I Timothy 2:14-15 “And Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
Discussion concerning the propriety of women preachers is never going to go away. Women cannot escape their history, and two of the historical events which cannot be altered are the creation of man and woman, and their fall into sin. When Paul is talking about the role of woman in the church his appeal is to the opening chapters of Genesis and what happened there. For the apostle that is the key to our understanding ourselves and how the church of Jesus Christ is to function today. Both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, though they were created at different times, and from different materials, and for different reasons. The theory of evolution seeks to destroy that first reason Paul gives for male leadership in the church. Then the apostle turns the second, to the fall of man, and he points out that, “Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”(v.14). We know that the theory that in Genesis 3 we have nothing more than a mythological tale sees to destroy the second reason Paul gives for male headship. So we have to resist evolutionism and the mythologizing of Scripture, which we do because the Lord Jesus constrains us to accept the historical truthfulness of the Genesis account, and so does his beloved faithful apostle in the words of our text.
So in this 14th verse Paul is dealing with the primal transgression, and you will remember the context of the deceiving of Eve. God had placed our first parents in the Garden he had made. It was a period of probation during which time the constancy of their submission to their Lord was being tested. Would they obey God when he told them to be fruitful and multiply, replenish and subdue the earth? Yes, they would. Would they be obedient when he told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Gen.2:16)? Yes. Would Adam be obedient when God brought all the animals to him so that he would name them? Yes. Would Adam and Eve be obedient when he said, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:17)? No. They would not be submissive to God.
You understand that this tree and the tree of life were not magical trees, any more than the water used in baptism or the bread and wine used in the Lord’s Supper are magical. They were certainly beautiful trees, in a garden of beautiful trees, but these two were chosen by God from the others and set apart in order to become the focus of this period of probation. The trees were placed in a central position in the garden (Gen.2:9), so that their presence and the threat of certain death which was given to man even before he fell, would be a continual reminder to Adam and Eve that they were under probation. After the fall these trees lost their symbolic significance, melted away into the undergrowth and eventually died amongst the weeds of a groaning creation.
So men may not say that eating an apple is an utterly insignificant action for the mega-disaster of the Fall to hinge upon. In fact Adam and Eve were being tested concerning a massive question: is the Lord a good and loving God? Will they always trust him, taking with thankfulness the good gifts he gave them, but when he forbids other actions would they obey him then too? God will never selfishly withhold valuable things from men. In other words, God is not a sinner. It became the issue in the Garden and it is an issue still, whether God is forbidding homosexual desire, or the wanton killing of the unborn child, or the keeping of one day special each week, or the withholding of the gift of preaching from women. It is not because God is a sinner that these things are so. In none of these areas of life are blessings being withheld out of mere sovereign capriciousness.
When the details of the rebellion against God are commented upon the apostle tells us in our text that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Tim.2:14). Paul is reminding us of the difference in our first parents’ sins. This is a matter of history, but it is significant enough for him to draw our attention to it. It is another foundation for the divine differentiation of the roles of man and woman. So let us consider the differences now:
1. Adam and Eve Sinned at Different Times.
The opening verses of Genesis chapter three introduce us to the serpent. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”‘” (Gen.3:1). When Moses writes that the serpent was more ‘crafty’ than other animals he is simply referring to the skills needed by a wild animal to survive. We do not normally think of, say, a goldfish or a cow or a stick insect as crafty creatures – though they have their own kind of shrewdness no doubt – but a snake needs its cunning to hunt and keep alive. Also, when later on in the chapter God places a curse on this serpent it is not, of course, the whole classification of snakes in the animal kingdom which are being cursed but that one enemy of our souls represented by the old serpent, namely Satan. He is the one cursed by God (Gen.3:14-15).
