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Women in the Church

 

Women in the Church

By Les Sherlock, posted April 2021, but originally c 2015

 

Introduction

 

Slavery

 

Polygamy

 

More Questions

 

Summary

 

Introduction

 

Before going into the meat of the subject, I’ll begin with one or two preliminary thoughts.

 

I feel the Apostle Paul has been treated rather unfairly, having been accused with such comments as “a women-hater.” This actually calls into question our view of the New Testament. Is it genuinely God’s revelation to mankind and just as inspired as the Old Testament? If so, and I believe it is, then such criticism of Paul is unfair – he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and his personal ideas about women are irrelevant. However, as will be seen, my belief is that far from ‘hating’ women, Paul’s writing is quite the opposite and builds the foundation for their emancipation. Everywhere I refer to Paul in this study, I actually mean the Holy Spirit revealing God’s will through Paul rather than Paul giving his personal opinion.

 

However, we must remember the primary purpose of the New Testament writings were to inform first-century people living in the Middle East. So while the teaching in the whole Bible is for all people for all time, if we try to impose a 21st century Western viewpoint onto it, we will come to wrong conclusions.

 

INDEX

 

Slavery

 

For example: are there any New Testament practices universally no longer accepted? Yes – slavery; and although it took many centuries, Christian influence ultimately resulted in its abolition. Is this an indication that Christian influence could change other practices too? I believe it could be.

 

The word slave (doulos) appears 127 times in the New Testament, but slavery is never spoken of as wrong in itself. Of course, the slavery condoned in the Bible is radically different from that usually understood by the term. Physical abuse was forbidden, for example - the mere loss of a tooth being grounds for a slave’s release into freedom.

 

"If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.

Exodus 21:26-27

 

Example verses regarding slavery:

 

For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave… For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free...

1 Corinthians 7:21–22; 12:13

 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear... knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free...

Ephesians 6:5–6, 8 (NLT)

 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do... Masters, be just and fair to your slaves...

Colossians 3:22; 4:1  (NLT)

 

All slaves should show full respect for their masters...

1 Timothy 6:1 (NLT)

 

Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them...

Titus 2:9 (NLT)

 

Jesus referred to slaves many times (doulos appears 74 times in the four gospels), but never denounced the practice of slavery. Surely this must be a case of leaving the issue to be dealt with at a time when Christian influence had been able to change society enough to allow the thing to be universally changed?

INDEX

 

Polygamy

 

Bearing this in mind, and remembering that women in the first century Middle East had a much ‘lower’ place in general society than those in the 21st century Western society, should we not view the New Testament scriptures relating to them in a similar way?

 

Before we go on, remember that Jesus lived in the Old Testament dispensation, and He was speaking to people living under the Old Covenant laws. The New Testament was instituted in his shed blood…

 

For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 26:28

 

(See also: Hebrews 9:12–23)

 

…and the early church was moving from life under the Old Testament to life under the New. So in many ways, the writing of Paul was quite revolutionary in ‘upgrading’ women’s position. For example, contrary to the polygamous acceptance in the Old Testament Paul’s ideal marriage is:

 

Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

1 Corinthians 7:2

 

Indeed, it could be argued that polygamy was actually contrary to God’s revealed purposes even in the Old Testament. Leviticus says we should love our neighbour as ourselves: a scripture Jesus quoted in Matthew; and in Mark He said it was the second greatest commandment.

 

… you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:18

 

And the second is like it: 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'

Matthew 22:39 (Words in capital letters are quotes from the Old Testament in the NKJV)

 

And the second, like it, is this: 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Mark 12:31

 

Contrary to this, the more wives a man has, the less he is able to fulfil this commandment with them and the more they become subservient to him. For example, Paul said regarding marital union that the husband and wife should not deprive each other.

