Women In The Bible
What role does women play in the Bible and in our Christian churches? What role does God intend for women on earth? Should they be preachers? Should they stay at home and raise children? In our Christian religion, is this a man's world?
Different denominational churches treat women differently. Some churches won't even let women be deacons, while others allow them to be ministers, to head the church. But granted, the churches that do allow women places of authority came recently, after the advent of Women's Liberation and sufficient pressure was put on that church to allow women to their newly-won positions. That is a social change among churches, but what does the Bible say about a woman's place? What should we as Christians strive to do?
Let's suppose for a few minutes that the Bible really does teach that women should be subservient to men. (Don't quit reading at this point; this is only a test.) Let's look at what happened to women worldwide.
In Other Countries without the Bible
In every place where the Bible is unknown and unheeded, women are generally regarded very lowly in that society. Muslim countries forbid women many rights common in any Christian nation. Some Muslim countries will not allow women to be seen by men outside the immediate family. They cane them, or spank them like children.
When I was in Thailand, a Buddhist nation, I learned that in their religion of reincarnation, if people live a bad life, they come back as a lower creature, an animal. If that animal is bad, or the person is really bad, he may come back as an insect. But a very, very bad person would come back as a dog. However, the worst person ever, worse than a dog, would come back as a woman.
In other countries, women have been sold as animals, to be one of the master's wives. It seems that, in countries without Biblical teaching, the plight of women go lower and lower.
In Other Countries With The Bible
But with the Bible, the status of women get higher and higher. At the very beginning of the Bible, when Moses gave the law from God, he decreed that for a man to divorce a woman, he must give her a bill of divorcement. That gives her legal status in the ancient world, an unheard-of practice elsewhere.
Every place where the Bible and God are honored, even if the Bible gave women a lower place than men, the position of women rises in society. I'm truly sad when I hear feminists and others claim that the Bible is the cause of women's second-class place in our culture. Instead, it is because of the Bible, not in spite of it, that many people in our society now consider women an equal and partner with men.
The first thing we must remember is that God has two rules for us, as described in Matthew 22:37-40: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Those are our rules, but otherwise, God allows us to develop our own society the way we see fit. He wants what is best for us, but he also gives us freedom to try new things.
Christian Behavior In Other Countries
When Judah (and the Jews) were about to be taken captive into Babylon for seventy years, God gave the people this advice, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
God wanted the Jews to fit into the new pagan society into which they were moving. They were not to subvert it. They were not to transform it. They were expected to fit in, but still keep their own personal commitment to God first.
In the New Testament we read the same thing, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities... Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:1, 7).
The result is this. If the society we happen to be living in has one position for a man and another position for a women, that arrangement is not wrong in and of itself, unless one group is being irreversibly hurt. If the person is being hurt, then we follow God's law to love our neighbor as ourselves and try to change that practice.
In the United States, we suffered a terrible punishment from God in the form of a Civil War for our crime of slavery. Yes, I know the cause of the Civil War from our country's point of view was trade and tarifs, but from a spiritual point of view, it was because of slavery. After the war, we still had trade and tarif disputes, but slavery was gone. More Americans died in that Civil War than in all other wars that America fought. If we had done what is right to this group of people, the slaves, that war, I think, may never have happened.
But before the War, we had two hundred years of slavery. What did God want slaves and slaveowners to do until that freedom came? God wants us to love him from where we are, not from where we want to be. If we happen to be an indentured servant, God wants us to love him as a servant, and to love others from where we are. If we are a slaveholder, God wants us to treat our slaves with kindness, respect and justice. We are to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. We don't say we must find freedom first, and then we'll love God or our neighbors. But if we have a chance to gain our freedom, we should take it!
If you are a woman in a culture that gives women a second-class status, God wants you to love him and your neighbor as a woman who has second-class status. If you are a man in that culture, God wants you to love him and treat women with dignity, honor and respect.
Following the Bible always elevates the status of all individuals, man or woman, free or slave.
What God Expects of Us
God loved us in the condition we are in, and Jesus died for us in the condition we are in. He expects us to respond to him in the condition we are in.
