The rise of womenʼs rights worldwide owes much to unconventional women of each generation who pushed the limits of what was considered “acceptable female behavior.” (See my references at the very end for examples)
Dr. Amy Jill-Levine—Professor at Vanderbilt in the Graduate Dept. of Religion, is one of the best-known New Testament scholars in the U.S., co-editor with Dale C. Allison Jr. and John Dominic Crossan of The Historical Jesus in Context (Princeton Readings in Religions) (Princeton University Press; New Ed. Oct., 2006). Levineʼs numerous publications address Christian Origins, Jewish-Christian Relations, and Sexuality, Gender, and the Bible. She is also the author of Women Like This: New Perspectives on Jewish Women in the Greco-Roman World. Her essay, “Jesus was no Feminist” used to be online, but you can find a copy here, broken into several sections due to the word limits of each comment.
Also see Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Lukeʼs Gospel by F. Scott Spencer (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012)
As stated in the above work, “However much he [Jesus] might have been ahead of his time, he did not jump two millennia on gender equality. He called God ‘Father,’ and twelve men to be his apostles and future judges of Israel; he rarely initiated contacts with women and never explicitly called women to follow him; and, however much he might have laid the groundwork for an inclusive, servant-driven community, it was insufficient to keep his followers from furthering patriarchal, hierarchical, and ‘kyriarchal’ ecclesiastical structures in his name.”
Christians are still in damage control, trying to explain away or sugar coat some of the things Paul said about women (some scholars simply admit that the Pastoral Epistles were pseudepigraphical, so that what they say about women is not truly Pauline if inspired at all). And thereʼs Jesusʼ choice of twelve men to follow him and judge the tribes of Israel, along with the focus on God as Father, when “God” is more mysterious than that, an infinite Being of no gender.
Let me add some passages I find amusing:
Moses warned Israelite men to “come not at their wives” before “meeting the Lord.” (Exodus 19:15,17)
Jesus said, “Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 19:12)
Paul taught: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually]… Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife… The time is short: it remains that they that have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Cor. 7)
“These [men] are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” (Revelation 14: 2-4)
The Bibleʼs heroes could have multiple wives and concubines.
See D. Marty Lasley [a Southern Baptist], “Keeping Women In Servitude: Why Southern Baptists Resurrected The Hermeneutics Of Slavery” (2000) —- On June 10, 1998, the SBConvention, for the first time, amended the 1963 Southern Baptist statement of faith known as the Baptist Faith And Message, adding a brand new section (XVIII) entitled the “Family Amendment” that states in part, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him [spiritually], has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation [in the societal realm].” Southern Baptists believe their amendment concerning the necessity of wifely “submission” and the wifeʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” her husband, is what the Holy Scriptures demand. But Southern Baptist slaveowners once believed the same thing regarding the “submission” of slaves and the slaveʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” their masters.
While in the OT female slaves remained their masterʼs property “for ever.”
The “giving away of the bride” ritual in religious marriage ceremonies resembles a transferance of ownership of property. Note the expression, “Who gives this woman to this man?” The woman is the property of her father, which he passes to another man.
The Bible instructs men to take a proactive approach to their problem with paternity — the possibility that their putative children are not their genetic offspring — by murdering brides who do not bleed on first penetration, by murdering prospective wives who are not virgins, by torturing and murdering wives who are suspected of adultery, and by murdering women who have committed adultery. Although some non-Western cultures also sanctify these practices, in other cultures women have traditionally been “very free and at liberty in doing what they please with themselves” (Barbosa 1500:105-6). It follows that the Bibleʼs dark legacy is not a requirement of human nature. See “Chastity And Fidelity: Biblical Roots Of The Short Leash On Women” by John Hartung.
Thomas Aquinas compared women to being monstrous accidents of birth. “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power…” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1
“And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” Ecclesiastes 7:26
St. Augustine wrote to a friend: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” And in Book XV of The City of God, “The evil spirits often are said to have appeared with women, lusted after them and consummated intercourse with them.”
Martin Luther (1483 to 1546): “If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, thatʼs why they are there.”