So it is Satan, a fallen angel, who lies behind this initiative. He is described as “that ancient Serpent” (Rev.12:9) and as a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). Now either we have here an ordinary snake being used by Satan, or, more preferably, we have Satan here using the symbolism which is derived from a real serpent, taking its appearance (which is not described at all) and the name that Adam himself had given to this creature. So, appearing like one of the magnificent unfallen creatures of the Garden – almost like an angel of light – Satan comes and talks to Eve. Eve in the likeness of God met by Satan in the likeness of a serpent, which even in its natural state is a formidably cunning creature, worthy of our caution and respect.
One presumes that at this time Adam was doing what God has told him to do in the garden, “to work it and take care of it” (Gen.2:15). The serpent then comes to the woman whose calling was to be her husband’s helper. Is there any reason that he chose to tempt her first? Was Eve weaker? We know that she was different from the man. We know that neither man nor woman was created with a built-in impregnability to temptation. That does not impugn the goodness or power of God. The Lord Jesus himself, the express image of God, was tempted. The Bible does not say that a woman is more prone to deception than a man. It is not that women are more gullible than men, and so for that reason cannot be teachers. In Paul’s epistle to Titus he encourages older women to teach younger women (Titus 2:3), and in his second epistle to Timothy the apostle speaks warmly of the influence the teaching of Timothy’s mother and grandmother had upon the young man. The simple fact was that Satan devised to approach first what the apostle Peter calls “the weaker partner” (I Pet. 3:7). Shakespeare said, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Though we all recognise that women are weaker than men in terms of upper body strength the weakness referred to by the New Testament is in terms of authority within marriage. Husbands, who have the strength of their authority, are not to misuse their power and be harsh, and bring criticism and conflict into the home.
So the woman was approached by the serpent and asked this question about the restraints placed upon her liberty by God, and her reply was, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die'” (Gen.3:3). An interesting question is this: why did she add the words, ‘and you must not touch it’ ? God did not say those words (Gen.2:17). John Calvin in fact approved of Eve’s addition of the words ‘don’t touch it’. They showed that she was anxious to keep God’s precept. But the Old Testament scholar, Edward J. Young argues that the additional phrase shows Eve’s trust in her Creator was already beginning to waver. It has been suggested that an incipient legalism is coming in – ‘Touch not!’? And that Eve had some magical conception of the fruit, that even handling could be dangerous. We do not know why she added that phrase, but it is usually not helpful to embellish the Word of God. But we do know that when the serpent came to the woman that she was in a situation of certain vulnerability. You remember that “the woman was taken from the man and created for him, receiving from him her name and waiting for him … to join himself to her, she naturally found herself in a receptive attitude. She thus provided an easier prey for the cunning stranger, whom she ought not to have welcomed” (Henri Blocher, “In the Beginning,” IVP, 1984, p.145). The warning to us is that when both men and women are tempted they are being pressurised into not being negative, but to give this behaviour a welcome, an opening, and some consent. We may call that a feminine response of sympathy to persuasion and entreaty. But we are to resist the soft and reasonable voices of temptation as we would resist the AIDS virus, and hold on to the exact commandments that God has given us. So our first parents sinned at different times. Eve first of all.
2. Adam and Eve Sinned for Different Reasons.
“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Tim.2:14). We are not dependent upon Paul’s judgment for this. This is Eve’s confession – “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate'” (Gen. 3:13). How was she deceived? By the fact that she chose to use her senses, to walk by sight, and to rely on her emotions. She did not say to herself, “No matter how sweet my feelings may be I’ve got to cleave to the word of God.” We are told, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate” (Gen.3:6). In verse three we find her quoting the law of God to the serpent, but by verse six we find her breaking the same law. What has happened in between? She has listened to the serpent and she has followed her feelings.
