It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul is claiming that all women must be more gullible than all men and are therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church.
Editor’s Note: Last spring an aspiring young actress came to my wife and I in deep distress over the apparent lack of support for women in ministry both in her faith community and in Scripture. We pointed her toward some scholarly resources and spent hours talking her through a new way of approaching this critical issue. She ended up writing a paper for her faith community on the subject. We thought was too good not to share. I helped her edit and strengthen it and post it here with her permission. (But first read part 1 in the series: The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: Confronting the Bewildering Extremes.) -GDS
The Case Against Women in Church Leadership:
Silence in the Church Based on Created Order
By Esther Junia
Some of my friends argue that women have no place in church leadership (and, no, it is not just the men.) They want to be true to word of God and it is hard to argue with the authority of Saint Paul. They just can’t get around the force of the apostle’s specific instructions to two congregations in particular. First, Paul tells the Corinthians that it is “disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:35). Second, he tells the Ephesians (through Timothy), “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). What’s worse, Paul appears to say that the basis for his admonition is that women are secondary to men, because women were made after men and were the first to be deceived (2 Timothy 2:13-14).
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul is claiming that all women must be more gullible than all men and are therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church. Taken in isolation these passages make it appear as if the last word in Biblical authority is that no woman should ever serve in church leadership and teaching. That’s the position I learned growing up, and since I wanted to be a good Bible believing Christian (and still do), I never questioned it. At least now until I began to see holes in what appears to be such an iron clad argument.
Problems with the Case Against Women in Leadership
First, it is actually rather hard to argue that Paul’s statement “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” actually refers to ministry leadership. If it does, then it directly contradicts what he just said several chapters earlier where he actually encourages women to speak in church by prophesying and praying (1Corinthians 11:5). Having learned more of how the early church functioned—men sitting on one side of the church and men on the other—it seems more likely that Paul is simply prohibiting women from talking amongst themselves and yelling across the aisle to their husbands. And it certainly fits Paul’s general concern in his letter to the Corinthians to maintain order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:4).
Second, if Paul is trying to make a universal principle in his statement, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” then he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture. Not only would he be contradicting his own instructions for woman prophesying in church, he would be completely setting aside the examples of women leaders throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament Huldah the prophetess instructs king Josiah (2Kings 22:14ff), and Deborah leads all of Israel (Judges 4-5). In the New Testament Priscilla (with her husband) instructs Apollos (Acts 18:24ff), the seven daughters of Phillip are renowned for their ability to prophesy (Acts 21:8), and Paul himself calls Junia, “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).
Perhaps these women are simply “exceptions” to the general rule of woman remaining silent and subservient. But isn’t it more likely that they are pointing toward a different interpretation of these seemingly harsh statements of Paul? Thankfully, such an interpretation exists. Oddly enough, it is found in what seem to be the harshest element of Paul’s harshest statement—his claim that his instruction was based upon man being created before woman.
Third, if Paul was really trying to say that he does not permit any woman to teach or assume authority over any man then it would make much more sense for him to say, “for man (ἀνδρός) was formed first, then woman (γυναικὶ),” rather than, “Adam (Ἀδὰμ) was formed first, then Eve (Εὕα).” If he has intentionally kept his OT allusion within the context of marriage (and there is significant scholarly debate on this), his example better supports an argument for how a husband and wife are to relate to one another in church rather than how men and women are to relate. This would make it an extension of Paul’s argument that the segregated women shouldn’t shout across the aisle to their husbands; only in this case it is not their questions that they are shouting, but their answers. And that is where it gets really interesting.
Fourth, bolstering this viewpoint is our current understanding of the Gnostic mythology of Paul’s day that glorified Eve! In most Gnostic accounts the creation of Eve preceded Adam so that she represents the higher more spiritual aspect of humankind. When Eve listened to the serpent, she gained “knowledge” (γνῶσις) and then enlightened her husband with it. Paul appears to be specifically refuting this idea by pointing out that Adam was indeed formed first and it was Eve. And Eve was deceived not “enlightened” by the serpent. This seems to better square with Paul’s odd statement that “she shall be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15), which once again refutes the Gnostic idea that women save their husbands through sex.
So… maybe, just maybe, the case against woman in ministry isn’t as iron clad as it first appears. But then, is there a good case for an alternative viewpoint?
 Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther” decided to write under an alias.
 C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman, 117-125, 171-177.