It is taught in many churches that basically women are inferior to men and therefore are restricted to certain activities. For example, it is taught that women cannot be pastors in a church. It is taught that women cannot preach from a pulpit but must stand at the podium. It is taught that the wife must obey the husband and yield to his wishes. Many other such things are taught in the church that basically degrade the women of the world and the Christian faith.
Does the Bible indeed teach us that women are inferior? Does the Bible restrict women from serving in certain capacities in the church? Is a woman bound to do whatever her husband wants? What is the purpose of women and what are their roles in life? These and other questions are the topics of this study. We are going to examine from a scriptural perspective the place of women in life.
This is an inductive study on topics regarding women especially as they pertain to Christianity and church. We will examine the pertinent scriptures regarding women in their proper context and extract the meaning of those scriptures regarding the place of women. Let’s first discuss some of the common beliefs about women.
Common Beliefs Concerning Women
Probably all of the beliefs about women can be summarized in the statement, “Women are inferior to men.” Consider the following teachings that persist in the church today.
- Women are not supposed to be pastors. Pastors are thought to be leaders of the church and women are not allowed to lead or have authority over men.
- Women are not supposed to have authoritative positions over a man. It is believed that God has placed the man in an authoritative position. The natural order then is that men are superior to women.
- Women are not natural leaders as men are. God has endowed the male to be natural leaders whereas the female is endowed with the spirit of obedience (to the male).
- Women are the cause for the sin in the earth today because of Eve. It is believed that since Eve was weak, she was deceived into allowing sin to enter the human race.
- Wives are to obey their husbands.
- Women are excessively emotional and men are analytical, which make men better suited to lead
- Women are weak and therefore should not lead men who are stronger.
- Women are to have their hair covered in church
- Women are not supposed to wear makeup
- Women are not supposed to wear pants
These and other such rules prove to restrict the life of the woman in ministry and in everyday life.
Many of these rules are said to originate from the Apostle Paul. Paul is said to be the father of the disdain for women, which we will find is not the case at all. Many men and women have therefore used the Epistles of Paul to justify the teachings that restrict the activities of women in ministry and in their personal lives.
Are these claims about women true? Are women inferior to men by God’s design or have we misinterpreted the scriptures to justify our own heresies and prejudice against the female gender of the human race?
The first thing that I would like to do is to examine the information given to us in the creation account in Genesis. From this we can learn a lot about the purpose of women, the roles of women, and God’s intent for women.
Genesis 1:26 through Genesis 1:27 (NKJV) 26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Let’s look at these verses very carefully. The first thing that you might notice is that God refers to Himself in the plural. He says, “Let Us.” He then says that He (plural) will make man in his own image and again He uses the plural, “in Our Likeness.” The next thing you will notice is that he refers to man in the plural sense by saying, “let them.” The point to notice here is that God refers to Himself in the plural and He refers to man in the plural sense.
The “us” cannot refer to the angels that are present with God because man is made in the image of God alone. What is the image of God in man? The traditional view is that God’s image is certainly moral, ethical, and intellectual abilities. A more recent view, based on Hebrew grammar and the knowledge of the ancient Near East, interprets the phrase as meaning, “Let us make man as our image” (the Hebrew preposition in this phrase can be translated as). In ancient times an emperor might command statues of himself to be placed in remote parts of his empire. These symbols would declare that these areas were under his power and reign. So God placed humankind as living symbols of Himself on earth to represent His reign. This interpretation fits well with the command that follows-to reign over all that God has made.
Now in verse 27 you will notice that it says again that God creates man in His image, which is plural. The scripture then concludes by saying that God created man as male and female (plural sense), which is the image of God. So God created man as male and female and man (the male and female as one) were in the image of God.
“According to Our likeness”, This phrase draws attention to the preceding figure of speech. Since God is Spirit, there can be no “image” or “likeness” of Him in the normal sense of these words. Indeed, image making was later strongly prohibited because of the clear ties it has with idolatry (see Exodus 20:4-6). We may not make images of God for He has already done so! We are His images; it is we who are in His likeness. This is the reason God values people so much: we are made to reflect His majesty on earth. The phrase “have dominion” means to rule as God’s regent. That is, people are to rule as God would-wisely and prudently-over all that God has made (fish, birds, cattle, and so on).
What does this tell us? It implies that both the male and the female man were in the image of God. However, it is not that the male was in the image of God independently and the female was independently in the image of God. The two formed one unit, which God called man, and the two together were in the image of God.
MAN or Adam?
You will notice in the Creation Narrative that the name Adam is not used until much later in Chapter two. Instead, the word man is used. Consider the following scripture.
Genesis 2:18 through Genesis 2:19 (KJV) 18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
The word man used in verse eighteen is the same Hebrew word Adam used in verse nineteen. The word man comes from the Hebrew word adam (pronounced aw-dawm), which means ruddy, that is, a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.), person. This is the same word Adam that is used in verse nineteen and beyond. The point here is that the word Adam is not a name; rather it is a title, namely a human being. God created adam, that is, humans, and he created them male and female. Consider the following verse.
Genesis 5:1 through Genesis 5:2 (KJV) 1This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
Here again, we see the use of the word,adam and man (the New King James Version of the Bible uses the word “mankind” instead of adam). Now there is shifting towards identifying the man as well as categorizing him. In other words, his name will be Adam. Also note that Adam was in the form of female and male. This doesn’t mean that adam the human was bisexual. It merely means that there was a female human and a male human. For example, we see a tiger and simply say “tiger.” We don’t specify whether it is a male of female unless there is a real need to know. There is a male tiger and a female tiger but both are called tiger. The same applies to humans. There is a male human and a female human and both are called humans (man, adam, mankind).
Who Had Dominion?
Genesis 1:28 (NKJV) 28Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God blessed both the male and the female and they both were to multiply and have dominion over God’s creation. We see that they (male and female) were supposed to multiply and fill the earth with other humans. Here we see a major purpose in the different sexes, namely to reproduce. Two males or two females cannot reproduce.
Notice that there is no mention of the male having dominion over the female or vice versa. Humans held dominion over all God created. If God intended for the male to have dominion over the female, then surely it would have been stated as the purpose and design of God. It isn’t. As a matter of fact, it is specifically stated that they both were to have dominion over God’s creation.
Are men superior to women? The male species of humans typically have more muscle mass than females. The male species of humans tend to be larger than females. Since human males (henceforth men) have more muscle mass than females (henceforth women), then men tend to be stronger than women. This is probably the most readily visible difference between men and women. Men tend to think differently than women. Women tend to be more in tune with their emotions. This doesn’t mean that women have more emotions then men. It only means that they are more in tune with their emotions and therefore can express it more freely than men. Men tend not to know how they feel and therefore don’t know what to make or how to express the feelings they have. It still isn’t certain how much of these traits are learned or intrinsic to the sex.
OK. I’m sure you know that there are many differences between men and women. However, do these differences imply that men are superior to women? No, they do not! This is because God did not design men to be superior to women. Any superiority that men have over women is established by men and obtained by force and deception.
Women have to fight probably twice as hard for the same pay for the same job. She has more to prove as an engineer, doctor, lawyer, pastor, etc. Why? She has to work extra hard simply because she is female and nothing else. When we break it down like this I’m sure you see how silly and derogatory this is to women. No. The inferiority of women to men is not God ordained. It is a lie that has been passed down from generation to generation.
So men are not superior to women nor are women superior to men. God is superior to all. Men and women were designed to compliment each other. Adam (the male) was alone until the woman was created. She was created from Adam to identify and so that they could be interdependent. Men come from women and God created the woman from the man (male).
There is an argument for male superiority that is derived from the fact that the male was created before the female. This gives, so they say, men a higher order than the woman, which suggests that the woman is inferior. However, this doesn’t hold since man (human) was the last on God’s creation agenda. This reasoning would mean that the animals and plants had a higher standing then humans since they were created prior to humans! Since Jesus suggests that we are more important to God then the grass and birds (Matthew 6), then this reasoning doesn’t hold.
Original Purpose Of Male and Female
Now let’s move more into the scriptures that suggest the purpose of the male and the female.
Genesis 2:18 (NKJV) 18And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
The word “man” here is the same word used for Adam. It means basically a human being. From the context, however, we see that this human was a male. Now things get pretty interesting here. The LORD says that it isn’t good that the man is alone. The word “alone” is derived from a Hebrew word ba dad, which means to divide, that is, (reflexively) be solitary:-alone. The specific Hebrew word for alone is bad and it means properly separation; by implication a part of the body, branch of a tree; as an adverb, apart, only, besides (From the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). In general, it was not good for the man to be all by himself. The interesting thing is what God does next.
Initial Findings From Creation
Our initial findings are that God created men and women and neither is superior to the other. In the beginning, God created the women to be a helper (companion) to the man since he was alone without her. She complimented him. Without her, he was not complete and without him, she had no purpose. So the man and woman were and are interdependent. We need each other in one way or another.
We find that God had a purpose for women and that purpose was not to be subject to man but to God. God created both men and women (used loosely here to mean male and female) for his own purposes and in that purpose, each had a specific calling. The man was in the image of God in that he was created first. The woman was also created in the image of God since she was formed from the same “stuff” as the man was. Her being formed from the man suggests that both were to be interdependent on each other and not mutually exclusive, which would have been if she were created from the ground as the man was.
From the beginning, we notice no hint of women inferiority or male supremacy. The male and the female are equal in every way except for their purpose, which influences the way men and women respectively think and operate. All of the teachings of the male/female relationship must be viewed in light of what we learned from the creation narrative. However, as we will discover in the next lesson, the God-ordained relationship between men and women became corrupt because of sin and thus the fall.
We have concluded from the biblical text that women are not inferior to men and consequently men are not superior to women. We saw that there were no restrictions placed on women in God’s purpose for humans. Both the man and the woman had dominion. Now, of course, there were differences between the man and the woman. The biblical text suggests that the only difference was sexual. The fact psychological differences between men and women at the time of creation are only speculative at best. There is no mention of the woman being emotional and man being analytical. The existence of this and other categories of the differences between men and women may very well be attributed to the “fall.”
What were the consequences of the fall on the relationship between men and women? Of course the fall had a great effect on our relationship with God, however, this study will focus on the man/woman relationship. Let’s investigate the circumstances of the fall to determine if it can shed more light on men/women relationships.
Genesis 3:1 (NKJV) 1Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
Why did the serpent attack the woman instead of the man? Was it because she was inferior, emotional, or naive? If these were true then the serpent’s attack of the women would not have made much sense and would be ripe with failure at the least. This verse says that he was the most cunning beast in the field so we can assume that his attack on Eve was planned and calculated. Consider the following scripture.
Mark 3:27 (NKJV) 27No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.
The strong man is the one that can ultimately protect. He is the one that has the power and authority over a household in this case. In order to affect change in that strong man’s house, you must first defeat the strong man.
How in the world would the serpent expect to affect the human race by going through the woman if Adam (the male) was indeed the superior being? If the man were superior to the woman then it would have been a tactical error to approach the women. That would be similar to someone attacking the mayor of a city in order to conquer the United States. No. You have to go to the highest office. For practical and illustrative purposes we will say that the highest office would be the Presidency. So if the man was indeed the superior being then the serpent should have attacked him to affect any change or inflict any damage.
Now, these findings are consistent with our previous findings regarding the relationship between men and women and God’s original purpose. The man was not superior to the woman! So again, why did the serpent attack the woman since she was not inferior to the man? Did he just attack the first one he came into contact with? That would also be a tactical error, which is to devise an attack based merely on the chance of an encounter. Much planning and preparation go into any campaign against an opponent. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the serpent went after the women on purpose and for a particular reason. What was that reason?
Considering Mark 3:27 again, we see that the attack of the woman implied that she had authority and power to defeat him and to resist him. This is also consistent with our previous findings on the man and woman’s authority (dominion) over God’s creation. If the serpent could defeat the woman then he would affect change in all of God’s creation because she, as well as the man, had ultimate dominion over that creation. However, the same holds true for Adam (the man). Why didn’t he attack him instead of the women? What was the reason for choosing to approach the woman instead of the man?
The answer seems to lie in the circumstances surrounding God’s commandment to Adam (the man). Consider the following scripture.
Genesis 2:15 through Genesis 2:17 (NKJV) 15Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The important thing to notice here is that the woman was not present when God gave this command. Another thing to consider is that Adam had much more experience with God regarding the creation and God’s command. It is reasonable to assume that Adam told Eve what God said and the things that God did in the Garden of Eden before she was formed. Therefore, Eve’s experiences and knowledge of God’s commandments would have come second-hand from Adam. This isn’t a bad thing in that Adam’s testimony would have been reliable.
So again, why attack the woman? Consider that the serpent would have had to have a planned attack to increase his chances of success. Consider that the serpent would most likely want to defeat the most resistant of the two. If he defeated the one that would put up the best fight then it would seem reasonable to think that the other would follow in defeat.
