One of our readers named K wrote me to ask, “If God’s Word forbids women from teaching and exercising authority, why shouldn’t the state follow the same principle?”
This is a good and interesting question. It is made even more complicated by the fact that, in 1 Timothy 2:11–13, the Apostle grounds his teaching regarding male-female relations in creation, rather than in 613 commandments (mitzvoth). “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
If civil polity is grounded in creational norms, and Paul’s commands are grounded in the creational order, then why should they not be applied to civil polity? The reasoning seems to be airtight, but it is not as certain as it seems. The problem is in the middle premise—and the answer lies in reading the entire passage, beginning with verse 1.
First of all, Paul was writing to those who make a Christian profession. He wrote to the churches of Asia Minor (think of modern Turkey) to instruct them on a number of matters. He was not writing a charter for civil life, but he was instructing Christians and congregations on how to relate to the secular world.
The first thing Christians and congregations ought to do is to pray (v. 1). His opening instruction here lists the sorts of people for whom we are to pray, “For kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (v. 2). This emphasis on prayer, and in light of the themes that follow, many commentators see here a reference to early Christian worship services.
Second, we should note Paul’s stance to the world outside the visible church. What did the apostolic church seek? Did it seek to transform the existing civil order? No. Did it seek to institute Mosaic civil law or penalties in exhaustive detail? No. The early church sought merely to be left in peace. This theme was repeated by the post-apostolic church in the second century. Paul’s interest was not in the transformation of the existing social structures or civil realm but in the salvation of the lost. “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3–4).
Paul was “a preacher and an apostle” whose message was that there is “one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (vv. 5–7). Paul considered himself “a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (v. 7). His interest was soteriological, not social.
The ecclesiastical setting of Paul’s instruction becomes even clearer in verse 8: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” This instruction is not aimed at the world outside the church. This is the language of public worship. It is in this context that Paul issued his instructions regarding males and females. It was not a general social dictum, but the establishment of ecclesiastical order. Just as men are to pray,
women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (vv. 9–15).
Despite the important fact that Paul grounded his instruction regarding females in creation, it is evident from the context and the language of the chapter that Paul’s intent is to speak to ecclesiastical life and Christian conduct in the broader world. Paul is not giving instructions about how civil life should be structured.
There are some more general considerations. According to the Reformation understanding of the Mosaic covenant, “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require” (WCF, 19.4).
According to Paul, the Mosaic covenant, including the national civil polity, served a very specific function (Gal 3). It was intentionally temporary. It pointed to the fulfillment of the promises made to Adam and later to Abraham, that there would be a seed. Jesus Christ was that seed. With the death of Christ, the Mosaic covenant and civil polity expired.
It is clear that there was a political federalism and family federalism (wherein the husband represents the family to the civil polity and to the religious establishment) under the Mosaic covenant. That family federalism that existed in the Israelite state also expired. Attempts to preserve that family federalism is a sort of selective theocracy or theonomy or even aspects of Mosaic worship. The civil laws and ceremonial cult (i.e., sacrificial worship) were intended to be a type of Christ, were fulfilled by Christ, and have therefore expired or have been abrogated. It was on this basis that the old Reformed churches abolished musical instruments in public worship.
After the expiration of national Israel, the only charter for civil polity is that natural law that is revealed in creation, written on the conscience, and intended for use by the civil magistrate. This much is evident in Romans 13. Paul did not qualify submission to the magistrate on the basis of the magistrate’s adherence to Mosaic law. The magistrate’s authority is derived from God (Rom 13:1). The magistrate’s function is to enforce the law (not to administer grace). Civil life is a covenant of works (law), not a covenant of grace (unmerited favor). The church, the kingdom of God, is the institution to which the means of grace and the proclamation of the gospel and church discipline has been entrusted.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
- Subscribe To The Heidelblog!
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- What Must A Christian Believe?
- Heidelblog Contributors
- Resources On The Twofold Kingdom
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button or send a check to
Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization