This is the question addressed in Pastor John Piper’s most recent podcast. The questioner was concerned about the relevance of 1 Timothy 2:12. Pastor Piper responds by addressing verses 12-14:
“12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”
Piper argues that the text precludes women from teaching over men, not because they are more incompetent than men, but rather because this would violate the order of creation. As Piper puts it, “it would compromise the way men and women are supposed to relate to one another.”
Pastor Piper’s podcast (linked above) is under ten minutes so it is worth listening to if you have the time.
Here I will offer a couple quick thoughts in response.
First, Piper stresses that the issue is not competency but order. He reads 1 Timothy 2:12-14 against the backdrop of Genesis 3 to support this reading that the serpent violated the order of creation by approaching the woman first. However, it seems to me that the text can be also be plausibly read (if not more plausibly read) as pointing not only to the disruption of order but also to the cognitive inferiority of women. And countless exegetes have interpreted it in just those terms as flagging the greater gullibility of women. (There is an awkward section in the podcast where Piper suggests that each gender may be more gullible than the other in certain respects, but his only support for this claim is a vague reference to advertising.)
This raises an interesting question: what leads Piper to choose an “order of creation” reading rather than a “women are cognitive and/or emotional inferiors” reading? I suspect he is led to choose the former because of the overwhelming empirical evidence that women are not the cognitive and/or emotional inferiors of men. This is hugely significant, for it means that Piper is guided in his reading and appropriation of biblical texts by empirical evidence. I think that’s a good thing: all truth is God’s truth, after all. But it is important to be explicit that this is what you’re doing, not least so we can become more self-aware about the kind of extra-biblical evidence we are drawing on and how it is informing our reading and appropriation of the texts.
Second, since it would appear that Piper is influenced by extra-biblical evidence, let’s note that if the order exists as Piper claims it does, then it is a fact not merely about ecclesiology (i.e. the way the church should organize). Rather, it is a general fact about the way men and women ought to interact generally.
This is where empirical evidence becomes relevant again. Women can make outstanding corporate CEOs, presidents, mayors, principals, etc. I suspect most folks will agree that it is absurd, offensive, retrograde and insufferably sexist to suppose that generally women should be excluded from roles of authority, leadership, and teaching because it violates the order of creation. So why think women should be excluded from those roles within the church?