Women - A Biblical Perspective
Harold L. Flemings
For many years, it has been maintained that the Bible promotes anti-female sentiments. Men are extolled and are placed at the highest level of society, while 'women are demeaned and relegated to a place of subservience and humiliation; that is the claim.
This paper will consider what the Bible (both Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures) says about the roles, responsibilities and status of women. It will attempt to consider all of the relevant Biblical data on this subject which will, by necessity, include the controversial Pauline texts and others like them. Perhaps this analysis is timely in view of the interest that has emerged in recent years respecting women's issues and the historic changes that are in process in the mores of the world's great societies.
A growing community of Jewish and professed Christian female theologians are producing a genre of religious literature that presents new and controversial notions about who were the real writers of certain Bible books and how best to understand the Bible's comments about women. The theories are many and debatable. For the most part, we will set the theories aside - whether advanced by men or women - in order to examine the Biblical material first hand. Our objective is to present a purely Biblical perspective.
ADVICE OF WOMEN VALUED - EVIDENCES
There are at least two cases presented in the Bible in which a woman was apparently a key person, if not the key person, representing Jehovah God to his people.
In the first instance, we are introduced to Deborah of whom Judges 4:4, 5 declares: "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth was judging Israel at that particular time... and the sons of Israel would go up to her for judgment."
This dual role of Deborah - prophetess and judge - at this early period of
Israelite history is evidence that during this time women were acknowledged to
be of sufficient intelligence and wisdom to advise men,
even a nation.1
Over 450 years after Deborah during the reign of the esteemed Judean King Josiah, it appears that the principal source of advice and direction from Jehovah was the prophetess Huldah. The account at 2 Kings 22:8-20, in part, tells us: "...Then the King commanded Hilkiah the priest and Ahikam the son of Shaphan and Achbor the son of Micaiah and Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the King's servant, saying: 'Go, inquire of Jehovah in my own behalf and in behalf of the people and in behalf of all Judah concerning the words of this book.'... Accordingly Hilkiah the priest and Ahikam and Achbor and Shaphan and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah the son of Harhas, the caretaker of the garments, as she was dwelling in Jerusalem in the second quarter; and they proceeded to speak to her. In turn she said to them: 'This is what Jehovah the God of Israel has said...". (See also 2 Chronicles 34:19-33.)
What is striking about this account is that, evidently, spiritually qualified men needed to contact a woman for spiritual advice.
During the life of the notable David, son of Jesse, we find two more examples. Angered by Nabal's lack of hospitality and appreciation, David (who later became the second King of Israel) decided to kill Nabal and all those living on his estate. After being informed of David's intentions, Nabal's wife, Abigail, was able to defuse the situation by respectfully advising David that this was not the best thing to do. The advice of a woman won out and a tragedy was averted. David's words to Abigail best tell how he assessed this woman: "At this David said to Abigail: 'Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel, who has sent you this day to meet me! And blessed be your sensibleness, and blessed be you who have restrained me this day from entering into bloodguilt and having my own hand come to my salvation... Go up in peace to your house. See, I have listed to your voice that I may have consideration for your person.'" (1 Samuel 25:32-35)
1. The Hebrew text is specific in indicating that Deborah, the woman, was judging, and not a man:
Judges 4:4 "...היא שפטה..."
The argument that Hebrews 11:32 proves Barak was judging Israel at this time and not Deborah is inadequate because:
(1) Judges 4:4, 5 specifically declares that she was a judge.
(2) Hebrews 11:32 makes no comment about Barak and the others mentioned there as being judges, but as being warriors for righteousness.
(3) At Hebrews 11:32, David is mentioned in the series and he was not one of the judges, anymore than Barak. The Greek at Hebrews 11:32 reads: "και τι ετι λεγω επιλειψει με γαρ διηγουμενον ο χρονος περι γεδεων βαρακ σαμψων ιεφθαε δαυιδ τε και σαμουηλ και των προφητων"
Later, in order to influence King David to allow his son, Absalom, to return to
Israel (Absalom earlier had killed his half-brother Amnon and fled to Geshur to
stay with his pagan grandparents), Joab enlisted the services of a "wise woman"
from Tekoa. The intellectual capability of a woman was the tool to change the
mind of a monarch. (2 Samuel 14:1-20)
In another instance, although the counsel given was not good counsel, it is of interest that young Judean King Ahaziah had as a counselor his mother, Athaliah. Without debating the merits of her advice, once again this provides insight on the status of women in ancient Israelite society, showing that women were not always considered without humanity and station. (2 Chronicles 22:1-3)
At the very base of the genealogical roots of the Israelite people, we find the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob. In the lives of these two men, we discover two more examples of women whose advice was valued. At Genesis 21:12, God told Abraham to listen to the suggestion of his wife, Sarah, on a matter affecting their family. Later, at Genesis 27:13-14, the fully grown man Jacob complied with the counsel of his mother, Rebekah.
