet, he knew exactly where to go for the big guns when he needed them. Maybe he drew and fired without much thought, but he hit the target just the same.
My humiliation soon gave birth to rage, an anger resulting from my intense commitment to God and his truth, yet which seemed to be against this very same God. This emotional conflict grew out of an even more complex intellectual conflict. I was confronted with the need to exercise my faith to believe that by his rich grace God had made me alive in Christ so that I was no longer a foreigner and alien in the church but never quite a brother or fellow citizen either (Eph. 2:4-6, 19-22, 3:6).
For many years I tried to resolve this conflict by “doing the right thing.” The “right thing” was to confess my anger, accept my lot with humility, and go on doing the permitted, the prescribed, the expected, fulfilling my “female” role. But even though doing these right things was fulfilling in many ways, it never could resolve this repressed yet nagging conflict.
Then one day I realized that doing the right thing was not what God wanted. God wanted me to believe the right thing. I had been trying to be good instead of just believing the gospel.
Believing is the essence of our new life in Christ, not doing. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6, 22; John 6:28-29; Rom. 4:3-5; Gal. 3:6-9). God brought me great freedom from the need to be good by providing perfect righteousness for me through faith (Rom. 8:2-4; Eph. 2:8-9). But it took many years of learning to live by faith, before God began to apply this same gospel to my own attitudes and actions concerning my role as a woman believer in the church. So I looked again at what the Bible said about me, a woman redeemed by Christ. Then I believed.
The result of the sin of Adam and Eve was death (Gen. 2:17). Part of what death meant was detailed in the curse God pronounced in the garden immediately after the disobedience, “...your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:14-19). The perfect oneness between male and female was broken as a result of their sin.
We can no more reverse this curse than we can stop ourselves from dying. Sin continues to pervert the way men and women were created to relate to one another. The consequences of sin remain with us. But, as we bring those consequences into submission to the reconciling grace of the gospel they are robbed of their power (Rom. 6:11-14, 8:2; Col. 1:19-20; 2 Cor. 5:18).
“...the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22).
Through faith in Christ we die with Christ to sin, so that we can be raised to new life with him also (Col. 2:9-15). We do this through “...the power on an indestructible life.” which is “...his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Heb. 7:16; Eph. 1:18-20). One of the characteristics of our new life in Christ is that we are “...all sons of God.... There is neither... male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28). When we receive this promise “...through faith in Jesus Christ...” the hostility between the sexes is reconciled and oneness is restored. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, ...His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2:14-22).
This is the good news of the gospel.
However, good news with a “but” is not good news at all (Gal. 1:3-5, 6-7). Many times I have been directed to 1 Tim. 2:13-14 for the reasons why women must be silent and under the authority of men. When interpreted as support for a woman’s subordinate “role,” the two arguments in these verses, that Adam was created first and that Eve was deceived and sinned first, don’t seem to be covered by the gospel.1 This interpretation declares Jesus’ blood cleanses believers from all sin, but it doesn’t cleanse women believers from Eve’s being deceived and thus becoming a sinner (1 John 1:7, 9). The second Adam, Jesus Christ, who has the first place in everything as “...the firstborn over all creation” and “...before all things...” (Col. 1:15,17,18), has given me life (Col. 3:4), and made me his brother (Heb. 2:11) and co-heir (Rom. 8:17). Therefore, I am myself a firstfruit of all he has created (Jas. 1:18), but that doesn’t overcome my status as second to the first Adam. God has made me his son, but he cannot forget that I am Eve’s daughter (Gal. 3:26, 4:4-7).
What this interpretation seems to be teaching is that when I become a Christian through faith in Jesus Christ I am redeemed and released from the power of Adam’s sin, which brought death to all mankind, but not from the power of Eve’s sin, which brought subordination to all women (Rom. 5:15, 18-21).
For women this “good news, but...” leads to false feelings of inferiority and guilt because these reasons cause us to look at who we are, in and of ourselves, and at what we have done, rather than at who Jesus is and what he has done. Or even worse, it forces us to focus on our human ancestor, Eve, and what she did, rather than on our savior Jesus, the Son of God and the only completely righteous human being who gave his life so we too could be “...children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). This point of view can only lead to deep humiliation and depression.
For men this interpretation of these arguments from 1 Timothy 2 leads to false feelings of superiority and self righteousness because it is based on who their human ancestor was and who the men are in and of themselves as males, rather than on the last Adam, Jesus, the God/human who brings righteousness to all who will receive God’s abundant provision of grace (Rom. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 15:45-50). This leads to pride and arrogance (1 Cor. 4:6-7; John 8:33).
These two arguments are like two small toes left sticking out from under the covers, the cover of Christ’s redemptive blood, on a dark and bitterly cold night. The whole body is affected (1 Cor. 12:26-27).
The interpretation which says these arguments mean men must be in authority over women is in exact opposition to the gospel (Rom. 3:9-31). We are justified, we are sanctified, we are adopted by faith... nothing else matters in God’s eyes. Nothing we are or do has any influence on how God will treat us, what status he will assign us, or what gifts he will give us.
Nonconformity to the gospel should always be a warning bell that our doctrine is not sound. Paul says in this very letter that “sound doctrine,” the basis for our conduct in the church, must conform to the gospel (1 Tim. 1:10-11, 3:15, Phil. 1:27).
“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last...” (Rom. 1:17). This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:22-24).
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of how good or wise we are, or on whether God created our sex first or second? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from human ancestry2, apart from personal goodness,3 and apart from his/her place in the order of creation.4 Is God the God of males only? Is he not the God of females too? Yes, of women too, since there is only one God, who will justify men by faith and women through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law (paraphrase5 of Rom. 3:27-31:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. ...And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it,” (Rom. 8:1,11-12)
“...the old has gone, the new has come!” ... “so that we can serve in the new way of the Spirit...” (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 7:6).
I believe it!
So now if someone says that I must be silent in the church — the body of Christ, the household of God, the family of the redeemed — I will know how to answer. I will be obligated to answer according to the new way of the spirit. Paraphrasing 1 Cor. 14:34-35, 36-38, 26, 31, 39,1:2, and 12:7. I will say, “What? What! Did the word of God originate with you? Are you the only person it has reached? If you think you are spiritually gifted, you should acknowledge that what Paul writes to the Corinthians is the Lord’s command: that when believers gather together everyone should have a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. For all can prophesy in turn so that all may be instructed and all encouraged. Therefore, brothers and sisters, indeed all of us who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, and who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should be eager to prophesy because each one of us has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Examine the Scriptures to see if these things are true (Acts 17:11)!”
All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holy Bible. New International Version c 1973,1978 by the International Bible Society.
- When the clear light of the gospel is shone on this difficult passage of 1 Tim. 2:8-15, we see that it is a specific enunciation of two of Paul’s major themes in this epistle to Timothy, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. I charge you ... to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism” (1 Tim. 5:20-21).
- John 1:12-13, 3:6, 8:33-47; Rom. 4:16,9:8; Gal. 3:29,4:28-31.
- Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5.
- Matt. 19:30, 20:16; Mark 9:35; Rom. 5:12,17, 9:10-16; Col. 1:15; Rev. 22:13.
- For the purpose of illustration, I believe this is a legitimate paraphrase since Paul puts the male/female question in exactly the same category as the Jew/Gentile question in Gal. 3:28.