“The Biblical Position On…Womenʼd Roles” written by John MacArthur Jr., Christian speaker, evangelist (1988). Worth a read…
Such quotations from Christians could be multiplied.
“The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from womenʼs right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth…and womanʼs suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of womenʼs social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Religionists defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Religious fanatics and bullies are currently engaged in an outright war of terrorism and harassment against women who have abortions and the medical staff which serves them.”
Dr. Uta Ranke-Heinemann (Uta Johanna Ingrid Heinemann)—Author of Eunichs For The Kingdom Of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, And The Catholic Church; and, Putting Away Childish Things. She was the first ever female Catholic theologian for the world, but was stripped of her departmental chair and license to preach because she questioned doctrinal beliefs.
Karen Armstrong—Author of The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out Of Darkness; former nun; and author of the bestseller, A History Of God.
Dr. Daphne Hampson—Author of After Christianity (2nd Rev edition, 2003); and, Christian Contradictions: The Structures Of Lutheran And Catholic Thought (Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (2004); former Anglican theologian.
Carlene Cross—Author of Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Ministerʼs Wife Examines Faith (2006). Publisherʼs Weekly writes: “After indoctrination at a Bible college, Cross finds herself in a marriage from hell. Her husband, a popular young pastor [and rising star of the Religious Right], uses religion to mask the alternate reality he has created, a netherworld that will potentially destroy not only his career but the entire familyʼs safety and sanity… Her heartfelt condemnation of public hypocrisy couldnʼt be more timely. In her ex-husbandʼs own self-indicting words: “Isnʼt it ironic, a guy condemning sinful society and completely without a conscience himself?” (Ms. Cross is also a former student of Christian apologist, Gary Habermas, who now teaches at Liberty University.)
“Mommy, Does God Hate Women?”—This simple yet profoundly insightful question was posed by my neighborʼs six-year-old daughter, Jillian. It was inspired by her twelve-year-old sister Sarahʼs recent emergence into womanhood, i.e. the onset of her first menses. Rather than try to put a positive spin on this life-changing and often traumatic event in a young womanʼs life, their mother—an Evangelical Christian—explained to the girls that this was the curse the great Jehovah put upon Eve for her disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
Women and the Vatican
Excerpt from John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II
Laywomen, who might have exerted a civilizing influence, were present in the Vatican in pitifully small numbers. The contemptuous way in which they were treated revealed the misogynist culture that prevailed. A former secretary, now living in Switzerland, reported that she was treated more like a slave than a human being and that she was literally locked in her office each day by her boss, a distinguished Dominican priest-theologian, and had to knock to be allowed to go to the bathroom.
Another told me that after she was appointed personal assistant to an archbishop, officials were in the habit of opening the door to her office and staring at her in sullen silence. When she went to the Vatican cafeteria, male bureaucrats would move away if she sat close to them.
Excerpt from “The People Of Opus Dei,” April 15, 2006
Opus Dei requires a deep commitment - especially for members called numeraries. They live and work in Opus Dei centers like their headquarters in New York.
“I would say the 20 years I was in Opus Dei was up and down. Very up and very down,” says a woman who goes by “Jane.”
Jane asked CBS News to hide her identity. She joined Opus Dei right out of High School, working as a live-in cook and housekeeper at Opus Dei centers across the country. She says she handed almost every cent she earned back to the group.
“The striving for perfection it becomes very all consuming to the point where common sense just doesnʼt come into play. And I donʼt think that was a good thing,” says Jane.
Jane claims to have become so occupied with her work and prayer schedule that she went three years without speaking to her parents. A year ago they hired a cult-deprogrammer to convince her to quit. Now sheʼs pulling herself together in the Ozark Mountains.
“When you are in Opus Dei, you are afraid to leave because you think that you are going to hell for not doing godʼs will,” she says.
Women Without Superstition : No Gods - No Masters by Annie Laurie Gaylor (Editor)
The story of how female heretics, agnostics, and atheists influenced the womenʼs movement. 51 feminists, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Katha Pollitt and Barbara Ehrenreich, shows how the leaders of the womenʼs-liberation movement have long understood the crucial importance of breaking with the Bible. “The book made me think—hard—about why I support an institution that has, historically, such an atrocious record of abuses against women. In sparkling displays of logic, freethinking women snip patriarchal theology into ribbons. The lives of these women are absolutely exhilarating.”
