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(Click here to read Part 1 – “Case for Egalitarianism”)
Explaining the Controversial Passages
As I previously indicated, regardless of how we interpret these controversial passages, it should be clear at this point that there’s a solid biblical basis for the egalitarian position. After what we learned in the previous section, I’m not sure how that can be reasonably disputed.
Here we’ll discuss the primary passages that seem to support the complementarian position. Again, if you’re an egalitarian reading this, we may not agree on how we view these passages, but we can agree that they don’t support the idea that women are prohibited from serving as leader-teachers in the local assembly of believers. The teaching provided by the previous section precludes such a conclusion.
Note: A common understanding among egalitarians is that culture was a factor in explaining Paul’s statements (which would include headship), where Paul was speaking within the framework of the Jewish and male-dominated Roman Empire in which they lived. I agree that culture was probably a factor, but I don’t believe it was the only factor involved. So with culture of the day in mind to provide us with an overall picture of the situation, I offer the following explanations.
One: Patriarchal Headship Has a Major Flaw
In regard to the complementarian view of headship, there’s one particular element of it that proponents apparently don’t consider when using headship to validate their position, and that is the shared authority of the Father and Son, which is a fact that we can all agree on.
Shared authority is a primary and foundational key to properly understanding headship, and ultimately, the role of women in the Body of Christ. Complementarians believe that the headship of the Father and Son validates or favors their position. I believe it’s just the opposite. Here are the passages that deal with headship:
(1 Corinthians 11:3-5) – 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. (NIV)
(Ephesians 5:22-24) – 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)
The Greek word for “head” is Kephale. There is a lot of debate among scholars about the meaning of this word (figuratively), where context and ancient Greek usage is always taken into account. In regard to the above passages, it can mean either source (origin, beginning, fountainhead, life-source), which is an egalitarian understanding. Or it can mean authority (ruler, leader, superior rank), which is a complementarian understanding. For an extended discussion about this word, Kephale, click here.
From an egalitarian understanding, Jesus in His humanity has His source of life (beginning, origin) in God, because He is God and did not come through the sinful seed of man, but via the Holy Spirit. Likewise, man has his source of life (origin, beginning, as a direct creation of God) in Christ, who is Himself God. Likewise, woman (or wife as a woman) has her source of life (origin, beginning) in man, for she was made from man in creation. Likewise, the Church has its source of life (origin, beginning) in Christ.
From a complementarian understanding, Jesus, the Son, is subordinate to the Father as His authority throughout eternity (not just in His humanity), which they refer to as ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son). Likewise, man (and the Church) is subordinate to Christ as his authority. Likewise, woman (or wife) is subordinate to man or to her husband as her authority. In other words, they see a hierarchy of authority in headship. They see a patriarchy.
Based on what we learned in Part One, where Scripture certainly supports women serving as leader-teachers in the local church, harmony between that and these two passages are on the side of the egalitarian understanding of Kephale. That would be enough, and we could end the discussion right now. However, in order to present the strongest possible argument against the complementarian understanding of headship (Kephale), we’re going to approach this subject with the idea of authority in view. It’s important we discuss the fundamental flaw that is revealed in their position.
Complementarians focus on just two aspects of the Divine Headship, which are subordination & different roles. They either miss or don’t acknowledge their shared authority when dealing with this subject of women’s roles. We see that God (the Father) is head of Christ, Christ is head of man, and man is head of woman. This is a pattern of subordination. Just as the Son is subordinate to the Father, so is woman subordinate to man (still speaking from the complementarian viewpoint). However, this should be understood as a positional relationship, which I will discuss in a bit.
Complementarians use this pattern to argue their case against women teaching and leading over men. They argue that, while each Person of the Trinity is equal to each other in every way, they each have different roles. To use one example, it was Jesus who left His throne in Heaven to become man. It was Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. This is not true of the Father or the Holy Spirit. This is unique to the Son.
Therefore, following the pattern of headship between the Father and Son, complementarians argue that although men and women are equal, they have different roles, since women are subordinate to men. In other words, they interpret this pattern to mean that men are to lead and teach, and women are to follow and learn from them. That’s their respective roles, from their viewpoint.
