Since re-joining the church/ministry world last October, I find myself continually re-visiting the question of the role of women in church leadership. It’s a sensitive topic, about which many people have strong and passionate opinions. Over the course of the past year, I’ve taken to researching the topic myself via various books, email inquiries, counsel from pastors, online sources and of course (and most importantly) Scripture itself. I’ve found a wide spectrum of views on the topic, ranging everywhere from Little House on the Prairie gingham skirt-wearing conservatives to brash, ultra-feminists, bent on world domination. And of course, every color and counteroffensive in between.
My friend Jenn, pastor at Status of Discovery Church here in Orlando, recommended a book to me called “Beyond Sex Roles” by Gilbert Bilezikian. I’m only a third of the way through it, but it’s presented an interesting, thoughtful critique of gender roles, as presented in Genesis 1 and 2. I’m sort of on this Genesis kick right now (thanks to my recent bingeing on Pastor Tim Keller and his sermons on Jacob). One of the most troublesome passages regarding the role of women in the church–particularly in regard to teaching–is found in I Timothy 2:11-15, where Paul refers to the Genesis account as an illustration:
“1Let a woman learn quietly(T) with all submissiveness. 12(U) I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13(V) For Adam was formed first,(W) then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but(X) the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through(Y) childbearing—if they continue in(Z) faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (English Standard Version).
Paul appears to be advocating complete silence of women and a blanket prohibition from teaching in the gathered assembly, using the account of Adam and Eve as his trump card analysis. This mandate is pretty weighty, and although instinctively my individualistic, liberated American mind intuitively rejects what appears to be a regressive restriction, the fact of the matter remains that this text IS part of Scripture and cannot be dismissed. So what is Paul really saying?
In his book, Gilbert Bilezikian presents the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in a way I had never before considered. As Paul so often does throughout his other epistles, Paul draws upon other Scripture as an illustration for the points he is making. In this case, he draws upon the Genesis account as a basis to place particular boundaries on the mode and means of teaching within the gathered assembly. Paul argues that Adam was “formed first.” I had always read this passage to mean that because Adam was formed first, therefore the burden and responsibility of teaching must fall to Adam as being first formed and somehow superior. However, this assumption of superiority is at odds with the creation of man account as outlined in Genesis, where male and female are created in the image of God, with no hierarchy. It also contradicts the Scriptural claim that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So how does this reconcile?
Bilezikian further points out that Adam–as the first formed human–had direct access to revelation from God as described in Genesis 2. However in Genesis 2, the command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was given only directly to Adam, not Eve, though the command is meant for both of them. It is only after the God gave Adam this command did He create Eve. So according to Genesis, Eve wasn’t even around when God gave the “don’t eat from the tree” commandment.
I had never noticed that before. And there are overwhelming implications.
First, it is clear that though Eve apparently did not hear directly from God regarding this tree, she did know about the command through Adam as is evident in her conversation with the serpent: “2And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said,(B) ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” It is possible that Adam was the one who passed this knowledge onto her. And apparently it got a little warped in translation as Eve claims God said not to even “touch the fruit” although God gave no such restriction in His original conversation with Adam. Adam, being fully formed first had more direct and immediate interaction with God, whereas Eve it appears to have been secondhand information. So in this case, Adam was the “teacher.” He must have told Eve about all that God told him in regard to naming the animals, eating the fruit and vegetables and also NOT eating from the fateful tree.
Bilezikian suggest that Paul is drawing attention to this Genesis account as a basis not for hierarchy/superiority-driven view of teaching. Rather, the responsibility of teaching is based on those who are first formed and informed, a condition not necessarily gender-specific. In this case, Adam was the better informed one, more in-sync with the purposes of creation and the boundaries set forth in the Garden as a result of a personal encounter and direct revelation from God. With Eve, all of her knowledge of the tree was secondhand. So in Timothy, Paul appears to be saying Eve was susceptible to temptation and deception not because she was somehow inferior or less capable, but because her knowledge was secondhand and not shored up by a direct conversation with God. In fact, as Bilezikian points out, her feisty, logical dialogue with the serpent actually contrasts with Adam’s silent submission and complicity. If anyone should have had a fiery comeback to the serpent, it should have been Adam. But instead, Adam simply takes the fruit and eats it. The informed teacher defers to the deceived, less-informed woman, eats the fruit and as a result, ultimate tragedy strikes.
Paul makes it clear: uninformed and uneducated people have no business teaching in the general assembly. Tragedy inevitably strikes when the arrogant and unqualified assume the role of teacher and leader. In the church in Ephesus, the church in question in the Timothy epistles, was plagued by an onslaught of false teaching. Furthermore, the Ephesus church was notorious for women being outspoken and detrimental as seen in I Timothy 5:13 “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” The church in Ephesus had major problems specifically with outspoken women and false teaching, which Paul passionately addresses in this particular letter. He’s fired up. And so, he refers to Genesis to further illustrate and emphasize the weightiness of the matter.
As another aside, Bilezikian casually suggests that Eve was the forerunner for modern empiricism, utopian naturalism and hedonism, due to this single passage: ” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit(D) and ate…”
In other words, she chooses to ignore divine revelation and relies solely on what her experience and senses tell her (empiricism) and she indulges in what is immediate, pleasurable, and present (hedonism). It’s fascinating albeit extremely disconcerting to me how much this mindset is reinvented in Western culture today.
Not to mention my own life.
We might as well have all been in the Garden.
I’m not necessarily saying I agree with Bilezikian’s interpretation of this passage but it certainly is compelling and unlike any other teaching I’ve ever heard on this passage.
Food for thought, yeah?
There is totally more to come on Genesis. I’m obsessed.