This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.
As I reflect upon the 2018 SBC gathering, I am both encouraged and concerned about the practice of complementarianism in the Convention. I was greatly encouraged to hear several of our SBC leaders articulate a clear and emphatic commitment to the distinct roles of men and women as taught in 1 Timothy 2:12, which I sought to explain in part two of this series (https://bit.ly/2JtPwEz). When Dr. Al Mohler was asked a question from the convention floor about the role of women in teaching, he made it abundantly clear that SBTS was committed to only men teaching in their School of Theology due to the pastoral nature of that role. When asked in another venue about the role of SBC President, Dr. Mohler replied that the gathering was more than a business meeting and included responsibilities that should limit that role to male leadership.
While Mohler’s comments instilled confidence about the future of complementarity in the SBC, I continued to have serious concerns as I engaged in conversations with others. The repeated mantra – both in private conversations and voices from the convention floor – was the need to “empower” women. If this means ensuring that our churches are enlisting women in every possible way to serve the church and not marginalizing them in their service, I fully embrace that call. However, if “empowerment” means to elevate women to all the same roles as men or to employ such a narrow application of complementarity that there is little more than a paper-thin wall separating it from egalitarianism, then count me out. As I argued in my last article, the “empowerment” of women will not reverse the results of The Fall, it will simply repeat the mistakes of The Fall (https://bit.ly/2JCBEMB).
For the sake of clarity, I believe women should serve in many ways within the church, and there should be no limitations beyond Scripture. At the same time, women will never flourish by being “empowered” to forsake the important role that God has given them to fulfill by his design. It is foolish to think that women will find fulfillment by following Eve in her folly exemplified in The Fall. If women want to flourish – as God intended – they should model Eve in her faith as illustrated in her ultimate response to God.
Following Eve in Her Faith Not Her Folly
Paul gave a clear prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Tim 2:12) based upon God’s created order (1 Tim 2:13). He then pointed to the circumstances of The Fall to exemplify what happens when we rebel against God’s design (1 Tim 2:14). In closing, Paul wanted women to see that they can be joyfully and beautifully fulfilled in their distinct role. This requires them to model Eve’s faith, which is exemplified in her response to God’s word of promise. Paul writes, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim 2:15).
Although there is much debate about Paul’s closing words, I believe his meaning becomes clear if we understand he is concluding the Genesis story of Eve followed by a call to all women to follow her ultimate example of faith. This is the reason verse fifteen begins with the feminine singular (i.e. Eve) and concludes with the feminine plural (i.e. all women).
First, regarding Eve, Paul is simply following her character in the plot of the Genesis account. Adam was created, then Eve (Gen 2:15-23). The Fall exemplifies the results of rebelling against God’s created complementarity order (Gen 3:1-13). Eve’s is saved from what led to her deception by trusting God’s word of promise, which included a return to embracing God’s design for her as a woman (Gen 3:14-16).
Understanding Paul’s illustration in 1 Tim 2:15 requires a correct interpretation of his use of “childbearing.” Some argue that Paul is illustrating the biological distinction between men and women and instructing them to find their fulfillment in bearing children. However, there is good reasons to think otherwise. Practically, Paul taught elsewhere that some women have the gift of singleness (1 Cor 7:7), and not every woman has been blessed with the ability to have children. Surely Paul would not exclude these groups from his universal argument that he is making. Furthermore, Paul’s points have all been theological. Therefore, it seems likely he continues with that line of reasoning.
The key to Paul’s meaning is best found in what William Mounce calls “a more serious suggestion” that recognizes the presence of the definite article in the original language before the word “childbearing.” This view recognizes Paul’s building on the context of Genesis 3, which led to Paul’s conclusion that “Eve’s deception will be overcome by the deliverance prophesied in Gen 3:15, which foretells that Eve’s seed (descendant) will bruise the serpent’s head, i.e., salvation is announced in terms of a child to be borne by the woman.”
Therefore, the way Eve would be saved from the results of the Fall – which included her sinful desire to usurp the role of her husband and his sinful desire to dominate her – was to trust in God’s promise that her seed would be the one to bring salvation to all mankind. Having God’s word of promise in Gen 3:15, Eve was faced with another choice. Would she choose to embrace God’s word and submit herself to the role that God had chosen her to fill? Scripture reveals that Eve chose to submit herself and fully embrace God’s promise. Eve went from twisting God’s word to trusting God’s word. This is illustrated in her words of faith recorded in Gen 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” Later, after Cain’s failure could have led her to despair, she remained fixed in her confidence in God’s promise as she declared at the birth of Seth, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). After The Fall, Scripture only records Eve’s voice two other times, both expressing faith in Gen 3:15. Eve’s faith in God’s word of promise and role that God gave her in the fulfillment of that promise became the focus of her life.
Second, Paul is not ultimately calling upon women to follow Eve in childbearing, but to model Eve in her expression of faith in God’s word and role for them. Although God has not designed women to teach or exercise authority over men, they will find complete fulfillment in in their God-given role to serve in the church. They, like Eve, will find their salvation by faith in the Gen 3:15 promise that was fulfilled by Christ, which will lead to the fruit of “love and holiness.” Ultimately, their submission to God’s command in this will require the same “self-control” as they needed for submitting themselves to modesty (1 Tim 2:9). The question remains for women today as it did for those of Timothy’s church in Ephesus: Will they repeat the mistakes of The Fall or will they follow Eve’s example of faith by trusting God’s word and exercising the self-control needed to submit to their God ordained role?
Where We Go from Here
I share the concerns of fellow Southern Baptists that any abuse of women is abhorrent, and the marginalization of women is equally unbiblical. However, the “empowerment” of women to leadership roles outside of God’s biblical design will not stop either of those things. Obedience and complete submission to God’s Word are the only things that will lead to valuing women for the treasured gift that they are from God. We will never fix unbiblical and ungodly actions with anything short of a robust biblical response. Rather than seeking to empower women, we should seek to entrust to them their biblical role that will produce genuine flourishing. This means we need to train women in our seminaries and churches to serve in teaching and leading children and other women (Titus 2).
In twenty-five years of serving as a Senior Pastor, I have not found that we need less women to serve in these capacities, but that we are always in need of more. We are not serving the families or our churches well by taking women out of the home when their children are in their formative years or removing godly women from teaching and leading the women of the church in order to place them in positions of authority over men. It is a first-class job God has given women and we should encourage them in the value of their role, not facilitate a longing for “something better.”
If the SBC is not training women in our seminaries to help them serve in the roles God has designed, then we are involved in a task that has less to do with the command of the Lord and more to do with taking our cues from the world. If we allow the culture to shift our focus away from the biblical teaching of the distinct roles of men and women, it will be to the detriment of the church and the family. What the SBC desperately needs is not one more resolution about the empowerment of women, but a resolve to return to God’s created design for men and women so that both can flourish as God originally intended. If we choose to do otherwise – ignoring the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 – we will soon discover that the empowerment of women did not reverse the effects of The Fall, but simply repeated the mistakes of The Fall. May God help us to stand firm in an age that wants to destroy our foundations.