I included verse 5 (1 Cor 11:5) because I think it’s significant that Paul mentions women praying and prophesying immediately after he talks about headship. Any notion that this headship prohibits women from speaking God’s Word (reveal, teach) in the local assembly of believers – where both men and women are present – is immediately squelched. Yet, complementarians either overlook this connection, disregard it, or explain it away in some fashion. Whatever point Paul is making regarding this headship, we cannot overlook the fact that he validates the practice of women praying and speaking God’s Word in the local gathering of believers (vs. 5) in that context, just as much as he’s validating men doing the same thing (vs. 4).
I need to emphasize that complementarians focus only on subordination of headship and different roles. What they overlook in this pattern between the Father and Son is their shared authority — as Jesus Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” [in His humanity] (Matt 28:18). He also said (regarding His life) “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. ” (Jn 17:17-18). Further: Jesus created the universe (Col 1:15-17) and co-rules with His Father, sitting at His right hand (Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; He 1:3,13; He 12:2); Jesus has authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:6); Jesus has been given authority over all humanity, even giving eternal life to all who have been given to Him (Jn 17:2).
Note 1: I believe the authority that was “given” to Jesus, was given to Him in His humanity, but something He shared with the Father and Holy Spirit throughout eternity. In the Trinity of God, there is a shared will and a shared authority, for the Three are one in essence. Nothing could be given to the Son in eternity when God has existed throughout eternity as a Trinity, and with all authority as God. Therefore, I believe the idea of ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) is a serious error. It’s a false understanding of the Trinity.
If you’re a complementarian, recognition of this shared authority that Jesus has with the Father is absolutely necessary, because it’s authority that we’re dealing with in this discussion of women’s roles in the church and in the home from that perspective. This shared authority between the Father and Son, provides a clear pattern for men and women in our service to Christ in the local assembly (and in marriage).
Complementarians teach that God the Father is head of Christ. Yet, they fail to recognize the fact that they share the same authority, because Jesus is Himself God, second Person of the Trinity. We must not miss the significance of that fact. Since the Father and Son have a shared authority, this headship (subordination) is to be understood as a positional relationship. Yes, the Son is subject to the Father (in His humanity), but in practice they have the same authority over all things. In other words, the subordinate aspect of Divine Headship has no bearing on the authority the Father and Son share as co-equals of the Godhead. We can’t talk about headship and different roles, without talking about this shared authority. We can’t accept certain aspects of it while rejecting this one. This shared authority must be applied to men and women in the local church and in the home.
Continuing from the complementarian viewpoint, man is head of woman, and the husband is head of the wife (Eph 5:23). However, if that be true, it’s to be understood as a positional relationship. If you’re going to follow the pattern provided by the Father and Son, then you must also apply this shared authority they have to men and women (and husband and wives) in our service to Christ. Just as this positional relationship between the Father and Son has no bearing on the authority they share, neither does the positional relationship between men and women have any bearing on the authority they share in Christ.
Which brings us to 1 Corinthians 11:10, where Paul refers to a “symbol of authority” on the head of woman. I believe it’s best to understand this as God’s authority over her as He is over men. Therefore, based on what we’ve learned about headship, this should be understood as a shared authority between man and woman (husband and wife), where both are under God’s authority. Paul confirms this in the next verse, where he says that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God” (1 Cor 11:11-12).
Therefore, if Paul is referring specifically to the authority of man over woman, this should be understood as a positional authority. In practice it’s an authority they share, just as the Father and Son do. Just as the authority of the Father is given to the Son (in His humanity), it follows that the authority of man is given to woman, because that’s the pattern we see in the Divine Headship. We must not confuse position with how it’s actually lived out in practice. Therefore, it’s important that we recognize and make that distinction in male/female relationships — both in the church and in marriage.
Note 2: In regard to “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:23), I believe this helps confirm a shared authority between husband and wife (man and woman), because both men and women are members of the Church. Both men and women are subject to Christ. This puts us on an equal level. Still looking at this from a complementarian perspective, I believe it pictures both the position and practice of headship between husband and wife and man and woman. Positionally, man is head of woman, but in practice we have a shared authority as equals in Christ (Gal 3:28) as co-members of His Church, of whom He is Head.
Note 3: If you’re not comfortable with the way I described headship and authority (position/practice), let’s keep it simple. There’s a hierarchy involved between the Father and Son, man and woman, husband and wife (from a complementarian viewpoint). But at the same time, the Son is given “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Therefore, if you’re going to recognize the hierarchy between the Father and Son to interpret the role of women in relation to men, then you must also apply the fact and example of their shared authority to the man/woman and husband/wife relationships. We really don’t have to go beyond this as an explanation (although I think the above discussion is helpful).
