Why The (Supposedly Biblical) Subjugation Of Women?
March 13, 2016
It is truly grievous that every human being is not being treated with the same common respect that all of us want and expect to be treated with. Shouldn’t everyone consider that everyone else, regardless of race, gender, age, or any other physical characteristic, religion, position, income, etc., possesses the same equal inherent rights as they do? Then why do we still see, even in our supposedly “modern” times, even in our supposedly “free” countries, and even in our supposedly “Christ-like” churches, the subjugation of women? Why are cultures, even in the West, including (and often even more so) in its churches, teaching that men are to be esteemed and listened-to above women? Anyone, and any group, who teaches that women are to be restricted due to their gender are certainly teaching that men are superior to women.
It should be incredulous to us that this battle has to keep being fought to educate the world –and the church!– concerning equal rights for all people everywhere. Certainly everyone should understand that no one is to be discriminated against solely on the basis of their age. We Christians know that the Scriptures teach that we are to honor our parents and are to care for the elderly, the weak, and the unborn. Certainly, hopefully, we all believe that any person can aspire and rise to any position if they put forth the effort and acquire the ability necessary for the task. Certainly everyone should understand that it is wrong that any person be discriminated against based on the color of their skin. That God’s Word was used to defend slavery, a caste system, or the notion that some races are inferior, is a thing of the past that all people, and especially followers of Christ, hopefully acknowledge as repugnant error. Why, then, this continued discrimination against women? And why does it often appear that church leaders are the ones piously sustaining this abuse? Just as the issue of slavery was reexamined in spite of the approval of it by many interpreting the Scriptures for us, so should the false doctrine of women as inferiors be examined again in light of what the whole of God’s Word actually teaches.
Jesus says, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” (Mark 10:42,43a) Not so with –who? –Not so with those who claim to be Jesus’ followers. “Instead,” Jesus says, “whoever” wants to be considered first or great must make himself the slave of everyone else, and just as Christ Himself did, to do this by serving and sacrificing one’s life. (v. 43b-45)
So why do most male church leaders believe and teach that they are the captains of the sheep and are allowed to subjugate others, especially women? Why are they not laying down their lives for the sheep in ways that, as Phil. 2:1-8 and 1 Pe. 5:1-6 teach, model true humility, tenderness, unity, and self-sacrifice? This latter passage forbids elders / shepherds / overseers from lording it over those they serve yet commands young men to be submissive to those who are older. Rarely, though, do we hear these things taught from the pulpit and exemplified.
Even so, those who meditate on the whole counsel of God’s Word understand that it teaches this: Christ’s way commands that every one of His followers are to have, toward one another, an attitude of submission, and are to, in fact, submit to one another, doing so as long as it is in line with submission to Christ’s teaching and within the full leadership of the Holy Spirit. Everyone, with no exceptions, is to relate to everyone else in this way.
Why, then, do many preachers favor Eph. 5:22-24 to insist that wives are to submit to their husbands, but they regularly omit teaching from verse 21 which instructs everyone to submit to one another? Why the common omission that the majority of the passage commands men to love and care for their wives as they love and care for their own bodies and as Christ loves and cares for the church? (v. 25-33) Col. 3:18 is used to command wifely submission, but the instruction is often left out that this is to be done only as is appropriate in the Lord –meaning in regard to holiness, wisdom, and all else that is in line with God’s Word and the leading of the Spirit. The very next verse (v. 19) says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Yet how often do we see pastors give leniency to husbands who are not acting in love toward their wives, but in hostility and unfaithfulness? What’s more, when 1 Peter 3:1-6 is taught, which empowers husbands in their rulership over their wives, verse 7 is often unrecognized which commands husbands to treat their wives, the weaker partner, with respect, considerateness, and honor, and that if they do not do so, their prayers will be hindered. But if it is taught that women are weaker, 1 Cor. 12:22,23 should be pointed out which says the weaker parts of Christ’s body are to be considered indispensable and are to be treated with the greatest honor of all. Did Jesus not teach us in Luke 9:48, “For he who is least among you all –he is the greatest.”–? Oh that the church would truly apply the Lord’s principles so that subjugation and abuse among God’s people would be disempowered and eliminated!
