Reprise: Women’s Role In The Church—A Consequence Of The Fall

A question on Facebook stirred up the discussion about a woman’s role in the Church and home. Apparently there are two distinct schools of thought: egalitarianism and complementarianism. I’ll be honest. Much of the time I don’t pay attention to the debate. To me Scripture is clear and I’m not the least offended that God saw fit to give me the role as “not spiritual head.”

But some people come at this from a different perspective. My conviction is to see what God’s word says on the subject. A few years back I did some study of one particularly clear passage of Scripture which not only says women are not to be pastors but gives reasons why. So I’m reprising the article (with a little editing) that came out of that study:

I recognize that I am out of step with my culture (like the poor woman in the picture above, off by herself). It’s not an easy condition. I’d much rather be part of the “in crowd,” but reality is, Christianity is counter cultural. One of the things that makes us so is that we believe in grace. We don’t believe we earn our way into God’s kindly treatment of us. We believe that we do not merit His love or forgiveness or the hope of heaven, that we receive His favor only because He loves us and chose to give us what we cannot obtain for ourselves.

Another point that separates us, especially from those shaped by postmodern thought, is that we believe God spoke authoritatively through men of old, a process we refer to as inspiration. The Bible is the result, and we hold it to be God’s public declaration about His person, His work, His plan in the world.

Because it is from God and about God, we aren’t free to pick and choose what parts we like, which things we agree with and want to follow. That means we take the hard things (e.g. “I am the Potter, you are the clay”) along with the easy things (e.g. “I love you with an everlasting love.”)

One thing that has surfaced in the last fifty years as a hard thing for some people is the statement in several places in Scripture that men, not women, are to be in the role of pastor-teacher in the Church. 1 Timothy 2 goes so far as to give some explanation as to why God has ordained men to this role instead of women. One reason is simply the order of creation. The other has to do with Eve’s part of the Fall of Humankind.

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim. 2:14)

The Holy Spirit, through the human author of the letter, then alludes to the punishment God gave Eve as a result of her part of bringing sin into the world.

As a reminder, this is what God told Eve:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

The first part we have no trouble understanding. And the last part seems all too clear. But what about that “your desire will be for your husband”?

Before I continue, let me point out something that might slide by unnoticed. Before the Fall, there apparently was no husband head or ruler of woman. Adam describe Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God said they were to cleave to one another. Apart from the created order, there was a unity, a bond that did not subjugate either person. But then sin …

But back to this troublesome “desire will be for your husband” line. I’ve heard some say this referred to her sexual desire, tying it to the pain in childbearing issue. I mean, since women are to experience such pain, the logical answer would be simply to not have children. Except, this thinking goes, there is this desire she has for her husband.

It’s a possibility. Of course the reality seems to be that the desire is more on the side of the husband than on the side of the wife.

I think another possibility is to understand the phrase in light of what follows. “He will rule over her” … but now her desire will be to rule over him. It’s a possibility because the word which means desire, longing, craving is also used of a beast to devour. I take the latter to mean the way a hungry lion tears into a gazelle he’s just brought down.

So the woman’s desire in that connotation would be to stalk a man and tear him from limb to limb!

OK, that’s not a nice picture of women, I agree. But neither is the picture of women wanting to take charge and rule men. Truth be told, sin does not make us nice people.

There’s one more piece to this puzzle. Back in 1 Timothy 2, there’s one of the most troublesome verses in Scripture, at least for women:

But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (1 Tim. 2:15)

What?

But notice, this verse follows right after the one stating that women are not to be pastor-teachers because of Eve’s deception leading to transgression. The Holy Spirit seems to be answering the question, This mess we’re in because of Eve, is there hope?

But what mess? We have the same sin nature as men and are saved by grace just as they are. Childbearing certainly doesn’t save women from the pain of childbearing. And anyway, the subject is who is to have the role of teacher in the church. So it seems to me, taking Genesis 3:16 with 1 Timothy 2:15, that childbearing— being the role of women exclusively—nullifies the something in us that wants to countermand the consequence of sin: that man would rule.

In the sixties when women were “liberated” and childbearing could be regulated to a degree, women then did begin exerting this very desire to be in control. The unique role God gave to women, we undermined.

I could be all wrong in my understanding of these verses, but honestly, I don’t see a Biblical reason why this interpretation isn’t viable. And it seems to fit the facts.

All of that to say, the gender issues of today are a result of sin. But maybe that’s self-evident.

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14 Comments

  1. Well said. I agree with all the points you’ve made and the scriptural references. Another reason it is good for men to be in ministry rather than women, is because women have so many jobs within a family, within a church and to have one job that is specific to men, that is their responsibility seems only fair. We want men aspiring to leadership and we want men drawing other men into the church. If those roles are being filled by women, than where are the men serving? The very fact that men are not leading within a church implies they have something better to do with themselves.

