Q&A: Women to be Submissive
Written by Arnoud Vergunst
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Reformed Practice - Male/Female Roles

Question:

I have been reading through Paul's first epistle to Timothy, and have a couple of questions about some of the ideas Paul sets out. 1)1 timothy 2: Paul is writing about how the  women have to be submissive and modest etc. I understand all that, it's quite clear cut. But verses 13 to 15 don't make any sense, especially verse 15,  "notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing it they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."   Does that mean that to be saved you have to have children?  Because that would mean that unmarried or barren women couldn't be saved?

Answer:

Hi Jane,

I am taking the time to answer your first question today and the other one a bit later.   I am glad that you are clear about the first part of Paul's instruction and I am not surprised that you have a few questions about the last verses in that chapter.  They look a little puzzling at first sight, don't they.  Obviously, Paul couldn't mean what you suggested in the last part of your question (do I need to have children in order to be saved).

The verses 13-15 are to be seen in connection of what goes before it.  Paul is building his case for his teaching in vs. 11-12.  He has you already so convinced that he could have omitted vs. 13-15!   But there might have been a few women in Ephesus who weren't agreeing that quickly.  So Paul made his case, as God's spokesman, of course.  There must be a reason why the women's place in the teaching position within the church was placed off-limit.

There are two unchangeable facts upon which this exclusion of the women in the teaching position is based. 
1.  God's creation order.  God first made the male and after that the female as his helper.  In other words, he made man to lead and women to follow.  This tendency to follow was imbedded in the soul of Eve by the Creator as well the quality to lead in the soul of Adam.  This order God placed in His creation should not be reversed or encouraged to be reversed in the public roles of men and women in the public worship.  It is interesting to note that only when the woman recognizes this basic distinction and gladly accepts it as God's ordinance, that then she will be a real blessing to her husband and even will have the beautiful task of shaping and helping her husband in his task of leadership.  Without the wife's involvement, a man or husband couldn't do his task well.  That doesn't mean that unmarried people are failures or won't be able to fulfill a meaningful role in life.  Yet, it is undeniable that there is something missing as also is keenly felt;  it was even experienced by Adam before the Fall as he doing God's task of naming the animals.  For I am sure that not only God remarked that it wasn't good for man to be alone but that He also caused Adam to feel that as he completed God's task of naming the animals.

2) The fall of Eve.  After having described this original creation order, Paul goes on to show what happened when Eve rebelled against this order for her to "follow" and instead began to "give leadership."   Her fall into sin occurred because she ignored her divinely ordained position.  She chose to lead Adam and she promptly led him into sin.  The first statement "Adam was not deceived" isn't meant absolutely.  In some way Adam was also deceived but he wasn't deceived like Eve was.  Adam, as a leader with whom God had made the covenant of works, knew full well what he was doing but choose to follow his wife who had overstepped her position at that point.   What before was a blessing (i.e. to follow a sinless husband) now is no longer a blessing.  As one said, "Now she has to obey the creature of her own designing, a sinful husband."  Paul is arguing from this fall that the women should not seek to reverse or ignore the order of God as established in creation within the church context.  It created huge problems then and it will do so now as well. So let's continue to obey this Divine order.

In the last verse Paul is still making his case to the women that they should aspire to teaching position within the church.  It will not be a way to happiness and neither will it be the way to be most useful or successful as a woman.  A woman will not attain to real happiness by forcing herself into a position that God didn't make her for but by assuming the position and pursuing the task that God has created her for.  If she may continue to live in the life of faith, love and holiness as a woman or wife, taking her position and devoting herself to the task God has called women for (childbearing and child-rearing), then this will not hinder her salvation.  Sometimes super busy moms have hardly time to do anything else but caring for their busy and demanding families and they may feel they miss out so much.  Yet God encourages even the "stay-home" mothers that if they pursue their task as women, this will never hinder their personal salvation. 
The path of obedience is always the way to blessing.  Therefore the best way for a woman to feel useful and even experience the joy of "leading" (because that is joyful and privileged task) is by "leading" their children to the Lord in their daily walk and talk at home.  God has given women the task to "teach" future men from the "bottom up."  In other ways, by means of the upbringing of the child or children that she may bear, she can be greatly used for the prospering of God's kingdom. Let no mother think that they are "burying their talents" when they devote themselves to the bringing of their children, the keeping and managing of the "home-base" (family) and creating the "harbor of safety and nurture" each home is to be.  That's where the men, as they lead and combat for their families, is to be able to return to and from there they are to be able to go forth again in the task God assigned them.  Perhaps you may think that this is "demeaning" the women's value.  Far from it.  Read Prov. 31 and observe what a multi-sided and influential woman this virtuous woman is.  There is nothing wasted when the woman devotes herself to her husband and family.  What a school also is the family life to our personal life!  A busy mother I know once shared an interesting thought on this verse: being a full-time mom of a large family had certainly made her feel her selfishness, rebelliousness, etc. That made her feel the need for the salvation of Jesus Christ more than anything.  So God used her daily family problems and demands as a way to teach her spiritually.  I don't think that's exactly what Paul had in mind but it is true.

In the context of the question, it doesn't fit to dwell upon the husband's task and his absolute vital role in making his wife or woman feel valued and important.  Prov. 31 woman is an ideal picture; no man is will find such a woman!  Indeed, they only become that way by the loving ministry of husbands.   But that falls outside the scope of your question. 
Thanks for your patience.

Pastor Vergunst

Rev. A Vergunst is the pastor of The Reformed Congregation of Carlton, New Zealand.  He answers questions on his church's website, www.rcnz.org.