Genesis 3:2 through Genesis 3:4 (NKJV) 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
The serpent challenged the woman by trying to discredit God in her eyes. However, she puts up a valiant fight. She repeated God’s commandment, as she knew it, just as Jesus defended himself against the Devil in Matthew 4. Now there are some that say that Eve sinned by adding to God’s commandment. There are two problems with this. First, as we said previously, Adam not God most likely told Eve the commandment. Her addition does not change the command at all and the command would have stood just as well. The second thing is that the Bible does not say that Eve committed a sin with her statement. The first sin was the eating of the fruit. So we cannot say that Eve sinned by adding to God’s commandment. Besides, if Adam did tell her what God said, which he most likely did, then he might have told Eve the command in such a way. He might have highlighted the dangers of eating that fruit by even restricting the touching of it. After all, Adam was the one with the personal revelation of God in these matters, not Eve. With that said, it appears that the only disadvantage that the woman had in her encounter with the serpent was her knowledge and experience of God’s word and of God respectively. She was not as prepared as Adam was in her knowledge of God and His word. Therefore, the serpent attacked her, the weak link in knowledge. This doesn’t mean that the woman was inferior as we already concluded. It simply means that between Adam and Eve, Eve was less prepared to deal with the onslaught of the serpent. Since she and the man were in dominion, her fall would prove just as effective as the man’s fall would.
Genesis 3:4 through Genesis 3:5 (NKJV) 4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Now the serpent begins to appeal to her sense of pride. He tries to get her to perceive God as not being straight with her and Adam. He twists what God said to get her to go against God. He presents God as someone who is holding out on her. The woman begins to consider what the serpent says. That is when the trouble started.
Genesis 3:6 through Genesis 3:7 (NKJV) 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Now the woman looked at the tree with a new perspective. Notice the parallel to Genesis 2:9; this tree was like the other trees. It was good for food. These words imply that this was the first time Eve considered disobeying God’s command. After all, there was nothing in the tree that was poisonous or harmful, and it was desirable. The issue was one of obedience and disobedience to the Word of God. Everything changed once she disobeyed God. (Note, however, that Rom. 5:12 speaks of the sin of Adam rather than the sin of Eve.) Because she did not die, she gave it to her husband. And he ate: Adam sinned with his eyes wide open. He did not even ask a question. He knew as well as she that the fruit was forbidden. Adam and Eve had now broken faith with the Lord, and the world was forever changed.
Also, consider that the serpent in effect caused Eve to dispense with God. She no longer needed God because she could be just like him. The serpent tricked (deceived) the woman into relying on herself instead of the revelation that she had of God and his word. She now determined what was right or wrong regardless of what God said. Her mind was turned around and operating in a fashion that would lead her into self-exaltation.
Can we blame the woman for the fall, as Adam tried to do later? No! Notice that Adam was with her! The Bible says nothing about Eve going clear across the garden and giving some of the fruit to him and he not knowing what it was. She gave some of the fruit to Adam who was with her. He watched the entire incidence with his wife and the serpent. He watched his wife get tripped up by the serpent and by his cunning words. He watched his wife fall! At any moment, Adam could have intervened and use the authority that he had above all creatures. Instead, he watched his wife disobey God and he did the same thing.
The fact that Adam watched as Eve traveled down the road to THEIR death suggests that perhaps he was already thinking about that fruit. Perhaps Adam had been contemplating eating the fruit. Consider that this is only speculation on my part but it does fit with his inactivity. He knew that the fruit was forbidden and he received the commandment directly from HIS CREATOR! Why would he watch while his wife kills herself? Why would he allow the serpent to trick her into doing something that he (and she) knew was forbidden? Why didn’t Adam use his supposed superiority to jump in and save his wife and thus all of God’s creation? Perhaps he wanted to do the same thing his wife did. Perhaps he wanted to eat the fruit as well.
Genesis 3:7 (NKJV) 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
All of a sudden they realized that they were naked because their eyes were opened. They perceived things differently now. Sin caused death to enter and now they saw things from a different perspective. They were guilty of disobeying God. They chose the road to travel and they would bear the consequences, as well as God’s creation. Remember that in order to plunder a strong man’s house that you must first defeat the strong man. This is exactly what the serpent did. Well, why didn’t God intervene? God had given the dominion of his creation to the man and the woman. They were entrusted as stewards to watch over what God created.
It is important to notice the narrative here. The Bible does not say that Eve ate and then went across the garden to give some of the forbidden fruit to her husband. It doesn’t say that the sin occurred when Adam sinned. The narrative suggests that the results of the sin occurred when they both sinned collectively. It is dangerous to suggest that the fall was due to either Adam or Eve. The fall was due to the fact that THEY disobeyed God. The man and the woman disobeyed God so that all of creation, over which they had dominion, was to suffer. The fall was not the fault of Adam or Eve individually. The fall was the fault of both collectively (as one unit).
The one thing that I definitely want to bring out is that the fall was not the woman’s fault. We cannot blame the great fall and subsequent consequences on the woman and hold the man as an innocent bystander. He was just as guilty as she and she were just as guilty as he. The fact is that they both were guilty of sin. It wasn’t the woman’s fault nor was it the man’s fault. IT WAS THE FAULT OF BOTH!
We should also note that Eve’s fall was not due to her inferiority, stupidity, or weakness due to sex. Her fall was due to the fact that she tried to be like God, just as Lucifer had already attempted. The serpent took Adam and Eve down the same road that caused him his demise. Eve fell for the same reason that many fall today, namely PRIDE and the QUEST FOR POWER! But wait! It wasn’t just Eve as I already said. Adam fell for the very same reasons except he wasn’t deceived. He entered into sin premeditated. He seemed to be looking for a way to do it and get away with it. Perhaps that is another reason why the serpent went after Eve first. He may have chosen Eve for his attack because Adam was already in the state that he wanted Eve to be in. Adam was already contemplating sin but couldn’t find a way to do it. Regardless of the reasons, which are speculation at best, the fact is that they both sinned against God.
The Forbidden Fruit
I would like to digress a little bit here. What was the forbidden fruit? The fact of the matter is that we do not know. People commonly associate the apple with the forbidden fruit, however, this seems unlikely. Others have claimed that the forbidden fruit was actually sexual intercourse. This is very unlikely since they would not have been able to procreate without sexual intercourse. Again, we do not know what the fruit was. What we do know about the fruit is the following.
- It could be eaten
- It grew on a tree
- It appeared to be good for food (after disobedience set in)
- It was forbidden by God
- We also know that eating this fruit would produce death.
It appears that the death-causing agent was not the fruit itself. The death-causing agent was the act of eating the fruit, which means that it was an act of disobedience.
The Consequences of the Fall
Sin has entered Adam and Eve so now what happens? Let’s discuss the consequences of the fall of those things pertaining to women since that is the scope of this study. A discussion of the full extent of the fall is left to a study of Genesis in general.
Genesis 3:8 through Genesis 3:9 (NKJV) 8And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
Now the man and the woman avoided God when they heard him coming. They hid because they knew they were guilty of disobeying God and they figured that God would know. Surely God would know that they were naked as soon as He saw the man and the woman. It is interesting that God called out to Adam and asked where he was. We must assume that God knew where the man was since God is omnipresent. Consider the following scripture relating to this point.
Psalm 139:7 through Psalm 139:12 (NKJV) 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,10Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me;12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
There is not a place where the presence of the Lord cannot see. Therefore, God’s question to Adam had another purpose. Another possibility is that the sin that the man and the woman committed separated them from the Lord. The Lord’s question wasn’t that of information but more rhetorical in that He acknowledged their separation from Him. Let’s continue.
Genesis 3:10 through Genesis 3:12 (NKJV) 10So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
Notice that God addresses Adam, the man and not the woman. This further illustrates the close relationship that God had with Adam and the close experience that Adam had with God. This doesn’t mean that the women didn’t experience God, however, since Adam was first he had more personal contact and experience with the creator. We should also note that the Bible doesn’t say that this walk in the garden by God was a normal thing. Perhaps God came down to walk because He knew what they did, namely sin.
Now Adam was afraid because he heard God and he hid. Then Adam blamed the woman for his act of disobedience. Though this highlights the consequences of sin, we can still see more of the purpose of a woman in Adam’s statement. He said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me.” The purpose of the woman was to be with the man (not given to the man!).
Genesis 3:13 (NKJV) 13And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The woman didn’t make up any excuses. She said exactly what happened, namely that she was deceived. Note also that she confessed that she did eat. Throughout this entire ordeal, we see that the man (or the woman) was not innocent of the sin. He was wrong and it wasn’t his wife’s fault. As we said previously, it is most likely that Adam was already contemplating disobeying God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. His wife just provided an opportunity by which he might get away with it.
Pain, Conception, and the Husband’s Rule
Genesis 3:16 (NKJV) 16To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
Many validate the purported curse that is on woman, if indeed there is one, by using this particular verse. Let’s look at this verse in some detail to obtain a better understanding of what it really says. First of all, we have to keep in mind that the statements made here are the results of sin. These should not be construed as God’s purpose for the women. God’s purpose for the women is evident in the creation, not the fall.
I would like to quote the Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible because it shines much light on the proper way to interpret the first part of this verse.
Genesis 3:16 (YLT) 16Unto the woman He said, ‘Multiplying I multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow dost thou bear children, and toward thy husband is thy desire, and he doth rule over thee.’
It is commonly believed that the postmenstrual syndrome (PMS) that women experience is due to this “curse.” Some translations, as we have already seen, use the word pain in place of sorrow (the second one). It is also believed that the pain that women experience during childbirth is also due to this “curse.” Is this true? Well, consider that the scripture does not literally say that. Also, I believe that it is unlikely that God would reduce a major spiritual calamity to mere physical pain. However, it is evident that the verse does refer to physical pain though that is not the entire scope of that portion of scripture. Let me digress just a bit here for a discussion of pain.
Pain and the Curse of Women
Pain is a normal part of life. Pain is perceived as a bad thing but in many cases, it is very good for us. Bodily pain is simply a signal from the body that something is wrong regardless of how obvious it is. The more sensitive a portion of the body is then the more it will hurt if injured. Sometimes we have to undergo medical procedures that are very painful and yet they provide something very good for us in the long run. Pain in itself is not evil or bad except for the fact that we don’t like the way it feels. There is a tendency to equate a painless world with a godly world. We live in a world where there are much pain and suffering. However, much of the pain that we experience is a normal part of life. We learn to deal with it and in some cases live with it. The bottom line is that though pain is very undesirable in most cases, it many times provides a service of good or at best insignificance.
Now originally the LORD said that the man and the woman were blessed (Genesis 1:28). He also told them to have dominion and multiply. They were still blessed. Now does blessing mean a lack of pain or discomfort? We have a tendency to desire a utopia and anything else is not of God. The Bible gave no indication of the physical condition of the woman regarding conception before the fall so perhaps it wasn’t as pain-free as we assume. This idea would lessen the likelihood that the “curse” introduced physical pain to the woman. Also the phrase, “in pain you shall bring forth children” does not necessarily refer to mere physical pain. Some translations use the word sorrow.
Now does the word pain always mean physical pain even today? No! Sometimes it simply means something that is labor intensive, much toil, or even sorrow. For example, you may say that you hurt, meaning that you are emotionally sad. You may say that someone is a pain, which means that they are annoying you or pestering you. So just because the word pain is used in some translations of Genesis 3:16 doesn’t mean that the “curse” refers to mere physical pain, especially since the underlying Hebrew is ambiguous in this respect.
I believe that this is very consistent with the text and with the previous state of the man and woman. It would seem reasonable to conclude that the fallen state of the woman, as well as the man, would mean that the consequences were more than just physical but encompassed their entire life. They were spiritually separated from God so that the woman would have sorrow when bringing forth children because she no longer was together with God the father. They chose whom to follow and they would have to bear the consequences of that choice. She would bear children and go through the entire process of having children (nurturing, raising, etc.) with sorrow. The more children she would have more sorrow (pain) she would experience.
The Husband’s Rule
Genesis 3:16 also says that the woman’s desire will be towards her husband and that he would rule over her. Does this mean that husbands have autonomy over their wives? Does this mean that the man was to rule his wife and to have dominion over her? Consider the following commentary from the Nelson Study Bible.
The word desire can also mean an attempt to forcibly take control. So the husband will now have a tendency to dominate (take advantage of) the woman (his wife). The word desire was at one time translated as “turning” from the ancient Hebrew text. With this in mind, this scripture could be rendered, “You are turning away [from God] to your husband and [as a result] he will rule over you [take advantage of you].
Now let’s discuss what this all means. Basically, the common interpretation for this scripture is not accurate. The woman will turn towards her husband since she turned away from God (because of sin). The husband will, therefore, take advantage of this and usurp authority over her because of his now sinful condition. They will both try to take control of the other and this is due because of the sin that entered them.
Men have used this verse through the centuries to justify their belief that women will have a strong sexual lust for their husband and that the husband is the ruler of the wife. Remember that this was not the design of God and even if this were true after the fall, it doesn’t mean that it was normative. That is, God didn’t command or establish that the man would have authority and dominate his wife and that the wife would have strong sexual lusts for her husband because of a sinful act. As a result of the fall, the headship of God was replaced with self. As a result of Adam and Eve wanting to be like gods, they would attempt to rule over each other.
Findings From the “Women’s Curse”
What can we learn from this? We see that it is not the nature of women or the command of God that the woman has sexual lusts for her husband. It is also not true that the husband is the ruler of the wife.
We also learned that the pains that are associated with birth are not necessarily due to the women’s curse. The pains that the Bible speaks about does refer to some physical pain but it is a lot more than that. It refers to the overall sorrow that would accompany the woman in the process of bringing a child into the world. Also, remember that God had not revoked his blessings on the man and the woman and also note that God never cursed Adam and Eve in the garden. He merely stated the results of their action, which was disobedience. Instead of heeding the voice of God, their creator, they decided to listen to self and disobey God.
There is no reason to believe that God would cause the woman to be inferior or subordinate to the man because of the fall. He could just as well made the man subordinate since they both sinned. The scripture seems to imply that they would be subject to each other since they turned away from God.
