Manhood, Womanhood, and God
Staley Lecture Series, Bryan College | Dayton, Tennessee
This morning’s message was a kind of introduction to what I think is at stake in the issue of manhood and womanhood. And what I think I need to do tonight is lay my cards out on the table in summary form so that you know where to locate me in the contemporary debate. Then, I hope to take on the role of women and men in the teaching office of the church and the issue of leadership in the wider society. Then, tomorrow morning I will take up the issue of manhood and womanhood in marriage and the meaning of headship and submission in marriage.
I’ll start with a summary of what I think the Bible teaches about how men and women should relate in ministry.
1) All Christians, men and women, are ministers (Ephesians 4:12). No one is off duty. All of life should have a radical orientation around the work of the kingdom.
2) Ministry is the stewarding of grace through gifts for the demonstration of love and the upbuilding of faith and the ingathering of God’s elect. First Peter 4:10 is a crucial text for me in this regard: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (see also 1 Corinthians 14:12, 26 which stresses that all is to be done for the edification of the church).
3) All spiritual gifts are given to women and are to be used for the good of the church, the reaching of the lost, and the glory of God.
4) The office of elder/overseer/pastor is the responsibility of spiritual men who aim to equip the saints for ministry through teaching and oversight. First Timothy 2:12 says that this teaching and authority is the unique responsibility of men and not women.
5) The difference between elder and deacon is the role of teaching and governing (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9) so that the easiest way to apply 1 Timothy 2:12 is to say that the elders of a local church should be men.
6) But the real action — the real ministry — in a healthy church is what is happening by the power of the Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit in the small groups and the informal times of ministry to one another with words of knowledge and wisdom and gifts of faith and healings and miracles and prophecy and discernment and mercy and teaching and exhortation and prayer and so on.
7) I stand by this distinction in role:
a) because the sense seems plain to me and not terribly complicated in 1 Timothy 2:12–13, and
b) because this fits with the overall picture of complementarity in Genesis and Jesus’s ministry and Paul’s and Peter’s teaching on marriage, and
c) because I have never seen any other texts that contradict this meaning. What the other texts do (like Galatians 3:28) is refine our applications and protect us from abuses, and
d) because the aim of the New Testament is to redeem sin-distorted relationships between men and women. But it redeems them by removing the distortions of headship and submission, not by leveling all distinction in role, and
e) because, since I see this distinction in the Bible, I believe it is good for women and men, for our society as a whole, and for the glory of God.
Now, I think to undergird this overview the best place to go is 1 Timothy 2:11–14.
Let’s seat ourselves before these unpopular verses, listen for a few minutes, and see if the story they tell is really as unattractive as so many think it is:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
I think what we need to do in order to understand the submissiveness in this text is patiently think through the meaning of silence (“Let a woman learn quietly”) and the meaning of teaching (“I do not permit a woman to teach”) and the meaning of authority (“or to exercise authority over men”). So, let’s take these one at a time.
l) First, silence. Verse 11: “Let a woman learn quietly.” Notice at least two things:
One is that she is to learn in silence. This means that the setting Paul has in mind is one of a teaching and learning situation in the church. He doesn’t have every situation in life or in the church in mind.
The other thing to notice is that the word for silence here (hesuchia) is used earlier in verse 2 of this chapter (hesuchion). But there, it refers to the “quiet” life which all godly people should lead. “[Pray] that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This gives you the tone and the extent of the word. It doesn’t refer to absolute silence: A “quiet” and peaceable life is not a life of total silence. It’s a life untroubled and serene and content. So, the silence doesn’t seem to be total. It’s more like what we would call quietness.
You can see this especially at the end of verse 12. The same word is used again. But this time, you can tell what Paul has in mind by its opposite. He says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; [literally] but, to be silent.” In other words, this quietness is the opposite of exercising authority over men. “Don’t exercise authority over men; instead, be silent.”
So, what sort of quietness does Paul have in mind? It’s the kind of quietness that respects and honors the leadership of the men God has called to oversee the church. Verse 11 says that the quietness is “with all submissiveness” and verse 12 says the quietness is the opposite of “authority over a man.” And so, the point is not whether a woman says nothing, but whether she is submissive and whether she supports the authority of the men God has called to oversee the church. Quietness means not speaking in a way that compromises that authority. We’ll come back in a minute and be more specific about just what this submission is.
