Women’s liberation, like many social movements of our day, causes confusion and concern for Christians. Too often, angry rhetoric or dynamic personalities obscure genuine issues, and enthusiasts for the cause attempt to enlist devotees to support the entire package of issues, some of which trouble the Christian’s conscience. Some go so far as accusing the Bible of perpetuating female bondage through its archaic teachings. This unfortunate charge is ironic, for the Bible alone offers the only true freedom for women or men.
While pagan cultures contemporary with Old Testament Israel treated women as the lowest form of chattel property, the Bible exalts women who found fulfilment in many ways.
Hannah’s life centered on her family (I Samuel 1-2)
Miriam excelled as a prophetess (Exodus 15:20)
Deborah achieved greatness as a judge, military leader and poet (Judges 5)
Esther successfully led her people through intriguing political conspiracies (Esther 4-7)
Naomi and Ruth sold real estate (Ruth 4:3-9)
The inspired description of an excellent wife given in Proverbs 31 contains ambitious standards for her family relationships, but no one can honestly say that she was a domestic slave to a chauvinistic husband. Indeed, she found fulfilment, in addition to her home, in real estate investments (31:16), as well as in retail and wholesale distribution of the clothing she manufactured (31:24).
The first European convert to Christianity, Lydia of Thyatira, was a “seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14).
Furthermore, there are no distinctions of sex regarding salvation by faith in Christ or one’s position before God. “There is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The prominence of women in the early church is apparent in the numerous names cited for special recognition in the Epistles (Romans 16; II Timothy 4; II John). Neither males nor females have advantaged positions of spirituality, but both have appropriate responsibilities for living spiritually within the contexts established by God for their respective sex.
The Bible prescribes a certain form for the Christian home and the church.
Within the Christian home, “the man is the head of the woman” (I Corinthians 11:3). “For indeed man was not created for woman sake, but woman for man’s sake” (I Corinthians 11:9).
The headship of the man in the home is based upon the creative fiat of God Himself; “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Yet, the husband violates the Bible’s instruction if he treats his wife as an inferior. “In the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God” (I Corinthians 11:11-12).
The form of the Christian home is also based on the analogy of Christ’s relationship with His church.
“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” Ephesians 5:22-25
The wife has no less important or exalted position than the husband, but her’s is not as head of the home. Subjection, in Scripture, does not carry the connotation of inferiority.
Because of the emphasis in Scripture on marriage, single women (and men) may be tempted to feel inferior to married believers, or may resent God’s providence concerning their singleness. In the light of Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7, however, such feelings of inferiority are incorrect. In fact, he presents the unmarried state as a special spiritual gift, and that which is a gift of God should be neither ridiculed nor pitied by believers.
As in the home, so in the local church, women have a definite role. Their ministry includes witnessing by their modesty (I Timothy 2:9); engaging in generous, good works (I Timothy 2:10; 5:10); and instructing younger women (Titus 2:4). Yet, the Bible explicitly states that in worship, “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (I Timothy 2:11-12). In obedience to this precept, only men served the New Testament church as pastors (elders).
The prohibition against women in church leadership positions seems to come as a judicial result from Eve’s complicity in the first sin in Eden. Explaining why men should be church leaders, the inspired apostle wrote, “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Timothy 2:13-14).
Unfortunately, some local churches do not have enough men who are serious students of the Word, or who are exemplary in Christian conduct and maturity. Yet, the twentieth century church cannot use this as an excuse to set aside Biblical standards of church form any more than it can set aside Biblical doctrine. Some have even called Paul an antiquated sexist, and have implied that his teachings on women’s roles reflect his own sexual insecurity and misinformation.
Obviously, those making such charges have a very low view of Scripture, for Paul wrote as inspired by the Holy Spirit. To establish oneself as a judge of what should be included in or excluded from God’s Word is to assume a position well outside Biblical Christianity.
The true bondage facing both men and women is neither social nor economic, but spiritual. This bondage of sin can be broken by salvation through Jesus Christ, producing true freedom (John 8:32, 36). The Bible does not prohibit women from enjoying equal opportunities legally, socially, or economically, nor does the Bible require Christian women to be submissive to all men. This would mean that godly women should feel perfect liberty to take positions of authority over men in professional, business or social contexts. But the Bible does prescribe the form which should accompany freedom for the Christian woman in her home and in her church.2