Despite what we’ve covered the last few days, some might still want to challenge the idea that women were allowed to teach in church and quote 1 Timothy 2:11-14 as a rebuttal.
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.
Here we find that part of the reason Paul is so obsessed with order is because of Eden, for it was a place of order. Today the church is so caught up in trying to convince the world that Genesis tells the story of literal creation that we actually miss the main intents of the author(s). The real points become clear when Genesis is compared to other ancient creation literature. Walton explains.
one of the main emphases of the account of creation is the order that God brings to the cosmos in his wisdom. The temple was seen as being at the center of the ordered world as God established and preserved order in the world from the temple…. The theological commitment we draw from Genesis 1 is that God is the author of order. We respond by understanding how he has ordered the world: materially, functionally and spiritually. (1)
I propose to you that this is the idea Paul is getting at when he talks about how men are the head of the household (Eph 5:22-24). His premise that a woman can’t speak or teach in church is cultural (since the women of Paul’s time were not educated like men were), but the idea that a man is the head of the household is related to his understanding of creation order. This isn’t meant to be sexism, but rather a part of the way Paul saw created order as God established it.
In fact, you may recall that Paul said that women “should be in submission, as the Law also says” (1 Cor 14:34). When we hear Paul say that we think of the 600+ commands given to us in the Old Testament; and since there are so many we don’t even bother to check—we just take Paul’s word for it. But if do stop and check, we find that there isn’t a clear law implying that women must be in submission. Instead, many commentators believe Paul is referring to the consequence for Eve’s sin: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (Gn 3:16).
But F.F. Bruce believes that Paul’s, “reference is more probably to the creation narratives.” (2) With order in mind, Anthony C. Thiselton proposes that part of Paul’s discourse here was to see
whether “order” still applies to a charismatic gospel community. In the eyes of many at Corinth, it did not; in Paul’s view, such a claim undermines the very unity of God by making the God of the Spirit of the new age contradict the God who revealed his ordered ways through scripture. (3)
By this understanding, if man came first and woman came second in the creation account, then by Paul’s logic, a glimpse of that order shouldn’t be done away with. Therefore, he continues to endorse creation order, saying,
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Eph 5:22-24)
Of course, Paul goes on in this popular (and often abused) passage to explain how vibrant a husband’s love should be for his wife.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself…. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:25-28, 33)
This is a monumental passage in our Bibles and it falls on the ears of different cultures in different ways. As Keener notes, “In our culture, his exhortation to wives to submit stands out more strongly; in his culture, the exhortation to husbands to love, rather than the normal advice to rule the home, would have stood out more strongly” (4). Keener goes on to point out that Paul argues for mutual submission (Eph 5:21) which was “something virtually unheard of in his day” (5). By doing this, Paul has earned “himself a place among the most progressive of ancient writers” (6).
All of this being said, from Paul’s progressive perspective, marriage is a giving relationship of mutual submission and respect and it must model the love that Christ gave to us. Sure, there is still something different about man and woman in regard to created order, but Paul goes on elsewhere to nearly undo his words on that subject.
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (1 Cor 11:3-12)
Unsurprisingly, Paul is once again talking about establishing order—a favorite topic of his. We still have all this talk of who’s the head of who—the man is the head of the woman and Christ is the head of the man and God is the head of Christ.
And why is woman subjected to man? Because woman came from man when God took one of man’s ribs to make a woman. But then, just to make Paul’s understanding of gender roles even more confusing, he basically pitches this understanding of gender-assigned order out the window by bringing up the fact that men now come from women because women give birth to men. So in the end, what’s the point?
With this new logic undoing Paul’s original logic, Paul decides to opt for a different statement, saying that, in the end, “all things are from God.” That is the point anyways, right? For if woman is subjected to man and man subjected to Christ and Christ subjected to God, isn’t the main point that all parties involved were to ultimately follow God and perform His will? Therefore, if a man was truly following God and a woman truly following the man following God, wasn’t she actually striving to follow God and not necessarily the man? As one commentary notes,
the closing statement…. But everything comes from God, relativizes male privilege by asserting that everything is directly dependent on God, including both male and female. In the context of Christian worship, gender roles are relativized “in the Lord,” and leadership in worship (prayers and prophetic utterances) is given by both men and women while the distinction between the sexes remains. (7)
So while man and woman are scientifically different, they are both the same in Christ, which is Paul’s continued explanation of order in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). And with that, Paul makes a new ultimate statement on gender, claiming that male and female aren’t even a part of the conversation once they are subjected to Christ.
Again, confusion abounds when it comes to this topic, but the Bible as a whole certainly gives us the ability to widen the conversation.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll see that Paul wasn’t just concerned with preserving natural order, but cosmological order as well.
Art by my sister-in-law, Alyssa Bradley of Whimsy Design and Illustration.
This is an excerpt from my chapter “Women in Ministry” in my book, The Rush and the Rest. A series on women and the church will continue every day this week here on my blog to help us cover many of the confusing passages that often oppress women.
1. Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 148.
2. Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Corinthians. London, Oliphants, 1971, p. 136. New Century Bible Commentary.
3. Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. p. 1154 NOTE: This is his summary of A. C. Wire’s thoughts on the subject.
4. Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Kindle Locations 2755-2756.
5. Ibid. Kindle Locations 2306.
6. Ibid. Kindle Locations 2308-2309.
7. Johnson, Alan F. 1 Corinthians. p. 198.