“This principle of male headship reaches from God’s creation of the man first (Gen. 2:7), to his holding the first man accountable for humanity’s sin (Gen. 3:9-12), to the ancient Israelite practice of ‘patricentrism,’ to the all-male Levitical priesthood in Old Testament Israel, to Jesus’ choice of twelve men as his apostles, to Paul’s teaching that men bear ultimate responsibility and authority for the church (1 Tim. 2:12)” (Margaret E. Kostenberger, “Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is?” pp. 33-34).
Throughout this series here at “Men and Women in the Church,” I’ve spent time examining Kostenberger’s so-called “Justifications for a Patriarchal Hermeneutic.” I will continue this series again today with yet another reason why Kostenberger believes that men should be the only ones in leadership in the church: “Men bear ultimate responsibility and authority for the church (1 Tim. 2:12)” (34).
Let’s go to this chapter and see if the so-called complementarian argument holds up. Does Paul really teach for women to stay out of leadership positions in the church?
If you examine 1 Timothy 2, you’ll find that the context of the chapter involves Paul writing the church to CORRECT ABUSES. Notice that Paul begins the chapter with the words, “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made FOR ALL PEOPLE…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life…” (1 Tim. 2:1-2, ESV). I only quoted the above portions of the two verses because most people seem to think this has something to do with just “authority”. However, these verses prove otherwise. Paul didn’t just want those in high positions to lead a quiet and peaceful life—he wanted everyone under the umbrella of Christ to lead a quiet and peaceful life.
He then goes on to say something interesting in verse 3: “This is GOOD, and IT IS PLEASING IN THE SIGHT OF GOD OUR SAVIOR…” It is not just a good thing—it actually pleases God! God actually desires all believers to lead a peaceful and quiet life, a life without constant division and dissention. Paul tells the believers at Ephesus that if they wanna know how to please God, then they should learn what God desires—quietness, peace, serenity. God is not pleased when the church lives like a country club, maintains twelve different cliques, and pits one family against another.
So to be in Christ, to be unified, is pleasing to God (pleases God). Why does it please God? Because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v.4). Paul’s words here tell us something about the character of God: He wants us to lead a “peaceful, quiet life” in a “godly and dignified” way. Yes, our lives should be peaceful and quiet, but they should also be marked by godliness. Everything that we do as believers in Christ should line up with God’s standard as set forth in His Word.
Beginning with verse 8, Paul gives us his desires for the believers at Ephesus: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands WITHOUT ANGER OR QUARRELING…” What we find here from the apostle Paul is instruction on how they should live as believers together. The men should not argue and raise their voices and fists up at each other during their times of prayer.
“Likewise 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, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—WITH GOOD WORKS” (vv.9-10).
Let’s look at Paul’s rhetoric. What does the word “respectable” mean? the word “respectable” means “decent” and “upright.” So Paul tells the women to wear DECENT clothing. Then, he distinguishes what he means by “respectable” apparel—not expensive clothing or that which matches the status quo, but “good works.” Godliness is what is most respectable to God. A person can wear all the nicest, most expensive, name-brand attire to church, but that doesn’t make them any closer to godliness than the person who barely has shoes to put on their feet. Respectability to God is not measured in the same way society measures it. Paul has to clarify this for the women at Ephesus.
Paul ends verse 10 with the emphasis on “good works.” Then he goes into what “good works” would consist of—
11Let 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. (vv. 11-12)
First, the women should learn “quietly” with full submission. Notice that at the beginning of the chapter, in verses 1 and 2, Paul prayed for the people AND high leaders to lead a “peaceful and quiet life.” He’s reiterating this again with the women. They are to learn “quietly,” to pay attention to what they are being taught.
But then, Paul goes into another contrast: Just as they are to wear “godliness” and not focus on lavish dress, so now are they instructed to learn and DISCOURAGED from teaching or speaking that which is false.
I have covered the rest of the exegesis of this passage in other posts in my section on “1 Timothy 2.” What I wanted to do for the reader here is set up the flow of Paul’s argument. Paul ends here with telling the women that they should concern themselves with “good works.” Good works would include learning and the Word, but NOT in teaching something contrary to it.
I want the reader to look at something. The ENTIRE CONTEXT of 1 Timothy 2 consists of abuses that Paul is writing to correct, not a letter on who should and shouldn’t serve in church leadership. His section on church leadership doesn’t come until the following chapter; and in 1 Timothy 3, Paul INCLUDES women in leadership. Place 1 Timothy 3 (including women) in your head alongside of Acts 6, where the first male deacons are chosen. NO WOMEN were chosen then—but Paul adds the female to the diaconate in 1 Timothy 3.
The context tells us that if the issue involves church problems, then Paul would not have written something about being “in authority” in this passage. Paul would have written that in the section on church leadership. This is why Michael Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller, in their “A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament” (2008), translate the word “authentein” as coming from the word “authenteo,” meaning “to dictate to” (page 398)—not as complementarians translate it (“to have authority” or “to be in authority”). Burer and Miller translate the verb ‘authentein’ as ‘to dictate to’ because there is a problem going on with the women in the congregation. This seems to match the rest of the chapter, where Paul first discusses leading a “peaceful and quiet life,” as well as the women having “modesty and self-control,” wearing “respectable apparel,” and “professing godliness with good works.”
There is nothing here that teaches male headship in the church. The only way to make male headship “appear” in 1 Timothy 2 is to “make” it up. However, I caution complementarians: to do so might fit your presuppositions, but it’s not “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).