But Eve has been given no reason to doubt God. She has not experienced some tragedy, long delay in answer to prayer, no man has broken her heart. In fact nothing at all has happened to have dissatisfied her. Her life has been paradise. Eve has had every reason to trust her loving Father. So the sin was hers totally; she could not blame inadequate provision from God to resist the serpent. She could not cry in anguish, “If only you had given me enough resources I would have mortified my desires!” All she could say was, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” No doubt human actions are all complex, and the activity of the serpent and the power of sinful temptation make this action of Eve’s even more involved. But Eve was deceived and did it. We can sympathise with people who have behaved utterly out of character with all we know about them, when they have hung their heads and said, “I don’t understand how I could have done it. I was deceived and I did it”
Then Adam entered into the disobedience with his eyes opened. Doesn’t the passage suggest that Adam had by this time rejoined her, when she walked up to the tree and picked the fruit? She ate it first and then immediately gave it to him and Adam chewed and swallowed it too: “she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen.3:6). He had not been the object of the serpent’s deception, but he had made no attempt to stop his wife eating the fruit or of saying when she offered it to him, “Never!” He too chose to sin. He entered on that course of action with his eyes open. He sinned wilfully. Eve was deceived into sinning. And that is Eve’s only defence. She does not plead the modern feminist defence of her conduct, “I wanted my eyes opened and become like God knowing good and evil.” Her only plea is, “I was deceived.” That was the reason she had mistrusted the holiness and the love of God. Then there is this astonishing passivity on the part of the man. His activity is described in one phrase, “he ate it.” When God calls him to account, Adam, the covenant head of the human race, hides whimpering behind the figure of his wife: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Gen.3:12).
So Eve swiftly lost the ability to reason correctly. She did not think through the issue. She did not consult her husband. She did not mistrust her feelings and cast herself on the Word of God crying to the Lord to help her. She listened to the serpent and decided herself that eating the fruit would be beneficial for knowledge. Her husband also fell, yes, but she alone lost the ability to reason correctly. So the apostle writing to Timothy is saying that this is another reason why women may not teach and have authority over men.
In response to this some people have argued saying that Eve’s weakness is invalidated by today’s educated women. Gary W. McHale replies, “This is an incredible statement. The twentieth century woman is superior to Eve in her ability to make moral judgments! In what way? Because of education. If this is true then is not twentieth century man also superior to Adam? They claim to be educated and superior to the women of the past – a 20th century woman depraved in nature (as men are as well), a slave to sin and raised up with human education has become superior to Eve. What kind of 20th century education is required to be superior to Eve? What grade level do you need to get to gain this status? Surely this comment about ‘today’s educated woman’ reminds you of the fact that Eve too thought that by eating the fruit she would gain superior knowledge. It appears to me that the feminists are repeating Eve’s mistake. This time they appeal to human knowledge, our educational system, and not to the Word of God as the basis for judgment” (“Adam and Eve Before the Fall,” Gary W.McHale, p.33, Canadian Christian Publications, 30 Harding Blvd. Ste. W.612, Richmond Hill, L4C 9M3, Canada). But Scripture clearly shows us that Eve was deceived while Adam wasn’t and that this difference is another justification for male authority at home and in church.
How often have we seen contemporary women trusting their senses rather than the clear Word of God? Every vision of the Virgin Mary, and the hallowing of that place of pilgrimage where she was allegedly seen, and the claims to miracles having taken place there have all been started by women. Consider those American cults which have spread in recent years originating with women. We can think of families who have come to our own congregation and the wife and mother have not accepted the teaching that came from this pulpit. The husband would have settled happily with us and fed his soul on the Bible, but his wife’s wriggling discontent and downcast head and thin-lipped smile as she left the services on Sunday mornings meant that there was no way that she was going to sit under Biblical ministry week by week. Her coolness turned off her children. She put pressure on her husband, got her way, and prevented him and their children from listening to the preaching of the Scriptures. The husband excused his weakness by telling himself that he was just being tender to his wife, but since God has created the man to lead, then those husbands were failing in their divine role as much as those wives. We say of them also that the woman was deceived and her husband sinned too.
