In 1959 Betty Freedan published The Mystique of Femininity. She pointed out that up until then the popular notion was that if you gave a woman a husband, several kids, a home and a kitchen she would be fulfilled. Freedan, however, argued that such ideas have stunted woman’s growth.
Many single and childless women, even divorced women, already knew they could find fulfillment in school, in Jesus, in friendships, and in careers. Yet Betty Freedan issued a call for women to broaden their horizons from traditional family values. Get out of the house! Get away from kids, diapers, toilet brushes and hot meals! And get into the world of business, art, law, politics and medicine. Exert yourselves!
Indeed! Over the last half century women have done so! The feminist movement has brought us child care, the push for equal rights, abortion on demand, unisexual clothing, a woman vice-presidential candidate, and a female U.N. Ambassador and Secretary of State.
Now Ms. Freedan has published a second book. In it she points out that women can do everything, but, do they have to? They’re tired, Freedan observes. Women labor outside the home. They jog, lead a club, cook, parent children, are an incredible bed partner to their husband, and are so very exhausted. Hence some women are beginning to ask if feminism isn’t some sort of a mistake.
The women’s issue needs to be addressed by the church. In a day of confusion we must ask, “What does it mean to be a woman in Jesus Christ in today’s world?”
Three huge concepts must be grasped from Scripture. The first of which is . . .
Woman’s Identity as Revealed in Creation
Females are first mentioned in Genesis 1:26-27. God said, “Let us make man in our image . . . and let him have dominion . . . . So God created man in His own image . . . . Male and female created He them.” Hence, both man and woman are bearers of the divine image. God’s nature is not contained in the male image alone. The full reflection of God is seen in both male and female. It takes both genders to reveal all the attributes of God.
Note this balance in the New Testament. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus identifies with God as “Father” (Luke 11:2). That’s the masculine. But in Luke 13:34 Jesus says, “How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Hear the feminine? Not a rooster, but a hen.
So, God created woman as a co-bearer of His divine image, He blessed her and commissioned her to rule alongside man. All this is best described with the technical word, “egalitarianism.” It means man and woman are both equal before God.
Genesis, Chapter one, gives a general view of creation. It is often called the Eloheim view because that is the word in Hebrew it uses for God. Now, in Genesis, Chapter two, there is a more close-up, focused view of creation. And it is often called the Yahweh view since Yahweh is the word used for God.
Some biblical critics point out these two creation stories– the one general, the other specific– and call them contradictory. But I see it as a literary device. For the first tells the story broadly, while the second is a reiteration of the same. It’s not unlike watching a football game on T.V. and seeing the play from the Goodyear blimp, then watching the same play from an end zone camera.
In Genesis 2 man is created single. And God in the first negative statement in the Bible says, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). See? Man without woman is no good. “I will make a helper fit for him.” The Hebrew word for “helper” is untranslatable. It means something like “an ideally suited compliment.” “Helper” does not convey “assistant” or “sub-ordinate.” It may help you to know that in other places God Himself is called the “Helper of Israel.” (Ps. 10:14, Ps. 30:10, Ps. 54:4, Heb. 13:6).
Now read through Genesis 2:19-23. Adam was made from the soil. His name means “red clay.” Then woman, Eve, “the mother of all living,” was made from Adam. She is the first thing God did not make from dirt. Eve was made for Adam from Adam.
Be careful with two popular false notions here. One: Woman was made from man, therefore she is subordinate. So? Man was made from dirt. Is dirt better than man? No.
Two: Woman was made second, therefore she is subordinate. So? Grass and animals were made before man. Is he, therefore, inferior?
There may be a slight hint of subservience of woman to man. In Genesis 2, verse 22 God brought the woman to the man. The man named her just as he did the animals. Does this imply hierarchy? Possibly. Yet it is vague at best.
So, then, what is real femininity? It is to recognize woman as created by God, a co-bearer with man of God’s divine image, blessed, commissioned to rule, made from man for man, and now man is made from woman for man. She is equal to man, but a vague sub-ordination is at least hinted.
Now we come to the second large concept that must be comprehended from Scripture, and that is . . .
Woman’s Identity Obscured by the Fall
Read through Genesis, Chapter 3, the temptation story. Why did Satan pick on the woman first? She was the youngest, the least experienced. Adam was older, more experienced. He named the animals. He’d heard God’s Word firsthand. And we do not know how thorough a job he did in instructing his new wife as to God’s restrictions.
