11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
— 1 Tim 2:11-15 KJV
A number of commenters have argued that Mary Kassian’s preaching is biblical because she is only preaching to other women. This does seem to be a widely accepted (modern) view, and is the complementarian/CBMW view as well. Yet while this is widely accepted, it is surprisingly difficult to find clear exegetical arguments for this claim.
Note: For the purpose of this post, the kind of teaching I am interested in is preaching and explaining Scripture. Titus 2 encourages older women to teach younger women to be good wives, mothers, and homemakers, and this is not the kind of teaching I am focused on in this post.
My initial guess was that this was based on an assumption that “over the man” in 1 Tim 2:13 above applied both to authority and to teaching. By this reading, the Apostle Paul wasn’t restricting women from teaching in general, but restricting women from teaching men. Yet the way all translations I’ve seen render this verse it seems the more plain reading would be that women are not to teach and they are also not to have authority over men. More importantly, the verses immediately prior and following strongly point in this same direction. Prior to 1 Tim 2:12 Paul is saying women are to be silent and in subjection/submission. After the verse he offers two reasons women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men. The first reason is that Adam was created first; this explains why Adam is the leader and not Eve, and why women are not to have authority over men. The second reason offered is that Eve was the one who was deceived, not Adam; this explains why women are not to teach. If the reason women aren’t to teach is that they are more easily deceived, there is no reason to believe it is less dangerous to have women teaching women than having women teaching men. Indeed, it would only be more dangerous to have the easily deceived teaching the easily deceived.
In search of the source of the argument.
But it could be that there is a better argument than the one I’m assuming, so I went to the 1991 book edited by Drs. John Piper and Wayne Grudem of the CBMW: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. The link is to a PDF file on the CBMW site, so I urge you to check it out and make sure I haven’t missed something. Alternately, for those who want the short version, you can skip to the summary and conclusion at the bottom of this post.
In Chapter 2 Grudem and Piper offer a sort of FAQ, and question 28 on page 66 touches on the topic. They explain that contrary to the historical reading of 1 Timothy 2:14, they don’t think Paul was saying Eve was more easily deceived. They instead have a new theory that they are “attracted to”. In this new theory, Paul is merely referring again to the creation order, reiterating what he just said in 1 Timothy 2:13:
28. Do you think women are more gullible than men?
First Timothy 2:14 says, “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” Paul gives this as one of the reasons why he does not permit women “to teach or have authority over a man.” Historically this has usually been taken to mean that women are more gullible or deceivable than men and therefore less fit for the doctrinal oversight of the church. This may be true (see question 29). However, we are attracted to another understanding of Paul’s argument. We think that Satan’s main target was not Eve’s peculiar gullibility (if she had one), but rather Adam’s headship as the one ordained by God to be responsible for the life of the garden. Satan’s subtlety is that he knew the created order God had ordained for the good of the family, and he deliberately defied it by ignoring the man and taking up his dealings with the woman. Satan put her in the position of spokesman, leader, and defender. At that moment both the man and the woman slipped from their innocence and let themselves be drawn into a pattern of relating that to this day has proved destructive.
If this is the proper understanding, then what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:14 was this: “Adam was not deceived (that is, Adam was not approached by the deceiver and did not carry on direct dealings with the deceiver), but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (that is, she was the one who took up dealings with the deceiver and was led through her direct interaction with him into deception and transgression).”
In this case, the main point is not that the man is undeceivable or that the woman is more deceivable; the point is that when God’s order of leadership is repudiated it brings damage and ruin. Men and women are both more vulnerable to error and sin when they forsake the order that God has intended.
