Ten Lies the Church Tells Women
by J. Lee Grady
outline by Paula Fether
LIE #1: God created women as inferior beings, destined to serve their husbands
In spite of a long proven track record of leadership and evangelism by women, both men and women in the Church have considered women to be God’s “second choice”.
2. A theology of male chauvinism
The Church has not adopted Christ’s revolutionary liberation of women. Respected church leaders such as Tertullian, Martin Luther, and John Calvin viewed all women with contempt and blamed them for all the world’s problems. Some even believed that women possessed fewer brain cells and were therefore not to be educated. The Bible was then stuffed into this bias, producing predictable theological results.
3. Was Eve inferior?
In Genesis 2:18-25, the word used for Eve as a “help meet” is the same one used for God in Deuteronomy 3:7, Psalm 3:20, etc. The equivalent word is used in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit. No one would dare accuse God of being inferior just because He is our helper! Since the Bible teaches that a husband and wife become “one flesh”, it proves that they are both on the same level (after all, no “inferior” animal was suitable for Adam). Neither is Adam superior to Eve just because he was created first. If that were true, then the entire animal kingdom would be superior to people! And it is not God’s will for women to remain forever under the curse of being “ruled over” by men, or it would also be His will for all men to work the soil and live in poverty. Jesus came to end the curses of the Fall, and all who are His are set free.
LIE #2: Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles in the church
Instead of leading the way, the church has always lagged behind the world in liberating women. In the past, and in a few cases today, the church has opposed women’s education, right to vote, right to work outside the home, and ability to lead.
2. Did Jesus believe women could lead?
Women traveled with Jesus (Luke 8:1-3), were in the Upper Room, and received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. They were the first to see him alive after his death and the first to spread the Good News. The Samaritan woman was the first disciple sent by Jesus Himself to evangelize outside of Jerusalem (John 4:7-42). Mary, who was rebuked by her sister Martha for not helping in the kitchen, was commended by Jesus for wanting to learn from him. That Jesus would allow a woman to learn at all was revolutionary.
3. A gospel that empowers women
Miriam was a leader of Israel along with Moses (Micah 6:4); Deborah was a prophetess during the time of the Judges (Judges 4:4); Huldah was a prophetess during the time of King Josiah (2 Kings 2:14); Esther saved her people by her boldness and willingness to speak out (Esther 4:14). Phoebe was a deaconess commended by Paul, who was likely also an apostle; Priscilla helped teach Apollos and was always mentioned before her husband Aquila; the daughters of Philip (Acts 1:9) were prophetesses (a prophet tells forth a divine message, which is what we call preaching!); Lois and Eunice taught Timothy; Junia (Romans 6:7) was an apostle.
4. Why were no women included with the Twelve Apostles?
There was prophetic significance to the fact that they were all males, since they were the New Testament equivalent of the sons of Israel (Jacob). It was also nearly impossible to get Jewish men to accept the testimony of women, and the first act of the new church was to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.
5. Who said women can’t lead?
The prophet Joel (Joel 2:28) said that both men and women would prophesy (i.e. preach). He didn’t say that the men would preach while the women would sit quietly and pray for the men.
LIE #3: Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting
The church frequently cites 1 Timothy 2:12 as applying to all women in all cultures for all time. This belief has resulted in the mistreatment of women speakers, and been the cause of a Pharisaical level of hairsplitting on exactly where to draw the line on women’s ministry.
2. What did Paul really mean?
To be consistent, literalists on 1 Timothy 2:12 must also interpret other passages literally, such as 1 Timothy 5:23 which commands the drinking of wine! Of course no one would take this verse to mean that, but why not also use the context to interpret other verses? If we say that women can not teach men under any circumstances, we must determine exactly when a boy becomes a man: at 18? At 21? When he graduates from high school? When he leaves home? Some have even suggested that a woman must not sing in church, or a man might learn a spiritual truth from her! Paul was simply addressing the situation in Ephesus concerning women in the church who mistook their new freedom in Christ to mean they could instantly overthrow centuries of cultural bias, which would give the church a bad reputation. Remember also that women were uneducated and would interrupt the church meetings with irrelevant, and sometimes disrespectful, questions.