    Something I find interesting, many people think these views are regressive, patriarchal, that these rules were written when women had few rights culturally. In the context of the early church however, that wasn’t true at all. The whole world was filled with goddess worshipping cults and priestesses. To NOT have women in ministry was actually radical, new, progressive. At the time, it was counter cultural and unusual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point, IB. My friend Sally said something similar (from the woman’s perspective) in that Facebook debate: ” If women are doing what men are called to do, who is doing what women are called to do? God didn’t make women lesser beings. Women are important. And women are to preach and teach. But to whom? And if they aren’t teaching their intended students, who is? If Christian women don’t teach the younger women who does? Who fills that empty pulpit? Feminist college professors?”

      I don’t know the hearts of the women who preach. I just know what Scripture says, and it seems perfectly aligned with what I observe and study in the world.

      The fact that all this “woman needs to preach” business only surfaced as a serious and wide-ranging issue after birth control pills and the legalization of abortion should at least make us wonder if, perhaps, this shift toward “egalitarianism” isn’t at least in part man made.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll be honest with you. I’ve always considered myself a complementarian but lately I’ve followed a blog of a minister who is a female, well educated in biblical studies, and the problems she’s encountered in her journey as a pastor. Some of the points she makes in regards to some of passages you mention are rather intriguing. The problem I have is that I hold a soft complementarian view of women in church leadership. I’ve only preached one time in my life many years ago. It is my one and only sermon. I was not called to preach by any means.

    Yet, we cannot neglect those women who say that God has called them to preach. Women who are more educated than their male counterparts but being told that because they’re female they have no say-so in church leadership.

    I had a woman on my show who is a minister. I believe she’s getting her doctorate in one of the categories of biblical studies, I can’t remember which one. And she talked a lot about the history and culture of the scriptures during the time Paul wrote some of these epistles. I’d have to listen to the show to be certain but during this time, the women were not educated. These were house churches, not the meeting houses of today. A wife would have been a teenage bride of an older man (I mean, The Virgin Mary was probably sixteen years old when God called her) and other nuances. I’m going by memory so I may have some of the details off. When Paul spoke to these house churches, in essence, he was speaking to those house churches, not to us in the 21st century.

    The woman who was on my show also mentioned that God called her to preach. She said, “I didn’t want to be a preacher but God called me.”

    On the blog I referenced earlier, the blogger mentioned how John Piper, who I like, told a woman she shouldn’t take the job of a police officer (or something like — I’m going from memory and memory fickle at best) because she’d have to give men orders. Here I have to draw the line: okay if the Lord called men to lead the church, fine. I’m good with that. But when it comes to practical things outside of church leadership, I have to scratch my head. If I have an illness I want the best doctor to treat me, I could care less if it’s a man or woman. If I’m on trial for murder, best believe I want the best lawyer, man or woman. If I’m running for my life because someone’s trying to kill me, ya gotta know I want an officer of the law available at all times, man or woman.

    Now, there are things men are better at than women and vice versa. I’m not sitting outside trying to build a building. I have neither the muscle mass or the inclination to be a construction worker. There are some things natural to both sexes we appreciate. However, being called a minister of the Word is a supernatural influence (my take) not a natural one. When my daddy was called to be a minister, he avoided it for as long as he could.

    There’s my take on the issue. I think I went down a couple of rabbit holes but I’m glad you’re tackling the subject. Much obliged.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Parker, I’ve heard those culture-context explanations too, but there are two things that keep me from buying into that perspective: 1) all these previous hundreds of years (or now in places with less education), when people didn’t have access to the archaeological or historical information that put these letters in context, did they simply get it wrong? and 2) was God not aware that people would be confused when He allowed these verses into the canon of Scripture? OK, a third: Did God inspire the word or didn’t He? If He did, then He wanted those verses in place. Is all scripture not only inspired by Him but also profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training in righteousness, as 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says? Even when it’s apparent there’s a cultural bent (like meat offered to idols) about whatever the human writer of Scripture says, we can know there is also a God-ordained principle He wants to use for our instruction.

      Who knew this would become such an issue?! Thanks for your interaction on this topic, Parker.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Unless that woman can produce a link to the exact quote from Piper, I’d be skeptical that he said that. He has appeared on stage with Beth Moore, and he has stated that he has no problem with women in ministry. His limitation is the same as most complementarians in that women can minister but not in a church setting. When you get into what constitutes a church setting it can become dicey as to how you split that up.

    Some would say that a conference would still be considered a church setting since it is a gathering of the church, but others would say that unless the gathering falls under a local assembly where there is a clear set of ruling elders then it would not be considered a church setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Walter, I don’t know if Parker read the same Facebook thread on the subject as I did, but I saw it, too. Not a direct quote, though. The guy commenting said this: “Though complementarian John Piper recently said that women should not be in jobs where they directly influence men because men are to lead and women are to follow in marriage, church and society.”

