Typology in 1 Timothy 2:15, or an Allegorical Interpretation of Eve and the Church?
by Brent Parker
Kevin Vanhoozer helpfully points out in his book, Is There a Meaning in this Text?, that an allegorical interpretation “sees the meaning of a text as constituted outside the text in another framework: the conceptual” (119). In such a scheme, this word means that concept. The tendency to allegorize a biblical text is especially seen when encountering difficult texts as the literal sense (sensus literalis) gives way to a spiritualized reading whereby the authorial intent of the text is dismissed in favor of some extra-textual grid which determines the meaning.
In a recent blog post, Mary Kassian’s provocative interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 falls into the framework of an allegorical interpretation. Calling her approach a “typological” one, Kassian argues that “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.” She then offers this “typological scheme” for 1 Timothy 2:14-15:
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.
By such an analysis, it is argued that the “woman’s ontology (her capacity to bear children) relates to her typology (the Church’s ability to be fruitful in Christ) and the conundrum of the passage, i.e. that women are saved by bearing biological children is resolved.”
The this is that framework characteristic of allegorical interpretation is present in the above interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15. She = the church; childbearing = church’s fruitfulness (the church’s capacity to bear spiritual children through union with Christ); they = men and women (both men and women are to continue in faith and love and holiness).
The creative and clever interpretation is unconvincing for a number of reasons. First, the whole passage (1 Tim 2:8-15) is speaking of the ontological roles of men and women; there is nothing in the passage to indicate that the typological roles of Adam and Eve are being invoked. That the ontological roles are clearly in view is established in 1 Timothy 2:8-12. The shift to “typological” roles in verses 13-15 is inexplicable; the appeal to the creation account serves only to ground the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 (see James Hamilton’s post as he rightly recognizes this). That Adam is a type of Christ (Rom 5:14) and that the roles of husband and wife are typological of Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33; 2 Cor 11:2) are undeniable, but these facts alone do not grant us warrant to read these typological relationships into 1 Timothy 2:13-15. There are clear textual indicators in Romans 5 and Ephesians 5 that Paul is speaking of greater realities as Adam and the marital union point forward and beyond themselves, but no such indications can be found in 1 Timothy 2:13-15.
Furthermore, the switch from the third person singular verb (“she will be saved”) to the third person plural verb (“if they continue”) in v. 15 cannot bear the strain of equating “she” with the church and “they” as a reference to “man and woman.” As Tom Schreiner argues, the third singular refers to Christian women generically and so Paul shifts to the plural later in the verse. “This fits with the structure of the passage as a whole, where Paul begins by speaking of women in the plural (vv. 9-10), shifts to the singular (vv. 11-15a), and then reverts to the plural” (Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in Women in the Church, 2nd ed., ed. Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, p. 117). Moreover, the third singular in v. 15a also serves as a link to Eve in v. 14 since an organic and natural role, not a typological one, does descend to all women through her: the capacity for bearing children.
Another important point that needs to be made is in regard to the nature of typology. Kassian presents typology as involving those relationships between persons, events, and institutions that feature historical correspondences and also foreshadow later antitypes. However, such an understanding does not exhaust what true biblical typology is. Typology also involves a prospective aspect as types are divinely intended and serve a prophetic/predictive role. Furthermore, typology involves an a fortiori quality (lesser to greater), a heightening or intensification (escalation) as one moves from the type to the greater eschatological realities with the arrival of the antitype (Christ is almost always the antitype). Finally, typology moves along the pattern of promise-fulfillment as typological patterns are detected through the intertextual development along redemptive history (Melchizedek [Gen 14] is identified as a type in Psalm 110 and then explicitly linked to Christ in Heb 5-7). In this sense one must be able to trace the textual warrants for a typological relationship along the storyline of Scripture. Even the example of bronze serpent which was raised to cure the snake-bitten Israelites is laden with symbolism that is larger than life (Num 21:1-9; John 3:14) when one connects this incident to the larger pattern of the curse and the conflict between the seed of the serpent with the seed of the woman. (For further discussion of this view of typology see Richard Davidson, Typology in Scripture , Paul Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple , pp. 20-31 and note the helpful remarks in Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand , pp. 163-67.)