Includes excerpts of: Mary Wollstonecraft, Anne Royall, Frances Wright, Harriet Martineau, Lydia Maria Child, Ernestine L. Rose, Margaret Fuller, Emma Martin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy N. Colman, George Eliot, Susan B. Anthony, Ella E. Gibson, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Lois Waisbrooker, Elmina D. Slenker, Lillie Devereux Blake, Ouida, Marilla Ricker, Annie Besant, Susan H. Wixon, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Helen Gardener, Ellen Battelle Dietrick, Josephine K. Henry, Etta Semple, Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma Goldman, Zona Gale, Margaret Sanger, Marian Sherman, Dora Russell, Meridel Le Sueur, Margaret Knight, Barbara Smoker, Queen Silver, Vashti McCollum, Ruth Hurmence Green, Catherine Fahringer, Anne Nicol Gaylor, Meg Bowman, Barbara G. Walker, Sherry Matulis, Kay Nolte Smith, Sonia Johnson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, Taslima Nasrin. Also includes biographical sketches of 39 additional freethinking women such as Ayn Rand, George Sand, Lucy Parsons, Florence Nightingale, and Jane Addams. Also featuring an exclusive Elizabeth Cady Stanton Reader.
Doubt: A History by Jennifer Hecht
Hecht is especially engaging when she describes the great women skeptics of history, starting with Hypatia, torn to pieces by a Christian mob in 415 A.D. There was Margaret of Navarre, the sensitive but hard-headed Emily Dickinson, and the fearless Margaret Sanger. Hecht is charmed by the 19th-century American atheist lecturer and anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912). Voltairineʼs father named her after his favorite skeptic but sent her to a Catholic boarding school. This did not dampen her spirit: She became such a rabble-rousing advocate for labor and womenʼs rights that she was the subject of a biography by the socialist Emma Goldman.
The Biblical Position on Women. Hate from a Christian
Note: The following text is a reprint of the non-copyrighted booklet titled, “THE BIBLICAL POSITION ON…WOMENʼS ROLES” written by John MacArthur Jr.
The feminist movement of the twentieth century has assaulted traditional Christian values for women, and the result has been a revolution in our country. Whereas women traditionally fulfilled support roles and gained their greatest joy and sense of accomplishment from being wives and mothers, today many have abandoned their homes for the higher-paying and supposedly more prestigious jobs of the work force outside the home. Traditional sexual morality has given way to promiscuity with women often in the role of aggressor. Gentle, quiet women have become self-assertive and hostile, boldly demanding their “rights.” Divorce is rampant, with women frequently initiating separation and divorces.
As if the secular feminist movement does not generate enough confusion for women today, there has arisen a fast-growing group who refer to themselves as “biblical feminists.” This movement, which includes both men and women of varying theological perspectives, espouses most of the causes of the secular movement while seeking to find their justification in Scripture.
What Does the Bible Say?
As Christians, our desire is to examine the Scripture as carefully as possible in order to know Godʼs will and obey it. We believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God and are confident that it has a clear message for women today. Only the Bible can offer a final solution to the chaos and confusion with which modern women are confronted.
The Old Testament and Women
In the creation account of Genesis 1 we find Godʼs first word on the subject of men and women (verse 27)—they were both equally created in the image of God. Neither received more of the image of God than the other. So the Bible begins with the equality of the sexes. As persons, as human beings, as spiritual beings, standing before God, men and women are absolutely equal.
Despite this equality, there is in Genesis 2 a more detailed account of the creation of the two humans which show some differences in their God-given responsibilities. God did not create the man and woman spontaneously at the same time, but rather He created Adam first and Eve later for the specific purpose of being a helper to Adam. Though Eve was Adamʼs equal, she was given a role to fulfill in submitting to him. While the word “helper” carries very positive connotations, even being used of God Himself as the helper of Israel (Deut. 33:7, Ps. 33:20), it still describes one in a relationship of service to another.