WOMEN HAD SUBSTANTIVE CHOICES - EVIDENCES
A rather popular, provincial view held by some individuals even to this day is that during the Biblical period, women in the Near East were little more than possessions absent the ability to make substantive choices. The man could make choices and the woman dare not. This is not entirely true, as we shall see.
When faithful Abraham sent his head servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac, the lovely Rebekah was selected. However, Rebekah had a choice to accept the offer' or reject it. Note the account at Genesis 24:58: "Then they called Rebekah and said to her: 'Will you go with this man?' In turn she said: 'I am willing to go'."
Similarly, after Nabal's death, David sent a colleague to propose marriage to Nabal's widow, Abigail. Her response is noted at 1 Samuel 25:41, 42: "Immediately she rose up and bowed with her face to the earth and said: 'Here is your slave girl as a maidservant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord'. Then Abigail hastened and rose up and went riding on the ass with five maids; and she went accompanying the messengers of David and then became his wife."
Like Rebekah, Abigail had the option of saying "No". Slaves, houses and stock
did not have the option to negate their selection by a man; however, a woman
did. This clearly placed them on a level higher than mere property.
What is not generally known is that in ancient Israel, the Mosaic Law provided a woman a way out of an unfulfilling, disastrous marriage. The woman had a choice. She did not have to stay and tolerate neglect or abuse. To illustrate, suppose an Israelite woman was the second or third wife of an Israelite man and subsequently found herself overlooked, neglected and thus unhappy. Was she "cemented" forever into that marriage? Not according to Exodus 21:10,11, which states: "If he should take another wife for himself, her sustenance, her clothing and her marriage due are not to be diminished. If he will not render these three things to her, then she must go out for nothing, without money."
Although the departing woman could not take with her any of the man's real or personal property, she was, at least, freed of an impossible relationship. She had a substantive choice. The interesting twist on this fact is that although the husband was called her "owner" [from the Hebrew word בצל, "baal"], the wife had the legal right to free herself from his relative authority pursuant to the terms expressed at Exodus 21:10, 11.
During the Early Christian era, the Apostle Paul pointed out that after a Christian woman's husband died, she could select a succeeding husband of her choice, as long as the next husband chosen was a Christian. To restate the fact, she made the choice. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
LEVEL OF AUTHORITY IN THE FAMILY - EVIDENCES
In the August 1993 edition of the Atlantic Monthly under the title "Women and the Bible", author Collen Murphy made this observation on page 42: "In the Hebrew Bible, as a whole, only 111 of the 1,426 people who are given names are women."
One might conclude from this that, from the vantage point of the Bible, women were not very important. Let us see as we turn now to the woman in the dynamics of a family unit. How was she viewed? Did she have any power, any authority at all? Was she an important party?
The book of Proverbs supplies some answers. Proverbs 1:8 advises: "Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother."
Chauvinistic men would never permit such a thing as the "law" of a mother, but God did, as this text proves. But there is more.
The discussion on wives found in Proverbs 31 is most helpful in getting the pulse on who were the principal players in the spiritually sound Israelite family. There, in part, we read the following: "A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals... She has considered a field and proceeded to obtain it; from the fruitage of her hands she has planted a vineyard...She has sensed that her trading is good; her lamp does not go out at night... Her palm she has stretched out to the afflicted one, and her hands she has thrust out to the poor one... Coverlets she has made for herself. Her clothing is of linen and wool dyed reddish purple... Her mouth she has opened in wisdom; and the law of loving-kindness is upon her tongue... Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner rises up and he praises her...". (Verses 10, 16, 18, 20, 22, 26, 28)
According to the foregoing, not only were husbands major catalysts in the family dynamic but wives as well. The capable Israelite wife could purchase a piece of real estate, establish a producing field, be active in trading, be available to offer words of wisdom and instruction and other matters noted in the account at Proverbs 31:10-31. This does not paint a picture of an abject, pitiful, mindless, enslaved, pregnant being suffering at the hands of an autocratic "owner".