Findings from the Fall
We have to realize that sin caused God’s perfect world to be tainted and perverted. What was once a union between God and man has now become separation. What was once a union in marriage has now become an institution with the development of man-made laws concerning marriage. God’s creation was corrupted. Consider the following scripture.
Romans 8:20 through Romans 8:21 (NKJV) 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Now the corrupt creation and all therein became subject to the effects of sin. This means that men/women relationships were also corrupt and by no means illustrated the original intent of man. The fall caused the practice of the male-dominated society, the ruling husband (patriarchal dominance), polygamy, concubines, double standards of adultery, and divorce. The bottom line is that it became a man’s world because of the corruption, due to the fall, induced by the original sin. Though these were addressed in the Old Testament law, they were not God’s original intent for men and women (for example see Matthew 19:8).
The bottom line then is that the concepts of the inferiority of women, the superiority of men, and the ruling husband are the results of sin and not the purpose or design of God.
Historic View of Women
Why do people hold women in such low esteem? Why does the church consider women to be less than a man pertaining to leadership? The answer to these questions is very important to our study because they will show us that God is not behind this sexual prejudice. Though the men and the women have their own distinct purposes, we should not oppress women because of their gender. Now I would like to present some information that would help you to understand the origin of the disdain for women.
Jewish Thought Towards Women
How could Jewish scholars interpret the scriptures in such a way as to be biased against women? Perhaps there was an extra-scriptural belief in the inferiority of women that was incorporated into the interpretation of the scripture. Perhaps the Hellenization process of Alexander the Great contributed to the Jewish disdain for women.
Philo, a Jewish scholar, attempted to harmonize the teachings of Plato and Aristotle and other Greek philosophers with the Old Testament scriptures, which included a disdain for women. Josephus, a Jewish historian, viewed women with the same disdain, as did Philo.
In general, Jewish thought was influenced and in some instances transformed by Aristotelian and Stoic Philosophies. We will discuss this shortly.
Gentile converts also brought with them the same Greek philosophies pertaining to women. They also used Paul’s writings to confirm their beliefs of the status of women. Some influential people in the Christian faith that interpreted the scriptures with the mindset of Greek philosophy were Tertullian, Saint Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and Thomas Aquinas.
Many scholars and theologians considered celibacy to be the way to personal holiness. Sexuality was considered a snare of the devil to keep men from holiness. The object of that sexuality from the man’s perspective was the woman. Therefore, women were considered a snare to men sent by the devil. Imagine that!
The Greek Influence
The philosophers of Ancient Greece seem to be the originators of the Western world’s formalized conviction that women are inferior to men. Socrates solidified the Athenian disdain for women. He commented that a society built upon common wife and children relationships would be better. A man should not be tied down to one wife.
Greek women did not participate in much publicly. Their lives were very restricted and confined primarily to the home.
Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that a male bee led a swarm of bees. He reasoned that the male bee was more suited to command as in any creature including humans. Aristotle said that a husband is to his wife as a soul is to the body. The soul controls the actions of the arms and legs with intelligence and wisdom. The wife is therefore nothing without the husband.
Church leaders centuries later interpreted Paul’s letters according to Aristolian philosophy since they were a product of Greek culture and education. Actually Paul was challenging this philosophy instead of supporting it, as we shall soon see.
Demosthenes, who was born a year before Aristotle, was regarded as the great Greek orator. He analyzed the roles of women in Athens as follows.
- Courtesans (basically a prostitute for the upper class and wealthy)-for men’s pleasures
- Prostitutes (young female slaves)-for daily use
- Wives-to raise legitimate children and to be faithful stewards in the household.
Greek marriages were arranged. The women did not know her groom at the wedding and were usually married at a young age. A dowry was paid for the privilege to marry one’s daughter. The Jewish also used this type of arrangement in the Old Testament. Wives received no education except for cooking, spinning (for garments), and how to be modest and quiet.
Women of Athens Greece never went out alone, never shared meals with men (even their husbands), and never entered into the life of the general community. Their lives were basically confined to their homes and even there it was restricted. She lived a secluded, retired, and restricted life.
The Stoics believed that women were a distraction to men in the pursuit of wisdom. They also promoted asceticism (plainness) and celibacy, which supported their belief about women. The Stoic philosophy of celibacy made its way into Christian thought. It was believed that a celibate life would lead to holiness. So men and women would forgo sexual intimacy and marriage for the sake of spiritual development and holiness. Thus we have the concept of the monastery.
There are two primary thoughts pertaining to women. These are the Athenian and Stoic thoughts. They are summarized below.
- Athenian thought: Women are inferior to men. Therefore, they are to be commanded by men and used for pleasure. They have no other purpose but to obey and provide pleasure to men.
- Stoic thought: Women are a distraction to men and should be avoided in order to pursue the qualities that would make men superior.
These two views of the philosophy concerning women are the bases for the interpretations of Paul’s writings regarding women and marriage. These philosophies set the stage for how the scriptures would be interpreted by the Hellenized mind at the beginning of Christianity in the first century and beyond.
The Spread of the Greek Philosophy
Not all nations or people shared in the Athenian and Stoic view of women. Even some Greeks did not believe in those views of women. For example, the women of Sparta had considerable freedom and political responsibilities. As a matter of fact, at one time the women of Sparta owned two-thirds of the land.
Egyptian women lived in an equalitarian society. Egyptian women had the same legal rights as men and participated in politics. Egyptians also had equalitarian marriages, that is, the husband and wife had equal rights and privileges. Egyptian women had a much more liberal life compared with Greek women. For example, Egyptian women could sit on a local tribunal, inherit and bequeath property, engage in real estate transactions, secure a loan with her own property, witness legal documents, act on her own legal matters, buy, sell, or freed slaves, and adopt children.
The reason that these ideas towards women did not spread is that neither Sparta nor Egypt offered any philosophical heritage to the world as Greece did. Therefore, their respective philosophies about women remained confined to their respective locations, that is, it remained local.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is considered to be one of the most brilliant military leaders of all time. He conquered the entire known world in the third century B.C. He was trained as a student of Aristotle and was influenced and impressed with the Greek culture. One of his greatest legacies is the spread of the Greek culture to all of the lands that he conquered. That process is called Hellenization. Alexander’s successors continued the Hellenization process after his death at the young age of thirty-three.
Thought on Women During Paul’s Time
The thought of women in Rome during Paul’s time was similar to those in Athens, particularly the Stoics. Sons were favored over daughters. The women in Rome did have more freedom than those in Athens, however.
Interpretation of Adam and Eve and the Fall
The basic interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve and the fall during Paul’s time was as follows: Eve fell for the smooth talking serpent. As a result, she would have pain in childbearing and have an altered relationship with her husband. The serpent waited for the women because she was morally weak and easily led astray.
Even though there were many examples of strong women in the Scriptures such as Rahab, Ruth, Tamar, Deborah, Jael, and Judith, the rabbis of Judaism, for the most part, devalued women in their teachings. Some rabbis did argue for equality, however.
One of the primary scriptures that influenced the views of the relationship between a husband and wife is Deuteronomy 5:21. I will quote it here.
Deuteronomy 5:21 (NKJV) 21‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
Since coveting the wife was listed along with other possessions of the husband, then it was reasoned that the wife must be a possession of the husband as well. That is, the wife was a piece of property. The thought of the women being inferior must have existed before the rabbis interpreted this scripture. As a matter of fact, this scripture was interpreted in such a way because of their mindset concerning women. Women were therefore regarded as objects or possessions of their husbands or their fathers if they weren’t married.
A Rabbi might not speak to his own daughter or sister in public. Some Pharisees were referred to as the bruised or bleeding ones. This was because they would close their eyes whenever they saw a woman in the street, which resulted in them walking into walls and houses.
Every Jewish male thanked God in a recital each morning for not making him a gentile, woman or boor. As I said before, Jewish women were deprived of education, especially of the law (Torah).
Paul envisioned a world in which all people would be equal citizens in God’s Kingdom regardless of nationality, sex, or financial status.
Galatians 3:28 (NKJV) 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s task was to convert the Hellenized mind to Christian thinking. The people had to be transformed by the renewing of their minds in order to accept the New Testament standard for equality, even with women.
We see that men oppressed women during ancient times and still in some areas of the world today. They were not educated and did not participate in public life. They lived a restricted and secluded life. To make matters worse, men blamed them for causing sin and for being a distraction to the pursuit of holiness. In general, it was a man’s world during the time of Paul. Paul, on the other hand, was not promoting the general mindset about women at the time. He was actually trying to promote the equality of all people regardless of race, sex, or nationality.
Women and Hair Covering
Now we have an idea of the historical aspects of women during the Old and New Testament times. Now let’s tackle some beliefs about women that are still taught today. Let’s tackle the idea of women and head coverings. We will use 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 for this study.
Many churches hold that women are supposed to have their heads covered because of Paul’s instruction in this passage of scripture. Is that true? Is there a Christian Doctrine that demands that women wear hats or other head coverings in church?
Customs and Culture
Women’s hair was a common object of lust in antiquity (ancient times) and in much of the eastern Mediterranean. Women were expected to cover their hair and not to cover their hair was perceived as provoking male lust as a bathing suit is thought to provoke it in some cultures today. Hair covering was a normal cultural practice in Jewish Palestine. Other cultures extended this practice to face veils. However, upper-class women, along with other Greek women that did not necessarily follow Jewish customs, did not practice these cultural norms of the Jews. Instead, they adorned their hair with fashionable hairstyles thus showing off. Consider the following as an illustration of the severity of this practice. A woman attending a church meeting with her hair glamorously adorned in ancient Palestine would have a similar affect as if a woman attending a church service today was wearing a swimsuit. Yes, men’s heads would turn.
By declaring that in Christ there are no distinctions of sex, race, or social standing (Galatians 3:28), Paul had raised women from their degraded position (especially in the Middle East). But some Corinthian women had then discarded the customary dress and behavior of women in Greek culture. In Corinth, only the prostitutes went without veils, so for a woman not to wear a veil was a sign of loose morals or low character.
Paul is dealing with a culture class here more than a man-woman relationship. The culture class made it necessary to resolve the problem of sexual propriety since the Jews considered such adorning as sexually explicit while the upper-class women were simply showing off their hairstyles and at the same time attracting the men.
Paul presents a series of arguments that addresses the cultures in question. Note that these arguments will not work in every culture because other cultures will have different practices. Paul’s arguments surely do not concern woman today since the cultures are very different. Paul is again dealing with a cultural issue and not a religious or doctrinal issue. This is very important to understand else we might misinterpret Paul’s instruction and cause women to be unnecessary, unbiblical, and unjustifiably bound or suppressed.
Interpreting the Scripture
1 Corinthians 11:3 (NCV) 3But I want you to understand this: The head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.
Christ is not the head merely of husbands, but of the entire church, his body, male and female (Ephesians. 5:22-24). Wives, as well as husbands, are responsible to Christ, submitting to him and to one another. However, Paul emphasizes particularly that Christ is the head of every man. The husband has a special responsibility before God not only for himself, but also for his wife and children, and he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians. 5:23, 25). The relationship between man and woman is compared to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Scripture teaches that while Christ was fully God, equal with the Father (Philippians 2:5; Colossians 2:9, 10), he willingly submitted himself to the Father (John 8:28, 29; 14:28, 31). In the same way, even though man and woman are equal before God in Christ, a wife must willingly submit to her husband as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:24; 1 Pet. 3:1, 5, 6). However, this submission in no way implies the inferiority of the wife or superiority of the husband.
Paul uses the word head to mean the literal head and to mean authority. We should also consider that women held a subordinate role in the Jewish culture (as well as others) at this time. Again, this is not a spiritual or religious issue being addressed. Paul is merely dealing with the cultural practices at the time, which influences those things that are considered appropriate or taboo. In ancient Palestine, the women were expected to have their heads covered and in some instances their faces veiled. Not doing so was a direct contempt for the social and cultural norms and therefore direct defiance of the “proper order of things.”
Paul states the hierarchy that existed at the time by using the example of our relationship with Christ. He said that Christ is the authority of every man and that the man is the authority over every woman. He also states in his argument that the head of Christ is God. Therefore the order of authority is God, Christ, man and the woman.
Head primarily means “authority” when used in the context of human relationships. But the Greek word for the head can also mean “source” or “origin” in some cases. The relationship between men and women does not involve inferiority since correspondingly Christ is not inferior to God the Father. Submission does not indicate inferiority, but subordination. Just as Christ and God are equally divine, men and women are equal beings. But just as Jesus and God the Father have different roles in God’s plan of salvation, so men and women are given different roles.
Some interpret Paul to mean that head means the source. Therefore, God is the source of Christ, Christ is the source of man, and man is the source of woman. This also does not fit properly with the biblical text since it would violate our understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the Father and that God is the source of everything, even the woman. Again, we see that this argument can only work if we apply it to culture and not universal relationships between men and women. The point is that in this Jewish culture women were under the authority of men. They were not educated as men were and they typically didn’t hold high positions as men did.
I should also point out that Paul’s arguments seem to apply to husband-wife relationships and not basic male-female relationships. That is, he is not implying that men have authority over women, but rather husbands (in this culture) have authority over their wives.
1 Corinthians 11:4 (NCV) 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame to his head.
Having his head covered can refer to a hat or a veil. It is impossible to decide whether Head here refers to the man’s physical head or to Christ, the man’s authoritative head. Either interpretation is possible. We can take it as fact for this culture that a man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head (probably authority).