When craftily tempted in the Garden of Eden, Eve, rather than seeking Adamʼs counsel or leadership, took the lead herself, eating of the forbidden fruit and then leading her husband into sin (Gen. 3:6). Because Adam and Eve sinned in disobedience to the command of God, there followed certain consequences for them and also for the serpent (Gen. 3:14-19). For the woman, God pronounced a curse which included multiplied pain in childbirth and tension in the authority- submission relationship of the husband and wife. Genesis 3:16 says the womanʼs “desire” will be for her husband but he shall “rule” over her. In Genesis 4:7 the author uses the same word “desire” to mean “excessive control over.” Thus, the curse in Genesis 3:16 refers to a new desire on the part of the woman to exercise control over her husband—but he will in fact rule or exert authority over her. The result down through history has been an ongoing struggle between the sexes—with women seeking control and men ruling instead, often harshly. Before the fall and the curse there was true harmony in the husband-wife relationship, but through the curse a new element of tension and dissension entered into the marriage relationship.
It is significant to note that the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands was part of Godʼs plan even before the curse. Feminists often dispute this, viewing submission as something which came in through the curse and which should be eliminated through the cross of Jesus Christ (just as we seek to relieve the pain of childbirth through drugs and breathing techniques, and as we seek to ease the toil of the field through modern technology, even including air-conditioned tractors). But since a careful reading of Genesis 2:18-25 shows that God created the woman to support her husband an be a suitable companion to him, we do not erase womanʼs submission in marriage through the cross but rather we add harmony to the relationship.
Thus, the Bible begins by establishing both the equality of men and women and also the support role of the wife. Many other Old Testament passages support these two themes of equality and submission for women (i.e., Ex. 21:15,17,28-31;Num. 6:2; 5:19,20,29; 30:1-16).
Women were active in the religious life of Israel throughout the Old Testament, but generally they were not leaders—with a few exceptions. Women like Deborah (Jud. 4), however, clearly were the exception and not the rule. In fact, Isaiah 3:12 in its context of Godʼs judgment on unbelieving and disobedient Israel indicates that God allowed weak leaders, either masculine women or effeminate men, to rule as a part of His judgment on the sinning nation.
Jesus and Women
When we begin to look at women in the New Testament, the first thing we observe is how Jesus spent time with women and apparently enjoyed their companionship—in stark contrast to other men of His day. In the midst of the Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures, which viewed women almost on the level with possessions, Jesus showed love and respect for women.
Though Jewish rabbis did not teach women, Jesus not only included women in His audiences but used illustrations and images in His teaching which would be familiar to them (Matt. 13:33, 22:1-2; 24:41; Lk. 15:8-10). He also specifically applied His teachings to women (Matt. 10:34f).
While the Jewish Talmud said it was better to burn the Torah than teach it to a woman, Jesus taught women freely. To the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4), He revealed that He was the Messiah. With her He also discussed such important topics as eternal life and the nature of true worship. Jesus never took the position that women, by their very nature, could not understand spiritual or theological truth. He also taught Mary and, when admonished by Martha, pointed out the priority of learning spiritual truth even over “womanly” responsibilities like serving guests in oneʼs home (Lk. 10:38-42).
Though men in Jesusʼ day normally would not allow women to count change into their hands for fear of physical contact, Jesus touched women to heal them and allowed women to touch Him (Lk. 13:10f; Mk. 5:25f). Jesus even allowed a small group of women to travel with Him and His disciples (Lk. 8:1-3)—“an unprecedented happening in the history of that time,” said one commentator.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene and sent her to announce His resurrection to the disciples (Jn. 20:1-18). Jesus did this despite the fact that women were not allowed to be witnesses in Jewish courts because they were all believed to be liars.
In Jesusʼ treatment of women we see how He raised their station in life and how He showed them compassion and respect in a way that they had never known before. But Jesus still did not exalt women to a place of leadership over men. None of the Twelve he selected were women. Even at the cross where most of the men had fled and the women remained faithful, Jesus did not dismiss His male disciples and replace them with women. And Jesus made a radical break with His culture in so many ways that surely He would have done it in this way also if it had been Godʼs will. Jesus, in His treatment of women, demonstrated their equality and worth as persons, but He did not promote them to positions of leadership over men.
