In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way. Last month, we looked at a very dark curse from the Psalms. This month, we’re going to look at something a little lighter.
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.
The Secular Response
Keep in mind the first “big bad” antagonist in The Bible is women, as a gender.
This is one of the verses that prompted my wife to ask, “does God even like women?”
My wife is a great wife, mother and friend; she teaches women at church and loves God well. She knows and teaches that God loves her. But when you read verses like this, where God appears to be blaming women for original sin, it’s clear why that worry crossed her mind.
Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that He has established certain roles for men to fill, and certain (different) roles for women to fill. What’s not clear is what those specific roles are. When Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” is he telling Timothy his personal preference in the churches that he established? After all, he was building churches in a very patriarchal society; perhaps he was just telling Timothy that his churches didn’t employ women as pastors for cultural reasons (we’ll discuss the cultural differences between First Century Rome and 21st Century America further next month). The denomination that my church belongs to is actually discussing this very question right now for the next meeting of their general assembly, so it’s also an open question.
The fact that God has established different roles for men and women to fill is actually an echo on our world of the Trinity; the Father is not “better” than the Son or the Spirit, but He has different roles that the Son and the Spirit do not have, just as they have roles that He does not have. Just as He intends for the Father, Son, and Spirit to glorify God and work for our good in different but complementary ways, He intends for His people to worship Him and work for the good of others in different but complementary ways.
More important, though, is this: Yes, emphatically, God loves women. The Bible does not show them as the heroes and women as the villains; story after story in the Bible shows men doing terrible things to women and to God, and God’s righteous wrath poured out on them. Paul’s note about Eve in this passage talks about her disobedience and sinfulness, but I believe that it does so to tell us that, in cases where men are weak, fall silent, and abdicate their responsibilities, sin enters in and breaks down our relationship. Not because of the woman, but because of the man.
Women will be saved through the same childbirth by which men are saved: the birth of Christ.
And through that, God’s people can worship together as a united, complementary family of God.
• • •
Maybe my explanation of God’s view of women is unsatisfying to you. That’s okay; the important thing is that you know that there are answers. And there are many resources by genius women which might help you think more deeply about this crucial topic. Here are just a few:
- Mary Willson’s talk at The Gospel Coalition Conference for Women, “Is God a Misogynist”, tackles even tougher verses about the role of women in God’s kingdom.
- Jen Wilkin is an author of many books and has discussed the role of women in ministry on several occasions. To make a long story short: should pursue women to be leaders, not just permit them. This is not just a good idea; the church and the pastor need their leadership and insight.
- Mary Kassian has a different (and very theological) take on this passage: it’s not meant to be read literally, but symbolically, as a demonstration of the role of the Church and Jesus.
If there are other resources you have found helpful about the role of women in church, please let me know in the comments below and I will include them in next month’s Tough Passages, which is also about women in church. Everything should be fine and not the least bit controversial. In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week! Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture.
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