Last month we began a series on the role of women in the Lord's church. These articles are appearing as a response to questions asked and requests by some of our readers. For those who accept the Bible as inspired of God there are still problems with interpretation of passages and topics that create differences of beliefs. One who takes a pessimistic view, deciding that we all can never agree upon such issues, belittles the very purpose of Scripture.
Jesus said we can know the truth of His word and abide in it (John 8:31-32). The Lord later prayed for those who believed on Him through the word of the apostles, that all believers might be as one (John 17:20-21). The Berean Jews were called "noble" because "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched (examined -ASV) the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" which were taught to them by Paul and Silas (Acts 17:11). Second Timothy 3:16-17 states that the God-inspired Scriptures are for teaching (doctrine), reproof, correction, and instruction, so that Christians may be completely furnished for every good work. All of those descriptive words imply that we can know the truth, live the truth, and teach the truth to others. Truth is unified. It does not go off in all different directions. If we disagree, one of us has to be wrong in our claim to have the truth.
The apostle Paul's plea to the church at Corinth was that they "all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). This must be the desire of all of us. God does not teach contradictory truths which would confuse us on any topic (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33). For those who love God, the Scriptures, when properly considered, are the final authority on any religious matter. We approach the subject of the role of women in the Lord's church in these articles believing that God has spoken authoritatively in His word. If you believe that we are wrong we ask you to show us where and why.
The Same Old Truth
Last year I spoke on the topic of these articles at a church lectureship in Arkansas. An elder from another congregation in the city (where they since have begun giving women a public leadership role in worship) told one of the elders of the church which hosted the lectureship, "I didn't hear anything new." While it surely was not intended as a compliment, I took it as one. The closest I could come to new truth is about 2,000 years ago at the close of the New Testament record. Even then we are sent back thousands of years earlier to the events of creation and Eden.
In at least three places in his letters Paul referred to creation and Eden as the basis for teaching that women are to be in a submissive relationship to man. First Corinthians 11:3-10 relates the first century custom of women being veiled as a sign of submission to the order of creation (the male Adam first and the female Eve second v.8) and the purpose for creating the female (the woman for the man v.9). While the veil itself was a symbolic custom which does not now bear the same connotation in many parts of the world, the reasons which Paul gave for wearing the veil are permanent, rooted in the order of creation and the purpose of God in creating male and female as He did. Also, when living in areas of the world where such a custom of the veil prevails, Christian women would be bound to observe it. Later in this same letter Paul restricted the ability of women to engage in the leading of worship activities in Christian assemblies (14:33-37). In commanding women to "keep silence in the churches." Paul reminded them that they are "to be under obedience (in subjection-ASV), as also saith the law," obviously referring to the law of Moses (v. 34). The third reference made to creation and Eden is found in first Timothy 2:11-14. In this passage Paul told "the woman to learn in silence with all subjection," and "not&to teach nor usurp (have authority over the man, but to be in silence: (vv. 11-12). Why? Paul says, "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived was in transgression" (vv. 13-14). We will study each of these passages in future articles.
The Genesis Connection
The book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It tells how the heaven and earth came to be; the creation of man and woman, their purposes and relationships; and Eden, the temptation and fall into sin, and the curses God placed upon the serpent, woman, and the man (Genesis 1-3). In short, it tells how things were originally in creation and how things came to be as they are now. In the creation of God's highest earthly creatures, made in His image, man was made first (Genesis 2:7, 18). Then God made woman as "a help meet for him" (a helper suitable for him, 2:21-24). It is to these events that Paul refers when discussing the role of woman as related to the order of creation and the purpose of women (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; 1 Timothy 2:13).
Paul's reference to the woman being deceived and falling into transgression (1 Timothy 2:14) refers to Genesis 3:1-13. His comment in first Corinthians 14:34 about woman's need to be in obedience being mentioned in the "law" may be an allusion to Genesis 3:16 where God pronounced a curse on the woman. As the representative of women, just as Adam was the representative of all men, Eve was told that she would bear children in sorrow and pain, "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." However, the reference is more likely to the general teaching of Genesis two regarding the created roles of headship and submission into which God placed each respectively as male and female (2:7,18, 21-23).
Genesis, chapters one through three, is a key to understanding the God-ordained roles for men and women and their relationships toward each other. We must realize that both man and woman are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).
However, in chapter two, distinctions are made regarding particular male/female roles and relationships. The male is the central character in chapter two. He is the first made (vv. 7, 18); he is placed in the Garden of Eden made for him (vv. 8-9); man is to dress and keep the Garden, obeying the prohibition against eating the forbidden fruit (vv. 15-17); he needs a companion suitable for him (v. 18); he names the animals but finds none suitable as his helper (vv. 19-20); God formed woman from man and brought her to man (she was for man, vv. 21-22); man accepted her as coming from himself and exercised his God-given authority in giving her a name (v. 23; cf. 3:20); and finally Adam described the institution of marriage as God originally intended it to be (v. 24; cf. Matthew 19; 4-6).
The fact that woman was called a "helper" does not in itself signify that she was given a subordinate role to man. The Hebrew word for "helper" is also used of God about sixteen times (cf. Psalms 121:1-2; et al). Certainly God is not subordinate to man. But it cannot be said of God that he was created to become a helper suitable to man's needs, as it was said of woman (Genesis 2:18). Also, while the context of Genesis two implies the subordination of woman to man, New Testament teaching explicitly (clearly) affirms it! "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (1 Corinthians 11:9).
Paul makes his point both by denying that man was made for the woman and by affirming that the woman was made for the man! Genesis Two notes that man was the first created of the creatures made in God's image, and that woman was made for man. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, said that these are two reasons why God gave woman a submissive role in her relationship with man.
A third reason which Paul gives for this role of subjection is found in Genesis Three and the sin into which Eve fell through deception (1 Timothy 2:14). A study of that event must await our next issue, as we continue our study.
No woman should consider her submissive role to man as a sign of inferiority assigned to her by God. In her love for God who created her in His own image and for Christ who died that she might be saved, she should accept her role as given and be the very best of God's woman. In Philippians 2:5-9 we are told to have "the mind of Christ." Jesus did not consider His equality with God a thing to be held onto at all cost; and to save mankind He "emptied Himself" and became like man, to bear our sins in His death on the cross. Godly women are those who have the mind of Christ, willing to do what is necessary to love God and to serve Him. No matter what role in this life one has; male, female, slave, freeman, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, we can be saved through Christ and one great day be elevated to behold God on His throne. Whatever sacrifices we need to make to insure we will reach that goal will be worth it all. No one, male or female, will enter heaven without accepting the obligations God has given to us.
Current articles in this series:
- The Bible (37)
- The Church (33)
- Holy Spirit (2)
- Bible Authority (11)
- Calvinism (7)
- Nature of God (9)
- Faith (19)
- Family Matters (7)
- Denominationalism (10)
- Attitudes (46)
- Christian Living (57)
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