3. Adam and Eve Received a Different Punishment for their Sins.
Both our first parents fell, but God responded differently to each of them. He first called to the man alone as both were hiding from God, “Where are you?” (Gen.3:9). It is Adam the head who is initially addressed and his punishment is painful toiling of the ground for food eventually returning to that dust from whence he came. Then Eve hears that her punishment is pain during child birth, desiring after her husband, and being ruled by him (Gen.3:16). Each of them had a vocation in doing the will of God. You remember that in marriage the woman’s greater importance was in child-bearing and so it is in that area that she meets her punishment. But the man’s greater importance was in working the ground and there he is punished in the endless stress of daily labour. So each receives a due punishment.
When God expresses the judgment that will come upon the woman, the two similar words used, ‘pains’ and ‘pain’, are not the usual ones for childbirth, but the context shows that they are pains related to the birth of children. The Australian, Dr. Rowland S Ward, asks the question, “Is this the beginning of pain in childbirth, and so of an anatomical change in women? Is it implied that without sin human birth would have been painless?” (“Foundations in Genesis: Genesis 1-11 Today” New Melbourne Press, 358 Mountain Hwy, Wantirna, Victoria 3152, Australia, 1998, p.108). Dr Ward does not think so. It is an increase of pain that is noted as a consequence of sin, not the beginning of pain. He makes these suggestions: “We should think in terms of the complications of birth: miscarriage, babies still-born, deformed babies and births that threaten or take the mother’s life. We should also include all the sorrow a mother knows because of her children throughout her life, pain rendered more difficult because of lack of perfect harmony with her husband. At any rate, the woman is aware, even when she gives birth, of the consequence of death she shares with the man” (ibid.).
Gary W McHale observes how in that very punishment itself male authority is demonstrated: “consider that the punishment given to the woman in no way affects the man, but the punishment given to the man also affects the woman. The man doesn’t receive pain during sexual intercourse with the woman, since that is his part of being fruitful, nor is the man told that he would desire the woman and be ruled by her. However, to toil the ground is unproductive and hard work for either gender, not just the man, and both also return to the dust of the ground. If man’s punishment is hard work then why is it hard work for the woman as well? If man is to return to the ground from whence he came then why doesn’t the woman return to the side of the man? All the punishments that Adam receive are also binding on Eve, but none of the punishments that Eve receive are binding on Adam. His punishment becomes her punishment because as the leader those under him are given his punishment as well” (ibid, p.34).
The citizens under the rule of King David suffered because of his wickedness. He was their federal head. So too Adam’s punishment is passed on to Eve because his was the primary role. The creation too groans because of Adam; the ground is cursed; the animals return to dust and they are in pain in childbirth – Eve’s punishment is passed on to them.
Adam alone is given a fuller explanation why he is to be punished as he is. It is “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it.'” (Gen.3:17). It is as if God is reminding Adam, “You were the one who was given the law of God, the authority to name the animals and the woman, but you sat back when the serpent tempted her, and you let her walk to the tree. She said to you, ‘ Adam, I think I am going to try one of those fruit.’ You watched her do it and did not say a word, and then you ate some of the fruit yourself, and so I am punishing you appropriately and all who are under you.”
There follows a power struggle between the genders, and Eve is told, “Your desire will be to your husband and he will rule over you.” The struggle between man and woman is not because of men but because of the sin and punishment of the first woman. Mary Kassian says, “Women have been born cursed. Although many women would wildly nod their heads in agreement and continue their plot to overthrow male domination, they forget that the curse on women is not rooted in the sin of man. The curse on women was brought about by a woman. It does not consist of the subordination of women, but rather in the rebellion against women’s subordination. Women are cursed in that they rebel against the created order. It is only when women embrace Christ and seek to live by the teaching of his Word that they are released from the bondage of the curse. It is only in adopting a Biblical perspective on male and female roles that women will be alerted to the sin tendencies in and around them and be truly liberated to fulfil their God-given role” (Mary A. Kassian, “Women, Creation and the Fall,” Westchester: Crossway Books, 1990, p.20).
