The more I study the text of 1 Timothy 2, I am convinced that the issue of women in ministry is not a matter of who adheres to God’s Word or not, or whether one believes the Bible to be the ultimate authority or not. As a theological conservative, I believe that God’s Word is the highest authority in the land—and nothing stands taller than God’s Word. However, the issue comes down to one thing in particular—HERMENEUTICS!
Hermeneutics is defined as “the study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible).” Hermeneutics consists SOLELY of interpreting Scripture. The job of the teacher, preacher, or pastor is NOT to invent Scripture, or REWRITE what they believe the writer intended. Their job is to find the intention behind the text, and to interpret ONLY what is there.
This principle can be seen in the argument between complementarians and egalitarians over the issue of submission in the home. Ephesians 5 is the debated passage. Look at Ephesians 5: 21 (ESV):
“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Now, look at Ephesians 5:22 (ESV):
22(AR) Wives,(AS) submit to your own husbands,(AT) as to the Lord.
There are some egalitarians who look at Ephesians 5:21 (which stresses mutual submission) and they use it to argue that husbands and wives must both submit to each other—hence, men do not have any authority over their wives in the home.
However, if that’s true, what do we do with Ephesians 5:22?
On the other side, there are the complementarians who say that Ephesians 5:21 applies to a different situation than does Ephesians 5:22. How are we to interpret these two verses? They say that we should look at context, the background of the letter, the flow of thought with these two verses. Looking at Ephesians 5:21, we see that the context, the verses prior to it, vv. 19-20, show us that the context refers to a gathering of people: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The context here seems to involve “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (5:19). Ephesians 5:3 shows us that the letter is written among the saints. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul refers to “one body and one Spirit” (4:4), a reference to the body of Christ, the church. The background tells us, then, that when Paul refers to mutual submission, he is referring to the church, not the husband and wife context.
But then, in Ephesians 5:22, Paul goes into a different type of relationship—he leaves the relationship of church members and goes to the relationships common in households—husbands/wives, then parents/children (6:1-4), and masters/slaves (6:5-9).
Verse 22 reads,
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
How do we know that this submission between husband and wife is different from the mutual submission of church members? Because of verses 23 and 24:
“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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in
everything to their husbands.”
Notice that the husband is compared to Christ in the two analogies. The husband has authority over his wife as Christ has authority over His Church. Secondly, Paul gives a command to wives: “so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” In Ephesians 5:21, Paul has just exhorted the church to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” By submitting to one another in the body of Christ, we submit to Christ.
The fact that Paul compares the husband/wife team to Christ and the church and gives a command to wives (as he has just given a command to husbands right before it) indicates to us that there is a similar thought in mind regarding authority in the household as well as in the church.
As the biblical evidence shows us, there is simply no basis for the egalitarian claim regarding the household—there is “submission and love,” with the wife submitting to her husband and the husband loving his wife, possessing self-sacrificial love (with his example being Christ and His self-sacrificial love for the church).
Not only does context tell us that this interpretation is correct, but the rest of the canon does so as well. First, there is Genesis 3:16; then there is Eph. .5:22, 24; then there are Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1. This is proof from the rest of the canon of Scripture. Yes, there is also proof of mutual submission—but when this occurs, it is in the context of the Body of Christ, the Church. Notice, however, that the complementarian considers context when determining how to interpret Ephesians 5: 21, 22.
However, when complementarians arrive at 1 Timothy 2, they take a different approach all together. Instead of considering the context and background situation, the complementarian scholar instead looks at 1 Timothy 2:12 and says, “See, women can’t be pastors or preach and teach in the public assembly. Why? Because Paul said that a woman can’t have authority over a man in the church.” And they do this without even examining context or background to find out how wrong their interpretation may be. The background of chapter 2 concerns abuses in the church—men are arguing doing prayer, and women are wearing very immodest clothing, and rising up against their male instructors in service. Instead of being submissive to their authorities (in this case, their teacher), they rebel and speak so confidently (1 Tim. 1:7) about things that they don’t understand or don’t know where they came from.
I have one wish: that the complementarians would be consistent in their hermeneutical approach; that, just as they use context to defend the submission of the wife in the home, they would use context to support women teaching and preaching in the church (while learning how to deal with those whose preaching and teaching are questionable). As the saying goes, “What’s good for the GOOSE is good for the GANDER."