The bottom line is, even if the complementarian understanding of headship is correct, this subordinate relationship has no bearing on the authority the Father and the Son share, nor on the authority men and women (and husbands and wives) share to lead and teach in Christ. Thus, complementarianism completely falls apart on this point alone.
As I indicated in the beginning of this discussion, the egalitarian understanding of the Greek word Kephale (head) makes better sense. These two passages (Ep 5:22-24; 1 Cor 11:3-5) find more harmony with the idea of origin or beginning (life-source), than with authority. However, when both viewpoints are given consideration, it reveals a more complete picture of the weaknesses of the complementarian interpretation — because if one holds to the hierarchy and patriarchy point of view, the shared authority of it invalidates their whole position on men and women.
Two: A closer look at that Ephesians 5:
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)
In verse 21 Paul instructs us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and this subject of submission introduces the verses that follow (Eph 5:22-6:9), where he gives examples of submission between husband and wife, children and parents, slaves and masters — all “out of reverence for Christ.” Paul talks about the responsibilities of both parties in each relationship. Obedience is not in view, except in children to parents and slaves to masters. We must not make the mistake of interpreting submission as obedience in the husband-wife relationship. In other words, Paul is not saying that wives are to obey their husbands (that’s a different Greek word). I was in extreme fundamentalist churches for about ten years where wives were practically put on the same level as the children. This is a warped interpretation of what Paul is conveying here.
What this does mean, first of all, is that husbands and wives are to submit to one another. It’s a mutual submission. Context is everything. In verse 19, Paul talks about “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Then instructs us to “submit to one another” in verse 21. That’s the context.
To “submit to one another” means to yield to one another, to put others ahead of ourselves out of mutual love, because we know that love is not “self-seeking” (1 Cor 13:5), but seeks the well-being of others (Phil 2:2-4; 1 Cor 10:24).
Therefore, that’s what submission looks like between a husband and wife. It’s a mutual submission. It’s a submission in the sense of being devoted to one another. It’s a giving of ourselves to one another. Wives are to be totally devoted to their own husbands “as to the Lord” (vs. 21). Again, Paul is not saying that the wife is to be obedient to her husband as she is to the Lord. Otherwise, that puts wives on the same level as the children to their parents, and the husband as lord (master) over his wife. Thus wives are to have an undivided devotion to their husband, just as the Church is devoted (submits) to Christ (vs. 24), and to no one else. Our allegiance is to Christ, and to Him alone. Likewise, wives to their husbands (and husbands to wives).
Paul specifically instructs wives to “respect” their husbands, and husbands are to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her,” and as they do “their own bodies.” (Eph 5:25,28,33). I believe Paul is addressing the greater need of each one. Generally, while husbands want to be loved by their wives, I think it’s more important for them to be respected by their wives. On the other hand, while wives want to be respected by their husbands, I think it’s more important for them to be loved, and have a need to be loved. I want to add that when wives respect their husbands, love for them will naturally follow. Likewise, when husbands love their wives, respect for them will naturally follow. Paul is merely stating where the emphasis needs to be for each one, according to what I believe are inherent needs.
Again, respect does not mean obey! In verse 31 Paul refers to the fact that the husband and wife become “one flesh.” This speaks of a oneness that they have. They are in a oneness relationship, where they live their lives side by side, just as Eve was created from the side of Adam (Ge 2:21-23). Paul also instructs wives to love their husbands in Titus 2:4. This describes an equal and shared treatment of one another.
For husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her,” means to give of themselves to her sacrificially, as Jesus gave of Himself:
(Phil 2:5-8) – 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!
Jesus is our example in all our relationships and in our service to Him, as Jesus Himself said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, (Matt 20:24-28). This speaks of “equality” (Ph 2:5) in a shared service — in both the home and in the assembly of believers, as those who are one in Him (Gal 3:28). In regard to church leadership, Paul states emphatically – when talking about the leadership in the church in Jerusalem – that “God shows no favoritism between people” (Ga 2:6 – NET). If God shows no favoritism between people in the context of leadership, how then can women be excluded from leadership? Furthermore, in the same chapter of Galatians, Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga 2:20). Jesus dwells within us, and in our life and service to Him, it is He living His life in us and empowering us, as we yield ourselves to Him. This is true of both men and women. The idea that the husband or males are the sole authority in the home and in the local church is contrary to these passages and to the whole of New Testament teaching.
