In this new series, I am going to tackle some of the toughest subjects I have encountered – subjects that have shattered people’s faith. I’m started with a major faith killer in today’s society, which is the Bible’s take on the role of women. I’ve watched my female friends bow out of Christianity because they believe the Bible makes women out to be weak, helpless, and inferior to men. They thought the Bible oppressed women and glorified men.
So, let’s clear things up! What does the Bible really say about women and how does that apply to us today?
First of all, Genesis 1:27 tells us that both men and women are created in God’s image. This means that God views us as equals. He didn’t create Adam like Himself and then make something up for Eve. Both are made to be like God in character. It is very important to remember that when the Bible is dishing out the roles of man vs. woman, there is no difference in value or importance. God designed each gender for the roles defined.
Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him,’” and in verse 22-23, “and the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of man.”
God made Adam, but realized that he shouldn’t be alone. God had given him authority over the Earth and animals, but without a companion, without someone he could share it with – it wasn’t enough. He then begins creating all different animals and creatures as Adam’s “helpers” but no one is “fit for him.” This means that nothing else is going to cut it until God creates Eve. When God crafts Eve, he literally takes part of Adam away in order to make her – this makes them one flesh. In other words, God specifically designed Eve for Adam and Adam for Eve. They complement each other. It does not imply that women are less than or even reliant on men. It is also important to note that the Bible is specifically showing a husband-wife relationship here, not just a man-woman relationship.
Things start getting more confusing in Genesis 3. Here Eve has given in to the temptation. She ate the fruit and now God is revealing the consequences: she must suffer childbearing pains (as the “mother of all living,” originally a blessed title), she will be ruled over by her husband, and now Adam is going to suffer and toil all the days of his life for joining her in eating the fruit. The key thing I want to focus on is in Gen. 3:16 when it says, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Assuming Eve is representing all women to follow, this would suggest that wives will be ruled by their husbands. As a woman, that’s a bit frustrating to hear. Why should all women have to pay for what Eve did? I thought God was just?
I’m just going to let that sit for a moment. In fact, I’m probably going to make you feel worse.
1 Timothy 2 has a lot to say about women’s roles after The Fall. Paul first stresses that women should be modest in how they dress – that seems reasonable. Tempting others to sin is sin (even unintentionally), even if they don’t follow through with the sin, they’ve thought it, and just thinking it is also a sin! Obviously, if we want to be clear of sin, choosing to dress respectfully to ourselves with the body God made for us is a good place to start.
But then, it goes on in verses 12-14, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
NOOO! If you read this out of context, it sounds like God’s decided no woman can ever have authority in any situation. She must be quiet and cannot teach anyone anything. Furthermore, man came first so man is superior and a woman messed up, so it’s all her fault the world is fallen.
Yikes. This is how I would have taken it in the past. Context is so important to understanding the true meaning of passages in the Bible. What is happening in 1 Timothy is that Apostle Paul is writing to the church of Ephesus, telling them how the church is supposed to be, in accordance to what God has revealed to him. When it says, “I do not permit,” that is Paul speaking in his authority as the one God called to raise the churches after Christ. When it says women cannot teach or exercise authority over a man, he is referring to women serving as Elders in a church. The Bible is very clear that men should be the leaders/overseers/elders of a church. Women are allowed to teach children and other women, but should be “quiet” as in not leading over a congregation.
I want to pause and point out that many theologians debate that the only reason things were laid out this way for the church in Ephesus and several other churches, is that in that culture, women were generally not educated. Most women, based on the laws (which we are told to follow the laws of our lands), could not even read. This means that those women could not study the Bible on their own and had to learn from their husbands, who were educated. It is a widely accepted theory that in today’s world, this means women with education and an ability to read the Bible and learn from it themselves are now fully “allowed” to teach and lead congregations (hence Joyce Meyer). Additionally, in Acts 18:24-26, two women are shown pulling aside a well-educated elder and teaching him the way of God. Obviously, this is not over the congregation, but it shows that women are allowed to teach and guide men.
Back to the verses, when Paul mentions Adam and Eve, he is showing us that the roles of men and women were part of God’s design and not necessarily just a result of the original sin. God intended for men to lead and women to support. This created a balanced relationship. If both tried to lead, there would be conflict. If both only supported, there would be no direction. Again, remember this is meant for married couples. Marriage was designed to symbolize the relationship between Christ (the groom) and the Church/Us (the bride).
This is best described in Ephesians 5:22-24:
“Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Here Paul is saying wives submit to their husband just like they submit to Christ. Still sounds a bit frustrating, but submission does not make us slaves to our husbands. God wants wives to listen to their husbands, respect them, run ideas past them, be agreeable, and trust them. Obviously, this doesn’t mean husbands should get to walk all over their wives and treat them like slaves and property. It doesn’t mean get in the kitchen and make dinner because he said so. It means God’s dream – if you will – is that wives will be eager to help, support, and please their husband. Also, notice it doesn’t say, “Women submit to men, as to the Lord.” It’s only to her own husband. He is illustrating the best way for a woman to be a godly wife – the way that will lead to the most happiness! Remember, God has our good in mind!
Ready for the flipside?
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself… Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:25-31, ESV)
The husband is supposed to put his wife before himself – to be willing to die for her, give up all that he has for her. This means that if he’s striving to be like Christ, he’s going to be leading in a way that is not best for himself, but best for his wife. The husband is supposed to be self-sacrificial. In God’s perfect dream for marriage, the wife is helping the husband and the husband is leading them toward her best interest. They take care of each other. Neither is more important. They are devoting themselves to each other’s happiness and fulfillment.
Let’s take on another difficult verse!
1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
I like how when I first read this, I was all about it until I got to “weaker vessel,” then that was the only thing I originally took out of it. It’s easy to read that and think, “oh so now women are weak?!” There’s a couple ways to take it. Personally, I take it as cultural status. Women were viewed as lesser than men in that culture, so husbands were supposed to treat them as equal heirs because in God’s eyes, that’s what they are. Notice also, it says that the husbands’ prayers can be hindered by how he treats his wife! So, if a man is abusing his authority, mistreating her, hurting her, God’s going to look down and stamp a big fat “NO” on his prayers because he is disobeying His command. This can even be taken as a warning against physical abuse, since yes, generally speaking, most men are physically stronger than women and have a greater potential of hurting their wives. (Of course, it can go the other way too, and I’m sure God won’t answer the prayers of an abusive wife either.)
Most of the “trouble” verses are about wives and husbands, some of it applies to churches, but none of it applies to the workplace, school, or any other situation. Women are not inferior to men according to the Bible. In fact, if I had more time, I’d write all the examples of how much God loves his daughters and how big of an impact they have had! The bottom line is that God has a vision for the dynamic between a man and woman, but because it is so easy to misunderstand what is really being said, take things out of context, and misuse the Word, it was perceived and taught in the light of women being lesser than men.
As a final note, here’s some “Verses to Remember” about the type of women God actually hopes his daughters will be!
- V. 17: “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”
- V. 20: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches her hands to the needy.”
- V. 25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the times to come.”
- V. 26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
- V. 30-31: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”