For centuries, 1 Timothy 2:12 was not controversial. Now, in some circles, it has become one of the most debated verses in the Bible. Paul’s words sound to some today like nails screeching along a chalkboard: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
But Paul doesn’t leave it hanging without explanation. Even two millennia ago, he knew he needed to say more. So, he doesn’t drop the mic, or walk away, or move on to the next topic. He argues. He provides reasons (verse 13 begins with “for”). Two of them (verse 14 begins with “and”). Both of them are essential, and as I’ll argue here, they are two connected reasons — one leads to the other; the second flows from the first. We would be foolish to pluck Paul’s words in verse 12 from their context and then pretend to explain what he means (and doesn’t) by them without letting him speak for himself.
So, what are the reasons Paul himself provides in verses 13 and 14 for his charge? His answer turns on three key words that echo precise language in Genesis 2 and 3, as Paul grounds his instruction for the church in the events of creation and the fall.
1. Adam Formed First
When Paul says, in verse 13, “Adam was formed first,” he points us to the world of Genesis 2 and the remarkable sequence of the creation narrative. Perhaps we’re so familiar with the story of God forming Adam, then parading animals before him, then making Eve from his side, that we haven’t paused to ponder the sequence. It is an arrangement that shatters our modern egalitarian notions. Why not form Adam and Eve simultaneously? Why does God form Adam first, and then lengthen the time and space between Adam’s forming (from the ground) and Eve’s making (from Adam)?
The verb formed is important is Genesis 2, and especially verse 7: “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” And that’s the first link Paul forges in 1 Timothy 2:13: “Adam was formed first.”
2. Then Eve
Then Paul adds, “then Eve.” Again he’s tracking with Genesis 2. Not only does God form the man first (Genesis 2:7), but the then for Eve doesn’t follow until verse 18: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” In the meantime, God plants a garden in Eden (verse 8), makes trees to spring up (verse 9), puts the man in the garden to work it and keep it (verse 15), and gives the man the moral vision for the garden (eat of every tree but not the one, verses 16–17).
Even after the then of verse 18, we learn that prior to the making of the woman, God had paraded “every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” before the man “to see what he would call them” (verse 19). Finally, in verse 21 comes the deep sleep and taking the rib. “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (verse 22).
What’s so arresting here for our purposes, following Paul, is that God didn’t rush to quickly form Eve at the same time so that there would be no discrimination. In fact, God seems to take his sweet time — and strikingly so, parading every animal past Adam as a possible “helper”! And all this very intentionally to make a point. God lingered precisely so that Adam (and we) might see that not only are men and women wonderfully similar as humans but also gloriously different in countless complementary, mutually beneficial ways.
3. The Serpent Deceived Eve
The third key word in 1 Timothy 2 is deceived in verse 14, and with it, two questions now lie before us. First, was Adam not deceived also? What does Paul mean when he says, “Adam was not deceived”? Second, is verse 14 another argument, alongside verse 13, or does verse 14 extend the reason of verse 13?
One Reason or Two?
Having pointed in verse 13, with a link to Genesis 2, to God’s order in creation (and what it implied), what might Paul need to add in verse 14 (note the “and”) to strengthen his argument? The obvious answer is how the fall (Genesis 3) affected God’s order in creation. It’s all well and good to argue for as it was in the beginning, but is that still true now, in the church age? Does God’s original order stand after the entrance of sin into the world? And more to the point, might how sin entered the world give us reason for upholding God’s original order still today?
What Paul now moves to add in verse 14 is that the tragic events of the fall, as initiated by the serpent, serve to confirm and reinforce God’s good order in creation in Genesis 2. Rather than adding another distinct reason in verse 14, Paul extends and deepens the argument of verse 13. Not only does the creation of man first in Genesis 2 give reason for men (the elders) to teach and lead the church, but also the way the fall transpired confirms this. Whereas God’s orderin creation was the focus of verse 13, now the serpent’s order that led to the fall contrasts with God’s. God created Adam first, as head, then his wife, as helper; the serpent subverted God’s order.