 

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:4-5

 

How could Solomon have fulfilled this aspect of obeying the second greatest commandment with 700 wives plus 300 concubines? He may have been the wisest man, but it was through his many wives he was led into the foolishness of going away from God later on in his life.

 

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

1 Kings 11:3–4

 

What about all the other aspects of the husband/wife relationship? Only monogamy can give to the wife the same degree of attention, companionship, love, etc. from the husband that the husband is able to enjoy if he has more than one wife. So surely Paul’s promotion of monogamy upgrades women from the demeaning position of Solomon’s, admittedly extreme, example of polygamy?

 

INDEX

 

More questions

 

Are women less able than men to understand the scriptures? It would be a brave man who said “Yes” to that! He would also be wrong.

 

Are women less able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and follow His leading than men? No!

 

Are women destined to be ruled by men for eternity?

 

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.

Galatians 3:28

 

I would suggest not, on the basis of this verse (more on this later). Furthermore, since there is neither slave nor free, and all people are now accepted as equal following the abolition of slavery, surely it would be consistent to expect the same kind of change with neither male nor female?

 

While women in 1st-century Jewish society did not have the equality with men that is the case in Western society today, nevertheless they clearly did sometimes have leading roles. For example:

 

…and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

Acts 17:4

 

Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

Acts 17:12

 

This is also the case in the early Church:

 

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.

Romans 16:1–2

 

So Phoebe had helped many, including Paul. She is here described as a servant (diakonos – see later) of the church, but Jesus said the leaders of the church are to be servants:

 

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant (diakonos). And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave (doulos)—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:26–28

 

However, notice the Greek word translated both in Matthew and Romans as ‘servant’ is diakonos, which is translated ‘deacon’ in

 

…To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (diakonos)...

Philippians 1:1

 

Likewise deacons (diakonos) must be reverent...

1 Timothy 3:8

 

Let deacons (diakonos) be the husbands of one wife...

1 Timothy 3:12

 

Junia was a leader of the church:

 

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Romans 16:7

 

Notice Junia – a woman’s name – is a noteworthy apostle. The Greek grammar could indicate she was included among the apostles, not merely that the apostles thought she was of note.

 

According to Jamieson, Fausett and Brown’s commentary, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Olshausen, Tholuck, Alford and Jowett all believed Junia was an apostle. Robertson’s Word Pictures says the same, while other commentaries that disagree do admit it to be a valid possibility.

 

Euodia and Syntyche, both women, were Paul’s fellow-labourers in the gospel:

 

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers…

Philippians 4:2–3

 

Apphia (female) and Archippus had a church in their home:

 

to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house…

Philemon 1:2

 

So did Aquila and Priscilla (female):

 

Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

 

And possibly Lydia:

 

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Acts 16:14–15

 

Nympha too. Some Bible versions make this name male, while others make it female – ‘his’, ‘her’ or ‘their’ in the verse are all valid translations of the Greek word ‘autos’:

 

…and to Nympha and the church that meets in her (autos) house.

Colossians 4:15 (NLT)

 

Not only did Priscilla have a church in her home, but she taught Apollos the Alexandrian man:

 

When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Acts 18:26

 

It has been argued that because this was done in their home, it was not the kind of public teaching to which Paul was referring. But as we have seen, they had a church in their home, and the teaching could very well have been in the church meeting context. In any case I fail to see the distinction here: a woman teaching a man is a woman teaching a man, and whether publicly or privately the relationship between them is the same.

 

God said that women would prophesy in the last days (see later for a definition of ‘prophecy’):

 

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:17–18

 

According to this prophecy, the ministry of women – daughters prophesying – will be a feature of the last days. Surely we see the beginning of this in the early Church by the number of occasions in his letters where Paul (and Luke in Acts) has acknowledged the ministry of women, and therefore should not be surprised to see it increase as the end draws closer?

 

The two passages in the New Testament usually mentioned regarding women’s position in the Church are 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 and 1 Timothy 2:9–15.

