1 Timothy 2.8-15
Here, we have the most straightforward talk about the role of women and men in the church. That doesn’t make it easy, though. In fact, they are some of the hardest words to understand in all of Scripture (at least for the American culture though).
8. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9. likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10. but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14. and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
In this letter, Paul is instructing his apprentice, his disciple, Timothy on how to order the churches he is planting. So, this is perhaps the most universal (without a specific church context) letter we have from Paul. In the beginning of this passage, the instructions for men and women seem fine enough. Men should pray passionately, but not with anger. Women should dress modestly and be known for their fantastic good works, not for their fantastic bodies. Then, verses 11 and 12. Again we should note that Paul was happy for women to pray and prophesy publicly. He affirms the value of women over and against others in the culture of his day.
However, we see the authority role of men again here. Since Paul is clearly not prohibiting women to teach in general, what does he mean? Probably “exercise authority” is a qualifier of “teach.” That is to say, women are not to teach authoritatively over men. The “quietness” of women should be quietness and submission in relationship to the authoritative teaching and responsibility. And in the church, he is not suggesting that all men have this authority. In fact, this passage is followed immediately by a section on the qualifications for the office of bishop. That is to say . . . women cannot exercise authority over the church, but let me tell you who can. Not all men exercise authority over the church — only certain ones.
Part of Paul’s argument here is that menkind were created before womenkind. His appeal to creation rather than a sense of social protocol (“that’s how everyone does it!”) tells us that the instruction is not specific to Paul’s culture only.
I have hit the highlights of what the Bible says about gender roles, but certainly not all the places. I understand that God has ordained gender roles of leader and follower from creation. Men are to be leaders. Women are to be followers. A man is to take responsibility and a woman is to help because of his deficiencies. They are a team of separate, but necessary parts. They dance together. They are like two wings on an airplane. Not the same, but corresponding. Which is more important? We need them both. And we need them both to play their separate roles. Leading does not mean always to walk in front. When there is danger from the front, the leader walks at the front protecting the followers and when there is danger from the back, the leader walks at the back protecting the entrusted folk from hind danger. The one goes at the back, when the leader is at front, has important duties to fulfill that the unity of the system remains intact and the leader is alarmed about the possible dangers that might come from the back or from sides that the leader can not see or expect. The same applies when the leader is at the back too.
When the Bible talks about gender roles, it only talks about them in the context of family and church and it is to be understood never outside. Therefore, I can think of no reason to apply them outside the family and church. In fact, these two institutions that were initiated and ordained by God are safe places in which to practice the creation plan of gender roles. Inevitably we will fail, and only in the covenant community of family and church can we have confidence in the forgiveness of others when we mess up. In the worlds of business, politics, healthcare, law enforcement, art and education, there is no safety net of repentance and forgiveness when we hurt each other. There is no covenant commitment outside the family and church, especially in the American context and playing our gender roles in a biblical sense is risky, adventurous and sometimes dangerous for both roles. If we were to apply them outside the covenant commitments, we will inevitably alienate all those around us . . . death of isolation by a thousand alienations.
The Church and Family provides a safety net which will free us to swing on this trapeze with confidence that if we fall, the men and women around us will catch us, and allow us to climb up and try it again.
In the church and family, women should learn to submit in a helpful way. There is a balance. A kind of submission that does not actively help is not really submission. She who does not actively help her elders to lead is not obedient to her God. They need her help. On the other hand, she who does not follow the lead of her elders, but tries to take the reigns of the church away from them, is not obedient either.
In the church and family, men should learn to lead in a way that is gracious. There is a balance. A kind of leadership that ignores the thoughts, feelings and needs of the followers is not really leadership. He who does not actively seek the counsel, wisdom and understanding of his followers is not obedient to God. He cannot truly lead those he does not love. On the other hand, he who does not love enough to make decisions, but sits on his hands because he is afraid is not obedient either. One thing more: What women shall do in family and church towards men is the same role that men play towards Christ. Men are answerable to God and they shall not forget that real fact. This hierarchy is the gift from God not to be despised or to be taken lightly.