3. Aren’t women supposed to be silent?
1 Corinthians 4:34-35 is another scripture that has been applied universally to women. But Paul was telling women to listen and learn (be educated!), not to shut up and be invisible. Literalists would be hard-pressed to explain how a woman can “pray or prophesy with her head covered” while remaining silent!
4. The key to interpreting 1 Corinthians 14
Paul was writing in response to questions sent to him earlier (14:1). In doing so, he quotes part of their letter in verses 34-35. The original Greek didn’t use quotation marks as we would in English, but would start the sentence following the quote with a special character, as is the case at the beginning of verse 36. So verses 33-36 would read as follows:
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
“Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”
What?? Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? What?? Has it come to you only?
What a difference a quote makes! Besides, if it wasn’t a quote from the Corinthians, to what Law was Paul referring? There is no such statement in the Jewish law; it was just a rabbinical tradition.
LIE #4: A woman should view her husband as the “priest of the home”
Where does the Bible say that husbands are their wife’s priests? And where are the details of this priesthood revealed? The idea of “male headship” comes from a narrow interpretation of Ephesians 5:23-28.
2. Patriarchs don’t live here anymore
The rigid patriarchal view of the Christian family is rooted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, which relegated women to the level of slaves or animals. Against the backdrop of this culture, the writings of Paul take on a new light.
3. Two kinds of Christian husbands
In spite of the culture of the time, Paul clearly taught that women were to be treated as equals. But we stumble over the idea of “headship”. There are two kinds: the “life-giving” headship God instituted in the Garden of Eden, and the “ruling” headship which began with the Fall. As mentioned under Lie #1, Jesus came to end the curses of the Fall, so the headship of Ephesians 5 is the “life-giving” kind, the kind Jesus showed by example to his followers by serving them and giving himself for them, not by forcing their obedience and treating them with contempt. We are called “co-heirs” and “brothers” of Christ, not slaves or animals.
4. We have one Priest
If husband can function as a priest when he prays for his family, what is it when the wife prays? Are not all believers priests (1 Peter 2:9)? Jesus is our only intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16).
5. Wives don’t have to be wimps
Jesus was meek, but took a whip and drove out the money-changers from the temple. He was humble, but dared to call the religious leaders “vipers” and “white-washed tombs”. Many godly women have endured torture and death because they would not bottle-up the gospel message.
LIE #5: A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities
Just as Jesus was accused by the religious leaders of being possessed by a demon, women who exercise the gift of prophecy are told they are “out of order” and must be “covered” by their husbands in order to speak.
2. Crazy ideas about “spiritual covering”
When you sow “spiritual covering”, you reap confusion. For example, churches that won’t allow a woman to speak publicly without being “covered” by a man will gladly send her alone to the mission field, excusing themselves from “covering” her by the lack of finances to pay for two people. Since when is God’s will conditioned on money? Is it man who “guards our hearts and minds”, or is it the Holy Spirit?
3. Does a woman need a “covering”?
1 Corinthians 1:10 refers to head coverings. Notice that it is assumed here that a woman can prophecy (preach)! So the issue here is not whether women can prophesy, but how. Among the Jews, the head covering symbolized the guilt and sin that Christ came to remove from us. So for a Christian man to cover his head meant that he didn’t recognize Christ’s sacrifice for him, which would be “disgraceful” (verse 4). Yet for women, the failure to wear a head covering signified loose morals, so Paul advised them to wear the covering to avoid bringing shame on the church. (In Romans 14 Paul shows us why we sometimes have to lay down our rights for the greater good of the church.) If women always needed “covering” in spiritual matters, why did God speak directly to Mary first, instead of telling Joseph to tell her she’d bear the Messiah?
4. An alternative translation
Regarding 1 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul advocates head coverings for women “because of the angels”, it’s possible that he is again quoting an earlier question (1 Corinthians 7:1). To view this verse as another rabbinical tradition would make sense out of a phrase that has no support from any other scriptures. Since the following verse begins with “However”, Paul may be contradicting the tradition.