It was the Greek custom for men to worship with their heads uncovered. The principal part of his body was the head. Since a covered head was in the Greek culture a sign of subjection to men, a man would dishonor himself by wearing a veil or hat.
1 Corinthians 11:5 through 1 Corinthians 11:6 (NKJV) 5But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.
Again we visit the cultural practices. If a woman has her head uncovered in public then she brings shame to her head (this could mean the husband or her physical head). It would be a disaster if a woman had her head shaved (like a man’s). Having her head uncovered in public (worship) was just as degrading and disastrous as not having hair or cutting it short, which they would not have done.
Examples of women who participated publicly in the worship services or had positions of leadership are Anna the prophetess; Priscilla, who worked along with Paul and her husband Aquila and instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26); Phoebe (Romans 16:1, 2); and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). See also Acts 2:18. Paul has more to say about the conduct of women in the public meetings in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12. Since the veil was a sign of modesty and chastity, a woman who removed her veil was publicly declaring independence from her husband, and rejection of his claims on her. Compare the Jewish custom of uncovering the head of a wife suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:18).
Among the Jews and Greeks, long hair was a woman’s glory, while a shaved head was a punishment for adultery. Paul was saying to the Corinthian women, “You are carelessly flouting the customs of your society, with no concern for the impression of loose character you are giving. If you are going without veils, you might as well be consistent and have your heads shaved, which is considered even more disgraceful.” Paul was showing them the impropriety of their behavior by carrying the matter a step further to something they would never consider doing.
Again, I must continue to say that Paul is dealing with cultural practices, which are not biblically derived. For example, a Nazarite was not allowed to shave his head (Numbers 6:5), which is an exception to what Paul is saying here regarding men and short hair.
1 Corinthians 11:7 (NKJV) 7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
Paul here begins an argument from the order of creation. He cannot be disputing the fact from creation that women are also the image of God (Genesis 1:27 plainly states that both male and female were created in God’s image). Perhaps he means that women’s uncovered heads are drawing men’s attention to humanity instead of to God; as one would say today, they were turning men’s heads. However, we should keep in mind that Paul is arguing from a cultural perspective and not a theological one. If you don’t remember that very important point then you are likely to misinterpret what he is saying and apply his words to Christian doctrine, which it was not intended.
1 Corinthians 11:8 through 1 Corinthians 11:9 (NKJV) 8For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
According to Genesis 2:18 God created woman distinct from man partly so that man would no longer be alone. The phrase translated “helper suitable” praises woman’s strength rather than subordinates her. The word “helper” is used more often of God than of anyone else in the *Old Testament. The word “suitable” means “corresponding” or “appropriate to,” as an equal in contrast to the animals. Women were therefore created because man needed her strength, not (as some have wrongly interpreted this verse) to be his servant.
The woman was taken from the side of the man (see Gen. 2:21). The term “woman for the man” is Paul’s way of stating the concept of the “helper” in Gen. 2:20. This does not mean the women are inferior to men. It refers only to the purposes of God for man and woman in the creative order.
Man was created in the image or likeness of God; he is a small, finite reflection of God’s infinite glory (Gen. 1:26, 27; James 3:9). Jesus, born as a man, was the perfect likeness of God. He revealed God’s glory, not through a dim and imperfect reflection, but as the very Word, God’s own self-revelation (John 1:14; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Notice that the woman is not said to be the image of man, since both male and female were created in the image of God. However, as Paul goes on to note, the woman was formed out of the man and although created directly by God, she derived existence and glory from God through man.
Women were an integral part of God’s total plan for the creation, which he pronounced “very good.” But God did create Adam first, and Genesis emphasizes his incompleteness, his need for someone suited to his needs, and a companion. The woman was created to supply the lack of man (Genesis. 2:18). Although both man and woman were created equally in God’s image, to glorify God and have dominion over the earth, the woman was created under the headship of man. In the Greek culture, a woman’s head covering was a sign of her submission to her husband’s authority.
1 Corinthians 11:10 (NKJV) 10For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Evidently, God’s angels were present at the meeting of the church and actually learn of God’s work of grace through the lives and worship of God’s people (see Eph. 3:10). The symbol of authority might be a symbol of the woman’s authority to prophesy in the new church age, which was inaugurated with the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (verse 5). It also might refer to a symbol of the man’s authority over the woman (verse 3).
However, The meaning of this phrase is unclear, but perhaps just as man is ranked “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5), so women should take her place in submission to man. The angels, present at the church meetings, would respect this sign of submission.
1 Corinthians 11:11 through 1 Corinthians 11:12 (NKJV) 11Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Men and women need each other, and as creatures of God, both depend on Him. Neither man nor woman can have any claim to a special status other than what God has purposed for them as their Creator. Paul qualifies his preceding argument from creation (11:7-10). He wants to prove his case about head coverings, but nothing more. Women and men are mutually interdependent (see also 1 Corinthians 7:2-5).
1 Corinthians 11:13 through 1 Corinthians 11:15 (NKJV) 13Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.
Ancient writers, especially Stoic philosophers, liked to make arguments from nature. Nature taught them, they said, that only men could grow beards; women’s hair naturally seemed to grow longer than men’s. Like all urban dwellers, Paul is well aware of exceptions to the rule (barbarians, philosophers, and heroes of the epic past, as well as biblical Nazarites); but the “nature” argument could appeal to the general order of creation as his readers experienced it.
Paul compares the natural head covering of hair with the artificial covering of a kerchief or veil. Since the women took pride in their covering of hair, they ought to be willing to wear the additional covering expected by society. A man customarily wore his hair short, except for Nazarites, who grew their hair long as a sign of their consecration to God (Num. 6:5).
1 Corinthians 11:16 (NKJV) 16But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
Paul reserves one final argument for those unpersuaded by his former points. One philosophical group called the Skeptics rejected all arguments except an almost universally accepted one: the argument from custom-“that’s just not the way it’s done.”
The Corinthians were apparently fond of arguing, each claiming to have the last word or the ultimate answer (1 Corinthians 8:1). The Apostles did not have a custom regarding women praying with their heads uncovered. Paul closed his argument by appealing to the universal custom of the churches. While custom does not determine correct doctrine (since doctrine has been authoritatively revealed in Scripture), the custom is a helpful guide in practical questions of what is proper or appropriate in a particular setting. This phrase, then, supports the conclusion that the specific instructions regarding head coverings depend on cultural expectations and would not always apply. Paul’s teaching, however, is based on underlying principles that should always be observed. These underlying principles include the customs and traditions of your area that are not Christian doctrine. For example, in some customs, certain gestures or words are considered taboo while in others they are not. It would be appropriate to consider those taboo things when dealing with the people of that culture.
Findings Concerning Head Coverings
The teaching of a woman’s head covering has nothing to do with Christian doctrine except for the underlying principle of considering custom influences and traditions, i.e., don’t offend people with your liberty. Paul’s teaching is purely based on custom and nothing else. The direct teaching does not apply to women today or for that matter to all women even at the time, Paul wrote it. We should take away from this teaching the importance of recognizing the customs and traditions of an area when we deal with its people and the liberty that we have in Christ.
One important thing to note about Paul’s instruction here is that it was not something that he was commanding for all Christian women, nor could he. He simply used reasoning based on Christian values to deal with a situation that developed in the Corinthian church. This, therefore, does not mean that all Christian women are to have their heads covered.
One of the most common “laws” in the church community is that women are not allowed to wear pants or makeup in church. This church law is derived from 1 Timothy 2:8-10 along with other such scriptures. Let’s examine this church law now to see if it is really a Christian doctrine to be followed by all women. I will quote the scripture for convenience.
1 Timothy 2:8 through 1 Timothy 2:10 (NKJV) 8I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.
It appears that Paul is addressing two problems here: The men and the women of the church. The men seem to have been quarreling with each other or possibly with the women too. The word doubting should be understood as meaning discussion, debate or dispute.
The women seem to have had a problem with propriety in public worship, that is, seeking to turn others’ heads. Most Jewish teachers allowed wives to adorn themselves for their husbands, but both Jewish and Greco-Roman moralists ridiculed women who decked themselves out to turn other men’s eyes. Jewish writings warn especially of the sexual temptation involved in such adornments. Greco-Roman writers also condemn wealthy women who show off their costly array. Hair was sometimes braided with gold, which Paul might have in view here. Men were especially attracted by women’s decorated hair. Like most other writers who condemned such gaudiness, Paul should be understood as attacking excess, not against all adornment.
Greco-Roman moralists often stressed that it was inward adornment rather than outward adornment that would please a good husband and Paul concurs. See also 1 Peter 3:3-4.
Paul is not stating that women should not wear pants or even that all Christian women should refrain from wearing certain clothes to public worship except those that would attract attention to themselves. For example, we could apply this today by saying that women shouldn’t wear mini skirts or tight jeans to church if at all possible.
The specifics Paul mentioned (braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes) are not wrong in themselves, but become inappropriate when they indicate misplaced values (see 1 Peter 3:3). In the Ephesian church, these styles may have been associated with the local temple prostitutes or other undesirable entities. Though the specifics are not applicable for all times, the principle of Paul’s instructions are applicable for all time. Worship time is not a time for show or excess. The purpose of coming together is to worship God and have instruction in the faith and not to show off the new clothing, hair designs, etc.
Many churches have a rule that women are not supposed to wear pants to church. I recall that one reason for this is another rule that says that women shouldn’t wear men’s clothing. Let’s look at pants to see if this is really true or even biblical.
First of all, I have found no such rule in the New Testament. However, the Old Testament does contain such a restriction, or seemingly so at first glance.
Deuteronomy 22:5 (NKJV) 5“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God.
Many people use this verse to justify their belief of forbidding women to wear pants. They say that pants are men’s clothes and therefore if women wore pants then they would be breaking this commandment. Keep in mind that the commandment includes men not putting on women’s clothing as well. We will discuss that aspect later. Let’s examine this verse more closely with the use of various commentary, which includes the Believer’s Study Bible, New Commentary on the Whole Bible, Nelson Study Bible, and Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament.
Slacks? This verse has sometimes been taken to rule out the wearing of slacks by women. Hardly. In biblical times both men and women wore loose-fitting robes-but designed differently for each of the sexes. The point of the verse is that we are not to confuse the sexes; each person is to gladly identify himself or herself as a man or woman. Each is to take pride in the person he or she is.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man (keli geber) – the instruments or arms of a man. The word geber signifies a strong man or man of war. This is probably referring to his armor. In the worship of Venus by the Canaanites (Astartes or Ashtaroths), the women were accustomed to appear in armor before her (Venus). It certainly cannot mean a simple change in dress, whereby the men might pass for women, and vice versa. This would have been impossible in those countries where the dress of the sexes had but little to distinguish it, and where every man wore a long beard. It is, however, a very good general precept understood literally, and applies particularly to those countries where the dress alone distinguishes between the male and the female. The close-shaved gentleman may at any time appear like a woman in the female dress, and the woman appear as a man in the male’s attire. Were this to be tolerated in society, it would produce the greatest confusion. Clodius, who dressed himself like a woman that he might mingle with the Roman ladies in the feast of the Bona Dea, was universally execrated.
This verse is not primarily a reference to principles of fashion, as one clearly notes in the final clause. Rather this refers to the practice of transvestitism, i.e., deviant sexual behavior that is exhibited in the adoption of dress and behavior unnatural for one’s own sex. The danger, perhaps, lies in its close association with homosexuality (cf. Lev 18:22 and 20:13, where the same word “abomination” occurs; see also Rom 1:24, note) and in the fact that such practices were often associated with the worship of pagan deities. God considers sacred the distinction of the sexes, as shown in His creative design of man and woman, who, though both in the image of God, are also uniquely and differently designed (cf. Gen 1:27). Any attempt to erase that distinction is labeled an “abomination.”
Cross-dressing was forbidden by God in ancient Israel. In the ancient Middle East, dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex was a magical practice intended to bring harm to people. For example, a transvestite male would predict that the soldiers of another army would be as weak as females.
A note from the American Heritage Dictionary states:
“It would seem unlikely that the name of a 4th-century Roman Catholic saint should be the ultimate source of a word for a modern article of clothing commonly worn by both men and women. Pants, however, can be traced back to Pantaleon, the patron saint of Venice. He became so closely associated with the inhabitants of that city that the Venetians became popularly known as Pantaloni. Consequently, among the commedia dell’arte’s stock characters the representative Venetian (a stereotypically wealthy but miserly merchant) was called Pantalone. His name in French, Pantalon, was borrowed into English (first recorded around 1590). During the middle of the 17th century the French came to identify him with one particular style of trousers, and this same style became known as pantaloons in English. Pantaloons was later applied to another style of trousers that came into fashion toward the end of the 18th century, tight-fitting garments that had begun to replace knee breeches. After that pantaloon was used to refer to trousers in general. The last step in the development of the word pants met with some resistance. This abbreviation of pantaloon was considered vulgar and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, ” a word not made for gentlemen, but ‘ gents.'” First found in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe in 1840, pants has replaced the ” gentleman’s word ” in English and has lost all obvious connection to Saint Pantaleon.”
The following are yet more facts about the history of pants (trousers).
- In Asia, both women and men have always worn pants for warmth, comfort, and convenience. In Rome and Greece women and men wore tunics.
- In the fourth century, women in the Western world wore pants, which they adapted from the Persians. At that time, pants were considered unmanly.
- By the Middle Ages in Europe women were wearing dresses and men were wearing breeches.