By their logic when Paul says “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” what he means is that Adam should have been the one who was deceived, but Eve took this honor from him. This is a very strange, I would argue tortured, reading of the verse. While they admit that this is not the traditional reading, their only argument in its favor is that they find it attractive. They don’t explain why they find it attractive, but it should be obvious why this new interpretation is attractive in our feminist age. But this points to another glaring flaw in their argument. If what they are saying is true, Paul was wording his message in a way that was extremely likely to be misunderstood in the ancient world. As feminists like to remind us, when the Paul sent the letter to Timothy the culture wasn’t as “enlightened” as it is now regarding women. Clearly Paul would have expected contemporary readers to have understood him as saying women were more easily deceived. This of course explains why this was the traditional reading. But why would Paul word his letter to Timothy in such a way that the “real meaning” wouldn’t be apparent until 2000 years later, following the women’s liberation movement?
All of this is at the core of the matter, because as I will show their assumption of what Paul meant here is the foundation of the CBMW view that women are permitted to preach to women. If you don’t accept their argument that Paul meant Adam was created first when he wrote Eve was the one who was deceived, you have to reject their conclusion that Paul was only forbidding women from teaching men.
Enter Dr. Douglass Moo
There is a full chapter in the book devoted to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 written by Dr. Douglass Moo: “What does it mean not to teach or have authority over men?” Dr. Moo breaks the verses down in great detail, and on page 181 he addresses the question of what kind of teaching this Scripture is talking about. He concludes that the kind of teaching Paul is referring to is preaching, as well as some Bible studies:
In light of these considerations, we argue that the teaching prohibited to women here includes what we would call preaching (note 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word . . . with careful instruction” [teaching, didache ̄]), and the teaching of Bible and doctrine in the church, in colleges, and in seminaries. Other activities-leading Bible studies, for instance-may be included, depending on how they are done. Still others-evangelistic witnessing, counseling, teaching subjects other than Bible or doctrine-are not, in our opinion, teaching in the sense Paul intends here.
This is exactly the type of teaching Kassian is doing, and it fits with my reading of the text; I wouldn’t read it as being in contradiction to the kind of teaching Paul urges women to do in Titus 2:3-5:
3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
There is an obvious difference between urging younger women to live as submissive wives and homemakers, and preaching or otherwise explaining the meaning of Scripture.
Next Moo tackles the core question; does this prohibit women from preaching to other women, or just prohibit them from preaching to men? Moo makes an astonishingly weak argument. All he argues is that you can read the verse either way, and then claims that Titus 2:3-4 indicates that Paul must have intended to allow women to preach to women:
C. Is Every Kind of Teaching Prohibited, Or Only Teaching of Men?
Is Paul prohibiting women from all teaching? We do not think so. The word man (andros), which is plainly the object of the verb have authority (authentein), should be construed as the object of the verb teach also. This construction is grammatically unobjectionable, 16 and it alone suits the context, in which Paul bases the prohibitions of verse 12 on the created differences between men and women (verse 13). Indeed, as we have argued, this male/female differentiation pervades this passage and comes to direct expression in the word that immediately precedes verse 12, submission. Paul’s position in the pastoral epistles is, then, consistent: he allows women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4), 17 but prohibits them to teach men.
His claim that this is required to make the verse consistent with Titus 2 doesn’t make sense, because he already stated that this is about preaching and teaching doctrine, not about urging other women to be good mothers and wives. This leaves us with the endnotes 16 and 17 (in red above), but here he merely reiterates the same uncompelling arguments:
16. Despite Payne’s objections (“Surrejoinder,” pp. 107-108), Acts 8:21 is a valid illustration of the point at issue: that two words, connected by oudé (“nor”), can both depend on an object that follows the second only. The nature of the relationship of the two words and the fact that the object takes the case demanded by the second word only is immaterial. On the latter point, see Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920), who notes specifically that in such cases the object will take the case demanded by the nearer verb (p. 1634). Payne objects further that the word order with teach separated from man by six words militates against construing them together. But not only is Greek word order notoriously flexible in such areas, but Paul has probably thrust teach forward in the sentence for the sake of an emphatic contrast with learn in verse 11: “Let the women learn, but, as for teaching. . . . “
17. The purpose clause in Titus 2:4, “in order that they might train young women to love their husbands . . .,” shows that the “teaching” of verse 3 is restricted to teaching young women.