5. A woman’s true covering
The women at the foot of the cross were the only ones brave enough to be identified with Jesus when most of the men were hiding. The blood shed for us is the only covering any Christian needs. No head covering or “male” covering is needed.
LIE #6: Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities pose a serious danger to the church
As shown earlier, women have been prophets in both Testaments. They spoke directly and authoritatively to men. The Bible commends, not condemns, these women. To perpetuate Lie #6, men would have to come to the point of denying salvation by faith to women, since, after all, God only speaks to men. And many of the great Christian women of the past were reluctant leaders, not rebellious or ambitious.
2. Adding insult to injury
The label “Jezebel” is frequently pinned on any woman who dares to exercise her God-given gift of prophecy or leadership. In times past these women would have been declared witches and burned at the stake. Even today, many men believe they will come under a bewitching spell if a woman speaks publicly on spiritual matters.
3. Silly superstitions
In their diatribes against women as leaders, some men predict dire consequences on any church or nation that is led by a woman. But they conveniently ignore the great suffering caused by evil male rulers throughout history. And there are plenty of examples of good female leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher. These superstitions have driven some men to refuse to read a book by a female author or even listen to the counsel of their wives!
4. Where are the Priscillas?
Priscilla, as mentioned earlier, was commended by Paul, and was included in a group that Paul said “everyone” should submit to. Yet some Christian men would not submit to her today.
5. Strength is her clothing
Remember the Jewish midwives who were bold enough to defy Pharaoh? Or Esther, or the woman of Proverbs 31? Speaking of her, remember that this is a composite, an ideal. She is portrayed as the high standard to which women should aspire. This ideal is not weak or subservient, or a timid housewife who does nothing but chores and changes diapers all day. She is an employer, an entrepreneur, and a source of wisdom. And if a man still believes women are weak, remember that Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong”.
LIE #7: Women are more easily deceived than men
There is a long prevailing view in both the world and the church that women are inherently deceptive and deceivable, and prone to witchcraft and heresy. Because of this, the gospel of grace is rarely applied equally to men and women. While they believe that men have been freed from the consequences of original sin, they imply that women must forever be punished for Eve’s sin. They say that this is proven by the fact that Eve sinned first. (Now how would the idea of a “covering” fit here, since Adam was there with her when she was deceived?)
2. Going on a witch hunt
The idea that women are to blame for all the world’s evil is a heresy the church has accepted from the world. Unspeakable horrors have been inflicted on women in the name of ridding the earth of women’s evil influence!
3. Who were the greatest deceivers?
When asked to name the most evil people in history, most people would only name men, and with good reason. Men make up the vast majority of serial killers and despotic rulers. Most cults were started by men such as Joseph Smith, Allister Crowley, and L. Ron Hubbard.
4. Can we blame Eve for everything?
Paul’s appeal to the creation order in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is another passage that has been misunderstood. Paul was simply addressing the problem of Gnostic heresy, which contradicted the Biblical account of the Fall and claimed that the serpent was good and that Eve was created first.
5. The power of a discerning woman
Even if the arguments in favor of Eve being more deceivable were true, the effects of the curse would still have been abolished by the cross. “Having the mind of Christ” is a command for all believers, not just men.
LIE #8: Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children
Famous church leaders such as Luther and Jerome taught that a woman’s only value was in her ability to bear children and serve her husband. But instead of abandoning this lie, the church today perpetuates it.
2. The myth of the “incomplete” woman
The Bible teaches us that we are only complete in Christ Jesus, not in what we do or to whom we relate. To place anything above Christ would be idolatry (Luke 4:26), including marriage and family. Women, like men, must answer to God alone, not to men.
3. Married to Christ
Finding a mate should not be any Christian’s priority, since we already belong to the Lord. It’s sad but true that many single women, such as Lottie Moon who was a Southern Baptist missionary, would not be welcome in many churches today because of their belief in women’s full participation in Christian ministry.
4. The curse of Eve
In order to know how a “post-curse” woman should act, we must look at the “pre-curse” world. In that perfect environment, Eve was not only present but worked along side Adam, not under him. Both of them were commanded to “subdue the earth” and rule over the animal kingdom.
