The Bible seems such a great source of knowledge. It reaches for a scope and scale of things grand and vast and explores the hidden depths of the human psyche. If it weren’t for a few pesky passages, I imagine many more would be reading it.
One such set of passages have received endless interpretation and abuse: those concerning a woman’s role in the church and the family. Many passages (Gen 2:18, Tit 2:3-5, 1 Tim 2:11-15, 1 Cor 11:3, etc.) describe different aspects of the role of the woman, and most seemingly describe simply what not to do. Through my years of living (admittedly short) I have seen these passages used to tell women that they are in the wrong and to ‘put them in their place’, so to speak.
One does not need search long to find stories of abuse concerning these passages. Domineering men wielding them as a chimp with a machine gun, enforcing their own beliefs and values on women and the woman’s commitment to God called into question should she stand up for herself. This is not to say what the Bible definitively is saying, I have simply seen firsthand the effects of weak men using these scriptures to control the women around them who might have the gall to question a man’s decision.
I have experienced a family torn apart, while for deeper reasons, with these passages and ideas occupying a lot of space in the conflict. I have seen women ostracised from churches because they were not given anything constructive or helpful or even encouraging, simply criticisms telling them what they could not do.
With the rise of more egalitarian ideas in society (and by extension, the church), I believe an increase in this conversation is visible. However, it seems it is regularly split into two views without much room for a third.
Things we don’t know
If something is obvious then there should be no discussion around it. No one disagrees what a brick looks like, no one argues about the value of sleep, and no Christian argues that God is the Creator. So it is worth noting that so much discussion is being had around these passages and ideas, because that’s not a trivial thing. There are compelling arguments and interpretations which could suggest both ideas; one can convincingly articulate the reasons a woman should not lead, and one could articulate that the verses are out of context and require deeper engagement.
This is to say it is not obvious exactly what the ‘correct’ interpretation is of these verses, else it would have been arrived at a long time ago (although it could be worth researching that the controversy around these passages is fairly modern, and it seemed quite clear for an extended period of time). A good idea, then, would be to try and articulate that which we do know so that the conversation can shift to a slightly different perspective; just what is it a woman ‘should do’, then? Rather than a discouraging list of things that they should not.
Things we do know.
God has created mankind in his image, and the perfect image of God is love. This means man and woman are best suited to love in the ways He has designed us to.
“So God created humankind in His image,
in the image of God He created them;
male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27, NRSV)
It is inarguable that God has created both man and woman to reflect him. Just as a church holds an idol to reflect the deity’s persona, so too has God filled the Earth with perfect images of Himself. This image is not one of two legs and two arms, rather one of love.
“Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John chapter 4 verses 7-8 ESV). If God is love, and to love is to know and be born from God, then it follows we reflect the image of God by showing love unconditional.
But God does not simply lead us and guide us, He also helps us and supports us and listens to us. And it is here you may be seeing what I’m getting at. Men and women seem to differ in temperament, meaning they do not (generally speaking) act or think the same way. My thought is to connect what was thought when it was written “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis chapter 2, verse 18 ESV) with the idea of what women could be doing.
That is not to say women should be forced into the role of helping and supporting, I am simply trying to see a different angle; that perhaps a woman would find her fulfillment and glory in the acting out of the way God designed her. That just as a masculine side of God exists, so too can a feminine side be seen. Just as a man shows sacrificial love when he is called to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians chapter 5 verses 25-27), so too might the woman be most fulfilled in being the helper God created her to be.
I find myself considering the elephant in the room – I myself am a man, and so this could be interpreted as me simply telling women what to do – however I really must stress that I am simply trying to see the discussion from a different angle. One that encourages rather than criticises. One that says women can absolutely be leaders, and perhaps the area they lead is an area they are better at than man. Instead of a war of usurping each other, men and women might be better suited encouraging one another in the areas where God has designed us to flourish. I don’t pretend to know the answer, however I hope this will be a useful perspective in the discussion. While it can be argued what Paul intended when he wrote those letters, it cannot be argued that both man and woman were created in God’s image, and that image is love.
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation. Josiah’s previous articles may be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html