The Epistles and Women
In the Epistles we discover the same two principles side by side—both equality and submission for women. Galatians 3:28 points us to the equality, indicating that the way of salvation is the same for both men and women and that they are members of equal standing in the body of Christ. It does not, however, eradicate all differences in responsibilities for men and women since this passage does not cover every aspect of Godʼs design for male and female and since Paul makes clear distinctions in other passages he wrote.
The passages which instruct us about spiritual gifts also make no distinctions according to sex. And most Scriptural exhortations to Christian growth and behavior are directed to men and women alike (i.e., I Pet. 2:1-3; Heb. 4:16; 6:1; Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16; Phil. 2:1-5).
However, throughout the New Testament and alongside these passages on equality are also passages which make distinctions between what God desires of men and what He desires of women, especially within marriage and within the church.
While Christian marriage is to involve mutual love and submission between two believers (Eph. 5:21), the New Testament, in four separate passages, expressly gives to the wives the responsibility to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1; Ti. 2:5). This is the voluntary submission of one equal to another out of love for God and a desire to follow His design in His Word. It is never pictured as groveling or in any way diminishing the wifeʼs worth as a person, but rather the husband is called upon to love his wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25).
The biblical picture is of a union filled with love and harmony where both partners are submitting to one another, where both lovingly sacrifice for the best interest of the other and where the husband is the leader in a relationship of two equals.
While husbands and fathers have been given primary responsibility for the leadership of their families including their children (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; I Tim. 3:4-5), wives and mothers are urged to be “workers at home” (Ti. 2:5), meaning managers of households. Their home and their children are to be their priority—in contrast to the feminist emphasis today on careers and jobs for women outside the home.
The biblical pattern for raising and instructing children in Godʼs truths was established in Deuteronomy 6 where children are to be taught by parents “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Parents are responsible for the spiritual education of their children, and mothers who work full-time outside their homes usually lack the quality time to instruct their children adequately. Nor can the responsibility for this instruction simply be transferred to someone else. While feminists emphasize that women should seek their own self-fulfillment at all costs, the Bible urges Christian women to be humble, to sacrifice their own needs to meet the needs of others, to do what is best for their children, trusting that God will meet their needs in the process.
From the very beginning of the Christian church women fulfilled a vital role (Acts 1:12-14; 9:36-42; 16:13-15; 17:1-4, 10-12; 18:1-2, 18, 24-28; Rom. 16; I Cor. 16:19; II Tim. 1:5; 4:19). Women played an important role in the church from earliest days but not a leading role. The incarnation was in a Man, the apostles were all men, the chief missionary activity was done by men, the writing of the New Testament was the work of men (though some feminists would have us believe Priscilla wrote the Book of Hebrews), and generally leadership in the churches was entrusted to men. Still, women had a prominence and dignity in the early propagation and expansion of the gospel that they did not have in Judaism or the heathen world.
While the Apostle Paul respected women and worked side by side with them for the furtherance of the gospel (Rom. 16; Phil. 4:3), he appointed no women elders or pastors. In his epistles, as he wrote instructions to the churches, he urged that men were to be the leaders and that women were not to teach or exercise authority over men (I Tim 2:12).
The ministry of women is essential to the body of Christ, but the New Testament gives no basis for women becoming pastors or elders. While women are spiritual equals with men, they are excluded from leadership over men in the church. The New Testament finds no conflict here though twentieth century feminists insist that these principles contradict one another.
The Apostle Paul is completely consistent with Jesus in regard to women. Paul had a high regard for women and shared his labors for the gospel with many of them. But, like Jesus, he never appointed them to positions of authority over men in the home or the church. As active as women were in the early church, nowhere did Paul ordain them as elders.
Where The Feminists Go Wrong!
If more Christians understood the methods of feminist thinking and what kind of biblical interpretation they must do in order to arrive at their conclusions, they would likely be more hesitant to accept the feminist position. To understand the feminist interpretation process, we begin by examining their view of Galatians 3:28 and how their interpretation of that verse affects their interpretation of the rest of the New Testament.
