One of the gigantic questions asked of the church over the last century or more is the question of the roles of women in the home and the church. This is an issue of immense discussion, especially when you bring the Scriptures into the issue. Here are some of the questions/accusations many make against the Scriptures in regards to women:
- What does it mean that “man is to rule over the woman?”
- Why did Sarah call Abraham “her master”?
- Why did men marry numerous women, but women couldn’t marry numerous men?
- And what about all this submission business?
- And did I read somewhere that women were to be silent in the churches?
And on it goes. We have to be careful that we do not simply go by what others say about the Bible without understanding the Bible itself. In our day, the culture believes almost the polar opposite of what the Bible declares. We as the committed core already know this. We should have this settled in our hearts and minds about what the canon of Scripture and the culture of our times believe.
If we find ourselves hearing what the culture says, then we must realize two things: (1) many have not really read the Scriptures, and (2) many don’t understand the point of the Scriptures. The point of the Scriptures is to show our need for rescue, and God providing that rescue in Christ. When we understand this, then we begin to understand how God designed things for His glory and our good, and we understand that this design affects everything from the culture to the kitchen, from the cradle to the grave—then things begin to click for us. If we look to the culture to determine whether Scripture is so, we are upside down and backwards. Scripture does not bow the knee to the culture—the world bows the knee to Scripture. We say this without apology, because we know that God has spoken.
Behind the accusation is a question that all of us have: where do women fit in the economy of God?
First, recognize that men and women are equal in the sight of God.
Regardless of what you may have heard, God did make men and women equal in his sight. Let’s take time to peruse some important and clear pieces of Scripture. Turn with me to Genesis 1:26-31:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Notice from the beginning, both male and female were made in God’s image. God said, “Let them” rule over creation as those imagebearers. And both were appreciated.
If you jump ahead to Genesis 2:18, Scripture said that it is not good for man to be alone. He as are all of us was meant to be in relationship. So God paraded all the animals in front of him, and while he did name them all, Scripture says that, “for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Animals did not correspond to him–so God gave Adam a helper that was fit for him. Woman–made from the rib by his heart to care for, love, and provide for.
Adam was told to hold fast to His wife. Not to run over her, lord over her, or tyrannize her–but to cling to her (Genesis 2:23-25). They are equals, with both needing the other. And what did man do? He praised God for his wife. He knew what God gave him–all the joy, all the help. Think about this, everyone. Man couldn’t do it alone. We’d better understand that we are built for relationships. Men can only function well when they have the woman God gave them. Proverbs 31:28-31 is a beautiful reminder:
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
What did Jesus say on the matter? He had no trouble sitting and talking to a Samaritan woman at a time when that was culturally frowned upon, but He spoke the gospel to her and freed her from her enslavement! John 12:1-8 shows how Jesus received the worship of a woman who was of ill-repute, but was willing to give up the most treasured possession she had in order to anoint Jesus’ head and feet–unbeknownst to her as an act of preparing him for burial!
And who showed up to the tomb first? The women.
As we move forward, look at what Paul has to say on the matter. Growing up, I heard a lot of people give Paul grief about his views of women. I would say that if you took some of Paul’s words without taking the other words he speaks and in light of all of Scripture. Take a look at a few passages here. First, Galatians 3:27-28:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
What meanest thou this? In regards to God’s work of salvation in Christ, if we are in Christ, we are one. Under the old Law of Moses, distinctions arose between these. But now a Jew and Greek could be called ‘brother.’ Their primary identity was that of Christian–of who they are in Christ. Status? Read Philemon and see how a runaway slave would return to his master Onesimus as a brother… still in slavery, but a brother whom Paul implored to do the right thing. Gender? A Jew would pray, “I thank you Lord that I am not a Gentile dog or a woman.” Their identity was nationalistic–now their identity is sibling in Christ! Once you are baptized into Christ, you put on Christ. He’s the one to whom you belong! All those old dividing lines of demarcation are gone.
It’s a great word. You may have come to church and left with your unbelieving spouse who has stayed at home and he called you a loser and a fool for believing in Christ. You may walk away from friendships because they saw you as poor or stupid or crazy… those aren’t your ultimate identity. You may have people identify you because of your financial status, the color of your skin, your country of origin, or of the part of the country from which you hail, or yes even your gender! If you are in Christ, you belong to Christ. You are one in Christ Jesus.
Later, we shall revisit this passage because some take this to the area of roles in the church, but beware of going places that God’s Word doesn’t take you.
Look at 1 Corinthians 7:2-5:
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Wives, your bodies belong to your husbands. But Paul goes on: husbands, your bodies belong to your wives. Equality!
Look at Ephesians 6:1-3:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise) “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
What does this say? Does this say, “Children, obey only your father?” “Honor your father?” No, obey your parents! Honor your mom and dad. Notice also the quotes. Does this passage sound familiar? From where is Paul quoting this? The Ten Commandments, and in this case from Exodus 20:12. So even in Exodus, Paul brings in the equality of the imagebearers of male and female.
Isn’t God good? Isn’t he good to let us know the value that He has placed on us? Isn’t it wonderful that no matter who we are, male or female, that in Christ we are one in Him!
Yet, this is not all that God has to say about the matter, is it? We are equal in our souls—and this is the area to which we must hold on.
(Later—maybe tomorrow, Part II: What About Those Submission and Silence Passages?)