And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became sinner.—1 Timothy 2:14
Does 1 Tim 2:14 suggest women are more easily deceived than men? Here I want to answer this question by saying something (1) about the function of 1 Tim 2:14 and, then, saying something (2) about its meaning.
Function. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:14 is one of two explanations Paul gives for his prohibition in 1 Tim 2:11–12. (We’ll leave off presently what Paul prohibits in these verses and simply refer throughout this post to “what Paul prohibits in vv. 11–12” or something like that. Not exactly elegant, but it’ll help keep our focus.) 1 Tim 2:13 begins with “for” and v. 14 begins with “and.” Thus, Paul says, “women shouldn’t do [vv. 11–12] because [“for”] v. 13 “and” v. 14.
Meaning. The first reason Paul gives for his prohibitions in vv. 11–12 is creation order (v. 13). Adam was created first; Eve was created second. Therefore, women cannot do the activities in vv. 11–12 because this would reverse and, thus, violate creation order. The second reason Paul gives has been understood in a number of ways in Christian history; here I’ll focus on two of the more common. Some have understood v. 14 as a separate reason. Others that it illustrates the first reason.
A separate reason. Some suggest that 1 Tim 2:14 grounds the prohibition in vv. 11–12 in an ontological difference between men and women. Women cannot do vv. 11–12 because they are more susceptible to deception than men are. After all, Paul says, “Adam wasn’t deceived; Eve [was].” This way of reading Paul finds all sorts of support in Church history (see Doriani’s essay here). This reading also would help flesh out Paul’s first point in v. 13. That is, if all we had were v. 13, then the only reason women couldn’t do the activities in vv. 11–12 would be divine fiat, raw sovereignty; they were created second. Since it’s Scripture, this would, of course, be enough. But most of us would like more. Enter v. 14. Women can’t do the activities of vv. 11–12 not simply because they were created second, but also because they were created with an inferior capacity for spiritual and intellectual discernment. Thus, to Peter’s note about women’s physique (1 Pet 3:7), Paul adds a note about their psyche. Finally, this reading also has the advantage of being offensive to modern sensibilities, which can be—though isn’t always—a useful hermeneutical consideration. After all, doesn’t the Bible talk about the world’s hostility toward God and Holy Scripture? Doesn’t it suggest this hostility will only get worse?
An illustration. Others argue that 1 Tim 2:14 does not ground the prohibition of vv. 11–12 in any ontological difference between men and women. Rather, v. 14 grounds the prohibition by showing what happens when God’s created order is reversed. What Paul’s second reason for his prohibition does, then, is explain why creation order must not be violated, which is to say, why vv. 11–12 must be obeyed. Paul explains by giving an illustration: the very first instance of role reversal and its consequences. Satan deliberately violated creation order and approached the one God created second. “Adam was not approached and deceived by the serpent, but woman [was]” (see Schreiner’s essay here). Satan prosecuted his case with the one created second. And this one took an initiative which, Paul implies, was not hers to take. This reading places the emphasis on Satan—the actor behind v. 14’s passive verbs—and on woman—the second-created human, who acted in a capacity out of step with God’s order. This reading has the advantage of more easily harmonizing with what Paul says about women elsewhere in his letters. That is, if v. 14 suggests that women can’t do the activities in vv. 11–12 because they are fundamentally more open to deception, one wonders what mitigates this susceptibility sufficiently to allow for the sorts of activities described in 1 Cor 14:26 (prophesying), Titus 2:3–4 and 2 Tim 3:15 (teaching; cf. Acts 18:26), and 1 Cor 11:5, 13 (public prayer), among others (see, e.g., Rom 16:1, 3, 7; also 1 Cor 5:4). If, however, the prohibitions in vv. 11–12 are grounded in creation order in both v. 13 (principle) and v. 14 (illustration), this more easily explains why women can have certain ministries and not others. Some ministries violate creation order; others do not. Related, if v. 14 grounds the prohibition of vv. 11–12 in ontology—women are more easily deceived than men—one wonders why this sort of susceptibility is more problematic for one doing the activities of vv. 11–12 than a susceptibility to sinning with eyes-wide-open as (arguably) Adam did. Does Adam’s sin mitigate his ability to do vv. 11–12 less than Eve’s? Finally, this reading also has the advantage of preserving Paul from saying something that many in our day would find really offensive: women are less able to spot deception than men. Caution is necessary here, of course, considering the other things people find offensive in Christianity (see 1 Cor 1:23 or 1 Tim 2:13!). Still, there’s no special prize for taking away the salt when we don’t have to.
On balance, the second reading is preferred. Granted, it does not answer all the questions it raises. But, in this case, I tend to think that’s a virtue and not a vice. It goes just as far as Scripture requires and then puts its hand over its mouth and refuses to say any more.