Turning now to 1 Kings 2:13-20, a most interesting image evolves. Adonijah, a half-brother of King Solomon, had aims to unseat his brother and decided to work through Solomon's unsuspecting mother, Bathsheba. When Bathsheba approached Solomon with Adonijah's message, a rather revealing behavior occurred. Verse 19 tells us: "So Bath-sheba came in to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. At once the King rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat down upon his throne and had a throne set for the mother of the King, that she might sit at his right." The highest secular authority in the land bowed to a woman, a member of his family.
Finally, we must not forget that Jehovah's laws to Israel mandated that fathers and mothers be honored - not just fathers. (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:15,17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2,3)
CERTAIN WOMEN PROVIDED SPECIAL FAVOR - EVIDENCES
At Genesis 12:14-20 and Genesis 20:1-7, we find two interesting accounts involving Abram (Abraham) and his wife Sarai (Sarah). In one case, the current Pharaoh of Egypt and in the other case the current Abimelech of Gerar were attracted to the very beautiful Sarai to the point of bringing her into the royal household - not knowing that she was married to her half-brother, Abram. Jehovah God intervened in these cases, protecting Sarai against sexual violation, with serious warnings to those secular authorities to back away - or else. Sarai, a woman, was thus favored by Jehovah.
In another instance, when Jehovah saw that Jacob's wife, Leah, was loved less than his wife, Rachel, He blessed Leah with the ability to produce a child which made her happy. A woman not favored by her husband was favored by her God. (Genesis 29:31).
Years later, when the offspring of the patriarch Jacob had developed into a huge
community inhabiting northeastern Egypt, the reigning Pharaoh ordered that all
male newborns be slain by the two Israelite midwives assisting in their births.
Exodus 1:17, 20, 21 informs us:
"However, the midwives feared the true God, and they did not do
as the King of Egypt had spoken to them, but they would preserve
the male children alive... So God dealt well with the midwives
and the people kept growing more numerous and become very
mighty. And it came about that because the midwives had feared
the true God, he later presented them with families."
In spite of possible serious repercussions from the Pharaoh, these two women,
Shiphrah and Puah, did what was right and Jehovah singled them out for
Widows were given special protection in Israelite society.2 Exodus 22:22 declares: "You people must not afflict any widow or fatherless boy." Centuries later, the Christian writer James wrote to Christians: "The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation..." (James 1:27) Jehovah cared and cares for widows.
There should be little dispute that the harlot, Rahab, and her family were spared the devastation that came upon the walled city of Jericho during the Israelite invasion of Palestine. (Joshua 6:1-23) Again, a woman was favored. She is also singled out in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5)
In ancient Israel, real estate normally passed from fathers to sons. The daughters were expected to marry and help manage the real estate of their husbands. (Proverbs 31:10-31) However, what if a father had no sons?
2. Commenting on the treatment of widows in different parts of the
world and at various times, one reference states:
"...The study of the status of widows is one of the saddest in the history of civilization. In uncivilized society, a widow is considered dangerous because the ghost of her husband is supposed to cleave to her. On the Fiji Islands, a wife was strangled on her husband's grave and buried with him... Mongol widows could find no second husbands, because they would have to serve their first husbands in the next world... It appears certain that the primitive Aryans practiced the burning of widows, perhaps by the choices of the widows, and that the custom declined in the Vedic period of India." (William Graham Sumner, Folkways (Mentor Books, 1960), pp. 330, 331. The law that God gave to Israel and that which He gave to the Early Christians reflected a kinder, more compassionate policy toward widows.
What happened to his land and property? These questions were raised by the five
daughters of Zelophehad to Moses.
"'Why should the name of our father be taken away from the midst of his family because he had no son? 0 give us a possession in the midst of our father's brothers. At that Moses presented their case before Jehovah. Jehovah then said this to Moses: 'The daughters-of Zelophehad are speaking right. By all means you should give them the possession of an inheritance in the midst of their father's brothers, and you must cause their father's inheritance to pass to them."
The account speaks for itself with regard to female relevance in ancient Israelite society. (Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1-12)
A number of favored women come to mind when we think of the life of Jesus Christ. Could we possibly not mention Mary, the mother of Jesus?, When the angel, Gabriel, appeared to her, his introduction identified how much she was valued: "...Good day, highly favored one, Jehovah is with you... Have no fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God..." (Luke 1:28, 30)
After Jesus' birth, one of the two named persons in Luke's account that saw the baby was the aged woman Anna. The account says: "Now there was Anna, a prophetess, Phanuel's daughter, of Asher's tribe (this woman was well along in years, and had lived with a husband for seven years from her virginity, and she was a widow now eighty-four years old), who was never missing from the temple, rendering sacred service night and day with fastings and supplications. And in that very hour she came near and began returning thanks to God and speaking about the child to all those waiting for Jerusalem's deliverance." (Luke 2:36-38).
