Women In The Epistles
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Some of the teaching regarding women by the Apostle Paul is difficult to understand. Even the Apostle Peter mentioned the difficulty of interpreting all Paul shared under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (II Peter 3:16)
Peter indicates there are some things difficult to understand, but that only the unlearned and unstable argue over them. Such contention is to their own destruction. In other words, arguments over such things do not help anyone and actually damages the one arguing.
One of the difficult passages in the Epistles affecting the role of women in the Church is in I Corinthians:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the Churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church. (I Corinthians 14:33-35)
This passage is often used to prohibit women from teaching or preaching.
Paul does not mean women are to keep totally silent. In the preceding chapter, he provides much detail about how a woman should have her head covered when she prays and prophesies.
Why would he waste time on this discussion if they were not supposed to speak in Church at all?
In the study on Acts you learned that at the coming of the Holy Spirit Peter said it fulfilled the prophecy of Joel. This prophecy stated the Holy Spirit was to come upon the "daughters and handmaidens" and they would prophesy.
I Corinthians 14 may be one of the passages that Peter refers to as "difficult to understand" in Paul's writings.
The most important clue to the problem is the meaning of the Greek word translated "to speak" in verse 34. The word here does not refer to public speaking, but means "chatting, questioning, arguing."
Read I Corinthians 14 in your Bible. You will note that Paul's purpose in this chapter is to prevent confusion.
His concern is that everything is done in order. This is why he tells women not to question or chat in the middle of church services but to wait and ask their husbands at home.
The cultural context in which this instruction was given must also be considered. In Jewish churches, the women sat in one section, the men in another. Apparently the Corinthian women were not only chattering but also shouting questions to their husbands in the men's section. One person who works among Jewish people says that even today he has heard the president of a synagogue bang on the pulpit and shout to the women's section to be quiet.
Proper order is Paul's concern in this passage and there is no conflict between this passage and his description of what "when ye come together" should be:
When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation...If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three...Let the prophets speak two or three...For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (I Corinthians 14:26-27, 29, 31)
The pattern Paul describes for coming together to be a very informal type of gathering. He tells every one that has a psalm, doctrine, tongue, revelation, or interpretation to present it in proper order. "Every one" includes women.
One other passage in the Epistles should be discussed here, as it is similar to the one in Corinthians:
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (I Timothy 2:11-14)
The word "silence" does not mean women are never to speak.
If they were to learn in total silence, they could never ask questions or discuss what they are learning. The word "silence" Paul used calls for a calm, un-disruptive spirit open to learning.
The words "usurp authority" means to dictate to or domineer over the man, to act in one's own authority.
None of us should act in our own authority.
We all should submit to one another, male and female alike.
In this passage, Paul warns that women, especially, should never assume a domineering attitude over a man.
The More Sinful Sex?
In this passage Paul is not condemning women for their part in the fall into sin or indicating they are more sinful. He is merely pointing out that when Eve acted in her own carnal will and authority she was deceived. When you speak or act in a dictating, domineering spirit, you open yourself up to deception and sin.
Paul is certainly not releasing man from his responsibility in the fall. Eve was deceived and thought she would become like a god. Adam was not deceived but sinned with full understanding of what he was doing and the consequences.
Another passage that has been the subject of much discussion is the one mentioned briefly above dealing with a woman and her covering. This passage is found in I Corinthians 11:3-16.
Some interpret the word "head" in this passage to mean man is the ruler over the woman.
The Hebrew word used may mean "rule" but just as often means "beginning."
Paul was speaking of Jesus being the beginning or ruler over the Church, just as man, created first in God's image, is the beginning of woman and she is from him.
Some think these instructions indicate women should have long hair and never cut it because it is their covering. Others believe it means a woman should wear a hat when she attends gatherings of Believers, to cover her head. The important thing to remember in interpreting this passage is Paul's final statement in verse 16:
...but if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the Churches of God. (I Corinthians 11:16)
He said there should be no contention or arguments about the subject.
In verse 18 he notes his concern about such division in the Corinthian Church.
Paul's greatest concern was for order and unity in the Church. Whatever interpretation is given to these passages it should not cause division.
This passage indicates man was first formed and then woman. It states that each is incomplete without the other.
Men and women were created to be a mutual comfort and blessing to one another, not one a slave and the other a tyrant.
As the woman was first formed out of the man, man is ever since formed out of the body of a woman. Just as it is the will of God that the woman accept her place of submission to her husband, so it is the will of God that man not abuse his leadership responsibilities.