What if we really hate the condition we are in? Then we have the right to try to change it, not to hate the people who happened to have been born in a different situation, such as being a man instead of a woman. God wants us to grow and strive for what we want; it's not going to be handed to us on a silver platter. We just must remember to love others in our struggle. We may not kill somebody because we want his gold.
What does the Bible say about the position of women in society?
Women In The Old Testament
The first woman, of course, is Eve, in Genesis 2. It was evident that Adam was incomplete without his mate, and what he could do was limited. People reading Genesis 2 and 3 can see that Eve was a partner to Adam and in creation. And that, I believe, is God's first and perfect intention. Everything else that happened to women subsequently was because humanity forsook God.
When Moses gave the law, around 1400 B.C., their society was pretty well developed. The roles of men and women had been developed. Moses had a brother, Aaron (who became the Israelite hight priest) and a sister, Miriam. The Bible says in Exodus 15:20-21,
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea."
Miriam was a prophetess. You know what a prophet is, don't you? A prophet is the pastor of a church, he/she foretells and forth-tells the message of God. In this case, Miriam was teaching all the people of Israel, men and women, a hymn for God. Women followed her, the first Lesbian church, I guess, but she taught everybody, men and women.
Later, this happened in Numbers 12:1-2
"Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 'Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?' they asked. 'Hasn’t he also spoken through us?'"
Now that was the wrong thing for her to do, but look at what she said. "Aren't I equal to Moses? Doesn't God talk both to Aaron and to me, as well as Moses?" (If you read on, you'll see that God agrees she is a prophetess, but not on the level of Moses.). Even in the leading of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan, Mariam considered herself a co-leader with Moses, and no one disputed her.
After Moses had left the scene, Israel was ruled by "judges." They were the leaders, without the title of "king." Deborah was one of the judges, as recorded in Judges 4:4,
"Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time."
The Women of Astoreth
Towards the end of the Old Testament, Jeremiah was rebuking people who survived the war with Babylon, as recorded in Jeremiah 44. He told them they should repent and return to God. The men rejected Jeremiah's message first, and then the women spoke up. They spoke to Jeremiah, and therefore to God, on behalf of their husbands. Unfortunately, they said, "No. We won't [follow you or God]" (Jeremiah 44:19)
We find then, in the Old Testament, women frequently were regarded on a par equal to men. They were not equal in everything, but they were equal in many things, a situation unheard-of in other countries and cultures through the world; that was revolutioinary.
But what about the New Testament?
Women In the New Testament
Women financed Jesus
Women financed the ministry of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 8:3, but it was a man who stole from the ministry's funds, as told in John 12:6.
Women followed Jesus with the Disciples
Jesus had many disciples, and as an itinerant preacher, he would walk from town to town, preaching his message. The women went with him, as well as the men, as recorded in Mark 15:41,
"In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. "
Women proclaimed Jesus' Ressurection to the Apostles
When Jesus rose from the dead, the resurrection was announced to women first, and then they were instructed to go tell the men. (John 20:10-18, Mark 16:1-7).
Women were Deconesses in the chruch.
Romans 16:1, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea." Unfortunately, the Greek word diakonos, which means "deaconess," is translated as "servant." It is deaconess, a very important church office.
Women were head of churches, such as a pastor
"On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us." (Acts 16:13-15, 40)
A businesswoman in Phillipi, who sold purple dye, was an early convert in that city. Immediately she had the gospel preached to her household (not her husband's household, but hers) and had them baptized. Then she opened the first church in her own house, and she housed the missionaries, Paul, Silas and Luke.
Women were leaders among God's people in the Bible from the very beginning. There is no reason why they should not be leaders in today's churches.
There is one thing that I alluded to here and explained further in the book, Key to Biblical Doctrine, chapter 6. It is this:
The ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not all about you. It's not about how good you can preach. It's not about how good you are with people. It's not about how well you can organized things. It's not about how much people respect or trust you. The gospel is not all about you. It's all about Jesus, and about saving souls.
If a woman behind the pulpit in some communities is so offensive to the culture of that community that it drives people away from the gospel and salvation, then a woman should not preach in that pulpit. The same is true with men. If there is a group of women who are so put off by a man teaching them anything that they cannot receive the gospel if he preaches it, then the man should not preach it. A woman should.
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