One of the most “controversial” topics in the new testament appears in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, when Paul addresses the subject of a woman’s public role in the church. Through the last half of the twentieth century, and especially now, in the twenty-first, much of western society has recoiled in disgust from the very idea that there could or should be any distinction at between the roles of men and women within the church. Liberal protestantism led the way in asserting that the bible must be changed, reinterpreted, or – “if necessary” – simply ignored, to insure that women are both allowed and encouraged to fulfill every conceivable position and responsibility that exists in the church. Paul’s words in verses 11-12 prescribe “quietness” (not abject silence – that would prohibit even singing or making the good confession). They also expressly withhold permission for Christian women to assume roles of teaching or leadership authority. The Greek words rendered as “usurp authority” (in the KJV) – which denote the ideas of command and domination – are now usually dismissed as being merely a “cultural thing” which modern society has “outgrown,” or sometimes they are discounted with the accusation that Paul was a misogynist who should be ignored on this subject.
We should note here, however, that Paul does not simply offer these directives with no explanation for them, nor does he in any way imply that differences in the public roles of Christian men and women signify differences in “worth” or “citizenship status” in the Lord’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit’s inspired “reasoning” for the differences here is rooted in the orderliness of God’s creation, NOT in cultural customs or notions of “male vs. female worth” (vs. 13). Verse 14 is one of the very few passages in scripture that takes note of the fact that Eve actually preceded Adam in experiencing sin, the fact that she was deceived by Satan in the garden (a point that does not flatter Adam, since it seems to imply that he fully understood that he was knowingly violating God’s commandment, even as he was sinning). Paul’s instructions to Christian women, therefore, have nothing to do with whether they are “capable” of filling public leadership roles, or of effectively teaching men in a public way: Rather, they have everything to do with whether or not Christian sisters are authorized to do these things (and they are not). On a purely practical level, were Christian women permitted by God to be elders or deacons, to do all the “public leadership” things assigned to men, very few men would ever reach for such responsibilities. Don’t believe me? How many fathers leave the bulk of child-rearing responsibilities to their wives, despite the explicit instruction found in Ephesians 6:4?
The points we need to see in this matter are these: First, differences in the responsibilities God has assigned for men and women in the church have nothing to do with differences in ability. To suggest that Christian women are not as capable of deep, serious bible study and understanding, and as capable of effective teaching, encouraging and leading as their brothers is to ignore the evidence found in most congregations, where the best, most knowledgeable bible students are almost uniformly found among the older women. Second, the fact that men and women have “different” public responsibilities in the church proves only that we are different (not “unequal,” nor “unfair,” nor “underprivileged,” nor “less- or more-important:” Simply different, just as men and women are not “interchangeable”). To argue with the Holy Spirit’s instructions because we don’t like what He said, or to ignore His words because we “don’t see the point” of them, is to diminish God. Jesus was very plain when He said, “…If ye continue in MY word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, emphasis mine, DR). God neither asked our opinion nor offered us a “vote” on this matter.