I already talked about headship (Eph 5:23) in the previous section, so there’s no need to discuss that any further here, except to say again that this is a positional subordination — if one holds to a complementarian viewpoint. In practice husbands and wives (men and women) have a shared authority, just as the Father and Son have a shared authority. If husbands and wives are being selflessly devoted to one another, always seeking to please the other, then there is no conflict in this shared authority — just as there is no conflict in the shared authority between the Father and Son.
This shared authority is also confirmed by Paul in the following passage:
(1 Corinthians 7:3-5) – 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise the wife also to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (NASB)
This speaks of a mutual or shared authority between the husband and wife. Complementarians may object by pointing out that this only applies to sex, because that’s the context. However, that argument doesn’t hold up. It fails to take into account the broader scope of truth that is involved in this relationship. If Paul taught that the husband truly does have authority over his wife as complementarians interpret Ephesians 5, he could not have taught mutual authority in regard to sex. Here’s why: If the husband has authority over his wife, then he would also have authority over his wife in the area of sex. That means she would be required to submit according to his will as he sees fit. So for Paul to talk about a shared authority in regard to sex, would be a contradiction. The reality is, everything we do in our lives affects our bodies in one way or another. This applies to minor things we do to minor decisions we make to our service for Christ. If Paul taught that the husband has authority over his wife, she would have to submit to everything he tells her (as we’re to submit to everything the Lord tells us), and her body would naturally have to follow. Therefore, this mutual authority between the husband and wife in the area of sex that Paul talks about here, is to be understood as merely one application of a wider truth, which is an equality of authority between the two.
This is in total harmony with what Paul said in our text of Ephesians 5:
(Eph 5: 28-31) – 28 the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one has ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
This confirms that mutual submission and mutual authority does not just apply to sex, but to the whole person. In other words, when we compare what Paul says in Ephesians 5 with what he says in 1 Corinthians 7 about the “body,” it’s clear that he has the whole person in mind, and not just sex. Again, that’s to be understood as merely one application of a wider truth, which is an equality of authority between the two.
Getting back to 1 Corinthians 7, notice in verse 5 that Paul instructs husbands and wives to “stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer….” They’re to come to an “agreement” about sex for the purpose of prayer, which is an area of ministry unto the Lord on behalf of others. Agreement in sex and in ministry does not reflect a husband-authority over his wife. It reflects a mutual submission and a shared authority between the two.
It’s reasonable to conclude that Paul was not teaching patriarchy in Ephesians 5 regarding the husband-wife relationship, or of the male-female relationship in general. When you add it all up, it doesn’t add up.
The way complementarians interpret this submission and headship (subordination), it comes too close to putting wives (women in general) on the same level as obedient children to their parents, where men rule in both the home and the church. That’s not what Paul was teaching! He doesn’t instruct wives to obey (authority) their husbands. He only gives that instruction to children and slaves in this passage. We must make that distinction.
Three: Since 1 Peter 3:1-7 is similar to this Ephesians 5 passage, we’ll continue there in this same vein of thought:
1 Peter 3:1-7
1 In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, 2 when they see your pure and reverent conduct. 3 Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes— 4 but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight. 5 For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, 6 like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so. 7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.
Since this passage is similar to the one in Ephesians 5, it needs to be interpreted basically the same way.
Subject to, obey = To honor, a humble yielding of one’s will to the will of another, with the desire to please another.
While this pertains to wives in this context, this is essentially what the husband is commanded to do in Ephesians 5 (and in verse 7 of this passage), where he’s commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her” (Eph 5:25). Loving in such a manner means to give of oneself in such a loving way that we “give honor to (vs. 7), humbly yield our will to the will of another, with the desire to please another.” We see an equality and an equal balance between the husband and wife — not “equal but with different roles,” but equal and with a mutual submission and a shared authority with mutual roles — because: Wives and husbands are essentially commanded to treat each other the same way, but it’s described differently. In other words, how it’s all lived out in practice, it amounts to the same thing, where there is total harmony between them (as with the Father and Son). It must be emphasized that this type of relationship equates to mutual submission and shared authority, because there is essentially no difference in the way they function in their relationship (practice):
One honors the other (1 Pe 3:7; Ro 12:10; Phil 2:1-8). One yields their will to the other. One puts the other ahead of the other (Phil 2:3). One considers the needs and desires of the other ahead of their own (Phil 2:4). They seek to please the other. One seeks the benefit of the other. One loves and respects the other. One respects the opinion and wisdom of the other. One teaches the other (Col 3:16), etc. This is the type of teaching that we see throughout the New Testament. All the commands in the NT regarding relationships (how we’re to treat one another), we’re to apply to the husband/wife (man/woman) relationship, as well. The whole New Testament speaks of equality in Christ, a oneness in Christ, and a shared authority between us in our service to Christ.