Let’s go on with our questioning. Why is 1 Cor. 14:33-36 used to restrict a women’s voice in church but directions about head coverings and hair length for both men and women in chapter 11 are usually ignored, as is verse 5 in that same chapter which reveals that women prophesied? The gift of prophecy (the proclamation of God’s Word) is one of the most honorable of gifts (1 Cor. 12:27-31 & 14:5), but should 1 Cor. 14:1, which tells us to eagerly desire this gift, be considered a command to men only? Didn’t Paul write that he wished every person would prophesy (v. 5) for the edification of the church? (v. 3,4) What about when verse 24 says “everybody is prophesying” and goes on to say, along with verse 25, that this becomes a cause of conviction to sinners? If these verses exclude women, then should we believe that Philip’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9) were in rebellion? And if someone claims, “Well, they didn’t prophesy in the church building”, shouldn’t we remind them that first-century Christians often met in private homes, including those owned by specifically-named women? And shouldn’t we remind them of Acts 2:17,18 where we read, “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'” Peter explained in this chapter that those last days –spoken of by the prophet Joel– had begun that day of Pentecost.
Let’s consider Anna. We are told that she was “a prophetess” (Luke 2:36) who “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (v. 37) In verse 38 we are told that right after Simeon gave a prophecy about the baby Jesus, Anna came up to them and “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” How can this be viewed as anything other than teaching / prophecy / the proclamation of God’s Word –in the temple, and, –to all there in the temple who would listen? Should Anna have been scolded for not leaving it to a man to inform the hearers, undoubtably many who were men? Or should we just consider Anna an exception? If so, should we believe that those women who opened their homes for Christians to meet in were silent observers, or should we believe that they likely had leadership roles, and like Anna, exercised the gift of prophecy as well as teaching? We should be able to give a correct answer when we remember that Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple whom Paul regarded as his brave and faithful “fellow workers” (Rom. 16:3), and who had a church in their home (v. 5 // 1 Cor. 16:19), both taught the preacher, Apollos. (Acts 18:26)
There are other women we could point to who ministered in positions which many modern clergy now deny to women. One is Junia, a woman about whom Paul commends, along with Andronicus, saying, “They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Rom. 16:7) Much research has surrounded this verse and the evidence reveals unequivocally that Junia was a woman and that she was regarded as an apostle. Interestingly, in this chapter several other women are also commended due to their ministerial / pastoral work, and in Acts 9:36-43 we read of yet another named Tabitha (or Dorcas). Noteworthy, concerning women hosting church groups, we read of Mary, the mother of John Mark (12:12), of Lydia (16:13-15,40), of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), of the two chosen sisters (2 John 1:1,5,13), and of Nympha of whom Paul said, “Give my greetings… to Nympha and the church in her house.” (Col. 4:15) Are we really to believe that God’s Word teaches that men are the only ones allowed to speak, prophesy, or teach within a church building or church assembly? If it is true that “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35) and that “women should remain silent in the churches” (v. 34), then is it not a sin to allow women to be song leaders, to give the announcements, to pray aloud, or to teach each other or impressionable children –if it be in a structure used for spiritual purposes?
We won’t leave out 1 Tim. 2:11-14 in our discussion, for it is often the most favored passage used to teach that all women are to keep silent and submissive. However, this seems odd, if not weak, when we weigh it against the whole of Scripture, and particularly when verse 15 –about women’s salvation coming through child-bearing– is so often disregarded as unclear. This is because it indeed appears to teach a strange and confusing doctrine regarding the way women acquire eternal salvation. But besides this, verses 13 and 14, about Adam being formed before Eve, and Eve, not Adam, being the one deceived (by the serpent), only opens up more questions. For we know that God created animals before mankind (Gen. 1:20-27) and yet that is no justification for animals to rule, for God commanded mankind to rule the animals. (v. 27-29) Moreover, Eve having been deceived is not a case for all women being more easily deceived than men, just as Adam’s deliberate rebellion is not a case for all men being more rebellious than women. Nor should we believe that either state –being deceived or being rebellious– is permitted for any teacher, preacher, or Christ-follower. So undeniably, the meaning of the passage for the modern hearer is unclear. And if that is not enough, why would Paul, in 1 Tim. 2:12, specifically point out, “I do not permit a woman to teach…”? Since Jesus never taught such a concept, should we believe Paul’s prohibition to be for all time, or only for a specific culture and for reasons surrounding the cult of the goddess Artemis in that area, or maybe for other reasons we do not fully understand?
