I’m in a seminar right now called Modern Theology. When we first hear that, we might think—what is modern theology? What does that refer to? Theology in the last 30 years?
I think that question even reveals our contemporary obsession with the immediate, with what is right in front of us. So of course, modern people would consider modern to be what’s happening right now.
But historians and theologians have to take a long view of history. In that sense, when we speak about modernity, we are actually going back much further to the period of what’s now known as The Enlightenment.
The reason this period marks the start of what we call “modernity” is because there were profound shifts in intellectual, philosophical, and scientific thought that marked a drastic change from the medieval period or ancient world.
One of those profound shifts is marked by this revolt against authority. Specifically, institutional authority like the church. Instead of authority being located in the church, it is now located in autonomous human reason.
Individual human reason is now the final authority when it comes to spiritual or religious truth.
One of the things that continues to characterize modernity—and this is especially true for us today—is a deep suspicion of authority. And thus, we largely view authority in negative terms.
Some of this is understandable when we see institutional failures, corruption, and abuse, or when powerful leaders fail.
At times we must call for accountability and institutional reform.
For Protestants, that’s what the Reformation was all about. It was about reforming the institutional corruption of the Catholic church. It wasn’t about subverting authority or dispensing with authority altogether.
One of the central concerns of the Reformation was the authority of God’s Word.
Authority is inescapable. As much as we moderns might dislike it… if we proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” we are submitting to an authority. We are recognizing God’s good governance of his creation.
God’s authority is not opposed to our freedom but is in fact the source of our freedom.
You want to be free? Follow Jesus. As you live in light of his commands, that’s where freedom and flourishing is found.
One of the remarkable things about gathered Christian worship – like this morning – is that we come and we renounce our own autonomy. We confess Christ’s lordship. We sing his praises. We pray together directing our thoughts away from ourselves and we praise God for who he is.
And then –the most important thing we do—the center of our worship service – is the proclamation of God’s Word. All of us, men and women, sit under the authority of God’s Word. And empowered by the Spirit, the pastor reads from the Bible and he gives the plain sense of the text so that the people understand. In that proclamation, the Spirit is at work in the hearts of the hearers, to awaken faith, and to strengthen and encourage the hearts and minds of believers.
When a pastor gets up here to speak, he is not giving a TED talk. He is not engaging in political punditry. He is not giving a lecture. He is preaching the Word.
I begin this way to draw your attention to something that you are doing even if you are not consciously aware of it. When you participate in a Christian worship service – not merely as a spectator—but as a participant, you are submitting to the authority of God’s Word.
Why is this important? What am I getting at?
Well, if that’s true- then that implies the Word of God has divine authority, and the question then remains: am I going to submit to that?
Because there might be times when I come across a biblical text or a biblical doctrine that frankly offends me. And then I have to decide, am I going to trust myself or trust God and wrestle through this? Am I going to trust how culture might be influencing my reading of the text or am I going to –as best I can—seek to be faithful to the text itself?
The bottom line in all of this is the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus.
Augustine says, “Faith will totter if the authority of the divine Scriptures begins to waver.”
What is real? What is true? Do I really believe this? And do I believe what I find in God’s word is for my good and flourishing?
With all of that in mind, we come to our passage this morning, 1 Tim 2:11-15, which (as Terry mentioned last week) is increasingly one of the most inflammatory and divisive and disputed passages in Scripture—in and outside the church. I’d like to remind you of Terry’s great point of application last week—that we should give grace in our differences, but we also have land somewhere and have joyful, generous, firm convictions.
To put this debate in context… there is one book over 400 pages that is purely devoted to verses 9-15. A chapter devoted to the exegesis on these verses is 62 pages long. So don’t worry… my sermon is not going to be 62 pages long. J Those Puritans liked to preach for hours… We’re not going to try that.
What’s the big idea in this passage? This morning, I want to emphasize the point that men and women thrive in the church when we both submit to God’s authority and good design. God’s authority is the source of our freedom and flourishing.
Outside the church, this passage is sometimes used as evidence that Christianity is anti-women, patriarchal, misogynistic, sexist– or in plain terms… just stupid.
Inside the church, some argue that the church has mistakenly interpreted this passage for thousands of years, perpetuating systems of abuse against women, silencing women, and marginalizing them and so forth.
We live in an age of reckoning. We live in the era of #MeToo. So, it is argued, the church needs to correct its wrongs and get with the program, because history, after all, is watching.
