The Order of Creation

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John Piper, “The Order of Creation,” The Standard 74:4 (April 1984): 35, 38. Alvera and Berekely Micklesen responded with, “Did Paul Say Women Could Never Teach Men? Response from the Mickelsens,” The Standard 74:4 (April 1984): 39.

Paul’s instructions concerning women in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 begin (v. 9) and end (v. 15) with an admonition to “sobermindedness” (sophrosune). This refers to a use of the mind which accords with truth and reason (cf. the word in Acts 26:25 and Mark 5:15), and which a man too must have to qualify as an elder (1 Tim. 3:2).

Sandwiched between the admonitions to soberminded moral adornment (vs. 9-10) and soberminded holiness (v. 15) comes a specific application (vs. 11-14). The specific question is raised: How should men and women relate to each other in the area of authoritative teaching? Paul says, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent” (vs. 11-12).

A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Four observations:

  1. The “silence” required of women is not total. The same word (hesuchia) is used in verse 2 for the “quiet” life which all godly people should lead. It is used in 1 Peter 3:4 of a woman’s “gentle and quiet spirit” that can win her husband “without a word.” The word does not mean she cannot interact at home or at church. The meaning is suggested by its opposite: she is not “to have authority over men” but “to keep silent” (v. 12). The speech that should be silenced is speech that makes a man the recipient of her authority. “Submissiveness” (v. 11), not authority, is to characterize the way she speaks. Speech which reflects this conviction would not contradict Paul’s intention.

  2. When Paul says, “I permit no woman to teach” (v. 12), he has in view the function of the teaching elder (5:17), not all possible forms of teaching. Titus 2:3 indicates that the older women are to teach the younger women. Also it was appropriate for Eunice to teach her son Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14), and for Priscilla, in team with her husband, privately to correct Apollos (Acts 18:26). The focus of Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is evident from the adjacent clause: “or to have authority over men.” What Paul does not permit is teaching which would put men in a position of receiving direct, personal authority from a woman.

  3. The Greek word for “have authority over” (authentein) does not refer to “self-willed or arbitrary” exercise of authority (as is so often claimed), but to the proper function of a teaching elder (5:17). The translations “usurp authority” (KJV) and “domineer” (NEB) are unwarranted. George Knight has taken the trouble to examine all the known occurrences of this rare word in ancient Greek literature and concludes: “The ‘authority’ in view in the documents is understood to be a positive concept and is in no way regarded as having any overtone of misuse of position or power.” Therefore, Paul is prohibiting not simply a woman’s willful usurpation of authority, but also her exercise of normal authority in the teaching office of the church. I would define this authority as a right and power given by the Spirit and confirmed by the church to give forceful instruction and exhortation to the church in doctrinal and ethical matters based on God’s Word.

  4. The use of the present tense in the phrase, “I permit on woman to teach” (v. 12), does not imply a temporary prohibition. The same tense is used in verse 1 (“I urge that…prayers…be made for all men…”) and verse 8 (“I desire that in every place the men should pray…), and these are not temporary injunctions. If anything, the present tense highlights that this is an ongoing, customary rule in all the churches.

The same word and tense are used in 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“[the women] are not permitted to speak”), and Paul adds, “as in all the churches of the saints.” The common assertion that Paul is dealing with a temporary problem of unruly women has no basis in the text. The text is a straightforward statement of general apostolic principles which we have seen in Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11. And just as in each of those texts, so here the principle is based not on temporary problems or culturally relative conditions. It is based on the will of God in creation and the lessons that come from the breach of that will.

Theological Ground

That’s the point of verses 13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” These verses provide the theological ground for Paul’s prohibition of women having authority over men, just as the order of creation provided the ground for his rule that a woman “have authority on her head” (1 Cor. 11:8-10).

The structure of the argument is typical, not exceptional. It has two parts:

First, “Adam was formed first.” I argued in December that God could have easily avoided giving Paul and me the impression of male leadership by creating man and woman simultaneously. But He chose to make man first. And Paul infers from this, as I did, that a woman ought not to have authority over men (v. 12).

The other half of the argument is that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (v. 14). Historically this has been taken to mean that Eve was tricked, while the man sinned with his eyes open. So both are guilty, but the women are more easy prey for satanic deceit. Hence, don’t give them a teaching office.

There are three problems with this interpretation:

  1. Adam was deceived in the sense of 2 Corinthians 11:3. He was led astray from obeying the truth, thinking something better was to be gained by disobedience.

  2. All the evidence in Genesis 3 points to the fact that Adam and Eve were both present during the serpent’s temptation (December, p. 35). But the serpent attacked God’s order by ignoring the leader and dealing only with the woman. Adam’s simultaneous deception is seen in his acquiescence to this role reversal.

  3. Some teaching roles are granted to women. Thus Paul’s concern is probably not with her doctrinal incompetence or gullibility.

Repudiation of God’s Order Brings Sin

What then does verse 14 mean? I would suggest that what Paul means is that the woman was deceived in the sense that she was the one carrying on direct dealings with the deceiver. Thus Paul’s point would be not that woman is more gullible than man, but that whenever God’s order of male leadership is repudiated it puts people in a position of spiritual vulnerability.

In summary, the two arguments for not permitting a woman to have authority over men are: 1) that the order of creation (man first, woman second) implies a unique leadership role for man (v. 13), and 2) that the neglect of this divine pattern leads to transgression (v. 14).

Therefore, Paul’s prohibition of women exercising an authoritative teaching office in the church has abiding validity today, because it is based not on culturally relative conditions but on the order of creation and the lessons that come from the repudiation of that order.