My Understanding of, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” – I Timothy 2:12
By Pastor Tedd Mathis
Pueblo West Baptist Church
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. – I Timothy 2:11-15 (New American Standard)
Let me say three things by way of introduction:
First, my understanding of this text has been shaped by the belief that God is good. Since that is true, what His Spirit superintended the Apostle Paul to write is for our good.
Second, my understanding is shaped by the understanding that sinners’ default assumption is we know better than God. Therefore, there is high potential for any one of us to challenge what Paul writes. We men may read this and in arrogance convey superiority over, or scorn for, women. Women may read this and feel Paul disdains or hates women.
Third, one of the evidences we are born again is a desire to obey what God has said in the Bible. This will humble us (see the above paragraph!). But because we have come to believe Jesus is the Christ and know the commands of God are good, we will take steps to demonstrate that in our obedience. To echo what Paul states about himself, none of us will ever get it perfect, but we can get the trajectory right (Phil. 3:12-16).
So with those ways of understanding things, following is how I’ve come to understand I Timothy 2:9-15. You will see that a) it’s long, and b) I don’t answer all the questions that came to my mind and I suspect will come to those who read it. If you do have questions, I’d encourage you to e-mail or visit with me. With that I present the following.
Why does Paul refer to Adam being created first?
In reading the entire book of I Timothy, it’s clear Paul is giving instructions on how a local church should conduct itself as it carries out its God-ordained purpose of being the pillar and support of Christ-exalting truth (I Tim. 3:14-16). And one of the things he addresses is that in the ongoing life of the local church it is to be men, not women, who are to govern and be the primary teachers in the church.
Paul begins speaking to this in 2:11. While women are to be taught so that they can become knowledgeable and discerning it is primarily men who are to be guiding them and guarding them and building them up along with the rest of the congregation (see II Tim. 3:6,7; Eph. 4:11-16). I say, primarily, because there are other sources and means the Lord will use in the lives of women (see for example I Cor. 14:34-36; Titus 2:3-5). But again, the focus in I Timothy is the local church’s permanent organizational structure for being the pillar and support of the truth.
When we continue reading into chapter 3 we see that Paul gives qualifications for overseers (elder, overseer, pastor are used synonymously in the letters to churches). What he writes in chapter 3 shows us the overseer is an office or role that includes teaching and governing (3:1,2, 4,5). His use of the male pronoun and referencing being a husband of one wife (literally: one woman man) also builds the case the role of elder is to be filled by men. So I conclude from this text in the Bible and others, those who teach authoritatively and govern the local church are not to be women; they’re to be men.
Paul does not drop this directive out of thin air; in 2:13-15 he gives his reasons. And he makes them based on Genesis 2 and 3.
First, Christ’s apostle makes his case for male leadership in the church on the basis of whom God created first – the male. That God created Adam first was by design, and because He did, we are to conclude God intended males to lead. In Genesis 2 the language describing the woman’s role is that of helper or helpmate who uniquely complements the man (Gen. 2:18-25l). The woman is given to the man to help him carry out his God-given responsibilities. Today, we might hear someone say, ‘he’s the head of the house,’ or so and so ‘heads up an organization.’ What we normally mean by that is, Dad represents the family and he’s is in charge of it. Or, so and so is in charge, giving direction, providing oversight to those helping him carry out the goals or purposes of the organization. He represents it and leads it.
So to summarize: By creating Adam first God intended him to ‘be in charge’ of the task the Lord gave humans of representing Him and serving Him here on earth (Gen. 1:26-28). And that mandate is to be reflected in the local church. Women are not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man because it’s not the way God designed things to be.
What does Paul mean that it was Eve who was deceived and not Adam?
In verse 14 the apostle refers to what’s written in Genesis 3. Paul writes: And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
If you are not familiar with Genesis 3 or have not read it recently, it would do you much good to go back and study it carefully. If we don’t it’s very easy for us to think Paul is saying, “There’s an innate flaw unique to women which is not in men. That’s why women are not to teach or have authority over men – they’re flawed so as to be easily deceived, we men are not.” That is not what Paul is saying.
It is true Genesis 3 records the first woman, being deceived, fell into transgression. And it is true women can still be deceived, even easily (see II Tim. 3:6,7). It’s also true Adam was not deceived like Eve was. I’ll say more about that in a minute. But it’s not true that men in Paul’s day or ours aren’t prone to being deceived. In II Timothy 3:13, Paul writes that men will deceive and be deceived. Throughout the New Testament, both males and females are warned of being deceived by false teaching and false prophets. John in his first epistle warns all his readers, to let no one deceive them (I John 2:26; 3:7).
I think an honest study of human nature would leads us to admit, in some situations women are more easily deceived than men. And in some situations, men are more susceptible to deception than women. That’s why I don’t think Paul is saying women are innately prone to deception and men are not.