Paul speaks of the importance of a woman praying with proper covering for her head.
In Paul's time, the wearing of a veil by a married Jewish woman signified they were under submission to their husband. It was an outward custom signifying an inward attitude. Paul indicates that a woman's hair could also serve as a symbol of this covering (verse 15). It was not necessary for men to wear a covering since they were the covering for the woman, designated by God to lovingly lead and care for her.
This passage does not mean unmarried women cannot pray or prophesy in Church. It means that when a woman prays or ministers, she should do so in an attitude of submission to God and, if she is married, to her husband. This attitude results in the power of God and his angels resting upon her. Praying or prophesying with a rebellious attitude is not effective. Right relationship to God and your mate is essential to powerful ministry.
Some still maintain the custom of wearing a hat or veil during worship to symbolize proper heart attitudes. Some maintain that women should wear long hair for the same purpose. These are issues dictated by custom or conviction and should be respected but not become divisive issues.
The important concept of Paul's teaching is this: A Christian woman should be in proper relationship to her husband by demonstrating an attitude of loving submission to him as she does to Jesus Christ. Ministry without this attitude is ineffective. Whether or not this is symbolized by the custom of the wearing of a veil or long hair as it was in Paul's time is not the important issue.
We cannot interpret any of the passages as a barrier to women's ministry.
If women were to keep total silence and not teach or preach then how did New Testament women organize gatherings of Believers in their homes?
Why did Paul send salutations and commendations to them in the Epistles if they were wrong in taking these leadership roles in the Church? Why did he give detailed instructions as to how they were to "prophesy" (speak) in the Church with proper covering?
We must view these passages in terms of Paul's permanent views on the subject of women. His final summary is that:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
All cultural barriers are broken in Jesus.
All class barriers dissolve as we enter into the Body of Christ as true believers.
Whether servant (bond) or master (free), we are one in Christ.
Most important to women, there is neither male or female in Christ. Every ministry open to men is open to women as God appoints, anoints, and equips them for service.
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:21)
The believers in Corinth asked Paul about marriage and celibacy (remaining single for dedicated service unto the Lord). Paul's personal opinion was that the unmarried and widows were happier if they remained single:
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them to abide even as I (that is, unmarried). (I Corinthians 7:8)
He also commented:
So then, he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. (I Corinthians 7:38)
Paul stated in I Corinthians 7:2 that marriage provides for physical and emotional needs:
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:2)
Any single person, man or woman, who has a strong sexual desire should get married.
Paul states his reason for suggesting people consider remaining single:
...that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. (I Corinthians 7:35)
Believers are only to marry other Believers. We are not to be "yoked together" with unbelievers in marriage.
One passage in the Epistles refers to unmarried widows:
Let not a widow be taken into the number (enrolled) under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. (I Timothy 5:9-10)
A widow who wants to remain single and devote her life to ministry should be at least 60 years old, have been married only once, and have a good reputation for her Christian work. Younger widows should not become members of this group because they might decide to marry again and break their vow to remain single for God's service. I Timothy 5 instructs the Church to provide for widows who have no family to provide for them.
Elderly And Young Women
Paul advises younger women to:
... marry, bear children, guide the house. (I Timothy 5:14 )
Elderly women are given special instructions:
The aged women likewise that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children. To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. (Titus 2:3-5)
The teaching of younger women by older women should be an integral part of lives of Believers in Jesus Christ. This is discipleship.
Marriage was ordained by God at the beginning of the world when He created Eve for Adam.
God's original plan was one man for one woman for life.
Divorce was not part of God's original plan but happened because of the "hardness" of man's heart. Sin-hardened hearts result in fornication, adultery, and desertion, all of which are Scriptural reasons for divorce.
Fornication is any kind of sexual immorality, for examples, homosexuality and incest. Adultery is having sexual relationships with someone who is not your mate. Paul explains:
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. (Romans 7:2-3)
While these verses apply to the actual marriage relationship, they are also a type. Paul used this illustration to show how we must become dead to the law and its penalties in order to be married to Jesus Christ.
No matter what sin we may have committed, when we come to Jesus the penalties imposed by Old Testament law are eliminated. We are no longer under, or married to, the law. Its hold over us is broken. We have a new relationship with Jesus Christ. Even if you were divorced for unscriptural reasons, it is not the unpardonable sin. It can be forgiven by God just like any other sin.