5. The trimph of the Incarnation
Another scripture that many have twisted is 1 Timothy 2:13-15, which seems to say women are “saved through childbearing”. But this would contradict the clear Biblical teaching that everyone is saved by grace, and would lead to the absurd notion that childless women are lost (and that women who bear children are saved by an unusual kind of “works”!). And it is well known that Christian women are not exempt from death during childbirth. The proper understanding of this verse is that women, like men, are saved through “the childbearing”, that is, the birth of the Savior. This also points out the fact that women are no longer under the curse of Eve.
LIE #9: Women shouldn’t work outside the home
Although the Bible commands the church to “look after widows and orphans in their distress”, the church expects single mothers to stay at home without offering to support them in any way. The church ignores economic reality for them and also for married couples who cannot live on the husband’s income. Titus 2:4 is twisted to mean that all women are allowed to do is teach their children and work at home.
2. Did Paul tell women to stay home?
Why would Paul tell women to work only at home when working elsewhere wasn’t even an option? Obviously, he’s reminding them not to neglect their responsibilities at home, not ordering them to stay there and never contribute to the family’s income. At that time, both men and women worked at home, as a farming family would today. It was only the Industrial Revolution that allowed the middle class to send husbands to the office while their wives stayed home. In these passages about Christian life, Paul is stressing the kind of character people should exhibit, not defining roles.
3. Breaking the mold
The silver lining of the Industrial Revolution cloud was that women had time to read. This reading, including of course the Bible, helped women throw off the un-Biblical restrictions imposed on them and begin their liberation. This is not to condone the many evils that have become a part of secular liberation, but to point out the fact that Christian women are truly liberated.
4. What if all women stayed home
Many, if not most, of the reforms we associate with western civilization were initiated by women. Women also have been inventors and pioneers in science, medicine, art, and literature. The majority of missionaries have been women, and in almost every denomination women head the missionary organizations. “A woman’s touch” is needed in the entire world, not just the home.
LIE #10: Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations
Domestic abuse is not just a worldly problem. Surprisingly, many of the calls that come into crisis shelters are from pastors’ wives. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that many pastors advise battered women to keep submitting to their husbands and pray for them. They even tell the women that they must be angering their abusers in some way, going so far as to say that it would be better for a wife to die and go to heaven than to resist or leave her husband! And this in spite of the Bible’s commandments against violence (Proverbs 1:7, Ezekiel 5:9, Malachi 2:16).
2. Irresponsible theology
The preceding lunacy is the result of a complete butchering of scripture. Passages such as Matthew 0:25-26, Ephesians 5:21, and a large portion of the New Testament make it clear that there is no room for a domineering attitude among Christians. Submission is voluntary, and is independent of whether the other person also submits (Matthew 7:12).
3. So, is the husband the boss?
Paul pointed out that marriage symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ is the “head” of the church, but as such he laid down his life for her. Most of the commands regarding Christian behavior would be meaningless if we had no choice but to obey. And we obey Christ, not because we must or because we fear his anger, but because he loves us and tenderly cares for us. If Christian couples treated each other with this degree of kindness and love, there would be no problem with mutual submission.
4. Gender bias around the world
Every religion in the world (except true Christianity, of course) views women with utter contempt. Religions such as Islam and Hinduism demand and encourage harsh treatment of women and view them on the same level as animals. They can be killed for any or no reason.
5. Shouldn’t Christianity be different?
Even though such abuses are recognized around the world as barbaric, the church still promotes them. Instead of being the shining beacon it’s supposed to be, the church chooses to hide its light and go blindly along with “the wisdom of the world”.
Like any other sins, the 10 Lies must be admitted and renounced. Let us not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by rejecting women’s full participation in the church due to the errors of some denominations that have accepted it. Far from being heresy, the ordination of women is what the Bible teaches.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were blind to the truth that was staring them in the face, taking offense at his proclamations of freedom. Like the disciples who were threatened not to speak in the name of Jesus, Christian women must say, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right to obey men rather than God” (Acts 4:19).