Most Christians who follow social media are probably aware of the ongoing debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism, which refer to the roles of men and women in the church and home. This debate is perhaps at an all time high, as there’s a good case to be made for both positions. Plus, social media provides opportunity for a lot of interaction. For most of my Christian life I’ve been Baptist or Baptistic in my beliefs, which means I’ve always held to the complementarian position. However, a few years ago I began seeing good reason to suggest that the egalitarian position is what the Bible actually teaches—a position I eventually ended up embracing for a few months. I soon discovered I was wrong, as I considered more carefully the events of the first three chapters of Genesis.
While I still think there’s a good case to be made for it, a close look at Genesis 1-3 reveals the fundamental flaw of the egalitarian interpretation of Scripture. As we’ll see, these three chapters hold the key for interpreting the roles of women. It’s important that we understand what actually transpired before and after the fall, before and after sin entered the human race. Once we get that right, then the words of the Apostle Paul make perfect sense.
I realize this is a very difficult subject for many, especially those who have had bad experiences under authoritarian church leaders or husbands. Nonetheless, the truth about this doctrine doesn’t change in spite of the reprehensible examples of it. As we’ll see in this study, what happened in the fall is exactly why we do have those who abuse their authority, and why there is such a battle of wills between men and women, and husbands and wives.
I believe the most important hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible is to allow the New Testament Scriptures to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures. Our understanding of the Bible begins with the NT, allowing it to shine its light upon the OT. It’s the NT that explains the OT. Therefore, the NT Scriptures have interpretive authority. Virtually everything in the NT can be traced back to the OT, because the NT fulfills the OT. This is true regarding our current subject. The Apostle Paul was obviously aware of this. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and in 1 Corinthians 11:3,7-9, he was taking his understanding of what happened in the first three chapters of Genesis and bringing it forward and applying it to the Christian life in the New Covenant era. In other words, he made a statement in these two NT passages and then used Genesis 1-3 to explain what he meant, and why.
With that in mind, we’ll go back to Genesis to determine what the actual roles were of both Adam and Eve before and after they sinned, and how we’re to apply it to our lives as followers and servants of Christ today.
Rather than just giving you the references, I’ll provide the passages too. I want the actual Scriptures under examination to be in front of you. I’ll then provide commentary after each that is pertinent to our discussion.
(Genesis 1:26) – 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” (NET)
God made humanity in His image. God also gave humanity “rule over all the earth.” As we’ll see in Gen 2:15-18, God gave Adam (man) sole authority and responsibility to rule as God’s vice-regent, ruling under God as His representative. What’s also important to point out here is that God is a Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Thus we see that Adam served under Christ before sin as His vice-regent on earth. It’s commonly understood that Adam served as prophet, priest and king, as a type of Christ. We’ll see this as we go along. Here we see him as a ruler or as a king over the earth. This is before Eve was created.
(Genesis 2:15-18) – 15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. 16 Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” 18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” (NET)
(Genesis 2:21-23) – 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (NET)
(see also Genesis 2:4,7-9)
Before God created Eve, God placed Adam in “the orchard in Eden” (Garden of Eden), giving him the sole authority and responsibility to “care for it and to maintain it.” This was the first temple of God on earth where Adam walked and talked with God as a priest of God.
We also see that it was Adam whom God “commanded” not to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Why? “for when you eat from it you will surely die.” This is highly significant, because we see Adam is given sole authority and responsibility in spiritual matters, as we continue to see him serving in his priestly role as God’s representative, as a mediator between God and Eve. There’s no evidence that God spoke to Eve before the fall, or that Eve spoke to God. I believe that is what we’re to see here. If Adam and Eve would have had children before they sinned, Adam would have continued in this same role to his family.
We also see Adam as a prophet, again as a type of Christ. Why? Because Eve hadn’t been created yet when God spoke all these things to Adam. Which means Eve had to have heard all these things from Adam, speaking the word of God to her, informing her what it would mean for their future if they disobeyed God. We see this lived out in Genesis 3:1-3, which we will examine next.
