As a young Christian I was taught that because women are more prone to deception than men, therefore men should be the teachers. Adam was created before Eve, and therefore all women should be in submission to male leadership–whether that’s husband, pastor or some other Christian man. (I shudder even now to think how, albeit unwillingly, I swallowed these maxims. But I wanted to be a good Christian woman, and if that’s what it took…)
The idea comes from 1 Timothy 2
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.(vv 12-14 NKJV)
Two incontrovertible facts:
- Eve was deceived and then sinned.
- Adam was formed first, then Eve.
Let’s review the background from this letter. Paul was writing to combat heresy in the church in Ephesus (I Tim 1:3). In Acts 20, Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come in, including some men who would distort the truth. The book of 1 Timothy is full of warnings against false teaching:
- People were spending their time in meaningless discussions, wanting to be known as teachers of the law (1:6-7).
- Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples who had deliberately violated their consciences and shipwrecked their faith and Paul had thrown them out (1:20).
- In the last times some would follow deceptive spirits and demonic teachings, saying it’s wrong to be married or eat certain foods (4:1-3).
- Paul exhorts Timothy not to waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales but instead to train for godliness (4:7).
- Some younger widows had already gone astray to follow Satan (5:15).
- People who contradicted Paul and Timothy’s teaching were arrogant and lacked understanding, stirring up arguments that resulted in jealosy, division, slander and evil suspicion. Their minds were corrupt and they were using a show of godliness to become wealthy (6:2-10).
- Paul gave a final exhortation to Timothy to avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who have wandered from the faith.
Again, the background to 1 Timothy is to deal with false teaching in a culture that was dominated by a female-centered religious cult.
Jon Zens in his excellent book,What’s With Paul and Women? makes the following points:
- “First” is a function of time, not of superiority. Nowhere in the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 where both Adam and Eve are given the command to have dominion over creation, or in I Timothy 2:12, is there evidence that women are to be subordinate to men.
- The worship of Artemis, goddess of the Ephesians, was a female-dominated cult ruled by women priests that included public sexual displays and fancy clothing and jewelry.
- This cult taught that Artemis was born before her twin, Apollo, and that women, as the superior gender, therefore could dominate men.
- Women in Ephesus looked to Artemis, the mother goddess. for protection–for their virginity, for aid in barrenness and for help in labor.
- The history of the church shows that most false teaching has been propagated by males.
- Eve being deceived by the serpent was not an example of what goes wrong when a female usurps male leadership, but of disobeying one of God’s commands. Paul uses the same example in 2 Corinthians 11:3 to show how an entire congregation can be deceived, both males and females.
- It’s not right for anyone to teach with the goal of dominating others.