The Restricted Woman
How then are we to understand some of the passages in Scripture which seem to limit the role of a woman at church and place a married woman under the authority of her husband? And that this has been so not just since the Fall, but since Creation. Let’s begin to look at the statements we have just mentioned.
The Restricted Woman According To I Corinthians 11:9
The first the statement we will look at is:
Woman was made for man.
These words can be found in I Corinthians 11:9
Neither was man created for woman but woman for man.
We read in Genesis 2:18
It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
The words “woman was made for man” have been misunderstood to mean that, since the woman derived her origin from the man, she was therefore inferior in rank to him, and since the woman was created for the man, she was therefore subject to him. This did not only apply to the first woman but has been applied to every woman since that time both at home and in the church. However, we have already learned that God created the woman because of the man’s need, the man’s loneliness. The man was incomplete without the woman. Therefore, God made the woman, not to be an inferior aid to serve him but to be a partner with the man in all respects, to rule together with him over creation, in perfect harmony on an equal basis. Though this partnership was lost at the Fall, we know that in Christ this has been restored. This is confirmed by the words with which the Apostle Paul ends this particular passage, found in I Corinthians 11:11-12
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Paul hereby reminded his readers that, in the final analysis, both the man and the woman come from, or originate from, God, and as such have equal status in the Lord.
The Restricted Woman According To I Corinthians 11:3
The next statement we will look at is:
Man is the head of the woman.
We find this mentioned in I Corinthians 11:3
The head of every man is Christ. The head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
In the English language the word “head” means either “a part of our physical body” or someone in a position of “authority” or “power” for instance “the head of a school”, “the head of a department” or “the head of a company”.
In the Greek language of Paul’s days the word “head” could mean these things, depending on the particular Greek term the author had chosen. In I Corinthians 11:3 Paul had chosen the word “kephale”, which can mean “physical head” or "source, source of life". However, it does not mean “authority” or “power”.
We can see this from the order in which Paul listed the three pairs: “every man/Christ”, “woman/man”, and “Christ/God”. If he had given us a hierarchical order to establish authority, he would have written: “Christ/God”, “every man/Christ”, and “woman/man” but he has not done so. Paul, who was a very orderly writer, had something entirely different in mind, namely a chronological order to establish that the word “head” meant “source”. As such, the chronological order makes perfect sense for Christ was the source of life for the man from whom every human being descended, the first man was the source of life for the first woman and God was the source of life for Christ in His incarnation.
Some background information might be helpful here. The people to whom Paul was writing had been influenced by the pagan belief that a woman was made of a substance different from, and inferior to, the man. By using the term “kephale”, Paul was correcting this error and confirming the creation account as given to us in Genesis 2:21-22 which tells us that the woman was made from the man’s rib or in fact side, and confirmed thereby the equality of the woman to the man.
Another example of the man as the head of the woman, this time in the context of marriage, can be found in Ephesians 5:23
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church, of which He is the Saviour.
Once again, Paul used the word “kephale” to describe the husband’s function as “head of his wife”. Not only did Paul make it very clear from the term he had chosen that this function as “head” did not mean “authority” or “power”, but he went on to specify what example husbands were to follow: they were to follow the highest example, namely Christ’s example as Head of the Church in His role as Saviour of the Church. Now we know that Christ functions not only as Head, but as Lord, as King, as Priest, as Intercessor among other things. However, it is only in relation to Christ’s function as Head of the Church, which is associated with His role as Saviour of the Church, that the husband’s function as head was mentioned by Paul. This means that Paul did not associate the husband’s function as head of his wife with Christ’s function as Lord, as King, as Priest, as Intercessor but only with Christ’s function as Saviour, which is a sacrificial function, not a rulership function. Christ’s function as Head is beautifully described in Colossians 2:19 and gives us a wonderful picture of Christ ministering to His Church.
He has lost connection with the Head from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Paul emphasised this in Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.
Therefore, according to Paul’s writings, the function of any husband as head of his wife was to be a loving, serving, ministering, nourishing, self-giving, sacrificial function without even a hint of authority or rulership attached to it.
The Restricted Woman According To Ephesians 5:21-22
We will now look at the statement:
A woman is to submit to a man at Church and at home a wife is to submit to her husband.
The Greek word for submission is “hupotasso” and means “aligning oneself with another”,“giving allegiance to another”,“tending to the needs of another”,“be supportive of another”,“be responsive to another”, “complying with the wishes of another”, or “responsible behaviour towards another”.
An example can be found in Ephesians 5:21-22
Submit to one another out of reverence for God. Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
The original text here reads as follows:
Submit to one another out of reverence for God. Wives to husbands as to the Lord.