- After the French Revolution, men took off their high heels, silk stockings, and wigs and began wearing trousers.
- In the nineteenth-century women put on trousers to ride horses, but they hid them by wearing full skirts on top.
- All trousers were pull-ons until the nineteenth century when front closures using buttons were introduced.
- Jeans were the first trousers to put women and men on equal terms.
- Until 1970 it was not fashionable and sometimes against the law to wear pants in offices, classrooms, and restaurants in the U.S.
Of even more important in understanding Deuteronomy 22:5, is to know the type of clothing that men and women wore. It just so happened that Hebrew men and women wore very similar clothes. They both wore tunics and cloaks. However, there were differences in the details of the design. For example, men’s tunics were normally short and colored and the women’s tunics were ankle-length and blue with embroidered edges on the V-neck. The tunic, as you may have deduced, is more akin to a dress than a pair of pants. Therefore, with the aforementioned logic of women not permitted to wear pants, we would have to exclude women from wearing the dress since men wore “dresses” at the time of this scripture and in Bible times in general.
Findings of Women and Pants
First of all, we find that Deuteronomy 22:5 is not a law that prohibits women from wearing pants. To interpret any scripture that deals with culture, customs, or social events at a particular time and apply them directly and literally to current times is very dangerous and will mostly lead to the wrong application or interpretation of that scripture. Such is the case here.
The primary assumption or dogma is that pants are men’s clothing. It is also assumed that Deuteronomy 22:5 is merely referring to cross-dressing. Since both of these assumptions are incorrect, it follows that the interpretation of this scripture using those assumptions would also be incorrect, which is the case here. I have always preached that we should understand some background information to help us better understand and interpret a passage of scripture. Without that background information, we are likely to apply 20th-century thinking to something that happened thousands of years ago, which would prove to be disastrous.
Deuteronomy 22:5 might also refer to the practices involving transvestitism, which is believed to be part of a pagan ritual or magical ritual. It is also believed that these practices were also related to homosexuality, which was forbidden and dealt with very harshly.
Therefore, we can confidently say that women are not forbidden from wearing pants by an Old Testament law or a New Testament doctrine. We also found that pants are not intrinsically men’s clothing. It all depends on the region of the world that you live in. In some cultures, women wear pants and in other men wear pants, and in yet others men and women wear pants.
I have discovered another argument for the prohibition of women wearing pants. It was argued that women wearing pants would generate unnecessary attraction by men because of a number of things. It was argued that pants would reveal the shape of the women, among other things (the frontal “V”) whereas a dress would not. This, it was argued, violated the teachings of modest dress in the New Testament.
This argument is very weak and does not hold up very well to even superficial scrutiny. Wearing a dress does not preclude a man from looking at a woman and becoming stimulated. There are many types of dresses that will show off a women’s figure just as well and even more than a pair of pants. This is especially true if the women’s legs are showing. Furthermore, speaking from the perspective of a man, a dress will not necessarily keep a man from being stimulated by a woman. Sometimes he is stimulated by her perfume, general looks, size, hairstyle, and the list goes on. Furthermore, even a baggy pair of pants may be stimulating when the imagination is used. I don’t want to get too far into this segment but suffice it for me to say that arguing that women should not wear pants in order to not be sexually stimulating to men is simply very weak.
If you would look at the converse of this argument you would see how quickly it breaks down. What if a man is wearing a tight pair of jeans or a tight-fitting suit? Wouldn’t he be just as stimulating to some women? Therefore, we could just as well argue that the man should not wear pants and that he too should wear a dress. After all, there is no law that says a man should not wear a dress specifically! Of course I am being ridiculous, however, this argument is just as ridiculous and very superficial. It is one of those church rules that is based on dogmatic logic instead of facts and truth.
Men Wearing Women’s Clothing
What about the other part of Deuteronomy 22:5, which is that men shouldn’t wear women’s clothing? Now a lot of trouble arises with the logic of those that say women shouldn’t wear pants because they are men’s clothing. We said that Europeans at one time wore stockings, wigs, and even skirts (called kilts). Those were men’s clothing so women shouldn’t wear stockings, wigs, or skirts! Now we have a problem as you can see. Of course, if you go to different parts of the world you will find that men and women wear different types of clothes. So you can’t pinpoint an article of clothing and say it is a man’s clothing or a woman’s clothing.
Let’s look at an illustration. Is a hat man or woman’s clothing? What about gloves? Are socks man’s or woman’s clothing? What about robes-are they men or women’s clothing? Perhaps you see where I am going. The fact is that there are men’s hats and women’s hats. There are men’s gloves and women’s gloves. There are men’s coats, sweaters, shirts, shoes, and watches. There are also women’s coats, sweaters, shirts (blouses), shoes, and watches. Women’s clothing is made differently than men’s clothing. Likewise, men’s pants are made differently than women’s pants. A pair of women’s pants simply would not fit right on a man and vice versa.
Findings of Women’s Clothing
We have found that there is no restriction on particular clothing that women can wear except for respectability. For example, a woman shouldn’t wear short skirts to church or possibly in public as well. There is definitely no Christian doctrine that forbids a woman from wearing pants. The principle here is that women shouldn’t wear clothes that will attract too much attention to themselves, especially in church services. We also have to consider the culture and the customs of the people that are around us. The same thing applies to men as well.
Women (as well as men) should dress appropriately. What is appropriate depends on the environment that is in question. A woman’s dress should be indeed women’s dress. The Bible seems to discourage cross-dressing in an effort to switch gender identities. The bottom line is that women should dress modestly in worship so as not to draw too much attention to them. I should also mention that the same applies to men.
Women Teachers and Authority Over Men
Let’s now turn our attention to 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Let me quote it here for convenience.
1 Timothy 2:11 through 1 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) 11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Does Paul restrict the teaching ministry of women? Does Paul restrict the authority of women in the church? Many have interpreted this scripture as a restriction on the teaching ministry of women in the church in that women cannot teach men (since it is held that men have authority over the women). It is also believed that Paul restricts women from having authority over men. Are these indeed the case? Paul even seems to give a reason from scripture citing the creation. Before we tackle these questions, I would like to give some background information that will help us understand what was going on in the Ephesian church.
Before we examine the background of this scripture from historical sources, let’s first just think about what is being said first and if our findings later will be consistent with this initial finding.
Let’s look at the idea of a Christian teacher and one in authority in the Christian community. For most Christians, the one in authority is usually the pastor so let’s focus our attention primarily on that. Since most Christians do not read and study their Bible, it becomes important for them to establish a primary source for Christian knowledge. This person is usually the pastor or a favorite TV evangelist. Whatever the pastor or minister says is considered to be from God and therefore “law.” For many church-going Christians, the pastor is the man in authority and whatever he says goes. He is the spokesman of God to the congregation. He has authority over the lives of the Congregation.
What is a teacher? A teacher is someone who presents information and expounds on it in an attempt to help you understand the presented information. Where does the teacher get his or her information? The Christian teacher uses the same resource that is available to everyone, namely the Holy Bible. He or she will also use other resources such as historical, cultural, commentary, etc. to help him or her interpret the scriptures in as close to the original context as possible. Therefore, you don’t have to do as much first level research since the teacher has done so much research and possibly investment in research material. So a teacher is one that helps you to understand the scriptures by presenting information in an appropriate way to facilitate understanding.
A pastor is a shepherd. The pastor is really a servant to the people. He is there to minister to the people, in addition to overseeing the vision that God has given him. This vision may take the form of a church, ministry, school, or community organization. However, we only call the overseer of a church the pastor. The pastor (or bishop) should be able to teach the doctrine of the Christian faith along with other criteria given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3.
The person that has authority over us in the things pertaining to Christ is really the one that is your discipler (Christian mentor). This is the person that led you to Christ and will answer questions and help steer you on your way to living a life in Christ. This could be anyone who is versed with the Gospel of Christ and the Christian Way.
Consider the following. The power in the Gospel is not from the one that presents it. The power in the Gospel is the Holy Spirit. A woman can get the same results as a man when presenting the Gospel to someone because the power of the Gospel is not in the individual. Yes there is usefulness for apologetics to some people but that is not specific to gender since anyone can learn how to reason with people to get them over their hindrances to accepting the Gospel. The Holy Spirit is active in these situations as well though.
Now if we put these things together we can come up with the following reasonable conclusions.
- The effectiveness of teaching or preaching the Gospel is not gender specific
- Pastors are not the authority over a person’s life.
- Pastors are not authority figures in true Christianity
- The effectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel is not gender specific since the Holy Spirit is the one affecting change in a receptive heart.
Therefore, a preliminary finding just from these considerations is that the gender of a teacher, pastor, or other ministry leaders is insignificant as far as Christian doctrine is concerned. There are appropriate situations to consider. For example, a leader for a men’s group in the church should be a man. A leader for a women’s ministry should be a woman. However, what about the pastor over the entire congregation? Where does the significance of gender come into effect? We will investigate these in another study. However, keep these preliminary findings in mind and see how they compare to later findings.
It is very important to understand that prior to the Christian worship meetings that men and women typically did not mingle in worship meetings or in public in many cases. Men were separated from women in antiquity. Why were they separated? Why did the women not mix with men during worship meetings? The answer lies in an association.
Cultic (religious) prostitution was a major reason for separating the sexes. Women in worship gatherings were associated with this cultic prostitution. Some examples of cultic prostitution are given below.
- Temple prostitutes in Babylon
- Holy weddings of the Gnostics
- Corinth, during Paul’s time, was famous for religious prostitution
- Judaism had temple prostitutes (1 Samuel 2:22). See also 1 Kings 15:12, 22:46, 2 Kings 14:21‑24.
Because of these associations, contact between men and women in public was restricted. The women were eventually allowed in Jewish worship but they remained separated and out of sight (of the men). Therefore, Paul’s allowance of women to be present and participate in an authoritative manner in worship was a very radical change.
The traditional view of women during Paul’s time and prior was that women were a distraction to men in their pursuit of holiness (from Stoic philosophy). This thought is derived from an interpretation of the creation account. It was thought that the woman was an afterthought of God and that she was, therefore, inferior to the man that God had intended to create. Of course, this cannot be the case because we know that God created male and female in his image. We discussed this earlier in this study.
Now the women were involved with worship but were ignorant of the Christian faith and the law. This made them a major gateway for heresy to spread. In the same way that it is believed that Eve was deceived because of her lack of knowledge and experience with God (compared to Adam), the women of Ephesus were deceived by false teachers because of their lack of knowledge of the Christian faith and the law.
Now let’s try to interpret the scripture in its proper context as best we can. Let me remind you that God is not a respecter of persons. That is, God does not show favoritism. Jesus Christ gave no indication whatsoever that women were somehow restricted in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. Cultural and local customs are usually taken into consideration in any organizational structure at any given location and at any given time. We saw this in our discussion of women and head coverings.
Now back to our subject scripture (1 Timothy 2:11-15). The word “silence” refers to a student that sits quietly in submission while learning from the teacher. Consider that women were not as educated as men were. For example, they were not trained in philosophy, rhetoric or in the law (Judaism) as much as the men were. Paul does reveal that he allows women to learn, which was a radical change from the status quo.
There appears to have been heresies spreading within the church by the ignorant (untrained and uneducated) women. Note that the heresies originated from men. So it becomes only fitting that the untrained women should not teach since they weren’t qualified to do so. Instead, they should submissively learn from the instructor.
A teacher at this time was more than someone that merely gave instruction. The students were expected to listen, believe, and obey what was taught. This gave the teacher a certain measure of authority over the students.
Another view is that women could teach as long as they didn’t have authority over men. This seemed reasonable in light of the fact that women having authority over men in this culture would have been met with great opposition. Paul’s statement may not have been doctrinal but rather cultural in an effort to slowly introduce the Christian doctrine and practices into a culturally strong community.
Yet another view is that Paul is protecting the leadership structure of the home. The woman is not to have authority over her husband who is head of the home. Another way of understanding the last discussion is that the authority of the husband in the home is not exclusive to the home. His authority over his family is absolute and is not overridden by the wife’s leadership role in a church, which he too may be a member but not in authority. In other words, for the sake of argument, a women pastor (we will talk about this later) cannot assume (usurp) the authority over her husband just because she has a higher position in the church than her husband. His authority in his family extends even within the church that she pastors (but not within that church).
Saved Through Childbearing
This verse may refer to the birth of Christ and Mary therefore as the woman in question. It might also refer to the woman’s special task of bearing children. The word “salvation” does not refer to the salvation of Jesus Christ (being born again). It appears to be a reference to sanctification since true salvation (justification) can come only by believing in Jesus Christ.
What does Paul mean that women will be saved through childbearing? It appears that the most fitting explanation, given the context and other teachings concerning women is that women will be sanctified (grow in the faith) if they accept their purpose that was established at the creation. Don’t grasp authority from men or anyone who is in authority. It is important to realize that Paul is NOT saying that women will be “born again” because they give birth to children. Nor can this imply that women will be physically saved while giving birth because many women die while giving birth.
Findings on Women Teachers and Authority
First, we learned that there appeared to be heresy perpetuating throughout the Ephesian church and that women seemed to be significantly perpetuating this heresy. We saw that women were far less educated than men in regards to the law and Christian doctrine and other things such as rhetoric. Therefore, they were prone to believe something that was not true, i.e., heresy. This is true even today for both men and women. Not knowing the word of God makes you prone to believing a false doctrine because of your lack of knowledge. The church at Ephesus also had to deal with the significant pagan and cultic environment, which was challenging the sanctity of church doctrine.
