Women's Liberation or Paul's Inspiration?
1 Tim. 2:11-15
By Paul Robison

A female author wrote in 1989 that the first American women's liberation groups formed in 1968 (Echols).  Her book followed the movement up to 1975 (Ibid.).  Someone else made this observation: "The 1970s were a crucial time for significant changes in attitudes to women in Western societies" (WikiWLM).  Now, why bring up the Women's Liberation Movement?  Because this movement has had a profound impact on the interpretation of the passage which was read this morning.  The traditional interpretation of this passage was not challenged until 1969 when a new interpretation started being pushed that claimed Paul was being chauvinistic and that there were no gender distinctions in churches!  Now what caused this great shift in outlook?  Was it some archeological discovery?  Was it some new documents?  No, there were no discoveries.  What caused the great shift was the spirit of our American culture, and that spirit was that women and men were totally equal, without any gender distinctions.  The title of this sermon is a question: "Women's liberation or Paul's inspiration?"  Another way we could ask that is this: "Will we allow our modern culture to define the church or we will allow an ancient apostle to define it?"  This sermon has three parts: a quick history of how women's liberation has affected our churches, some modern interpretations, and then a traditional interpretation which has three parts.
Has the women's liberation movement affected the restoration movement?  Most definitely!  In the 80s, there was a definite push by some of our elders, teachers, and preachers to get women involved more in worship services and leadership roles.  There were papers published with titles like: "Reexamining Women's Roles in Worship", and those papers did not defend traditional views.  In some churches, women began serving as greeters and distributors the Lord's Supper.  In the 90s, several teachers in our brotherhood schools wrote papers advocating new interpretations of passages like our text today.  A book came out in 1993 which tried to show that many of our traditional views about women's role needed rethinking (Osburn).  One book in 1996 had women's roles listed as a topic for new interpretation (Olbright).  Denominations began allowing women to serve on their boards and in their pulpits.  So, in the first decade of 2000, some of our churches and lectureships began promoting the use of women as preachers, as deacons, and as elders.  From 2010 onward, we can see more and more Christian schools and churches claiming that no distinctions based on gender should be made in the Lord's church.  In fact, one website lists 26 congregations that are now claiming to be gender inclusive (www.clarksons.org/spiritleads.htm).  You see, women's liberation or Paul's inspiration?
But what are the progressive interpretations that are leading to these radical changes?  Let's quickly notice three of the major ones.  One way to change the traditional meaning of this text is to argue that the passage is culturally limited just to Ephesus.  Some argue that Ephesus, with the Temple of Diana, was a fortress of feminist supremacy in religion, so Paul's prohibitions are aimed at sisters in Ephesus who are being excessive in teaching and exercising authority over men, but Paul is not speaking against the normal use of these activities in other churches.  This fortress interpretation is wrong because Ephesus was not that feminist; it was a conventional Roman city with no female magistrates and with a temple cult also controlled by males.  Another progressive way is to use a linguistic argument.  Some argue that the phrase "to have authority over" is not accurate, but the meaning really is "to domineer".  So Paul is prohibiting women from being heavy-handed and abusive in their authority towards men.  You see, this opens to door to say that if a women is not being domineering or controlling while she teaches, then it's fine for her to teach or preach.  The domineering interpretation is wrong because it isn't respecting linguistic discoveries.  You see, the word for the translation "to have authority over" is only used in the New Testament here in this verse.  So, how do we know if this translation is accurate?  We must turn to the use of the word in examples outside the New Testament.  Are there such examples?  Yes, about 80 of them?  There are a few of those 80 where "domineer" is the accurate translation, but the majority of those texts establishes the meaning as "to have authority over".  The domineering interpretation makes the exceptions become the rule.  A third progressive way to change Paul's meaning is a theological one.  Some will quote Galatians 3:28 which says: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  "Just look," they say, "This shows that males and females have spiritual equality, and now there are to be no gender distinction in the church!  This passage shows our liberty in Jesus, and all other passages must bow and conform to this declaration of Christian independence!"  This theological interpretation is wrong because it tries to apply one passage too broadly.  In Galatians, Paul is showing that there is an equality concerning salvation.  His point is that everyone now has the chance to be saved regardless of race, status, or gender.  But saying equality concerning salvation means liberty in all other areas of church life is a mistake.  Paul is very specific about men serving as elders in the very next passage that follows this one?  Why would he do that if gender distinctions had been destroyed?  Paul wants men to pray in the passage right before this one.  Why would he do that if gender distinctions had been removed?  Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 11 about the use of head coverings and links them to specific genders.  Why would he do that if gender distinctions were erased?  You see, being baptized into Christ does not wash away our gender, and Galatians 3:28 is not a declaration for equality in all church matters.  Let's review: the cultural-limited interpretation, the linguistic interpretation, and the theological interpretation are all inaccurate.  So, do we want women's liberation or Paul's inspiration?
