Today I encountered an important message that has unfortunately been wrongly placed on the ‘back-burners’ of too many Christian forums. Rarely, if ever, is it given a proper platform. I spend a good part of every morning reading and posting to religious blogs. As a pastor I preached many sermons and taught Bible studies several times a week since 1976. In that time I over-looked this topic. Never intentionally, I just naively never really comprehended its great significance properly.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve had the blessing of being married to the perfect woman for those 40 years. Not that we always agree or never argue, but I’ve come to appreciate that as iron sharpens iron, God has placed her in my life to grind out my rough edges. She also gave birth to my four children, three of whom are incredible women in their own special ways.
I don’t know why it has only occurred to me recently, but the need for quality honorable mention of women is long overdue. So, this article will make a decisive break from the more theologically potent others posted to this site. I usually prefer to provide the results of my independent objective research free from personal bias. However, I must depart from that tradition to state clearly now my personal opinions about the iniquity that has unfairly existed against women’s rights to equality in both the workplace and the home.
We must not be ignorant to the cultural bias against women that has existed since the beginning of history. The patriarchal society erroneously seems to have been established by God according to a superficial rendering of Genesis.
“Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” – Gen. 2:22,23.
Although she was taken out of a man, the implication that she should rightly remain subservient to man is a naïve and improper interpretation. I include in the wedding ceremonies I’ve officiated points that refute such notions.
God created women because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone. Man needs woman. In creating a perfect helper He fashioned woman with a rib from Adam’s side. She was not formed from his head to top him, or from his feet to be beneath him. But she was molded from his side, close to his heart, under his protective arm, to be forever beside him. Man needs woman.
So it is that man and woman should walk side by side on equal footing, sharing burdens, thus making them lighter, sharing accomplishments, making them all the greater, and truly celebrating the partnership that God intended them to enjoy.
Many doctrines purposely downplay the proper equality endowed by God on women. The patriarchal mentality in religious communities demand a woman’s place is at man’s feet, to forever serve him, never debate his decrees, and humbly submit to him always. Several misinterpretations of scripture have been quoted to enforce this ignorance.
“Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ The Lord said to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.’ To 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.” – Gen. 3:13-16.
While there is indeed little speculation about the last phrase, ‘he shall rule over you’, when the emphasis is properly placed on the ‘manner’ of rule rather than the primacy of its perceived place of priority, woman’s equality among men is not compromised. It is the wrongful emphasis of judgment and inferred blame upon the woman that has resulted in erroneous ideas about her naivety, ignorance, and worldliness. For such reasons many have taught the suppression of women, lest they be allowed to further beguile man.
One would hope that such ideologies were vanquished with the introduction of the New Testament, which completely voided and replaced the prior covenant. Sadly, those who continued under the Law attempting to apply Christ’s teachings as merely an extension of the Old Testament also maintained the Jewish mentality towards women as ‘second-class’ citizens. When gatherings among them resulted in the epistles to the churches to combat divisions caused by misunderstandings, these too, were misinterpreted.
“Let 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” – 1Cor. 14:34.
Understood within the proper context of this passage, the whole purpose of the instruction was to reiterate that God is not the author of confusion but of peace. This letter was written specifically to the assembly at Corinth, a community that was widely known for its immorality and temple prostitutes. Women there were given more severe orders regarding purity and chastity more than any other churches due to the over-whelming influence of the depravity of their local society.
I have mentioned frequently in other articles I’ve written that it must be understood that proper interpretation requires a predetermined conclusion about whether a particular scripture is declaring a ‘universal-eternal’ truth, or a ‘local-temporal’ truth. There is no question that the entire Word of God is truth. But not everything in it is applicable everywhere forever = ‘universal-eternal’ truth. Much of it (especially old covenant regulations), was given ONLY to a specific group to be applied ONLY within that group.
To help further comprehend this principle, read the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia in the 1st chapters of the book of Revelation. It is very clear that each locale was given separate instructions, applicable to them alone, never being repeated elsewhere. The entire New Testament after the book of Acts follow suite with each book bearing the title of the local assemblies to whom they were written. Without grasping this important concept, much of one’s searching the scripture can become a veritable ‘witch-hunt’.
“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” – Jn. 16:13.
What I mean by ‘witch-hunt’ is that the only proper way to study the Word is by submitting to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without Whom it is impossible to glean truth. Many search only for evidence to support an already accepted doctrine. They ‘read-into’ scripture their preconceived ideas, rather than allowing scripture to speak to them, free from bias and prior influences.