I don’t mean to minimize the legitimacy of some of those claims or to ignore the ways in which men have sinfully and wickedly abused and mistreated women, who are divine image bearers.
What I want to do this morning is to take this passage seriously—wrestle with it. And then I will draw out some implications for men and women living life together in the church under the authority of God’s Word and the Lordship of Christ.
Let me read our passage:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Now, we should remember that these verses occur in the context of Paul giving instruction for public worship. Paul is concerned with the order and organization of the church.
The verses we just read do not occur in isolation but fit within the larger framework of Paul outlining the organization of church government. That is, what is the authority structure in the church going to look like? In chapter 3, he will outline qualifications for leaders in the church—elders and deacons.
That is precisely what surrounds the contemporary fury over this passage. This text is at the center of a debate concerning gender in the leadership of the church. Can women be pastors or not? And if not, why not?
Before walking through the text, let me briefly define two views that serve as interpretive frameworks for understanding this passage.
When interpreting this passage, (I know people don’t like to be put in boxes) but really you are either Egalitarian or Complementarian (there might be some differences or variation within those labels, but those are the two basic views).
One of the debates around this issue is over the terms themselves. There is always going to be problems with the language we use… they’re not exhaustive terms… they’re prone to misunderstanding, etc. But they’re helpful and necessary as a frame of reference.
Let me define the two views.
Complementarianism is the view that men and women are equal in nature yet distinct in terms of their roles in the church and the home. The office of elder (pastor) is reserved for qualified men (and qualified would be a keyword there).
Egalitarianism is the view that women and men are equal in all respects… in their nature, in the offices of the church and in the home. The office of elder is open to both men and women.
One common logical fallacy is called a straw-man argument… that’s where you set up a caricature of an argument or a position—you don’t actually represent it truthfully… and it’s very easy to dismantle or destroy it. This happens on both sides of this debate.
You know, those egalitarians are a bunch of radical feminists who have embraced critical theory and so on.
Or, those complementarians – they’re stuck in the past, They’re committed to enshrining patriarchy…they’re concerned with subjugating and silencing women and restricting them to the kitchen and so forth.
We need charity in both sides of this debate… we need to give proper respect to both sides of the argument. Proper respect does not mean we cannot be critical or make judgements on certain positions. (Many people have forgotten this today). But this should be done in a respectful way.
For the sake of clarity and in all fairness—let me lay my cards out on the table. I hold to the complementarian interpretation of this passage. I think that it’s the most biblically faithful position to hold. In respect to leadership in the church, that’s the position of River—that’s the position of Southern Baptists.
Here is the basic summary conclusion of how the two views typically interpret this passage.
The complementarians see Paul as giving a universal rule for male leadership in the church. Such leadership is not concerned with silencing and subjugating women but rather male leadership in the church ought to facilitate an environment in which men and women thrive as they both submit themselves to the authority of God’s good design.
The egalitarians see Paul’s prohibition against women teaching as a culturally specific command that is no longer relevant today. Paul was not universally prohibiting women from holding the office of elder, but Paul was only prohibiting women from teaching because of some prominent females who were teaching or influencing the church with heretical doctrine.
As I mentioned earlier, the amount of material out there about this passage is just enormous. As I’ve read and studied, I’m convinced that the more complementarian interpretations make the stronger arguments in ways that seem to be most faithful to the text.
The egalitarian interpretations have to do a lot of interpretive gymnastics to arrive at their conclusions. And ultimately, I think it reveals their interpretive framework is perhaps being driven more by culture rather than faithfulness to the text itself.
With those clarifications in view, let’s walk through this passage together.
Let’s take verse 11-12 first.
“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.”
Quiet. Submissive. Not to exercise authority. Don’t try that on my wife… What do you think? Perpetuating abuse?
Some modern translations have created more confusion than necessary by translating “quiet” as “silence.” Is this blatant sexism?
Rather than reading this as Paul diminishing the value that women have as divine image bearers, I think Paul is actually elevating women here. He is positively allowing women to learn and to be equipped with sound doctrine.
As some commentators note, Jewish women were not typically instructed in the Torah (the Law). But Jesus really changed that as women were his disciples. Paul, following Jesus’ example, continues to view women as disciples who should have every opportunity to learn, just as men do.
But what does it mean that she should learn quietly in all submissiveness, that she is to remain quiet?
Is Paul saying, “Women can learn but as soon as women express their ideas, well then we’d better be careful” ?
