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Christian Women

When the question is raised about the role of women in the Christian faith, it already assumes that all women are fundamentally, intrinsically, and spiritually restricted in some way, and the only real question is not whether but how much. This is based on cherry-picked scripture at best, and social presumption above all. What we need to do instead is to objectively study all scriptural depictions of women in context, which must include how God deals with people in general.

God’s ways are not our ways

The practice of reading later culture and traditions into past writings is called an anachronistic fallacy. One example is when the Early Modern English word science, which only meant general knowledge at the time, is interpreted with the modern meaning of a specific subset of knowlege involving experimentation. This is a huge problem in Bible interpretation (hermeneutics), especially in the early chapters of Genesis, particularly chapter 3.

What God originally created was very good, but sin brought lasting corruption. Before sin there was no hierarchy between Adam and Eve, and the hierarchy that followed sin was not God’s command but rather his prediction of the result of Eve’s choice to follow the man rather than God. The long path from fall to redemption would require divine intervention at times, beginning with the Great Flood. Only then do we see God institute rudimentary human government, whose purpose was to slow the spread of sin and encourage people to seek him out (see Acts 17:26-27).

The rest of the Bible shows that whenever God does intervene, he goes against social norms (ref. 1 Cor. 1:27-29): the second- or last-born over the first, the lowly over the prominent, the weak over the strong. On the other hand, God doesn’t suddenly and drastically disrupt human society and its cultural traditions. The laws God gave to Israel through Moses set boundaries to ensure the humane treatment of slaves, women, children, and foreigners, yet this hardly means God endorsed slavery (1 Cor. 7:21), fleshly privilege (Gal. 3:28), or abuse and neglect (Ex. 22:27, Eph. 4:32).

God does not change, which we need to remember when we read passages such as 1 Sam. 16:7 or Acts 10:34. Jesus taught and showed by example how his followers must regard each other. In Mat. 20:24-28, Mark 10:45, Luke 9:46-48, Luke 22:24-27, John 13:3-8, Eph. 5:21, and Phil. 2:5-11, we see that the attitude and character of every follower of Jesus (especially those who influence or lead others) should be humble service rather than a jealous grasping for power or authority.

Knowing all this, how can any follower of Jesus desire, claim, or exercise the very lording over scripture so clearly denounces? Whether it’s done by pastors or patriarchalists, it violates the clear, overarching principles of how we are to view and treat each other. We must bend our ways to God’s ways, not upend God’s ways to fit our ways. Our flesh is irrelevant in the Body of Christ, and none of us has authority to wield over others. So no passage of scripture can possibly say the opposite or excuse it in some situations. Rather, the appearance of some passages to contradict the clear teachings is due to our own prejudice or misunderstanding. If any interpretation causes us to restrict fellow believers for any other reason than living in sin or teaching division (of which flesh-based entitlement is one example), it is false by definition. So the debate over whether women can exercise authority is dissolved by the fact that no one but Jesus and the Apostles in scripture has spiritual authority or entitlement.

Women in the Old Testament

Consider how godly women are presented in the pages of the Old Testament beginning with Eve. While God said because of you and what you did to Adam and the serpent, no such words were spoken to Eve, who was the victim of deception. God actually blessed her by promising the Savior through her seed alone. Other notable women include:

None of these women are presented in scripture as God’s last resort, or a punishment or shame for disobedience on the part of men (see next paragraph). None are reprimanded for stepping outside of social norms. None of the credit for their achievements is given to their fathers or husbands. All are presented as noble role models; this is the only role scripture gives them.

The one, and only one, passage that allegedly speaks of the shame of women as leaders is Isaiah 3:12. The Hebrew (Masoretic) text is translated as Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.. The intentional error of this rendering was exposed long ago by scholar Dr. Katharine Bushnell, but her work has largely been ignored. Here is her examination of the issue (lessons 621 and 622):

621. I think we find another case of prejudiced translation in Isaiah 3:12. The word translated children in this verse in Isaiah, is a plural masculine participle of the verb to glean, abuse, practice. It is translated glean in Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 24:21, Judges 20:45, and Jeremiah 6:9. The word has no translation such as children anywhere else in the Bible, and it occurs 21 times. Another word altogether is used for children, and child, in verses 4 and 5 of this same chapter; the sense seems to have been fixed by the supposed context, to correspond with women.