The same ambiguity can be seen in the Corinthian passages mentioned above, such as the command for women to be silent and submissive “as the Law says.” (1 Cor. 14:34) What law? Maybe Roman law or the Talmud, but since there was no New Testament yet, where in the Old Testament is this law given? And what about verse 36 which questions with whom God’s Word originated with? Such questioning appears strange in this context, yet nebulous teaching is replete within chapter 11 as well, including Paul’s reasoning that “because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.” (v. 10) Can anyone claim to know what that means with 100% certainty? Paul adds in verse 15 that “long hair is given to her as a covering”, and in verse 16 he instructs that this universal church custom should not be contended against. But wasn’t hair length an issue reserved for that culture as was the issue about eating certain meat? (Acts 15:19-31) It seems that Rom. ch. 14, which teaches that some things remain a matter of each person’s conscience, would be a good place to begin with our answer.
In Num. 6:2 the LORD gave Moses a command for the Israelites, saying, “If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite…” that man or woman, during the specified period of separation, is to abstain from certain drinks and is not to use a razor on one’s head. (v. 5) “He must let the hair of his head grow long.” (Same verse) Samson was to be a Nazarite his entire life (Jud. 16:17) and priests were not to shave their heads or the edges of their beards (Lev. 21:5), although those descended from Zadok were “to keep the hair of their heads trimmed.” (Ezek. 44:20) But, regarding the Nazirite’s long hair, it seems peculiar that Paul would state, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Cor. 11:14,15) Does God Himself really consider it a disgrace if men have long hair? And if men are supposed to trim their hair, then does that mean it should be left an inch long, or shoulder length, or what? Numerous men in our modern culture keep their heads completely shaved. Are they sinning? Certainly our answer should come from the whole counsel of Scripture and from our knowledge of our redemption and freedom in Christ. So should the case be when we recognize that a whole gender is being silenced and subjugated based on men’s interpretations of teachings that are plainly obscure.
So why are many people insisting upon their interpretation of debatable Scripture verses while ignoring other verses altogether? For example, 1 Tim. chapter 2 is adamantly stressed, yet strict adherence to that taught in chapter 3 concerning overseers is not –such as that overseers must not be a recent convert (v. 6), that they must be self-controlled, hospitable, gentle, not a lover of money, the husband of but one wife (v. 2,3), and that they must have children who are being obedient and respectful. (v. 4,5) Why is it that the phrase “women, likewise” in verse 11 of chapter 3 is not paid much attention to when it is right there in the chapter about the qualifications of bishops and deacons? And if women allegedly cannot be deacons, then why does Paul, in Rom. 16:1, refer to Phoebe as a deacon? Being that the same word to describe her in that verse is the same word used to describe male deacons, why is the word translated “servant” regarding Phoebe, but “deacon” regarding the males? Certainly when an archaic epitaph found in Jerusalem compares “Sophia, the deacon” to be “the second Phoebe”, we should understand that both women were prominent leaders in the Christian church.
God’s Word definitely reveals to us that the Lord used women for His purposes, including that of spreading His Gospel of justice, righteousness, and salvation. In the Old Testament we read of Moses’ sister, Miriam –that she was a prophetess and a song leader (Ex. 15:20,21) and that the LORD chose her to help lead His nation out of bondage. We see this in Mi. 6:4 when He said, “I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” We know that Deborah was a prophetess also (Jud. 4:4), a court judge (v. 5) and a military adviser (v. 6,7) and leader. (v. 8-14) Being a song leader as well, her victory song is recorded in Scripture and is thus Scripture itself. (All of ch. 5) This is also true of Hannah’s prayer recorded in 1 Sam. 2:1-10, thereby becoming Truth, teaching, and prophecy both men and women are to learn from.