As I mentioned, some translations choose the word “silent,” but I think that creates even more confusion in our context today. Surely, it does not mean that a woman must never utter a word in a public worship service. That would contradict what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding women praying and prophesying in the church.
Think of our context here at River—Is Brenda not supposed to ever get up in front of the church and give announcements or pray? Is Anna Laura or Alyson or Kim not supposed to stand on stage and sing?
No—don’t be ridiculous.
The word “quiet” is actually the same word for quiet that Paul uses earlier when he instructs us to lead a quiet life, dignified in every way (vs 2). So surely Paul is not suggesting that we should live silent lives.
Paul is not concerned with absolute silence but the spirit of public worship. It is not to be characterized by disorderliness or quarrelling. Verses 8-9, which Terry talked about last week, are very much in view here. He wants an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning.
Ultimately, the submission in view is not about merely submitting to a man, but it is about submitting to God’s authority. God has delegated his authority to qualified men in the church in order to shepherd the congregation.
Let us not forget how Paul begins 1 Timothy. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Paul is writing under the authority of God.
Pastors must never conflate their authority with God’s authority. And tragically, when pastors have abused others they have manipulated this power dynamic. They abuse the role in which they’ve been entrusted.
However, Hebrews does tell us to submit to our leaders within biblical limits. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
And oh, by the way, the writer of Hebrews is speaking to both men and women there.
Though in 1 Timothy, Paul specifically addresses women in vs 11-12, it’s important to remember that in public worship, both men and women are to submit to the authority of Christ. Both men and women are to submit to the authority of the teaching elder.
So, it’s not so much about women submitting to men—as if Paul is misogynistic—it’s about men and women submitting to the Word of God.
I think there is good reason to believe that in vs 12, Paul is giving a general universal command for male leadership in the church. Paul’s prohibition on women teaching must be read in close connection with the qualifications for the male elders in chapter 3—one of those qualifications being that he must be able to teach.
What kind of teaching does Paul have in mind? I think he’s referring to the teaching and preaching that belongs to the office of elder, which is limited to qualified men. Not teaching in other contexts or authoring books, etc.
Some egalitarians understand vs 12 to mean that Paul does not allow women to teach in a domineering way… in a way that subverts authority. So this is not really a prohibition of women teaching but women teaching in an inappropriate manner.
Or, egalitarian perspectives might say that the cultural context reflects a lack of education among women. That’s why they were prohibited from teaching. As soon as women have access to education and sound doctrine, then they can exercise authority in the church.
But as I said, I’m not convinced of those interpretations. My view is that Scripture reveals to us a pattern of male leadership in the home, male leadership in the church, rooted in creation order.
The reason Paul prohibits women from the role of elder (pastor) is because God has entrusted men with the teaching and spiritual authority in the church and in the home.
And while I believe the role of pastor is limited to qualified men, I also believe and affirm that women are essential to ministry in the life of the church.
Often, a misconception about this debate goes like this: This is a debate about women in ministry. The issue is not women in ministry—I enthusiastically affirm women in ministry.
Women are an essential part of ministry and fulfilling the Great Commission. (We Southern Baptists especially know that if we look at the amount of women serving overseas with the IMB).
Women played an integral role in Jesus’ ministry. Some were patrons of his ministry! Luke 8:1-3 mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, who along with many others, who provided for Jesus and the 12 out of their means.
Jesus consistently elevates and dignifies women. The woman at the well. The woman caught in adultery. The bleeding woman who reaches out to grab the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter to life again. In each of those instances, Jesus elevates women, he dignifies them—he recognizes them as the divine image bearers that they are.
Women were Jesus’ disciples. Women funded Jesus’ ministry. Women were key eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus! That alone is a remarkable feature of the New Testament’s elevation of women. Women were not deemed as credible witnesses during that period… God entrusts women with validating his claim to resurrection from the dead.
Timothy learned the Scriptures through the influence of his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois.
Priscilla and Aquila are a married couple who pull Apollos aside in private and correct his doctrine (Acts 18).
Phoebe was a significant figure and patron of Paul’s ministry. And then in Romans 16 Paul lists about 25 people’s names… a significant portion are women.
When Paul names people, it gives us some indication of their significance in the early church. It’d be like if you were to read my texts or emails. You would see who I am interacting with.
Egalitarians take all of that evidence and suggest that the early church ordained women or indicate that the church now should allow women to hold the office of elder.
I acknowledge the biblical data, but I don’t think the biblical data proves or suggests that women are able to hold the office of elder.