Once again, we have here a case where the author has left an important word out of the text since its meaning can be understood by what he had written previously. We have already seen this in I Timothy 2:8-10, a passage dealing with prayer. The difference between Ephesians 5:21-22 and I Timothy 2:8-10, apart from subject matter, is that the translators have filled in the missing word in Ephesians 5:22, which they were able to do by studying Ephesians 5:21, but regrettably have not done so in the I Timothy 2:8-10 passage.
It might be helpful for us to have some understanding of the cultural background of the people with whom Paul was dealing. At that time gentile women, though married, were still under the authority of their parental household and were still to worship the idols of their parental household. Paul encouraged them to separate themselves from their parental household and to voluntarily submit to, meaning to align themselves with their husbands and so to form a new household under the Lordship of Christ. This would have been a major change for these women since many of them would have come from pagan households.
I would like to include here Paul’s very challenging instruction to men, which we can read in Ephesians 5:25-33
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Church – for we are members of His Body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the Church. However, each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Paul’s instruction that men were to love their wives and in fact to love them sacrificially would have been a completely new teaching for these men since according to their culture and traditions the only reasons men had wives was because they needed someone to take care of their home and to provide them with offspring, preferably male.
Another example of wifely submission can be found in I Peter 3:1-6
Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that if any do not believe the Word they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their husbands, like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Here the Apostle Peter also taught that women were to willingly align themselves with their husbands. Furthermore, he encouraged women to let their beauty not just be an outward beauty but an inner beauty because of the peace of God in their lives. He then mentioned Sarah as an example, saying of her that she obeyed her husband and called him her master. The word “obedience” here is the Greek word “hupokaou”. It means “to listen to,” “to heed”. Interestingly, God spoke these same words to Abraham in connection with his wife. We can read this in Genesis 21.
Let’s turn to that chapter and read verses 8-12
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” This matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
What we see then is that, though at times Sarah gave heed to, listened to her husband, at other times Abraham gave heed to, listened to his wife.
It is very obvious then that even in the case of Sarah and Abraham, Sarah was not called to slavishly obey her husband without ever having any input herself.
As far as the term “master” is concerned, this is simply a term of respect for her husband and is very much in line with Scripture, as we can read in the second part of Ephesians 5:33
However, each one must also love his wife, as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Peter repeated this command, but this time addressed the husbands in I Peter 3:7 Husbands in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Now as far as the term “the weaker partner” is concerned, though theologians of the past have often considered women to be morally weaker than men, more easily deceived, causing them to be more suspicious and timid, this is not what the Apostle Peter had in mind when he wrote these words. It is of course true that women in many cases are physically weaker than men and therefore more vulnerable to physical abuse. The words of Peter that husbands were to be considerate and respectful of their wives should discourage any such abuse to ever take place. What we can see then in Scripture is that men and women are to serve each other and treat each other with respect.
The Restricted Woman According To I Corinthians 14:34-35
We will next look at the statement:
A woman is to be silent.
An example can be found in I Corinthians 14:34-35
Women should remain silent in the Churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the Church.
This is quite an interesting statement, is it not? Particularly if it had come from Paul for, not too long ago, in I Corinthians 11:5 to be exact, he had confirmed that women could pray and prophesy. Now I don’t know about you but, to me, men or women who pray or prophesy use words to pray or prophesy and are therefore not exactly silent during these moments of prayer or prophecy.
There have been people in the past who, because of the so-called silencing of women, in I Corinthians 14:34-35, decided that though Paul said women could pray and prophesy in I Corinthians 11:5, he did not really mean this, but did not say so until I Corinthians 14:34-35.
One example is the Reformer John Calvin who has made the following comment:
“When he (Paul) reproves them for prophesying with their heads uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in I Corinthians 14.”
This is rather a curious comment, is it not? The Reformer called the prophesying of women “a vice” which though seemingly encouraged by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11 was then supposedly withdrawn by him in I Corinthians 14. The Reformer seemed to imply that the Holy Spirit, who was the Source of Inspiration behind Paul’s words, changed His mind about women praying and prophesying at some point between chapters 11 and 14.
However, this is not a correct view, of course.
Others have understood the term “the Law” in this passage to refer to Genesis 3:16, a passage we have already looked at in which God said to the woman:
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
And as we have already discussed, the correct text reads:
“I will surely multiply your toil (your hard work) and I will multiply your conception. With effort you will bring forth children. You will turn to you husband,
And he will rule over you.”
The theologians who interpreted the term “the Law” as referring to this verse were not correct either, for nowhere in the Old Testament, including Genesis 3:16, do we find the command that women are to be silent.
A recent comment on this passage is from Wayne Grudem, which is as follows:
“In this section Paul cannot be prohibiting all public speech by women in the Church for he clearly allows them to pray and prophesy in I Corinthians 11:5. Understanding of this passage depends on our view of the gift of prophecy, namely that prophecy involves not authoritative teaching… For Paul is concerned to preserve male leadership in the teaching and governing of the Church.”