Before the fall woman was conscious how she and her husband were one. When the serpent asked her about eating from the trees in the Garden the women replied in the first person plural form – ‘we’: “We may eat from the trees in the garden” (Gen. 3:2). But when God interrogates her after the fall the word ‘we’ has gone and she says, ‘I’ as does her husband Adam. “I heard,” “I feared,” “I was naked,” “I hid.” The unity they had known had disintegrated. The ‘desire’ of the woman is working against her husband. It is as if Eve were saying, “We women must speak for ourselves.” She sees Adam’s authority as a threat.
It would be a very foolish husband who never listened to the counsels of his wife. He would be a great sinner. But the Word of God is emphasising that a husband is obliged to take up the responsibility that God has given him, in loving his wife so that he would lay down his life for her, yes, but also in being her great protector and head. Who would not want such a head? Every believing man privileged to have had a Christian father thanks God every day for having been given such a head to whom he cheerfully submitted his obedience. Though our own fathers have been dead for many years there is not a week when we do not miss them, and many a day long to have their counsel and guidance. Eve had such a head in Adam, and she ignored him.
So Paul appeals to the state of our first parents before and after the fall for his prohibition of women preaching. God entrusting to Adam the responsibility of leadership is a permanent pattern for male-female relationships. Eve’s disruption of this structure is a permanent warning, applicable in a still imperfect world to the would-be female teachers in Ephesus and all their descendants, of the harm which is caused whenever a woman usurps a leadership role in church or family. This is why a woman is not permitted by our loving heavenly Father to teach or to have authority over a man (we understand by ‘authority’ the right, power and responsibility to direct others).
The Lord Jesus announced no basic change in the roles of men and women. He chose men only as his apostles. Christ would not put women in the position of directing men. The paradox of the opening chapters of Genesis remains. Men and women both are made in the image of God and share equally in the dignity of creation, and yet there is a role relationship of functional subordination of the woman to the man. Jesus’ own attitudes and actions are totally consistent with his Father’s original creation. There is no change in the entire New Testament. There is not a single example or exhortation in the New Testament which permits a woman to exercise an official, teaching authority over a man.
Of course, in the New Testament there are clear indications that men and women share fully in the fundamental privileges of redemption through Christ and in the power of the Spirit. In Acts 2 we read that the Spirit, in fulfilment of God’s promise in Joel 2, is poured out upon ‘all mankind,’ both ‘sons and daughters.’ All members of the new covenant community, the church, are called upon to be “subject to one another” (Ephs 5:21), to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:28). Men and women work together, as co-labourers, in the gospel (Rom.16). Women with men are filled with the spirit and “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephs.5:19). They will also write hymns and spiritual songs, and men will learn from them and sing them.
Yet there is no yielding of the clear and emphatic teaching of the functional subordination of women to men within marriage relationship and the church. It is wrong to make those passages in the New Testament which teach the equality of redemptive privilege between man and woman contradict those passages which teach the different roles of men and women in the home and the church. Only men are to exercise authority and leadership in those areas. It is not the will of Christ for his church that women enter the ministerial office.
While the apostles were still alive there were some women as well as some men who were given the foundational gift of ‘prophecy.’ Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:8). It was at the time when the church had little written New Testament and was emerging from the old covenant and taking shape in God’s world. The apostle insists that such women were to prophesy with their heads covered (I Cor. 11:2-16). Though they found themselves in the Spirit of prophecy and brought a message from the Throne of the Universe when they spoke those words in the church they did it with their heads covered to show that they too recognised that the men had the authority in the church not themselves. But the charisma of prophecy is different from the charisma of the pastor/preacher office. We do not have people in the church today who are organs of revelation. There is no way you can take the principles of how a gift of prophecy was to be exercised and apply them to how an elder or preacher was to operate – which gifts are a permanent possession of the church. The pattern is similar in the Old Testament. Women like Miriam, Deborah or Huldah might receive a temporary gift of prophecy, but that was no warrant for their entree into the temple priesthood or into eldership in Israel.