So then, before Eve was created, we see Adam as a type of Christ as king, priest, and prophet. Unmistakably, in the non-existence of Eve, sole authority and responsibility was given to Adam before the fall, before sin entered the picture. In other words, we see Adam serving under Christ as his Head (1 Cor 11:3). None of these roles were given to Eve. This is key to our discussion.
It’s important to point out that God didn’t create man and woman together, at the same time. This is by design. I believe there’s a purpose here that we’re to recognize. In the beginning it was all about Adam, about his commissioning and the establishment of his rule on earth. God’s total focus was Adam. We see the honor that God bestowed upon him, both in granting him the privilege of serving Him as His vice-regent on earth, but also in providing someone who was suitable for him, someone which the animal kingdom couldn’t provide (Ge 2:18-20). It was Adam’s need that God had concern for. Thus we see that Eve was created for the benefit of Adam (1 Cor 11:7-9), not the reverse. Their roles were certainly different. Eve did not share the same role that was given specifically to Adam before she existed. The importance of this realization can’t be overstated.
When we first read Genesis 1:26-30, it seems to suggest a shared role (I believe this is where egalitarians miss it), but this is to be understood in the general sense as a commissioning of all humanity. The details and actual order of events are given to us in Genesis 2:15-25, where we see that the role of authority was given specifically to Adam before Eve was created. Adam’s role was firmly established before God brought Eve into the picture. As we’ll see later, this is exactly how Paul understood it.
(Genesis 3:1-3) – 1 Now the serpent was shrewder than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” (NET)
Here we see that Eve got her facts mixed up. She added to God’s command not to eat of this tree by saying that they were not to “touch it.” This mix-up is probably due to the fact that she heard it second hand. She didn’t hear it directly from God as Adam did, so it was passed on to her from him—who again, functioned as a priest and prophet, speaking for God. Either she didn’t quite understand or she didn’t recall the facts accurately. But the point is, since she was not serving in the same capacity as Adam as a priest-prophet, she didn’t hear directly from God as Adam did, because Eve was not yet created when God spoke to Adam about the two trees. Again, this is all before the fall, before they disobeyed God.
A question is introduced here that needs to be addressed. Why did the serpent (Satan) go to Eve and not to Adam? I think it’s fair that he did so because he recognized Adam’s authority and privilege of having direct communication with God. Therefore, he would naturally recognize Eve as being the more vulnerable of the two. In other words, he went to whom he perceived to be the weak link. Not that Eve was more susceptible to being deceived by nature (should be obvious to everyone that men are just as susceptible to deception), but because she didn’t have the same role as Adam or the same privilege of hearing directly from God—at least not until God spoke to her after they sinned.
(Genesis 3:6-7) – You may read these verses for yourself. In this passage we see the fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the world and corrupted this perfect and pure order that they had enjoyed with God and with each other.
(Genesis 3:8-13) – 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 11 And the Lord God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” 13 So the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman replied, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (NET)
Note that in verse 9 it says that “God called to the man,” even though Adam and Eve were together. We also see in verse 11 that God reminded Adam about the tree of which He had given a “command.” It was Adam whom God commanded not to eat from that tree. Again, this is significant. God gave Adam the sole responsibility to lead as His representative. God spoke directly to Adam, not to Eve. It was Adam’s responsibility to lead Eve not only in the way of truth, but in faithfulness as a priest. Eve was the one who sinned first, but here we get an indication that God held Adam largely responsible because of his position. He somehow failed.
In verse 13 we see the first time that God addresses Eve directly. This is what God does when we sin. He brings conviction. Thus God spoke to each of them to bring conviction of sin to each.
(Genesis 3:16) – 16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (NET)
EXB – You will greatly desire [C the word implies a desire to control; 4:7] your husband, but he will rule over you.”
NLT – And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”
ESV – Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
CSB – Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.
NIV – Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.
