“Adam was first formed, then Eve.” You don’t have to be in the church for years to hear someone quote this phrase from 1 Timothy 2:13. And it won’t be too long after that quote until you hear the words, “That’s why men lead in the church and women follow: because the man was created first and woman second.”
But this analysis (if you can even call it that; I shudder to use that word, but do so out of respect for all views, even those that differ from my own) falls flat on its face for a few reasons. Let’s get into the reasons why the male-exclusive conclusion is wrong below.
Why “Adam was first formed, then Eve” has nothing to do with church leadership
Adam was formed before Eve; man was formed before the woman. That’s fine. That’s the way God intended it to be, and if He didn’t, He would’ve created woman first. That’s true. And yet, the order of creation has nothing to do with church leadership.
Reason #1: God gives the gifts to whom He wants, to both men and women
I’m going to lay my cards out on the table and say that the statement about Adam being created before Eve has nothing to do with church leadership because God gives gifts in the church to whomever He wants. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Spirit “distributes to each one individually as He wills.” The gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church are first, given as He wants to give them. If Paul meant to say, “The Spirit gives them according to gender,” 1 Corinthians 12 would’ve been an ideal place to put that. And yet, he didn’t because, in the chapter prior (1 Corinthians 11), Paul discusses the idea of women “praying and prophesying” in the Corinthian congregation with their heads uncovered — an idea that would imply these wives had no sign of submission/husband authority over them.
The fact that women were praying and prophesying publicly without a sign of submission shows that women weren’t just allowed to do ministry because of their husbands, or because of a marriage, but rather, because they were called. And God calls both married and single women to do ministry. No woman “needs a husband” to qualify for ministry. Jesus is our mediator, and if women have received His atoning work on the cross, they are as qualified as any man for leadership in church ministry.
We see the same thing in Ephesians 4, where Paul also writes that “He Himself gave some” to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). The word “some” is indefinite, in favor of both genders, not just one. It doesn’t say, “And He gave some males to be Pastors,” but, “He gave some to be Pastors.” The word “some” is both indefinite and gender-inclusive, meaning that some women can be Pastors as well as men, that some women can be apostles and prophets as well as men. A large portion of today’s church may exclude on the basis of gender, but the Word of God does not. God gifts whomever He pleases, and if He designed the genders and gave them both to have dominion over the earth, made both in His image after His likeness, then He can gift a woman with a spiritual gift (such as Pastor) that places her in church leadership.
He didn’t ask us how we felt about Him gifting women with spiritual gifts because He doesn’t care how we feel. It’s not about what we think, but rather, about what His Word says.
Reason #2: Leadership in the home leads to servanthood in the church, not headship
The use of “a man” in 1 Timothy 3:1,5
I’m all too aware of the Southern Baptist stance on the issue of women in leadership, and usually, when someone is quoted as a person of authority on complementarianism (the view that men and women complement each other in marriage duties but men are to lead in the church as well as their homes), the individual usually has ties to Southern Baptist life in some form or another. I grew up Baptist; the position is one I’ve heard my entire life. My mother didn’t endorse it, my Pastor of 17 years and father in the ministry didn’t, but there are some in my home church who did (and still do). And by the way, I didn’t grow up Southern Baptist.
Southern Baptists have made a 1:1 correlation between home and church: if the husband leads in the home, they say, then he should lead in the church. But that’s a wrong approach to church life because, whereas the husband is given rulership in his home, he isn’t given rulership in the church. In the church, the husband doesn’t lead; he follows.
These are the requirements for the office of bishop/pastor/overseer, according to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); (1 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV)
First, let’s note that the phrase “a man” does not refer to the male gender in the Greek, but rather, “man or woman.” The word used is tis, a word that refers to “someone,” an indefinite pronoun that doesn’t tip the scale in either direction with regard to gender. Tis is inclusive of both genders because there’s both male and female. The use of the phrase “husband of one wife,” then, doesn’t refer to the male exclusively, but rather, a faithful spouse. Back in the days of the King James Version (and earlier), there was no use of “he or she” to refer to both genders as we do today. The use of “he or she” is a modern-day, twenty-first-century approach to gender discussion; back then, the use of the masculine was inclusive of everyone. Check any legitimate discussion on seventeenth-century English and the use of the inclusive masculine will stare you squarely in the face.