Who has not been touched by Jesus' tender reaction to the woman with a sickness that. burdened her for twelve years and who touched the garment of Jesus, trusting that she would be healed? (Matthew 9:19-22) In another case, although some have taken exception to Jesus' metaphor used in his conversation with a Syrophoenician woman, Jesus healed her daughter and thus gave them a substantial increase in the quality of their lives. All of these women were specially favored. (Mark 7:24-30)
Returning to the Hebrew Scriptures, we will look at two final examples of favored women. A widow whose husband had been a prophet and a member of the community of prophets associated with Elisha, fell on hard times. She now was facing a creditor who was prepared to take her children and servants to pay off the debt. Lovingly, God enabled the prophet Elisha to miraculously enable her to pay off the debt and thus preserve her family and dignity. (2 Kings 4:1-7)
Finally, we visit the unforgettable Job and notice that with his second set of children, he had seven sons and three daughters. Interestingly, the sons are not mentioned by name but the daughters are named. Job 42:13-15 reads:
"[Job] also came to have seven sons and three daughters. And he went calling the name of the first Jemimah and the name of the second Keziah and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And no women were found as pretty as Job's daughters in all the land, and their father proceeded to given them an inheritance in among their brothers." Not only men, but also women, were favored by Jehovah God.
Notwithstanding what has thus been expressed, there are Biblical texts that have disturbed women - and men.
Genesis 19 records the story of the visit of two materialized angels to the home of the patriarch Lot. Homosexuals evidently noticed these good looking men and, during the night surrounded Lot's home, demanding that the two men be made available to them for sexual intercourse. Lot's response to these sex-mad men is the focus of our attention: "Finally, Lot went out to them to the entrance, but he shut the door behind him. Then he said: 'Please, my brothers, do not act badly. Please, here I have two daughters who have 'never had intercourse with a man. Please, let me bring them out to you. Then do to them as is good in your eyes. Only to these men do not do a thing..."' (Genesis 19:6,8)
Men generally are very protective of their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. This offer of Lot repulses many individuals. Centuries later, the Apostle Peter described Lot as a "righteous man". (2 Peter 2:8) Before commenting on Lot's behavior, it should not be overlooked that Jehovah did not accept this suggestion, since the angels of Jehovah pulled Lot back into the house and "struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house".
Returning our attention to Lot, one could imagine a range of motives behind his reply to the bank of obstreperous homosexuals:
(1) Did he expect that since these men were apparently interested only in men that they would not touch his daughters and then eventually give up the quest for the guests?
(2) Was he so sensitive to protecting visitors that he was even willing to see his own daughters humiliated?
(3) Was he influenced by a non-Yahwistic cultural "norm" that placed women at a level that essentially made them dispensable?
Only those in heaven know for sure his reasons. We do know that Jehovah did not agree.3
3. Other righteous men have done things of which Jehovah did not approve. (See Genesis 9:20,21; Numbers 20:9-12; 2 Samuel 11:1-5; 1 Chronicles 17:1-4; Jonah 1:1-3)
Our next consideration is Numbers 5:11-31. The subject matter here has to do
with a wife that has committed adultery - or is suspected of having committed
adultery. A rather elaborate procedure to determine the woman's innocence or
guilt is outlined. If the woman was guilty - the worst. And if she was not
guilty, she was to be made pregnant by her husband to end the episode. No matter
how one looks at this, this has to be balanced with the woman's right for
marital happiness and fulfillment as outlined at Exodus 21:10, 11. The error
that is made too often is to see some facts in isolation, and out of the context
of other texts which have a bearing on the matter. To put it concisely, the
woman had options too. (Compare with Deuteronomy 22:13-21.)
We turn now to Deuteronomy 21:10-14: "In case you go out to the battle against your enemies and Jehovah your God has given them into your hand and you have carried them away captive; and you have seen among the captives a woman beautiful in form, and you have got attached to her and taken her for your wife, you must then bring her into the midst of your house. She must now share her head and attend to her... and remove the mantle of her captivity from off her and dwell in your house and weep for her father and her mother a whole lunar month; and after that you should have relations with her, and you must take possession of her as your bride, and she must become your wife. And it must occur that if you have found no delight in her, you must then send her away, agreeably to her own soul; but you must by no means sell her for money. You must not deal tyrannically with her after you have humiliated her."