Feminist View OF GALATIANS 3:28 - The foundation for all feminist interpretation of the New Testament is Galatians 3:28—“Their is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Feminists interpret this verse to refer to an equality which is both theological, regarding men and womenʼs standing before God, and also social, regarding all of their relationships in day-to-day living. If men and women are equal before God, feminists say, then there can be no differences within their roles and responsibilities in society. Feminists therefore use this verse as the basis for the elimination of all role distinctions between men and women in Christianity. They then interpret all other New Testament verses on women in light of the feminist understanding of Galatians 3:28, thus demanding that no other verse be allowed to teach role distinctions for men and women.
Problem With Feminist View Of Galatians 3:28 - Feminists fail to interpret Galatians 3:28 in its proper context. The verse concerns the subject of justification and the believerʼs relationship to the Abrahamic covenant. Paul was not seeking to establish social equality in the relationships he mentioned. Rather, he was showing that all, regardless of their standing in society, may participate by faith in the inheritance of Abraham to be sons of God. He was teaching the fundamental equality of both men and women in their standing before God. Even the feminists emphasize that this is a theological passage rather than one dealing with practical matters.
Equality of being before God does not require the elimination of all role distinctions in society. Equality of being does not rule out authority and submission in relationships. We could point to many examples of relationships in which there is equality and yet a difference in roles involving authority and submission—the Trinity, the President and U. S. citizens, parents and children, employers and employees, Elders and church members.
The theology of Galatians 3:28 will result in certain social implications, but they will be the ones given in the Bible. Where authority and submission are discussed in relationships in the New Testament, instructions are given for how those relationships may be regulated so that they function in Christian love and harmony and not with abuse. The Bible does not eliminate authority but cautions that authority should be exercised in a way that honors Christ. Those in authority (husbands, Elders, parents, employers) are instructed to use their authority in a godly way. And also, those who are to submit to these authorities (wives, church members, children, employees) are instructed to submit to authority in a godly way.
Because feminists want to rule out the submission of wives to husbands and of women to male leadership in the church on the basis of Galatians 3:28, they face a serious problem in biblical interpretation when they come to the Pauline passages which explicitly teach the submission of wives to husbands and women to the male leadership in the church. Beginning with their interpretation of Galatians 3:28 that all role distinctions must be abolished in the name of equality, they seek to interpret these other Pauline passages (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1; Ti. 2:5; I Tim 2:11-15; I Cor. 11:1-16; I Cor. 14:34-35) in light of that questionable interpretation of Galatians 3:28. Feminists of various persuasions have come up with four different ways of handling this biblical material in order to reach conclusions favorable to the Feminist Viewpoint:
Feminist View #1 - The New Testament passages which teach the submission of women were not really written by Paul but were added by scribes, and thus are not part of the inspired Word of God.
Problem With View #1 - This position reveals a low view of the inspiration of Scripture. According to this view, some of the Bible was inspired by God and some was not. Therefore, the Christian, rather than submitting to Scripture, must function as the judge of Scripture—always making decisions about what is inspired and what is not inspired. Both II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20-21 indicate that God inspired all Scripture, that he was overseeing the process of the writing of Scripture in such a way that the end product is His Word, not the product of human authors. Thus, the Christian views all of the Bible as Godʼs inspired Word and does not set himself as judge of the Bible.
Feminist View #2 - The New Testament passages which teach the submission of women were written by Paul, but he was wrong. Those who hold this view believe Paul was too much influenced by his rabbinical background and that in his writing of Scripture he had not reached a full understanding of how the gospel related to relationships between men and women. Thus, he was mistaken in some of the passages he wrote.
Problem With View #2 - This position is also based on a low view of the inspiration of Scripture. In this view, too, the Christian must become the judge of Scripture to determine for himself what is correct and what is incorrect. This view assumes that twentieth century man has a better understanding of Godʼs truth than did the Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Again, II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20-21 indicate that God worked in and through the writers of Scripture in such a way that the end product was Godʼs perfect Word and not a conglomeration of truth and error put together by human authors.