2) The second thing we need to look at is the reference to teaching in verse 12. How extensive is Paul’s prohibition when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach”?
To answer this, one thing we can do is look at other places where Paul and others talk about women teaching. For example, Titus 2:3–4 says that the older women are to teach the younger women: “They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children.”
Another example is 2 Timothy 3:14 where Paul tells Timothy to remember from whom he learned the Scriptures. And the persons he has in mind (we can tell from 2 Timothy 1:5) are Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother. (His father was not a believer or even a Jew, see Acts 16:3).
One other example is Priscilla. It says in Acts 18:26, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard [Apollos teaching], they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
So, it’s not likely that Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2:12 that every kind of teaching is forbidden to women. There are examples of them teaching younger women, teaching children, and in some way teaming up with their husbands to give private instruction when someone is confused or uninformed like Apollos. Is it possible to generalize then about what Paul does have in mind here when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach”? I think the safest thing to do is let the next phrase guide us. The next phrase is, “or to exercise authority over a man.”
Instead of letting teach mean anything we want it to mean or think it might mean, it’s safer to say it probably means a kind of teaching that somehow relates to authority. “Teach” and “exercise authority” go together. So, at least one general thing we can say about women teaching is that Paul forbids it when it is part of the exercise of authority over men. That leads us to the third question; namely, what is this “authority” referred to in verse 12?
3) The key that unlocks this door is a very interesting observation. When you read the rest of 1 Timothy about the role of elders in the church, what you find is that the elders had two basic responsibilities: They were to govern and they were to teach. You can see this in the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1–7, but the easiest place to see it is in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule [or govern] well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
Elders rule or govern, and elders teach or preach. Back in Acts 20:27–28, you may recall, the elders in the church at Ephesus were called by the Holy Spirit and made “overseers” and charged with “pasturing” or feeding the flock; that is, teaching the whole counsel of God.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12 is that he does not permit a woman to teach and exercise authority. He is saying in essence: “I do not permit women to function as an elder in the church. The elders are charged with the primary leadership and instruction of the church.” That’s a summary of their job. So, when Paul puts those two things together and says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority,” the most natural sense is, “I do not permit a woman to assume the office of elder in the church.”
So, the authority Paul has in mind in 1 Timothy 2:12 is the authority of elders. And what is that supposed to look like? Jesus says in Luke 22:26, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 that God gave him authority in the church not for tearing down or destroying but for building up. And Peter said to the elders of the churches not to be “domineering over those in your charge, but . . . examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
In other words, elder-authority is servant-authority. Elder-leadership is servant-leadership. That’s why teaching is at the heart of this calling. Biblical authority leads by persuasion and by teaching — not by coercion or political maneuverings. Elder-authority is always subordinate to biblical texts. Therefore, teaching is the primary instrument of leadership in the church.
I think it would be helpful to step back here and try to define the concepts of authority and submission in the church.
Authority refers to the divine calling of spiritual, gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christ-like, servant-leadership and teaching in the church.
Submission refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church, both men and women, to honor and affirm the leadership and teaching of the elders, and to be equipped by it for the hundreds and hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.
And that last point is very important. For men and women who have a heart to minister — to save souls and heal broken lives and resist evil and meet needs — there are fields of opportunity that are simply endless. God intends for the entire church to be mobilized in ministry, male and female. Nobody is to be at home watching soaps and reruns while the world burns. And God intends to equip and mobilize the saints through a company of spiritual men who take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.
There are many voices today who claim to know a better way to equip and mobilize the men and women of the church for ministry. But I commend to you with all my heart the plain meaning of these verses:
that manhood and womanhood mesh better in ministry when men take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church, and
that manhood and womanhood are better preserved and better nurtured and more beautified and fulfilled and fruitful in this church order than in any other.
I commend this to you for your belief and for your behavior, because
- this is the way the Scriptures teach us to order the church,
- and God inspired the Scriptures,
- and God is good.
Now that brings us to 1 Timothy 2:13–14. In these verses, Paul gives two reasons for saying that men and not women should bear the primary responsibility for leading and teaching the church.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
There are two reasons given here. Let’s take them one at a time.
1) First in verse 13, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” The point here is very simple. Paul sees in God’s order of creation a teaching concerning the responsibility of man to be a leader in relationship to woman. God created man first — put him in the garden, gave him the responsibility over the garden and the moral pattern for life in the garden — and then created woman as his partner and assistant to help him carry that responsibility into action together.
