For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and has become in disobedience.
Paul’s instruction that a woman should “learn quietly with all submissiveness”, that she should not teach, that she should not “exert a damaging influence over” a man but should remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-12), is grounded in the order of their creation in Genesis 2: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” So even if we accept that the rule of the man over the woman is a consequence of the fall rather than part of the original relational dynamic, it would still seem that in Paul’s mind a created difference requires that men teach and women learn “in all submissiveness”.
Paul’s argument, however, is a little more complex than this. Eve is marked out here not because she transgressed—Adam also was a transgressor (cf. Rom. 5:14)—but because she was deceived: she was the one whom the serpent approached, not Adam. The fact that she was deceived must have something to do with the fact that Adam was formed first, but the argument is not that she was inherently gullible. This is evident from the assertion that “Adam was not deceived”—not because he saw through the serpent’s devious little scheme but because the serpent did not attempt to deceive him.
So at the heart of the problem that Paul is dealing with here is the active role of one who would deceive the woman rather than the man and cause her to become disobedient. The context, presumably, is roughly indicated by Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy about people who have the “appearance of godliness” but who are actually “lovers of self, lovers of money”, and a lot of other bad things (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Paul writes:
Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. (3:5-8)
This rather suggests that Paul regarded women as especially susceptible to the lies of false teachers, and we can imagine various reasons why, culturally, that might have been the case. He would not have been alone in this view: Plutarch was of the opinion that when deprived of a husband’s intellectual guidance women are inclined to “conceive many untoward ideas and low designs and emotions” (Moralia 145DE).
It seems likely, therefore—though the arguments surrounding this are complex1—that Paul appeals to the formation of the man before the woman in order to account for the intellectual and cultural disadvantages of the woman. We would then have to ask whether this creational arrangement constitutes an permanent obstacle to the education and development of women. Presumably not, since Paul urges them to learn.
But it is also the formation of the woman after the man that introduces the sexual dimension into humanity. The language of deception (here apataō and exapataō) frequently acquires sexual connotations in the LXX when used in the context of relations between men and women. For example:
And Judith entered and reclined, and Holophernes’ heart was beside itself for her, and his spirit reeled, and he was filled with a violent lust to lie with her. And he had been watching for a time to seduce (apatēsai) her from the day he saw her. (Judith 12:16)
Jewish tradition regarded the deception of Eve by the serpent as a matter of sexual seduction; and sexual connotations attach to the thought that the “serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3. Also if the account of things in 2 Timothy 3:5-8 is any guide to Paul’s concerns, the seduction of weak women by unscrupulous deceivers must have been at the forefront of his mind.
Firm conclusions are admittedly difficult, but I think it is clear that Paul is not here putting forward an argument for maintaining the authority of the man over the woman. He is addressing a practical problem, and he does so by making some sort of typological reference to the account of the deception of Eve by the servant, which resulted in her “exerting a damaging influence over the man”—a translation which gets us much closer to the meaning of the obscure word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 than the conventional “have authority over”.2