In my Greek class our teacher gives us important and controversial passages to translate. Consequently, we have read several portions about women's role in church. My teacher believes these passages do not apply to our situation in the US, but could apply to a modern day situation where women are still culturally under the authority of men. He believes that Paul follows culture concerning the role of women to keep the church from offending culture so that the gospel can be heard without offense. He says the church should always keep in step with the cultures views on women (in this regard) and those views should be reflected in the church, whether women are considered equal with men in terms of authority or not.
Personally this view makes me nervous because I find it troubling that Paul would leave something so important to the whim of culture. What I appreciate about this view is that it acknowledges the weaknesses of the other views that try to remain biblical but still reject what Paul teaches for today.
One view on women that I think cannot be sustained is that the role of women described in 1 Timothy 2 is limited to the very specific situation in that church at the time. Some have argued that something weird was happening there that made Paul write what he did. Usually this abnormality is described as a group of women in the church were teaching false doctrine. In response to this Paul says, "I will not allow a woman to teach." What he really meant, in this view, is, "I would not allow any of these women to teach." This view cannot be sustained because just before these verses Paul says (in the imperative or command form) "Let women learn in silence". He cannot mean "these women" because he says the exact same thing in 1 Corinthians. In fact, Paul's view on women is consistent wherever he brings them up. No matter where they are discussed they are always under the authority of men. This was not a specific instance in Timothy but at least a broader cultural dynamic, and possibly more.
Interestingly enough our professor also grouped Romans 5 in with this reading. This passage compares Adam to Christ. I had a talk with our youth group about this passage once. The question I posed was, "Why did God make one man first and then make woman from the man?" They came up with a host of answers, some typical, some not. "It was so that man would know he needed women." "It was to show his distinction from the animals." "Woman was an after-thought." "It was to show man's inheirent authority over women." "It was so the woman wouldn't give the animals lame names."
Paul makes the argument in Romans 5 that man was created as one so that sin could be traced to a single person. God did not create male and female in the beginning, he made Adam and all humanity came from him. Consequently he is responsible for the sin and judgment on all mankind. "For through one man sin entered the world and death through sin." Even though Eve ate first Adam is the one responsible as the fountain head of the entire human race. You can see this in Genesis and you can see it here in Romans 5. It is good that sin came through one man because that opened the door for salvation to come through one man as well. Some have said that it does not make sense that Christ can die for the sin of all since he is only one man. Paul argues that this makes perfect sense because it is the result of one man's sin that we are in this mess to begin with. In the economy and justice of God He had planned from the start our redemption and so ordered the world that redemption could be made through one man, Jesus Christ.
I am not sure how much we should make of this when we consider the role of women. Paul brings up this point in 1 Timothy 2 when he says, "Adam was made first, then Eve." In his mind the fact that Adam was made first applies directly to the role of women in the Church. This is rarely discussed today, but I think the discussion should be renewed. If it concerns our salvation perhaps it concerns the way we live as well.