As to the word translated women: Two words, without the rabbinical vowel points, are exactly alike. One is pronounced nosh-im and the other na-shim. In appearance the only difference is a slight mark under the first letter of the Hebrew word na-shim. The first word means exactors; the one with a vowel mark under the initial letter means women. The entire decision, therefore, as to whether the word means one or the other depends upon OPTION. Those who pointed the word, evidently thought the nation could sink no lower than to pass under women rulers, and then translated the word children to match it. Commentators frequently call attention to the alternate reading. See Adam Clarke on the passage. The Septuagint translates: As for my people, tax-gatherers (praktores) glean them, and exactors (apaitountes) rule over them.

622. There seems little in the context to support the translation children and women. But study the context as regards the other reading. After complaining of the gleaners, (that is, tax-gatherers) and extortioners, they are threatened in the following language: The Lord standeth up to plead and standeth up to judge the people. The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of His people, and the princes (rulers, masculine, not feminine gender) thereof for ye have eaten up the vineyard (the conduct of extortionate tax-gatherers), and the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye crush (R. V.) my people, and grind the faces of the poor? Because of this context, we believe that OPTION took the wrong turn when it decided to translate this verse as it stands in our English version; and that this translation would have had a strong showing up of its sophistries, had educated women been on the last Revision Committee. (emphasis mine)

Women in the New Testament

Since it has been established that scripture does not present God as the one shaming or placing restrictions on women, then who would believe that this same God would command or even imply that women followers of Jesus should be more restricted or shamed than their Old Testament sisters? Or that God would begin to show favoritism, or break his long-standing habit of going against social norms, which as the next section will show, have been overwhelmingly patriarchal throughout history? There is no flesh-based entitlement, no exception, no fine print under Jesus’ command, Not so with you; whoever would be the greatest must be the least. Look at some notable women as the New Testament presents them:

In all of Jesus’ interactions with women, not once did he shun then, shame them, or treat them as inferior. Not even the Apostle Paul, formerly a top Pharisee, treated women as inferior; in fact, he praised quite a few as co-workers, leaders, even apostles. Are we to believe, as some teach, that both Jesus and Paul contradicted themselves by also ordering that women treat their husbands as they would the Lord, that women must not utter a word in a worship service (while also saying how they can prophesy!), that women cannot be apostles, ministers, teachers, or leaders of any sort? Do we see any hint in scriptre that women lack the ability, permission, or gifting to serve as fully equal members of the Body of Christ, or as spouses? The scriptural answer is a resounding no.

Women in secular history

Just looking at one topic, science, we see in this article how women have often been snubbed, marginalized, dismissed, and outright robbed of the credit due them for their accomplishments:

Space does not permit the listing of all the women on this and other topics who have been denied justice solely because they were women, not the common competition of rivals. This hardly means that men never suffer injustice; rather, it means that women have suffered additional injustice for no other reason than their flesh.