NASB – Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
In regard to this verse, the NET Notes are instructive:
NET NOTES: tn Heb “and toward your husband [will be] your desire.” The nominal sentence does not have a verb; a future verb must be supplied, because the focus of the oracle is on the future struggle. The precise meaning of the noun תְּשׁוּקָה (teshuqah, “desire”) is debated. Many interpreters conclude that it refers to sexual desire here, because the subject of the passage is the relationship between a wife and her husband, and because the word is used in a romantic sense in Song 7:11 HT (7:10 ET). However, this interpretation makes little sense in Gen 3:16. First, it does not fit well with the assertion “he will dominate you.” Second, it implies that sexual desire was not part of the original creation, even though the man and the woman were told to multiply. And third, it ignores the usage of the word in Gen 4:7 where it refers to sin’s desire to control and dominate Cain. (Even in Song of Songs it carries the basic idea of “control,” for it describes the young man’s desire to “have his way sexually” with the young woman.) In Gen 3:16 the Lord announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle. See further Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?” WTJ 37 (1975): 376-83.
NET NOTES: tn The Hebrew verb מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to rule over,” but in a way that emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery. This also is part of the baser human nature. The translation assumes the imperfect verb form has an objective/indicative sense here. Another option is to understand it as having a modal, desiderative nuance, “but he will want to dominate you.” In this case, the Lord simply announces the struggle without indicating who will emerge victorious.sn This passage is a judgment oracle. It announces that conflict between man and woman will become the norm in human society. It does not depict the NT ideal, where the husband sacrificially loves his wife, as Christ loved the church, and where the wife recognizes the husband’s loving leadership in the family and voluntarily submits to it. Sin produces a conflict or power struggle between the man and the woman, but in Christ man and woman call a truce and live harmoniously (Eph 5:18-32).
What’s introduced here after the fall is not the changing of roles, as egalitarians typically believe (from equal or shared roles to different roles), but the conflict within the roles, the roles they had before the fall. Sin corrupted their relationship. No longer was there total peace and harmony between them, but now conflict. The battle of the wills had begun. The battle of the sexes was on!
Egalitarians believe that in Christ there’s equality of roles between men and women, which they believe is what Adam and Eve had before the fall. But again that can’t be, because as pointed out, before the fall Adam was the sole leader as prophet, priest and king. What we have now in Christ is the harmony between us within those same roles—or should have. The conflict that emerged after the fall is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. In other words, men are to lead with love, grace, humility, kindness, gentleness, etc., just like it was before Adam and Eve sinned. In Christ that perfect pre-fall relationship between them within their given roles is restored—or rather is to be brought under His Lordship in order to be restored. Men are to lead with love, grace and humility, and women are to accept their roles with the same love, grace and humility, as the Holy Spirit enables us, as we yield to Him. This leaves absolutely no room for authoritarian, abusive leadership. Nor does it leave any room for rebellion on the part of women.
I think it’s validating that the battle that rages between egalitarians and complementarians over roles of men and women, is in itself, a reflection of the conflict that erupted after the fall. We have yet to bring this under the Lordship of Christ. It’s only when we recognize and accept our proper roles that we experience peace and harmony.
I could stop here and I think this would be enough to convince many. However, in order to complete the picture we need to go to the NT and tie all this together, which will provide confirmation of what we have found in Genesis. It’s important to demonstrate that this is the way Paul understood all this too.