“like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”
We need to take a closer look at this phrase. Peter is quoting Genesis 18:12. Expositor’s Bible Commentary about this phrase:
“The great model of womanly submission is Sarah, whose respect and obedience to Abraham extended to her speech—she “called him her master.” Such terminology was not uncommon in the ancient world (cf. Ge 18:12).”
While this was common in the Jewish, patriarchal culture of those days, Peter was not instructing Christian wives to call their husbands “lord” (master), as those who are in Christ of the New Covenant. Neither was he instructing wives to “obey” their husbands, as though slaves to masters, or as children to parents. This is a misapplication, and one that has been greatly abused. Peter was merely giving an example from the Old Testament of what submission looked like in that culture, in that era, which carries over to the New Testament as “to honor, to humbly yield one’s will to the will of another, with the desire to please another.” Again, this is no less than what husbands are to do toward their wives as those who are in Christ (1 Pe 3:7).
If complementarians believe Peter was instructing wives to live in obedience to their husbands, then they should also insist on wives calling their husbands “lord or master.” You can’t accept one part of it while rejecting the other. You can’t have it both ways. If pastors and other Bible teachers are going to teach wives to obey their husbands, then they should also teach them to call them lord or master — which is something I’ve never heard them do. They zero in on the word “obeyed,” while totally ignoring the “calling him lord” part. This reflects a biased and inconsistent point of view.
What Paul says in the Ephesians passage and what Peter says in this passage, points to an equality and an equal treatment between husbands and wives (Eph 5:25 & Tit 2:4), as well as between men and women in general. It points to a mutual submission and a shared authority. That’s who we are in Christ (Gal 3:28).
Note: I believe it must have been a major adjustment for Jewish Christians – who were brought up in a patriarchal culture – in the beginning of the Church era. Transitioning from Old Covenant to New Covenant was difficult in many ways for them. The relationships and roles between men and women was one of those difficulties. Firmly held understandings and beliefs and lifestyles don’t change overnight.
Four: 1 Timothy 2:11-12
11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet.
This is the primary passage complementarians use to support their position. It’s also one of the most difficult (includes verses 13-15) — even though they insist that this statement should be accepted as it sounds on the surface, and should be used as the foundational verses for understanding the roles of women in the church. But given what we’ve learned so far, and given that there are so many different interpretations for this whole passage (1 Ti 2:11-15), they simply aren’t correct in their assessment. Since we already know that Paul recognized and encouraged women to lead and teach in the assembly of believers, we know that Paul does not mean what these two verses mean on the surface. He must have known about a particular situation in that church (Ephesus) that he was addressing. This is something Paul did routinely in his letters.
While we’re not given the details about the situation in that church, based on what Paul says in these two verses (and in verses 13-15), I believe he gives us clues. If we think through it carefully enough, I believe we can come to a reasonable and sensible understanding of what Paul was addressing.
The first thing we see is that women were to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Paul was encouraging the women to “learn.” And obviously, they were to learn according to the truth. And they were to do that “quietly.” They were to be completely “submissive” to the male authority who were teaching in this church. Apparently this church had all male leaders at that particular time, as 1 Timothy 3:2,12 suggests.
Each of these three words (learn, quietly, submit) gives us a picture of the situation there. Apparently there was a group of women (or one woman leading others astray) who were deceived (which is confirmed in the verses that follow), and not learning according to the truth. It could have been gnosticism, which was a problem in the early years of the church. It could have been Judaism, which was also a problem in those early years (1 Ti 1:6-11). Or perhaps more likely, it could have been related to the religion of that city, which was “Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28), which was a female deity. But whatever it was, they were being very loud and vocal about it, and influencing other believers — particularly other women, apparently. Instead of learning in humility from the leaders and teachers in their church, they were taking over and spreading their false teaching. Thus, at this particular time, instead of learning the truth in humility from the male leaders there, they were being very loud and disruptive with their false doctrine.
