Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins by saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to ‘Our Mother which art in Heaven’ as to ‘Our Father’. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does. Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion.

―C. S. Lewis[1]

C. S. Lewis traced his way to Christianity through an appreciation of elements of myth: He saw Christ as the fulfillment of the dying and reviving stories told about Balder, Adonis, and Bacchus ― ‘but with this tremendous difference, that it really happened’ (letter to Arthur Greeves, Oct. 18, 1931).[2] He also saw Christ as the fulfillment of aspects of nature, of the dying and reviving year; and as above, of the image in ‘male and female’.

At first glance, Lewis’ objections to the then incipient discussion of ordaining women into the Anglican church may seem an odd sidelight on Paul’s teaching, or it may seem to hinge on a more sacerdotal than reformed sacramentology. But Paul also has an appreciation of Christ as the fulfillment of all worship (Acts 17:23) and of all nature (1 Cor. 15:35-46). And this appreciation shows richly in his theology of ‘male and female’.

Paul sees in the first man Adam a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:45). And he sees in Eve, the woman made from Adam, ‘bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh’, a type of the church (Gen. 2:23; Eph. 5:30-32).

I think his vision of Christ is the focal point when Paul summons creation and redemptive history to bear on his treatment of ‘male and female’ in the realm of church and marriage. What I mean by this is illuminated by parallels throughout his teaching, especially as they coalesce in parallels from 1 Corinthians 11, and 1 Timothy 2.

In the Corinthians passage, women were experiencing the outpouring of the Spirit (as promised in Joel 2) in modes that had been more peculiar to men. In this outpouring, they had abandoned customs relating to creation order (per traditional commentators like Matthew Henry)[3] ― perhaps they concluded that in this new state of things, the old order no longer applied. Paul reasserts it: The woman is from the man, created for the man, and he is the head of the woman (1 Cor. 11:3). As such, Paul argues, man is the image (or representative) of the authority of Christ in a less mediate sense than woman (1 Cor. 11:7).

Then Paul seems to flip the argument on its head. The man, from whom woman is derived, is also derived from the woman (1 Cor. 11:11). This is not an innovation by Paul. It is merely redemptive history: Recall that Adam named his wife ‘Eve’, ‘the mother of all living,’ after she received the first gospel promise ― a name distinguishing her not so much in relation to himself, as to Adam-to-come (Gen. 3:15, 20). Christ, the head of every man, was ‘born of a woman’ (Gal. 4:4).

Redemptive history seems to be particularly in view because of Paul’s phrasing: ‘in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:11). ‘In the Lord,’ the creation order is not overturned, but it is transfigured: new creation incorporates the woman as a principle of derivation, and ‘all are from God’.

The argument here is not to exalt male over female ― Paul says otherwise in verse 11. Rather Paul is seeking to clarify, in the exercise of spiritual gifts, the ‘image’ of the authority of Christ. For Paul, it is Christ’s authority that is conveyed in the exercise of all gifts. It is Christ, who shared the Spirit with His bride, whose glory should be seen in their exercise.

The line of thought is kin to that in 1 Timothy 2, where Paul again cites creation and redemptive history. He is addressing the teaching and preaching ministries of the church, specially as they guard the church from error. In Ephesians 4, Paul argues that this guarding from error is a vital aspect of ordained ministry: He gave us apostles … prophets … evangelists … pastors and teachers …. that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting … (Eph. 4:11-16).

Paul’s argument for exclusively male ordination in 1 Timothy 2:13–15 runs like this:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing …

It is vital to acknowledge what the text does not say. Paul does not say: ‘All women are more easily deceived than men’ ― or even, ‘Women in your culture are more easily deceived’. This misreading, which lends to abuse, cedes the real argument. The text says Eve was deceived ― Eve, a type of the church. ― The church, that needs protection from the ‘trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting’ (2 Cor. 11:3). Christ guards his bride from error: Eve was promised a seed who would crush the deceiving serpent (Gen. 3:15 connects to 1 Timothy 2:15, ‘she will be saved in childbearing’).

In the creation/redemptive history echo of 1 Corinthians 11, it is not that Eve here means ‘all women’. Rather that women in the church image something about Eve/the Bride.

Consider again that Paul does not use ‘Adam’ elsewhere as a type of all men (though he says Adam’s acts had consequences for all humans), but as a figure of Christ. If he is using Adam in that sense here, he is not using Eve otherwise; and it involves interpretive assumptions if we read ‘Adam’ less typologically.

Consider also that Paul employs Old Testament women as types with Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4. Such usage is not foreign to his literary maneuvers. Additionally, when Paul teaches about male and female roles in marriage, he grounds that teaching in the reality of Christ and the church. It would be strange if his teaching about male and female roles in the church itself is less about Christ and the church, and more about how undeceivable men are compared to women.

In Ephesians, Paul sees Christ’s guardianship of His bride represented in His gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And that guardianship, in 1 Timothy 2, is represented as masculine to the church because ‘Adam was first formed’. We hear from Paul in Colossians that Christ is

the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:15-18)

Paul would have been familiar with how wisdom speaks in Proverbs as a woman, crying aloud to men in public places: a type of Christ (Prov 1:20–32; 8:1–9:12). He would have known that Mary Magdalene was first to see the risen Lord, and to tell his disciples that Jesus was risen (John 20:1–2, 18). It is in the context of some prominent female converts that the Bereans are lauded as ‘noble’ for searching the Scriptures to make sure Paul was telling the truth (Acts 17:11,12). Paul does not say that men can learn nothing from Jesus’ mouth through women, or that women must accept everything a man, even an ordained man, says. His argument is about Adam and Eve, Christ and the church, creation and new creation ― what ‘male and female’ point to from the beginning.

