COLOSSIANS 3:18-19

In the beginning
   1. The image of God
   2. Mankind's function
   3. The Fall
Old Testament
   1. Faith
   2. Priestesses
   3. More spiritual
   4. Ministers
   5. No marital permission
   6. Prophetesses
   7. Esther
   8. Cultural horrors
New Testament
   1. Salvation and standing
   2. Ministers
   3. Observations about women
   4. The difficult passages
      a. Silence
      b. Teach/authority
      c. Saved
Wives and husbands
Appendix 1 - Genesis 3:16

NB - Although I have supplied headers and broken up the main arguments by titles, I have refrained from allowing the reader to skip to specific sections in these articles because they have to stand or fall as one unit and should be read as such. There's a great amount of overflow between the different thoughts here and it's the complete picture which must be understood if a full understanding of the position of women within the Church is to be realised.

I would urge the reader, therefore, to read the entire series of articles and judge them as one unit for it's the total burden of Scriptural proof which makes the teaching notes either stand or fall.

Paul has ended his general teaching to the Church concerning lifestyle and conduct (Col 3:1-17) and now moves on to speak directly to three different groups of people who are believers in the Colossian fellowship.

In each of the three pairs (Col 3:18-4:1), Paul mentions the ones who are generally considered to be in a worse position first (wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters), the ones who are subject, on the whole, to obey the will of the second mentioned.

Whether Paul was doing this deliberately or not is indeterminable (there's a seven to one chance that it could have happened unwittingly) but the fact that he does identically in Eph 5:21-6:9 is surely a sufficient indication that he's reversing the normal conventions and making the 'more important' have to wait for their specific instructions.

It would be going too far to say that Paul's concerned to overturn the accepted cultural protocols of his day but, as we saw when we studied Col 3:11, equality of standing in Christ is such that it may have been his intention to remind those listening that Christ was no respector of persons (Acts 10:34) and that the Kingdom was a declaration of God's intention to overturn acceptability and to replace it with His will.

It would have been much easier for me to get together some words about wives and husbands and to present them to the reader here without having to delve into a controversial topic such as the role of women in the NT Church. But, I've had this niggling thought in my mind that I should try and address the issue in the near future as I hadn't, to date, ever tried to provide a fairly comprehensive series of notes on the subject.

Now that I've arrived at Paul's words on husbands and wives, it seems only right that I should take time out to begin with Genesis and follow the relationship between men and women right through to their conclusion in the new.

Whatever I write is going to be controversial to some - the issue is so emotive that it's impossible to have adequate words which will satisfy everyone. But, at least, I've provided a resource for people wishing to study the subject for themselves.

In the beginning

The beginning of the world gives us an insight into God's perfect plan for men and women on the earth and how He intended them to interrelate. It's from this beginning that we'll go on to consider briefly what culture caused to happen, but these secondary assessments can't undermine the clear intention and purpose of God through the Creation.

So, to start with the clear statements of Genesis chapters 1-3 should give us a good basis for coming to terms with why many of the ancient cultures regarded women as little more than second class citizens within their own societies.

1. The image of God

God didn't sit down at a drawing board like an architect and produce a blueprint of what He intended man to turn out like, finally bringing about His design when He created mankind. That would have been to have had the image outside Himself, based upon an external scheme that may or may not have been consistent with His own nature.

Rather, God Himself was the image in the person of Jesus Christ. As we've previously seen in Col 1:15, Paul writes that

'[Christ] is the image of the invisible God...'

and, in II Cor 4:4, he describes Him as

'...the likeness of God'

In other words, the nature and character of man was to be a reflection of God Himself throughout the entire earth - we were to be a representation of all that God is, so crowning His creative work with the supreme demonstration of His character in us.

Now we know that, through the Fall and because of sin, the likeness of God was marred and tarnished beyond repair (Eccles 7:29) that, though mankind has opportunity to reform and improve himself, he's never able to bring himself up to the perfection that God originally created him in.

But, in Jesus Christ, a new nature is received, given in place of the old that's crucified with Christ on the cross and killed off, which is the likeness of God dwelling within. It's a perfect representation of all that Jesus is and a perfect 'copy' of all that He originally intended us to be (see the notes and the charts on 'Baptism' and the various pages of previous notes on Col 3:1-14). As Paul wrote in Eph 4:24 (see also Rom 8:29)

'...the new nature [is] created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness'

The new nature, the image of God, is both Christ's nature and the nature that God created man to have at the beginning of the world before the Fall.

Corporately, men and women were created as one unit to reflect the image of God, to be all that God was in human form. Gen 1:26 records the deliberations - whether between God and the angelic host or within the Godhead itself is immaterial to the point being made - where He decides to

'...make man(kind) in Our image...'

where 'man' is not 'the man' referring to Adam or 'men' referring to all 'males' but 'mankind' referring to both men and women. Individually, also, both men and women should be reflections of God.

Gen 1:27 also goes on to inform us that

'God created (the) man in His own Image...male and female He created them'

where we see that, while 'man' was created to be a reflection, both aspects of male and female, when standing alone as individuals, should be reflections of the nature of God.

Male and female weren't each created with certain aspects of God's nature so that only corporately (husband and wife) they would be the image of God, but individually He created mankind to be like Jesus. If this hadn't been the case, then Jesus (one man and no woman) could not have adequately been the total revelation of God to mankind.

Both corporately (Gen 1:26) and individually (Gen 1:27), therefore, mankind was created to bear the image of God and to demonstrate it wherever he found himself and in whatever he was doing.

Just as it is now 'in Christ', both sexes were designed and created to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) so that neither sex could claim either sovereignty over the other or dependency upon the other - by 'sovereignty' we mean that neither sex had the right to claim to be exclusively the image while the other was not and, by 'dependency', we mean that it wasn't only together, in paired units, that they are the image.

2. Mankind's function

We should also note that it wasn't just their individual reflection of the nature of God which was sown into each at their initial creation which declares their equality, but their appointment as rulers over all the created order shows their ministry to have been intended to be shared but absolute, with only God Himself higher than each of them.

In Gen 1:26-28, God announces that they're to

'...have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth'

and, once they're created they both receive the command to

'...Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'

There's no distinction here between male and female in the set up of God's initial act of Creation and we would be wrong to then go on to consider the witness of Genesis chapter 2 as inferring a hierarchy in man-woman relationships which isn't clearly stated in the text.

After all, we could think of woman being subject to man because she was created second (Gen 2:22) or because she was made out of man showing her dependence upon him for her existence (Gen 2:21). We could even insist upon the word translated 'helper' (Gen 2:18) as being indicative of the relationship where a woman is seen as little more than belonging to the sex who supports the man's will and purpose. And Genwen notes, because it's man who names woman it

'...indicates that she is expected to be subordinate to him...'

We must remember that each of these considerations aren't comments on the marriage relationship because that doesn't occur until Gen 2:24 and, if we think logically about the Fall and the statement of Gen 4:1, it seems altogether reasonable and justified to think that the first act of sexual intercourse didn't take place until after sin came into the world - otherwise Cain would be without a sinful and fallen nature, something which the events of the following years testifies against (Gen 4:3-16).

So we can't remove such comments and apply them to marriage because they were statements concerning the relationship between men and women before that took place - neither can we insist that the interpretations relate to all man-woman relationships because we have the clear and unambiguous statements in Gen 1:26-28 that they were created co-equal with regard to the bearing of God's image and, more importantly for our considerations here, co-equal with regards to authority.

Paul will make quite a bit about both the fact of Adam's pre-existence and that his sin was secondary to Eve's in the NT (I Tim 2:13-15) and draw out the truth about a woman's relationship to the function of teaching - and of how a woman might be 'saved' (not with regards to salvation, I hasten to add, or else the cross is emptied of its power) - but we'll deal with his words at a later point in the discussion.

What we need to observe in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, however, is that man and woman were created co-equal and that neither was commanded as having authority over the other.

3. The Fall

Having now established the equality of men and women at the initial Creation, we need to think briefly about what changes the Fall brought about (Genesis chapter 3). As noted at the end of the previous section, Paul will use Adam's secondary 'sin' as a point of teaching for his spiritual son Timothy, but this will be dealt with later.

It is the order of the act of their sin, however, which seems to determine the ensuing set up within most of the ancient cultures throughout the world where the man was almost inevitably considered to be the hierarchical leader in marriage and the dominant and authoritative sex in man-woman relationships.

Firstly, then, we should note that it was woman and not man who was deceived by the serpent (Gen 3:1-6) but that, having been deceived, she took the fruit and

'...gave some to her husband and he ate'

The implication seems to be that the woman was the first transgressor by a deliberate act of the will whereas Adam was an innocent bystander in the event and that he only ate of the fruit because it was pressed into his hand. One has to think about the implications of that last statement to see whether it holds true to the character of God, for we're saying that a man might sin unknowingly and, therefore, that God will choose to judge him for something which he didn't know was sin.

There's an indication in Gen 3:12, however, that Adam knew what he was doing as he was doing it for he responds to God's questions by objecting that

'...[the woman] gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate'

and not that he had no idea that what he was eating was what had been forbidden until after the realisation came to him. So we can be fairly sure that Eve didn't hand Adam a piece of fruit and that she kept the matter secret until after he'd eaten but that she also informed him that the fruit was able to open their eyes and to make them like God (Gen 3:5).

The curse upon Adam shouldn't be taken as a rebuke for listening to someone who he had authority over as Gen 3:17 could be made out to infer. Rather, it's because he chose the voice of another over and above His that the judgment now falls upon him. No specific words are spoken concerning any change in the man-woman relationships to Adam so we can leave them to one side.

But there were implications to this in the judgment spoken against Eve (Gen 3:16). God tells her (my italics) that He will

'...greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children - yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you'

There's an inference here that shouldn't be missed because there's no point judging someone with a change of relationship if that state of affairs already existed before the transgression took place. So the italicised words are meant to show that, from that moment onwards, God was subjecting the wife to the husband in marriage relationships but not that He was subjecting woman to man.

This is an important differentiation to make for it's too easy for us to twist the curse and to find justification for the idea that all women are subject to men. Paul will uphold the continued efficacy of this judgment in the affairs of marriage relationships in Eph 5:22 but he doesn't go on to state that women are nothing more than the sex who must bow down to the will of men - he doesn't even expect that to happen in marriage as the idea is of protection (see Appendix 1) and not of total obedience as nothing more than a slave.

By not accepting an original equality in Creation between male and female, the curse of Gen 3:16 seems forced into yielding something wholly different than what's plainly there. Genwen's position forces him into stating that

'...[the author] does not regard female subordination to be a judgment on her sin'

because it's seen as already existing in the creation of the woman for man. But the alternative is far from tasteful. He goes on to note that

'It is...usually argued that "rule" here represents harsh exploitative subjugation which so often characterises woman's lot in all sorts of societies...Women often allow themselves to be exploited in this way because of their urge toward their husband: their sexual appetite may sometimes make them submit to quite unreasonable male demands'

While I can affirm the strange way in which female partners stay with their men when they're treated cruelly, the problem with such a position is that it pushes such male behaviour to be interpreted as the outworking of God's curse upon man in that they'll subjugate their wives by a direct action of God. In other words, woman's harsh treatment at the hand of man is seen firstly as the result of their sin and secondly as the fulfilment of the work of God.

Attributing such a dominance by man of woman throughout subsequent history to God is hardly a correct assessment of His character - and it becomes an even greater error to think it so when we look at Gen 3:16 again and note that this has nothing to do with man-woman relationships but those between husband-wife.

Even if it was to be conceded that a husband's dominion over his wife was to be 'harsh exploitative subjugation', there's no indication in the text that such a position was meant to be understood as applicable to men and women in general.

Besides, Paul's instructions in the NT seem to reflect the position of the curse in that he calls for submission of the wife to the husband and doesn't give any grounds for the 'exploitation' of one by another. Rather, the husband is expected to treat the wife as he would want to be treated himself (Eph 5:28-29) - if the Fall made a way for the husband to be justified in putting down the will of his wife, why should Paul bother asserting the position and then fail to show that, in the cross, not so much as one point of the entire curse was resolved (Gen 3:14-19) and that freedom from its effects was now removed?

All the judgments and curses that were brought in upon mankind and Creation in the Garden still stand - and there's no prospect of them ever being removed until the final day when Jesus returns to judge the earth and to remove the effects of sin from it.

So, instead of a husband and wife co-ruling as they were intended to do before the Fall, the wife is now judged to be ruled over by her husband for her protection (see Appendix 1). But the relationship between men and women remained unaltered through the Fall - that is, there's no indication that woman was subject to man or that man retained the commission of the Creation (Gen 1:28) while woman forfeited it.

As we go on to look at the subsequent history of the man-woman relationships in the OT, we need to keep in mind what God did in the Garden and not what man interpreted it as.

Old Testament

The cultures which developed from the Creation seem mainly to have instituted woman in subjection to man and much of the OT is based on this assumption with men being the rulers and important mediators between the gods (or God) and their servants. These are indicators that the set up was assumed to be necessarily as it was being lived out rather than that there was a direct and unambiguous command from God or a reorganisation of man-woman relationships in the Creation following the entry of sin into the world.

The new husband-wife relationship that had been brought about through the Fall seems to have been accepted as the norm for man-woman relationships as well and is rarely - if ever - questioned by those who belong to the ancient cultures represented in the OT.

In such a cultural organisation, it would be difficult for God to have sent a woman to a man-dominated people and to have expected for His voice to be heard even though we'll see that this is exactly what happened on occasions and the 'norm' seems to be that man was raised up as the mouthpiece through which God chose to speak to the people of the earth.

God also chooses to reveal Himself in male terms - even though we must note that masculine titles were indicative of the entire species of man - both male and female - and that in many places it may mean less than it's normally taken as. Nevertheless, God reveals Himself primarily as 'Father ' and not 'Mother' in the NT, Jesus comes as 'Son' and not 'Daughter' and the vocabulary is predominantly masculine - therefore it would be wrong for us to think of God as choosing both aspects of mankind by His self-choice of male vocabulary.

Even so, we must still remember that both male and female were created to reflect God's image, the nature of Jesus Christ, as individuals and not only corporately as husband and wife. Therefore God is able to show Himself through both man and woman because both were channels in the beginning for the outworking of His nature on earth.

The subservience of woman to man is well attested in the OT and needs little comment - but the Mosaic Law is difficult to accept as being a series of absolute laws which are regulations expected to be taken as equally applicable under the new covenant.

There are some here which should be taken with equal seriousness but the Law brought reform to Israelite culture so that the expression of sin might be restricted and that God might be seen to get His will done through their culture rather than for Him to establish a totally different one which was strikingly different, radical and revolutionary.

What we need to do in this section is to look at those instances which point away from such a set up to something more akin to that which God had intended in the Creation - and to also see if there are any indications that the husband-wife relationship was commanded by God to be applied to the man-woman one in general.

To adequately deal with each and every occurrence of both women and wives would take a fair few volumes and be fairly mundane and tedious. I will, therefore, limit myself to some of the more interesting passages which point towards a different set up than was normally accepted culturally.

1. Faith

We start with Tamar (Gen 38:1-11) even though how she points towards the set up of the original Creation is minimal or, at worst, contrived. Tamar is one of those characters which I came to love as I was studying the 'Genealogy of Christ' a number of years ago, partly because we seem to have misunderstood her actions and have tarred her with the same brush as, say, Jezebel or Athaliah.

But she was wholly different. Having been scorned by Judah and forbidden her cultural right of being given the third of his other sons in marriage to raise up children to her deceased husband (and this after she'd been sexually insulted by Onan), she contrived a situation whereby she would bear Judah's child for her husband's sake and also find herself under his protection.

It wasn't very often in the OT that women such as Tamar took matters in their own hands where they put their lives at serious risk for the sake of another and her example should stand out in the OT as a prime example to all women - not that the cultural situation will ever likely be the same that a woman should think that she can commit what she did with the same justification!

But Tamar became the mother of the Christ (Mtw 1:3) along with three other women (Mtw 1:5-6) who would all have been disqualified from such a thing by the statements which appear in the Mosaic Law (see here under Part Two). But it was their faith which justified their actions and redeemed them from the condemnation which would have fallen upon them by the written statutes.

Jumping forward several hundred years, we should also notice Rahab (Joshua 2:1-21, 6:22-25), a prostitute by trade who hid the two spies sent by Joshua to report back to him concerning the lie of the land, the strength of the cities and people settled there. Heb 11:31 comments on her that it was 'by faith' that she saved her own life because she welcomed the spies, a reflection of her belief that YHWH was about to give the land into Israelite hands.

Faith is also attributed to the mother of Moses who hid the baby for three months while the Pharaoh was seeking to kill all the males born to the Hebrews in the land of Egypt. Their faith seems to be tied up by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 11:23 Pp Ex 2:2) with the fact of the child's 'beauty' but there would appear to be the inference also that they trusted in YHWH's promise that he would deliver them from out of the house of bondage (Gen 15:12-16).

2. Priestesses

The faith which saves is also seen clearly in the rather surreal episode of Zipporah and Moses at the lodging place as they journeyed back to Egypt at the command of YHWH (Ex 4:24-26). Even though Moses had known of the importance of circumcision as the entry of the new-born into the people of God (Gen 17:9-14), he'd failed to perform the rite on his son and, even when the angel withstood them, it wasn't Moses who perceived the matter but his wife, who acted with a spiritual perception which her husband lacked.

The passage has puzzled commentators over the years and we need not go into a fuller explanation than these few words - what's important to note is that Zipporah becomes the mediator of propitiation (that is, she becomes the means whereby the wrath of God is averted) when she sheds the blood of her son through an act of obedience, redeeming her husband.

Zipporah, therefore, is demonstrably a priestess in this event - someone who prevented God's chosen deliverer from the judgment of God.

3. More spiritual

There are other examples in the OT, too, where women showed themselves to be of greater wisdom and spiritual perception than their husbands or, in one particular case, of all the men of her city.

The wife of Manoah reacts favourably to the angel that appears to her, announcing to her the birth of Samson who would begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines (Judges 13:2-7 - we will return to this passage in a few moments) and it's her also who has to calm her husband down because he seems to think that they're about to die because of their second encounter (Judges 13:21-23). Her spiritual perception of the mind of God is striking and her interpretation of the situation demonstrates that women must have often had more spiritual insight into matters than those who 'had the rule over them'.

Abigail is another who averts a civil war (I Samuel 25:1-42) by putting right what her husband, Nabal, does in offending David and his growing band of military men. A short time before, Michal had also been wise enough to urge David to depart from their house that he might save his life (I Sam 19:11-17) when it seems not to have occurred to him that there was any danger.

Finally, in II Sam 20:16-22, we read of the besieging of Abel of Bethmaacah by Joab in his search for Sheba. It was down to one wise woman of the city to negotiate peace so that both camps could find satisfaction in the outcome of the hostilities.

Even her opening words are designed to offend Joab in a way that makes an opening for reconciliation to take place (II Sam 20:19) and it's important to note that she shines in this matter as greatly and brightly as her male contemporaries don't - it's impossible not to conclude that she was the best person for the job and that the city's inhabitants weren't concerned with 'sex' when it came to wisdom.

4. Ministers

There are also instances where women are seen to be ministers to God - we'll look at the subject of 'prophets' below but, here, we want to note a couple of instances where there's clearly a ministry by women to God.

It's mentioned in the set up of the Tabernacle that there were women who ministered in the Tabernacle and who stood at the door of the tent of meeting (Ex 38:8), a set up which seems to have continued for a great many years after the nation's entry into Canaan (I Sam 2:22) but which wasn't commanded by the Law.

And there's also specific instructions concerning the vow of the Nazirite (Num 6:2) that the legislation was equally applicable to both men and women. I've dealt with the subject of the Nazirite on a separate web page and noted there that the commitment of the individual concerned was actually of far greater stringency than that which applied to the Aaronic priesthood and that their availability to do the will of God wasn't restricted by the regulations of service which the priests had to follow. They are, therefore, more like a type of the new covenant believer than the OT priesthood.

That women were allowed to take upon themselves the vow of a Nazirite has to be qualified, however, for Num 30:6-9 comments that a husband can annul the vow of his wife because she's under his authority and Num 30:1-5 observes that a father could also annul his daughter's vow because she's under his protection until she's married.

The passage does note, however, that a widow's vow must stand, the reason being that she has no greater authority which can overrule her. This is an important point which should be given its full weight. It appears that a woman was expected to be under the authority of men from the time of her birth until the day of her death - that is, she was a child in the father's house and had to respect and honour her parents in all matters (as the sons also were expected to do) until the time of her marriage when her husband would then have the rule over her.

If there had ever been a woman who hadn't married and who had somehow moved away from the family household to live independently (though culturally this wasn't what happened because women weren't accepted as being able to support themselves except through such shameful professions as prostitution), there would be no obligation on them to obey any man.

This is why the widow, who's tied to neither familial nor marital obligations, is free to vow without it being revoked by man. Therefore, the set up of Creation is seen in that man and woman remain co-equal - it's only cultural considerations which effectively ended a woman's independence.

5. No marital permission

There are also occasions when God chose to use women to bring about his purposes without asking the permission of the husband. We might say that He had every right to because His will shouldn't be opposed by mere humans - but there's another issue at stake here for, should the husband have refused to let his wife fulfil the calling of God, he would have been opposing God Himself, regardless of cultural acceptability.

It would be going too far to insist that any of the husbands associated with the following women were 'conscientious objectors' to what God wanted to do through their wives but it's important to note that God chose to bypass the accepted husband-wife authority structure that He had brought into being through the Fall in order that His will might be done.

Indeed, in the case of Deborah the prophetess, we see that she was raised up over the authority of her husband and even over the authority of her contemporary men because God was using her as a judge of Israel (Judges 4:4). Objectors to this set up might insist upon interpreting the mention of her husband as being solely to identify who she was and that her husband was long since dead - that is, she was a widow and under no marital obligations.

The problem is that the text doesn't say such a thing and also gives us not so much as a hint. In the case of Huldah (II Kings 22:14, II Chr 34:22) the statement is that she was currently married and not a widow so that the argument largely falls down. But, at the very least, we see plainly that a woman had authority over a man and the fact that she was a prophetess shows us also that she had been raised up by God.

But it wasn't just in the general day-to-day judging of the nation of Israel that men were under her authority. It says in Judges 4:6 (my italics) that

'She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam...and said to him "YHWH, the God of Israel, commands you, 'Go...'"'

something which was not culturally right for her to do. Even less, in some people's eyes, would it be right for us to consider that God could use her as the mouthpiece of God, so much so that the theory that God only uses women when there are no men available to Him has raised its head frequently in discussions concerning a woman's use in the Body of Christ, the Church.

But there's no ambiguity here in the text for it plainly informs the reader that a woman, chosen by God, was placed into a position of authority over the men of her own generation, to decide between what was right and wrong, to give justice to the people and to speak the will of God to them that it might be obeyed.

Barak doesn't object to being told by a woman what to do. Indeed, so highly does he hold Deborah in respect that he seems to back out of doing anything independently of her by replying (Judges 4:8)

'If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go'

It was a wise move for it's Deborah who has to tell Barak when to attack (Judges 4:14). It should also be noted that the set up of 'judges' in the land is something which YHWH intended returning to (Is 1:26) probably because it was a time when the nation hadn't enthroned an earthly King and there was more possibility that they might look to him directly for guidance. There's much to suggest that such an organisation is what the Church is meant to serve under today but we would be going too far to translate the example of Deborah through the cross and into the NT without specific references.

Other women who were called by God to fulfil a specific function and purpose are of minor significance next to Deborah who stands as the best OT example. We mention briefly in passing, therefore, Hannah (I Samuel 1:1-2:11- who was the channel through whom Samuel the prophet was born) and the wife of Manoah (Judges 13:2-7 - who was the channel through whom Samson was born). We might also mention Mary, the mother of Jesus, for Joseph was only told about her pregnancy after conception had taken place and was not a willing participator until he was put into the unenviable position of needing to know how he could divorce with minimal embarrassment and damage for her (Mtw 1:18-25).

6. Prophetesses

The largest group of women mentioned in the Bible who were used by God to make His will known to His people were the prophetesses of which at least six can be identified (Deborah - Judges 4:4, Miriam - Ex 15:20, Huldah - II Kings 22:14, II Chr 34:22, Noadiah a false prophetess - Neh 6:14, an unnamed prophetess - Is 8:3 and Anna - Luke 2:36 if we might accept her as belonging to the OT order).

Little needs to be said about these characters - as, indeed, there's very often little which accompanies their mention - but there are some general observations which may be of interest.

We've already seen above how Deborah was raised into a position of authority over the men of her own generation, not only because she was judge of the nation but because she also gave specific directions to Barak which he submitted to without any need for a confirmation through a 'male' source.

Huldah is also a prophetess who is believed without any confirmation being sought (II Kings 22:14-20, II Chr 34:22-28) and one wonders why she was consulted when there was a male prophet by the name of Jeremiah in the land who was already declaring the word of God to the nation (Jer 1:1-2) - one only wonders, that is, if male ministry is accepted as being of a superior nature to that of women and that a man's voice should always be preferred over that of a woman.

It's also certain that she was 'under the authority' of her husband (II Kings 22:14, II Chr 34:22) but that she was also acting independently of him, declaring to the king the words which she was hearing from the throne of God. It's quite something to realise that the response of the king who was the ultimate authority throughout all the land was to submit himself to the message and to respond positively to it (II Kings 23:1ff, II Chr 34:29ff).

Isaiah's mention of 'the prophetess' to whom he goes (Is 8:3) may be taken as a mention of his own wife for he notes that

'...she conceived and bore a son'

and the implication seems to be that Isaiah was the instrument through whom conception took place. This might be used to infer that a prophetess could only be counted as such when her husband was also used in a prophetic role. But II Kings 4:1 mentions a woman as being

'...a wife of the sons of the prophets...'

where the phrase 'your servant' indicates that he was not just a 'son' but a prophet in his own right and II Kings 22:14 describes Huldah's husband as a priest and not a prophet. A wife of a prophet, then, was not automatically called a prophetess in a similar manner to a queen being the counterpart of a king even when she's not descended from the kingly line.

The other prophetesses need little mention. Miriam is mentioned as a prophetess in Ex 15:20 after the victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea but all she seems to 'prophesy' is a two line refrain (Ex 15:21) and she's never mentioned again as having such a ministry or, indeed, do we ever read of the outworking of that ministry in the nation (the idea might be that the women which followed her were a demonstration that she was declaring the word of God so that mention of her being a prophetess had more to do with her authority than her proclamation. It seems to have been fairly normal for the women to celebrate when Israel won victory over their foes, however - I Sam 18:6-7).

In Neh 6:14, Noadiah the prophetess is singled out for mention as being one of the mouthpieces of spiritual direction which proved to be against Nehemiah but she's lumped together with 'the rest of the prophets'. Finally, Luke 2:36-38 mentions Anna the prophetess in the Temple and we're probably right in accepting her as part of the OT seeing as she's mentioned in the first few days after Jesus' birth - whether she was raised up as a prophetess after her widowhood or before is impossible to determine from the text but that she was continually in the Temple

'...worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day'

indicates that the authorities were happy enough with a woman's prophetic calling not to have her removed.

Before we move on, we need to briefly consider the fivefold ministry gifts of people in Eph 4:11 which mentions apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and ask ourselves whether any of them are represented in the OT by the women mentioned.

Both apostles and evangelists are particularly NT in origin and we can put these to one side immediately. Of the other three, 'prophets' can be immediately seen to be applicable to women. 'Pastors' are represented in the OT chiefly through Deborah in her function as 'judge', giving justice to the nation (both men and women), but there are indications that, for example, Miriam exercised some sort of pastoral role towards women because the women followed her in celebration over the defeat of the Egyptians.

The subject of 'teachers' is somewhat of a grey area because the word only occurs in the RSV in the historical books in I Chr 25:8 and then it seems to refer solely to the Levites. And it was this tribe which were commissioned with the teaching of the nation about the ways of God (Deut 33:10) so that any other teachers which could have been raised up were largely in the form of prophets and prophetesses who brought a living message to their hearers which told them exactly where they stood in relationship to God.

Prophets, therefore - and prophetesses - exercised a teaching role in Israel at times of apostasy and rebellion against the Law, with their appeals declaring what was both right and wrong and containing an urgency to return to YHWH in repentance for healing and deliverance.

Prophetesses - both Deborah and Huldah are good examples - were women who taught men what the state of affairs was, the former giving Barak orders concerning his attack on the nation's enemies with the latter stating the impossibility that judgement could be averted by any action.

7. Esther

Although I've assigned Esther to a section of her own, there isn't too much that we can glean from the Book which records her exploits on behalf of her people. While it's true that she was put in authority over her people while in captivity, we might reason that it was through the hand of man that she found herself in the position of queen when the time of trial came.

Indeed, not once is YHWH ever mentioned throughout the Book and we're left to perceive His hand working through the situations by our own understanding elsewhere. Even Mordecai, her adopted father, isn't sure as to whether God has had this planned all along (Esther 4:14) but knows that, unless Esther avails herself of the position in which she finds herself, every one of them is to perish given the circumstances that were being contrived against them.

But Esther is a woman of remarkable courage and noteworthy for it - and it's a woman through whom God chooses to deliver His people even though He'd used a man, Moses, to do the same a few hundred years earlier. This is, of course, significant because it shows that God isn't bothered about using women as deliverers, as His instruments of salvation on earth. It isn't that Esther is raised up as a leader over God's people and an inference about such from Esther 9:32 would be wrong.

Little can be said, then, which directly impinges itself on our considerations of women in the OT.

8. Cultural horrors

As far as I can tell, God never commands man to have authority over woman in general terms which should be taken as referring to all man-woman relationships. It's totally different when we begin to consider husband-wife relationships, however, and there's no repudiation of that which was established in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:16) even though God does bypass the 'necessary' permission needed from the husband in order for Him to use the 'wife'.

Ideas of women having pre-eminence and authority over men are used by the prophets to shock their listeners for they use the cultural ideas of their day to convey their message. These can be used by some (but not me!) to assert that a woman was expected to be in submission to a man and that this was the expected state of affairs in the mind of God even though nowhere do we find such a statement that woman is subject to man.

I'll mention just two passages in passing before we move on to the NT. In Is 3:12, female leadership is used as a label to be put upon the male leaders which ruled over the people. The prophet announces

'...children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths'

so that the accusation of worthlessness can be understood in the culture of its day. The prophet shouldn't be taken as declaring an absolute statement of a woman's incapacity in leadership but as a way of waking up the leaders of his day to how impotent and foolish they were.

In Nahum 3:13, we also get a glimpse of the physical weakness attributed to women (something which isn't incorrect - man in general is physically stronger than woman even though some of the latter are stronger than the former. One only has to look at the sports arena to see how much a man's strength is greater than a woman's - Peter also observes it in I Peter 3:7) where Nahum declares concerning Nineveh

'Behold, your troops are women in your midst...'

to show them that they will be unable to withstand an attack. Whatever military strength they have, it will be as if they were women trying to fight and overcome men.

Cultural considerations in the words of the prophets, therefore, must also be recognised as declaring truth in language that the recipients of the message could understand and not as absolute statements of the set up that God intended. The word of God comes to all nations in language that they can understand and not in the words of a culture which isn't being experienced lest they misunderstand (I Cor 9:19-22).

And it's cultural background which must also be considered as we come to difficult passages in the NT which seem to pull away from other passages in both old and new.

New Testament

The culture in which the NT is set is predominantly the same as that of the old. True, there have been hundreds of years which have transpired between the closing of the last events recorded in the historical books and the beginning of the news of the establishing of the promised Kingdom, but a woman and wife's lot has remained largely unchanged in Israelite society through the successive occupations by the Greeks and Romans. Indeed, if anything, their lot in life has become more restrictive.

Even in the freer Greek cultures which existed outside the land of Israel, there's still the expectation of wives that they'll submit to their husband's lead, but the general 'non-religious' culture of Israelite society is weakened by Hellenistic principles which have become assimilated into the Diaspora.

I remember a Dutch believer in my early days as a believer coming to chat with myself and a young lady at the close of a meeting and the conversation got onto the subject of the afterlife and the resurrection. With an air of authority, he announced

'And of course, there aren't any women in Heaven'

While the lady looked horrified, I began smiling and thinking that this was some sort of wind up but, seeing both our reactions, he continued

'No, honestly. It's in the Bible'

and he gave me the reference of Rev 8:1. I hurriedly flicked through to it and read aloud, just as he was beginning to smile his mirth

'...there was silence in heaven for about half an hour'

Of course, he wasn't serious - but it does show each of us how easy it is to be able to interpret Scripture in the light of our own cultural expectations. We can come to passages with a belief that must be applied and upheld and therefore must interpret the passage before us in the same light or, at the very least, in a way that doesn't contradict it.

As the reader will see as he works through the NT passages I've drawn together here, the basis of my interpretation of 'the difficult passages' is my understanding of the organisation of both Creation and the Fall, what was demonstrated in the OT and some clear statements in the new as to the relationships between men and women and husbands and wives (though I am reserving my brief comments on the latter pair largely until the final section).

It could easily be levelled at myself, also, that I'm dealing with passages on the basis of belief. What I trust the reader will consider carefully, however, is whether the foundation I've laid prior to my explanations of the difficult texts is something which is correct and worthy of full acceptance because, if it is, certain statements in other texts must be understood in a totally unique and different light where a literal acceptance would point towards discrepancy.

Similarly, if these 'difficult passages' are accepted at face value, an adequate explanation of the other passages I've interpreted on this web page must be given that brings together a systematic approach and explanation of the role of women within the NT Church and of God's dealings with them through history.

Finally, it's not always easy to determine differences between the two relationships of husband-wife and man-woman and there will be some bleed over between the two in the following comments.

1. Salvation and standing

'Salvation' is demonstrably received by a response of faith to the message of the Gospel spoken under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, when a person's sins are forgiven and the new nature is created within. In the OT, faith still played a fundamental role but the provision of a new nature and the full payment for sins wasn't established until the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Nevertheless, it was too easy to think that the same cultural requirements that a woman should be subject to a man were in force and that deliverance from sin was only a matter of dealing with individuals within the current organisation of men on the earth, thus giving men greater status than women in the new Kingdom.

However, this isn't so and Paul states it clearly in Gal 3:28 (my italics) where he writes that

'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus'

The parallel passage occurs in Col 3:11 which we looked at earlier in the notes and where I wrote that

'...even today, women can still be thought of as second-class believers through the attitudes directed towards them and the tasks which are seen to be only for them to perform...one has to note that the issue [of ministry] is totally different from standing in Christ and women believers must be given equal recognition within the Body'

There's no such thing, therefore, as elite members of Christ and those who are secondary and dispensable (Mtw 18:10-14, 25:45) for all believers are on an equal footing and no one has 'more' salvation or the potential for a better relationship with God than anyone else.

Equality with regards to salvation, therefore, stretches across all sorts of class distinctions - the slave and the free (and, the master of the slave), the Greek and the Jew and the male and female believer are all one in Jesus Christ.

It would be wrong of us to stretch Paul's statements to include aspects such as ministry and calling because these are 'extras' which come about upon the foundation of salvation, but what's often neglected to our own detriment is that the little old lady who sits at the back of the building and who does nothing in the meetings is as equally saved as the leader at the front and neither is expendable to God.

So, all believers are priests to God (I Peter 2:5, Rev 1:6), all have direct access into God's presence (Heb 10:19-22) and all have their sins fully forgiven (I John 1:9). Part of the problem with the 'women priests' issue is that sexist objections need to be challenged on the basis of the work of Christ - the other, of course, is that even if women were accepted into the 'priesthood', it's still a fundamental denial that all believers are called to be mediators of the Gospel and of forgiveness!

2. Ministers

And what an emotive issue this is!

A woman's ministry seems to be defined anywhere between making tea and buns for Church get-togethers, right the way through to leading fellowships and denominations - while I'm sure that I'll never see a female pope in my own life upon this earth, if the feminist movement begins to influence the Roman Catholic sect in greater measure than it has done in the past, the writing's surely on the wall!

Part of our problem in limiting a woman's ministry is in our cultural beliefs - but this isn't the only basis for many a person's objections. Paul appears to state plainly that no woman should have authority over or teach men (I Tim 2:12), that they're to keep silent (I Tim 2:11 - some husbands would wish this could be enforced, no doubt) and that women are only saved through bearing children (I Tim 2:15).

Quite clearly, the last point contradicts other NT passages where salvation is by faith alone - that is, it contradicts if made to refer to being saved. We shall deal with this most difficult of passages later on and offer some comments on Paul's words and what he might have meant - but it's impossible to go to this passage immediately without first surveying the NT in general to see what the function of women was in the early Church.

After all, whatever Paul wrote to Timothy must surely be expected not to undermine what women were already doing in the fellowships that he'd been instrumental in ministering to. If the apostle, for example, should uphold a woman as ministering the Gospel in one place, we could hardly imagine that he should then oppose such a function elsewhere.

So, even though we'll be brief in our consideration of how women were used by God and accepted as being used by Him by the early Church, it's necessary that we might build up a picture in our own minds of their function.

Firstly, we should note what the women were doing while Jesus was still on the earth. Strictly speaking, we're still on OT grounds which is why I included the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-38) in the section outlining how women were used by God prior to the coming of Jesus. However, Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom and, therefore, what He allowed to transpire around Him when He had control over it should also be a reflection of what He expected His followers to permit.

It's plain from a few passages that there were a band of women who followed Jesus and who ministered to Him (Mtw 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, Luke 8:1-3, 23:49) though just what that 'ministry' might have been can be as wide and as narrow as one might imagine, for the only specific details we have is that some of them (Luke 8:3)

'...provided for them [Jesus and the disciples] out of their means'

But their commitment to follow does seem to have come out not only of the message which Jesus was proclaiming throughout Galilee but because they'd been the recipients of the power of the Kingdom in setting them free from spiritual bondage and oppression (Luke 8:2).

One could very easily imagine these women preparing food for the men who were ministering to the multitudes and who had little time even to eat, let alone to seek out food (Mark 6:31) and we should remember that their ministry wasn't to those who were seeking the Kingdom (that is, Jesus hadn't called them to preach) but to those who had been called. But 'ministry' is so wide a concept that we should leave the details open to interpretation and not to limit anything which was morally upright.

In one place that Jesus was eating, 'a woman of the city, a sinner' gave Jesus more honour than the religious did (Luke 7:44-47) and ministered to Him by washing His feet and anointing them with ointment. Through her 'faith', she found the forgiveness of her sins - not that servility was being taught as the woman's role but that she'd responded to what she saw in Jesus, knowing that He had the power to wipe away her sins.

There are other short glimpses of the role of women prior to the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. The possibility of the incident of Mtw 26:6-13 is that what was being done was a prophetic statement which had been perceived by the woman who was anointing Jesus with the ointment. It would be going too far to say that she definitely understood what was about to happen for Jesus' words are somewhat ambiguous (Mtw 26:13). But it's also the women who prepare ointments to honour Jesus in death when the 'super-spiritual' apostles have fled away (Mark 16:1).

Perhaps it's also significant that it's Pilate's wife who has the dream concerning Jesus and so warns her husband to have nothing to do with Him (Mtw 27:19) but, as she was most definitely not a believer, the application to a woman's rightful ministry in the Church is limited (in 'Jesus Christ Superstar', it's Pilate himself who has the dream - probably because the authors realised that an extra character would cost them additional money when they tried to put on a stage version in London's West End).

Finally, the women are specifically mentioned in Acts 1:14 as devoting themselves to prayer even though the 'other men' which were present go unmentioned, except for the observation after the women that Jesus' brothers were also there.

Even before the Holy Spirit was poured out upon His followers, then, women ministered to Jesus, had spiritual insight, were shown to be the more perceptive than the religious and, on occasions, were more devoted to Jesus than His male followers were. They were also an integral part in seeking the promise of the Holy Spirit until the day dawned when it was poured out upon them.

A woman's ministry in the early Church is also spoken of in a few places where we see plainly the importance with which they were regarded.

Firstly, we should note as of prime importance, the husband/wife team of Priscilla and Aquila where the first name is the wife. They're mentioned six times in the NT (Acts 18:2,18,26, Rom 16:2, I Cor 16:19, II Tim 4:19) and on four of these occasions it's the wife who's mentioned first. Rommor comments on this strange order that

'...some have deduced that she came from a higher social stratum and others that she was more able than her husband'

but there doesn't seem to be anything conclusive that can be gleaned from such an order. It might have simply been that Priscilla's place of pre-eminence was more a matter of the way the Greek ran than anything to do with the type of people they were - that is, even in the present day, we tend to put pairs of names together because they sound better one way than the other.

Paul speaks of them as 'fellow workers' (Rom 16:3) who 'risked their necks for my life' (Rom 16:4) and it demonstrates that women weren't expected to remain 'out of sight, out of mind' - they were on the front-line serving God alongside men. But it's their teaching of Apollos which is particularly significant (Acts 18:24-28) for it shows us that a woman was instrumental in teaching a male believer.

Apollos seems to have known about Jesus and was accurately teaching what he knew - he only seems to have known what Jesus had been declaring prior to His death because Luke records that the limits of his knowledge stopped at 'the baptism of John'. So, taking him aside, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26)

'...expounded to him the way of God more accurately'

We might insist that what Priscilla did here was only under the authority of her husband to which she was subject but it still demonstrates how a woman was used to correct a man and to teach him accurately the things about which he was ignorant. If Luke had believed that a woman wasn't allowed to teach a man, it seems peculiar that he should mention both together and not restrict his observations to the statement that it was Aquila who taught Apollos.

As it is in the text, we can't get away from the implication that Priscilla taught.

There are also other places where we see how women were used to work in promoting the Gospel on an equal standing with the apostles. Phil 4:2-3 has Paul mentioning two women by the names of Euodia and Syntyche and goes on to note that

'...they have laboured side by side with me in the Gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers...'

A 'Mary' (it could be just about anyone and shouldn't be taken to necessarily refer to one of the more 'famous' Mary's of the Gospels) is noted in Rom 16:6 as working hard amongst the local believers along with three other women listed in Rom 16:12, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis. Phoebe is described in Rom 16:1-2 as

'...a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae...'

a position which assumes that one has authority over male believers (see also I Tim 3:11 where Paul lays down the 'office' of the deaconess in the same letter where he seems to refuse to let women have authority over men) and is noted as having been

'...a helper of many and of myself as well'

It's fairly clear, therefore, that not only were women used as 'helpers' but that they were 'co-workers' as in the case of Euodia and Syntyche, a statement which should be given it's full weight. Paul isn't saying that these two women helped Paul get the Gospel out but that they stood with him and shared in the ministry that he had.

In Acts 21:9, Luke records for us the fact that Philip the evangelist had

'...four unmarried daughters who prophesied'

This isn't to say that they were regarded as 'prophetesses' but that they were being used by God in the area of the demonstration of spiritual gifts, listed by Paul in I Cor 12:4-11. It's not right, therefore, that such ministries should be thought of as being solely the domain of men as I Cor 11:5 would also infer. I Tim 5:14 notes that young widows should remarry rather than stay single and fall into condemnation, thereby bringing accusations against all the local fellowship.

There are two important points to note here for the apostle seems to define a wife's role as to 'rule their households', something which would possibly be attributable to a set up in a society where the man was the chief bread winner. Secondly, his suggestion that 'younger widows' should remarry seems to go against his clear instructions elsewhere that it's best to remain single (I Cor 7:8) if taken as an absolute command. But here we have another hint that Paul will modify his teaching when the local culture demands it or when other considerations dictate.

To the one he knows that marriage ties would be difficult because of the impending circumstances - to another that it gives a better opportunity to the Church to witness. This is quite an important point to grasp even though we might think it superfluous to our study, for one of the letters in which this is shown is the one which includes the passage which forbids a woman to have authority over or to teach a man.

Finally, one of the controversial verses needs to be briefly considered (Rom 16:7) where the RSV translates (and, in so doing, makes it sound as if two men are being referred to)

'Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me'

The name 'Junias' could be better rendered 'Junia' and so would refer to a female because there's no definite attestation to the name as a masculine label. Rombruce notes that, if masculine, 'Junias' would have to be taken as a shortened form of 'Junianus' but Rommur considers this 'unlikely'.

It's best to accept that the couple in question were husband and wife, but the implications for such an identification are further complicated by the following words which describe them, in the RSV, as being (my italics)

'...men of note among the apostles...'

but which is more literally rendered as

'...notable among the apostles...'

where sex isn't being declared. The verse could run that they were numbered among the apostles and thus conclusively state that there was a woman apostle who was well-known to Paul. Rommor notes that the identification of Junias as feminine seems to have been accepted by the 'patristic commentators' (that is, the very first commentators on the Greek text only a century or more after they were written) and notes another source which observes that they also universally accepted the second phrase as meaning that they were both distinguished as apostles and not just held in high regard by their number.

However, it must be stressed that the text is open to different interpretations so that the point cannot be proven - one's stance in other NT passages will determine how one interprets the passage here. As Rommor comments

'Some find an argument from [the identification of them both as apostles] that we should understand the second name as masculine, holding that a woman could not be an apostle'

but there's a total lack of clarity on this matter in the NT and we are unable to find a definitive statement that a wife - and, therefore, a woman - was debarred from such a function within the early Church. The likelihood seems to me to be that a female apostle is being identified, even though Rombruce is quick to play the identification down, seemingly because he realises the implications that it would convey and insists that they were apostles

'...in the wider, Pauline, sense of the word'

and that such apostleship was accepted

'...probably based on their having seen the risen Christ'

Be that as it may, there's no clear evidence that an apostle wasn't always an apostle and that one was given the label solely (or even partly) on the grounds of them having seen the resurrected Jesus. The title clearly means 'one sent out' and not 'one who has seen' so that it's calling and ministry which are naturally being referred to.

This has some implications for Eph 4:11 where we encounter the fivefold gift of Jesus to His Church of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. If we could accept that Junias was both female and an apostle, there would be no good reason why a woman couldn't be used as any of the other four gifts to the Church (that is, these are five gifts of people - they aren't people with gifts).

As far as I can tell, there are no women in the NT who are clearly labelled as being one of the other four but, if we were to think about how many men are classified as such, we could, perhaps, only think of one prophet (Agabus), one evangelist (Philip), no pastors and one teacher (Apollos) even though there are numerous men mentioned as apostles. Certainly, there are many believers who 'teach' or 'pastor' but that doesn't make them either pastors or teachers.

The paucity of detail in the NT, therefore, hints at an explanation which is neither in favour of nor against being able to identify these five gifts with women.

3. Observations about women

We'll look at the relationship between husbands and wives later (as a final outworking of the intended teaching of Col 3:18-19!) but it seems sensible to mention just two passages in passing which can refer to woman in general before moving on to think about the difficult and controversial passages which deal with a woman's ministry, function and position within the Church.

Firstly, I Peter 3:7 notes that the woman is the 'weaker sex' and that husbands are expected to take this into consideration in their dealings with them. If this is an absolute statement (that is, that women in general are to be considered weaker than men and that they don't suddenly become weaker than the husband upon marriage) then we need to think briefly about the parameters which need to be cast around it.

Certainly, women are weaker when it comes to physical strength - in general. There are a number of women who I wouldn't like to meet in a boxing ring and I can vouch for many who are much stronger through body-building than their male counterparts - would any man really be happy to encounter the type of woman portrayed by Sally in 'Third Rock from the Sun'?

But the society into which this word was directed saw that women were physically weaker. So, says Peter, the husband shouldn't use his strength to overcome his wife.

In marriage, also, the woman is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to authority - if a woman is living in accordance with the rule imposed upon her through the Fall (Gen 3:16) and affirmed as equally applicable in the new (see below). The husband mustn't use that authority to put down his wife but to 'bestow honour' where his authority becomes the sphere in which she can also operate, realising that they stand as

'...joint heirs of the grace of life'

A husband's authority over his wife (and not over anybody's wife!) is meant to protect and edify so that, when the two are in disagreement over a course of action, the authority has been given to the husband for him to carefully consider which option to go with. It isn't inevitable that his will is what's done because his authority is there to enable him to have the casting vote to uphold and sustain the relationship.

In every occasion where a husband is stronger than his wife (whether physically, emotionally - the list can be as long as the situation dictates), he's called to be careful to bestow honour on his wife by not using his strength as a means towards his own ends.

We need to apply this also to relationships between men and women within the Church where men have authority over others through their calling or position. Authority imparted by God isn't given so that an individual can get his will done at all times - but that the weak might be protected and honoured (II Cor 10:8).

A strong leadership is one that will accept the words from those under them and use their own authority to establish another's ideas at the expense of their own. A weak leadership is one that is forever seeking to impose its own will on the congregation that sits under them.

In Titus 2:3-5, we also read of the behaviour which is laid upon women as is fitting for believers. The implication seems to be that the married are in mind predominantly for the older women are instructed to teach the younger in matters pertaining to submission towards their husbands - but the other matters equally well apply to women in general and should be read as such.

The important point for us to note here, though, is the function of the 'older women' to teach the 'younger women', something which shows that a woman is expected to have authority over those of her own sex to teach and direct them in the right way of service before Jesus Christ.

4. The difficult passages

There's really only one passage which has caused great difficulties in the Church and which can be used to point towards a few others which seem to echo the problems there stated. I Tim 2:8-15, at face value, seems to undermine some of what's gone before on this web page by insisting on behaviour from women which is normally glossed over.

Part of the problem has been cultural - that is, in today's western societies where the emancipation of women has grown into a movement that goes beyond the realms of equality, any statements that women should be under the authority of men is immediately shunned whether they be Biblical concepts or statements from men in general.

But part of the problem on the obverse is that statements made by Paul are taken apart from the overall context of the Scriptures as a whole and made to stand as definitive and categorical statements that aren't balanced by others which demand to stand alongside them at the least, or to redefine the parameters about which the regulations are concerned.

To begin with, we should take time to read the passage in its entirety and I here reproduce the text from the RSV. Whether it misrepresents the Greek text is unimportant at this point for the main 'problems' are the same in most major versions.

'I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty'

There are three main areas of contention which need addressing:

1. The expectation that women are to keep silent
2. The command that no woman is to have authority over or to teach men
3. The idea that a woman is saved through giving birth to children

We should first note that the passage seems to have to do with meetings and not general day-to-day living. The opening description that men should pray 'in every place' seems to necessarily bleed over into the observations and commands surrounding women. There may be an element of importance in the words which can be applied to the life of women outside the times when the Church comes together but the context of a gathering together seems uppermost in Paul's mind.

But we need to return to these three specific difficulties and address them individually to understand how they need to be explained in the general context of the NT.

a. Silence
I Tim 2:11-12

We could possibly justify an exposition of the command to silence in I Tim 2:12 as being a statement by Paul to the effect that they were to desist from teaching when the fellowship came together and, therefore, the insistence on 'silence' was more in keeping with a refraining from the ministry being stated. But the previous verse doesn't seem to demand such a context and Paul states unambiguously that a woman should

'...learn in silence with all submissiveness'

something that I can just sense is beginning to raise the temperature of all those women who are reading it! This isn't the only place where he makes such a statement, however, and we find a direct parallel in I Cor 14:33-34 where the RSV's rendering of the phrase shows the all-inclusiveness of the application. It runs

'...As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says'

Just what 'law' Paul thought he was referring to is something about which it's not easy to be certain. There's certainly no command of God through the Mosaic Law that insists that women should keep silence when the congregation of Israel came together to serve and minister to God and the example of Deborah's prayer (Judges chapter 5) shows us that silence in praise to God was not the 'order of the day'.

Corfee cites a statement by Josephus (which I'm unable to find) which says almost the same thing as the apostle here states though he uses his citation of 'the Law' to insist on a woman's inferiority 'in all things' (what? Even childbirth?!) so it may be a more general understanding which came about through a consideration of the Law as a whole which is meant. Even so, such a position doesn't appear to be something which Paul would have declared and we're forced to try and find some context in which his words might be explained - something which, at the present time, it appears to be impossible to do.

The indication that his words aren't to be taken as absolutes comes by recourse to I Cor 11:2-16 which, just to point out, occurs in the very same letter. This passage is another of those controversial portions of Scripture that some take literally and others culturally but, for our purposes here, it doesn't matter which way we interpret it, for Paul announces that

'...any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head...is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?...If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognise no other practice, nor do the churches of God'

You may be wondering just what relevance such a Scripture has to bear on the command for a woman to be silent but we have to ask ourselves that, if women are expected to keep silence when the church meets together, how could they ever be expected to either pray or prophesy? Both these actions are demonstrably verbal pronouncements that others around them are capable of hearing and, specifically, prophecy is of no use to the fellowship if it's never heard to be weighed and judged (I Cor 14:29). Besides, Paul also notes (I Cor 14:31) that

'...you can all prophesy one by one...'

where women don't seem to be excluded from the statement.

'Silence', then, must be given parameters to define its application, for women are most definitely expected to take part verbally in gatherings of the local fellowship. Perhaps the explanation for silence is hinted at in I Cor 14:35 where, referring to the need for women to keep silent, the apostle continues with his explanation that

'If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church'

It seems best to understand the call to silence to be a plea for there not to be disorder and chaos in the meeting (I Cor 14:33) so that a scenario in which the command could fit would be one where the wives were interrupting the flow of the meeting and the proclamation of the teaching by voicing their questions openly. One might also, perhaps, apply the same criteria to some charismatics' insistence to allow children to scream and bawl in meetings when teaching is being delivered to the gathering of believers (it's a sore point with me, of course, as you can tell!).

Taking such an interpretation and applying it to Paul's instructions to Timothy also make sense in I Tim 2:11 even though there's no direct context which would either prove or refute such an interpretation. Timguth offers the explanation that the instructions may have been

'...designed to curb the tendencies of newly emancipated christian women to abuse their new-found freedom by indecorously lording it over men. Such excesses would bring disrepute on the whole community...and called for firm handling'

If this was the case - and it's as good an explanation as any other - the considerations being expounded are purely cultural and meant to protect the believers from accusations directed at it from the non-believers.

Whatever Paul's precise reason for such a statement, it's possible that such a command wasn't meant to be absolutely applied to every situation when the church met together but was given that there might be order in the meetings.

Excursus - I Corinthians 14:33b-35

Because I Cor 14:33b-35 raises some problems of interpretation, this short discussion has been added so as not to pull away from the development of the argument concerning the silence of women within a Church meeting. This section can be skipped without any loss of the treatment of I Tim 2:8-15.

So peculiar does this passage appear that Corfee comes to the conclusion that, if we were to apply principles of probability as to whether these two and a half verses were original, then we would have to conclude that the likelihood is that they were added at a later date and that they didn't originate with Paul.

I shan't go in to the reasoning behind such a conclusion - the reader can avail himself of Corfee's commentary at this point and read the comprehensive article for themselves - but, it has to be said, that the argument is incredibly persuasive.

Corfee (my italics) concludes that

'...the case against these verses is so strong, and finding a viable solution to their meaning so difficult, that it seems best to view them as an interpolation. If so, then one must assume that the words were first written as a gloss in the margin by someone who, probably in the light of I Tim 2:9-15, felt the need to qualify Paul's instructions even further [concerning prophecy and speaking in tongues]. Since the phenomenon of glosses making their way into the Biblical text is so well documented elsewhere in the NT (eg John 5:3b-4, John 5:7), there is no good historical reason to reject the possibility here'

After considering the exposition of the text, he goes on to conclude similarly that

'...in keeping with the textual questions, the exegesis of the text itself leads to the conclusion that it is not authentic. If so, then it is certainly not binding for Christians'

This would, in my opinion, be quite a satisfactory conclusion if it wasn't for the fact that these verses are included in all the manuscripts that have come down to us. But, as Corfee comments, an assumption has to be made that, because the verses occur

'...in all extant witnesses [it] only means that the double interpolation had taken place before the time of our present textual tradition, and [it] could easily have happened before the turn of the first century'

The problematical admission is that there isn't even one ancient document containing I Corinthians that have these verses missing that would require us to apply the principles of authenticity that Corfee began with. For that reason alone, we daren't refuse to accept the place of the verses in the canon yet, at the same time, one wonders how and why the subject matter so cuts against the flow of Paul's argument that they could be easily eliminated to the readers' advantage.

Besides, if we lay doubt as to their Pauline authorship, we throw the door wide open to take hold of any other passage that doesn't seem right to us and remove it as being unauthoritative - and that is the most worrying consequence of the conclusion.

Being forced, therefore, into accepting the verses, we should, perhaps, simply raise the unanswered questions here and move on - while I Tim 2:11-12 is answered by the subsequent words (even though nothing precedes it that would warrant the verse to be taken as a conclusion), I Cor 14:33b-35 has no context that can be used to interpret (unless we take the immediately preceding words - concerning the need for people to control their utterances and the way meetings were becoming chaotic - to be a fitting backdrop).

I Cor 14:33b-35, then, reads

'As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church'

We have already asked above how it could be possible that a woman could pray or prophesy and yet keep silent at the same time - perhaps further we should ask why it's shameful for a woman to speak within a meeting of the Church as this passage notes at its conclusion.

We have also noted that the Mosaic 'law' says nothing about a woman's silence and subordination and it's difficult to imagine any body of literature that Paul would have been referring to that he would have considered authoritative and binding upon the believer that wasn't OT Scripture.

To these, we should also ask who or what the women are supposed to be subordinate to. The reader normally assumes that their subordination must be to the men of the fellowship but the context doesn't make that plain and we would do better if we thought carefully about whether that is the force of Paul's words rather than to jump in and assume them to be.

Having asked the questions, the answers are by no means easy to find and, to this end, the treatment above of the passage as a whole is a preliminary attempt at an explanation. It's far from perfect, however, and, at the present time, a perfectly satisfactory exposition of these two and a half verses can't be arrived at (that is, an interpretation that I'm happy with as being the correct!).

b. Teach/authority
I Tim 2:12

As I said above, the idea of a woman keeping silence in I Tim 2:12 is more easily taken to mean that the woman is to desist from having authority over or teaching a man or men and I've dealt with this idea of 'silence' in the previous section. Paul may well have been insisting on a literal silence in the context of the power-struggles which could have ensued between the men and women within the fellowship and, indeed, where a woman was attempting to carry out both these aspects, the only way to prevent them would be for them to remain silent and to learn 'with all submissiveness'.

But, as we saw above, silence was never intended to be the order of the day for women and it's only being enjoined when there's a major problem in the fellowship which is seeking to destroy good order and common sense.

Paul begins with a prohibition on teaching, something which, if taken literally and without definition, can be seen to plainly contradict other places in the NT. One only has to consider the ministry of Priscilla (wife) and Aquila (husband) and how they taught Apollos (Acts 18:1-4,24-28) to see that there's a clear precedent for a woman to correct a man who's wrong and to train him up to full knowledge.

Similarly, in Rom 16:7 we saw the mention of Junias (probably the wife of Andronicus) who was regarded as an apostle - with all that that ministry would have entailed as it was being fulfilled - and Phil 4:2-3 where Paul mentions the women Euodia and Syntyche and observes how they had

'...laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers...'

It wasn't just that they'd supported the work through menial pursuits such as cooking or through the donation of monetary gifts, but that they'd been there with Paul ministering the Gospel alongside him - a situation that would have required them to teach both men and women the truth of the Gospel.

So, although it's clear that women would have taught men - and specifically that Priscilla did - Paul seems to be saying that women mustn't do such a thing. An explanation of why he should command this in fairly strong language must wait until we consider his second prohibition concerning authority for an exposition of his reasons apply equally well to both, but are more easily discerned in the latter.

The second perplexing command is, perhaps, even more puzzling in the RSV's translation of the verse for the English reads Paul as saying that he permits no woman to have authority over men, something that is clearly unfounded in our original discussions concerning the Creation and Fall. It also flies in the face of a great many fellowships who have women pastors and whose leaders haven't adequately come to terms with the meaning of this passage in I Timothy.

Even more so are the words strange when we think about the position of deaconesses in the local fellowship who necessarily must be exercising authority over those men who are neither elders nor equal to them as deacons. Rom 16:1-2 mentions Phoebe as being

'...a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae'

but the more surprising of passages occurs in the same letter as his ban on women in authority in I Tim 3:11. He begins by observing the function of a male deacon in I Tim 3:8 and then observes that

'The women [not 'their wives'] likewise must be serious, no slanderers but temperate, faithful in all things'

Clearly, if we're to accept the translation at face value, the apostle is seen to forbid female leadership in one breath and then establish the conditions for it to take place with another. The problem that we have, though, is one of translation for the word rendered 'to have authority' is one that occurs only once throughout the NT (Strongs Greek number 831) and is one which isn't formed as a compound from the regular word for 'authority'.

Rather, the AV is more in keeping with the meaning by rendering it 'to usurp authority'. Vines defines the word as meaning

'to exercise authority on one's own account, to domineer over'

and goes on to observe that in later usage

'...it came to denote one who acts on his own authority...'

What Paul is saying, then, is not that a woman shouldn't be placed in a position of authority over men but that she mustn't take it upon herself to position herself in a place where she's over men and exercising her own authority over them. Timguth observes that the context of public meetings causes us to interpret Paul as meaning that

'...christian women must refrain from laying down the law to men and hence are enjoined to silence'

while Timhen summates the command as being that woman

'...must not assume the role of a master'

where self-determination is the sin and not the position of authority. Of course, it's just as much a problem that men don't put themselves over the established authorities of God within the local church and so try to gain for themselves authority over people and situations that they have no right to have.

We saw above in I Peter 3:7 that husbands were instructed not to use their natural power to overcome the weaknesses in their wives and a passage such as this could also be employed to warn husbands - and all in leadership - not to exercise their authority to put down those under them simply because they can. Equality of instruction concerning those who are both in authority and under authority is being evidenced in the NT record, even though Paul's concerned only with the latter in this passage.

I should also note, however, that 'usurping authority' is very often the label that leadership puts upon anyone who moves with God's authority when they don't want to do God's will themselves and it must be applied very carefully. We may have had more people able to be used in the Church if we hadn't put the ones down who God was raising up - we might have had more fellowships open, too.

It's quite possible that Paul specifically has in mind husband-wife relationships where the wife is still to be subject to the husband as a result of the Fall (Gen 3:16 - and which we'll see is still in effect in the NT in our discussions below) so that domineering partners are being reminded that they must look to their partner's authority as ruling over them. But, as Timguth observes, the entire section is one which needs the context of a public meeting to give it sense and we shouldn't tie down the interpretation and application to a relationship which isn't obviously being referred to.

Paul's reasoning for his statements is an appeal back to the original Creation (I Tim 2:13-14) something which we've already dealt with above. He argues that the creation of Adam first is tangible proof that a woman is not meant to usurp a man's authority and not as we so often understand it to mean that man is meant to be considered as being in authority over woman (perhaps - Paul doesn't say it as explicitly as one would have liked).

His second thought that the first sin against God was the responsibility of the woman, Eve, is also used in his appeal to show why women mustn't take authority upon themselves over and above that which is being exercised by men (this second observation is the reason why present day husband-wife relationships have the man over the woman, but the application to all man-woman relationships doesn't seem retrievable from the first three chapters of the Bible).

His argument runs along two lines. Firstly, Eve was created second and, naturally speaking, it placed her into a position which could be assumed to be at best co-equal with man rather than the one who should stand in front and expect to be followed. But this seems not to be used to insist that a man has authority over woman in the initial Creation.

Rather, it's the basis for his second argument in which he notes that it was when Eve assumed the authority for self-determination that she was deceived by the serpent. The apostle isn't going so far as to say that Eve usurped Adam's authority in the Garden but is appealing to the order of having been created to point out that Eve should have checked out her intended action by recourse to the one created first and who'd told her about the prohibition before she took it upon herself to assume authority and to respond in a manner which overturned the accepted order.

When we bring the idea of 'teaching' to bear on his explanation, we can equally see that Eve taught her husband to sin through her declaration of the wisdom of transgressing God's clear commands and Paul's prohibition to teach seems also to be tied up with self-elevation over and above the authority placed within the fellowship.

The apostle isn't, then, giving a blanket refusal to allow women to teach men but a warning that assuming such a position should be forbidden. His point is one of usurpation and not a refutation that the divine anointing can rest upon a woman for her to have either authority or to teach. In this way, Paul's argument is seen both to appeal to Scripture and to safeguard any power-struggles which might take place within the local fellowship.

A need for such a definitive statement may well have come out of the message of the Gospel which had put both men and women on an equal footing in Christ (Gal 3:28) for what was the basis of the emancipation of women could very quickly have been turned into the domination of women where it was equality that had been established.

There are a few other points that need to be considered here before we move on. The pronouncement that

'...Adam was not deceived'

can only be understood as saying that Adam wasn't deceived by the serpent for he most certainly didn't sin through ignorance. The idea that Adam was persuaded by Eve (as Timguth) rather than deceived is surely a watering down of the Scriptural account of the actual event. If anything, we might have said that Adam was more culpable than Eve because He was likely to have heard God's command directly (Gen 2:16-17) whereas Eve would have had the command repeated to her via Adam's memory.

Paul's appeal to the Scriptural account is more to give a principle to support his teaching than it's meant to be used as a defining example of man-woman relationships in general. He seems to do the same in another difficult passage in I Cor 11:2-16 (esp v.7-9) where his insistence that man is the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man could be taken to pull away from the clear statements in Gen 1:27 - just because he omits the statement that woman is the 'image of God'.

Actually, his explanation stated in I Cor 11:8-9 is to show that woman is the 'glory of man' (as Corfee observes) and it isn't meant to be a justification for seeing women as under the authority of men (which isn't stated in this passage anyhow. I Cor 11:3 sees Paul beginning his teaching with the relationship of a wife to the authority of her husband and not to man in general). If he'd included the word 'image' in his description of the woman as he does when mentioning the man, it would have read that woman was the image of man, a statement which would have contradicted the Creation story and shown that woman was a reflection of man and, therefore, subservient to him.

Paul can also use the same passage of Scripture to speak into different situations and to proclaim different truths. For example, in Rom 5:12-14, he doesn't state that sin came into the world through Eve as his appeal could be interpreted as insisting here but that

'...sin came into the world through one man and death through sin...'

and that (my italics)

'...death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam...'

We might think that the apostle contradicts himself at every turn just to make a point - but it appears that an appeal to Scripture and Scriptural principles can be as diverse as needed in order that the full range of teaching is brought to bear in different situations.

c. Saved
I Tim 2:15

This verse is extremely puzzling - if you thought the last two 'problems' were impossible, this one seems to defy even rational explanations. Paul concludes his thoughts about women and their usurping of authority with a statement that appears to be wholly separated from his main argument. He notes that (my italics)

'...woman will be saved through bearing children if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty'

The italicised words can be quickly dealt with for they're simply affirming the need for a continuation in following Jesus Christ. The apostle has already referred to 'modesty' at the opening of the passage (I Tim 2:9) and the threefold 'faith and love and holiness' are only expressions of the new nature which are enjoined upon all believers. There's nothing unusual or unexpected in these words, therefore, but that's hardly something that can be said of the first phrase.

Paul seems to say that a woman can only be saved from the coming wrath of judgment which is to be poured out on the world by having kids. That is, salvation now becomes based upon the production of children (works) and not on the reception of the message of the Gospel and the creation of the new man by God within the individual.

That this is an incorrect analysis of the words is plainly seen from other NT Scriptures too numerous to mention here - besides, the 'salvation' being attained seems to be more rightly concerned not just with the birth of offspring but with their upbringing and the continued production of them. We might say, perhaps crudely, that a woman who has four children is more saved than her who has three!

So, we can safely discard this interpretation as being incorrect.

But the alternatives proposed by various scholars are far from convincing and I shan't take much time to deal with them here. Timguth notes Moffatt who understood the phrase to mean that a woman would get through childbirth safely - but one only has to think about some of the godly women who didn't make it through childbirth to realise that, if this was what Paul meant, he was somewhat deceived.

Also noted is the interpretation that sees the sentence better translated as

'...woman will be saved through the birth of the Child...'

where the last phrase is taken as a reference to Jesus being born. The only problem, of course, is that no one is saved by Jesus' birth (unless you take the more extreme view with regard to Christmas)! Besides, Timguth notes that

'The Greek article is generic describing the whole process of child-bearing rather than definitive of one particular instance'

Timguth also notes the possibility presented by Scott but, if I'm honest, I have to say that I don't really follow the argument and it seems more contrived than certain. The commentator also notes that it has to force an unnatural interpretation upon one of the Greek prepositions.

Timhen is rather difficult to follow and seems drawn to insist that Paul is thinking of Gen 3:16 (which only rightfully applies to husband-wife relationships) and that the submission of woman mentioned in I Tim 2:11 is now being paralleled with the other curse of pain in child-bearing. He even goes on to speak of a mother's delight in seeing the image of Jesus in their own offspring and the 'joys of christian motherhood' working towards her salvation. It's certainly a nice try to make the Scripture fit but Paul isn't intent on motherhood and of seeing God's image in one's own kids - rather, he's speaking about a woman's salvation by giving birth to children or, perhaps better, by 'bearing' them.

It seems to me that every interpretation that I've ever come across suffers from one major flaw - that is, the phrase 'will be saved' is interpreted as having to refer to salvation in Christ which we know only comes by faith. Before any attempt should be made at an interpretation, one should ask the question

'What is woman being saved from?'

seeing as it's woman who's being referred to and not a wife. If Paul doesn't describe what the salvation is from, then surely it must refer to what's already preceded it because it's being written in that context. If Paul were to suddenly drop a totally unrelated teaching into his letter, we should expect him to explain what he meant - but, if the problem has already been stated from which a woman needs to be saved, it should more naturally be taken to refer to what he's saying.

And, of course, Paul has already mentioned the problem of the usurpation of authority which a woman was not permitted to exercise (and, I repeat, neither is a man expected to undermine the authority that God has placed in His Church) so that we should read the verse as saying

'...woman will be saved from taking upon herself authority over divinely appointed men through bearing children - if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty'

In other words, deliverance from authoritarian attitudes comes through a submission to the man to bear his children - where, I must point out quickly, we're looking at the woman being a wife of one man and not of having children by all the men that she's trying to undermine!

So, the woman who would undermine authority is the one who supports the offspring of the sex that she's trying to rule over. This isn't meant to say that all women are being commanded by Paul to have children that they might be safeguarded from usurping authority but that a woman who has that problem should be content for equality with man in Christ. Therefore Paul notes a man and woman's interdependence in I Cor 11:11-12 when he writes (my italics) that

'...in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God'

and bearing man's children is a practical solution to the problem. The final four characteristics are then seen to be other safeguards not only to the woman's life in Christ but to the danger of a return to the establishing of their own authority in the Church.

Wives and husbands
Col 3:18-19

Finally, we arrive at the reason for this web page - Col 3:18-19! But we'll only be dealing with it fairly briefly because what's preceded this section has firmly laid a foundation for us to understand both husband-wife and man-woman relationships in the NT Church.

There are a few passages of contrast which should be noted from the outset (Eph 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19, I Peter 3:1-7). It appears that relationships between husbands and wives were a point of particular concern which needed to be defined and explained as it was to be lived out in Christ and there are many other places where widows and singles are also mentioned in passing.

The definitive passage on the mechanical continuance and beginning of marital relationships is I Corinthians chapter 7 but we should note that different instructions were able to be given to different fellowships. For example, I Cor 7:8 has Paul instructing both the unmarried and the widows

'...to remain single as I do'

but, in I Tim 5:14, he bids

'...younger widows marry'

for reasons wholly different to the former passage. It's clear, then, that although the entering into of marriage shouldn't be taken lightly - and certainly not begun where only one side is a believer (II Cor 6:14-16) - there's more than one consideration which needs to be assessed before such a relationship is begun.

In the NT, the subjection of a wife to her husband is equally upheld as it is in the old and the curse of the Fall (Gen 3:16) is seen as being still in force for the present (I Cor 11:3, Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, I Peter 3:1). Nevertheless, a wife is at the same time in subjection to her husband as she is equal in standing with him in Christ and, even more to the point, a wife is not meant to be in subjection to any other man apart from her husband.

Therefore, Paul is quick to note in I Cor 11:3 that

'...the head of a woman is her husband...'

where he's careful not to insist that the head of a woman is man. It's out of this context, therefore, that a veil or head covering is observed as being necessary so that there might be an outward demonstration of the relationship. I can't help but interpret Paul's words here as cultural considerations for the fellowship at Corinth about which we know very little - the apostle's instructions in I Cor 11:16, however, seem to indicate that they were the norm in all churches of God, but this could mean those in the location of Corinth, those which were predominantly Greek or even be as broad as the universal Church.

There are some women, of course, who feel that there's a need to observe such regulations in the present day Church and there shouldn't be any restrictions placed upon them not to do as they believe in this matter - but neither should there be a compulsion placed upon others to observe the rite. And we must never insist that a head covering is a requirement of salvation for then we would be straying into salvation 'by works'.

Above all this, no unmarried woman or widow should ever put a covering on their head because they're not under the authority of a husband and to do so would be to express something which wasn't a reality.

In Col 3:18, Paul speaks about the wife's subjection as being

'...fitting in the Lord'

and so upholds submission very simply without feeling the need to underpin it by recourse to the curse of the Fall. In Eph 5:24, this submission is expected to be 'in everything' even though we would, of course, exclude immoral or unrighteous expectations from the command. We should also note Eph 5:21 (my italics) which precedes his commands there in which he comments that believers are to

'Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ'

and our previous observations in I Peter 3:7 above which speaks about the weaker sex in marriage and infers that the husband isn't meant to use his superior physical strength or his position of authority in exploitation (we also saw how it applied to all dealings of men with women wherever a strength is contrasted against a weakness in two individuals).

A marriage, then, needs mutual submission to exist where, although the husband has the casting vote when disagreement ensues, it's not another way of saying that he gets his will done. Rather, he must consider wisely the alternatives and choose a path that's perceived to be the best for the marriage and the advance of the Kingdom. For example, if the man feels that the time is coming when they should move on into another district and the wife independently and unknowing her husband's thoughts should feel that she has a direct instruction from God that they're to stay put, which man is going to go with his own will in the matter?

There may need to be a seeking of God as to which is the correct path to choose but it's only the husband who's unwilling to listen who'll always choose his own way - and, in that case, his relationship with God will be as less of a servant of Jesus and more arranged as if he's trying to be His master.