To this Paul says that the women should learn with a submissive and quiet disposition and that they should not teach because they are currently not qualified to teach. Paul does not forbid the women to teach in an overall sense. However, since they were not trained in the law or Christian doctrine, it was necessary for them to not teach authoritatively over men or to forcibly take an authoritative position (usurp authority) in the church.
So what we have here is a principle that applies today as well. No one should teach unless he or she is qualified to do so. Since women were very active in the spread of the Gospel and even in Paul’s ministry, we can confidently say that Paul was not restricting women’s role in teaching as a general Christian doctrine.
However, from another perspective, it does appear that Paul may have been restricting the women from having authority over men. This would have been a purely cultural thing since we have already found that men are not superior to women by God’s design. So any authoritative rules would have to be connected to cultural norms. We should also note that women did play a significant role in the spread of Christianity, which included teaching. So the bottom line is that there is no New Testament doctrine originating from Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian faith that prohibits women from participating in worship or in the leadership of the churches. Any such restrictions are man-made or culturally induced.
A Note on Culture
Cultural practices may be a valid reason to restrict women in certain aspects of ministry even though there is no doctrinal reason for doing so. This is the same argument that Paul used when he dealt with women and the head coverings (See 1 Corinthians 11:3-12). This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t pursue something that isn’t culturally accepted. However, it may be to the best interests of everyone if women, as well as men, operate within the bounds of their culture. Of course, there will always be the innovators but the surrounding culture should always be a consideration though not necessarily a final restriction. What am I saying? In many churches today it is held that women should not preach from the pulpit. That is reserved for men only for whatever reason.
Let’s say that a guest evangelist was invited by a women’s organization of a church to speak at a service. Even though there is no Christian doctrine that would restrict her from preaching from the pulpit, it would be in her best interest and of those present if she did preach from the podium. Over a period of time, she may preach in a way to prepare the people for THAT day when she or other women preach from the pulpit. She would probably cause more confusion and animosity if she defied the norms of that church and stood at the pulpit. Besides that, few would actually hear her message because of the attention drawn to her defiance.
Women Keep Silent
Now we are going to move onto another common teaching in the church. Are women allowed to prophesy or teach in the church? Are women allowed to speak in tongues during church services? Consider the following scripture.
1 Corinthians 14:31 through 1 Corinthians 14:34 (NKJV) 31For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
It is very important that the context of these verses be considered when interpreting the statements about women being silent. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-25, there are no restrictions given to women prophesying or speaking in tongues. Women were allowed to participate in church worship just as men. The context suggests that Paul’s concern is the orderly implementation of these activities. Therefore, he gives guidelines for prophesying and speaking in tongues during church worship.
it would appear in verse thirty-four that Paul prohibits women from speaking in church, which would include prophesying and speaking in tongues. Considering that women participate in these activities today, it would be foolish to say that the women of the modern church is in violation of Christian doctrine and therefore must stop prophesying and speaking in church services. Therefore, let’s examine these verses more closely while considering the context.
Recall that we previously said that women were not accustomed to participating in public gatherings with men. In Jewish worship, the women were separated from the men. Even in the Christian churches, the women were separated. We also stated that women were far less educated than men. It was normal for a lecturer to be interrupted by a valid question from a knowledgeable person. However, it appears that the women may have been interrupting the service to ask their husbands questions or they may have simply been chattering or asking ridiculous questions of the lecturer (teacher). To this Paul says that the women should keep silent.
The word “women” is a Greek word that specifically refers to a wife and not just any women. The phrase “keep silent” means to keep their mouth closed as in to keep the peace. This implies that they were disrupting the teaching. The phrase “not permitted to speak” means that they were not allowed to talk during the teaching. Paul tells women (wives) to ask their husbands at home any questions. Keep in mind that the women and men were separated so a woman would have to shout across the sanctuary in order to ask her husband a question.
Note that there is no biblical law that says that a woman should be silent or submissive. So what law is Paul speaking of? The word law can also mean principles (the law of love for example). Some hold that Paul was referring to Genesis 3:16. However, I do not agree. The statement that “the husband will rule over you” is not a law of God but a consequence of the fall. It would be very unlikely for Paul to refer to something that was the result of the fall and use it as a validation of his teaching. Instead, I believe that the “law” refers to a principle. From the context, this principle may be that of maintaining peace or the principles of “law and order.” Some sources even say that “law” refers to the law of love.
Finding on Women’s Silence in the Church
Paul does not instruct women to not participate in church meetings. That would be a very hard blow to women today who teach, speak, prophesy, speak in tongues, etc. Paul appears to again refer to a particular problem in the Corinthian church. The women were being disruptive by asking questions either to their husbands across the sanctuary or uneducated ones to the teacher. Women are permitted to participate in church services but not to be disruptive. This also applies to men. However, since the men were already familiar with the protocol for public gatherings and teaching sessions, Paul did not have to address them in his epistle.
Submission of Wives To Their Husbands
What does it mean to submit? The American 21st-century mind usually thinks of subjugation in reference to submission. We tend to believe that submission means that we are to obey those that we submit to. In other words, to whom we submit are those that control us. That is what we tend to believe. However, does the Bible use the word submission in the same context? We will find that it does not at least in some cases. First, let’s look at the scripture where Sarah called Abraham Lord and the scripture where Christians are to submit to one another.
The Submission of Sarah
1 Peter 3:6 (NKJV) 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
Genesis 18:12 (NKJV) 12Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Some attempt to “prove” that the wife is supposed to obey her husband, that is, do whatever he says by using these scriptures. Is this true? The Hebrew and Greek word translated ‘Lord’ in these two verses literally means supreme in authority, master, or ruler. By implication, it is a title of respect such as Mr., or Sir. Now we have a problem if Sarah called Abraham the supreme authority in her life because that is what God is. So we see that Sarah must have called Abraham something else besides her supreme authority. In essence, she was just calling Abraham her husband who is head of the household and her head. She was rendering respect to her husband. Notice the tone that Sarah refers to her lord, Abraham. Some translations simply render this “my husband being old also,” which is accurate from the context of the scripture.
So this particular verse does not imply that all women should obey their husbands as their masters. The husband is not a lord in the sense of supreme authority over their wives. As a matter of fact, that is the trait of the curse. He is head of the house and responsible for her care, as we shall soon see. The honor is given to Sarah then is in her recognizing her place and the place of her husband. She submitted to Abraham as head of the household. As a side note, consider that they were still living under the curse of the fall where the husband would indeed tend to rule the wife.
Submission To One Another
Let’s look at the use of the concept of submission from the scriptures. This same concept of submission is later applied to the submission of the wife to the husband.
Ephesians 5:21 (NKJV) 21submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Submission in this verse can best be defined by another verse which is given below.
Philippians 2:3 through Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) 3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
The sense of submission here is in the forgoing of your interests so that you can serve someone else. It is a voluntary act of caring and the act of love. We will talk more about this later.
Therefore submission in this context refers to the voluntary act of putting someone else’s interests ahead of your own. It is also a reference to the act of voluntarily putting yourself under that authority or care of someone. An example of this would be the submission of a patient to their doctor, a student to his or her instructor, or children to his or her parent. Submission in this context refers to the whole concept of love, which we will discuss later.
Now let’s turn our attention to a specific instance of the concept of submission. We will focus our attention on the submission of wives to their husbands according to Paul’s epistle.
Submission of the Wives
Are wives supposed to do whatever their husbands tell them? Are wives under the control of their husbands? Let’s look at another verse written by Paul and determine the answers to these and similar questions.
Ephesians 5:22-24 (NKJV) 22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
The key to understanding this scripture is in understanding the concept of submission and in understanding the relationship between Christ and the church (His body). The word “submit” means to voluntarily place yourself under the authority of another, to yield the authority to. Notice that the same Greek word for “submit” used here is also used in verse twenty-one where Paul says that we should submit ourselves to one another. You must understand that the word submit does not mean that you place yourself under the control of another. So Paul says that the wife should place herself under the authority of her husband voluntarily thus not by compulsion. Paul says “as to the Lord.” This illustrates the type of submission that Paul is talking about and it also alludes to the responsibility and authority of the husband, which we will discuss shortly (another type of submission to authority can be seen in Romans 13). The wives should submit to their husbands as they would to the Lord. The question now becomes, “how do I submit myself to Christ?”
Is Christ perceived as the boss? Is Christ perceived as the one that has full control of your life and tells you what to do in addition to making demands of you? We tend to think of those things when we see that word “submit.” However, what Paul is referring to is a submission that is first justified and fueled by love and respect. We submit to Christ because we know that He loves us, cares for us, guides us, and he died for us. Likewise, a woman would submit to her husband because she knows that he loves her, cares for her, and would risk all for her well being. Her submission may be thought of as a natural progression of the relationship as opposed to something demanded by the husband. He deserves her submission because of the love and cares that he gives her.
There are three key words in this passage of scripture that will help us to understand what Paul was saying. Those words are “head”, “be subject to”, and “love.” Let’s look at each one of them.
The Concept of Headship
What does Paul mean by the husband is head of the wife? There are at least two Greek words that could be translated into the English word head. They are as follows.
- arche-leader, boss, point of origin. Used to denote beginning. English examples are archeology, archives. Also archbishop in terms of importance.
- kephale-physical head, used to mean foremost in terms of position. It was also a military term for one who leads in the sense of being in the front (or head) of the battle or the first into battle.
Paul chose kephale when he said that the husband is head of the wife. The husband is pictured as the one that sticks his neck out and is first to be attacked. He is before his wife, not in status or importance but in position. He is pictured as the one running into battle first for his family and ahead of the wife.
So we see that the husband is the head of the wife because of his love, respect, and care for his wife or at the very least because of his commitment to her. We will talk about love shortly. His wife, therefore, respects that and submits herself willingly to his headship. However, this does not imply that the husband has authority over her in the sense of ruling her. Remember that the type of submission called for here is the same as our submission to Christ, which is not as to a tyrant king that rules us but to a loving savior that cares for us.
Head does not mean boss as in the controller. The husband is ahead of the wife and therefore has the responsibility to love and respect her. The husband is the head of the household though not superior to the wife. This only means that the husband and the wife have their own respective purposes within God’s plan for husband/wife relationships. We must hold to the non-superior posture of the husband because condoning a superior husband would violate our understanding of the equality of the sexes that we learned from studying the creation account in Genesis (and Galatians 3:28). So the fact that the husband is not superior to the wife and likewise the wife is not inferior to the husband must be preserved.
Considering these things we see that it is a wonderful thing for the wife to submit to the loving and caring husband. The wife then becomes the glory of the husband because she indeed becomes his helpmeet and his companion. Nothing can take the place of a peaceful home occupied by a submissive/loving wife and a loving/submissive husband. Submission does not mean that your rights are given up. Remember that the authority of the husband does not make him her “boss” or “king.” He is merely responsible for her in the family union. He is the overseer of the family. Ultimately, he is the servant to his wife.
Think of how Christ is head of the church and you will see how the husband is head of the wife. Is Christ a tyrant demanding your allegiance to everything he says? Or does Christ lovingly present you with the way to live and it is up to you to submit to that Way? Didn’t Christ stick his neck out and die for you? Of course, this leaves the husband with the responsibility of being worthy of his wife’s submission and vice versa.
To Be Subject To
The Greek word that is translated “be subject to” is used in the middle voice of a verb in the Greek language. It refers to the voluntary act of submitting to another person. It does not imply authority or obedience. You could say “to place yourself at the disposition of” would be a good way to put it. To be responsive to the needs of is another way to view the meaning of this Greek word. The same Greek word is used to describe the relationship between the following:
- Relationship between two people
- Relationship between God and people
- Relationship between husband and wives
So we see that what Paul meant here was that the wife voluntarily submits herself to her loving and caring husband. This submission is not by compulsion and not as to one with supreme authority over her. It is to the one who loves her and cares for her. It is to the one that would risk his life for her safety and well being just as Christ did for the church.
The Concept of Love
There are many meanings for the word love and there are many Greek words that were translated into the English word love. However, the love spoken of here is not an erotic type of love that a man might have for his wife sensually. It is not emotional at all. It really describes an attitude or action. It is the act of putting your self-interests aside for the well being of someone else whom you love. This word is related to the Greek word for “be subject to.”
Paul used a form of Hebrew literature where synonyms are used in parallel form. See Psalms 32:1 and 24:1 for examples. Therefore, love and submission are really used as synonyms. A husband loves his wife (submits to her) as she submits to him (loves him).
Application-The Christian Model for Marriage
Paul introduces a new model for Christian marriage, which is equalitarian instead of patriarchal. Paul uses the relationship of Christ and the church as the model for husbands and wives. Christ is head of the church in that he suffered for it (first) and gave his life for it. Christ does not rule the church. Therefore, we should submit ourselves to Christ because of the love that was demonstrated towards us.
The husband is to be head of the wife by loving her and serving her not ruling her and commanding her. The wife is to be supportive of her husband and serve him as well. A husband, as head of the wife, is to sanctify her and be willing to die for her. The wife is to be supportive of her husband and meet his needs as he meets her needs.
Paul’s model for marriage was very radical to his audience at that time. The husbands had little or no regard for the feelings or needs of the wife. The wife had little or no knowledge of the needs of her husband. Recall that the culture surrounding Paul was that of the Greek philosophies where women are either inferior or a distraction to men.
