Woman

Preaching and Worship Resources about Woman

Women make up about half the human race, so it might seem irrelevant to think about them as a separate entity. However, the place of women in the economy of creation and Scripture has always been an issue for the church, not least of all in contemporary life. Historically, women have generally occupied a secondary status in society and the church. However, the rise of feminism in the twentieth century has challenged the traditional status of women in the Bible and the church. The main issue is whether women, either by their biological makeup or their God-ordained place in the world, have a unique status or calling different from that of men. For Roman Catholics, the place of women in the church (but not in their status or in society as a whole) is governed by the fact that Jesus Christ, the quintessential human being, and the twelve apostles, who have unique authority in the church, are males. Thus the Roman Catholic Church bars women from the priesthood. For Protestants, two main views have emerged. Some, typically called egalitarians, believe that women should be regarded as equals in every sense. Others, typically called complementarians, believe that the Bible instructs that women, though wholly of equal status, occupy different roles in the church and in society than men.

In Scripture

"God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'" (Gen. 1:27 - 28).

"The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, `This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken'" (Gen. 2:20 - 23).

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, `Did God say, "You shall not eat from any tree in the garden"?'" (Gen. 3:1).

"The man said, `The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.' Then the Lord God said to the woman, `What is this that you have done?' The woman said, `The serpent tricked me, and I ate'" (Gen. 3:12 - 13).

"To the woman (God) said, `I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you'" (Gen. 3:16).

"The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, `When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.' But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live" (Ex. 1:15 - 17).

"Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing" (Ex. 15:20).

""f a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days" (Lev. 12:2-5).

"When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite, to separate themselves to the Lord . . ." (Num. 6:2).

"Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess and inheritance among their father's brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them" (Num. 27:5-7).

"If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her" (Num. 30:6 - 8).

"At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment" (Judg. 4:4 - 5).

"So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her" (2 Kings 22:14).

"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30).

"Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, `Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb'" (Luke 1: 41 - 42).

"There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem" (Mark 15:40 - 41).

"Returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them" (Luke 24:9 - 11).

"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (Rom. 16:7).

"For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God" (1 Cor. 11:10-12).

"As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?" (1 Cor. 14:33 - 36)

"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27 - 28).

"Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands" (Eph. 5:22 - 24).

"I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel" (Phil. 4:2 - 3).

"(I desire) that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim. 2:9 - 14).

Points to Ponder

No difference in status In the Genesis 1 creation account it should be noted that both male and female are named together as human beings made in the image of God. The Hebrew says, "Let us make man (adam, the word for human) in our image," but then it says he made them male and female. So originally there is no difference in the status of male and female before God.

Companionship In the second creation account in Genesis 2, Adam (the human) is alone in the garden and God seeks to provide proper companionship for him. The woman (Hebrew: issah) is created out of Adam's rib and presented to him as a "suitable helper" (Hebrew: ezer). Some have argued that because woman was made from Adam's rib and given as a "helper," she is presented as in some way subservient. However, it should be noted that the word for helper is also attributed to God. Therefore, others maintain that the woman should be seen as a suitable partner and counterpart for the man in the human calling.

Eve That Eve is the one in conversation with the serpent in Genesis 3 suggests to some that she has stepped out of her proper place under the leadership of Adam, thus bringing ruin. Others see her conversation with the serpent as a sign of her equality and even her unique intelligence. In the curse following the fall, God declares that her husband will rule over Eve. Some take this to be a creational mandate, while others argue that this is a result of the fall, and therefore should be taken as a sign of the fallen world rather than the way God intended.

Prominent women in the Old Testament It should be noted that while women were generally not regarded as the equals of men generally in the ancient Near East, there are a number of prominent women in the Old Testament, including judges (Deborah), prophets (Miriam and Huldah), and key actors (Shiprah, Puah, and Esther).

Jesus and women On the one hand, Jesus chose twelve men as his disciples and commissioned them as apostles. Yet he had extensive dealings with women, and women play key roles in his life and ministry. His closest friends were the sisters Martha and Mary. Mark names a number of women who support Jesus financially and in other practical ways. That Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman alone was a big surprise and even scandalous to his disciples (John 4). Most important, the faithful women who came to the tomb were the first to declare the good news of Jesus's resurrection — which the disciples then doubted because it came from women. Just the fact that he had independent and close relationships with women in that culture is surprising, and indicates Jesus's acceptance of women as equals in their relationship to him.

Women figured prominently in Paul's ministry In Paul's letters there appears to be a clear understanding that women, while equal by their baptism (Gal. 3:27 - 28) have reduced roles in the church. They are to wear certain clothes either for modesty or to reduce worldly show (1 Tim. 2:9 - 10), and they are restricted from speaking and teaching in the church gathering (1 Cor. 14:34 - 35 and 1 Tim. 2:11 - 15). At the same time, it is clear that some women figured prominently in Paul's ministry. He speaks of them as "coworkers" (Phil. 4:2) at his side, as "deacons," and, should Junia (Rom. 16:7) be a female, as an apostle. Some believe, then, that the restrictions placed on women in some churches may be due to special circumstances.

Women in the modern church Clearly the modern feminist movement has had a large effect on the place of women in the church. While some churches maintain a literal and universally prescriptive understanding of Paul's texts about the place of women, others do not. Those who maintain a more egalitarian approach either see unique local circumstances as the reason for Paul's restrictions or see the restrictions as mirroring societal norms in that day, or they maintain that the Holy Spirit's ultimate purpose is grasped in the egalitarian movement.

A complementarian view: "In God's wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments."

An egalitarian view: "Biblical feminists believe that Scripture affirms the worth and value of men and women equally - and that all who have accepted Christ's offer of new life should have equal opportunity to serve God. They take seriously Paul's statement that `there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3:28). Biblical feminists advocate partnership, not competition; mutual submission, not dominion by one sex over the other; the priesthood of all believers, not a male hierarchy.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.