Part 5: 1 Timothy 2:13-15 – The Creation and Salvation of Woman

1 Timothy 2:13-14

“For it was Adam who was first formed and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived[1] but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (NASB)

Many Christians assert that the reason women cannot be leaders and teachers of men is because the man was created first and then the woman. These people believe that implicit in the creation order is a leadership order. Yet neither leadership nor submission is acknowledged or even hinted at in anyway in Genesis 2, or in the two other biblical creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 5, and I do not believe this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Timothy 2:13. [My article on The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order” here.]

But before I relate what I think Paul may have been saying in verses 13 and 14, let’s have a look at the creation accounts of the Adam and Eve. (See also Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6-8.)

Genesis 5:1-2. In these verses we read that God created “man”, that is, human beings, in his likeness: “He created them male and female and blessed them and named them “adam” in the day he created them” (Gen. 5:2). Note that the Hebrew word adam means a “human being” and does not necessarily refer to a male human being. When used as a proper noun, Adam is a man’s name, but in Genesis 5:1-2, “adam” clearly refers to both male and female humans. There is no hint of a “creation order” here.

Genesis 1:27-28. In these two verses, again we see that humans, both male and female, were created in God’s image. God blessed them and said to them subdue the earth and rule over creation. There is no mention of a “creation order” distinction here either. There is also no mention that humans are to rule each other.

Genesis 2:21-24. This passage contains the account of the creation of Eve that Paul is referring to in 1 Timothy 2:13. Here we read that the first woman was made from a part taken out of the first human being (Gen. 2:23b)—she had already been a part of the first human in some way. When Adam woke from his deep sleep, something was missing, something was different. Something of his had been taken and given to the first woman.[2] The first man was no longer exactly the same person as he was when he had fallen asleep![3]

The whole purpose of the narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the equality and interdependence of man and woman, husband and wife.[4] When the man looked at his new partner he exclaimed that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”. How much more equal can you get?

But to further emphasise the point, Genesis 2:24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage they become one flesh. God’s ideal at creation was that the husband and wife be equal, compatible, and rule over nature together (Gen. 1:26-28). Gender equality, or mutuality, is the godly ideal we should aim for.

To say that Paul is using the creation order of male first and female second to create a chain of command is entirely missing the point of Genesis 2:21-24 which is of equality, affinity and unity. So what was Paul trying to say in 1 Timothy 2:13-14?

I suggest that Paul was using the teaching of Genesis 2:21-24 to correct a few of the false teachings circulating at Ephesus. These false teachings were that the “Gnostic” Eve was created first and then Adam; and that it was Adam who had been deceived. Paul corrects this with: “For it was Adam who was formed first and then Eve, and it was not Adam who was deceived but Eve . . .” (Italics added.)

The “for” (gar) in verse 13 is taken by many to mean that Paul is giving the creation order and Eve’s deception as his reasons for his prohibition in verse 12. However the “for” could also be used to introduce Paul’s correction of aspects of the false teaching at Ephesus. The Greek word gar is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament. It is often used to introduce new information that is obliquely, and not directly, related to the preceding verses (e.g. John 4:43-45, especially v.44; Acts 15:20-21, especially v.21; Heb. 2:5). What a difference it would make if gar was translated as “moreover” or as “now”, as it is in the NIV translation of John 4:44. Or if it was left untranslated, as it is in Hebrew 2:5.

Paul goes on in verse 15 to correct another false teaching.

1 Timothy 2:15

“Yet she will be saved through childbearing provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” 1 Timothy 2:15 NRSV

One suggestion for interpreting verse 15 is to take into consideration that some Ephesian women may have been looking to Artemis  for help during childbirth children. However it is not through Artemis, or even Eve, that women are kept safe[5] through childbirth, but by remaining in faith, love, and moral purity with self restraint—godly behaviour. The problem with this idea is that even godly, Christian mothers can die in childbirth, even in this day and age.

It is more likely that Paul’s real meaning here was that he wanted the Christian women of Ephesus to know that getting married, having sex, and having children (a clear indication that a woman has had sex) would not jeopardise their salvation, as some ascetics taught. (Early Christian literature shows that early Christians placed an importance on the “purity” of celibacy and virginity. More on this here.)

Paul cleverly associates having children with moral purity and self restraint. He associates moral purity with childbearing because some people within the Ephesian church were forbidding marriage and teaching that celibacy was a necessary virtue (1 Tim. 4:3a). Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:14, Paul encourages young widows to get married and have children, which they couldn’t do if they held to the ascetic ideal of virginity and celibacy.