      I didn’t answer him, but I really don’t care if John Piper said this. I think he’s a good Bible teacher, but not infallible, so if he did say this, I think he’s wrong. I don’t see the Bible teaching those kinds of broad-stroke, male-leadership only principles.

      I think your last paragraph hits the heart of the issue. There’s something about spiritual leadership that is unique, whether from a father or a pastor. Of course there are fatherless homes, which is why the Church has been charged to care for the fatherless. And I’ve heard of mission endeavors in which a woman has taken the temporary role of church leader until the believers mature in their faith. But I think Scripture is a blueprint for how we are to conduct ourselves. So, when possible, it seems clear, a man should be the pastor of a church.

      It says nothing about a man being principal of a school or CEO of a business or President of a country. This is a spiritual leadership matter.

      Becky

      Becky

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  4. I haven’t seen an interpretation quite like this, but it runs very close to what I’ve come to believe from my own Bible study. It’s nice to know that someone else came to the same kind of conclusions (albiet better researched and articulated).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an interesting issue, and to some extent I haven’t decided how I’d like to handle it, so right now I’d just say I’m alright with women preachers.

    I’ve seen people dice the issue up in a myriad of ways. Some say that it means women shouldn’t teach men at all. Some say that it means women can preach, but not to men. Some take it as men should be over women in society as a whole, etc. And one has to wonder how this all plays out for a single lady with no family or a single mother. Even further, what if she has no father or older male family member that can be the spiritual head? She is sort of forced to be the spiritual head then. Really, I think this issue adds a lot of complication as we figure out what these verses mean as we try to implement them.

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    • Autumn, I’d say the best way to deal with this is to go with what Scripture says.

      Some force Scripture to say more than what it does or ignore clear examples of women in the Bible taking initiative (Ruth) and serving God (various prophetesses such as Anna or the women Paul mentioned in Phil. 4:1—though he was concerned with their unity, he made it clear they were his fellow workers) and taking position of leadership in society (see several women mentioned in Judges as the heads of their cities, the prophetess Deborah who led Israel into battle, and so on). Others ignore the verses that are clear and unequivocal that women are not to be pastors or find ways to interpret them anew.

      My question to those in the latter camp is this: Why did it take God’s Holy Spirit two thousand years to open the eyes of His followers to see what He actually meant regarding women’s roles?

      Becky

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  6. I agree Becky! I believe the scripture is clear. There was a reason given…women are deceived easier. Hard to say as a woman. But the truth is in the Word. We cannot water down the Word to suit our flesh. I have watched women preachers and pastors and they always lead people into deception. Older women are to be teaching the younger women how to be good wives and mothers not preach to congregations. I don’t see one woman who has it right that is out there teaching Bible studies. Some may start out right but I guarantee they will lead into deception.

    I have never believed woman should work outside the home and I have had them fight me on this issue over and over. But just imagine how many marriages would have been saved had their been male secretaries and co-workers.

    And if you are single, God can still show you how to manage. When I was a single mom I was pushed to go out into the working world by church people. It was all downhill from there. Nothing was ever right and my kids suffered terribly.

    When you stick to the Word, you have truth and life but you will be persecuted for it. No doubt.

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    • Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.

      I can’t say I agree about women working outside the home, though. The Proverbs 31 woman seemed to have her own business. Maybe that would be considered working from home. 😉 But then there was Lydia and her dye business.

      I’m also not sure about Bible studies. Look at Lydia again, and look at Priscilla, wife to Aquila. I don’t think God included her just for window dressing. She was part of the team that set Apollos right. And what about the two women in Phil. 4:2? Paul called them “fellow workers” and said they’d shared in the suffering for the “cause of the gospel.” In what ways were they working for the cause of the gospel? Scripture doesn’t say, but I can’t imagine they were silent about their faith.

      Think about the resurrection, even. It was first women who announce that Jesus was risen. I think we have to be careful not to put a tight restriction on what women can and can’t do that goes outside what Scripture says.

      Becky

      Becky

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  7. I would not try to change anyone’s opinion or interpretation of the scriptures, but I would ask for understanding of how/why someone else may hold a different perspective. As a woman who was called to preach, I can only tell you that I struggled with St. Paul for years, particularly with Timothy. In the end, however, for me, after I understood that Christ is the head of the church and that in Christ, i.e., in the Church (the Body of Christ in the world I Corinthians 12 ), “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 King James version). Another translation says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).” Paul was speaking of the status of these various people after they had been baptized and were part of the Body of Christ — there was just not to be any type of division in the Church.

    Paul also wrote that women should cover their heads and indeed women used to wear hats to church. Understanding the cultural context of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, however, supplies us with a plausible explanation: above the city of Corinth was the Acrocorinth where there was a pagan temple filled with prostitutes. Corinth was a seaport city and the sailors would come to town and visit the temple. The prostitutes went around with their heads uncovered so in order to prevent people thinking the Christian women were prostitutes, they were told to cover their heads. I venture to say that no one believes a woman whose head is not covered today is a prostitute.

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