It’s remarkable how many scholarly “revelations” happen when secular society is clamoring for a new standard. The pressure is on. Coworkers, peers, and culture at large are increasingly hostile toward a Biblical worldview. They mock Christians. They poke fun at historically Christian perspectives. They condescend by way of straw men. And all of a sudden—like magic—self-acclaimed scholars “restudy” the issues. But they do not emerge from their studies with a defense of historical biblical views. Instead, they find that we’ve had it wrong all along. What the Bible plainly says is not at all what it means, they say. They then proceed to the wildest kinds of textual gymnastics, invoking studies in Greek or even using loose historical narratives or shrouded historical texts.

It’s very tragic when theology follows the trends of culture. Who’s leading who? Christians must stand firmly on Scripture, unapologetically, firmly, and confidently. We are backed by an immovable God. So, who cares what a shifting culture thinks? Their opinions will pass with the wind, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.

With all that said, let’s look at a hot topic, one that evangelicals have been once again debating in recent weeks and months—the rule of God concerning women in the church. The following will essentially be an exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, with special emphasis on certain Greek terms/words. Here is the passage in view:

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 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. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control”…1 Timothy 2:8-15

Scholars have done everything possible to dismiss the plain meaning of the above passage, but everything essentially falls into two views. The first view suggests that women are forbidden from exercising authority over a man because of the creation order, and the second view holds that these commands were only a temporary restraint on certain women in Ephesus.

To begin with, Paul says in verse 8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray.” The Greek word βούλομαι (“I desire”) carries with it the weight of apostolic authority (Kittle, 632). This isn’t just Paul’s opinion or personal fancy, but it carries the force of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Anyhow, Paul desires that, in every place, men should pray. This immediately causes one to ask if the discussion in the following verses is about “prayer.” Paul says in verse 9, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel.” Some argue that Paul is also directing the women to pray, but they must do so only in respectable apparel. Not at all. Paul expressly commands men (ἄνδρας) to pray, as opposed to the clear distinction of women (γυναῖκας) in the proceeding verses. The object of Paul’s desire, or Βούλομαι, is that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel. He specifies that they are not to be immodest by braiding their hair, wearing costly attire, etc. Rather, they are to adorn themselves with good works (2:10). Apparently, their coming together with other saints was somewhat of a distraction being that they were dressed to gain attention. Paul indicates that this disruptive and attention-seeking mindset was the opposite of God’s will for their lives. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness,” he says (2:11).

Paul continues,

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet…2:12

The word for “teach” comes from the Greek διδάσκω. According to BDAG, διδάσκω means “to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach” (Bauer, 241). Therefore, in the context of the discussion, Paul does not allow a woman to “provide instruction in a formal or informal setting” to a Christian man. Does this mean that women cannot provide instruction to anyone? No, of course not. Elsewhere, Paul instructed women to teach other women and children (Titus 2:3). Paul’s point is that a woman does not have the right to teach or exercise authority over a Christian man.

But what’s the basis of this argument? Is it cultural? Was it temporary? Listen to the reasoning he gave:

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control”…2:13-15

This is clearly an argument from creation! One critic suggests, however, that Paul is using Adam and Eve merely as an example. He says, “Alternatively, the Greek term gar is not used here in the illative sense [for, because]…but simply introducing an example [for example]” (Osburn, 247). Here’s what he means: In his estimation, Paul is not saying women are forbidden from teaching due to creation, but because these women in Ephesus were deceived like Eve. He goes on to say that Paul is here correcting certain women who had stepped out of line in their teaching roles. He says, “It follows that if they learn in a peaceable and gentle spirit (v. 11) and teach in a peaceable and gentle spirit (v. 12), Paul would have no problem with them teaching” (Osburn, 247).

He argues that the Greek word authentein does not mean to “exercise authority” as most modern translations have rendered it, but rather it means “to domineer.” He says that the phrase “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” has only one prohibitive item. He tries to say that “teach or to exercise authority” really just means “to teach in a domineering way.” With this, he absolutely butchers the Greek word οὐδέ (“or”), which means, “And not, nor” (Bauer, 734). Instead of viewing the two prohibitions Paul gives, which are clearly distinct from one another, he skips that negative connector and puts the two words together. His main argument is that these women had fallen into the trap of teaching pointless myths, and genealogies, and were doing so in a domineering way, therefore they needed to be quiet for a time.

What is interesting is that he fails to make the connection that the false teachers in 1 Timothy were men. Paul mentions two false teachers by name, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:18). If Paul really had a problem with the teaching at hand, he would have silenced the men in the congregation. Paul does not do this, though. He says that the reason for the prohibition goes back to the creation order. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

And then Paul says something intriguing. He says of women: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” What does this mean? Since Paul has been speaking of Adam and Eve, it only makes sense that childbearing has something to do with them. Genesis 3:16 says, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” What Paul is doing here in 1 Timothy is called a synecdoche (using a part for the whole). Instead of describing the entirety of the role of women given in Genesis, he only mentions one portion, “childbearing.” It is clear that Paul is instructing the women to remain in their God-given role which transcends time and culture.

What might happen if we resolved to take seriously the Lord’s design?

Daniel Mayfield
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"Daniel serves as a preacher and teacher at the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He does this work with the invaluable aid, wisdom, and encouragement of his wife, Miranda. They have two young sons, Judah and Zion, and one beautiful daughter, Eden. Daniel had served in Oklahoma for nearly five years, before which time he and Miranda served as missionaries in the Caribbean. Daniel is a graduate of both Bear Valley and Oklahoma Christian University. His greatest passion is to preach the gospel of Jesus to anyone who will listen."