So, what is Paul trying to teach here?  Let's review just a moment, and then we'll look at three areas: women's roles during worship, women's designs from the creation, and women's contributions to the church.  From previous sermons, you recall how Timothy is working with a church in chaos.  That chaos was caused by former elders who have abandoned the faith and are now teaching heresies based upon the Old Testament.  They claim that Christians must have a special knowledge to obtain salvation (6:20-21).  They advocate celibacy and fasting (4:1-5).  Now notice what Paul writes in 3:14-15: "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."  In our last sermon, we saw how Paul admonished the members of the church to lead peaceful, evangelistic, and spiritual lives.  Paul urged that men should pray with attitudes of dependence and peacefulness and that women should dress modestly and inexpensively and also be clothed with good works.  Now Paul continues some further instructions to the women.  Let's notice now what he has to say about their roles during worship.  "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence."  "Paul ignored the popular myths about women being incapable of learning" (NSB), and he orders Timothy to allow them to learn.  Then Paul uses two qualifiers to explain how a woman should learn; she should learn in silence and in all submission.  Look at Acts 22:2: "And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent."  The word for "silent" here is the same word that we find in our text today.  Now look at 1 Corinthians 14:34: "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says."  The word for "submissive" in this passage is the same word we find in our text today.  "I do not permit"  This expression shows that Paul is speaking with inspired apostolic authority; he is not just giving an opinion or suggestion.  Paul prohibits two things: women teaching and women having authority over a man in the worship assembly.  The teaching in a worship assembly would be the equivalent to preaching, and having authority over a man in a worship assembly would eliminate women serving as elders.  Paul reinforces once again that in these activities women are to be silent; he says it  twice.  This passage does not prohibit women from teaching women.  In fact, we find that being encouraged by Paul himself in Titus 2:3-5.  This passage does not prohibit women from teaching children.  In fact, we'll see how Paul encourages that in just a moment.  So, women's roles during the worship are to be a learner and a silent disciple, not a preacher nor a teacher.  Now why did Paul make these prohibitions?  Paul doesn't leave us in the dark.  Note now verses 13-14: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."  The next area is women's designs from the creation.  It is interesting that in showing why he makes these prohibitions, Paul does not go back to Pentecost, nor to the cross, nor to the synagogue.  No, he goes all the way back to the creation.  Paul is showing that there have been gender distinctions since the creation.  Paul stresses that Adam was made first.  Another preacher made this good observation: "Firstness connotes authority throughout the Scriptures.  Being the firstborn conveys the privilege of being heir and ruler.  God could have created Adam and Eve at the same time, but He did not.  He created Eve FOR Adam.  She was created to be his 'helper.'  The unchanging fact is that God desires that the order of creation be reflected in His church, the Body of Christ" (Hughes).  It is interesting that Paul says Eve was deceived. This is interesting because this led to a reversal of God's creation order.  Remember, God's creation order was this: God made man, and then He made Eve to be Adam's helper, and both of them were to rule over all creation.  But an indwelt snake, one that was part of the creation, began to rule over Eve because he deceived her into thinking that she would be like God.  Eve then persuades Adam to sin because God prefaces His curse upon Adam with these words: "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife" (Gen. 3:17).  Eve may have thought that gaining wisdom was the right thing, but her disobedient action overturned God's good creation order: she ended up heeding the creature, and Adam ended up heeding his wife rather than God.  Now even though Adam had not exercised his headship in a proper way, it is interesting that God still recognizes that gender distinction and tells the woman in Gen. 3:16: "Your desire shall be for your husband, an he shall rule over you."  Another preacher made this good remark: "We may find Paul's exegesis of Genesis 2 difficult—that women were made after men, out of men, and for men—but he does root his argument in Creation.  I have a very high view of apostolic authority.  I don't feel able to reject Paul's exegesis" (Stott).  As was mentioned earlier, by going back to creation for his reasoning, Paul is appealing to an event that goes beyond a particular culture and a particular time period.  This shows that since the creation, there have always been gender distinctions in God's eyes and there will always be gender distinctions in His eyes, notwithstanding what the laws of our land might claim! So, women's designs from creation show subordination and an inclination to reverse God's creation order.  By the way, going back to the creation story might be an indirect salvo at the heretics.  Weren't they offering Ephesian members special knowledge?  And isn't the desire for special knowledge what made Eve transgress and lose paradise?  Now notice what Paul says in verse 15: "Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."  