Here at The Essential Church, we’ve been covering 1 Timothy 2:11-15, what it says, and how we can be sure of its intended meaning and not some of the meanings being thrown around in the Christian world.
Today’s post concerns the statement from 1 Timothy 2:14 (NKJV): “14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
Some have interpreted 1 Timothy 2:14 as affirming that “women are more prone to deception in the church than men,” claiming that the ease of female deception is the reason why Paul doesn’t allow women to teach. When traditionalists often (not always) interpret the text to affirm that women are inferior to men and thus, cannot teach because they are more prone to deception and error, they fail to consider what Scripture says about the deception of believers in general — that every believer can be deceived, no matter how smart, intellectual, or “biologically capable” some believe themselves to be.
Without further ado, let’s get into the verse.
“The woman, being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14)
The text of 1 Timothy 2:14 says that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived, fell into transgression.” As I’ve said in a previous post, Paul’s mention of Adam, Eve, and the Fall here are not a justification for why women cannot teach but rather, a defense of the Old Testament genealogy of creation and rebellion against God found in the Book of Genesis. In a church that is rife with false doctrine, where Paul has sent Timothy to teach some not to teach false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3) nor give in to “fables and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4), it only makes sense that Paul would forbid women from teaching because they’re propagating and spreading the false doctrine.
So, what do we do then with the claim that Paul mentions “the woman being deceived” to show that the female gender (as opposed to the male gender) is prone to deception and easily deceived? We must demonstrate that the claim that women are more prone to deception and error than men is terribly, terribly wrong. And this isn’t hard to do. Just take a look at the epistle of First Timothy.
Teachers and false doctrine in the church (1 Timothy 1:3)
In 1 Timothy 1:3, we see that some are teaching false doctrine at the church. Based upon Paul’s words to women in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, it seems probable (highly so) that males were the teachers. So, if women are so “easily deceived,” as traditionalists claim, why is it that males were teaching false doctrine in the church at Ephesus?
Believers in general can depart from the faith by adopting false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:1 that “the Spirit expressly says” that some will depart from the faith. This statement comes from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is the One that has said some will apostatize from the Christian faith. But notice that this statement is generic: that is, both men and women can depart from the faith, not just specifically the female gender. The pronoun in question is the word “some” (1 Timothy 4:1), an indefinite pronoun that doesn’t specify gender but remains gender-neutral.
Paul warns believers to withdraw from false teachers (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
Paul warns the church at Ephesus about those who teach false doctrine in 1 Timothy 6:3. He wouldn’t have done so if there was no false teaching taking place. After all, the epistles were written to churches to address current problems, not to anticipate future ones (though Paul could very well anticipate future troubles in these epistles; still, future possibilities are not the main focus of his letters — the focus for Paul is on the here and now, current problems and how he can help improve current conditions in the churches.
Complementarians opposing women teachers, preachers, and pastors in churches who assume that only men were teaching at Ephesus are bound to admit here that men are deceived and can not only give themselves over to but even propagate false teaching. And so, with so many men falsely teaching in the church, it goes to show that men are just as prone to false doctrine and doctrinal error as women are. One’s gender does not make one more resistant to or more invincible against false doctrine.
With false teachers being the males (of course, Paul says that the women cannot teach because they are affirming false doctrine instead of listening to and receiving true doctrine), we see that “the woman being deceived” doesn’t single out the female gender as doctrinally deceived.
What, then, does the phrase “the woman being deceived” mean? That’s what I cover below.
“The woman being deceived” (1 Timothy 2:14); What Paul Means
What does Paul mean when he says that “the woman being deceived fell into transgression”? Keep in mind that within the context of 1 Timothy 2, we’ve already covered that “Adam was not deceived,” that “Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Paul is defending Scripture here, as it is recorded in the Book of Genesis. Adam was created before Eve, and Paul affirms this as true doctrine; to oppose it, the women were propagating that “Eve was first formed, then Adam,” a claim that any Bible-believing student would oppose. And yet, the false doctrine placed Eve before Adam for a particular reason. I can’t cover this now, but it will be covered later on in this series. Stay tuned.
So if Adam was first formed, then Eve, as Scripture says in Genesis 1-2, then what can we make of “the woman, being deceived, fell into transgression”? Why doesn’t Paul mention that “Eve” is the woman being deceived? Why does Paul simply call her “the woman”? Complementarians assert that labeling Eve according to her gender is designed to send a message that women are the ones who are deceived, not men. Some have said that Paul was trying to send the message that in the current worship service and teaching, the women (like Eve) were being deceived, not their male teachers. And yet, there’s an easier explanation for why Paul writes what he does.
What is that reason? Eve hadn’t been named yet.
When the Fall occurs in Genesis 3, Eve is called “woman.” From Genesis 2 through the majority of Genesis 3, Eve is simply called “the woman,” while Adam already has his specific name:
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21-23)
Here in Genesis 2:22, Eve is called “woman,” no specific name, and in the following verse (Genesis 2:23) Eve is named “woman.” Adam names her gender but again, doesn’t give her a specific name just yet. In Genesis 3:1, 2, 4, and 6, Eve is called “woman.” In Genesis 3:8, Eve is called “his wife,” a reference to she being married to Adam. We know that God bringing them together was the first marriage ceremony recorded in Scripture. When God confronts Adam about his sin, he calls Eve “the woman you gave to be with me,” again, not referencing the specific name “Eve.” God turns to “the woman” in verse 13 and interrogates her. In verse 15, the Lord tells the serpent that He would put enmity between himself and “the woman,” again, calling her according to her gender rather than a specific female name.
Only after the Fall do we see Adam give “the woman” a female name:
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Genesis 3:20)
“Eve” is the English translation of the Greek word Zoe, which means “living” or “lively.” Thus, Eve becomes “the mother of all living” after the Fall. Notice that Adam was not called “the father of all living” because that title belongs to God. So, with Eve being the “mother” of all living creatures, the false doctrine stipulated that Eve was responsible for the creation of all mankind, including Adam, that “Eve was formed before Adam,” which explains why Paul says “Adam was first formed, then Eve.”
Though complementarians use 1 Timothy 2:14 to claim that women are deception-prone, more than men, the truth of the matter is that Paul is simply stating Scripture as it records the first couple. Prior to Genesis 3:20, Eve doesn’t have a female name but rather, a gender name: “woman.” And Paul, wanting to be true to Scripture, uses it here to that effect. Yes, “woman” is a reference to someone of the female gender as opposed to the male gender, but his use of it here pertains to Genesis 2-3 to demonstrate biblical fidelity.
And yet, at the same time, Paul wanted to articulate that the woman was created after the man and that the woman was deceived, not the man. The false doctrine in the church at Ephesus concerned the gender of who was created first. False teachers said that Eve was created first because she was “the mother of all living” and Adam wasn’t “the father of all living.” Paul corrects such false teaching with the truth: Adam was formed first, and it was the female gender (the woman), not the man, that was deceived in the transgression. And yet, we know that the only woman alive at the time was Eve. No other woman was alive.
So as much as gender was at the heart of this false teaching, Paul wanted to point to the first couple in the discussion: Eve was deceived, not Adam. Specific names and gender were both at the heart of the false doctrine in the church at Ephesus.