Women in the Biblical Church

Women in the Biblical Church

Is it a man’s world? If you surveyed the leadership level of this country’s institutions—school boards, colleges, political parties, businesses, banks, executive boards, churches—men would dominate. Does this say something about male superiority or about culture or about God’s created order or about the curse of sin?

Women’s issues in America have a long history—education, the right to vote, equal pay, protection under the law from domestic violence, double standards in sexual behavior, economic exploitation, Title IX sports issues, political office, glass ceilings in corporate businesses, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, priesthood, ministry, and military. Lots of issues. And if you travel to other places in the world, the list gets longer: the right to go out in public, to show her face, to speak to a man, to learn to read, sterilization, the murder of female babies, rape, slavery, and forced prostitution. The way of women in this world has not been easy.

Women in the Bible

The cultural world at the time of the writing of Genesis was a male-dominated universe. Female submission was assumed. It was a cultural reality. Because of this, the purpose of the creation accounts had little to do with defining gender roles. These stories in the first three chapters of Genesis are about a radical understanding of the God of the Jews—a God who is revealed as a covenant-making Creator. When we come to these texts, we expect them to reflect a male-dominated viewpoint. Yet in reality what we find are some radical claims being made. Let’s take a look.

In Genesis 1:27-28, we see human defined as being both male and female, and the command to subdue and to have dominion over all of creation is given not just to male but also to female.

God creates a “helper” for the man in Genesis 2. This word appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament, and in nine of these God is being called “the helper.” A helper is one whose help is indispensable or one who comes to rescue. The word “helper” is never used to mean a mere assistant or a subservient person.

In these two creation texts there is no hint of domination of the male over the female. And yet we see that people continue to try to read just that into the text. Some have said that the creation order suggests superiority—the male first, the female later. But if that is the case, man is inferior to plants, animals, and insects.

What we do see in Genesis is man and woman jointly reflecting the image of God, man and woman jointly caring for God’s creation, and man and woman jointly commissioned by God to rule and take dominion.

Does all of this mean there is no hint of male dominance in the creation account? No. Genesis 3:16 is a dark moment in the story, which occurs only after the creatures have sinned. The serpent is cursed to crawl, the woman is cursed to bear children with pain and to be ruled by men, and the man is cursed to hard, sweaty labor. God is saying to the woman that the consequence of sin, the curse of sin, is that she will be ruled by men. The woman will desire a husband, but the husband will desire to rule. She wants a mate, but he wants to be master. She wants a lover, but he wants to be lord. This, according to Gen. 3, is the curse of sin. And human history is proof that Gen. 3 is true: snakes crawl, women labor in childbirth, men rule, and work is hard. The future looks bleak for women.

Jesus and Women

Fast-forward in time, when God became flesh among us. The ministry of Jesus was a social revolution. He offered inclusion in God’s kingdom to all—the poor, the sick, the social outcast, the Gentile, the slave, the marginalized, the rejected. All were invited into the kingdom and given equal status.

This was liberating news to women. He taught them; they followed him. He talked to them; they became his disciples. He touched them; they were healed. They often showed deeper insight and more courage than men. They were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They were the messengers of the resurrection. Without question, Jesus parted with social custom and bridged the gender gap by his inclusion of women in the work of the kingdom. You do not hear a hint of male superiority in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ dealings with women. And as the resurrected Jesus ascends to heaven in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the followers of Jesus, both male and female. Women were in the upper room with the men, preaching and prophesying. The Spirit is poured out on sons and daughters.

So what do we do with the pesky New Testament texts about women being silent, men being the heads of their wives, and wives being submissive? Some scholars paint Paul as a chauvinist and say that this was his problem, thus excusing these texts. Yet it was Paul who says that in Christ “there is no longer male and female; for all . . . are one” (Gal. 3:28). Paul also encouraged women in leadership and teaching roles. And when Paul writes about the gifts of the Spirit given for service, he does not make the gifts gender specific. So what’s going on in the troublesome texts that we find?

In my next post, we’ll continue the conversation as we examine those Scriptures.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Pam McGraner says

    Thank you, President Boone.

  2. I appreciate your thoughtful article… Both the tone and content. I look forward to more.

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