Paul’s “Women Problem” and #churchtoo (part 1)

“What do we do with 1 Timothy 2:15? How does it fit with Paul’s theology?” asked one of our Union Learning Community students?

This is the verse that goes:

15 But women will be saved through childbearing,[a] assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty

It’s the kind of verse that preachers hope someone else on the teaching team will get.  It’s not just something for theological students to puzzle over before sitting their exams. You will have read my recent post that picked up on the #churchtoo hashtag and one of the arguments being made is that the cover for sexual harassment and abuse in the church is provided by our theology. Therefore, the answer is to change our theology and to stop interpreting the Bible, especially verses like this so literally.

The problem is seen specifically with those, like me, who take a complementarian position on family and church life.[1]

I want to respond to this in two parts. In this post, I’m going to respond in general terms to the charge, then in part 2 I’m going to look at 1 Timothy 2:15 as a case study.

So, here’s my problem with the “It’s your theology at fault” argument.

  1. When someone is passionately against a sin as you are and their opposition is rooted in their understanding of what the Bible teaches then be careful before jumping to conclusions about their theology. It is actually deeply offensive to those believers who hold to a complementarian position and are decent, loving, gentle, respectful to accuse them of a theology that supports abuse. It also trivialises abuse when rather than focusing on eradicating it, we appropriate it as a stick to beat people with because we disagree with their theology. So, if you disagree with my theology and want to know why a complementarian believes that their theological position on men and women requires that they stand passionately against abuse and harassment, then ask me.


  1. The accusation begs the question “Why is this problem not limited to the politically and theologically conservative? Why do liberal progressives seem to have a major problem with this?


You can read my more detailed answer to the question raised at point 1 above in chapter 8 of “Marriage at Work”[2] but I’d like to summarise the argument here:

  1. My position is that Ephesians 5:21ff teaches mutual submission in the context of the husband being “the head,” This means that a husband is meant to exercise spiritual leadership but is also to submit to his wife in his sacrificial love for her.
  2. Biblical submission to one another is something done voluntarily and actively, not passively or under compulsion. It is not a reflection on status or value.
  3. Ephesians 5 teaches about a specific relationship between husband and wife. Women are not to submit to all men generally. Marriage is there for protection against tyranny and harassment in wider society. No man has the right to pursue women for his gratification.
  4. Biblical teaching about relationships between men and women comes in the context of our relationship to leadership and government in the church and wider society. This means that where laws are in place to protect women from abuse then those laws should be enforced.
  5. Sexual violence, harassment, crude talk, bullying etc are explicitly forbidden and condemned throughout Scripture. There is simply no justification for any man to behave in such a way. Elders are required to be faithful to their wives and above reproach in their speech and conduct.

So, whether you hold to a complementarian or egalitarian position on marriage and church leadership, there is simply no Biblical excuse or justification for the type of behaviour we are seeing reported under the #churchtoo hashtag.

[1] See our e-books Marriage at Work and Male and Female Leadership Roles which are available from our publications page.

[2] Dave Williams, Marriage at Work (unpublished, 2010), 69-73.