When we read Scripture, we still use the inclusive masculine to refer to men and women. For example, when we read the words of Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful,” we know that God is blessing the man OR woman who walks godly — not just the godly male.
The office of Bishop is the office of pastor/overseer, which can only be given to someone who has the gift of Pastor. The gift qualifies one for the office, though the person with the gift must be chosen by the church or congregation he or she will serve. With that said, if the gift is gender-inclusive, then so is the office. That’s the language we see Paul use here in 1 Timothy 3. If someone desires the office of a Bishop, Paul says, “he or she” (third-person singular) desires a good work. Yes, even women desire the office of Pastor, and it is a good work they desire to do.
Additionally, for those who are still skeptical, Paul does give qualifications for women to serve in church leadership in 1 Timothy 3:11. Paul gives qualifications for women to serve as deacons because the diaconate is a church office; Paul gives general qualifications to both genders in terms of serving as Pastor/Bishop because the pastorate is not just an office but also a spiritual gift. Paul realized he couldn’t tell women God couldn’t and wouldn’t call them. I’m not sure the church of Jesus Christ today as a whole shares the same conviction Paul did.
Leadership in the home, servanthood in the church
Some men believe that they lead in the home and thus, are qualified to lead in the church, but church work is not about leadership but rather, servanthood. The language Paul uses in 1 Timothy 3:5 is “take care of the church of God.” The word for “take care” in the Greek is epimelesetai, meaning “care for.” There is no word for “lead” here.
The reason why husbands don’t lead in the church is because there’s no need for a second head; Christ is the Head of the church, and He hasn’t surrendered His headship. Every male in the Body of Christ is part of the Bride of Christ, so there is no headship of male over female in the church. Rather, both genders, man and woman, are the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Head, over both male and female.
Reason #3: Paul mentions creation order in 1 Timothy 2, but reverses it in 1 Corinthians 11
Those in favor of male-only leadership in the church cite 1 Timothy 2 as their prooftext (it is the go-to source for many), but they do so lacking knowledge that Paul discusses creation order in one place but reverses it in another place. Here are the words of 1 Corinthians 11:
11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12, NKJV)
The highlighted phrase above is one that I wish complementarians and male-only advocates of church leadership would read more often. For in 1 Corinthians 11:12, Paul reverses the creation order when he says that “as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman.” So, if creation order matters today, as much as comps and male-only advocates say it does, then only women should lead in the church because the men are born through the woman. So perhaps the church should start saying, “today, the woman gives birth to the man” when confronted with the idea that male comes before female.
Now, I’m not arguing that Paul is feminist and advocates for women only; to have done so would’ve undone his own ministry and opportunities for leadership. But what I am suggesting is that, if comps and male-only advocates want to continue asserting the primacy of male over female because “Adam was first formed, then Eve,” they’ll have to accept that 1 Corinthians 11:12 reverses the order and thus, allows women to lead in the church as much as men do.
The reason why so many have taken 1 Timothy 2 out of context is that they haven’t read the rest of Paul. To assert Paul as claiming only men should lead in 1 Timothy 2 without considering the words of women giving birth to men here in 1 Corinthians 11 seems rather premature, naive, and ill-informed, doesn’t it?
Reason #4: Women Leaders in God’s Congregation Are In Scripture
I know for some complementarians and male-only advocates this may come as a bit of a shock, but there are actually women leaders in God’s congregation in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
One of the most lethal in all of Scripture would have to be Deborah. I read somewhere that a complementarian website wrote that Deborah wasn’t a pastor in her day. True, she wasn’t a Pastor as we think of the office, but she was a judge (civil leadership) and prophetess (spiritual leader). And, get this: she led “in the congregation” of the nation of Israel. The word “congregation” is mentioned with regard to Israel in the Old Testament some 56 times according to the NKJV phrase “congregation of Israel”, an emphasis we’d do well not to forget. Since Deborah was a leader in the congregation, and, as God’s messenger, she gave messages to the males of Israel, there’s no doubt that she was a leader in God’s congregation over men. That qualifies Deborah as an ancient-day church leader.