Marriage is honorable, but engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage is wrong:
Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication. (I Thessalonians 4:3)
Some general instructions are given in the Epistles regarding the wives of deacons in the Church:
Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. (I Timothy 3:11)
Peter records a beautiful promise to wives who are married to unbelievers:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that if, any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
(I Peter 3:1-2)
Through loving submission, a woman with an unsaved husband can, without a word, lead him to God. The husband will observe the wife's holy conduct and her fear of God. He will notice the difference Christ makes in her life and through her example be drawn to the Savior.
Paul said if an unbelieving husband desires to remain with his wife, she is to stay with him:
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. (I Corinthians 7:13 and 15)
The reason Paul gives for the wife to remain with an unbelieving husband:
For what knoweth thou, O wife whether thou shalt save thy husband.
(I Corinthians 7:16)
In counseling, the question often arises as to whether a wife should stay with a husband who is physically abusing her and/or the children. If the abuse is sexual with the children, this is fornication and she has Scriptural grounds for divorce.
But what about physical abuse...for example, beatings?
The Bible indicates that the body is the "temple of the Holy Ghost." It belongs to God, and whoever defiles this temple, the Lord will destroy him.
When a woman remains with a husband who is physically abusing her and her children, she is setting that man up to be destroyed by God. She should remove herself and the children from his presence.
There are several other passages in the Epistles that deal with the relationship between wives and husbands:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:18-19)
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word. That He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that lovest his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church; For we are members of His body, and of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Sometimes, these passages are applied improperly to force women into subjection. Husbands may try to get their wives to do evil by claiming these verses state they should submit. They may also "lord" it over their wives and expect them to act like servants or slaves.
The true concept of submission described here is a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is referred to as His Bride.
Paul indicates he is speaking of this relationship in verse 32. Jesus would never ask His bride to do something immoral and neither should a husband.
In moral matters contrary to the law of God, the woman should not submit. She is responsible to God and will be judged for her own sin.
Paul expands this discussion in Colossians:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as is fit in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)
The submission is to be as is fit in the Lord. Submission to perform immoral acts is not "in the Lord" nor fit (right).
There are other important facts about this relationship between husband and wife which parallels that of Christ and His Church. The Church is subject to Jesus voluntarily, not forcefully. A man should not force his wife into submission. She is to submit voluntarily because of the Christ-like love shown by her husband.
Husbands are also told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. If husbands really love with the self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved the Church, the wife will desire to submit and please her husband in all things just as a true believer desires to please Jesus.
Remember: Jesus is perfect in His love for the Church even though the Church is not perfect in its submission to Him. The husband should demonstrate similar, perfect love towards his wife even if she is not perfect in her submission to him. A wife who is a true believer, of course, whose husband loves her in this manner, will strive to please and submit to his leadership, even as she does to Christ.
It is important to understand that this passage is not speaking of marriage to a godless man. It is speaking of the married life between two Spirit-filled believers who have a natural relationship similar to the spiritual one between Christ and the Church.
Paul is saying that if you are married to a Christian man who has this type of love for you, then you should be obedient and in submission to him.
The husband is to cherish and nourish his wife because they are one flesh and both members of Christ's Body. The wife is to be the most important person in the husband's life. He is to leave father, mother, and all others and be joined to his wife as one. He is to love his wife as he loves his own body. This makes submission and reverence to him a joy for the wife. She can submit easily to him, just as she submits to the Lord.
Notice the verse that precedes the passage we have been reviewing:
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:21)
Believers, both male and female, husband and wife, are to submit to one another, desiring to please one another in the Lord.
Peter comments regarding Old Testament women and the matter of submission:
For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted
in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands;
Even as Sara obeyed Abraham calling him lord... (I Peter 3:5-6a)
While Sara spoke with respect to Abraham and obeyed him, it does not mean she did not feel free to share her opinion. On one occasion, when she had requested Abraham to cast out Ishmael and Abraham refused, God spoke to Abraham:
In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice. (Genesis 21:12)
God supported Sarah's suggestion because He realized Abraham was still clinging to Ishmael. God's plan was that Isaac should be Abraham's heir and the child of the covenant between Him and Abraham.
Several passages in the Epistles are directed to women who are mothers. They indicate it is the mother's responsibility:
To Nourish And Cherish Her Children:
In Thessalonians, Paul gives a clear picture of Christian motherhood when he states:
We behaved gently among you like a devoted mother nursing and cherishing her own children. So, being thus tenderly and affectionately desirous of you, we continued to share with you not only God's good news but also our very own selves as well, for you had become so very dear to us. (I Thessalonians 2:7-8)
Paul compares his ministry to the picture of a godly mother, nourishing, cherishing, lovingly providing for the child.