 

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

 

Firstly, in order to be accurate about the meaning of this passage one must look at Paul’s solution to the problem he was identifying: if women want to learn something they must ask their husbands at home. This tells us two things:

 

  1. He was referring to married women
     

  2. They were clearly asking their husbands questions that Paul says should be answered at home.

 

Men would have been better educated than women on the whole, and if the churches kept to the Jewish custom of men and women sitting separately, then shouting questions and answers across to each other would obviously be disruptive in a Church gathering.

 

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

1 Timothy 2:11–15

 

A quote from a website

 

In the critical verse 12, Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman (or wife) to teach or... (and what it is that he doesn’t want them teaching?) The phrase “to usurp authority over the” is all translated from only ONE Greek word: “authentein.”

 

This word is only in this one verse in the entire New Testament! Translators are still arguing about what “authentein” meant at the time of Paul, as word meanings change over time. The word “gay” meant something very positive in 1800 and means something very different today.  Charles Trombley wrote, “It was long after Paul wrote his epistle to Timothy that authentein came to mean ‘to exercise authority,’ ‘to bear rule over,’ or ‘to domineer.’ John Chrysostom (347-407) was one of the dominant Greek Church Fathers and Patriarch of Constantinople. In his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:6 he used authentia to express ‘sexual license,’ nearly two centuries after Paul wrote Timothy.  Authentein had not yet taken on the meaning ‘to usurp authority.’” A teacher in the second century, Moeris, tells his students not to use the word “authentein” as it is too coarse for polite company!

 

So the latest scholarly translation of “authentein” is that it was a coarse sexual word that had nothing to do with authority at the time of Paul! These women in question were not to teach or “to _______(a coarse sexual word) men.” Remember, Paul was not writing directly to the church at Ephesus in this letter, but to Timothy as man to man. He does not use the word again in any of his other letters! Were these women teaching coarse sexual practices? Certainly Ephesus was inundated with wrong sexual practices as Artemis was a fertility goddess and was worshipped in a sexual manner by both men and women.

(This quote: Copyright © 1999-2010 Church of God, Dallas - Fort Worth. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole, or in part, without the express written consent of the publisher, Church of God, Dallas-Fort Worth.)

 

If however, one believes the word means ‘to dominate’, then here we are told the wives are not to dominate their husbands. The fact that Adam and Eve are mentioned, along with childbearing, seems to point to the fact that it is the relationship between husband and wife that is in view rather than that of all women to all men in the Church. So once again, the call for women’s silence may simply be a repeat of Paul’s reference in Corinthians, and relate more to the marriage relationship than anything else.

 

On the other hand, returning to the example of slavery in the New Testament, when we read such verses as:

 

All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching.

1 Timothy 6:1, NLT

 

… we accept that slavery was a part of the culture at that time but is not now, and we apply it to mean that people in employment should honour their employers. Indeed, at the time the abolition of slavery was going through the UK Parliament, such verses were used by anti-abolitionists as evidence that it should not be abolished.

 

Likewise we must remember that Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s anointing, was speaking to a very different society than the one in which we live today and if it is valid to apply one human relationship differently today (slaves/masters) then it is valid to do the same with another (men/women). Paul told the escaped slave Onesimus to return to his master Philemon, while telling Philemon to receive him back graciously.

 

I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, …For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Philemon 1:10-12, 15-16

 

Would that be the advice he would give if he were alive today? Most certainly not! I repeat, Paul’s letters were primarily written for specific situations in a very different society from our own.

 

A strong argument against this is the point Paul makes regarding Eve being deceived and not Adam. However, even those strongly against women preaching find it difficult to explain exactly what Paul meant by this statement. Is it the case that men generally are less likely to be deceived than women? An observer looking at the chaos caused in some churches by the mistakes of their pastor/ vicar/ priest/ leader might feel justified in concluding women could not do any worse! This, of course, is a very strong reason for the style of group leadership taught in the Bible: a group of people are less likely to take a wrong path than a single person.