In other words, when Paul teaches that men should bear the primary responsibility for governance and teaching in the church, he is basing it not on any culturally temporary situation at Ephesus, but on something woven into the fabric of manhood and womanhood by virtue of our creation — ot on the basis of sin, but on the basis of how God wanted it to be before there was any sin: for the good of his people, both women and men.
2) The second point from verse 14 is this: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Now, most commentators in the history of the church have taken this very simply to mean that women are more vulnerable to deception, and therefore should not be given the responsibility of leading and teaching the church. My guess is from what I have read and experienced that women are more vulnerable to deception in some kinds of situations, and men are more vulnerable to deception in other kinds of situations.
Let me insert a note here that I think will really help us in talking about the differences of manhood and womanhood. Whenever anyone asks me if I think women are, say, weaker than men, or smarter than men, or more easily frightened than men, or something like that, I almost always answer like this: I think women are weaker in some ways and men are weaker in some ways; and women are smarter in some ways and men are smarter in some ways; and women are more easily frightened in some kinds of circumstances and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of circumstances.
It’s real dangerous to put negative values on the so-called weaknesses that each of us has. Because God intends for all the “weaknesses” that characteristically belong to man to call forth and highlight woman’s strengths. And God intends for all the “weaknesses” that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths.
So, even if this verse means that in some situations women are characteristically more vulnerable to deception, that would not settle anything about the quality or worth of manhood and womanhood.
Statistics I just read say that six times more men than women are arrested for drug abuse. Ten times more men than women are arrested for drunkenness. 83% of serious crimes in America are committed by men. Twenty-five times more men than women are in jail. Virtually all rape is committed by men.
I point that out to show that boasting in either sex as superior to the other is a folly. Men and women as God created them are different in hundreds of ways. And I believe that being created equally in the image of God means this: that when the so-called weakness and strength columns for manhood and for womanhood are added up, the value at the bottom is going to be the same for each. And when you take those two columns from each side and lay them on top of each other, God intends them to be the perfect complement to each other, so that when life together is considered (and I don’t just mean married life), the weaknesses of manhood are not weaknesses and the weaknesses of woman are not weaknesses.
Is the eye of a needle really nothing but air? Or is it the indispensable “nothing” that makes the needle work? Is hunger nothing but a pitiful need and an empty stomach? Or is it the messenger of health and the seasoning of our food? If you believe that manhood and womanhood are to complement rather than duplicate each other, and if you believe that the way God made us is good, then you will be very slow to gather a list of typical male weaknesses or a list of typical female weaknesses and draw a conclusion that either is of less value than the other.
Here are some other arguments from before the fall that there is God-willed male leadership:
1) Adam the man was made first.
2) He was given the pattern of the garden.
3) He names Eve the woman.
4) She is made from him.
5) She is made as his helper in a context where the animals are being reviewed.
6) Adam is faulted for listening to Eve take the initiative with the serpent.
7) Adam is approached first by God.
I think we need to go back to Genesis 3 to see what 1 Timothy 2:14 means when it says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
The first thing to notice in Genesis 3:1 is that Satan in the form of a serpent spoke to the woman and not the man. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman . . .” Paul saw this, and believed it had significance.
The second thing to notice is that Adam is evidently with Eve while Satan is talking to her. When we come to verse 6 and the woman is about to eat of the forbidden fruit, the verse says (most literally from the NASB), “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her [NIV: who was with her], and he ate.” It does not say that she went to get him. It does not say that he arrived on the scene after the serpent was gone. It moves directly from the words of temptation to the act of eating and says that the man was with her.
The third thing to notice is that God disapproves not only of the eating of the fruit, but of the way the man and woman related to each other here. In Genesis 3:17, God reprimands the man like this: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you.” The words “you listened to the voice of your wife” are very significant. There is no record in chapter 3 that she said any thing to Adam directly. But there is good reason to believe that Adam was there listening to her interchange with the serpent, and falling into line with her.
So, God’s reprimand is not merely a reprimand that Adam ate the forbidden fruit, but also that he forsook his responsibility to be the leader and the moral guardian of the home. Satan’s subtlety is that he knew the created order God had ordained for the good of the family, and he deliberately defied it by ignoring the man and taking up his dealings with the woman. Satan put her in the position of spokesman and leader and defender. And at that moment both the man and the woman slipped from their innocence and let themselves be drawn into a pattern of relating that to this day is destructive.