To Be The Keeper Of The Home:
Paul states that women should guide the house and be keepers of the home:
...to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed. (Titus 2:5)
...that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. (I Timothy 5:14)
Some women have engaged in Christian ministry and left their homes in shambles and their children unguided. In some cases, their children became delinquent and the marriage was destroyed.
These passages indicate the woman is to take responsibility for keeping the home and guiding the household, which includes the children. If you do not do this it results in an opportunity for Satan to take advantage. It also blasphemes rather than honors the Word of God.
This does not mean that Christian women should not engage in ministry. As you learned in Acts and the Epistles, married women had effective ministries in the early Church. But to engage in Christian ministry or any other activity while the home suffers is not God's will.
To Teach Their Children The Word Of God:
Paul reminds Timothy that "from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures" (II Timothy 3:15). He praises his mother and grandmother for their faith (II Timothy 1:5).
The Christian mother should teach the Word of God to her children. From early childhood, she should instill in them the knowledge of God and His plan for their lives. Her teaching should include discipline to the laws of God and society and honor and respect for parents and others.
Women And Childbearing
A special passage in Timothy refers to women in relation to child bearing:
For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (I Timothy 2:13-15)
Even though sin first came into the world through a woman, God planned that through a woman should come the Redeemer for the sin of the whole world, Jesus Christ. Through childbearing, salvation came. The whole world (including woman who originally sinned) would be saved because of this childbearing.
Paul emphasizes the role of woman bringing the Redeemer into the world:
But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
When the proper time came, God used a woman to birth the Redeemer who made it possible for mankind to be restored to a right relationship with Him. This is what it means when it says that the woman will be saved through childbearing.
It does not mean that having children saves a woman. Only the born-again experience of repentance and forgiveness of sin does that. Neither does it mean that women who are childless will not be saved.
There are some references in the Epistles to miscellaneous categories of women. Paul speaks of silly women:
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts. (II Timothy 3:6)
The context of this verse indicates he is warning against those who have a form of godliness with no power. They claim to be believers, but do not live a holy life to back up their confession. They target and lead naive women into sin.
Another category of women in the Epistles is the women of faith referred to in Hebrews 11. These include women who received their dead to life (verse 35); Abraham's wife, Sara (11); and Rahab who saved the spies when they entered the land God had promised them (31). These women are all commended for their belief in God.
Paul mentions women in the travail of childbearing in describing God's judgment upon the world in the final days of time:
For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
(I Thessalonians 5:3)
Just as travail of a woman is inescapable in childbearing, so the judgment of God upon a sinful world is inevitable.
Dress And Disposition
A final subject in the Epistles which relates to women are comments regarding her dress and disposition (which means behavior and attitude). Paul states:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold or pearls, or costly array.
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
(I Timothy 2:9-10)
Women of Paul's days wore elaborate hair styles. Some braided their hair with gold thread and jewels. Paul is not condemning their appearance, but is stating that women should have proper priorities. Their emphasis should be on good works rather than dress, hair, and style.
Peter also comments on the subject of women's dress and disposition:
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of the hair, and of wearing gold, or of putting on of apparel.
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (I Peter 3:3-4)
This passage clarifies Paul's comments. Peter is not saying braiding hair or wearing gold is wrong any more than he is saying that putting on clothes is wrong, which is mentioned in the same passage. He is stressing that God places more value on the inner adornment of the heart.
Women should emphasize spiritual development more than external appearance.
Both Peter and Paul are speaking in terms of priorities rather than legalistic rules which delegate what a woman should wear. The important concepts regarding appearance which Paul and Peter are teaching are:
A woman should dress modestly.
She should emphasize the spiritual development (the hidden man of the heart) more than exterior adornment (outside appearance).
Consideration must also be given to the general principle Paul teaches in passages where he is dealing with what might be called "questionable practices."
Although God said meat could be eaten with thanksgiving to God for provision (Romans 14), some believers steeped in Jewish tradition were offended when other believers ate meat. They were still abiding by Old Testament dietary laws.
Paul said when he was with these believers, he did not eat meat lest they be offended and not be able to receive his ministry. Women should let this attitude guide their outward appearance and behavior.
Both of the passages you just read state that women should be meek. Some have used these verses against women to keep them in their place, so to speak. But Jesus declared when addressing His male disciples, "blessed are the meek." We cannot regard the quality of meekness mentioned in these passages about women as being only required of female Christians. Men are to demonstrate meekness also.
Proverbs summarizes the whole matter of womens' dress and disposition when it states:
Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)