We see so many women in the Bible whom God used to defeat His enemies as they stood against evil. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, courageously disobeyed Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew’s male babies (Ex. 1:15-21), so that Moses, whom God used to deliver His chosen nation, survived. Rahab’s confession of faith and honor to the LORD (Josh. 2:8-11) and her cleverness (v. 3-22) enabled the Israelites to defeat Jericho, and she is thus commended in the “Hall of Faith Chapter”. (Heb. 11:31) Jaal, a woman, was the one who killed the evil commander, Sisera (Jud. 4:17-24), and this in accordance with Deborah’s prophecy that because of Barak’s lack of faith, the honor of heroism would go to a woman. (v. 8,9) Similar heroism could be awarded to the woman who saved the people of Thebez when she dropped a milestone on Abimelech’s head, God’s payment to him for his numerous murders (9:50-56), and to a woman of Sheba whose wisdom saved the city from the sword (2 Sam. 20:15-22), and to Esther whose faith and courage saved her people from a plot of annihilation. (Book of Esther)
Should we not consider it noteworthy that the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, gave her instructions, encouragement, and a prophecy, and that she teaches us a Truth in giving the LORD a particular name? (Gen. 16:7-16) And what about the significance of the Lord choosing to appear (in disguise) to Samson’s mother to give her instructions instead of to Samson’s father, Manoah? (Jud. 13:2-10) Even after Manoah prayed to the LORD that the “man of God” would return to give them additional directives (v. 8 ), the Lord appeared only to the woman again –and, also of significance, when she was in the field (working it, presumably), while her husband was apparently at home resting. (v. 9-11) The Lord did wait for the woman to hurriedly fetch her husband, but instead of giving Manoah any further instructions, God repeated what He had commanded the woman. (v. 12-14) When Manoah asked the Lord to accept a meal, the Lord answered that He would not eat it but that He would stay while they prepared an offering to the LORD. (v. 15,16) When Manoah asked the Lord for His name, the Lord gave him a soft rebuke and would not give His name. (v. 17,18) When the couple offered their sacrifice to the LORD, the Lord (His angel / figure / form) ascended in the flame! (v. 19,20a) Though they both “fell with their faces to the ground” (v. 20b), the man and woman otherwise had significantly different reactions. Manoah, realizing they had conversed face to face with God, feared for their lives. (v. 21,22) But the woman –she showed her steady and calm faith in that the Lord had certainly chosen them to bring about what He had promised (v. 23) –a son who would begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. (v. 5,24,25) We should surely consider this chapter important when pointing out that God does sometimes give wives (or women in general) spiritual insights and messages that their husbands (or men in general) are to listen to, learn from, and heed. Also, in going back to the situation between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, let’s keep in mind that God, while also encouraging Abraham about the outcome (Gen. 21:13), told him, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you…” (v. 12) Wisely, Abraham obeyed. (v. 9,10,14)
In the New Testament, two more women, Elizabeth and Mary, had their prophecies recorded in Scripture (Luke 1:39-56) turning the prophecies into Scripture itself. This too should give us pause regarding the issue of God using women to teach men Truth, especially when we realize that He revealed to these two women –before anyone else– precisely what child would be the Messiah. (v. 26-45) So do these two women’s faith, obedience, and recorded words not teach men who submissively read the Word? Consequently, no one should consider it insignificant that Jesus, against the culture of His time, taught women personally (such as in 10:38-42), and that He frequently, when entering a scene, revealed His Truth, even His divinity, to women first. This can be noted in more instances, such as Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well –who then went on to evangelize others (John 4:4-42), and with His discussion with Martha when she stated that she believed Him to be the Messiah (11:20-27), and when He appeared to Mary of Magdala as the Risen Christ and commissioned her to inform the disciples. (20:10-18) Certainly, if a woman listens to Jesus’ teachings, believes them, and puts them into practice, she will, as Jesus taught in Luke 6:40, become like her Teacher. This means she will go wherever the Lord leads her, doing just what He has told all of His followers to do –to teach others to obey everything He has commanded. (Mt. 28:20)
Truly it is grievous that any Christ-follower would try to prevent another Christ-follower from using, to the fullest extent, the gifts given to her by the Holy Spirit of God. Such a hinderer should consider, gravely, Christ’s warning to His servant who buried the talent given to him (Mt. 25:24-30) –which surely would apply to those who would force others to bury their God-given talents– and to also take warning about Christ’s servant who decided to oppress other servants. (24:48-51) The warnings are about getting thrown to Hell for such behavior.
