Earlier today I had a conversation with a good friend about an underlying principle in all this talk about Sarah Palin, women in politics, Deborah as judge, and so on, and we agreed on an important principle. This is the kind of thing that should go without saying, but in these deranged times, almost nothing goes without saying. So let me say it out loud here.
When the apostle Paul tells us that women must not be allowed to teach or have authority over men in the Church (1 Tim. 2:12-15), he makes the argument from the creation order as established in Genesis. “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
Paul is making a particular application of a general creation principle. The general principle applies everywhere men and women go, and whatever they do. The particular application for the Church has to do with women not being allowed to teach men or exercise authority over them. The applications of the same general principle in the other realms (civil and family) need not be identical applications and, given the differences of function between the three realms, will probably not be the same. But the general principle still governs everything. Men are men wherever they go, and women are women wherever they go. The order in which we were created is relevant all the time.
In the realms of households and civil orders, we find anomalous situations such as those of Lydia and Deborah. There is no indication that either of these two women were doing anything sinful or wrong or disordered in what they were doing. But, given the creation order, they were doing something unusual. The fact that something is lawful and exceptional does not keep it from being exceptional.
Complementarians of the moderate squishy variety want to argue that a man is the head of his wife, and that women ought not to be ordained to the ministry, but only because we are told these things explicitly. Out in the world of business and politics, everything is up for grabs, and it is supposed that the Bible is silent on the question. Women can be CEOs and presidents, no prob, so the thinking goes. Some of them even extend this to the issue of women in combat (but see Dt. 22:5). The problem here is that it takes Paul as exercising his own apostolic authority “raw,” as it were, instead of Paul authoritatively showing us one application of the universal authority of the creation order in Genesis. But the apostle does this by giving us a particular application for the Church, expecting us, mutatis mutandis, to make applications to the rest of our lives.
Thus, with this in mind, we should be able to accommodate the occasional Lydia or Deborah in a way that we will not be able to accommodate the Rev. Suzy Q. But in order to have the exceptions become the norm, we have to kick against the creation order that Paul uses in his argument, and we have to draw on broader feminist assumptions to do it. In reaction to this, a brittle “no exceptions” rule in any realm is simple to understand and apply, but unfortunately it runs aground on the arguments I have already posted.
So the Genesis order establishes a pattern for all of life. Paul takes that pattern and uses it to legislate for the Church. We have no authority to legislate in such a way as to exclude Lydias and Deborahs where the Scriptures have not excluded them, but we do have the authority to see that the comparative rarity of Lydias in the home or Deborahs in office are not examples of any kind of “injustice.” That’s just the way God made the world. Water runs downhill. Get used to it.
All this said . . .