I think what it demonstrates is that women are essential to the ministry of the church.
The reason I don’t think Paul’s limitation on the pastorate is culturally specific is because he grounds his argument in creation order, which is what verses 13-14 are all about.
Paul goes back to Genesis in support of his argument. This suggests that this prohibition transcends the immediate context and reflects God’s original design for male leadership.
In the narrative of Genesis, it’s important to emphasize the equality of men and women. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Both men and women are fully and equally made in the image of God.
And yet, Paul seems to think it’s important that Adam was created first. The reasoning is pretty straightforward. Before God created Eve from Adam’s side, God gave Adam a command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The implication is that Adam was entrusted with responsibility to teach Eve and relay that information. And together, they would be a complementary pair, exercising dominion over God’s good creation. All of that occurs pre-fall.
What Satan does is he subverts God’s design. Satan approaches Eve first (though she was created second) and deceives her. Eve influences Adam, and together they both fall. It’s an inversion there of God’s original intent for male leadership.
And it’s notable that after they both sin and God approaches them and speaks to Adam first, asking “Where are you?,” suggesting that Adam is ultimately responsible for human sin because he should have intervened during the serpent’s deception, but he was passive. And he did nothing.
So, the prohibition against women teaching is not because women are more gullible or easier to deceive… that’s not what Paul is actually saying… His point is to emphasize Satan’s deception of
Eve was a distortion of God’s original design for male leadership.
We might think—well, not allowing women to be pastors seems like a harsh punishment… but we should also remember that every human being is now marked by original sin because of Adam.
I know that’s a lot of information. What are the implications of this passage for us today?
Let me first speak to the men. Men, we are responsible for the spiritual leadership and direction of our families. God has given us that authority and responsibility.
And our authority must be characterized by Christlike love. True masculinity mirrors the love that Christ has for his church. He gave himself up for her by dying for her.
The logic of authority is best encapsulated in Ephesians 5 where Paul says, “Christ is the head of the church and the husband is head of his wife.” Paul speaks of mutual submission… but that mutual submission is not absent a leadership structure. It is a mutual submission in which both men and women thrive as they submit to Christ’s authority.
And practically speaking, our authority is not tied to gendered social norms. So, to be the leader in your home does not mean that you have to make more money than your wife! Elizabeth is always going to make more money than I do. Now, some of our friends are the opposite, where the wife is called to be a homemaker. And that’s a noble vocation.
Now, let me address the women. I think the question we need to be asking is how can we allow women to exercise their gifts, for the sake of building up the church in a way that honors and is faithful to the Bible?
Some churches, in an effort to be faithful to Paul’s command have illegitimately restricted women from involvement in the church. The result is that women have not been shown proper dignity as divine image bearers and their gifting has not been respected. I’m sorry if that’s a part of your story.
We would do well to remember Paul’s earlier statement from chapter 1:5 —“the aim of our charge is love.”
If men are teaching a doctrine or saying they have knowledge but doing so in a way where love is absent— doing so in ways that are disparaging or disrespectful or abusive to women, then they have sinfully missed the mark.
As a church, we need to be mindful of how we are encouraging and allowing women to participate in all the other ministries of the church.
Here’s how I see women participating in the ministry at River throughout the years. Women praying in public worship. Women reading scripture in public worship. Participating in the worship team, leading the congregation in singing. We have women leading women’s ministry, youth ministry, children’s ministry. Women leading women’s small groups. Women co-leading couple’s groups. What opportunities are we providing for women to learn sound doctrine and study scripture? River Training Center. We have female interns working in Christian challenge.
God has gifted each of us, and we are to use those gifts for the building up of the church. Women play an essential role in that.
When I look at River and life in community I am encouraged. Personally, I am grateful for the women who have invested in my life over the years, and these women are my friends.
So, I’m encouraged. Women play a vital and essential role in the ministry of River. Thank you.
And of course, the biggest implication from this passage is that God’s authority is the source of our freedom.
This has vast implications … God’s design for our sexuality, marriage, the world’s idea of fun vs God-honoring fun, how do I lead with integrity in the workplace?
God’s commands are for my good and flourishing. Men and women flourish when we live according to God’s design. Living according to your own authority and autonomy results in human misery.
So, if that’s where you find yourself this morning, digging broken wells that can’t hold water—this is a call to return to the Source. Return to Jesus, the fountain of living water.
When you do that, you find freedom and flourishing.
Let me give you some time to reflect and pray, and then we will continue in worship.