Rebuttals to Common Arguments

  1. Adam ruled Eve because he was made first. If being first means having authority, then the animals all had authority over Adam. If being last means having authority, then Eve had authority over Adam. It is the fallacy of special pleading to make creation order a basis for authority only in one case.
  2. Adam ruled Eve because she was made from him. Adam was made from dust. Is dust therefore superior to Adam? Instead, being made of the very same flesh and bone as Adam made Eve his absolute equal. Adam focused on Eve’s similarity, not her difference.
  3. Adam ruled Eve because she was his helper. The Hebrew word for help means a strong ally and is also used of God. There is no hint of inferiority on the part of the helper; in fact, it is the one being helped that lacks strength or ability. (Gen. 2:18)
  4. Adam ruled Eve because he called her woman. The slave woman Hagar gave God a name. (Gen. 2:23, 16:13)
  5. Eve lusted after Adam’s authority before she was tempted. There is not one hint in the entire Bible to back up this claim; it is a man-made myth. There is no scripture between the creation of Eve and her temptation, and neither she nor the serpent mentioned Adam during or after the temptation. No NT writer even hints at such a thing.
  6. Adam was unaware of the temptation or the source of the fruit. He was there with her and heard her voice as she was tempted. When she handed him the fruit he ate it even though he knew where it came from. If Eve had been tempting or tricking Adam, then it was she and not the serpent who was the real deceiver, making Adam the deceived. And there is not the slightest hint anywhere in the Bible of Eve using feminine wiles to seduce Adam. (Gen. 3:6, 17, 1 Tim. 2:13)
  7. Adam is shown to rule over Eve since God confronts him first. The confrontation is in the order of a typical philosophical argument, where statements are made leading to a central point and then traced back in reverse order. Scripture shows this to be man– woman– serpent– woman– man. So the order has nothing to do with rule but only with making a point. And the point was the serpent’s curse and the accompanying prophecy of a Savior through the woman’s seed alone. Eve is thus honored with truly being the help that Adam needed.
  8. Adam is charged with bringing sin into the world because he was the federal head of the human race. Scripture never gives Adam this title or anything like it, and does not say why sin is attributed to him alone. Yet consider these facts: both he and Eve ate the fruit and thus became mortal, but only Adam blamed the woman and God for his sin. While Eve is only said to have been deceived, Adam is said to have rebelled against God and dealt treacherously with Him. And if they base this federal head belief on the statement in Hebrews about Levi being credited with giving a tithe since he was still in the body of his ancestor Abraham when Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, they need to answer the question of why any of Abraham’s descendants needed to tithe, or how Levi could literally have existed in Abraham when a person is not created till sperm meets egg. Also, if Adam was Eve’s federal head before sin, then God would not have confronted her at all but only Adam. (Hosea 6:7, Job 31:33, Heb. 7:10)
  9. Adam’s rule over Eve was made harsh after sin. There is no hint of Adam having authority over Eve before sin, and God never told Adam he must now rule better or more strongly. In addition, the statement was made to Eve, and it was not a command but a prediction of the consequences of her choice to follow Adam out of the garden. Only Adam was ordered out, and only Adam was told he would return to the dust from which he alone was taken, which God cursed on his account alone. Neither he nor Eve were ever cursed. (Gen. 3:19-24)
  10. Eve was cursed with labor pain and subservience to Adam. The verse about pain in childbirth is more accurately rendered a snare has increased your sorrow and sighing; in sorrow you will bear children, and your turning will be to your husband, who will rule over you. Note that she was indeed snared or tricked, and also that it would be her husband, not anything he allegedly possessed, that she would desire or turn toward. And because of this she would be ruled over by him. This was in the future tense for both her desire and his rule, proving that neither previously existed. Even in the traditional rendering, the word curse is not used with Eve as it was with Adam and the serpent; God never told Eve Because you have done this…. And how could God increase her labor pains if she had not yet given birth? Even if she had, was birth supposed to have pain before sin? (Gen. 3:16)
  11. Adam was given rule over Eve because she was deceived. This makes no sense whatsoever. Adam sinned deliberately and without excuse, and showed no concern or responsibility for Eve while she was being tempted. If Eve had been made by God with a deceivable nature, how could she have been a suitable helper for Adam? And if all women are to be labeled as deceivable, then all men are to be labeled as poor leaders and rebels against God who always pass blame. And if Adam was tempted by Eve, would that not make him the weaker of the two, and all men share his weakness? To think God rewarded Adam for his rebellion and inaction, and cursed Eve for being tricked, is to turn God into Satan. And again, God never granted this rule to Adam; it was a prediction to Eve concerning the choice she would make. We must also not forget that the Savior was promised through her seed alone. Would God send His Son through the inherently deceivable? Why did He have to be born of a virgin?