This passage has been a very difficult one to interpret.  One conservative commentator gives the traditional viewpoint in these words: "We know Paul cannot mean that women will be saved physically whenever they have children.  Countless godly Christian mothers have died at childbirth.  Some have detected a reference here to the Incarnation, believing that 'saved through childbearing' refers to the birth of Christ and His ultimate atoning work. But this would be an obscure, unlikely way for the apostle to make his point.  Most likely Paul references childbearing because it is a universal example of the God-given difference in the roles of men and women ... So when Paul says 'women will be saved through childbearing,' he means that by not seeking a man's role they will more likely remain in the heart attitude that invites salvation and its attendant blessings.  Moreover ... 'Whatever one understands the first part of the verse to be affirming, it is contingent on a woman's willingness to abide in these four virtues--'faith, love and holiness with propriety'" (Hughes).  My interpretation is a little off the traditional path, so hear me out.  First of all, the word "childbearing" can have a broader idea than just birth.  Another brother made this comment: "The word for bearing children means more than merely giving birth to a child.  It implies also the rearing of the child" (Spain).  Second, there is an interesting change of person in this passage: it starts with "she" (3rd person singular), but then it changes to "they" (3rd person plural) at the last part of the verse.  What does this mean?  A brother replies: "The verb translated continues is in the form of the third person plural, and the literal translation would require 'if they continue.'  This tends to make children the antecedent of 'they'" (Spain).  Lastly, recall our context.  We are in the household of God or the church.  Putting that all together would give this translation: "Nevertheless a Christian woman shall be saved through her child-rearing or child-training in the church if her students continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."  The place that Paul wants Christian women to shine is in the church's educational function. She can have a great influence on her students as she teaches them the Gospel and Jesus' commandments.  Her salvation is not solely dependent upon the students' faithfulness, but if they are faithful, it will enhance her salvation for she will have proved herself a fruitful servant.  Women's contributions to the church include child-training and helping them to live as mature Christians.  So, do we desire women's liberation or Paul's inspiration?
I think we want Paul's inspiration. Personally speaking, I have never seen any of our women willfully disrupt a worship service.  You good sisters have always learned with silence and with submission.  We also have many good sisters who do a wonderful job in teaching our children.  And we have so many that serve in various other ways: sending cards, fixing food, keeping things clean, visiting others, helping with SOS and disaster relief, painting, making VBSs wonderful experiences, comforting others, offering prayers, teaching others the Gospel, etc.  And this is just the hem of the garment.
Another preacher make this good observation: "This passage is about fidelity to God's Word.  This is about inviting God's Word to shape the life of the church, rather than allowing the intrusive winds of culture. And make no mistake – if we do not let the Bible do it, culture will! ... This passage is about [the] gospel and mission.  Paul's concern that the church pray and deport itself so 'all men would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth' was one with the concern that godly men, not women, exercise authority [and leadership] in the [public worship].  Paul believed that if the church joyfully lived out the creation order in God's household, the gospel would continue to go out with power" (Hughes).
Modern women's liberation or an ancient apostle's inspiration?  Perhaps studying this passage today has caused something of a tension within you.  It is not easy to go against the grain of our American culture.  And with all the mass media pushing secularism and liberalism, our hearts can be torn because our culture really makes a deep impression on us.  Even though the church in Ephesus was in chaos, Paul encouraged Timothy and the members there to stay with the Scriptures (he actually appealed to Genesis).  And the Scriptures should be our stable north star as well.  Christ's way is always the best way, and He has promised us abundant life as we live in this world.  He knows exactly what His church needs.  Let's continue to practice His apostles' teachings!  It takes backbone to be a disciple of Jesus.  The sands of culture continually are changing, but the Rock of Ages is Jesus, and His teachings provide a sure foundation that will endure life's storms (Matt. 7:24-25)!  One of His teachings is that you be immersed in His name in order to have your sins forgiven and be added to His church (Matt. 28:18-20).  Being submissive is not very easy in our culture.  And brothers, we are to be submissive to the Lord.  Maybe you're failing in this area.  Why don't you confess that sin right now and ask Jesus to give you strength to live humbly.  "I heard the voice of Jesus say: 'I am this dark world's light.  Look unto Me, Your morn shall rise, and all your days be bright.  I looked to Jesus and I found in Him my Star, my Sun, and in that light of life I'll walk till traveling days are done" (Bonar).