This is the third article in a series on this topic. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.
In part one of this series, I addressed how the recent revelations of the mistreatment of women within the SBC has led to a call for their “empowerment.” It has been proposed that women should be placed in the highest positions of denominational leadership – including the office of president.
In part two, I examined the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-13 as the foundation for complementarianism. This passage clearly commands that a woman is not to teach nor exercise authority over men. Paul bases his prohibition not upon the cultural distinctives of his day, but upon God’s created order in Genesis 2:15-18. Therefore, Paul was establishing leadership in the church upon theological truth. Furthermore, I argued this same model should be followed in the SBC leadership structure as it has throughout its history. If a woman is not permitted to preach and lead in one church, it makes no sense to place her in that role in the gathering of thousands of those same churches.
That said, I am certain some will object to the timing of these posts. Why address the limitations of the role of women at a time when their marginalization, mistreatment, and even abuse has come to light? Should this not be reserved for another day?
I wish all I had to make clear was that I firmly believe that any abusive treatment of women is an abhorrent, ungodly, and a violation of God’s Word. I only chose to write these responses due to some using these circumstances as an opportunity to push the SBC towards an unbiblical position. Rather than react to these things, we need to rightly lead with the Scripture. We will not solve the wickedness of the abuse and domination of women by reversing God’s biblical design for the roles of men and women. In fact, that is what led to the domination of women in the first place.
Paul’s Example of the Fall in 1 Timothy 2:14-15
After Paul declares that a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man and grounds that prohibition in God’s created order, he points to the circumstances of the Fall to exemplify his point. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim 2:14). Paul is not saying that women are more susceptible to deception than men. Neither Scripture nor experience would support that claim. Paul simply shows how God’s ordained design is exemplified in The Fall. It demonstrates what happens when we rebel against God’s created order. As Tom Schreiner writes, “In approaching Eve, then, the serpent subverted the pattern of male leadership… Adam was present throughout and did not intervene. The Genesis temptation, therefore, is a parable of what happens when male leadership is abrogated.” The details of the Genesis 3 account support this assertion.
God had placed Adam in the garden and entrusted him with the responsibility of its governance and with God’s word of command (Gen 2:15-17). Since Eve was created after this (Gen 2:18), it was clearly Adam’s responsibility to lead Eve and teach her God’s prohibition and its meaning. The story is clear about who is the leader and teacher at the point of creation. The setting at the end of chapter two is one of harmony and peace between Adam and Eve. “And the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed.”
A dramatic turn occurs as the serpent enters the storyline. He was “crafty” in his approach – bypassing Adam as the leader and going directly to Eve (Gen 3:1). Thus, the reversal of God’s created order began as the serpent questions Eve about God’s command. God’s prohibition was clear that they should not “eat” of the tree’s fruit (Gen 2:17), but Eve adds to it saying, “neither shall you touch it” (Gen 3:3). The text informs us that Adam was with her as this exchange took place (Gen 3:6). Therefore, Eve usurped the teaching role given to Adam, and he let her do so.
The serpent then challenges Eve’s garden homily and offers his own spin. He repudiates God’s Word as having authority over her, and challenges Eve to take her life into her own hands (Gen 3:5). With her new worldview, Eve took of the fruit and ate. However, she did not stop there. The text declares, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). The reversal of roles was now complete. Eve rejected the Word of God, assumed the role of teacher of the new command to eat whatever you like, and exercised authority over her husband by directing him to eat.
At this point, it is critical to watch the development of the story. The Fall does not take place until the full reversal of roles is completed. After Eve becomes the teacher by rejecting God’s command in exchange for the serpent’s version, and after she takes authority by directing Adam to eat, “then the eyes of both were opened” (Gen 3:7). At this moment, God’s created order was fully rejected, the perfect world was compromised, and the earlier shameless state was ruined – “and they knew they were naked.” The previous condition was not destroyed until Adam forsook his God-given role and fully followed Eve’s lead.
Paul points to this story to teach what happens when we rebel against God’s created order. Eve’s failure to submit to Adam’s leadership in that moment is what led to her being deceived by the serpent (Gen 3:13). Adam’s failure to teach and lead his wife – choosing to listen to her voice (Gen 3:17) – brought about tragic results. The sin of reversing the roles that God designed led to the sinful battle of the sexes. Fallen women would persist in the desire to usurp the role given to men to lead and fallen men would respond with sinful domination over women (Gen 3:16). Therefore, it was the abdication of that godly, biblical, male leadership by Adam and the refusal to not learn in quiet submission by Eve that ultimately led to the domination of women.
Repeating the Mistakes of the Fall
Abandoning God’s created design for spiritual leadership will accomplish no more for women today than it did for Eve in the story recorded in Genesis. Men dominating women is a result of The Fall and can only be overcome by both men and women being transformed by the Gospel and returning to their God-given roles. We will not solve the problems of male domination by leading women to follow the pattern of Eve in The Fall. It would be foolish to think that the evil act of men abusing women will be overcome by once again twisting the clear commands of God. These sinful instincts are a result of The Fall not its cure. If we want men and women to flourish and desire to abolish the shame that sin has produced between the sexes, we need to return to God’s original order in creation.
Nonetheless, how should women be encouraged to think about the role God has given them in the church? The temptation may be to think that male leadership is somehow just another form of domination and offers no truly significant role to women. Lord willing, I will address that tomorrow in my final post.