Different heretical groups emphasised either sexual licentiousness or asceticism.[6] Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:15 in effect, cleverly corrects both extremes.[7] On one hand, he doesn’t want the Ephesian women to become ascetic and then be concerned that they will lose their salvation if they slip up and have sex and become pregnant. On the other hand, he doesn’t want couples to be promiscuous. He wants them to have self restraint. (More on 1 Timothy 2:15 here.)

By understanding the possible influences of Artemis and an emerging form of gnosticism, or syncretistic heresy, on the Ephesian church, these few verses in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 make more sense and become coherent.

Conclusion

Paul’s prohibition about an unknown woman (or women) in Ephesus has effectively caused countless godly and gifted women to be denied the opportunity of ministering with men as equals. This is despite the fact that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is difficult to understand, and that differing suggestions have been put forth to help explain Paul’s meaning and intention. Not only are there various ways to interpret this passage, different churches also apply it in various ways. If Paul’s instruction is clear, as some suggest, why is there such a variety of applications?[8] These difficulties and uncertainties should preclude 1 Timothy 2:12 from being used as a definitive text or proof text on the issue of women in ministry.

Moreover, Paul’s prohibition was in a personal letter concerning a local church experiencing its own particular problems. The language shows that it was not intended to be a universal, timeless ban on all women as teachers or leaders, especially as Paul loved women. They were among his most valued co-workers—women such as Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Euodia and Syntyche, plus many others.

The Church needs to realise that this single verse—1 Timothy 2:12—does not represent a scriptural consensus on the issue of  women and leadership, and that it cannot, reasonably, be applied to prohibit or restrict women who are called and equipped by God to be Christian leaders or teachers.


Endnotes

[1] The deception of Eve is a familiar theme of those who say that the New Testament teaches that women can’t be leaders or teachers, and yet Eve is never mentioned again in the Old Testament after Genesis 4 and she is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 11:3. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 Paul warns the Corinthian Christians, both men and women, to be more careful about being deceived and believing false teachings. [My article Women, Eve and Deception here.]

Interestingly, the same people who disallow women from teaching men, generally allow them to teach other women and children. If women are so gullible and have a propensity towards deception, why are they allowed to teach other (supposedly) gullible women and impressionable children?  [My article on Women, Teaching and Deception here.]

[2] While traditionally we say that Eve was made from one of Adam’s rib, the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:21-22 for “rib” may be translated simply as “part”. This narrative, whether taken literally or symbolically, was written to show how similar and mutually dependant Adam and Eve were: that Eve was made from a part of the first human being and that the parts were reunited when the couple were joined in marriage.

[3] The first human being was not necessarily male. God is not male either, he is a spirit and genderless. The reason why God is referred to with masculine pronouns was possibly to make a clear distinction between himself, the God of Israel, and the great mother goddess that was a common deity in the ancient Near East. [My article Is God Male or Masculine? here. And my article Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2 is here. ]

[4] The biblical account of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2, which highlights the inherent equality, affinity, and unity of the first man and woman, is profoundly different to the creation accounts of women from other religions and cultures, where the woman is seen as an adversary and temptation to men, and inferior to men.

[5] Different Bible versions translate this verb as “be preserved” (NASB), “be saved” (NIV) or “kept safe”. This verb frequently refers to salvation in the New Testament, including 1 Timothy, but it is also used in other parts of the New Testament to simply mean physical health and wholeness. [My article Chastity, Salvation and 1 Timothy 2:15 here, and What must a woman do to be saved? here.]

[6] Abstinence and “unbiblical asceticism arose out of a mistaken notion that the material world was evil—a central belief of the Gnostic heresy.”  Kaiser (2005:1958)

[7] Asceticism is no longer a problem for most churches, so the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:15 does not have a contemporary application.

[8] Andrew Wilson has identified twelve ways that 1 Timothy 2:12 has been understood and applied in the church. I think there are even more. (I do not agree with Andrew Wilson’s position on the understanding and application of 1 Timothy 1:12.) [My article Questions about how to Implement 1 Timothy 2:12 here.]

© 8th of December, 2009; Margaret Mowczko


1 Timothy 2:12 in Context:

Part 1 – Using 1 Timothy 2:12 as a Proof Text
Part 2 – Understanding the Ephesian Culture
Part 3 – The Heresy in the Ephesian Church
Part 4 – 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Phrase by Phrase
Bibliography


Related Articles

Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
1 Timothy 2:13: Another reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
A Suitable Helper

The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
Adam and Eve in Gnostic Literature, and 1 Timothy 2:13-14
Women, Eve and Deception
Women, Teaching and Deception
The Prominence of Women in the Cultic Life of Ephesus
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
1 Timothy 2:15: What must a women do to be saved?