Let’s talk about some of the hardest verses in the Bible, and by that we mean the verses that say women cannot serve in the office of elders and of pastor. Why does the Bible make this restriction? Is it good? Is it bad? Does this restriction treat women as lesser than men?
The best way to interpret the Bible is with the Bible itself, and for this question we want to turn to 1 Timothy 2:8-14. So what does Paul say in 1 Timothy 2 about women and the position of elders in the church? In this passage, Paul gives two reasons for his command; two reasons why women cannot be elders:
The first is an argument from creation (1 Timothy 2:13).
In this verse, Paul alludes to Genesis 2. If you recall in Genesis 2, God creates Adam first. Adam is Hebrew for “man.” So God created the man first then the woman. What is the point behind this? Keeping in mind that Genesis 2 ends in marriage, since God created the man first, the man is appointed as the spiritual head in marriage. Adam was given spiritual authority in his marriage with Eve. God would hold him accountable for the well-being of his family. This is the significance behind Adam being created first. Now this does not mean that Adam, and every subsequent male, is more valuable than women. Not even close. Both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. All men and women are equal in value, dignity, and worth. God says that in Genesis chapter 1, verse 26.
Now, at the exact same time that Adam and Eve are equal in value, they still have different roles. Though men and women are equal in God’s eyes, God still assigns different roles to them, and that is not bad. A difference in role does not imply that women are inferior to men. We know that is true because Jesus submits to the Father. Jesus, though He is equal to the Father in essence and dignity, He submits to the Father. So please understand this: a difference in role does not mean inferiority. God has appointed men and women to have different roles in the family and in the church. Outside of the family and the church, it is a different conversation. But in the home and in the local church, God has assigned men and women different roles. This is Paul’s argument from creation.
The second argument comes from the Fall (1 Timothy 2:14).
This is another difficult verse. Paul is in no way saying that Eve was deceived because she was less intelligent. Eve was not more gullible than Adam. Sadly, that is how many churches teach this. We have read many books saying that women are more prone to sin than men. That is not true. Rather, the point behind this verse is how God’s appointed roles were overturned. You see, Satan attacked God’s design for the marriage. Instead of approaching the spiritual leader, instead of approaching Adam, the serpent went to Eve. Satan intentionally did that.
Now check this out: Adam let it happen. Adam went passive and allowed the serpent to talk to his wife. Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam was with Eve. So Adam failed in his responsibility as the spiritual leader. Moreover, Eve failed by assuming the role of spiritual leader. She could have said, “Serpent, talk to my husband.” She could have said, “Adam, should we be listening to this snake?” But she did not do that. Instead, she assumed the role of leader, she listened to the serpent, and she acted.
Do you see how God’s design for the marriage was subverted? Do you see how God’s appointed roles for Adam and Eve were overturned? The Fall shows the disastrous consequences of the role reversal that occurred in Eden. Now we know that Adam was the spiritual head because what happened after they disobeyed God. Who did God come to first after they sinned? He went to Adam. God went to Adam because Adam was responsible. Adam was the spiritual leader and it happened on his watch. That is why the Bible attributes the Fall to Adam. Do you see?
To sum up: when we talk about the issue of women and elders, we are really talking about what God intended and what Satan tore apart.
We are not talking about women’s capabilities or intellect or anything like that. This is not a verse about who is better or who is dumber. We hope you understand that. In these verses, Paul aims to highlight the different roles that men and women have in marriage and in the church. These are in display in creation and in the Fall. Does that make sense?
Now we won’t dive into verse 15, which not surprising, is another difficult verse to interpret. But for now, we want to emphasize that Paul implicitly highlights the uniqueness of womanhood in this passage too.
In the same breath that 1 Timothy 2 prohibits female eldership, it also affirms the uniqueness of women.
Look at 1 Timothy 2:15, which talks about how Eve will be saved in childbearing (think back to Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that through Eve’s offspring the serpent will be crushed). In verse 15, Paul highlights the unique role that women have. You see, only women can give birth. That is unique to them and God made it that way. God intentionally made men and women different. They are equal in value, dignity, and worth, but they have different roles, particularly, in marriage and in the church.