Wal-mart. For some of you, that word causes a cold chill. For others, repressed memories of children throwing a tantrum in the buggy because you're being a good parent and not letting them have the candy that is, oh so conveniently, placed in the check-out line begin to arise. Some of you, like my father, avoid this place like the plague. But I grew up with a mom who loves this store (and who goes, no joke, several times a week) and who can talk to anyone about anything, especially Jesus.

I had one of those moments yesterday where I felt like I was turning into my mother. I was at Wal-mart, began talking to this lady in the check-out line (it can happen if we only put down our smart phones), and the conversation turned to God (gulp!). But the convo took a direction I did not expect when the lady told me she's a feminist and disagrees with Paul's statements about women (especially in 1 Corinthians). In the moment, I chose not to follow up on that part her statement and try to keep focused on the gospel, for I did not see a way for it to end well if I pursued the feminism and women in ministry topic, especially in the limited amount of time it takes to scan, bag, and pay for my stuff. But our reading for this week in 1 Timothy actually addresses this subject, so for those of you who have questions about the reading (or about what the Bible says about women in ministry), here's some commentary to assist you.

1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:1-13

One question that usually comes up in relation to these two passages has to do with the role of women in ministry. Can women serve as deacons or elders? Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 strictly refer to men as the ones who fulfill the role of elder/overseer/pastor, and there are no loopholes for this to be interpreted differently in the Greek text. With regards to deacons, 1 Timothy 3:11 is debated as to whether or not the word refers to a deacon’s wife or to a deaconess since the Greek word used here can refer to either a woman or a wife and since the word “their” is not included in the Greek.

The whole discussion of women in ministry can easily lead to frustration and to arguments among believers, especially when considering how 1 Timothy 2:8-15 fits into the discussion. A key factor to remember is that God is not sidelining women. He gives men and women different roles, but they are equal in their value to Him. The Spirit gives gifts – including the gift of teaching and of leadership – to men and to women, but that does not necessarily mean that they utilize such gifts in the same roles. However, both men and women are called to participate in the Great Commission, which involves among other things “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). In his sermon “What About Women, Paul?”, David Platt states:

"With submission to elders, women are free to lead in a variety of different positions. Women are intended by God to thrive in ministry across the church. You look throughout the New Testament, and you see women prophesying, praying, helping, serving, equipping, teaching, and spreading the gospel. One writer said, 'The fields of opportunity are endless 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."

When coming to passages in Scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:8-15, it is vital to read them in light of the surrounding context, the entire book, and the entire Bible in order to grasp what the Bible teaches on the subject. We also have to recognize our own bias about an issue – such as the issue of women in ministry – and submit our own feelings, opinions, and bias to the Word and its Author. With this in mind, we know that the church in Ephesus faced false teachers and false doctrine at the time because it is part of why Paul wrote this epistle (1:3-7), and since prohibitions in Scripture always have an accompanying purpose, we can learn about what was likely occurring in the church by what commands Paul includes in this letter. For example, his instructions regarding the women’s wardrobe and hair informs us that the church women were likely being ostentatious in a way that flaunted their wealth as well as focusing more time on their external appearance than on the cultivation of a godly character (2:8-9). Paul is not saying that a girl can’t wear her pearls.

Paul desires that women learn the truth. In fact, “learn” is the only command in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and the fact that Paul advocated the religious education of women was a huge deal culturally. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 contains an inclusio or bookends with the words “quiet” and “quietly”:

“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.”

By doing this, Paul emphasizes what is in the middle of the bookends, which is how he is defining quietness: not teaching or exercising authority over a man. Paul is not stating that women must refrain from speaking, for women can pray, prophesy, and speak in tongues in church (see 1 Cor. 11-14). His point is that women cannot teach or exercise authority over men, and these are the two qualities that distinguish elders from all other roles in the church. In his commentary Pastoral Epistles, William Mounce also states, “Whatever…’quietness,’ means, it must be understood against the backdrop of the situation of the Ephesian women…Some of the women are characterized as learning to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, gossiping (or talking foolishly), and in general being busybodies (1 Tim. 5:13). They were anything but quiet. Evidently the lack of constraint…was a problem at Ephesus.”

Paul’s reasons for these commands are rooted in creation order and the fact that God created Adam first (2:13). This is important because of the role of primogeniture that was understood culturally by the people in Bible times. This meant that the firstborn son ranked highest in the family after the father and served as a representative of all other family members. As the firstborn of all creation (see Rom. 5), Adam was held responsible even though Eve sinned first (Gen. 3:1-7). When God created Adam and Eve, He made the servant leader first then the woman, the helpmeet, and God desires for the order of creation to be reflected in the order or design of the church’s leadership.

Paul also points out that creation order was violated in the Fall (1 Tim. 2:14; Gen. 3). Paul is not saying that women are easily duped or that a lack of street smarts in the Garden prevents a woman from leading in the church. In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, R. Kent Hughes explains:

"We miss the point of verse 14 entirely if we think that Eve was more gullible than Adam, and that is why she 'was deceived and became a sinner.' Eve’s sin was not naiveté but a willful attempt to overthrow the creation order. She hoped, in eating from the tree, that her eyes would be opened and she would be like God (cf. Genesis 3:5).

Here is the irony: God had given Adam and Eve awesome authority…But due to her rebellion, a creature (part of creation), a snake, began to rule her because she obeyed it. Then Eve exercised woeful authority over her husband by leading him to do the same thing. And Adam? It appears from Genesis 3:6 that Adam was with Eve when she partook but did nothing, then ‘listened to [his] wife and ate from the tree’ (cf. Genesis 3:17). As Phillip Jensen explains: 'Eve’s sin involved overturning the order of creation and teaching her husband. Similarly, Adam’s sin came from ‘listening’ to his wife, in the sense of heeding and following her instruction. He was taught by her, thereby putting himself under her authority and reversing God’s good ordering of creation.'"

Because it will likely come up, scholars disagree about the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:15’s reference about women being saved through childbearing. What it does not mean is that our salvation relates to our ability to give birth. Procreation does not give a woman eternal salvation. It also does not mean that women will be kept physically safe when bearing children. Likely, the reference has something either to do with women being saved from their sin through the offspring of a woman (Jesus) or with emphasizing an important role that only women are capable of doing – bearing children. Whatever the meaning of this phrase, Paul’s focus in this passage is to instruct women on how to conduct themselves as members of the body, as witnesses in society, and as daughters of the King (2:8-12).