Are Women More Easily Deceived Than Men?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Are Women More Easily Deceived Than Men?

  1. Ross Shannon says:

    Thank you, Jared, for helping me think through a particularly tough text and for helping me, through your example, learn to think more carefully. Love the exegetical posts you do! Keep it up!

  2. Ellen says:

    Thank you for this helpful post. I normally don’t respond to things like these but rather just read them; but being a woman, I was very intrigued at the various thoughts and had some genuine questions. Would you be willing to give some answers and/or insight?

    I lean heavily toward your given thoughts on the “illustration” of creation order; and I really get it. However, your comment: “Satan deliberately violated creation order and approached the one God created second” seems to contradict some other biblical illustrations as Christ/God even approached woman first before the man.

    1. Mary (came to her first) & Joseph
    2. Mary @ the tomb (she first declared his resurrection)
    3. Woman @ the well (bringing many in her community to Christ)
    4. Pilot’s wife (I can see this being a bit of a debate, but nonetheless)

    etc . . .

    Even today women get what we often refer to as “women’s intuition” on things that just may come to pass. And as you mentioned earlier women prophetess…

    So, how did Satan go “out of order” if you will? He’s Satan, so he’ll go to whoever is best for his subtle ways.

    I also believe, Eve’s entire purpose for being created was for Adam. Without him, there would be no “her.” So, I get the creation order. However, since she was created for Adam, I think something else may play into part of the equation – Eve was tempted to be something she was not created for: a god. Her beauty defied Satan’s (as that is what lifted his heart to pride) and it makes sense he would go to the very thing that would “challenge” him and his pride. Deceive her with what he was deceived with “god-hood.” But I pull away from my question . . .
    If God went to women first on His timing, why is “wrong” for Satan to do such? Is that really the “rub”?

    Thanks for reading and considering.

  3. Jared Compton says:

    Ellen: Good question. I think you’ve raised a helpful point: Why, on my reading of 1 Tim 2.14, was it wrong for Satan to approach a woman and for woman to make this decision when we see other, similar instances in Holy Scripture where women are approached before men and, in these instances, are presumably give freedom to make independent decisions? Again, it’s a perceptive question. I’d simply answer by asking another question: Why are women forbidden from doing the activities in 1 Tim 2.11-12 (or, e.g., 1 Cor 14:34-35), but are encouraged to do similar activities in, e.g., Titus 2:3-4 (or 1 Cor 11:5, 13)? Why is the same or similar activity forbidden in one instance but allowed in the other? I think the best explanation for this is that in one instance, the activity violates creation order and, in the other, it doesn’t. In one instance, woman is taking an initiative that’s not hers to take and, in the other, she isn’t. Again, this sort of approach leaves questions open, but that, by itself, isn’t a strike against it. I hope that helps.

  4. FYI: The link to Doriani’s essay is tied to the URL for
    Women in the church: a fresh analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15, eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995); on Google Books at http://books.google.com/books/about/Women_in_the_church.html?id=EXMRAQAAIAAJ [accessed 23 MAY 2014]. In addition to his contribution to this volume, “A History of the Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2,” see also the essay he contributed to another work: “The Historical Novelty of Egalitarian Interpretations of Ephesians 5”, in Biblical Foundations for
    Building Strong Families, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), and the work Doriani published subsequent to these essays, Women and Ministry: What the Bible Teaches” (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003); on Crossway at
    http://www.crossway.org/books/women-and-ministry-tpb/ [accessed 23 MAY 2014].

  5. Ellen says:

    Thank you for your great replies.
    I once heard a bible teacher explain that the “laws/commands” given in the Pauline books that adhere to church policy (if you will) are organic in nature. In other words, it is what guides the church as an institution, but non necessarily institutions/activities/ministries outside of the church.
    So in other words, to illustrate, I don’t have an issue with a woman preacher, at all. However, I do support the Pauline epistles that state that women should not be pastors and or teach men “in the church” as that is “within the church.” However, outside of the church body politic, I don’t see a problem. I know of colleges/universities that keep to the spirit of “male headship” thus they don’t allow women to teach men bible in their institution. However, there is nothing in the Bible that states that is wrong other than it is not to be done within the church….so keeping to that spirit and in support of the churches who couple with them, they keep the headship principle in their organization as well. It is their prerogative, so I take no personal issue with this, but I do not have a problem if a woman teaches men Bible within other institutions outside of the local church body politic. To broaden the topic briefly, organically the church was in homes for over 200 years. Europe Christianity put them into buildings (that we call churches) and Americans now market them. I don’t have a problem with churches in houses or buildings. I don’t have a problem with a marketing economy. However, I believe we’ve lost the organic nature of the church (upper room) and its “laws” on how to guide such when it gets caught in all the buildings and marketing type atmosphere. All that to say, it seems (and please elaborate if you feel led) that coming away from the organic nature of the “home church” while living in our current society, broadens the many debatable topics of who should do what and so on. Thus, women become a part of that conversation as there are clear “commands” on how the organic nature of the church body politic should function. She was created second, and to embrace that fact within the church frees her to be what she was meant to be within the church, yet it shouldn’t inhibit her to be what she can be outside of it as well. Thus, I believe all verses given help orchestrate this. Am I wrong or . . .