William Webb’s Appendix B: The Traditional Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:14

Complementarians typically appeal to church history to buttress their view that Christians have always believed that women were “equal in being, but different” in role. This is suspicious considering what people men have taught about women, particularly from 1 Timothy 2:14. William Webb’s book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals has the following quotes in an appendix demonstrating that in reality the Christians believed women were inferior in their being, and therefore inferior in their role.

Didymus the Blind (313-398): “Being strong [i.e. stronger that the woman who was weak under Satan’s deception], the man is more able than the woman to fight and defend himself against the trickery of the adversary, he would not (and will not) let himself be drawn into seduction like Eve.”

John Chrysostom (347-407): “For thus they will show submission by their silence. For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides… “The woman [Eve] taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively.”

Augustine (354-430): “And [Satan] first tried his deceit upon the woman, making his assault up on the weaker part of that human alliance, that he might gradually gain the whole, and not supposing that the man would readily give ear to him, or be deceived, but that he might yield to the error of the woman…. For not without significance did the apostle say, ‘And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.'”

Epiphanius (365-403): “The female sex is easily mistaken, fallible, and poor in intelligence. It is apparent that through women the devil has vomited this forth. As previously the teaching associated with Quintilla, Maximilla, and Priscilla was utterly ridiculous, so also is this one…. Come now, servants of God, let us put on a manly mind and disperse the mania of these women. The whole of this deception is female; the disease comes from Eve who was long ago deceived.”

Humbert de Romans (1194-1277): “In connection with the preacher’s person, we should notice that he must be of male sex. ‘I do not permit a woman to teach’ (1 Tim. 2:12). There are four reasons for this: first lack of understanding, because a man is more likely to have understanding than a woman.

Bonaventure (1217-1274): “The devil, envious of man, assumed the form of a serpent and addressed the woman…. By this temptation, sought to bring about the fall of the weaker woman, so that through her he might then overthrow the stronger sex….But it was by the devil’s own cunning that he approached the woman first. It is easier to overcome the weak. A clever enemy always attacks a stronghold at its weakest point.”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): “The human group would have lacked the benefit of order had some of its members not been governed by others who were wiser. Such is the subjection in which woman is by nature subordinate to man, because the power of rational discernment is by nature stronger in man…. St. Paul says ‘that women should keep silence in the Churches,’ and ‘I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men.’ [1 Tim. 2:12] But this especially touches on the grace of speech. Accordingly that grace [speaking publicly to the whole church] does not pertain to women… because generally speaking women are not perfected in wisdom so as to be fit to be entrusted with public teaching.

Erasmus (1466-1536): “Eve was deceived first when, believing the serpent and beguiled by the enticement of the fruit, she disregarded God’s command. The man could not have been taken in either by the serpent’s promises or by the allure of the fruit; only love for his wife drew him into a ruinous compliance.

Martin Luther (1514-1572): “Paul thus proved that by divine and human right Adam is the master of the woman. That is, it was not Adam who went astray. Therefore, there was greater wisdom in Adam that in the woman. Where this occurs, there is the greater authority…. He [Adam] persevered in his dominion over the serpent, which did not attack him but rather attacked the weaker vessel… just as he does today.”

John Knox(1514-1572): And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be…. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority…. I except such as God, by singular privilege, and for certain causes known only to himself, has exempted from the common rank of women, and do speak of women as nature and experience do this day declare them. Nature, I say, does paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied in that kind, for the which not only they have removed women from rule and authority, but also some have thought that men subject to the counsel or empire of their wives were unworthy of public office.

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