There are many passages that reinforce women’s positive roles throughout scripture. Deborah, was a judge; Miriam, sister to Moses gave him prudent counsel; Ruth and Esther have books that bear their names. Certainly those women weren’t told to keep silent. Again, the point was order in a disorderly congregation, NOT the establishment of a norm to be included as ‘universal-eternal’ truth.
Another thing that has caused poor self-esteem among many women is the emphasis on outer beauty. While popular idioms like ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, suggest that true beauty is subjective, the world has always defined beauty based upon outer glamour and arraignment. Again, many cultural mores have been built upon erroneous interpretations. Scripture declares beauty as something to be cherished, and worthy of greater honor.
“Abraham said to Sarah his wife, ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance’, and when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful, and took her into Pharaohs house” – Gen.12:11-15.
I think it sad that anyone could take from scripture the notion that God endorses such favoritism to the sorrow of those deemed less pretty. When the world sets the standard, it’s a clear indication that it’s wrong. Jesus showed a proper respect for women.
“A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him ,’How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” – Jn. 4: 7-9
There Jesus broke two traditions of discrimination. Samaritans were the offspring of Assyrian interbreeding with Jews, making them veritable ‘half-breeds’. For some, purity of race is of utmost importance. Since Jews saw the Assyrians as barbaric conquerors (they once held Israel captive in the early division of the nation, recorded in 2Ki. 17). So despised by the Jews were they, that a self-respecting Jew would avoid passing through Samaria, taking the long way around from Jerusalem to Galilee, rather than the much more expedient route through Samaria.
The second taboo was speaking to a unescorted woman alone. But by doing so, Jesus not only showed that He cared little for the traditions of man, especially those built upon racial or gender bias, but that He treated women with the same respect as He would any man. His empathy for women is further illustrated by this next passage.
“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” – Jn. 8:3-11.
Several things are striking about this story. These were religious leaders, well versed in Mosaic Law, which they quoted, who prosecuted the woman. How did they catch her in the act of adultery? Apparently they were quick to point an accusing finger, but it took a reminder by Jesus that while doing so, four of their fingers were pointing back at them.
The second thing noteworthy is the lack of any prosecution of the man. That is the most pertinent point relative to this article. Their prejudice against women is blatantly obvious.
Many scholars believe that Jesus wrote the sins of each of her accusers in the dirt. Whether this is true or not, some realization of their own sin apparently convicted them to the point of turning away. Maybe it was Jesus ‘golden rule’ – do unto others as you would have them do to you – that He scribbled in the dirt. The point is, the men were just as guilty.
Another thing, Jesus was one among them without sin and quite legitimately could have cast that 1st stone, but He forgave her instead. This is not only a testament to His true heart for women, but also the institution of grace rather than Law. Jesus many times was accused of breaking the Law, because the religious leaders had misinterpreted it. The never understood the spirit of the Law – to point to the Messiah; they were too busy enforcing the letter of the Law – whose power was only to condemn, but never save.
So, once again the grace of New Testament theology is initiated through the Savior’s unprecedented respect for women. I could cite many other scriptures that prove God’s respect of women, but I trust my point has been duly noted. You can read of Dorcas, Damaris, and Lydia mentioned by name for their notable preaching of the Gospel in Acts. Many other women are commended who remain anonymous, yet God knows their faith.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to women in scripture is the following. No doubt, Jesus went well beyond convention and ‘political-correctness’ here. Women’s rights and worth were always much more important to Him than mere platforms to gain public approval and popularity. He always saw women’s true value, and made a point of declaring it to others.
“A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor. But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” – Mt. 26:7-13.
Something that this passage does not reveal as it stands alone, but most biblical scholars have concluded by comparing it to the other Gospels (Mk.14; Lk. 7), is that this woman was most probably none other than the faithful Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute forever memorialized, like Rehab in the Old Testament, by Jesus for her tremendous display of affection and gratitude for her Savior.
Finally, if any doubt remains about the issue of women’s equality, study this next passage prayerfully. Don’t be so narrow minded as to think it merely applies to marriage. The very standard of principles of submission are a ‘universal-eternal’ truth, applicable to everyone, everywhere, forever.
“Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. The husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” – Eph. 5: 21-32.
In closing, it should be quite clear that whatever submission is asked of the woman, an equal submission to God is required by men. If men truly love women as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it, there would be no discrimination against them.
The union expressed in marriage, like the Law that was a mere shadow of the New Testament and grace of God, is a mystery that really illustrates our relationship with God through Christ.
When we view women as standing on equal ground at the foot of the cross, and when we appreciate their common rights as children of God, there should be no sibling rivalry, only mutual respect and true empathy. Men, as we lift the name of Jesus, may we remember His attitude toward women and lift them up alongside us..