 

It was almost certainly the case in Paul’s society that men were in a position that would make them less vulnerable to deception and therefore justify this application from Genesis; but is it the case today? Experience says otherwise. I have personal experience of a church closed down in under two years of the appointment of a leader, whose dictatorial style and appalling decisions destroyed the work. Another thriving local church was severely decimated when the long-term adultery of its leader came to light.

 

Then again, Adam was not deceived, but deliberately sinned and hence he, not Eve, is held responsible for the mess we are now in. So is there really any benefit in being less likely to fall into deception if the male is wilfully going to plough on regardless?

 

Paul makes the point that Adam was created first, Eve second. But several times Jesus said that many of the first would be last and the last first in the eternal Kingdom.

 

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Matthew 19:30

 

But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Mark 10:31

 

And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last."

Luke 13:30

 

Perhaps it is time for we Christian men to ask ourselves how we would feel if the roles were reversed and for eternity we were under the authority of women, unable to undertake tasks that we would like to be able to perform but prevented from doing so because it was only women allowed to do them. Isn’t it time we started treating them now the way we would like to be treated ourselves, and give them our blessing to fulfil the calling they feel in their lives? After all, we will all receive back according to what we have done in this life

 

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

If we sow repression in this life, will we reap it in the next?

 

Jesus also said there would be no marriage in the resurrection, therefore no husbands and no wives.

 

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.

Matthew 22:30

 

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

Luke 20:34–36

 

So the hierarchy of this life, whatever one believes it should be, will be very different in the next. This being the case, perhaps those who already have eternal life in their hearts should be a little wary of insisting on relationship rules dating from Old Testament times and act more in the light of eternity? However, even in the Old Testament female leadership can be found; a prime example being Deborah:

 

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.

Judges 4:4–5 (NLT)

 

Another example is the prophetess Huldah:

 

Then the king commanded... “Go, inquire of the LORD...” So Huldah the prophetess... she said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel...”

2 Kings 22:12–20

 

Another example of customs in New Testament times would be the head covering of women, which in the 1st century Middle-East meant something rather different from the 21st century western society. Such scriptures are now viewed in this light and it is uncommon to see hats in churches these days.

 

So if it is right to interpret those verses in the light of a more ‘enlightened’ culture, then to be consistent should we not do the same with 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2? After all, as was pointed out earlier, the New Testament writings were primarily written to people living in a radically different culture, often regarding specific situations that no longer apply, and it is the principles rather than the details we apply to ourselves. Likewise, in the case of:

 

Let deacons be the husbands of one wife

1 Timothy 3:12

 

Since arguably there were female deacons in the early church, this verse should surely be interpreted to be teaching monogamy rather than deacons being male.

 

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…

1 Timothy 3:2

 

Episkopos; ep-is'-kop-os; From G1909 and G4649 (in the sense of G1983); a superintendent, that is, Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively): - bishop, overseer. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary)

 

In the New Testament, the word ‘bishop’ clearly refers to ‘elder’, or ‘overseer’: see Acts 20:28, where Paul calls the elders ‘Episkopos’.

 

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Episkopos), to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Acts 20:28

 

This cannot be used to claim that since they should have one wife therefore bishops must be male, as to be consistent it would also mean that bishops cannot be single, and few people would accept the verse means that! Clearly the instruction is for monogamy where marriage is involved, not maleness.

 

In Titus Paul says women can teach:

 

…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,

Titus 2:3–4

 

It could be argued from verse 4 that they are only allowed to teach women, but the above scripture does not actually say this and simply states what they should be teaching young women. To claim because it does not mention them teaching men it means that therefore they should not, would equally mean they should not teach older women either! If, then, young women can’t teach older women, can young men teach older men? To be consistent you would have to say “No!” and that really would open a can of worms!