Therefore, Paul didn’t “permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” at that time, under those circumstances. The NET Notes are very instructive on this matter of “authority” that Paul is talking about:
NET Notes: “tn According to BDAG 150 s.v. αὐθεντέω this Greek verb means “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (cf. JB “tell a man what to do”).
To “assume a stance of independent authority:” I believe that was the situation in this church. The women were assuming a stance of independent authority, rather than learning and submitting to the authority that God had placed over them. This phrase independent authority is a key to interpreting Paul’s intended meaning of this passage. It suggests prideful rebellion.
Therefore, this was a situational decision he made for this particular church for that particular time. This was not a sweeping restriction against all women for all churches for all time. Knowing what we know from the previous sections of this study, that cannot be what Paul meant. For the church of Ephesus at that time, it’s evident that there was a problem of deception, a lack of humility, rebellion, and the spreading of false teaching on the part of a certain group of women who went rogue. That is the picture we have here. Again, I believe the following verses confirm this:
(1 Tim 2:13-15) – 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control.
There are a lot of interpretations for these verses, but to save time and space, we won’t be discussing those. You can read commentaries for that. I’ll just present what I believe Paul is talking about. It’s directly connected to what he said in verses 11-12. It forms a unit.
First of all, as I already indicated, the fact that Paul mentions deception here, tells us that’s what he’s talking about in verses 11 & 12. This is what guides our interpretation. Second, it follows that Paul is not teaching doctrine in these verses. I believe he’s just using an example from the Old Testament and applying it to that particular situation. Pastors do this regularly in their sermons. To assume that Paul is making a doctrinal statement about women, is assuming too much, and turning this into something it’s not.
“Adam was formed first and then Eve.”
Why did Paul mention this? What happened between the time God created Adam and the time He created Eve? That’s a key to making sense out of these verses. As we see in Genesis 2:7-9,15-17, God commanded Adam not to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” Therefore, I believe the point Paul is making is that Adam received this command from God directly, while Eve apparently heard it from Adam. In other words, Adam heard it right from the Source, and so it had a greater impact on him and understood the situation better than Eve did. Therefore, “Adam was “not deceived.” On the other hand, since Eve received this command from God second hand, she was more easily deceived in this particular situation.
When Eve was lured in by the crafty words of the serpent (Satan) to partake of the forbidden tree (Ge 3:1-6), she should have talked to Adam about it first! That’s where she made her mistake. She knew that God had commanded them not to eat of the fruit of that particular tree (Ge 2:17; Ge 3:11). Therefore, she should have acted wisely and talked to Adam about this situation before she ate the fruit of that tree.
Likewise, the women in this church should have acted wisely and talked to their leaders and teachers about this teaching they were learning, to make sure they were learning according to the truth. But they didn’t do that. Like Eve, they were lured in by the crafty words of Satan (through whomever they were learning from), and like Eve, they didn’t confer with their leader-teachers before partaking of the fruit of this false teaching. They should have run this new teaching past them first.
What Paul was not suggesting is that women are more easily deceived than men, as apparently many Christians believe to be the case when they interpret this passage. Are we really to believe that women have a more natural inclination towards being deceived than men? Especially Christian women who have the same Holy Spirit to teach us as the men do? There’s no sense to that, nor is that idea taught anywhere in the New Testament. It’s been my observation throughout my lifetime that men are just as easily deceived as women are. I’m sure that’s been your experience, as well. Furthermore, there were plenty of males who were deceived and deceiving others in the early years of the church.
We now come to the most perplexing statement that Paul makes in this whole passage. Again, the interpretations are many. Verse 15:
(1 Tim 2:15) – 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control.
In order to interpret this correctly, we have to keep it in the context of Paul’s discussion. Again, I don’t believe Paul was making a doctrinal statement. He was not teaching doctrine here. He was merely using an example from the Old Testament and applying it to that particular situation. Therefore, we have to answer the question, “delivered” (saved) from what? In context, I believe Paul has to be referring to being delivered from deception and the associated consequences. That seems clear enough, but what does that have to do with “childbearing” (childbirth). Some believe Paul was referring to the childbearing of women in general, while others believe he was referring to the birth of Christ through Mary (which results in salvation through Him). I don’t believe either is in view.
