[Note: This is the prepared text for a message given at the UCG Portland congregation on December 2, 2017.]
Today I would like to start this message by doing a bit of a thought experiment . I’m going to read a passage of the Bible that is not cited very often in messages, and for the ladies of this audience, I want you to monitor how you feel when I am reading this passage. The passage in question is 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 reads: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” If I guessed correctly as to how many women feel about this passage, there will be a sense of pushing back at it, and a certain sense of hostility about how passage is interpreted and how it is seen as relevant for believers today. There may even be a great deal of feeling that Paul himself was somehow sexist and hostile to women.
This passage obviously deals with a larger context than I can cover in the short amount of time alotted to me today, but I wish to defend Paul in a somewhat indirect fashion. This is a passage which is not a straightforward one, and the least straightforward part is what I would like to discuss as a way of entering into the passage as a whole and what it means and what its relevance is to us. The last verse of this passage, I believe, offers us the best clue of trying to understand what the passage means as a whole when it says that the woman will be saved in childbearing under certain circumstances. This verse and the surrounding passage have been subject to a great deal of speculation. There are some people who view this passage as particularly sexist and misogynistic and as evidence that Paul was a knuckle-dragging troglodyte whose views are irrelevant for believers today. I do not wish to add to the speculation about this passage that exists, but I would like to point out that an essential part of this passage is the fact that Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden, while Adam was not. Adam’s failure was a failure of nerve and a failure of courage to stand up for what he knew to be the truth, while Eve had the wool put over her eyes by the deceptive serpent. Paul makes a big deal out of the difference between a lack of courage on the one hand and a vulnerability and susceptibility to being deceived and led astray on the other hand. I would like this to be kept in mind as we look at the whole biblical context of this passage.
There is only one other passage in the New Testament that mentions Eve by name, and unsurprisingly it also deals with the issue of deception, and it was also a passage written by the apostle Paul. Let us now turn to 2 Corinthians 11:1-5. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-5 we read the only other passage in the New Testament that names Eve. It reads: “Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” There are some similarities to the passage we read in 1 Timothy, especially in that Eve is mentioned as being deceived by the serpent.
Yet this passage does not have the same sort of strong language directed at women in particular that leads to such pushback. After all, here Paul is not directing his language to women in particular, but he is viewing the entire congregation in Corinth as making up collectively a chaste young woman serving as the bride of Christ. In fact, this passage shows Paul acting towards the congregation as a somewhat jealous parent who is trying to protect a vulnerable young woman from a sexual predator. Paul speaks about the serpent corrupting an innocent Eve in language that can be uncomfortable to hear. Those who preach a false gospel are compared to those who prey on the innocent and the simple and the naive, and Paul is clear here that this vulnerability is shared by the believers of his audience and not merely one portion of it. This passage reminds us, if any reminder was necessary, that innocence is an insufficient defense against the evil that is present in this world, and that Satan is the original model for those who would corrupt that innocence and take advantage of those who are vulnerable, whether we are dealing with the fall of man, the safety of young people, or the well-being of congregations being protected from heretical preaching.
Let us go back, back to the beginning. We have seen from 2 Corinthians 11:1-5 that Paul did not view women alone as being capable of being deceived. Does looking at what happened in the Garden of Eden give us a greater understanding of what Paul was saying in 1 Timothy 2:8-15? I believe it does. Let us therefore go to the much more familiar passage of Genesis 3:14-17, which discusses the curses that came about as a result of the fall of Adam & Eve. Genesis 3:14-17 reads: “So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.””
The three curses given in poetic form by God in the Garden of Eden have a great deal to say about what Paul was getting at in 1 Timothy 2. The curse that God gave to the serpent contained the first promise of a Redeemer that would break the curse of sin and evil, and is called the Protoevangelium–that is, the first Gospel–by many theologians. Paul’s comments about the problem of usurpation of authority by women over men as well as the matter of childbirth are discussed when God says that bearing and raising children will be a matter of great pain and sorrow for many women and that the relationship between men and women will be fraught with a great deal of conflict. None of us can deny that there is often a great deal of disagreement and discord between husbands and wives, many families that have been broken by abuse and divorce in this world, and certainly even in this room. Likewise, the labor that we engage in is cursed and full of profitless toil as a result of living as flawed people in a fallen world. The results of the fall of mankind are present in our lives and in the harshness of our existence.
What lessons can we learn from this? Paul reminded the Corinthians, and we ought to be reminded ourselves, that we are capable of being deceived by false Gospels and putting up with what we shouldn’t put up with. Likewise, in speaking to women in 1 Timothy, he pointed to the way that salvation reverses the curse upon mankind and womankind, reminding women to honor their husbands and respect authority rather than to subvert it. Surely this is a lesson just as relevant in our time as it was in Paul’s time, perhaps even more so. Even the suffering and pain of childbirth is redeemed ultimately through the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to crush the serpent on his head. Even though we live in a world that is deeply broken and wounded by the effects of sin and evil, we who are called by God to serve and obey Him are to have our own lives blessed in such a way that the curse of evil in our world and in our lives can be redeemed and overcome. May we, like the audience Paul was writing to, continue in faith, love and holiness with self-control, so that instead of a curse, we may bring a blessing in our families and among the lives of those we meet wherever we are.
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