 

To claim that women can teach women but not men implies either:

 

  • Women are not good enough to teach men but can teach women. Why should men require a better quality of teaching than women, or why are all women less able to give quality teaching than all men? This does not stand up to logic.
     

  • If women teach men they are thereby dominating or undermining them. But if men have invited them to undertake it, how can they be doing this? This does not stand up to logic either.

 

If women are not to teach men, then does this mean there should be no women lecturers in universities? That would be ridiculous: women who have studied a subject to the point where they qualify for such a position and are skilled communicators are just as capable of passing on the knowledge to men as men would be. Do we argue that it only relates to the Church and not secular society? Why? What is the difference? Why would women teaching men in a Church be abusing their position, while women teaching men in a university would not be doing so?

 

To go one step further, what about women in business: are we to insist they should all remain outside of management or promotion so they are never in authority over men? Surely not! So what does this say about women in leadership positions in the Church? In fact the problems in Church leadership in this regard largely disappear when New Testament principles are observed. For more details see my webpage on the subject, but with shared local church leadership (eldership), all individual elders are under the authority of the eldership as a whole and women would be equal with their male fellow-leaders in this respect, not superior. Therefore female eldership in no way would usurp men – even if assuming the male ‘leadership role’ extends beyond marriage to the entire church.

 

It is obvious that Paul does not intend all women to remain in silence all the time in church gatherings since he tells them they should have their heads covered when praying or prophesying

 

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

1 Corinthians 11:5

 

Regarding prophesying, Thayer’s Greek Definitions says:

 

1) in Greek writings, an interpreter of oracles or of other hidden things

2) one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as relate to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation

2a) the OT prophets, having foretold the kingdom, deeds and death, of Jesus the Messiah.

2b) of John the Baptist, the herald of Jesus the Messiah

2c) of the illustrious prophet, the Jews expected before the advent of the Messiah

2d) the Messiah

2e) of men filled with the Spirit of God, who by God’s authority and command in words of weight pleads the cause of God and urges salvation of men

2f) of prophets that appeared in the apostolic age among Christians

2f1) they are associated with the apostles

2f2) they discerned and did what is best for the Christian cause, foretelling certain future events. (Acts 11:27)

2f3) in the religious assemblies of the Christians, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, having power to instruct, comfort, encourage, rebuke, convict, and stimulate, their hearers

3) a poet (because poets were believed to sing under divine inspiration)

3a) of Epimenides

 

It is clear from 2, 2e and 2f3 that prophesying can include teaching. And Paul says women should do so with their heads covered. This being the case, it would seem that his instruction regarding them in Corinthians and Timothy has more to say about their relationship to their husbands when married than anything else.

 

Perhaps at this point it would be worth repeating what I have on my webpage toward the end of ‘How Did He Do That?’ regarding women’s obedience to husbands.

 

Most Bible translations have Eve created from Adam’s rib, but the Hebrew word can equally be translated as ‘side’. Not that it makes a huge difference: if God could create Adam from a bit of dust, He could certainly create Eve from a single rib. Whatever He took, as has been pointed out many times, He didn’t take something from Adam’s head so Eve would rule over him; nor from his feet so he would dominate her; but from his side so that side by side they would love and support each other.

 

It is interesting that God said Eve would be Adam’s helper, which some have assumed to prove her servility to him.

 

And the LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him."

Genesis 2:18

 

Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Definition: ezer - help, succour.

 

In some translations of the New Testament the Holy Spirit is given the same description.

 

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.

John 15:26

 

Thayer’s Greek Definitions: parakletos -  in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant

 

Does this mean we are in some way superior to the Holy Spirit because He is our helper? Of course not! Man and woman were originally designed to fulfil different roles, but walk side by side, equally important and valued, in a relationship of love and respect for each other.

 

Therefore, in terms of order within the marriage, man is the head; but in terms of importance both are equal. It is true that the wife is told to obey her husband; but the husband is told both to love his wife and to give himself for her in the same way the Jesus gave Himself for the Church.