New Testament Passages
(1 Corinthians 11:3) – 3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (NET)
(1 Corinthians 11:7-9) – 7 A man should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. So too, woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. (CSB)
After looking at the passages in Genesis, we know where Paul gets this from. God created Adam first and established his headship, not only as the first, but also in his authority as God’s representative over all the earth as prophet, priest and king—as a type of Christ. As the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus was and is Head of man, and “man is the head of the woman.” Just as man is subordinate to Christ, so is woman subordinate to man, because God created woman “from man” and “for the sake of man,” not the reverse. Woman is also “the glory of man,” just as man is “the image and glory of God.” That man is the image and glory of God, points to God’s Headship and to man’s subordination. Likewise, that woman is the glory of man points to man’s headship and the woman’s subordination. Just as Adam was given authority and represented God, Eve was given a subordinate role of authority to Adam and represented him—having been created from him and for his benefit. Thus, we see a Divine order here. The roles of men and women were firmly established before the fall, before sin entered the picture. Therefore, the roles we had in a right relationship with God before the fall, are the same roles we have in a right relationship with God in the New Covenant of Christ. Or put another way, the roles we had under Christ before the fall, are the same roles we have under Christ as His redeemed, as Head of His Church.
We must conclude that this pre-fall order of roles cannot be a matter of culture or that Paul is dealing with a specific problem in that church. This goes back to the very beginning of God’s creation before the fall when Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and with each other—perfectly content in their God-given purpose.
Note: Where Paul says that “God is the head of Christ,” this is to be understood in his humanity, not in His eternal existence. For the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence, co-eternal, co-equal.
Before we talk about 1 Timothy 2:11-14, we must first talk about the passage below:
(1 Timothy 3:14-15) – 14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you 15 in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. (NET)
This passage follows what he wrote in 1 Timothy 2:11-14. He’s pointing back to what he previously wrote up to that point and explaining why he wrote it, which includes this passage in chapter 2. It was to provide “instructions” to let them “know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth.” This speaks of the Church universal, and more specifically of local churches within the Church. As with the passage in 1 Corinthians 11, this passage also confirms that Paul is not dealing with a cultural issue or some specific problem that was going on in their church.
We see this also confirmed in the three verses (1 Tim 2:8-10) leading up to 1 Timothy 3:11-14, where Paul is giving instructions for the conduct of the men and women in the church. As part of those instructions, we have verses 11-14. This is an extension of verses 8-10, not a separate subject or different people. To insist that Paul is dealing with a cultural issue or with a certain problem in that church is 100 percent inconsistent with what we see here.
We’ll now discuss 1 Timothy 2:11-14:
(1 Timothy 2:11-14) – 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. (CSB)
Like the passage in 1 Corinthians 11, we see where Paul is getting this from. He’s getting it from the first three chapters in Genesis. He first gives the instructions about women in verses 11 & 12, and then gives his reason for it, which is found in Genesis. His reason for prohibiting women from teaching or exercising authority over a man is not because of their culture and not because of some problem in their church, but because of the Divine order that we see in Genesis before the fall, before sin brought corruption.
In mentioning Eve’s deception, I believe the point Paul is making is that when she was confronted by Satan, she should have talked it over with Adam, God’s representative, before she ate from the tree. In not doing so, she acted foolishly. She disrespected and disregarded his authority. Thus, it’s male authority that we’re to recognize here. We’re not to make the same mistake Eve did, who “transgressed.”
I encourage you to go back to our discussion in Genesis and consider this passage in light of that. What we see is perfect harmony between all these passages, which have their roots in God’s design for men and women before sin was introduced. Their respective roles and purpose was fixed before that time, and even before Eve herself was created.
With this background and with this foundation, we can also confidently interpret the following passages according to that same understanding:
1 Timothy 3:1-13
1 Peter 3:1-6
What About 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?
(1 Corinthians 14:33-35) – 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (CSB)
Given that chapter 11 reveals that women prophesied (spoke God’s word) in this church (which Paul didn’t condemn), and given that the context is church order, it seems likely Paul is referring to women who were asking a lot of questions during the service while the prophets were speaking (which may have included women). They were apparently being disruptive, so Paul instructed them to ask their husbands at home. My understanding is that in those days and in the culture of those days, it was more common for the men to learn. Therefore, women would naturally have the most questions. What if the women were not married? Then you use common sense. They were to be quiet during the church services and ask their questions after the service, perhaps talking to a friend or asking their dad at home. Paul’s point seems to be, don’t be disruptive. It’s a disgrace to disrupt a church service. Paul may also have had in mind that such conduct was disrespectful to their husbands, who were also brought into the spotlight.
