1 Timothy 2:8-15
8 Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 9 Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold,pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. 15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.
I am picking up now with verse 14: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.” There are different ways to interpret verse 14. I will give some of the possible interpretations and then discuss some real life results of those views.
Some have proposed that verses 13 and 14 are separate reasons for Paul’s prohibition in verse 12 against women teaching men in the Church. The first is from the Creation order. Verse 13 says that God formed Adam first, signaling his headship role. The second is from the Fall. Verse 14 says that Eve was deceived and fell into sin and therefore according to this interpretation, Paul writes that as a consequence, women are not to teach men.. The biggest problem I have with seeing verse 14 teaching the prohibition as a consequence of Eve being deceived is that Adam followed his wife willfully into sin, even though he was not deceived, and so there also ought to be some consequence to that for men. How can men be qualified to lead if Adam was willfully disobedient, any more than women are disqualified for Eve being deceived? I find this very problematic. It makes me believe that God must have a better, more rational intent with this verse.
A second explanation that has been proposed includes seeing verse 14 as a corollary of verse 13, in that because Adam was formed first, he alone was present for the giving of the command not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God established Adam as head, and He prepared Adam by direct teaching from Him not to be deceived. God subsequently created Eve and Adam informed her of God’s teaching. With this understanding, Paul might be commenting on specifically Eve’s lack of preparation and consequent deception, and not on women’s lack of preparation in general. Therefore, it is possible to group the two verses together, with verse 14 being an outworking of verse 13. In other words, Adam was designated head by being created first, and was prepared theologically by God for that role, and Eve should have recognized and deferred to his leadership in responding to the temptation. With this reading, one can see the general principle that Paul is putting forth: men, like Adam, are appointed and equipped to be head (in marriage and in Church) and women, regardless of how equipped they are, should respect that headship rather than taking leadership away from them. Taking the two verses together, perhaps Paul is using Eve as a case study for what can happen when humans reject God’s appointed order. Eve should have recognized Adam’s appointed headship over her, but instead she took leadership away from Adam and the result was disastrous, and we women should not repeat the mistake. This would explain why Paul does not add a verse that says once women have learned and been brought up to speed theologically, then they can be in positions of authority over the whole church (as some interpreters have suggested). This is not really a question of who is more qualified to lead but instead who God has appointed to lead. Nevertheless, qualifications do matter. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul specifies that men who lead should not be new converts, that they should exhibit long term godly character and that they are able to teach. (We will post more on this passage in the future.) It is also important to say that in the “case study” of the fall, Adam also sinned by not leading. That, too, is a mistake that must not be repeated.
But there is another possible interpretation of this verse. It is also possible Paul sees verses 13 and 14 as two different but related reasons; first, that Adam was created first signalling that he was appointed to have authority and second, that Eve demonstrates that women are more gullible. He could be saying this about both Eve and the insufficiently taught women of his day, who fall prey to false teaching (as mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:6: “For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions”), or of all women. Paul could see it as a matter of insufficient learning which will be addressed by their instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11. Or he could see it as a gender design, meaning that at Creation, God made men to be heads in marriage and Church, and women to submit in marriage and the Church, and that disposition was designed into their mental capacity, as evidenced by Eve’s susceptibility to deception in the Fall of humanity.
I am convinced this is the wrong interpretation. The verse in 2 Timothy 3:6, which I quoted above, does not specify that all women are gullible or overwhelmed by sins, but rather some women. I do not think this is Paul’s general opinion of women because in the same letter, he commends two women – Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice – who passed on the Christian faith to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:5) and is probably again referring to them in 2 Timothy 3:14-15. Furthermore, if Paul was saying women are more easily deceived than men and therefore should not teach them, he would not teach elsewhere that they are to teach one another (Titus 2:3-5). That would be multiplying the potential for deception exponentially. He would also not allow them to teach children. Additionally, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul compares the whole Corinthian congregation to Eve, in their potential to be deceived: “But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” From that verse, he seems to be using Eve as a cautionary example for all humanity and not merely for women. So no one would be qualified to teach others! Furthermore, the book of Proverbs tells the reader to remember the instruction of both father and mother (Proverbs 1:8, 6:20). And there are multiple stories in the Bible where it is women who act wisely and set the example for men. To be clear, I think Scripture does not support this interpretation.
