At Brookside Church (our church here in Omaha), our middle school students are working through 1 Timothy and our middle school pastor asked the students to write down questions they had after reading through the whole book during one of their large group meetings. He asked if I would answer a few of their questions for their blog. Here’s my response to a question about 1 Timothy 2, specifically regarding what Paul teaches about women in the church.
First Timothy 2 is one of the most confusing chapters in the Bible for many Christians. It especially gets pretty spicy when Paul starts talking about men and women!
First, we need to make sure we understand chapter 2 in light of the whole book. Paul writes because he is concerned about false teaching in the church (1:3-11; 4:1-5; 6:1-10). Paul desires that everything taught must come “from the glorious Good News,” the gospel (1:11). In other words, because God has saved us through what Jesus has done, we should teach what God wants us to teach! In chapter 2, Paul teaches how a worship service should be done God’s way.
Paul only tells tell us a few things about a worship service. There should be a lot of prayer for people who need Jesus (2:1-7); the men who pray should not be controlled by anger and arguing (2:8); and women should care more about their spiritual life than how they look in the mirror (2:9-10).
The debate really heats up in verses 11-15. Paul says, “Women should learn quietly and submissively” (1:11); women should not “teach men or have authority over them” (1:12); and then Paul seems to say that all women are good for is having babies (1:15)! What in the world is going on?!
Paul is not saying that women are worse than men. Remember that he called himself the worst sinner (1:15-16) and already two men (not women!) have been kicked out of the church for their consistent, noticeably sinful behavior (1:20). Clearly men are not better than women! Everyone is a sinner who needs Jesus (2:6).
Remember, Paul wants worship services to be run how God wants them to be run. Paul gives two reasons for his rules on women in a worship service. First, Paul goes all the way back to creation: “For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve” (2:13). Adam wasn’t made first because he was smarter or more talented, but simply because he designed Adam to perform the role of leader. Men and women are equal, but they are not the same! Men and women are made to do different things. God designed Adam to be the spiritual leader of his family, so men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders in their family (see 3:5).
In the same way, men are to be the spiritual leaders in the church (which is God’s family). Being quiet and submissive does not mean that women can never talk once they enter the church doors. Instead, it means that they are to respectfully learn from the pastors of the church. Paul wants to make it crystal clear that when the church is gathered for worship services, only the pastors (who are to men, see 3:1-7) can teach and exercise authority over the people in the church.
Now, let me say this: women can and should teach other women and children. Women can even teach men valuable lessons about life and things about God and his word on a daily basis. (I know my wife does!) Women can even be leaders in the community, in secular jobs, and in government. But women are not to lead the church or teach the church when it is gathered together for worship (whether on a Sunday or any other day). Why? Because God designed his family to function best this way.
Paul’s second reason for saying women should not teach or lead the church in general is that Eve was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden (2:14). Paul probably mentions this because many women were deceived by false teachers in Ephesus, the city of Timothy’s church (see 1 Tim. 5:11-5; 2 Tim. 3:6-7). Elsewhere, Paul certainly puts responsibility on Adam for the first sin (see Rom. 5:12-19), and Paul obviously knows that men can be deceived too! Paul’s point shows that men must embrace the call to stand up and lead and teach God’s people in God’s way. It will not solve the problem for women to disobey God and try to do it themselves. Eve showed us that does not work best. That is Paul’s point.
Finally, in verse 15, Paul says that women will be saved through childbearing. There’s some confusion about what this word “saved” means. It certainly can’t mean saved in the “forgiven of sins” and “justified” sense, because works can’t save us (see Eph. 2:8-9)! “Saved” in this verse probably means ongoing salvation or a certain kind of blessing, not the initial “moment of salvation” when you first become a Christian. God will continue to save or bless people as they persevere or continue in whatever he has called them to do. Women have the unique calling to be child-bearers. Put simply: God has made women to do something that no man can ever do: bear children and raise them with the nurturing, motherly touch of a women! When a woman embraces that call (as opposed to trying to do what men were made to do as husbands, fathers, and church leaders), they will continue be blessed by God as long as they have faith in Jesus.
No doubt some of this explanation will raise more questions, but hopefully this helps you understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15 a little bit better!