So Satan singles out the woman getting her to question God’s Word (vs.1). Meanwhile, Eve quotes God’s Word back to Satan (vss. 2-3). But notice it takes her fourty words to say what God said in 36 (2:16-17). Satan sees that Eve is fuzzy in her knowledge of God’s Word. She’s actually added to it, making God’s demands more legalistic than He wills. Now Satan makes three quick promises (vss. 4-5).
“You will not die.” “Your eyes will be opened.” “You shall be as God.” Break it down and you notice the devil in disobedience promised her pleasure, power and prestige.
There is great drama here. Whom will Eve believe? God her creator who promised her life within certain boundaries? Or a beautiful talking serpent who speaks with authority and promises a better life without restrictions.
Eve weighed all this in her intellect. She eyed the tree, the food, the delight of more with less restrictions, and she believed Satan and so indulged herself.
But wait! The man is now tempted by his wife. Eve’s tempting took Satan himself. He got at her through her intellect. All it took to tempt man was a woman. And he just wanted to please his wife. His temptation was more on an emotional level.
Let me hear one of you say, “Woman is the weaker sex. Man is stronger, more cognitive, while woman is driven by her emotions.” Not necessarily. For it is definitely Eve who comes out looking better in this whole episode!
It is interesting what happens next (3:8-13). Though the woman sinned first, God calls Adam first to account for his misdeeds. Remember the implied hierarchy of man in Genesis 2? Since Adam was in charge, he is held responsible first.
But Adam blames God and his wife for the malaise (vs. 12). So God calls the woman to account. Verse 13 shows her straightforward honesty in confession. And God begins to pronounce judgement as well as to announce His plan of the ages, a divine redeeming strategy that included Eve, it includes women. Genesis 3:15 is God’s first promise after the fall. God told the serpent Satan that he and the woman would constantly quarrel. And a descendant of Eve would crush him while being wounded in the fight himself. This is the first prediction of a Messiah in Scripture. Some one born of Eve’s lineage would crush Satan. But he’d be wounded himself in the fracas. Do you see the cross of Jesus in this? And if you study the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38 you’ll notice it traces Christ back to Eve and Adam through the Virgin Mary.
Though Eve is chosen to help bear the Savior, she is judged by God for sin and in verse 3:16 experiences the difficult stress of child bearing. Still, she desires her husband, yet is told, “He shall rule over you.” This last point, rulership, is important to ponder. Here’s why: Is this statement of God, “He shall rule over you” prescriptive or descriptive? Is God prescribing man’s rulership by saying, “I’m going to fix it so woman is ruled by man.” Or is it descriptive? Is God only lamenting, “Oh no! because of sin and the ensuing anarchy, the man is going to ride roughshod over females!”
I personally think it is only descriptive. But whichever way you interpret it, your theology will move in a particular direction.
Now, following quickly in Scripture, woman is denigrated. In Genesis 4:23 she is victimized by polygamy. In Genesis 12:10 following, Abraham tries to give his wife to Pharaoh to save his own skin. Then in Genesis 19:8 when a group of sexual predators plan to attack Lot’s house and rape two male visitors, the man offers to satisfy them with his daughters. In Genesis 17 circumcision is mandated as a mark of the covenant, but it is only for males. And by the receiving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, a woman is reduced to a list of man’s possessions. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox or his ass. . . .
By Jesus’ day Jewish males rose to pray in the morning, “I thank Thee, Lord of heaven, that Thou didst make me a slave or a Gentile or a donkey or a woman. . . .” The Rabbi’s had a saying, “It is better to burn the Torah than teach it to a woman.” Aristotle thought that females were born from deficient male sperm. Even the reformation hero, Martin Luther wrote, “If a woman suffers and dies in child birth, it matters not because that is why she exists.”
A.W. Verrall, renowned classical historian, wrote, “One of the chief diseases from which ancient civilization died was a low view of women.” The Greeks, the Romans, and the Hebrews all allowed themselves to slip into an immoral view of the feminine. Hence, as Jesus preached in Matthew 5:27-32, the habits, the mentality of lust, adultery, and divorce is not honoring to God nor woman. We must say no to reducing a woman to a piece of meat. We must say yes to women in God’s plan.
All this is surely uppermost in Christ’s mind when He preaches the simple phrase, “. . . looks at a woman. . .” (Mt. 5:28).
So far we have looked at woman in God’s image before the fall, and at woman in God’s image obscured by the fall. Now, we must look at. . .