It is extremely important to understand that Paul was not supporting the typical Greek philosophy of men and women relationships. On the contrary, he was opposing it. Paul introduced a very radical alternative to the way things were done at that time. He proposed a system in which husband and wife were equal partners in a union. The husband loved the wife and the wife loved the husband. The husband would care for and submit to the needs of his wife just as the wife did the same for him. From this would grow that ever beautiful state of togetherness.
Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.
More Submission and the Husband’s Role
Consider the following scripture as support of what we have already discussed.
1 Peter 3:1-2, 7 (NKJV) 1Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
Notice a very important word at the beginning of this scripture. The word is “likewise.” This tells us that Peter is relating what he is about to say with something that he has already said. So what did he previously say? In 1 Peter 2:13-25 Peter teaches that we should submit to those that have authority over us. Living this way would thwart any false accusations of Christians because of their good behavior. He also uses the example of slaves (servants) being submissive to their masters whether the masters were good or bad. He says that Christ gave us the example of suffering unjustly for a greater good.
Likewise, as we should submit to those in authority over us, wives should submit to their own husbands. The purpose of doing this is the same as we discussed earlier, namely to win over the husbands and give no cause for strife, false accusations, or simple trouble in the family. This really pertains to a wife that was married to a pagan husband, which was the usual case. The wife could win her husband over to Christ by merely her “godly” behavior.
We see that these verses of scripture are not a teaching on the superiority of husbands and the inferiority of women. It is mere instruction of an effective protocol that would win the husband over to Christ or at the very least minimize strife in the home between a saved wife and an unsaved husband.
It is very important to understand that 1 Peter 3:7 refers to Christian husbands since non-Christian husbands are not heirs of the grace of life. Also, notice the use of the word “likewise” again. In the same way that wives were to submit to their husbands for the sake of peace, the husbands were to live at peace with their wives via the mode of understanding. The phrase “weaker vessel” most likely refers to physical strength and not moral or mental capacities. Men have more muscle mass than women and therefore tend to be stronger physically. Therefore, the wife typically would not be able to stand against a stronger husband. Again, this situation applies to a husband that becomes born again but the wife has not.
Findings on Submission
We have found that the submission referred to in the previous scriptures do not indicate that the wife is supposed to give up her rights to the husband and do whatever he says. It definitely does not suggest that women are supposed to give up their rights to men in general. The scripture does not suggest that women are somehow inferior to men and therefore should submit to his better judgment and/or abilities.
We also notice that the teachings in these scriptures refer to a general principle that Paul gives in Chapter two. Namely that we should submit in order to keep the peace and give no reason for the non-believers to accuse us and hopefully win them over to Christ. These verses speak nothing of the superior or inferior nature of men and women respectively.
The submission of the wife to the husband is a voluntary act on the part of the wife. The wife places herself under the care (authority) of her husband. This is a form of love similar to Jesus’ statement “if you love me then keep my commandments.” If the wife really loves the husband then she will put herself under his authority, not in the sense of rule but in the sense of his care. The husband’s love for the wife is indeed demonstrated the same way. He submits to the care of his wife as she fulfills her God-given purpose just as he does.
The submission of the wife to the husband should be earned. That is, the husband should demonstrate love for the wife in deeds and not just words. The wife then responds to that and submits herself under his authority, which is his care and love. Her submission to her husband is compared with the submission of the body of Christ to the head of that body, which is Christ. This is not a submission to absolute rule but absolute love and care.
I think it is time that I deal with one of the most controversial issues in the church community. Can a woman be a pastor of a church? I define the pastor in this case to mean the leader of a particular church. This also applies to our concept of a Bishop. If there are restrictions to women pastors then the source of those restrictions needs to be identified? Why? A church may declare as a matter of fact that women are not allowed to be pastors. This is a form of Dogma. However, that restriction may not be due to Christian doctrine, rather the church’s own doctrine or that of the pastor himself. Therefore, there are a few things that we need to investigate before we can effectively answer this question.
What church do you belong to? The answer to this question would be varied depending on who you ask. However, our perception of this question and consequently church will show that the concept of church has been altered over the history of Christianity. If you were to ask a first century Christian this question then you would perhaps get a strange look and an answer something like, “What do you mean what church? I am a Christian. There is only one church.” Our concept of church has shifted from the spiritual to the material. We typically think of a local church building or organization when we think of church. From this misconception grow other misconceptions as to the Kingdom of God and the true nature of the Christian faith. For example, the mainstream church scene preaches more materialism (prosperity, blessing measured by the car you drive or the house you have, etc.) then spirituality and true righteousness.
Therefore, I think it is expedient that we discuss the concept of the Church. After all, the “law” stating that women are not allowed to be pastors is a church “law”. The current concept of church is not what it was at the beginning of Christianity nor is it the true concept of church.
The church as we know it is composed of two components: the charismatic and the institution (administration). The charismatic (comes from a Greek word that means gift) is the foundation of the true church (the body of Christ). It identifies the church organism, which is a living body, the spiritual component of the church. The charismatic, not to be confused with the charismatic movement, is the life of the church, the body of Christ. This is the most significant part of the church.
The Spiritual Component of Church
The spiritual component of the church was established first, as it should have been. Without this component, a church organization would be no different than any worldly organization. The Holy Spirit that empowers and joins the people together to form one body and one church set that church apart from worldly organizations and religions. The apostles first began to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They taught the people the Gospel of Jesus Christ and those that accepted that Gospel became part of the body of Christ, the true church.
The apostles traveled to different parts of the world preaching the Gospel of Christ and changing the lives of thousands of individuals. The apostles did what they were commanded by Jesus Christ to do, namely, make disciples of the entire world. These disciples included men and women. There was no distinction in the charismatic since it was spiritually founded and therefore gender became irrelevant.
You must realize that in the charismatic (the spiritual foundation of the church body) that there were no leaders as what we are familiar with. The Holy Spirit was the leader of the church. The apostles were servants of that Spirit. The people considered them leaders because they were the ones with the original message of salvation after Jesus ascended to Heaven. The head of the church was Christ not any one person. As a matter of fact, the early Christians did not think of the church as a place of worship as we think of it today. It was a body of believers that could be anywhere in fellowship.
As the church grew in numbers, there became a need for organization. More and more people became born again and part of the body of Christ. The apostles could no longer administer the spiritual component of the church and the administrative. Church offices began to be created to deal with the administrative aspect of the church (Example: deacons, bishops). This brings us to the next component of the church.
The Administrative Component of Church
The organization is necessary when people begin to come together. The church was no different in this respect. More and more people joined the body of Christ and therefore the church began to become unmanageable by the apostles. There also was a need to establish a proper protocol for worship services. We must remember that the church is surrounded by the powers of the world, namely the government. The church, therefore, cannot exist in isolation of that governmental structure without itself abiding by it.
There is also a need for structure within the church body. People began meeting together regularly and the number of people consistently increased. A need for church leaders developed to maintain organization and give structure to the organization. However, notice that the word church is now being used differently. The word church does not exclusively refer to the body of Christ. Now the word church may refer to a specific congregation or local church.
It is important to understand that this component of church is man-made though ideally, it should allow the spiritual component to illuminate it. In many cases the organization has overshadowed the charismatic (again, not to be confused with the charismatic movement). The church has, therefore, come to be defined organizationally instead of spiritually or charismatically. It is universally understood that when we say “church,” that we are referring to a particular local church and not the body of Christ.
There are many offices in the typical church. Originally the elders were the leaders of a church organization (local church). The elder was usually a senior male that oversaw the operation of the church organization. His authority only extended to a particular congregation and not the body of Christ as a whole. He was responsible for the congregation and was a protector of the truth of the Christian faith. The office of elder was reserved for men. There was no law that stated that a woman could not be an elder. However, the church offices and thus organization was influenced by the surrounding culture, which was based on a man’s world. Here we have a silent exclusion of women in leadership, though they played a significant role in the charismatic (spiritual component of the true church).
The New Perception of Church
As time progressed the church began to be identified and known as an organization instead of a living body (organism) that is organized. A new perception of church evolved to the point that we now perceive a church as a structured organization as I said. You may have heard it said many times that a church should be run like a business. However, such is contrary to the way that the church should be run. Consider the following scripture.
Matthew 20:25 through Matthew 20:28 (NKJV) 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Here Jesus makes a distinction between the organization system of the world and of the church. The church is based on a system of servitude not authority. Jesus Christ has sole authority over the church-all of the people. The charismatic component of the church consisted of pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and apostles (see 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and Ephesians 4:11‑12). The administrative component consisted of elders, later bishops, and deacons. Over the centuries the administrative component has become the defining agent of a church. The pastor, which is a gift from God to the body of Christ, has become a title of an office in the church organization and associated with one with authority. That, however, was not the purpose of the gift of pastor. Men and women, in their quest for power, have succumbed to the temptation of power and prestige and have organized edifices and great institution in the name of Christianity when all along they have only built a religious worldly organization. The terrible thing about this is that we have fallen for it like sheep going to slaughter.
The spiritual church is practically absent from the minds of the people, even those within the church. The charismatic is no longer the defining component of the church. Our definition of a church has shifted from the living organism to the organization that we pledge allegiance to every Sunday or whenever it summons us. There is, therefore, a separation in the church. The spirit of the church is a separate entity to the church organization whereas they should be joined to produce an effective church during any time.
Findings on Church
I really want to emphasize the fact that the church today is very different than the early church of Christianity-in principle. For one thing, the church of today is defined differently then it was then. For example, asking a Christian in the first century, “What church do you go to?” would have been ridiculous. There was only one church-one body of Christ so there could only be one church. The meeting place was just a matter of course of a particular congregation of the church. However, if we asked a Christian today that same question then you are likely to get an answer such as “The Church of Holy Water” or whatever their church’s name is.
Another thing that we have found is that the church of today has a high component of administration as opposed to a high component of charismatic as the early church. Remember that the word charismatic here is not referring to the charismatic movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. The word charismatic here refers to the gifts of the spirit (from the Greek rendering). Churches today are judged by how successful they appear to be. People always want to know how many members a particular pastor has at his church. It doesn’t matter how many members a church has? We all belong to one body-the body of Christ-the true church.
We also found that the administrative development of the church organization is not “God-breathed” though it may be influenced by God’s ways. Some churches’ administration is more godly than others. Some administration mimics the world system instead of the Kingdom of God as Jesus revealed in Matthew 20. Therefore, the administration and corresponding laws of a particular church organization is influenced by the beliefs of one or more people who have usurped authority over the congregation. This means that a church’s “law” or statement of faith is determined by the conviction of people more so than the doctrines of Christianity.
It is fitting that the administrative development of the church organization be consistent with its surroundings (cultures and customs). However, it is not fitting that the administrative development of the church organization (a particular local church for example) transcends Christian doctrine. For example, the restriction of women in ministry is both cultural (for a particular region) and it is man-made since there are no scriptural restrictions of women in the charismatic (spiritual) aspect of the body of Christ.
Therefore, we have two “laws” in effect. We have the “law” of the Spirit and we have the “law” of the organization. The restrictions placed on women as well as other such restrictions are from the “laws” of the organization. It is very important to understand this otherwise you will perceive such restrictions and “laws” as being part of fundamental Christian doctrine, which they are not. Let me recap what I just said.
The restrictions placed on women in church service are organizational restrictions and not Christian restrictions.
Now let us get more specific in our quest for the woman pastor issue.
What is a Pastor?
Let’s start this discussion by identifying what a pastor is. Consider the following scripture.
Ephesians 4:11 through Ephesians 4:12 (NKJV) 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
I think it is important at this point to define the ministries that Paul lists here in order for us to take the ministry of the pastor in its proper context.
- An apostle is someone that is sent to accomplish a mission in the name or authority of the sender.
- A prophet was someone that was given a message from God to be given to his people at a certain time and for a certain situation.
- Evangelists are people that proclaim the gospel of Christ. The word literally means “one who proclaims good tidings.” The evangelist was not attached to a particular local church. They traveled over a wide geographical area.
- A pastor was someone that was the feeder, protector, and guide, or shepherd of God’s people in the New Testament. The pastor was closely related to the teacher and for all practical purposes was also a teacher.
- A teacher is someone that expounds on a particular subject in an effort to induce understanding. A teacher is one who instructs or imparts knowledge.
Notice that the word pastor at this time in church history DID NOT REFER TO A TITLE OR POSITION IN THE CHURCH ORGANIZATION (Church leader)! It was a ministry within the body of Christ just as the apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher. The concept of a pastor as the leader of a church or the title within the church did not come until later.
Ephesians 4:11 refers to ministries within the body of Christ that was given to the Body as a gift from God. These do not represent the titles of responsibilities or leadership within a church organization.
The Pastoral ministry is closely associated with teaching (Ephesians 4:11) as God’s gift to the church. Such ministry fulfills its God-ordained purpose when it trains church members to be mature in faith and equipped for ministry and unifies the church in Christian faith and knowledge (Ephesians 4:12-13). Self-promotion and political divisiveness run counter to the biblical ideal for pastoral ministry. In laying down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15), Christ set the standard for pastoral ministry that goes beyond words to deeds. His sheep recognize His voice as a trustworthy guide (John 10:3-4). Pastoral ministry is an expression of love for Christ (John 21:15-17).
The pastoral ministry is one of feeding and caring for God’s people. The pastor is basically a servant to the people. The pastor’s life is found in the ministering of the truths of God’s word to the people so that they would be edified to do good works. So we cannot talk here about the pastor of a church organization because this scripture does not refer to that at all. We can talk about a pastor in the Body of Christ as one who serves in the area of teaching, protecting, and guiding God’s people. This ministry, therefore, might apply to any disciple of Christ that teaches the word to others in an effort to protect them (with the truth) and to guide them (by the knowledge of that truth) through the medium of instruction.