This is clear teaching in Scripture and we are not to be apologetic that it is here because it is for our blessing. Neither are we to be rueful and playful or slightly cynical about this doctrine or anything the New Testament teaches. It is the immature to see how near we can go to the edges of a doctrine without falling into defiance. When I hear arguments to the effect that the Bible says nothing about women being at the doors welcoming people and giving our hymnals, or about their taking the offertory plates around, or about them delivering the announcements each week, or about women giving out the bread and wine in communion services – then I believe that there is a provocation of New Testament truth and order in such actions. The agenda for that behaviour does not appear to be coming from the Bible.
4. Women will be Saved Through Childbearing. (v15)
“But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” Now there are a number of interpretations of that first illusive phrase. One is that though there is going to be pain in childbirth women will generally come safely through it. The difficulty with that interpretation is that salvation in the Pastoral Epistles always deals with salvation from sin to Christ, and also there are women who are not saved but who die in childbirth.
Another interpretation of these words is women will be saved through motherhood, in other words, salvation for the woman is in the bearing of children. While not all women are mothers, childbearing is the most unique feature of femininity and is therefore an appropriate symbol for a woman’s role. So Paul is saying something like this: “Women are saved by grace through faith alone, but the practical outworking of that salvation will be experienced not through insisting on being teachers or rulers, grasping for responsibilities which are not theirs to exercise, but in becoming and accomplishing more fully what they were created to be and to do. Motherhood is, despite modern devaluation, a supremely important role, but it is by no means the only one. Women, whether married or single, childless or mothers, ‘will be saved through childbearing’ that is, through developing true womanliness in whatever spheres are available to them” (Edward Donnelly, “Should Women Preach?” in “Men, Women and Authority,” ed. Brian Edwards, Day One Publications, 1996, p.129).
The third interpretation is that the words are referring to the birth of the Messiah, in other words, the woman will be saved through the Birth of the Child. John Stott says that “this interpretation commends itself by its extreme appropriateness. Earlier in the chapter the ‘one mediator between God and man’ has been identified as ‘the man Christ Jesus’ (v.5), who of course became a human being by being ‘born of a woman’ (Gal.4:4). Further, in the context of Paul’s references to the creation and fall, recalling Genesis 2 and 3, a further reference to the coming redemption through the woman’s seed, recalling Genesis 3:15, would be most apt. The serpent had deceived her; her posterity would defeat him” (John Stott, “The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus,” IVP, 1996, p.87). The glory of God’s plan is that it was precisely through woman’s labour pains that the Redeemer of the world would come. Lo, he who made the starry skies despises not incarnation within the virgin’s womb. Do not be discouraged women, you will be saved through the birth of the child. The weakness of that attractive interpretation is that the word ‘childbearing’ is an obscure and ambiguous way of referring to Christ.
Whatever interpretation is taken one point is certain, salvation is certain for all Christian women just as long as their profession is credible, that is, adds Paul, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (v.15). Go on believing, and loving and living a holy life with ‘modesty.’ With that word ‘modesty’ the chapter ends. It has been mentioned earlier in verse 9 – “I also want women to dress modestly.” The word is the top and tail of this section. It is a richer term than the translation ‘modesty’ suggests, hence the NIV translation by ‘propriety.’ It carries the overtones of moderation, self-respect, doing what is fitting or appropriate, a suitable restraint in every circumstance, a self watch, an inner government, constantly reining on all the passions and desires. It is the very opposite of the trumpeted qualities of our day – self-expression and the rejection of authority and restraint.