As I already stated, I strongly dislike the suggestion that Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying that women are more gullible than men! However, as much as I dislike that interpretation, my dislike should not determine how I interpret the passage. We should always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Unfortunately this is one of the possible interpretations of the passage that is put forward by some critics of the Bible, Christianity, Christians, and critics of Paul. They feel the reference to Eve appears to be a pejorative reference to women in general.
If I disagree with this interpretation, why am I writing about it? Because I believe that as Christians, it is important for us to have an answer to this reading of the text. We shouldn’t just gloss over this interpretation because we don’t like it and assume that, of course, Paul is not saying that. Independent of this passage, I am aware that people, including some Christians, have historically held the view that women are more easily deceived and some even hold it today. These kinds of generalizations never hold true for everyone. Some women are gullible and some men are gullible. In the late 1980’s I attended lectures by Mardi Keyes of Massachusetts L’Abri. Keyes cited two studies done 20 years apart on gullibility in men and women. In the earlier study, done before the 1960’s women’s movement, women were found to be more gullible than men. In the later study, after the women’s movement, men and women were found to have comparable levels of gullibility. Education and greater access to broad life experience are probably factors in how easily one is deceived, but they may not be the only factors.
Although I dislike this third interpretation and don’t think it holds biblically, how can I make peace with this possibility and with the people that hold this view? Some of whom are Christians and therefore my brothers and sisters? I have encountered this view in things I have read and conversations I have had. To be honest, anecdotally, I have noticed I am more persuadable than my husband, even though I have comparable education to him, and years spent reading the same Bible. I will read a book and find it convicting and convincing. He will read the same book and point out the flaws in the argument, which as soon as he lists them, I realize they really are there. I was at a book discussion at church recently where one man noted how many more women from our congregation were present for the discussion than men. Others in the room remarked that there are more women in Church than men. Together, both men and women in the room posited that men are harder to convince of a new viewpoint – “they are more steadfast in their viewpoints than women” – or put less positively “more pigheaded.” However, generalizations from one’s own personality and from others can be problematic. We certainly do not all fit the generalizations. And generalizing comments frequently do more to offend people and build barriers between them than edify and encourage. Occasionally generalizations are helpful. And perhaps they force us to see something positive we might not see. Perhaps being persuadable can be a good thing to complement someone who is pigheaded! Perhaps women could be called “receptive” rather than “gullible.”Which brings me to this – being “gullible” might not be all bad, not only an insult. To those who hold this view I would say – maybe men were designed more “steadfast” and women more “receptive” for a purpose: that they might fit better together.
Regardless of one’s view of this passage, let us all remember that women, however receptive, have excellent minds that can think rationally, emotionally, spiritually, theologically, just like men. More importantly, they are equally made in God’s image and divinely qualified to help men. A serious problem with over applying male/female differences occurs when men think they shouldn’t listen to women and have nothing to learn from their “irrational” helpers! One problem that can arise from viewing men as gifted natural leaders and women as followers is if women are instructed to keep their mouths shut and “let the men lead.” MEN ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT, NOT ALWAYS FOLLOWING GOD! There are examples of men in the Bible who wisely listen to women, and don’t dismiss them as gullible, emotional, or irrelevant to them as leaders. The story of David and Abigail (1 Samuel 25) gives us just one case study of how dangerous a world it would be if men thought they had no wisdom to hear from women. 1 Samuel 25:3 specifically notes that Abigail was “intelligent.” There is a middle ground where women are helpers to their appointed leaders while leaders recognize that it’s really good that they are not alone without the wisdom and insight that God has given women.
I have experienced this middle ground! My husband leads our family, but he sees me as his indispensable helper. He never moves forward without consulting with me and he takes all my input very seriously. And I am proud to say that I attend a complementarian church which views its women in this same way – not always consistently or perfectly, but fundamentally as “coheirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Glory to God for how He puts us together in His Body for good.
I don’t really know for certain how to interpret verse 14. I favor the second interpretation – taking verses 13 and 14 together, as teaching on God’s appointed order rather than as a generalization about women’s nature, but as with all interpretation of the Scriptures, we will only find out for sure in heaven. I offer this post as some of the range of possibilities and as an example of how to react to an interpretation that feels like a “dis” of women. I hope it’s helpful to you. Next time, verse 15, which is even more difficult!