On the down side, the woman in this situation may not have wanted to be married to the Israelite soldier who selected her. That cannot be denied. However, there was some room for her feelings. What specifically? She was allowed the time and dignity - independent of interference - of weeping for her mother and father. A whole lunar month was set aside for this. If the soldier husband was sexually attracted to her, he could not touch her during this period and, when he did, he had to marry her first. Further, if the relationship did not work, he could not sell her to someone else or take her life; he had to send her away free. When we look at how women have been abused during wars across history, we see nothing like the treatment mentioned at Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
We move now to Deuteronomy 25;11,12 which states: "In case men struggle together with one another, and the wife of the one has come near to deliver her husband out of the hand of the one striking him, and she has thrust out her hand and grabbed hold of him by his privates, you must then amputate her hand. Your eye must feel no sorrow."
Amputation is not a pleasant experience. Why this sanction for protecting one's husband? The Hebrew Scriptures indicate that the Creator has a very high regard for two physical factors that relate to life -- blood and the reproductive organs. Blood is necessary to be alive and the reproductive organs are necessary to keep most life forms in existence. Misuse of these brought strong sanctions from Jehovah.4 For that reason, people were warned in advance of what not to do regarding both blood and the "privates". A woman caught in the loop of a fight between her husband and another man simply had to select another way of deterring her husband's opponent. Disobeying the instruction at Deuteronomy 25:11, 12 was not going to be excused. (See Leviticus 17:12 14.)
A considerably disturbing account regarding the treatment of women is found in Judges 19 - 21. A Levite, his concubine and his servant were returning to their home in Ephraim. En route, they spent the night at the home of a friendly old man in the Benjamite city of Gibeah. That night brought some terrible images and experiences. A band of Benjamite homosexuals wanted to rape the Levite and demanded that he be made available to them. The old man protested and answered: "No, my brothers, do not do anything wrong, please, since this man has come into my house. Do not commit this disgraceful folly. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out, please, and you rape them and do to them what is good in your eyes. But to this man you must not do this disgraceful, foolish thing. And the men did not want to listen to him. Hence, the man took hold of his concubine and brought her forth to them outside; and they began to have intercourse with her, and kept on abusing her all night long until the morning..." (Judges 19:23-25)
The woman died from this abuse.
Enraged, the Levite cut her body into twelve parts and sent a part to all twelve tribes of Israel, protesting what had happened to his concubine. In a show of solidarity, the eleven tribes approached the tribe of Benjamin and requested that the offenders at Gibeah be handed over to them for punishment. When the Benjamites refused, this led to war - a war approved by Jehovah. Almost all the Benjamites were killed. Remember, this was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Notwithstanding this, a few hundred men of Benjamin survived to re-populate this nearly decimated tribal community of Israel. It turned out that these men were allowed to take women from Jabesh-gilead and later women who came to the annual festival to Jehovah in the town of Shiloh. These women were taken by force to become wives to these men in order to keep the tribe of Benjamin from going into extinction. A single act of protestation by the Levite led to a heart-twisting resolution.
4. See Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. I, p. 550, which says: "An exception in the law of retaliation was the law dealing with a situation in which a woman tried to help her husband in a fight by grabbing hold of the privates of the other man. In this case, instead of her reproductive organs being destroyed, her hand was to be amputated. (De. 25:11,12) This law demonstrates God's regard for the reproductive organs. Also, since the woman was owned by a husband, this law mercifully took into consideration the right of the husband to have children by his wife."
Women were not treated very well in this Biblical tableau. How many men would have traded places with the women in this account? Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Jehovah God was not at all happy with what happened to this woman and, hence, his agreement that the tribe of Benjamin should be punished.5 (See Judges 20:23, 28, 35)
If a similar account at Genesis 19:1-11 is any measure of God's feelings, it was not His will that the woman be released to the human "dogs" outside the old man's house. This means that, once again, man's thinking was different from God's thinking. If anything, this account tells us that some men, maybe many men, among God's people did, in fact, see women as somehow more dispensable than men. But what is certainly clear from the Bible is that this thinking was not congruent with God's thinking. Sometimes missed is the fact that, because the Bible reports the behavior of certain persons, does not ipso facto mean that it is approving of that behavior. Not all behaviors can be defended. The mistreatment of women is indefensible.