Feminist View #3 - The New Testament teaches the submission of women, but the teachings are no longer applicable in the twentieth century. According to this view, Paul was teaching the world view of his own culture in the first century, but our twentieth century culture is more enlightened about the equality of men and women, so the teaching no longer applies. Or sometimes it is said that writers of the New Testament knew that the ideal was to abolish all gender-based roles but feared to hinder the gospel if they broke so radically with their own culture. Thus, these Pauline passages are relegated to temporary cultural truth rather than universal truth for all cultures and all times.
Problem With View #3 - The foundation for Paulʼs teaching on the role or responsibilities of women is never the culture of his own day but rather the purpose of womanʼs creation and the womanʼs failure in the fall as Paul points out in I Corinthians 11:1-9 and I Timothy 2:8-15. Adam was created first, and Eve was later created as a helper for him rather than their being created simultaneously and independent of each other. Eve was deceived and led her husband into sin rather than submitting to his leadership. If the reason for the womanʼs submission is related to the creation and the fall, than it is not something which can change from year to year and culture to culture. Rather, it is a universal principle.
Some feminists say that there was no submission for the woman in creation but only as a result of the fall, that Genesis 3:16 was the beginning of authority and submission. But Genesis 2:18-25 teaches a submissive role for Eve in relationship to Adam, and Paul interprets it that way in the New Testament. Thus, the cross does not rid us of authority and submission, but it brings harmony to authority and submission relationships.
Feminist View #4 - The New Testament, if rightly understood, has never taught the submission of women. If the literary context, the historical context and the theological context were carefully studied, Paul would be clearly seen to be egalitarian, and thus the New Testament teaches that women may fulfill any responsibilities in the marriage and the church that men may fulfill. Thus, “headship” means only “source” and never “leader” or “authority.” “Be subject” means only “relate yourselves to” or “respond to” or “adjust yourselves to” and never “submit to.”
Problem With View #4 - In these last two views the confusion among the various feminist representives comes to the surface. Both groups read these same passages, and some say they teach submission and others say they do not. Greek lexicons include “authority” as one of the meanings for “head” and “submit” as one of the meanings for “be subject” so that only prejudicial interpretation could limit these words to pro-feminist definitions. This last view is so unconvincing that other feminists even reject it.
If one wants to arrive at pro-feminist conclusions, there are a limited number of ways to interpret the biblical context in order to reach such a position. These four are the alternatives which feminists have devised thus far.
Each alternative has serious flaws which cause the Christian, in the process of feminist interpretation, to sacrifice either a high view of inspiration of Scripture or else to use a false hermeneutic, or principle for interpreting Scripture. Either is too high a price to pay. All of these exegetical gymnastics become necessary just to force the Pauline passages to harmonize with the feminist interpretation of Galatians 3:28. If Galatians 3:28 were interpreted correctly in context to refer to the fundamental standing of men and women before God, and if the feminists did not totally reject any concept of authority and submission, harmony of all the biblical material on the subject would be rather simple.
How Women Glorify God
Men and women stand as equals before God, both bearing the image of God Himself. Yet, without making one inferior to the other. God calls upon both men and women to fulfill roles and responsibilities designed specially for them in certain situations. In fulfilling those God-given roles taught in the New Testament, women are not limited. They are reaching their fullest potential because they are following the plan of their own Creator and Designer. Only in obedience to Him and in His design will women truly be able, in the fullest sense, to give glory to God (I Cor. 10:31).
Note: This file was written by John MacArthur Jr., of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California. It originally was presented as non-copyrighted material in a booklet titled, “The Biblical Position on Womanʼs Roles.” Bible Bulletin Board is deeply grateful for the ministry of Grace Community Church and the truth which it has presented over the years. My own Christian walk has been greatly helped by John MacArthur and the Word of Grace Ministry. For information about the radio and tape ministries of Grace Community Church and John MacArthur, write:
Word Of Grace Communications
P.O. Box 4000
Panorama City, CA 91412
Bible Bulletin Board
Galveston, IN 46972
January 1, 1988
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