How many times have we heard that women are more easily deceived than men? In overt and also subtle ways, some Christians seem to believe that women are more gullible, more easily deceived, less rational, and more emotional than men (and have been since creation). Much of the prejudice against women comes from a poor reading of Genesis, and of Paul's reference to Eve in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 2 Corinthians 11:3.
In my last post, we examined Paul's use of the unusual Greek word authentein, which means "to assume authority" (1 Timothy 2:11-12). We also noted how different Bible translations reveal the fuller meaning of this particular Greek word used only once in scripture. By using the term authentein, Paul shows that the women in Ephesus assumed an authority over men in ways that were inappropriate, even domineering. This type of misappropriation of authority is one Paul seeks to limit. The issue is not gender, as many assume, but the inappropriate use of authority that Paul prohibits.
But some object to this reasoning because, in the same passage, Paul draws a parallel between Eve's deception and the women at Ephesus:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Thus some people today believe that women are more susceptible to deception than men, and for this reason they should be excluded from holding positions of authority over men in all circumstances. However, limiting the authority of all women is not a valid conclusion unless Eve is used consistently by Paul to refer specifically to women's deception, rather than deception in general.
While Eve's deception is used to expose the deception of women in the church at Ephesus, the deception of the entire church at Corinth is also likened to Eve in that they too had been deceived by the cunning of the serpent and were led "astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Clearly Paul's use of Eve as a representative of deception is not limited to women, but applies to both men and women. Deception is just as dangerous for men as it is for women. And both men and women are vulnerable to cunning deceivers. Dr. John J. Davis, professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, will explore this topic more extensively in a forthcoming issue of Priscilla Papers-CBE's award-winning academic journal.
Are we today in danger of Eve's deception? Have we been led astray by half-truths as it relates to gender and scripture? If we believe scripture teaches that women are more easily deceived than men and are therefore excluded from exercising leadership, then we too have been deceived by an incomplete reading of scripture.
To assert that women are more emotional, more gullible, and less rational is a destructive teaching based on a misunderstanding of the biblical texts. Let's stop eroding the self-esteem of godly women, who are called by God to serve, teach, or hold positions of leadership and authority. Such women are not deceived, and their call should be tested and confirmed by the church rather than dismissed out of hand because of their gender. The church should be grateful that women come ready to serve. Let us not turn away the precious gifts God is giving us in women's service, whatever it may be.
Mimi Haddad is the president of Christians for Biblical Equality.