There arose a need for two classes of officials within the church body, as we have already discussed. These two classes are as follows.
- Charismatic-(Greek for a gift) was the spiritual component of the church. The ability to serve within the church originated from the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:11 lists these ministries. Men and women served in these charismatic ministries.
- Administrative-These officials carried out the governmental and organizational functions of the church. Their service came not directly from God but from a majority vote of the people or some other approved decision-making method. Typically only men served as administrative officials due to the culture and customs at the time.
The problem is that we have the concept of a pastor as being an administrator when originally a pastor was a spiritual ministry. Since the administrative office is subject to the customs and culture of the locale, then we see that there may be a restriction of women built into the organization’s structural makeup. People generate the governing “laws” of a particular local church organization. We will talk about the importance of that later.
The Bible speaks of a pastor as a spiritual ministry designed to promote the edification of the body of Christ and not necessarily of a particular organization. The spiritual ministries, from Ephesians 4:11, precedes the administrative office. The term pastor is therefore not used to identify a church organization leader.
Now consider the following.
1 Timothy 3:1 through 1 Timothy 3:6 (NKJV) 1This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
Here we see the qualifications of the position of bishop. The word bishop actually means overseer. So a bishop oversees a particular congregation or meeting. Also, notice that the office of a bishop is assumed to be a male since it doesn’t mention the “wife of one husband.” Again we see the significance of the administrative and the charismatic components of the church. During this time, the culture was primarily Greek in nature. The Greek culture thought of women as either being inferior or a distraction to men. Therefore, it would have been very unlikely that a woman would be accepted as a leader in any organization-even the church. Again, this is separate from the Christian doctrine that doesn’t place such restrictions on women. We’ll discuss this in more detail in a little while.
We can see from our previous discussion on what a pastor is that gender is insignificant in regards to the spiritual component (the charismatic) of the church. What are the qualifications of a pastor? Actually, that is a moot point because pastors are a gift from God. God ordains pastors in the sense that God has empowered them with the gift of shepherding and caring for the people. The word pastor is actually not a title in church government even though we use it that way. However, since we have lost the true meaning and significance of the word pastor, we normally think of a pastor as the leader of a church or the head of a church (or ministry). Actually, a pastor is a shepherd to the body of Christ. He or she feeds the people the word of God through instruction and ministry.
A pastor, therefore, should know the word of God that pertains to his or her particular ministry. However, this knowledge will be present since pastors are from God and not men. If God anoints someone as a pastor then rest assured that that person would be qualified to do what God wants him or her to do. A woman or man can teach the word of God because the power in the word is from the Holy Spirit and not the person. If God ordains someone as a gift to the church as a pastor, then the approval or ordination of man is not needed.
For example, in my life, there were people that called me “their pastor.” Why? It wasn’t because I was forming a church. As a matter of fact, I resisted such thoughts. It was because I was teaching them and just operating in the gift that God gave me. Another example is when I applied to Bible College. I filled in the profile and the college recommended that I take the Pastor curriculum. They saw in me the gift of a pastor (not leadership). I am not a leader in the sense of administration anyway.
Typically we are referring to the leadership role when we speak of the qualifications of a pastor. However, the real role of a pastor is not in leadership per se’. The true role of a pastor is a servant, whose qualifications are established by God and no man can elevate someone to this “position.” People can elect or vote on the pastor the leader. However, people have no power in the establishment of someone as pastor the minister. These are the distinctions of the spiritual foundation of a church (the charismatic) and the administrative component of a church. Pastor in the charismatic is a gift of God to feed the people. A pastor in the administrative component of church is the leader (boss) of the organization.
The leadership position of the church is actually the elders or bishops, not the pastor (in the strict sense of the word). Note that when Paul discussed the officials or offices of the church that he did not mention pastors (See 1 Timothy 3). Pastors are listed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12.
So since the true pastor is a gift from God then gender is not significant and is not part of the qualifications. God determines who pastors really are since they are really ministers to the people and servants to the body of Christ. Since the church leader that we call pastor is an office in the church then people appoint these. Since men believe that only males are allowed to be pastors then part of the qualifications of a pastor is that a man occupies the position. This, as we can see, is a man-made qualification and it has nothing to do with the true biblical concept of a pastor, which is a servant, not a leader.
Findings On Women Pastors
From our previous discussion, we have found that there are really to aspects to the word pastor. One is related to the charismatic (spiritual) classification or component of church and the other is related to the administrative classification of a church. The Charismatic reference to pastor is that of ministry. In this classification, a pastor is a servant and a gift to the body of Christ who teaches and nurtures the people by the use of the word of God. These people are ordained by God and therefore do not fall under the power of men and their standards or qualifications. Who can dispute what God has established?
The second classification of a pastor is that of a church leader. In this instance, the word “pastor” is used as a title and not in the realm of ministry. A pastor is typically seen as the leader or head of a church or the head of a ministry within the church (youth pastor for example). However, usually, we think of a pastor as both the minister and the administrator. Unfortunately, this loses the true aspect of the ministry of the pastor.
So the bottom line is that there is no biblical reason why women cannot be a pastor in the true sense of ministry since this ministry is from God and not man. However, there may be restrictions on women pastors as leaders or administrators because of man-made laws. If men run the church organization then all people within that organization are subject to the man-made rules and regulations. However, realize that the restriction on women leaders is not based on biblical teaching, except where culture or customs are enforced. Basically, women have the right to be pastors both in the charismatic sense and the administrative sense. They are capable of having the gift from God since God doesn’t show favoritism between the sexes and they are capable of having the administrative abilities like any other person. Again, the restriction on women pastors is a man-made restriction and should not be considered as Christian doctrine. Can women be pastors? Yes. Women have the right to be pastors in the body of Christ if indeed God has given them the gift of a pastor as described in Ephesians 4:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 12:27-31. Nothing can hinder anyone, male or female, from operating in the gift that God has given him or her. We are all subject to man-made rules and regulations, even in the church. However, that should not hinder us from operating in the gift that God has given us.
You do not seek to be a pastor. Instead, as one minister explained to me, you realize one day that you have the gift of a pastor. You will find that you have been operating in that gift for a long time but didn’t call it pastor. A woman that seeks to be the leader of a church congregation or organization will have to deal with the man-made rules and regulations imposed on and operating within the organization.
So you see that women have to deal with the same dual aspects of a church that all people deal with. They deal with the spiritual side and the administrative side. All church organizations have to deal with administrative concerns such as dealing with the government. In addition to this, women have to deal with the biased, prejudice, and basically non-Christian mindset of men and women regarding women leaders in the church. So again, Christian doctrine does not prohibit women from being pastors in the body of Christ or leaders of a church. The problem occurs when people conjure rules and regulations based on their own prejudices and bias to restrict women.
Origin of Restrictions
I hope that we see now that the restrictions placed on women primarily originate from men. Men have established the protocol in churches and the world. Men have determined that women can’t be pastors or leaders. Men have declared that women are not really suited for leadership. Men have declared that women are inferior. It is also unfortunate that some women have accepted these restrictions placed on them. They have been convinced that God has imposed the limitations on them via the voice of men. However, the Bible reveals the equality of men and women. The only limitations of either sex are due to individual capabilities and not merely gender.
Consider that in the beginning man was alone without the woman. God intended for man and woman to be together as one unit. Men and women complement each other because of their design by God. Therefore, men who refuse or reject the support of woman as equal partner are only limiting their own self. The church has opted to operate according to the world system, which promotes segregation and oppression. Men have decided to usurp authority for themselves in opposition to the Bible’s teaching about the equality and compatibility of men and women.
Therefore, a woman that desires to be a leader, pastor, or teacher has a God-given right to pursue her desire. She may have to fight a lot of oppression, ridicule, and opposition. However, no one should deny their God-given dream and totally submit to a man-made world of oppression and prejudice.
A woman has the right to pursue whatever dream God has given her!
The Marital Divide
What is a woman’s job? It is commonly believed that such tasks as washing dishes, cleaning clothes, cleaning the house, etc. are women’s jobs. A man’s job would include such things as mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, fixing things around the house, basic car maintenance, etc. Where do we get these ideas? Consider Proverbs 31:10‑31. Here we see a virtuous wife that is not a maid. She is a working woman providing for her home and involved in the management and administration of the home. She is the ideal helper to her husband. That is, she is equal to her husband in that she is not tied to “womanly” jobs but participates in the things that need to get done in the household.
There are many men that tolerate a degree of disappointment, frustration, and misery because they are married to dead weight at times. I don’t mean that the wife is useless but separate. There is a dividing line in the household where the husband has his job and the wife has her job. This is what I call a functional marriage or relationship. Speaking from the perspective of a husband, I can say that it is a great feeling to know that your wife is by your side as you work, regardless of what it is. I always had this vision of marriage where the husband and wife wash the car together, work on the garden together, paint together, clean together, and do household chores together. That is beautiful. Unfortunately, we have degraded our ideal of marriage to functional instead of togetherness and equality. It is not a woman’s job to work on the car with her husband. It is not the man’s job to wash the clothes with his wife (help in sorting for example). Many women are not capable of performing basic household maintenance because they never learned. They never learned because they were indoctrinated with the idea that such is not a woman’s job or worse, such work is for men only.
We have succeeded in creating a divide between the sexes even in marriage. The husband is instructed to get out of the car and open the door for his wife to get out. The husband is instructed by some marriage counselors to drive up to the door so that the wife doesn’t have to walk to the car. The husband is instructed to kiss his wife goodbye or hello to help in meeting her emotional needs. The wife is instructed to have her husband’s dinner ready when he comes home or to have the house nice and clean for him along with making sure the children are in order. Well, what happens if the wife works as well (like our virtuous wife)? What happens if the wife drives the car? These concepts of marriage do not promote the idea (or my idea) of togetherness. Instead, they promote a divide within the marriage and over a period of time, a functional relationship ensues instead of a union of two souls. Now I am not implying that husbands shouldn’t hold the door for his wife or that wives should not be concerned about the cleanliness of the house. The problem is that the focus is on his job and her job. It is good for both to be involved with the affairs of the home as well as each other’s life.
Women’s Place in Marriage
What then is a woman’s place in marriage? The place of women in marriage is simply to be a helper/companion to her husband. They are to form one union from two people, which means that they are equal. The husband and the wife should operate in their respective gifts from God. The wife should not feel it beneath her or above her to do manual labor such as fixing things around the house if she is willing to attempt such things. Believe it or not, this is how men learn to fix things. There is always some point in a man’s life when he didn’t know how to fix something. It is not beyond a woman to do the same thing.
A wife should govern the household with the husband because the two are one. They will make agreements on primary responsibilities due to their respective talents. For example, they may agree that the wife takes care of the finances because she seems to be a lot better at it then the husband. They may agree that the husband will stay home to raise the children because he seems to be much better at dealing with them then the wife is. The main point here is that the husband and the wife discuss what their specific responsibilities will be based on their respective abilities and desires and not merely due to their gender.
It is so important that the wife and the husband operate as one unit in a togetherness relationship instead of a functional relationship. A functional relationship promotes the “your job-my job” mentality, which leads to further separation. The wife’s job is no longer to help her husband but to do her womanly job while the husband takes care of the manly tasks. It is unfortunate that many marriages degrade to this state. Togetherness, in my opinion, is a lost art, however, we can do all that we can to promote equality of the sexes instead of gender discrimination. This will lead to a much happier household because mom is just as important as a dad in the family and dad is just as important as a mom in the family.
Again the place of the wife in the household is to work with her husband forming one unit to manage the household. Progression can readily occur if the two are together and thus work together to move the household forward in the purposes of God.
I can best summarize the results of this study by declaring that women are not inferior to men and have the same rights and privileges that any person has. Women continue to be discriminated against but rest assured that those discriminations do not come from the Christian faith. The Christian faith promotes the idea of equality. No. Not then men and women are equal with each other because overall we are not. Men are men and women are women and God made us all for specific purposes. However, we are equal in terms of our rights and privileges.
Women are not commanded to wear certain clothes, cover their hair, unconditionally obey their husbands, or to cease from hopes of being a pastor or leader in a church. None of these restrictions come from true Christian doctrine, rather, from man-made laws and dogma.
So I encourage all women to pursue whatever gift or goal that God has given you. Yes, you will be hindered from man-made rules and regulations even in the Christian church. However, continue your fight of faith because at the very least you may open the door for other women after you. Amen.
- John Temple Bristow, “What Paul Really Said About Women”, 1991, ISBN:0-06-061063-8
- Gilbert Bilezikian, “Beyond Sex Roles”, 1985, ISBN: 0-8010-0885-9
- Craig S. Keener, “The IVP Bible Background Commentary-New Testament”, 1993, ISBN: 0-8308-1405-1
- Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Writings of the New Testament, An Interpretation”, 1999, ISBN: 0-8006-3072-6
- Ralph Gower, “The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times”, 1987, ISBN: 0-8024-5954-4
- F.F. Bruce, “The International Bible Commentary with NIV”, 1979, ISBN: 0-310-22020-3 (U.S.)
- “New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition”, 1998, ISBN: 0-8308-1442-6 (USA)
- Thomas Nelson, Inc., “Nelson Study Bible”, 1982
- Zondervan Bible Publishers, “The NIV Study Bible”, 1985,
The Place of Women
A Scriptural Perspective on the Place of Women
(c) 2000 William R. Cunningham
Second edition: February 7, 2001