So Paul goes on to urge the husbands in Col 3:19 to

'...love your wives, and do not be harsh with them'

even though, of course, husbands have the natural power to do so (I Peter 5:7). In Eph 5:25, Paul rephrases the command to husbands and expects them to

'...love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her...'

where it's impossible not to expect mutual submission to take place. To love is to put the other first and the submission of the wife to her husband is the ground for the husband being free and willing to lay his own desires and will down for the sake of his partner. The example in the passage is Christ who did the same thing that we might be reconciled to God.

His concluding words summarise the interrelation between husbands and wives when he writes (Eph 5:33) that

'...each one of you [husbands should] love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband'

The simplicity of the command is almost profound but, through cultural expectations, the Church often fails to display what a perfect marriage is all about. Paul does nothing short of upholding the curse of the Fall but he goes much further in his expectation on the husband by insisting that, although the wife is subject, it gives the husband no grounds for dominance or harsh treatment.

Subjection is enough of a curse that the husband must take it upon himself to demonstrate God's love towards his wife even to the point of accepting her as a fellow heir in Christ, of equal standing with him in the Kingdom and, therefore, of being serious in his acceptance of the way God might move through her.

Appendix 1 - Genesis 3:16

Following a reading we had at a local House Group, I decided that I needed to try and decide on the correct reading of Gen 3:16 - specifically, one half of a verse that had most of us in the room laughing with mirth, the men saying 'Well, isn't that just the way with women!' and the women saying 'It doesn't say that, surely?!'

Even though some translations can 'get our backs up' or be so different from what we've been used to expecting in the verse, they shouldn't be dismissed without question. If someone has for the first time pulled away from the traditional translation and represented the original words in a much truer sense, then we need to accept it and try to understand what it is that God meant by it.

So, these notes were put together to deal with the translation - and, eventually, to provide a 'whole' explanation of Gen 3:16 rather than for one phrase to be concentrated on to the detriment of others.

As I commented above that Gen 3:16 had to do with a woman's protection, it's necessary that I provide these notes to explain that conclusion as it's neither obvious from a quick reading of the verse, nor was it right to include this exposition there when my objective was simply to show that men and women remain co-equal even after the Fall.

Introduction

In Gen 3:16 of the RSV, we read the command of God to Eve that

'...your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you...'

and the traditional view (because of the translation) has been that God removed the co-sovereignty of the wife given to her in Creation (and not the co-sovereignty of the woman, please note - God's words have to do with marriage relationships) so that her husband would be given the rule over her while she would have a desire to stay with and remain united to her husband.

The belief that Gen 3:16 (my italics) should be rendered along the lines of

'...your desire shall be to rule over [or overcome] your husband...'

comes from an article by Susan Foh in 1975 ('What Is The Woman's Desire?', Westminster Theological Journal, 37:3). Finding a copy of that article has proved somewhat elusive but in a few articles dealing with this verse, there's a quote from the paper that's fairly illuminative.

I'll reproduce this below but, for the moment, we need to note simply that the reason why Gen 3:16 is taken to be saying that the wife will try and overcome the husband (or, better, the husband's authority) is because of the word that's employed for 'desire' in that place.

In this case, the imposition of the desire for mastery is a judgment placed upon the wife (or, the woman when married) - a judgment that appears to be more severe than the traditional view that it was a desire to remain joined to her husband.

It certainly can't be a judgment placed upon the husband because the wife is being addressed, but the underlying meaning does seem to convey this - it should be noted from the outset, then, that if the translation that sees the wife trying to overcome her husband is accepted, it mustn't be thought of as a judgment upon the husband but upon the wife.

Desire

The Hebrew word translated 'desire' in Gen 3:16 occurs only three times in Scripture and its next occurrence in Gen 4:7 is what's used to give 3:16 this meaning. Cain is told that sin is at the door and it's desire is for him. The word is taken there to imply dominion and mastery (certainly, the context gives it that sense as it's hard to see how it could be construed to be positive) and then it's brought back into the Gen 3:16 passage.

The possible 'fly in the ointment' is SofS 7:10 (my italics) which says

'I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me'

where the idea of dominance and rule simply cannot be in the verse (unless it's thought that the beloved was wanting to overcome his lover?!). However, it could be argued that this is a late occurrence of the word and that, because Genesis Chapter 3 was probably written at the same time as Chapter 4, the two words should bear the same meaning back there.

Personally, I think that Gen 4:7 is given meaning by the context in which it's used - the same as SofS 7:10. That is, we understand about romantic desire in that place because of the way it's employed and we understand about dominance and mastery in Gen 4:7 because of the context (although, it has to be said, that Gen 4:7 only speaks, as it stands as an individual phrase, about a desire to have - and not a desire to have and for there to be a reason for the desire).

How you could determine the context of Gen 3:16 to see either romantic desire (SofS 7:10) or dominance (Gen 4:7) - both of which are possible (but some other underlying inference may be intended) - is not obvious to me.

In I Tim 2:12 (the passage that supposedly says that a woman is not to have authority over a man - it isn't dealing with wives and husbands as Gen 3:16 is), the Greek word used for 'having authority' actually gives us the meaning that the woman is not to usurp authority over the man within the Church (and that's something different entirely - we could equally say that man shouldn't do the same to the woman because both actions are incorrect).

But Paul's explanation of the situation in the subsequent verses makes no mention of the judgment of the Fall where a wife tries to subjugate her husband and that, in Christ, this desire is crucified, new life by the HS being given to master the desire. He also never says that the woman was subjected to the man, either, although the two verses dealing with Adam and Eve (I Tim 2:13-14) are often used to say such a thing.

For me, that's the best indication that reading the meaning of Gen 4:7 back into Gen 3:16 is incorrect. It should, rather, stand as it is in most modern translations that a wife's desire would be for her husband (without an explanation of that desire being added) but that the husband was given rule (not dominance, please note) over her (this has everything to do with wife/husband relationships and nothing about man/woman ones, by the way).

One final consideration on whether this interpretation is correct has to be what was originally created before the Fall. If Gen 3:16 really does say that the wife will try and overcome the husband (that is, the husband's authority) there becomes the inference that the husband (not the man, please note) was given authority over his wife as part of the original created order - and that's very difficult to prove. In fact, it seems to be clearly against the Scriptural record.

The quote from Susan Foh's original paper (the author's italics, not mine) that I noted above reads that

'Sin's desire for Cain was one of possession or control. The desire was such that Cain should master it, wrestle with it and conquer it; it required an active struggle. . . . [In Gen. 3:16] there is a struggle . . . between the one who has the desire (wife) and the one who must/should rule or master (husband). . . . After the fall, the husband no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. The woman's desire is to control her husband . . . and he must master her, if he can. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. And so, the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny, domination, and manipulation'

Notice, then, that Foh assumes that there was 'willing submission' of the wife towards her husband when the first marriage took place, that the husband must now 'fight for his headship', something that goes unrecorded in the Scriptures.

Rather, mankind was created male and female, both representations of God in their own right and not dependent on a unity with the other to display God's character perfectly (Gen 1:27). And, when the writer comments on the first marriage at the end of Chapter 2, he makes no mention of the wife being placed under the husband's authority - rather, they become one and appear to retain their joint sovereignty over Creation.

The desire for the husband being imposed upon the wife is a much more likely scenario as to what keeps a marriage together when the husband now has the rule over the wife because of the Fall.

Gen 3:16 could be construed, however, to be saying that the wife would attempt to usurp the co-rulership of Creation (although, Foh's quote above seems to deny this) because of the way in which she subverted her husband to eat something that he knew was against the command of God - in other words, she gets a permanent characteristic through what she did on a single occasion - and, therefore, the rule of the husband over the wife (and not the rule of men over women!) was imposed upon all wives because of that action.

Conclusion
(and explanation of the entire verse)

When all's said and done, the translation/paraphrase that was read out is certainly possible but, in my opinion, unlikely.

It seems best to understand that part of Gen 3:16 to be saying that the husband was given authority in any future marriage relationships and, because of this loss of co-sovereignty, the wife would have a desire for her husband that would tend to keep the partnership together.

And, more so, that even the extreme pain in childbirth (the judgment of the first part of the verse) that would be now increased and that could pull a wife away from her husband would be overcome because of the desire to remain united to him.

This seems the best way to interpret the verse. The problem with Foh's interpretation is that it takes a part of a verse and interprets out of context. The second half is seen to almost stand alone and have no connection with what precedes it. But its unity must be maintained - the RSV goes some way to bring the verse into a single unit when it uses the word 'yet' between the two halves. So, the verse (my italics) runs

'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you'

The 'curse' or, better, the judgment on sin (as the word 'curse' is only used in connection with the soil and the snake) is then seen to be the greatly increased pain in childbirth that, although naturally providing some revulsion to a continued marital relationship, is balanced by a desire of the wife for her husband.

The statement that the husband is to rule over the wife is not strictly speaking a judgment but stands as a balance - in fact, because of the nature of the sin committed, that the husband now has sole rule in the marriage rather than the previous co-sovereignty is more akin to a protection being laid upon the wife that what she may decide to do would not negatively influence the marriage partnership.

This comes across quite strongly in the Law in one specific place. Both men and women were allowed to take upon themselves the Vow of the Nazirite in the Law (Num 6:2) but, even so, specific statutes were given elsewhere to underpin the vow that a woman might make.

Num 30:6-9 comments that a husband could annul the vow of his wife because she was under his authority and Num 30:1-5 observes that a father could also annul his daughter's vow because she was under his protection until she was married (she appears to have been treated as a minor until the day of her marriage).

The passage does note, however, that a widow's vow must stand, the reason being that she has no greater authority which can overrule her. This is an important point which should be given its full weight. It appears that a woman was expected to be under the authority of men from the time of her birth until the day of her death - that is, she was a child in the father's house and had to respect and honour her parents in all matters (as the sons also were expected to do) until the time of her marriage when her husband would then have the rule over her.

She went from being a minor to a wife - when she became a widow, she was independent of protective male authority.

If there had ever been a woman who hadn't married and who had somehow moved away from the family household to live independently (though culturally this wasn't what happened because women weren't accepted as being able to support themselves except through such shameful professions as prostitution), there would be no obligation on them to obey any man.

This is why the widow, who's tied to neither familial nor marital obligations, is free to vow without it being revoked by man. Therefore, the set up of Creation is seen in that man and woman remain co-equal - but the statute demonstrates that a young woman residing in her father's house - and a wife - were to be 'ruled over' as a mark of protection against sin, and that this comes about because of the nature of the offence that brought about the Fall.

A husband's 'rule' can no longer be considered to be dominance or subjugation where a man gets his will done always - but a set up that has come about to protect the wife from sin. If ever a husband exercises 'rule' over his wife to bring about her harm and not to protect her from committing sin, then the husband has stepped away from his God-given authority.

As such, the only judgment on sin of Gen 3:16 that's laid upon the woman is that the pain of childbirth would be greatly increased - the second half of the verse should be considered more of a blessing to protect the wife both in marital and Divine relationships.

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