During his attempt to usurp the throne, King David's traitorous son, Absalom,
molested ten of his father's concubines. Once order was restored and David
resumed his regal role without resistance, he decided not to resume a husband's
normal sexual role with his concubines. Indeed, the Biblical account reveals:
"Eventually David came to his house at Jerusalem. Then the King took the ten
women, the concubines whom he had left behind to take care of the house, and he
put them in a house of confinement, but he kept on supplying food to them. And
with them he did not have any relations, but they continued shut up closely
until the day of their dying, in a widowhood with a living husband." (2 Samuel
What was it like as one of David's concubines during this period? Were there some unhappy souls living out their lives in palatial splendor but inner frustration? Who knows, for sure, the answer? Regardless of the real answer, this situation was created by one individual, David, and not Jehovah. Jehovah's feeling about the worth of each woman had already been clearly expressed. This is a distinction that should never be forgotten in the analysis.
The sagacious King Solomon (evidently good looking, wealthy and influential) had a weakness for women, so much so that in time he felt it necessary to multiply wives. The account at 1 Kings 11:1 - 4 tells us: "And King Solomon himself loved many foreign wives along with the daughter of Pharaoh, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations of whom Jehovah had said to the sons of Israel: "You must not go in among them, and they themselves should not come in among you; truly they will incline your heart to follow their gods.' It was to them that Solomon clung to love them. And he came to have seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives gradually inclined his heart. And it came about in the time of Solomon's growing old that his wives themselves had inclined his heart to follow other gods; and his heart did not prove to be complete with Jehovah his God like the heart of David his father."
5. Note the apparent reference to the deplorable behavior of the citizens of Gibeah at Hosea 9:9; 10:9.
Now, it cannot be overlooked that Solomon's behavior was contrary to the
instructions of Jehovah at Deuteronomy 7:3, 4 and 17:17. The fact that he
violated these instructions does not mean that those instructions were
antiquated, but it does mean that, in view of his life outcome, they were
absolutely practical and true. We must not bring to the table a conclusion that
has Jehovah demeaning the place and value of a woman in society. That would be a
serious error. Solomon's choices were Solomon's choices - not Jehovah's choices.
However, some will argue that the genealogical lists in the Bible are male dominated and only rarely are women integrated into the material. (Genesis 5, 10, 11; 1 Chronicles 1 - 9) Does not this represent an insult to womanhood? Now, in some cases, the genealogy was specifically related to building a chain leading to the appearance of the Messiah - one male was linked to another male in the succeeding generation. It should not be forgotten though that, not only were the sisters not named, but this was also true of other male, siblings. In other words, there were males born along the way that were not named - and sometimes not even mentioned. The focus was on identifying the Messiah genealogically. It had little to do with sexual bias. (Genesis 5:1-32; 11:10-27; Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 1-4; Luke 3:23-38) Other genealogies related to landowners or identifying the priesthood.
"PAULINE" TEXTS CONTROVERSY
We will now cross the so-called "testamental boundary" to the controversial "Pauline" texts. Here the anti-Biblical feminists are quite sure women were not accorded respect and dignity. Let us examine the textual evidence and see if this is true.
Our first example is found at 1 Corinthians 11:3-6, 8 and 9, where Paul wrote: "But I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ, in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God. Every man that prays or prophesies having something on his head shames his head; but every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head; for it is one and the same as if she were a woman with a shaved head. For if a woman does not cover herself, let her also be shorn; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered... For man is not out of woman, but woman out of man, and, what is more, man was not created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man."6
6. See the discussion on this text in Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. I, pp. 1054, 1055
Now, what is clear from this is that, per Paul's comments, God has placed man in
the top administrative post in the family and in the congregation. But then the
man is not without restraint himself; he has a "boss", Jesus Christ. This "boss"
requires that the man treat his wife as he would treat himself. (Ephesians 5:28,
33) If that says anything, it says the man is to be a gentle, kind and sensitive
administrator. Who could find fault with that? It is the husband who abuses this
role that makes the issue of male administration objectionable. Also, what we
must not overlook in this passage are the special privileges afforded the
Christian woman in the Early Christian congregation. Notwithstanding her
sub-administrative role, she could prophesy and pray in the congregation. You
would not expect such privileges to be made to her if she was only a mindless,
shapely slave. But what about the comment that the 'man was not made for the
woman but the woman was made for the man'? Does this "undo" the whole argument?