Wayne Grudem, unlike John Calvin, allows women to prophesy. The reason he allows women to prophesy is because according to him prophecy does not include instruction or teaching. However that is contrary to the biblical view for it is not in line with I Corinthians 14:29-31.Though we have already looked at this passage I would like us to read it again:
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
These words clearly indicate that Paul understands that prophecy includes instruction or teaching. Therefore Wayne Grudem’s comment on this passage is not correct either.
The reason we have such difficulties with understanding I Corinthians 14:34-35 is because we do not necessarily realise that these verses are in fact not Paul’s own words but a quotation from a letter he had received from the Church Leaders in Corinth. His answer in the form of a rebuke can be found in I Corinthians 14:36-37. Paul actually began this passage with an expression which has been left out by most translators. However, it has been translated in the KJV as “What!” followed by the words “Came the word of God out from you?… or as is stated in the NIV “Did the word of God originate with you?…. He thereby declared that the viewpoint of these people, who had been greatly influenced by “the Law”, which was a collection of orally preserved Rabbinical Traditions, was in fact invalid.
An example of a person using this oral “Law” is Josephus, a Jewish historian, who lived from 37 A.D. to about 100 A.D. and who wrote:
“The woman, says “the Law”, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive.”
He referred to the oral “Law”, not the Bible, as “the Law”. It’s the same “Law” referred to in I Corinthians 14:34-35.
All Jewish regulations for women were based on commentaries on the Old Testament, on this collection of orally preserved Rabbinical Traditions, and not on the Old Testament itself.
The Restricted Woman According To I Timothy 2:11-15
Our final statement is:
A woman is not to teach or to have authority over a man.
One example is I Timothy 2:11-15
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Traditionally this passage has been understood to mean that women in general are not allowed to teach. Those who have taught this have based it, first of all on the so-called “Creation Order”, related to the sentence “for Adam was formed first, then Eve”, and secondly on the sentence that “it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”.
Furthermore, according to their understanding, women would indeed be saved through the work of childbearing if done in faith, love and holiness.
The Protestant Reformer John Calvin’s comment on this passage is an example of such an understanding of the text and we will now look at some of his statements to which I will add my personal comment.
“Women are to be silent, quiet, because they must keep within their own rank. She was created afterwards, in order that she might be a kind of appendage to the man to render obedience to him. For God did not create two chiefs of equal power and the Apostle justly reminds us of that Order of Creation in which the eternal and inviolable appointment of God is strikingly displayed."
In Genesis 1:26-28 we read:
So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground. And in Genesis 5:1-2 we read:
When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, He called them man.
This word “man” is the Hebrew word “Adam”. This is a generic term and means mankind or humankind as well as man. God, in Genesis One, stated very clearly His intention for the male and the female to have dominion together. There was not even a hint of the female being an inferior helper made to obey the male as the superior party. On the contrary, they were called to work together as equals. In Genesis Two that situation did not change. In that chapter we simply have a more detailed account of events which took place on the sixth day, including the formation of the man and the woman, as his equal, suitable, matching “helper”.
“God, having assigned the woman to subjection at the beginning, furthermore inflicted the rulership of the man as a punishment at the time of the Fall. She is not to improve her condition.”
We have already seen that God did not create the man to rule over the woman but that they were to rule over creation together. God’s words to the woman, spoken at the time of the Fall, that the man would rule over her, were not words of further punishment but were words of forewarning. As far as improving her condition, a woman in her own strength cannot improve her condition but God could and God did, in time when He sent the promised Seed, the Messiah who reversed the effects of the Fall, including the rulership of men over women.
“The weakness of the sex renders women suspicious and timid.”
My comment: A woman outside of Christ may be suspicious and timid, but a woman who is in Christ will have become a new creation for whom all things will have become new and though she in herself may be weak and timid she knows in Whom her strength lies. The Apostle Paul wrote very movingly about his weaknesses, in I Corinthians 12:7-10
To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Likewise, any woman who is in Christ, though weak in herself, will have the power of God working in and through her.
“The destruction of the whole human race was attributed to women…”
This is traditional Jewish thinking, taken on by the Roman Catholic Church Fathers as well as the Protestant Reformers but it has no scriptural basis. Both the man and the woman disobeyed God but, thank God, there is now no condemnation for the man or the woman who is in Christ, as in Romans 8:1
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the Law of the Spirit of Life sets me free from the Law of Sin and Death.
“Their subjection as a testimony of the wrath of God is constantly placed before their eyes.”
Christ at the Cross bore the wrath of God, as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
Therefore, God’s wrath rests no longer on a woman who is in Christ. She can now come boldly before the Throne of Grace, as we can read in Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach the Throne of Grace with confidence.
“They suffer temporal punishment.”
