There is an increasing trend within the evangelical community to equate the instructions set forth by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to male chauvinism and sexism; as if to hold this position results in women being classified as inferior. It is sometimes claimed that Paul was merely attempting to remain within a culturally established boundary in order to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22). Based on what we know about the Apostle Paul, it seems unlikely he would back down on this issue in the face of societal pressures, but not in other areas.
If implementing 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the church establishes women as inferior, we need to be prepared to adopt the following three resolutions:
1.God’s created order is inferior
In the verses immediately following (2:13-15), Paul refers back to the created order established by God at the foundation of the world. It was stepping outside of this created order, with Eve not remaining under the headship of her husband Adam, which led to the woman being deceived. Likewise, Paul is declaring that women exercising authority in the church, which includes, but is not limited to preaching and teaching, is equivalent to stepping outside of God’s created order for the church. The appeal of Paul is to Genesis, not the culture of his day. He is not appealing to an argument based on the inferiority of women to men, but outlining the different roles established by God, the Creator. When a man or a woman is led to step outside of God’s ordained role it is communicating the message that God’s design is inadequate and they are unable to be used for any good purpose without adopting a different role. In both cases it makes them feel inferior.
2. Preaching, teaching and exercising authority makes a person superior
If not being able to preach or teach in the church makes one inferior than not only women are inferior, but any man not qualified to teach or preach. Paul outlines specific qualifications for those who teach and exercise authority in the church (1 Tim 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9). Men are not qualified simply on the basis of their gender. Just in case anyone believed their position as teacher or leader made them superior, the Apostle Peter admonishes those in authority by instructing them to not be “domineering over those in your charge,” but to be humble towards each person ( (1 Pt 5:1-5). It is the culture, not the Bible, which attempts to deceive people into believing the exercising of authority is a superior function.
3. We are superior, God’s Word is inferior
Departure from God’s Word in an attempt to circumvent a clear teaching of Scripture is equivalent to Adam and Eve placing themselves above the clear command of God. The sin of Genesis 3 was an elevation of mankind above God, marking an official declaration that we are superior and God is inferior. Disregarding the clear command of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 on the basis of cultural relevance maintains a “heart of stone” instead of the “heart of flesh” which is intended to mark the heart of God’s people (Ezekiel 11:19-20). It is continuing to live out the practical implications of the curse in Genesis 3:16.
Understanding the significance of this topic requires a return to the Garden, not the culture. The ultimate question is not whether we like the biblical arrangement of God’s created order, but whether we will repeat the mistakes of Adam and Eve or redeem it within the church. The church is designed to be a representation of what it means to be the people of God in community. It is not dictated by the changing shadows of the culture, but the Word of God. Our status as inferior or superior is not based on the role God has ordained for our life, but whether we consider ourselves inferior to God and only ever become remotely admirable when we become holy as He is holy through obedience to Christ, the Head of the Church.