We all know the Bible says that Adam was made first and then the woman, Eve, was made from a part of him. We are further told that she was made to complement him. He was not all that he could be without her, that is how vital she was. Even at that, they both were created in God's image. (Genesis 1:27) Now if the woman was made for man and this makes her of no consequence, then it follows that since man was made for God that he is of no consequence either. No, the dignity of man and woman were not lost on being made for someone else, since the Scriptures are absolutely clear that their individual happiness also was and is very important to the compassionate Jehovah. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Several chapters later take us to the debated 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, which states: "For God is a God not of disorder, but of peace. As in all the congregations of the holy ones, let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation." Before anyone swears by or at the Apostle for his comments at 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, let us not forget that earlier at 1 Corinthians 11:4-16, he commented that women could pray and prophesy in the congregation.7 If this is not enough, the 120 Christians congregated in an upper room on Pentecost 33 C.E. witnessed the power of the holy spirit on them, causing men and women to speak in other tongues and prophesy. (Acts 2:1-18) It is not difficult to make the argument that these women were not literally silent.
7. What establishes that this does pertain to women praying or prophesying in the congregation is the whole sweep of 1 Corinthians 11:1-34, which repeatedly places the discussion in the context of the congregation.
Moreover, it is difficult to imagine that the Christian woman, Phoebe, who had a
congregation meeting in her home in Cenchreae, was absolutely mute during each
and every session. (Romans 16:1) The same can be said of Nympha. (Colossians
4:15) It appears that the clue to the problem is found in Paul's comment:
"If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands
The Divine text tells us that instruction was provided at these earlier
Christian meetings - instructions for both men and women. (Acts 14:27; 15:41;
16:4, 5) This means that Paul's comments apply to questions or disputes that
sisters may have had about instructions they received in the congregation. His
words, therefore, mean that issues of controversy by a sister were not to be
resolved in the congregational setting, but at home with a believing husband.8
After seeing the situation this way,
we can conclude that women were indeed active members of the, Early Church, both
inside and outside of the meetings. What they were not is also clear. They did
not hold top administrative posts in congregations with qualified men and they
did not challenge those in authority. This must have been true of Tryphaena,
Tryphosa and Persis, of whom Paul wrote:
"Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, women who are working
hard in the Lord. Greet Persis our beloved one, for
she performed many labors in the Lord." (Romans 16:12)
No sensible person is going to conclude from this that all these women did was
to wash men's feet and serve water.
The foregoing brings us to the much discussed 1 Timothy 2:11-15. There Paul penned: "Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and came to be in transgression. However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and sanctification along with soundness of mind."
In view of our discussion on 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, we can see what Paul had in mind at 1 Timothy 2:11-15. It is plain from 1 Timothy 3:1, 12 that only men could be overseers and ministerial servants in the congregation. Paul, perhaps, had in mind the more emotional side of a woman's nature when he commented that, in the Garden of Eden, Eve was deceived, not Adam. This does not mean that women don't think - and sometimes better than men - it just means that, generally speaking, they seem to be more vulnerable emotionally. Given this perspective, this would be the reason why Jehovah delegated this serious, demanding role to
8. It is of interest that even Christian men who disagreed with certain doctrines held by the Christian community were commanded not to verbalize them but keep quiet because of how it could seriously affect others. (See 1 Timothy 1:3, 4)
Two Biblical references may need to be examined against what has been said thus
far about the controversial Pauline texts. The first is Acts 21:8, 9, where we
"The next day we set out and arrived in Caesarea, and we entered into the house
of Philip the evangelizer, who was one of the seven men, and we stayed with him.
This man had four daughters, virgins, that prophesied."
Now, did these young sisters prophesy in the streets or in the congregation? Who
would have understood their prophesying - members or non-members? Who would have
better benefited from their prophesying - members or non-members? Evidently,
then, these gifted women - and women like them - were allowed expression in the
congregation, but under the auspices of appointed men and they were enjoined to
respect the authority of these men.
Our next cite is Acts 18:24-28, which says: "Now a certain Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent man, arrived in Ephesus; and he was well versed in the Scriptures. This man had been orally instructed in the way of Jehovah and, as he was aglow with the spirit, he went speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus, but being acquainted with only the baptism of John. And this man started to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him. Further, because he was desiring to go across into Achaia, the brothers wrote the disciples, exhorting them to receive him kindly. So when he got there, he greatly helped those who had believed on account of God's undeserved kindness; for with intensity he thoroughly proved the Jews to be wrong publicly, while he demonstrated by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." If Apollos was. unacquainted with "Jesus' baptism", then it seems safe to conclude that he was not so baptized. Further, based on Acts 19:1-7, it is probably safe to assume that he was baptized "into Jesus" after his session or sessions with Aquila and Priscilla. Having said this, we can see that women could teach unbaptized men, for this provides us with such an example.