I believe Paul was referring specifically to the childbearing of Eve. So now we must ask, how is one delivered from deception and its consequences through the childbearing of Eve? I believe Paul is saying that the women (or woman) who were teaching and believing false doctrine, would be delivered from its deception and consequences by learning from Eve and what happened to her. As a consequence of Eve’s deception and disobedience (“fell into transgression”), she died both spiritually and physically (eventually). God also multiplied her pain in giving birth (Ge 3:16).
Accordingly, in referring to Eve’s childbearing, the women in this church who were causing problems with their false teaching, would be saved from deception and the consequences of it, via the example of Eve. In other words, I believe Paul mentions Eve’s childbearing as a general reference to that whole event. Paraphrasing Paul: “Consider Eve and that whole situation. Consider what happened to her and learn from it.” He then adds, “if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control.” That’s the evidence of someone who has repented, experienced true salvation, is walking in true faith in Christ, walking in humble obedience to God, and submitting to those whom He has placed over them as their spiritual leaders. From my perspective, this is the only way verse 15 makes any sense.
Once the women in this church had been properly taught (learning and understanding and embracing the true teachings of Christ), then they would be allowed to lead and teach, as long as they were gifted for it, and as long as they were approved for such work.
Note: It could be that upon learning of their equality and oneness (with men) in Christ (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:11-16), there were women in that church who felt liberated. Such was not always the case in the culture of that day (and in our day too in certain parts of the world. For example, Islamic cultures). With this newfound freedom, they may have taken it too far, and began to “assume a stance of independent authority” (NET Notes above), teaching things they should not, lacking in true “faith and love and holiness with self-control.” This may have been a factor in that situation Paul was addressing.
I believe the interpretation given for this passage makes good sense, and deserves as much consideration as any other. As difficult as this passage is, it amazes me that complementarians think this passage is plainly stated and clearly understood, focusing primarily on verses 11-12. But that’s simply not true. When taken as a whole and factor in verses 13-15 (as we should), this passage is anything but plainly stated and clearly understood. The reality is, Paul didn’t make it clear what he was actually talking about, and for whatever reason, that is the way the Holy Spirit led him. Even Peter, himself an Apostle, said of Paul: “Some things in these letters are hard to understand” (2 Pe 3:16). So, we just need to do the best we can to interpret what he meant.
Five: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)
This passage is a lot easier to interpret than the one in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The explanation is also a lot shorter.
Since Paul recognizes and encourages women to prophesy (reveal God’s Word, teach) in chapter 11 and throughout this same chapter (14), we know that he cannot be prohibiting women from doing so (see Part One). That wouldn’t make any sense. Accordingly, I think the simple answer is, there were women in this church who were being disruptive, talking a lot and asking a lot of questions during the services while the God’s Word was being revealed and explained. Like the women in the church of Ephesus (1 Tim 2:11-15), they needed to submit to their leaders and learn quietly, saving their questions for their husbands at home.
It could also be (like the women in Ephesus), that they were injecting their own ideas about what was being taught. But generally, I believe the problem was that there were certain ungifted women who were being disruptive or out of order — as Paul mentions in the verse immediately before he gave this command about women being silent (1 Cor 14:33). Thus Paul was seeking to maintain proper order in the services, not prohibiting women from teaching and leading (those who were gifted for it).
Perhaps (if not likely) another factor is that there was jealousy involved with many of these women. The Corinthian church had serious pride problems, and there were many who were using their gifts for selfish reasons, and not for the edification of their fellow believers. Many of these women may have observed the giftedness (prophesying, teaching) of other women and tried to advance themselves in the eyes of others by speaking about things they had no understanding of (ungifted, untaught). Paul had to put a stop to it.
As in the Ephesian church, it’s apparent that Paul was addressing a particular situation in the Corinthian church at that time. He was not making a doctrinal statement that excludes women from teaching and leading in the local assembly of believers. It’s important to realize that Paul was likely informed about the situation in both churches, and he was instructing them about those situations.
For further reading about the gift of prophecy, I would like to encourage you to read my series on the Gifts of the Spirit, particularly my commentary on 1 Corinthians chapters 12 & 14:
Six: 1 Timothy 3:1-13 & Titus 1:5-9
Complementarians view these passages as validation of their position, because Paul states these requirements for being an overseer (elder) and deacon with men in view:
(1 Ti 3:2,12; Tit 1:6)
“one woman man”
“faithful to his wife”
“husband of one wife”
However, it’s not at all surprising that Paul does this, considering the male-dominated culture in which they lived. Furthermore, I think it’s fair to say that in every culture and in every generation it’s been mostly men who have served as leaders in the local church. It may also be true that there are, and always have been, more men than women who “aspire” to serve in this capacity. Therefore, Paul provides these requirements with the most common practice in view. Furthermore, there may have been only male leaders in these churches at that particular time. Transitions are slow.