This idea of temporal punishment is not taught in Scripture. It is more in line with Roman Catholic Dogma Calvin had been taught before leaving the Roman Catholic Church. It is obvious that, even though Calvin had separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church at some point in his life, some of the teachings of that Church remained part of his belief system.
But we know that God’s punishment for sin was paid for in full at the Cross.
As Isaiah says in Isaiah 53:5
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.
God poured upon Christ the punishment we deserved. It is fully taken care of. In Christ we are no longer considered guilty before God. God uses trials to test our faith, to help our faith mature, as James wrote in James 1:2
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
“When a woman considering to what she has been called, submits to the condition which God has assigned to her, and does not refuse the pains of childbearing or anxiety about her offspring…”
God calls women to many functions which may or may not include marriage and motherhood. The Scripture is full of examples of women who laboured with Paul in the Gospel. We must never underestimate the importance of marriage and motherhood but neither are we to believe that it might be all God calls a woman to do. Thankfully, we do not have to believe either that God does not want a woman to have any medical assistance during her time of giving birth, this despite Calvin’s view that a woman was not to refuse the pains of childbirth, a view he shared with many others of his time and which has caused much unnecessary suffering for women throughout the centuries.
Therefore, a woman’s field of labour may well include her home but may not exclusively be her home.
I would like to include part of Wayne Grudem’s comment on this passage which is as follows:
“Should women be Pastors or Elders in the Churches? The single passage in Scripture that addresses this question most directly is I Timothy 2:11-14. Here Paul is speaking about the Church when it is assembled. In such a setting, Paul says, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men.” These are the functions that are carried out by elders of the Church… It is specifically these functions unique to Elders that Paul prohibits for women in the Church. The reason Paul gives this prohibition is the situation of Adam and Eve before the Fall and before there was any sin in the world, and the way in which a reversal in male and female roles occurred at the time of the Fall….So Paul used the fact that “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” as a reason for restricting some distinct governing and teaching roles in the Church to men.”
We can first of all see that Wayne Grudem misunderstands the responsibility God has given to the man at Creation since he implies that God had given the man authority over the woman at that time. However, this is contrary to Scripture, for we read in Genesis 1:27-28: So God created man in His image, in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
From these verses we learn that God gave the man only authority over creation. Moreover, God gave that same authority to the woman since they were to rule creation together. Secondly, we have already learned from the correct translation of Genesis 3:16 that the woman did not try and take this supposed authority away from the man at the Fall but that she turned towards the man instead of turning towards God to have her needs met for we know that the correct translation of the sentence “Your desire will be for your husband” is “You will turn towards your husband.”
Furthermore, Wayne Grudem’s comments are only based on I Timothy 2:11-14. He has not included verse 15, which is clearly a part of this section of Scripture. This is very likely because he uses the literal interpretation method and he understands that he cannot apply this method to verse 15. Unfortunately, this has not made Wayne Grudem consider thatverses 11-14 may also need to be interpreted differently.
Which Bible verse contains the sentence "Woman was made for man."?
Does I Corinthians 11:9 imply that women are inferior to men?
Which Bible verse contains the sentence "Man is the head of the woman."?
Can you give an example of the man as the head of the woman in the context of marriage?
When looking at the statement that a woman is to submit to a man at church, and a wife is to submit to her husband at home, can you give examples of passages where the Bible teaches on submission?
Can you give the Greek word for submission?
Can you give the meanings for the Greek word hupotasso to help you more fully understand the meaning of submission?
Will it be helpful to have some understanding of the cultural background when looking at Ephesians 5:21-22?
Will it be helpful to include Paul’s instructions to men in Ephesians 5?
What did the Apostle Peter write on submission?
Did God tell Abraham to listen to, to heed, his wife Sarah at times?
Was Sarah called to slavishly obey her husband Abraham at all times?
How did Sarah show respect for her husband Abraham?
Did Peter tell husbands to respect their wives?
What Bible passage contains the sentence that a woman is to be silent?
How have Theologians of the past interpreted I Corinthians 14:34-35?
How do Theologians of today interpret I Corinthians 14:34-35?
What might be the reason we have such difficulties understanding I Corinthians 14:34-35?
Can you give an example of someone who used the Law in his writings?
What Bible passage contains the sentence "A woman is not to teach or to have authority over a man."?
On what basis have Theologians of the past taught that women could not teach?
Can you give an example?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that women are to be silent?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that the man was to rule over the woman after the Fall?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that women are suspicious and timid?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that women were the cause of the destruction of the whole human race?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that the subjugation of women is a testimony to God’s wrath on them?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that women suffer temporal punishment?
Did the Protestant Reformer John Calvin teach that women are not to refuse the pains of childbearing or anxiety about their offspring?
How do Theologians of today interpret I Timothy 2:11-15?
Will it be helpful to study I Timothy 2:11-15 taking into account the people to whom Paul was referring?