A Christian woman will be characterised by continual faith and love, and so she will work for Jesus Christ, his church and his kingdom. It was because of their faith, love and holiness that those women mentioned in all four gospels witnessed the great accomplishments of Christ, his death and resurrection. We often mention that they were the last at the cross and the first at his tomb. In the book of Acts you meet similar women. In Antioch of Pisidia there were “devout women of prominence” as well as “leading men” (Acts 13:50). At Philippi there was a merchant woman, Lydia, who gave hospitality to Paul (Acts 16:14&15). Other prominent women are mentioned at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4) and Berea (Acts 17:12). How do we reconcile the existence of these prominent women with the supposed despised status of women in New Testament times? Do you think that Christianity operates by reflecting the society in which it spreads, so that where there are prominent women with wealth and influence the churches in those areas had women elders and preachers, but in communities where women were downtrodden then they were downtrodden in the church? It does not work like that. The Bible is far more sophisticated than such stereotyping. The New Testament never appeals to a certain status being given to women because of the contemporary estimation of women. It always goes back to the created order.
The apostle Paul refers to women of faith, love and holiness as his “fellow workers” in the gospel: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in the gospel” (Roms. 16:3). He adds, “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (Roms.16:6). He also says, “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord” (Roms.16:12). He also mentions Persis “another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord” (Roms.16:12). In fact, a third of those he commends in Romans chapter 16 are women, and none of the men receive the accolade he gives to the women. Converted women became students of the Word of God, and in the great city of Rome continued in faith, love and holiness and so were able to teach others. They were witnesses to the grace of God and co-workers with the apostles.
Many of us have been blessed to have come under the influence of a ‘mother in Israel’ who spoke to us warmly and wisely of the living God. I think of a lady in South Wales who after she was widowed opened a corner shop to take care of herself and her daughter. She was the first woman I met who read Ryle and Lloyd-Jones and took the Banner of Truth magazine and commented helpfully on theological issues and prayed with a broken heart and heavenly unction. I had never met anyone like her. She prayed that I might become a preacher. Would that there were hundreds like her.
I think of a young women I met in Kenya working in a long valley that ends in Mombassa. She was working for the Methodists and she travelled from village to village speaking to the women there. Eye infection amongst the babies was so common and many children lost their sight. One was always seeing blind people being taken along the roads. The cure was remarkably simple, a saline solution would kill the infection and the sight of these babies would be saved. She was travelling her way up and down this great valley gaining the confidence of these women and helping them with their children. She was trying to improve their diets, encouraging them to mix a raw egg in with the staple millet and cassava porridge which they were feeding to their children, and that they should plant some tomatoes near their homes and feed their children with that. Infant mortality was so high. This she did in the name of the Lord Jesus and spoke of him to these women.
We have recently been visited by a woman who for about thirty years has been working in Lima, Peru, managing a great Christian Book Shop, the best in the whole south of South America. She orders the best books and is careful not to encourage the modern heresies of the health and wealth teaching, and the Toronto blessing which has brought such confusion and disillusionment with Christianity to Peru. She sends out special offers to pastors through the country and encourages them to build up their little libraries and purchase the books that will help them with their preaching and teaching. Her work in South America is invaluable and has more influence than most preachers in Lima. All such women will be welcomed and will talk to us about their work, and we will greatly profit from their insights.
We would be open to have a woman worker in our church if we had the money to support her. Her status would be the same as a woman who has gone out to work in Kenya or the Philippines, that is, she would be under the elders’ authority of the local church where she would be in membership. A lady worker would not be a preacher or elder here any more than the women we pray for in Benin or Argentina.
Women are full time teachers in Christian Schools, translators; they work with the street children of the vast cities; they are nurses and doctors, administrators, pilots – the opportunities for women to be fellow-labourers with us in the Kingdom of God are immense today. Are some of you women thinking of this? I trust not one of you is wresting this great principle of male headship in the family and church to become a principle of inertia, so that your horizon is limited by the bourgeois vision of a comfy home and easy life. Your lives are in the crucible now. For many of you the future has marriage in view and you will be involved in supporting your husband and children while working in your local church. For others of you the fields are white unto harvest. What fulfilling and fascinating lives Christian men and women can lead – “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (v.15). That has to be there all the time.
14th November 1999 GEOFF THOMAS