  12. God never used women as leaders unless there were no men available. None of the references to women in leadership are ever said to be God’s last resort or evidence of a divine curse or punishment. The lone verse that allegedly says so is very badly translated; even if it weren’t, one verse is hardly enough to overturn the unchanging basics of the faith such as the Golden Rule and not so among you. (Ex. 15:20, Judges 4:4-5:12, 2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22, Isaiah 3:12)
  13. God never condemned patriarchy. He also never condemned polygamy, slavery, rape, pedophilia, and a lot of other things. He never intended for Israel to have a human king but gave them one because they nagged him. We see throughout scripture God’s pattern of making concessions, of working through and around humanity instead of immediately condemning every sin or weakness. Whenever God did intervene, we observe that He chose the young over the old, the weak over the strong, and the small and insignificant over the great and powerful. We also see His compassion and mercy, His offer to come and reason. So His silence is not an indicator of approval but of patience and mercy. (1 Sam. 6:6-9)
  14. Jesus was male, and all his inner group of disciples were male. Jesus, as well as the disciples, were also all Jews, all speaking Aramaic. Why aren’t these other qualities cited as proof that Christian leaders must be Jewish and speak Aramaic? And why was only Judas ever replaced among the Twelve? Why isn’t a group of twelve required in every church? There is also proof that the Twelve were to be mapped to the twelve tribes of Israel, not to any sort of church structure. (Rev. 21:12-14)
  15. Jesus never condemned male supremacy. As with the claim about patriarchy, there were many other things Jesus never spoke out against, not even the Roman government. He also did not rebuke Mary for sitting at His feet to learn, and if male supremacists are consistent, they have to take that to mean Jesus approves of female theology students. And to be under a rabbi like that meant the student was expected to eventually take the place of a rabbi as well, so that means Jesus approves of women as pastors. Either arguments from silence are legitimate across the board, or they are not. (Luke 10:39)
  16. None of the Bible was written by a woman. Who is the author of Hebrews? Some historians believe there is evidence of a conspiracy of silence because the author was a woman, most likely Priscilla. Who wrote Esther? Ruth? We should also note that none of the Bible was written by a Gentile or a sea captain or a court jester. How many women were taught to write? How many should we expect from a patriarchal society? Does God ever say why He does things like commending the bravery of a prostitute (or possibly, an inn keeper, which in patriarchal thinking is a greater sin than prostitution since she ran a business without male oversight!) and allowing the Savior to be born of her line? So again we must ask why something like this is taken as tacit approval of male supremacy by God. (Joshua 6:25, Mt. 1:5)
  17. The plain reading of scripture says women can’t teach men. That same plain reading also says that we should pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin, that we should take wine for our stomach problems, that we should wash each other’s feet, that we should greet each other with a holy kiss, that our only debt should be love, and that the first will be last and the last will be first. And if anyone tries to cry context in defense of their plain reading they have defeated their own argument. More questions for plain reading and consistency: Why does a woman need a head covering to signify male rule if she can only pray and prophecy in private or among other women? Where does God ever tell godly women they are in sin if they teach truth?
  18. Males must guard females from error and deception. The Holy Spirit cannot do the job? Who is guarding all those men teaching error? How many women compared to men have started false religions? How many women have been popes or imams? How many men have fallen for tricksters and embezzlers? And where is the scripture that states men must guard women from deception? Why are women allowed to teach children, who are the most easily deceived?
  19. Men and women are equal in being but have complementary roles where the man leads and the woman follows. If two people are equal in being or essence, there cannot be permanent hierarchy between them on the basis of essential qualities of being. That is, if someone is held to a permanent subservient role, based upon their flesh in some way, then that person is inferior by definition. Temporary hierarchies, such as employer/employee or parent/child, do not violate this rule because the employee can change jobs and the child can grow up. But slavery is defined as submission to a dominating influence; the state of a person who is a chattel of another (Webster’s). A slave can be freed but is at the mercy of the owner. Though the slave is acknowledged to be as fully human as the owner, the slave is nonetheless held to be inferior in being. A role is, by definition, a part to play or a function to perform. The latter is held by male supremacism as meaning a woman’s role is to submit permanently to a man for no other reason than the flesh (the physical). Yet because it is based upon a permanent and intrinsic quality, it defines the woman as inferior to the man. It is held that this leader/follower relationship is complementary between equals, but this amounts to defining equal as unequal, since the woman can never outrank the man in return. Truly equal complementation would be between friends or co-workers who each have different skills or jobs, or like the cooperation between the left and right hands.