Did we notice International Women’s Day last week –a day set aside to further the good cause of parity? Sadly though, we hear that despite all the efforts throughout the centuries for parity to rule relationships, it simply is not reality. Though modern “worldly people” (in general) seem to understand the concept and work for it, it appears that it is often those religious people, including religious “Christian” people, who thwart all efforts with their claim that it is God Himself who does not desire equality between the sexes. Some of the Bible-touters, teaching that women forever remain under a particular curse from God, support their belief by quoting Gen. 3:16b where God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This can also be translated, “Your turning [trust in / longing for] will be [from God] to your husband, and he will dominate you.” However, the Lord was relaying the consequences of sin. He was describing the sinful system, the type of existence, the injustice and enmity and pain, resulting from a fallen world, a world that had fallen to the devil’s rulership.
But Jesus! Did Jesus not die and rise “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), to obliterate sin in us and redeem us from its rule (v. 5,6 // Rom. ch. 6 & 8:3,4), and to teach and enable us to live a completely new way? He did! He told us to walk a whole different way, “the new way of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6) –no longer controlled by the sinful nature. (v. 5 & 8:9) Jesus told us that His disciples are to desire (turn to) only Him (Luke 14:26), to always serve one another, to never lord it over one another, to love and respect one another, and “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Mt. 7:12) These are not commands for men only and reserved only for how men are to relate to other men, but these are commands for all relationships.
This new way (new attitude and behavior) is why Christ-followers are to no longer regard anyone according to the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:16), but as a potentially new creature (v. 17) who has been invited to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col. 3:10) Here, being in Christ, there is no room for superiority anywhere. (v. 11) Instead, we should be highly cognizant that each and every person is one for whom Christ died and has thus been given the Offer to die to the old self and be forever-after saturated in Christ’s Spirit. (v. 3,4 // Rom. 13:14 / Gal. 2:20 & 3:26-28) “And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17) Do we house Christ’s Spirit? If so, we are free! (Gal. 5:1,13,18) Do we understand the meaning of, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”? (v. 1a) It means we should not allow ourselves to be burdened again by any yoke of slavery (v. 1b), but to use our “freedom to… serve one another in love.” (v. 13) “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (v. 14) Is this not the foundational definition of parity?
Truly, God is not a God who shows favoritism (Rom. 2:11 // Eph. 6:9), but instead He uses and honors anyone and everyone who does good by diligently following Christ in obedience. (John 12:26 // Rom. 2:6-11) The Lord reserves the right to use a person in whatever way and capacity and position He chooses, regardless of the person’s gender, and when Christ returns and sets up His visible Kingdom, all will realize then that this is indeed The New Way of the Spirit. Nonetheless, those who are already abiding in and living out Christ’s Kingdom –which is within us (Luke 17:21)– know that we have been commanded to further Christ’s righteousness and justice and the Father’s will –now. As Jesus prayed concerning those who walk in His Kingdom (John 17:14-16), “I pray… that all of them may be one… [and that] they be brought to complete unity…” (v. 20-23) Since this unity is God’s will for Christ-followers, let us renounce the discrimination and subjugation of any group of people, and let us relate to one another as Jesus taught –meaning, in Truth and parity.