Let’s look at what Genesis 3 says about Adam.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. — Genesis 3:6
I’ve highlighted part of the verse to point out Adam was present with Eve. He wasn’t off cultivating the garden (2:15), he was right there as the serpent spoke lies to his precious helpmate. Yet he did nothing. He said nothing.
Paul is correct, Adam was not deceived. But that’s no feather in Adam’s cap. Rather he willfully, knowingly considered the God-belittling lies of the serpent. In blatant rebellion to what His good Creator had commanded, he ate the fruit Eve gave to him.
Here’s another observation from Genesis 3 I think important: Adam failed to fulfill his responsibilities as head – he was the one put in charge by the Lord. Notice what the Lord says to Adam when He declares the consequences of their sin.
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’… Gen. 3:17
There’s no record of Eve speaking directly to Adam about eating from the tree. But he did hear the conversation between the serpent and his wife about what the Lord had spoken to him. Yet, rather than taking charge and repeating to Eve what the Lord had said and protecting her from the serpent, Adam said nothing. Horrific consequences came upon Adam and his offspring because of his rebellious abdication as head of humanity. That’s why ultimately the blame is put on Adam. “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” — Romans 5:12.
So let’s come back to I Timothy 2. Paul’s goal for people in the local church is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5). Which means he does not want women to be deceived and falling into transgression. Neither does he want men to be like Adam was and reject their God-ordained role. So Paul tells them one of the ways they will be helped is by conducting themselves in a way that reflects what God originally intended.
The reason why women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the local church is because it’s not their proper God-ordained role. Rather when men humbly seek to fill their roles according to what God has commanded and women submit to that order and purpose, God is glorified and men and women are blessed (see Heb. 13:17). So in the church, obedient male leadership reflects a loving God’s good design for men and women.
What does Paul mean that women are ‘saved’ through bearing children?
But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. – I Tim. 2:15 (NASB)
I’ve highlighted the word ‘preserved’ – some versions say a woman will be ‘saved’ through the bearing of children. The Greek word used here is the same one Paul uses in Ephesians 2:8 where he writes, “for by grace you are saved (sōthēsetai). But it’s also the same word used in Acts 27:31 to describe being rescued from physical danger.
There’s no way around it; this is a perplexing statement! Here are some questions I thought of:
Does Paul mean that women are saved eternally by means of their bearing of children?
Or, does Paul mean women won’t die in giving birth? They’re saved from physical danger?
Who is the ‘they’ in the latter part of the verse? Will women be saved eternally if they continue in faith and love, etc?
Or, will she be saved eternally if the children she bears (they) continue in faith and love, etc.?
Here’s what I think Paul means. If we go back to verses 8-10 we see Paul giving instructions to men and women regarding their conduct and demeanor when the church is gathered. While this essay focuses on what he says to women, note he gives direction to men regarding being prayers and living lives of integrity, moral purity (holy hands), without wrath and dissension (2:8).
He discourages women from being ‘attention getters’ with their clothing and jewelry but rather living out their godliness in modest appearance and being known for good works (2:9,10). He encourages them to be good students, in all submissiveness learn from those whom the Lord would have teaching and governing and watching over their souls (Paul writes something very similar in I Cor. 14:34-36; see also Heb. 13:17; I Pet. 5:1-3).
Paul then explains why it is men who should be teaching and governing, but then in verse 15 goes back to addressing women. Just as he referenced Genesis in the preceding verses, I think Paul does so in verse 15 as well when he speaks of the bearing of children. In Genesis, the LORD told Eve that because of her transgression ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children…’ “ – Gen. 3:16.
Women making a claim to godliness (2:10) do not escape this earthly consequence of sin when they marry and have children. In Paul’s day, there was no birth control pill to control the number and timing of children according to convenience. There were no highly effective and controlled pain killers, no sutures, no antibiotics, no sterile delivery rooms. It’s hard for us to imagine today the suffering that came with being a wife and mother. What woman wouldn’t want to forgo the suffering of child bearing and seek to rule over men!
Yet our Lord says this is not the way He has ordained things:
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” – Acts 14:22.
“In this world, you will have tribulation” – John 16:33.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” – Romans 8:16,17
“The one who endures to the end will be saved” – Matthew 24:13
The truth about suffering and saints enduring to the end shapes my understanding of verse 15. Women will be saved or preserved through their suffering – not saved eternally by means of their bearing children, but through it. The Lord will keep them saved. Yet that keeping or preserving will not be seen in the absence of suffering, but will be confirmed in their continuing in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint amidst it. Yes, the Holy Spirit at times enables some women with the gift of teaching. Yes, there are many ways the Lord will use your keen minds and abilities. But the primary God-ordained role for the majority of women is as a wife and mother. That then is the main place and way a woman will honor her Lord.
This essay has been my attempt to answer the question, why Paul does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man in the local church. As I wrote above, I suspect those reading this will have lots more questions. If you e-mail me or we get together for a visit, I’ll do my best to answer them. There are also some excellent resources available for us as well.
In His mighty grasp,