This ends Moo’s formal argument in the chapter on the specific question of women being allowed to preach to women. However, later in the chapter (P 185) he addresses some feminist arguments that the verses are specific to a small group of women in Ephesis who were teaching false doctrines, and don’t apply in general. In the course of arguing against this feminist position, Moo addresses the reading that Piper and Grudem explained had until our feminist age been the standard reading (emphasis mine):
If the issue, then, is deception, it may be that Paul wants to imply that all women are, like Eve, more susceptible to being deceived than are men, and that this is why they should not be teaching men! While this interpretation is not impossible, we think it unlikely. For one thing, there is nothing in the Genesis accounts or in Scripture elsewhere to suggest that Eve’s deception is representative of women in general. But second, and more important, this interpretation does not mesh with the context. Paul, as we have seen, is concerned to prohibit women from teaching men; the focus is on the role relationship of men and women. But a statement about the nature of women per se would move the discussion away from this central issue, and it would have a serious and strange implication. After all, does Paul care only that the women not teach men false doctrines? Does he not care that they not teach them to other women? More likely, then, verse 14, in conjunction with verse 13, is intended to remind the women at Ephesus that Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden (Genesis 3:13) precisely in taking the initiative over the man whom God had given to be with her and to care for her.
It is strange that Moo only addresses this off hand as he does, since it is central to the question of whether Paul meant women should not preach at all, or women should not preach to men. By omitting this above, he failed to address what Piper and Grudem explain is the traditional reading. Moreover, his dismissal is even weaker than the rest of his assertions. He says that nowhere in Genesis or the NT is it implied that women are in general more easily deceived than men, but this isn’t true. Paul is after all stating this in the very verse in question! Moo offers his denial of this traditional reading as proof that it isn’t so. In addition, Paul warns of the same susceptibility for deception in 2 Tim 3:6-7. Moo’s second (circular) argument is that it can’t be that Paul is saying women are more easily deceived, because we already know that Paul wasn’t restricting women from preaching to women. How do we know Paul wasn’t prohibiting women from preaching to women? Because Paul was not saying women are more easily deceived. He is offering his conclusion as evidence for his argument.
However, note that Moo does agree with me on one point; if Paul really does mean in 1 Tim 2:14 that women are more susceptible to being deceived, this means that Paul is forbidding women from preaching to both men and women in 1 Tim 2:12.
- Piper and Grudem acknowledge that the traditional reading of 1 Tim 2:14 is that women are more easily deceived.
- Piper and Grudem offer no real argument against the traditional reading, but explain that they are “attracted to” a new more feminist friendly reading of the passage which assumes Paul was merely talking about creation order when he explained that Adam was not deceived but Eve was.
- The expert Piper and Grudem selected to explain the CBMW reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 acknowledges that if the traditional reading of 1 Tim 2:14 is correct, Paul means to prohibit women from teaching both women and men in 1 Tim 2:12.
I can only conclude Piper, Grudem, and Moo don’t have a compelling argument for their modern interpretation of Scripture regarding women preaching to women. If they had a compelling argument, I can not see why they refused to share it in this book. What seems to have happened is somewhere along the line conservative Christians caved on this issue without ever really putting up a fight, and now everyone knows this is what the Scripture means without understanding just what they are buying into. Piper, Grudem, and the CBMW are at best moderates in the fight against Christian feminist rebellion, and when they ceded this ground there was no one left who was willing to point out the gaping holes in the feminist reinterpretation of this Scripture.
There is however another issue here aside from conservative Christians caving on the question of whether women are permitted to preach to women. Just as important is the question of what a lack of prohibition in this regard means. Conservative Christians haven’t just rolled over on whether having women to preach to women is prohibited; they have jumped far past that to the claim that women must preach to women. I will cover this second issue in future posts.