Consider how that insight shines a light on Philippians 4:2, 3, where the "controversial" Apostle Paul stated: "Euodia I exhort and Syntyche I exhort to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I. request you, too genuine yoke fellow, keep assisting these women who have striven side by side with me in the good news along with Clement as well as the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Clearly, Euodia and Syntyche were instructors in God's Word.
Our last quote from Paul takes us to 1 Timothy 5:11-15. There Paul relates:
"On the other hand, turn down younger widows, for when their sexual impulses
have come between them and the Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment
because they have disregarded their first expression of faith. At the same time
they also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses; yes, not only
unoccupied but also gossipers and meddlers in other people's affairs, talking of
things they ought not. Therefore I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear
children, to manage-a household, to give no inducement to the opposer to revile.
Already, in fact, some have been turned aside to follow Satan."
Before addressing Paul's words here, it is probably good, for purposes of context, to mention that prior to these comments, Paul outlined how to provide material support to older, needy widows. (1 Timothy 5:3-10). He did not desire to see these older sisters overlooked. Now, at 1 Timothy 5:11-15, Paul was centering on younger, evidently undisciplined widows who were inclined to fruitless and meddlesome conversations and who probably needed to marry in order to help them manage their sexual impulses. We have seen such persons in the modern congregations; so we cannot accuse him of overstating the case. But this cannot be seen as a statement about all Christian women. Paul, himself, knew of exceptions. (Romans 16:6,12; Philippians 4:3,4; 2 Timothy 1:5) Also, not to miss the bigger picture, it is clear from other references that Paul was aware that some Christian men also had to deal with their "sexual impulses" as well. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5,11; 1 Corinthians 7:1,2; 1 Thessalonians 4:38.)
DO WOMEN 'REALLY' REGISTER WITH JEHOVAH?
What does this sweep of both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures show? We feel that it unambiguously demonstrates that Jehovah God cares for women. What are we to say about a God who was so touched by Hannah's tears and prayers to have a baby that he granted her wish? Men might have concluded that there were far more important aspirations for which to reach - power, glory, a military victory, treasures. But God responded to a woman - to have a child (1 Samuel 1:1-17; 2:21) And, yes, what about the special tribute to the woman, Jael, at Judges 5:24-27? Or, the women who served at Solomon's temple and noted at 1 Chronicles 25:5, 6? Do women really count with God? The answer is a forthright "Yes".
The history of man has revealed an ugly treatment of women. In nearly every society and at nearly every period of human history, there has been evidence of selfish men enslaving, demeaning, seducing and manipulating womankind. It is no wonder then that in liberal, democratic societies, women have closed ranks and made it clear that enough is enough. They are no longer going to tolerate this inhuman, humiliating treatment. The enlightened person has to understand this.
Thankfully, man's Creator has made it clear that he will correct the errors infused into the natures of imperfect men and women. He is not less disturbed than women over their plight in a selfish male dominated world. That is one of the reasons why he is creating a "new heavens and new earth". . There, for sure, men and women will enjoy each other, as they should, themselves as individuals and their Compassionate God, Jehovah.
1. Apparently only the firstborn sons of Egypt were killed in the tenth plague of Egypt. (See Insight on the Scriptures, under "Firstborn".)
2. The Mosaic Law responded not only to injuries to men, but also injuries to women. (Exodus 21:26, 27, 28, 31, 32)
3. The Mosaic Law allowed men and women to be Nazarites. (Numbers 6)
4. The Mosaic Law provided a tithe for the Levites' families, including sons and daughters. (Numbers 18:19)
5. Israelite women were special and were not to marry pagan men. (Deuteronomy 7:3)
6. A woman was the major spokesperson for the city of Abel of Bethmaacah during the reign of King David. (2 Samuel 20:15-22)
7. Fidelity to a wife is stressed at Proverbs 5:15-23.
8. A woman is more important than property. (Proverbs 19:14)
9. Jehovah was not pleased with the sacrificing of sons and daughters to pagan gods. (Jeremiah 32:34, 35)
10. Jehovah was not pleased with individuals selling a female child for wine. (Joel 3:3)
11. Jehovah reprimanded men who mistreated their wives. (Malachi 2:1416)