With these features in mind, it becomes clear that the Eve-Church “typology” of 1 Timothy 2:15 is really nothing more than an allegorical interpretation. Paul is not speaking of an Eve-Church promise-fulfillment pattern and neither is there some greater reality present in the context. Eve’s deception and transgression cannot serve to point to a greater transgression or deception in the church. This just begs the question, in what sense is Eve a type of the church? In the early church, Eve was often considered to be a type of Mary. St. Justin and Irenaeus present Eve as a virgin who brought forth disobedience and death to all mankind by heeding the word of the serpent, but Mary was an obedient virgin and became the cause of salvation for all mankind. St. Hilary and St. Augustine did see Eve as a type of the church by arguing that just as the Church is born of water and vivified by the blood pouring from Jesus’ pierced side, so this is foretold in that Eve was born and formed from the pierced side of Adam. (See Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers , pp. 42-45, 52-56). These Eve-Church and Eve-Mary associations seem greatly forced. The details of the narratives are pressed too far without the textual warrant and intertextual development for doing so, nor is Eve ever identified as a virgin before Satan’s deception in the biblical texts. Eve may be considered by way of contrast, however, as a type of the church in 2 Cor 11:3 which I will get too shortly.
Rather than solving the conundrum, Kassian’s reading with the Eve-church “typology” actually introduces more problems as one wonders how this proposal grounds Paul’s instruction that women are not to teach and have authority over men in verse 12. If verses 13-15 are relating how Adam is a type of Christ and Eve is a type of the church (which includes both male and females), how does all of this correspond to verse 12 where an injunction for the conduct of the church is made in connection to the gender of those within the church? This is especially difficult for the grammatical construction of verse 15 will not allow the typology to just suddenly appear. If Paul had wanted to introduce the church (as a whole) in verse 15 he could have easily done so, but that he uses a coordinating conjunction (“but,” or “yet”) with the third singular verb indicates that verse 15 is grammatically and conceptually linked to the immediately preceding verses with no new subject at hand. In addition, it is not clear how childbearing can be linked to the church’s bearing fruit in Christ. Where is the imagery of childbearing ever linked to the church’s capacity to produce spiritual fruit in the Bible? Galatians 4:19 is a shocking metaphor, but speaks of Paul’s travail and apostolic suffering over the fact that the Galatians need to have Christ born in them. Paul can also refer to himself as a spiritual father to his converts (1 Cor 4:15; 1 Thess 2:11; Phlm 10) but the imagery is clear and speaks of how he is as a father to them by transmitting the gospel. Even so, the notion of childbearing in a corporate-spiritual sense is completely unclear and unexpected in the context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Instead, 1 Timothy 2:15 most naturally connects to verse 12 when childbearing is understood as a synecdoche (a part used in place of the whole) of the woman’s appropriate role; instead of taking on the role of teaching over or having authority over a man, she is to embrace her divinely given role and not reject bearing children – a role rooted once again in the creation order and a capacity that women and only women can do (see further, Schreiner, p. 118-19 and see also his helpful discussion of 1 Tim 4:11-16 which also reveals that Paul is not arguing that one’s works serve as the basis of salvation, but obeying apostolic instructions are the necessary evidences that one is saved).
Finally, I also want to briefly address the matter of 2 Corinthians 11:3. I think that Hamilton is somewhat confusing when he argues that while Paul is not teaching an Eve-church typology in 1 Timothy 2:15; nonetheless, Paul assumes a typological connection between Eve and the church on the basis of 2 Cor 11:3. The comparison and analogy to Eve’s deception is clear enough (though typology involves more than just mere analogy as discussed above). How Genesis 3:15 serves as the escalating factor for identifying Eve in 2 Cor 11:3 as a type of the church is unclear. But Eve could serve as a type of the church in this context when linked to 2 Cor 11:2 and when tied to the OT pattern where Israel’s own infidelity and spiritual harlotry pointed forward to a covenantally faithful bride – the church. In this sense the pattern that began with Eve is completely undone when God’s people withstand the deceptive ploys of Satan and ultimately stand in purity and full devotion to the Lord, enjoying the marriage supper of the Lamb, in the New Eden (Rev 21-22) (see Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., God’s Unfaithful Wife, pp. 151-52). Even so, as I pointed out above, this case, along with Romans 5 and Ephesians 5, does not allow us to read the typological pattern into 1 Timothy 2:15 without the indications in the context itself.
Identifying types, especially those that were not explicitly elucidated by the NT authors, is difficult work. Making typological connections where there are none results in missing the authorial intent and foisting an allegorical interpretation upon the text. While I am so thankful for Kassian’s ministry, I do think that her take on 1 Timothy 2:15 is ultimately unconvincing.
Brent Parker is a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. He is also a member of Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, KY.