What About the Scriptures that Reveal Women Speaking God’s Word in the Assembly of Believers?
In addition to 1 Corinthians 11:5, this would include scriptures such as Matthew 28:5-10 (also same context Mk 16:1-11; Lu 24:1-12; Jn 20:1-18); Acts 2:1-11,16-18; Acts 21:8-9; Acts 18:24-28. There’s also Miriam and Huldah the prophetesses in the OT (Ex 15:20; 2 Ki 22:14-20; 2 Chr 34:22-28).
This is a good question and needs to be answered. However, it may need to be explained by someone more able than me. But I’ll give it a shot anyway. From my perspective, the only explanation that makes sense – and I could be wrong – is that the limitation put on women in our assemblies is in the context of leadership (1 Tim 2:12). In other words, women are prohibited from teaching as a church leader (elder, overseer, pastor), but allowed to teach under the authority and approval and guidance of the elders. Paul especially may have had women in view who assumed the place of primary authority and teacher.
While I’m not a hundred percent committed to this interpretation, I think it works. Again, perhaps someone more qualified can provide an explanation of these passages that is more in harmony with the complementarian position. I’m open to learning. If I find an explanation that makes more sense, I’ll include it in this study.
Each complementarian church must decide for themselves how to interpret these passages. Perhaps God has shown us these situations to let us know that we’re not to take an extreme position on this matter, but that He allows room for a little balance. If churches view this as I’ve suggested, then they must decide how this looks in practice, what’s allowed and what’s not. Some may conclude it’s ok for a woman to teach a mixed Sunday School class or to lead a mixed Bible study. Some may even conclude that it would be proper for an especially gifted woman to teach in the Sunday services at times when needed—either as a member or as a guest teacher. As I already indicated, I think some churches go to an unnecessary extreme, where women aren’t even allowed to read Scripture or pray—at least that’s what I’ve heard; I’ve never actually seen it. I think these churches would rather be on the safe side. But again, it’s up to each church to decide for themselves how to interpret what the Bible allows for women teachers in the assembly of believers.
One thing does seem certain, women are not allowed to serve as church leaders. This refers to elders (overseers). A pastor is an elder. But not all elders are pastors. But all elders must be able to teach (1 Tim 3:2). So this refers to elders in general. Therefore, a woman is not allowed to be an elder, who is expected to teach.
In order to be on the right side of the debate, we must consider carefully the revelation of Genesis 1-3. We must consider carefully the context of 1 Timothy 2. We must consider carefully the significance of Paul’s reference to Genesis 1-3 in 1 Corinthians 11 & 1 Timothy 2. Carefully and unbiased.
In spite of how clear this presents itself, perhaps most egalitarians will still not accept this interpretation. That’s between them and the Lord. Egalitarians are not accountable to complementarians, but to God. Egalitarian churches are not accountable to complementarian churches, but to God. However, whatever interpretations there are on the egalitarian side, they’re necessarily inconsistent with the roles of men and women that were established by God before the fall. What we learn there must be brought forward to the body of Christ in the present gospel era. Jesus came to restore what was lost in the fall, and that includes the right attitudes and faithful practice of our God-assigned roles—as identified in this study. This is who we were in Christ before the fall, and this is who we are in Christ as His redeemed people today. I’ll never criticize egalitarians for their position or go after them on social media (which is sadly a common practice), because I know where they’re coming from. It also causes ill will and unnecessary division. I still think they present a good case. I just don’t believe it’s the correct one. Nevertheless, I extend nothing but grace to them.
One last thing. History and personal experiences have their place, but never to be used to interpret Scripture. It will lead to an erroneous understanding. I believe this helps explain why there’s such a major surge in egalitarianism today. I think social media has been a major contributor in that regard.
Blessings to everyone as we each try to work through this difficult subject.