For elsewhere Paul can say that women are also ‘sons and heirs’ in Christ (Gal. 3:26), and that there is no ‘male and female’ in Christ (Gal. 3:28) ― as there is no ‘Jew or Greek’, ‘slave or free’. Even our marriages are part of a fashion that is passing away: in heaven we do not marry (1 Cor. 7:29-31). But for Paul, marriage and ‘male’ and ‘female’ teach us something in this provisional state about the eternal.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were ‘one flesh’ (Gen. 2:24). In the new beginning, God makes of male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free, a second Eve from the second Adam. And we are all one flesh with Him (Gal. 3:28). So Paul’s ‘new creation order’ would go like this:

  • Man was first formed; and the woman was formed from and for him.
  • Christ was formed from the woman; and the church is formed from and for Christ.

― Which is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, and echoes in 1 Timothy. ‘In the Lord’, neither male or female are independent of each other.

Paul’s thinking about creation order, while it did not overturn the ‘customs’ which imaged a masculine headship, does have significance for new equality in Christ. Under the old covenant, women would have suffered far more regularly from ritual impurity than men (Lev. 15:19); and giving birth to a daughter required more days of purification than giving birth to a son (Lev. 12:2-5). Women did not receive the covenant sign, nor could they eat the passover if their male head was uncircumcised.

But that was before God grew in a virgin’s womb, unmediated by a man, and issued from her fountain of blood. In becoming our masculine head, God forged of His infancy as direct a creation-link to woman as to man. Paul gives female converts the new covenant sign with their households (Acts 16:15) and argues from the cleanness of a believing wife to the cleanness of her husband and children, even if her marital head does not believe (1 Cor. 7:14).

The glory of new creation then is not of ‘male’ or ‘female’ simpliciter. For both are one, animated by one Spirit (Gal. 4:4). The particular realms of authority Paul deals with are not to set up one sex or another, but to clarify that image of one body to its head, Christ. New creation glory is His glory, in which the believer is irradiated as a bride. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ are showing us something about this hidden reality, this ‘great mystery’ (Eph. 5:32).

In other words,

The relation of male and female that was founded in creation continues today as a type of the mystery of Christ and the church for the present age (but will pass away with it); nevertheless, in Christ there is neither male nor female (this belongs to the age to come that has already broken into the present for believers by the Holy Spirit). Until consummation, the type founded in the creation order (like the Sabbath) abides insofar as it still points to the gospel of Christ.[4]

Thinking through what Paul says on this topic, I begin to apprehend how the whole ‘imaging’ approach to unseen reality is rooted in the Logos, the ‘image of the invisible God’. And it suggests to me that for Paul, the fundamental difference between masculine and feminine is the matter of ‘first-formed’, or ‘first-born’. The church, formed from and for Christ, is feminine to Him. (As Lewis said elsewhere,‘What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.’)[5] The female who puts on Christ is just as much a ‘son and heir’ as the male, because ‘masculine’ to both is Christ’s firstborn-ness. I think that for Paul, what has to be upheld in questions about spiritual authority is the ‘firstborn’ status of Jesus, the exact image of the Father ― ‘from whom the whole family in heaven and earth are named.’

Our approach to issues involving ‘male’ and ‘female’ and the Spirit’s gifts to both should reflect this concern for clarity about Jesus ― as in the questions Lewis asks above. Perhaps our approach has lost focus, especially when we fall to squabbling. Our interpretations veer towards apprehending marriage and gender in naturalistic ways that miss the ‘great mystery’, till Lewis’ concerns might seem peripheral. It’s so easy to grab Paul’s ‘first creation’ telescope by the wrong end ― to see in the colossal time-projected figures of Adam and Eve only our own fading dimensions. My rights and honors. Your ontological inferiority.

But the new person we are in Christ is not brought to maturity by focusing on ephemeral elements; and Paul would have no tolerance for reasoning which vaunts an eye against a hand. It’s absurd for a body part to vaunt itself against another. Such pride is an attack on our real, mutual honor. Even if we have the desirable gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, and can alter landscapes by faith ― pride makes us nothing (1 Cor. 12:12-14:1). Rather, our knittedness into one is best expressed in some degree of recklessness about our particular member-status, valuing others more, self-giving out of the huge inheritance we’ve been given ― ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6). The whole body adhering lovingly to the Head (Col. 2:19): that’s what Paul self-gave and suffered for (Col. 1:24–29).

If I don’t live out what it means to be female in this light, I expect Paul would say I’m living like a child of Hagar, rather than a child of Sarah. Living as if the beggarly elements of the world are all I have to grasp for ― as if I were a slave. But ‘male’ or ‘female’ are images of freedom.


  1. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 2014), 258
  2. Walter Hooper, ed., Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. 1
  3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2263-2264
  4. Daniel Ragusa, personal correspondence, Nov. 6, 2019
  5. C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Scribner Classics, 1996), 313

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Posted by Isabel Chenot

Isabel Chenot's efforts in poetry, story, essay, and translation have appeared in a variety of online and print venues: most recently, in Quill and Parchment and Avocet. She is currently illustrating a retelling of an old fairy tale: West of Moonlight, East of Dawn (scheduled for Spring 2020, Propertius Press).


  1. So can women be ministers, or what?


    1. That’s beside the point of this discussion, but the question can be much better understood on both sides in light of what the author argues here regarding Paul’s usage and the theology of gender.


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