 

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Ephesians 5:25 

 

How did Christ love the Church?

 

…who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:6–8

 

It is impossible for a man to be fulfilling Ephesians 5:25 while forcing his own wishes and desires on his wife, ‘lording it’ over her, treating her as a servant, ignoring her viewpoint and always doing what he wants regardless of what she wants. The wife can only be empowered to obey her husband when he is loving and giving himself for her.

 

Indeed, the Bible says we should all be subject to one another, and this applies as much to the marriage relationship as any other.

 

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility...

1 Peter 5:5

 

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Philippians 2:3

 

A silly illustration will make the application of this clear.

 

Paul: “I’d like a holiday visiting the theme parks in Florida this year. What would you like to do?

 

Sarah: “I’d really like to sun myself on a beach in Cyprus.”

 

Paul: “OK, then. Cyprus it is!”

 

Sarah: “No, we must book for Florida.”

 

Paul: “No, if you prefer Cyprus, we’re going there.”

 

Sarah: “No: you’d sooner be in Florida, so that’s where we should go.”

 

Paul: “The Bible says you have to obey me, and I say we go to Cyprus. So that’s the end of it.”

 

Or what about this version?

 

Paul: “I see the cup final is on television at the same time as the Strictly Come Dancing Final.”

 

Sarah: “Oh, that’s a shame. We’ll watch the football.”

 

Paul: “No! You’ve been following ‘Strictly’ right through the series, so we’ll watch that.”

 

Sarah: “But it’s your team playing in the final. We should watch that.”

 

Paul: “You are supposed to obey me, and I say we watch ‘Strictly’, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

 

Of course there would be other alternatives: a second television, perhaps, or a visit to friends for one of them, so both could see their preferred programme. But it does illustrate the point. When the teaching of the Bible is properly applied within a Christian marriage and both partners are obeying 1 Peter 5:5, Philippians 2:3 and Ephesians 5:25, it certainly does not make the woman a second-class citizen, pandering to her husbands every wish: rather it means the husband is empowered to ignore his own desires in order to bring his wife complete fulfilment. Do I do this? Probably not in the way I should. Thankfully I have a wife who loves me and who can forgive my inability to be what I should be while I am learning my lessons!

INDEX

 

Summary

 

I would like to suggest that with the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the Church, God made the way open for His perfect purpose for human relationships to come into being. Remember that “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" was a part of the curse resulting from Adam’s sin…

 

To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you."

Genesis 3:16

 

…and since we are now freed from all of the consequences of his fall, perhaps it is time we men started acting like it! Thus the New Testament teaching that we should all treat each other as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and indeed consider others’ needs of higher importance than our own, ultimately resulted in the abolition of slavery and now makes it possible for women to enter more fully into ministry than was ever possible before.

 

It is patently obvious that when gifted women are given the opportunity to minister, they do so with enough fruit following to prove the Holy Spirit is ‘doing the work’ within and through them. There are many such examples, and it is ironic that there are churches not accepting women ‘preachers’ or ‘teachers’ but will quite happily support women ‘on the mission field’, where these activities are a part of their ministry! It is also ironic that some male Christian Church leaders who oppose a similar kind of role for women are themselves in a role (sole leadership) conflicting with far more scriptures (see my study on Christian church group-leadership on my website).

 

It is my belief that with the evidence of God’s blessing on the ministry of many women, a re-evaluation of our understanding of their place within the Church is in order; and with so few scriptures that can be cited to deny them this possibility but which are capable of being interpreted differently, and with a number of other scriptures demonstrating – even in 1st century Middle East – women teaching and taking leading roles within church activity, there is every reason not only to allow, but actively to encourage them to fulfil fully the giftings given them by the Holy Spirit.

 

INDEX

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.

Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

All scriptures labelled NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004.

Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream,, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.

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