Woman’s Identity Restored in the Redemption of Jesus Christ
The gospel of our Lord rolls back the consequences of sin. Genesis 3:19 mentions work “by the sweat of your brow.” Now we have air-conditioning. It mentions weeds and thorns as a result of sin (Gen. 3:18). But we have weed killers. And it mentions disease and death (Gen. 3:19). But we have strong medicines to postpone dying. The point is, if we can “have dominion” (Gen. 1:28) over the consequences of the fall– heat, weeds, and disease– can we not also roll back the consequences of the fall for women? In Genesis 3:16 God promised the woman pain in child-bearing. Do we do wrong to administer them anesthesia?
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament promise a new order, that Eden, the Kingdom of God, will come again.
Joel 2:28-29 predicts a time when God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all flesh regardless of gender, age, or economic status.
Acts 2 is a fulfillment of God’s prediction. The Holy Spirit came to the disciples gathered for prayer in the upper room. And Acts 2:14 tells us women were there.
Then there is that great Magna Carta of Scripture Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28. “There is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, freeman or slave, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” F.F. Bruce, the conservative Evangelical Bible scholar says, “Anything written about woman must be seen in the light of Galatians 3:28. This is a banner verse.”
It is true that Paul told women in the immature Corinthian church “to keep silence.” (1 Cor. 14:34). But in Galatians 3:28 he said “in Christ” gender is of as little consequence as social status and race. So, to put it bluntly, I’d rather be in Christ than in Corinth.
Christ’s treatment of women is interesting to study through the gospels for He is constantly challenging His culture’s norms.
Example: A woman in public with her hair unbraided was considered immoral. Yet Jesus allowed a lady to wet His feet with her tears, wipe them with her unpinned hair. And he affirmed her! (John 11:2, Lk. 7:38ff).
Example: In Luke 10:38 following Jesus allowed Mary to sit at His feet and learn the gospel right alongside the rest of the men. Martha was nonplused. She wanted her sister to get back in the kitchen where a woman belonged. But Jesus commended Mary, said she has “chosen the good portion.”
Example: In John 4:9 Christ shared the gospel with a woman and then sent her into the town to tell everyone the gospel.
Example: In Luke 24:11 Christ entrusted the message of His resurrection first to women.
A few years ago I received a poll in the mail from a Christian magazine. It was enquiring as to the role of women in the church. “May a woman keep nursery?” Check. “May a woman teach six year olds?” Check. “May a woman teach a married couples class?” You get the point! “Where is the cutoff point?”
If as the prophet Joel said, “The Spirit is poured out on all flesh,” then the fullness of God’s presence and ministry gifts are on women. So just about anything a man can do a woman can do as good, better, or worse– pray, teach, sing, encourage, administrate, heal, evangelize and preach.
I challenge you to read through the Book of Acts and mark in orange the mention of women. You’ll be amazed what women do. You’ll be pleased at how much you’ve marked in orange! In Acts 1:14 women pray with men in the upper room. In Acts 5:14 women factor heavily in church growth. In Acts 12:12 a church meets in a woman’s house. In Acts 21:9 Phillip’s seven daughters preach.
Clearly, women in ministry is not an issue in the New Testament. However, authority is. Consider: Jesus selected twelve males to be His apostles. 1 Timothy 3 gives elder qualifications as male. For some reason our Lord chose males to exercise authority in His churches. If I were doing it, perhaps I’d have done it differently. But God selected males to rule, to exercise over all authority. This is true both in the home and in the church. (Ephesians 5).
On a certain Pacific island before World War II, It was required of women to walk humbly ten paces behind their men. After the war women walked ten paces in front of their men. It seems that the Japanese had mined the island and men used their wives to safely clear a path.
Where today in the home and church should we place women? They are created by God, a bearer of the Divine Image, commissioned to rule creation alongside man, very good, a compliment to man as he is to her, a fellow sinner struggling with the consequences of the fall, equally loved, redeemed, and fulled with the Holy Spirit by Jesus, given the talents of the Spirit to serve, to be encouraged to become all God desires, yet meant to function in an orderly way under proper male authority in the home and church.
The technical term for this scriptural view is egalitarian authoritarianism. But be very careful with it. Women comprise more than 50% of the church’s membership. I lay awake nights fearful that somehow I may be burying someone’s talents, especially those of women!
Lord, let me play my role in life. And grant that I be an encourager of women to fulfill their role, as well. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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