Then, there’s Junia, yet another woman complementarians and Southern Baptists would love to eliminate from Scripture — or rewrite, rather. She and Andronicus are mentioned as “my fellow prisoners” and “my fellow countrymen” by Paul. And then, he goes on to say that they “are of note among the apostles” (Romans 16:7), which indicates that Junia was an apostle. That’s right: there’s a female apostle in the Bible!
I’m all too aware of the vain attempts to revise Junia to make her “Junias,” masculine, and give her a sex change, or to water down her office: some say she wasn’t an apostle but was “well-known to the apostles” or that she was a church messenger. But if Junia was a church messenger, why would Paul say that she “also was in Christ before me”? Paul has been comparing Andronicus and Junia to himself in Romans 16:7; since he was never a church messenger, he wouldn’t have mentioned this as a point of similarity between him and Junia. Rather, Junia was one of his countrymen. She was a fellow prisoner in the gospel alongside him (they preached the same gospel). And, she was in Christ before him, one of his spiritual parents, it appears he is saying. And, to top it all off, she was, like him, an apostle in the faith. Yes, God gave “some” (Ephesians 4:11) to be apostles, as I said above, and Junia was one of them.
Reason #5: Galatians 3:28 settles the debate
I know, I know, complementarians and male-only church advocates will never understand it, but here goes: Galatians 3:28 settles the debate on men and women in the church. In it, we read Paul’s words that “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
And these words mean just what they say: “neither male nor female.”
Gender is listed in Galatians 3:28 alongside other hierarchical distinctions such as “bond nor free” and “Jew nor Greek.” So what does Galatians 3:28 mean for the Jew and Gentile? It means that both are equal in Christ; Jews have no more claim over spiritual gifts than Gentiles, no more claim over salvation than Gentiles. What does Galatians 3:28 mean for bond and free? That the free man is not more favored by God than the slave, that God doesn’t prioritize spiritual gifting to the free man first, then the slave. No, both are on equal footing in Christ Jesus.
So now, what does Galatians 3:28 mean for the male and female?
It means that, contrary to what comps will say, both genders are on equal footing in Christ, that both male and female are equally saved and have equal access to the spiritual gifts. God can gift men and women with the gifts He desires they have, and being male doesn’t give one “a leg up” in the leadership gifts over being female. And being female doesn’t mean God excludes you from leadership because you “aren’t male.” The idea that the female can’t lead because she’s not male is something you can find in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, where “the female must become male to enter the kingdom of God,” but you won’t find it in the pages of Holy Scripture.
Males are no more saved in the Lord than females. Males are no more called in the Lord than females. Males are no more selected for church leadership than females. And males are no more eligible for leadership than females in the Lord. The reality is that both genders are on equal footing before God when it comes to spiritual gifts. The problem with a number of men and the idea of male headship is that men have taken it out of the home where it belongs and spread it over the church — where it doesn’t belong. And a husband has some authority over his wife, and she should submit to his leadership in the home, but he doesn’t get the right to tell her she can’t teach, preach, or Pastor because he doesn’t give out the spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit does! He doesn’t get to decide where his wife serves in the body of Christ; the Holy Spirit does! He isn’t Lord (capital “L,” not “lowercase”) over his wife; the Lord God is! And, if he is such a servant who submits to the Lord’s leading, then he should get out of the way and let God place his wife in the church wherever God wants her to lead.
Husbands have a hard time understanding this fact: when your wife is elevated, so are you. The more you as a husband keep your wife down, in “the place” you want her to be, the less she shines and the less you shine. The more you elevate your wife and support her, the better she becomes, the stronger she becomes, the stronger you become, the stronger you both are in the Lord, the more your love for each other grows. To hold your wife back is to not only hinder your prayers before God but to hinder your (and her) progress before God, too. You’re not just hurting your wife when you forbid her from serving in church leadership; you’re hurting yourself. In the same way that Paul says a man doesn’t beat his body but cherish it in Ephesians 5 (so you shouldn’t beat your wife), you also shouldn’t hold your wife back because to do so is to hold yourself back.
As can be seen from these few examples, there’s plenty of Scripture to make the case for women in ministry. With 1 Corinthians 11 reversing the created order, comps have got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what 1 Timothy 2 means if it isn’t a biblical license for male-only leadership.
Believe God. It isn’t.