Since we already know that Paul recognized, approved and encouraged female teaching and leadership in the local assembly, we know that he must have written this as a template for women also, where we make the adjustments as needed. I really believe it’s that simple. While nothing more really needs to be said about this, I would like to point out one thing in regard to 1 Timothy 3:5,12:
(1 Tim 3:5) – 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?
(1 Tim 3:12) – 12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households.
One of the requirements for leading as an overseer or as a deacon is that they need to be good managers of their households. I think this is important to consider, because in the same book of 1 Timothy, Paul actually identifies the wife as the manager of the home:
(1 Tim 5:14) – 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. (ESV)
Paul says that both the husband and wife are to be managers of their homes. This is a shared responsibility and a shared authority that they have, as we discussed before. This is no small detail that we must not overlook. It’s just another indication that Paul had both men and women in view when giving these requirements for church leadership.
Seven: Titus 2:4-5
(Titus 2:4-5) – 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (NIV)
I can do no better than point you to Marg Mowczko’s article on this passage, here.
I know these interpretations aren’t going to satisfy everyone (and this is still a work in progress for me), nor will everyone agree with the resulting positional conclusion. The walls of deeply held convictions don’t fall easily, especially when held for decades, as was the case with me. Once I started rethinking this whole subject, it took me years to get to the point where I was finally seeing it the way I do now. All those years I sincerely believed that I had the truth on my side. It was a matter of interpretation. It’s a matter of interpretation for those on both sides of the issue. Therefore, I want to stress the importance of extending grace and understanding to one another, realizing we both have valid reasons for believing the way we do — no matter how strongly we may disagree.
As a closing word of caution, I want to repeat what I said in the introduction: I believe a Christian can be so locked into their belief system or denomination (esp. if you’re a pastor) or seminary or network or group of friends and associates, that it’s hard to look at Scripture without a filter. It’s difficult to approach Scripture without a positional bias when there’s so much to lose. I believe this is a major hindrance to correctly learning God’s Word — something I think we’re all guilty of, one degree or another. The key is being aware of it, and being as honest with the Scriptures as we can be. We have to be willing to set everything aside and allow the truth to lead us where it wants to lead us, regardless of how it may affect our lives.
I believe women have been short-changed in opportunities to serve the Lord. I also believe that complementarian churches have missed out by not having the opportunity to hear a woman’s perspective. Women have a perspective that men don’t have. Together they can provide a balance of perspectives in both application of Scripture and in decision-making as elder-teachers. This is a benefit that Christians don’t have in those churches.
I believe women have a lot to offer by way of leadership, particularly as pastors. Personally, I may have the gift of teaching, but I lack in shepherd-giftedness. For example, my wife is a good Bible teacher, but she also has a true shepherd’s heart. She has a genuine love and compassion for others, a truly caring person. She’s an example of the type of female-shepherding that complementarian churches have missed out on. A church with a blend of male and female leaders provides a wonderful balance. I have to believe now that this is the way the Lord intended it. One of my guiding principles for living life is “balance in all things.” This is the perfect example of that.
A combination of male and female church leader-teachers removes any air of superiority between the two sexes, and promotes humility. I’ve seen this type of attitude in churches where men rule like kings. It’s not a healthy environment, and in fact, can be very toxic. I’m not saying that all male-led churches have this problem, but I know that it’s a problem in many churches. Having a shared authority removes that type of atmosphere, where everyone is respected and regarded as an equal, as one, just as Paul reveals in Galatians 3:28. Just as the husband and wife (mom and dad) provide a healthy and needed balance in the home, it serves the same purpose in the local church.
I must admit, having been a complementarian for decades, this will take some getting used to. But in all sincerity, I can’t deny what I now see in Scripture, as I’ve laid out before you in this study. This is a life-changer for me. I hope this has been as beneficial for you as it’s been for me. Even if you’re not yet convinced, I pray that you’ll at least be able to see that there’s an actual biblical basis for the egalitarian position, and that you’ll have a new respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ who hold this view.