In the first part of this essay we looked critically (albeit briefly) at just some of the problems inherent in the categories “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity” in the NAPARC world. Please read that introduction before reading or engaging part 2. In it, we also considered briefly the explicit teaching of Scripture that there are two sexes (not genders). We saw that the sexual differences between males and females are not arbitrary but a matter of creation, a category which is largely alien to the late-modern world, which would have us think that sexual differences are mere conventions to be deconstructed at will. As Christians we must re-learn to begin with God’s Word, with “in the beginning” instead of the politics of victimization. One of the most fundamental problems of late-modern life is the radical nominalism—for which Martin Luther is not responsible—in which we have all been catechized. Nominalism, however, is a cruel master because it denies nature, what some have called “givenness.” The only way out of our late-modern morass is to recover basic biblical categories, nature and grace. As important as nature it does not sanctify it and it cannot save us from sin and the effects of sin. It is to grace that we turn now because grace is the only way to overcome the dialectic of recrimination.
Scripture begins with two sexes (not genders) in a mutual, ordered relationship. Man was made from the earth, by God, and woman from man (Gen 2:7, 18–23). We can see for ourselves from the creation narrative that there was an order. Our sin, willfully committed against God and against his holy law introduced disorder. The curse upon sin disrupted the harmony of the relations between the sexes. Genesis 3:16 says of and to the female, “Your desire shall be for your husband ( וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ) and he shall rule over you (וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ). Whatever ambiguities there may be in this part of the narrative, it should be clear that sin corrupts the natural order and that harmony and only grace can restore it to any degree before the consummation.
It is necessary to observe and grasp both the creational order as found in Genesis 1 and 2 and how Paul applies that order. He appealed to the creational order in his instructions about how men and women are to conduct themselves in public worship (see 1 Cor 11:7–11; see also 1 Cor 14:34). He noted what we have seen, that the woman was made from man (and thus a wife is not independent of her husband, even in public worship) nor is a man independent of his wife, since men are now, after creation, born of a woman).
He turned to it again in his instruction to pastor Timothy. As in 1 Corinthians 11, he is addressing the conduct of public worship.
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Tim 2:8–15).
The parallel in vv. 8–10 is between the the virtues Paul expects of men and women. Christian men ought to worship together in peace and women in self-control and modesty. Of course it is not that men are permitted to be immodest or women violent but these are things that he had doubtless noticed (e.g., in Corinth) and, as a more experienced minister, passed on to Timothy as issues of which to be aware relative to the churches in Asia Minor.
However difficult these verses may be for our hyper-egalitarian age, v. 12 has been the place where the discussion has been focused most intensely for the last 30 years or so: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ). Again, the context for these instructions is public worship. We must not attempt to make Paul seem ridiculous by universalizing these instructions. Paul is not a Muslim and he is not teaching Sharia law. Indeed, if we compare these relatively clear verses to the some of the relatively (not absolutely) more obscure instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:13 we can infer that the command to be silent is not absolute in church since silent prayer was unusual in the ancient world. Further, Luke explicitly says that Aquila and Priscilla “explained” (ἐξέθεντο) to Apollos a better understanding of the history of redemption (Acts 18:26). Finally, whatever Paul meant by using “deacon” (διάκονον) she surely did not perform her service silently. She and other women had a significant and visible role in the church since Paul refers to her as prostatis (προστάτις), which occurs just this once in the New Testament but which, in classical usage, is used of a leader, a ruler, or a governor. She was most likely a widow who hosted a congregation in her house and was performing an important service for Paul. The word is sometimes translated as “patroness” in this context. We know that Phoebe was not alone in her service to the Lord since Paul says explicitly, ” help these women (αὐταῖς, αἵτινες), who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers (συνεργῶν), whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:3). For Paul “co-worker” is an exalted title.
However painful and difficult Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 may be for us late moderns, they are God’s Words. We dare not dismiss them as “misogynist” or “hopelessly patriarchal” as some have done. Christians are not entitled to take such a high-handed approach to holy Scripture. If we may dismiss Paul’s words here because they are inconvenient then how may we protest when others dismiss his declaration that Christ’s bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) is a fact? Such an approach to Scripture is the equivalent of setting a fire in the basement while hoping to live on the second floor. It cannot stand.
So what does Paul mean when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”? In the modern ear, after the rise of feminism (especially 2nd and 3rd wave feminism), this has been the subject of a great deal of debate, of course. The context is public worship so we may reasonably infer, as argued above, that he restricts his instructions to the sphere of public worship. E.g., I have addressed the question of women teaching Sunday School elsewhere. We must reject those approaches that seek to find a way out from under these difficult verses. E.g., there is no reasonable ground for thinking that Paul was addressing some sort of ancient and resurgent feminism in Ephesus. On this see the work of my colleague S. M. Baugh, “The Apostle Among The Amazons.” Read in context, shorn of obfuscations, Paul’s intent evidently is that females should not do what Timothy does: exercise ecclesiastical, teaching authority in the visible church. The words “I do not permit (ἐπιτρέπω) a woman (γυναικὶ) to teach (διδάσκειν) or exercise authority (αὐθεντεῖν) over a man (ἀνδρός)….” In contrast (ἀλλ᾿), she is to “remain quiet” (εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ).
Two errors are to be avoided. The first is to the temptation so to expand the exercise authority as to verge upon a Sharia-like attitude (e.g., patriarchalism). This is not Paul’s view of females generally nor of the role of women in the church. Remember, this is the same Paul taught that, in Christ, there is no “male and female” (οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ· Gal 3:28). This was categorical rejection of the way that females were regarded and treated in the Greco-Roman world. Contrary to popular reports, Paul was no misogynist but neither may we try to make him a feminist.
The other great error, as broached above, is the temptation simply to ignore this teaching as do the mainline (liberal) denominations, as some Pentecostal traditions have long done. One of the most remarkable aspects of the life and ministry of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944) is her resolute belief in God’s Word and her simultaneous and complete disregard for 1 Timothy 2:12. On this see “Magic and Noise” in Always Reformed.
It is this second error that one sees in the rhetoric of “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity.” When the podcasters spoke about qualifications for special office (e.g., elder) in the church they mocked the idea that only men are permitted to hold special office by reducing the qualifications to male anatomy. Of course, Paul has much more extensive qualifications (e.g., 1 Tim 3:1–7 for elders and vv. 8–13 for deacons). Were the offices of minister, elder, and deacon open to females they would have to meet the same high tests but Paul restricts those offices to males. Why?
He grounds his order for the church in the creational pattern we observed in Genesis 1 and 2:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:13–14).
The order in the church is not arbitrary. It is a reflection of the creational pattern. Paul here implies all that we saw in Genesis 1 and 2. There was supposed to be order and mutuality. The man was created first and the woman from man but thereafter all men are born of women so that, without them, no man can be. Even our Lord himself, whose humanity was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, was in the womb of the virgin and was born from the blessed Virgin Mary.
The Word of God is holy and inerrant. There is neither “gender apartheid” nor “toxic masculinity” in Scripture but the creational differences and order between male and female are clearly revealed, taught, and applied. The visible church is the earthly manifestation of the eschatological kingdom of God but eschatology does not wipe out nature (creation). It renews it. One of the difficulties in the current discussion is that the classical Reformed approach to nature and grace has been supplanted with the radical Anabaptist view of nature and grace, whereby grace is thought to obliterate nature. Scripture knows nothing about such a view. In the biblical and Reformed view, grace renews human nature in redemption and that renewal is manifested in sanctification, which includes obeying the order established for the visible church.