I think this is what Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:14. Let me try to paraphrase it to bring this out. “Adam was not deceived [that is, Adam was not approached by the deceiver and did not carry on direct dealings with the deceiver], but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor [that is, she was the one who took up dealings with the deceiver and was led through her direct interaction with him into deception and transgression].”
If this is right, the main point is not that the man is undeceivable or that the woman is more deceivable; the point is that when God’s order of leadership is repudiated it brings damage and ruin. Men and women are both more vulnerable to error and sin when they forsake the order that God has intended.
So, Paul’s argumentation in 1 Timothy 2:11–14 is that men ought to bear primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church (that is, be the elders) 1) because in creating man first God taught that men should take responsibility for leadership in relation to women and 2) because the fall of Adam and Eve shows that the neglect of this divine pattern leads to transgression.
So, in this key text (as we will see tomorrow in Ephesians 5 in regard to marriage) the role differentiation for man and woman is rooted not in culture or temporary missionary strategy, but in creation — in the way God created us to be.
This is why I said this morning that I deal with this issue now not merely in terms of roles, but also in terms of who we are as male and female by virtue of God’s act in creation. God is not capricious in assigning roles. He does it in accord with the way he made us to be.
This presses me to take the issue further than many of my partners in CBMW; namely, to try to define the essence of manhood and womanhood (see What’s the Difference?), and to say some things about women and men in society (not just church and home), like the business world and the battlefield.
The crucial question about the essence of manhood and womanhood rises with the utterly indispensable question: What would I say to your son if he asked, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up to be a man and not a woman?” Or, to your daughter: “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up to be a woman and not a man?”
I have answered:
The heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s different relationships.
For 11-year-old Abraham, it means to grow up to be a strong, humble person who feels a special responsibility toward women to see that the good things that need to get done get done, and a special responsibility that they be safe in your presence, and that they have what they need. It’s basically a feeling of responsibility. (When God comes to the door to call the house to account, he will ask first: Is the man of the house home?)
At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s different relationships.
For 11-year-old Charity, it means that you grow up to be a wise and caring person who feels a special desire — a special calling — to give good men a lot of backing and encouragement and support for the special responsibility they have from God to be leaders and protectors and providers. It means you become a creative partner to help men carry out the goals of their leadership under God. And if you have a leadership role in the world that makes men the recipients of your influence, you will seek to exercise this role in a way that does not compromise the deep sense of responsibility that belongs to their manhood.
This has immediate implications for how men and women relate in the business world (as you heard in that last paragraph) and the battlefield. It implies the effort to put proper influence of women over men on a continuum (see pages 43–44 in What’s the Difference?). And it implies that the contemporary focus on mere competency in deciding if women can fly fighter bombers and drive tanks and pull triggers is naive and will be destructive to men and women and marriage and the military and society.
For example, in “The Argument for the Bans: Combat is Not a Place for Women and Gays” in Crisis, April, 1993, pages 39–41, Robert Reilly, says correctly I think:
The whole idea of women in combat is part of a feminist agenda grounded in an ideology that denies the existence of nature. As this denial has spread through American society, its proponents have insisted on its reflection in public institutions, including the military.
One wonders if our society is ready to accept the consequences of this agenda. The noblest side of men leads them to place their lives in danger to ensure the safety of women and children. Deliberately putting at the point of greatest risk the very thing men are fighting to protect undermines men’s finer side. Feminist ideology teaches men that their noble impulse really is only a convention or, worse, a prejudice of which they should be ashamed.
Of the half-million military sent to the Persian Gulf, about 35,000 were women. Five were killed in action. A Minneapolis Tribune editorial (4-8-93) opines, “The gulf record has helped explode the myth that women are less able to succeed or sacrifice in service to their country” — as if that were ever really the issue: just competence. The editorial goes on,
It’s senseless to forbid women to use in combat the skills they already use daily. Like their male counterparts, female soldiers should be allowed to perform any task of which they’re capable.
This is utter disregard for profound human realities that go far deeper than the competence to do tasks. It ignores the deeply rooted masculine sense that he bears a special responsibility to protect a woman when she is threatened in his presence, not consider her a warrior equally at risk.
So, you can see that the trajectory I set in the biblical exposition of manhood and womanhood has far-reaching social implications.