Paul was a big typological type of thinker. He taught, for instance, that Adam was type of Christ, and that marriage was type of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  He would have agreed with the writer of Hebrews that earthly, physical realities are but shadows—types—of true and heavenly realities (the antitypes) (Heb. 8:5; 9:24-25). The physical and temporal exist to point us to the spiritual and eternal.

Now before we go on, I’m going to teach you another big, daunting word: “ontology” (Just think how your opponent’s eyebrows will rise when you use up three o’s playing it in scrabble!) Ontology means “related to being or existence.” It has to do with the essence of who we are.

Woman is Type of Church

As I said before, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 makes a whole lot more sense when we understand it typologically rather than merely ontologically. That is, from the perspective of what woman represents (typology) rather than just who woman is (ontology). And it may be that this is just what Paul had in mind.

We know for sure that Paul viewed Adam as a type of Christ. We also know for sure that he viewed marriage as type of the relationship between Christ and the church — in which the role of husband is a type of Christ and the role of the wife is a type of the Church. Thus, we can justifiably extrapolate that Paul also viewed Eve as a type of the Church.

Assuming that Paul has typology in mind, let’s have a look at the passage again. First, Paul talks about how women and men are to conduct themselves in church: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”  Don’t get caught up in what this means and how we apply it today. That’s a discussion for another time. For now, I just want you to consider how a typological approach helps explain this and the next few verses, and how it solves some interpretive conundrums.

If Paul was indeed thinking typologically (and I believe a good case can be made for it), that puts an entirely different spin on the following verses. Paul isn’t arguing that women are more gullible or that women need to bear children in order to be saved. No. He’s trying to point out that male female roles in the church exist to bear typological witness to the gospel.

For Adam (type of Christ) was formed first, then Eve (type of Church) – and Adam (type of Christ) was not deceived, but the woman (type of Church) was deceived and became a transgressor.

Yet she (the Church) will be saved through childbearing (bearing fruit in Christ)—if they (man and woman) continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Voila. This solves the conundrum of thinking that Paul is saying that women are saved by giving birth to biological children. If Paul is indeed thinking typologically, he’s not saying anything of the sort. Instead, he’s saying that woman’s ontology (her capacity to bear children) relates to her typology (the Church’s ability to be fruitful in Jesus). She (the Church) is saved through childbearing. Paul reinforces the profound mutuality of men and women here. Both are church. Both are saved by the type of union that results in spiritual children—the union with our husband, Christ. Both must continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

It’s not about us

Yes, Paul gives some pretty tough instruction about male and female roles in the Church. But then he elevates the discussion to an entirely different level. In his rationale, he mingles the imagery of Adam and Eve and woman and man together to make the point that in the end, how we conduct ourselves in church has much more to do with what we (typologically) represent than who we (ontologically) are. And that makes his directives on male/female roles in the church much easier to understand and swallow.

Ultimately, this is not about us. It’s not about man. It’s not about woman. It’s about displaying the glory of Christ’s story.

A typological approach to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 makes a lot of sense to me, and I’d like to throw it on the table for my fellow theologians to consider and discuss. We can’t say with absolute certainty what Paul had in mind in verse 15, but we can be absolutely certain that there is indeed truth and freedom here if we are willing to go looking for it.

(c) Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian is an author, speaker and professor of women's studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on her website, Born and raised in Canada, she lives with her husband in Edmonton, Alberta.