But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
–1 Tim 2:12, KJV
While researching for yesterday’s post I came across a complementarian controversy regarding the NIV translation of 1 Tim 2:12 back in 2010. Denny Burk, who has since gone on to assume the role of CBMW president, strongly objected to a change of a single word in the NIV’s translation of the verse. The 1984 and 2002 NIV translations were:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
But in 2005 the NIV changed “have authority” to “assume authority”:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;1,2 she must be quiet.
Burk smells a rat, as he sees this as feminist translators at the NIV opening the door for churches to ordain women and place them in leadership roles over men. He sees this as encouraging churches to read this only as a prohibition of the woman assuming the authority of her own decision, leaving open the option for churches to place her into a position of authority.
Dr. Douglass Moo of the NIV translation team appeared in the comments to defend the change, arguing that the phrase assume authority can be read multiple ways.
As one of the NIV translators, let me just make four comments….
Third, the footnotes were dropped in the updated NIV simply because the translators believed that “assume authority” could be taken in either direction. We often use this phrase in a neutral way (e.g., “When will the new President assume authority”?).
What is so strange about all of this is that complementarians gutted this verse of nearly all meaning decades ago. What we see here is merely fighting for the scraps. If complementarians hadn’t gutted the verse of nearly all of its meaning, the controversy over “have” vs “assume” would not really matter. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy that women were not to teach, and they were not to have authority over men. In 1991 the founders of the CBMW decided to abandon the long accepted meaning of this verse for a feminist friendly interpretation. The new CBMW interpretation claimed that all Paul was prohibiting was women having authority over men in the church. The claim was that when Paul wrote women were not to teach, he really meant teach men, because teaching men meant assuming authority over men. To get here they had to entirely ignore the last part of the verse:
…she must be silent
Moreover, they had to torture the verse that immediately follows, which explains why women are not permitted to teach nor to hold authority over men. Paul explains in 1 Tim 2:14 that it was Eve who was deceived. The CBMW recognized that the traditional (and obvious) reading of 1 Tim 2:14 was that women were more prone to being deceived than men, but they didn’t like that reading because it meant that clearly Paul was saying women couldn’t teach/preach. They came up with a new feminist friendly interpretation, claiming that when Paul mentioned Eve being deceived what he really meant was that Adam was created first:
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…
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).”
When I laid out the CBMW argument for women preaching in March of 2016, many of my readers liked the CBMW’s claim that women are permitted to preach to other women. However, none of these same readers could bring themselves to swallow the CBMW’s absurd rational for coming to this conclusion. They liked the reading because it would feel weird not to allow women to preach to women, but they could not bring themselves to defend the CBMW’s argument as to why Paul wasn’t telling women to remain silent (not teach) when he said they were to remain silent.
Paul says women are not to teach three different ways in the segment of Scripture in question:
11A womana should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;b she must be quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
If there was any question over what Paul meant when he said women were not to teach, the fact that he opens and closes by saying women are to remain quiet should settle all doubt. And again, verse 14 also removes all doubt by explaining that it was Eve who was deceived. Lastly, after explaining what women should not be doing (preaching, leading the church), Paul explains what women should be focused on (having and raising babies). Paul couldn’t have been more clear, but complementarians want to read this as feminist empowerment so badly they came up with an absurd and novel interpretation.
One thing feminsts never tire of reminding us is that the accepted roles of men and women were very different in the patriarchal ancient world. This fact ironically is yet another piece of incontrovertible evidence that Paul was telling Timothy that women were not to preach. How else would you expect the men of the ancient world to interpret verse 14, but to see it as an explanation that women are more easily deceived? Grudem and Piper’s novel interpretation only makes sense if you assume Paul only expected his first century letter to Timothy to be understood two thousand years later! The whole argument is nonsense, which is why everyone in favor of women preaching to women wants to avoid defending it.
Ironically, when Grudem and Piper wanted to advance this radical, feminist friendly interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12, the man they brought in to make the case is the same man who leads the NIV translation team, Dr. Douglass Moo. As Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition pointed out at the time, this is a debate not between complementarian and feminist scholars, but between different factions of complementarian scholars:
Craig Blomberg and Doug Moo, for example, maintain that the NIV rendering does not tip the scales one way or the other. Their goal was to stay neutral and bow to no theological agenda.
Blomberg and Moo are among evangelicalism’s best scholars (and complementarians too).
Yet complementarians like Burk have to fight this last remaining battle with their fellow complementarians, because having gutted the verse twenty five years ago, the question of “have” vs “assume” is all complementarians have left. Having swallowed a camel, they are forced to strain for gnats. Complementarians already claim that Paul meant women can be preachers when he said they were not to teach, and instead were to remain silent. Complementarians accept women as preachers, not just preaching to women, but preaching to men. All that is left of this shredded Scripture from the complementarian perspective is the question of whether women can be ordained as preachers.
As Dr. John Piper explains, it is fine for Beth Moore to be a preacher. It is even fine for her to preach to men. But according to Piper, Paul didn’t want Beth’s preaching to compromise her and her audience’s manhood and womanhood:
The Bible is clear that women shouldn’t teach and have authority over men. In context, I think this means that women shouldn’t be the authoritative teachers of the church—they shouldn’t be elders. That is the way Rick Warren is understanding it, and most of us understand it that way.
This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from a woman, or that she is incompetent and can’t think. It means that there is a certain dynamic between maleness and femaleness that when a woman begins to assume an authoritative teaching role in your life the manhood of a man and the womanhood of a woman is compromised.