A Commentary by John Stott

1 Timothy 2:8-15. a). Hermeneutical principles (continued).

Not that ‘authority’ is to be understood in terms of decision-making, let alone the wielding of unlimited power. In Ephesians 5:21ff., in the context of the reciprocal relations between husbands and wives, Paul interprets the husbands position as ‘head’ of his wife as modelled on Christ being ‘head’ of his church. And this is a caring not a crushing headship, a headship of self-sacrifice not self-assertion, of love not pride, intended to be liberating not enslaving. Nor is male headship incompatible with sexual equality, any more than the assertion that ‘the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor. 11:3) is incompatible with the unity of the Father and the Son in the Godhead.

If, however, the authority-submission antithesis is to be retained as creational, may not the teaching-silence antithesis be regarded as cultural? May not the requirement of silence, like the requirement of veils (1 Cor.11:10), have been a first-century cultural symbol of masculine headship, which is not necessarily appropriate today? For silence is not an essential ingredient of submission; submission is expressed in different ways in different cultures. Similarly, women teaching men does not necessarily symbolize taking authority over them. Teaching can be given in different styles, with different meanings. Thus public prophesying by women was not regarded as an improper exercise of authority over men, presumably because it took place under the direct inspiration and authority of God (1 Cor, 11:5; cf. Acts 2:17; 21:9). Nor was Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos inappropriate, because she gave him private instruction in the home, and Aquila was present, sharing in the instruction (Acts 18:26).

What, then, about the second biblical basis for Paul’s instruction? If his first argument was derived from the creation (*Adam was formed first, then Eve*, verse 13), his second was derived from the fall (*Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner*, verse 14). The popular explanation of this is that the woman was shown up in the fall as constitutionally prone to deception and that on this account she should not teach men. But there is a fatal objection to this. If women are by nature gullible, they ought to be disqualified from teaching anybody, not just men, whereas Paul refers to the special role of women in teaching both children (1 Tim.5:10; 2 Tim.1:5; 3:15) and younger women (Tit.2:3ff.). It is more probably, therefore, that the essence of Eve’s part in the fall was not that she was deceived, but that she took an improper initiative, usurped Adam’s authority and thus reversed their respective roles (Gn.3:6, 17).

In the end, our decision whether women may ever teach men, or be ordained to the pastorate, or exercise other leadership roles in the church, will depend on our understanding of the nature of pastoral leadership. If we belong to the Reformed tradition and see the local presbyter as essentially an authority figure, responsible both to teach the congregation and to exercise discipline (including excommunication), then we are likely to conclude that it is inappropriate for women to occupy such an authoritative position. Supposing, on the other hand, we begin our thinking about Christian pastoral leadership and the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:35ff., where he drew a distinction between two human communities whose leaders operate on different principles. In the world, he said, ‘officials exercise authority over them’. But, he added, ‘Not so with you.’ Instead, in his community greatness would be measured by service.

Why should it be thought inappropriate for women to exercise such servant-leadership? They have done so throughout biblical history. Besides, there are now no authority figures in the church, who can teach like the apostles in the name and with the authority of Christ. The New Testament is now complete, and all Christian teachers are called to teach humbly under its authority, If then a woman teaches others, including men, under the authority of Scripture (not claiming any authority of her own), in a meek and quiet spirit (not throwing her weight about), and as a member of a pastoral team whose leader is a man (as a contemporary cultural symbol of masculine headship), would it not be legitimate for her to exercise such a ministry, and be commissioned (ordained) to do so, because she would not be infringing the biblical principle of masculine headship? Our answer to this question is likely to depend on whether we consider it legitimate to apply the principle of cultural transposition to verses 10 and 11.

Tomorrow: b). Three apostolic instructions.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.