  20. The man is the head of the family. Scripture never says this; it only says the husband is the head of his wife. But head in Greek never meant ruler or boss; the head/body metaphor was an expression of unity. If it meant boss, then the Bible would be ordering wives to serve two masters, especially since male supremacism insists that a wife is to obey her husband as to the Lord.
  21. No woman is ever addressed in scripture as a pastor. No man is ever addressed in scripture as a pastor. No NT letter is ever addressed to an individual having a title— except 2 John, which is addressed to a woman he calls the chosen master (lit. Greek). Many are called apostles (lit. sent out), including Junia, and many are called servants or ministers (all from the Greek word diaconos), including Phoebe. And pastor, mentioned only once in the entire NT, is a spiritual gift, not an office or title. (Rom. 16:1, 7, Eph. 4:11)
  22. An elder must be a man. By the method used to determine this, then an elder must also be married, have well-behaved children, and do a good job of protecting the home. This would disqualify Paul, Timothy, and many others. Paul’s list of qualities are exactly that: qualities of character, not matters of the flesh. And that same word for provide and protect in 1 Tim. 3:4, proistemi, is used of Phoebe. By this same method, the Great Commission would only be for men since it involves preaching the gospel, teaching, and baptizing. (Mt. 28:19-20, Rom. 16:2, 1 Tim. 3)
  23. A husband plays the role of Father to his wife’s role of Son. That is blasphemy and idolatry, not to mention symbolic pedophilia. No believer is ever told to play God to another believer. The only passage used to teach this blasphemy (on the man’s part) and idolatry (on the woman’s part) is Eph. 5:22, but there is no verb there, because it goes with verse 21, not verse 23. In Greek it reads like a list starting in vs. 19, describing the filled with the Spirit in vs. 18: speaking, singing, thanking, and supporting. All believers are to defer (Paul always uses other words when discussing submission to authority) to one another; there are no exceptions. The man as head to the wife is her source, and she is his support, just as the head feeds the body and the body supports the head. In spite of the Roman law that made her attached to her father for life (instead of her husband)*, Paul tells Christian wives to be loyal to their own husbands. To say this as a matter of obedience would make no sense in a society where this was already presumed and encoded in law, and to treat any human as The Lord would be idolatrous. So Paul is not making lording over a new definition of submission. (*The law was marriage without hand, designed to give abused wives a way out of a bad marriage. She remained the property of her father, who at any time could give her to another man. So Paul is saying something quite radically opposed to Roman law.)
  24. Christian Equality is a slippery slope to homosexuality. Then male supremacism is a slippery slope to wife abuse, and clergy supremacy is a slippery slope to the cults. The slippery slope argument was raised to justify slavery in the pre-Civil War south, fearing the breakdown of society should slaves be freed and treated as equals. And historically (even today), homosexuality has been rampant in very patriarchal societies.
  25. Christian Equality bows to culture. The overwhelming cultural and religious paradigm has been that of male supremacism, so it is patriarchy which bows to culture. That modern Western society has been a rare exception to the cultural tradition does not make Christianity’s acceptance of equality a case of bowing to culture, any more than the abolition of slavery was also bowing to culture.
  26. Men cannot give birth but they don’t complain about it, so women should not complain about what they cannot do either. This is the equivocation fallacy, since it confuses ability with permission. Neither side believes women lack the ability to preach, teach, or lead. The absurdity of this argument is clear when we substitute the proper meanings for ’can’: Men lack the ability to give birth, so women should not complain about lack of permission to hold authority.
  27. Not all men can have ecclesiastical authority, so they too must submit gladly to it. But men are not barred from such positions because they are men, but because they lack gifting or credentials. Yet women are barred from those positions solely because they are women, an intrinsic quality and thus a matter of ’being’ or ’essence’ rather than an ability or a role to play; women’s gifting or ability is not even considered. And of course it is not all men who are denied authoritative positions, while it is all women who are denied. And in the home, all men are designated leaders and authorities over their wives, while no women are ever designated leaders and authorities over their husbands.

A concise definition of patriarchy (male entitlement) is the belief that God can speak through a donkey (Num. 22:28), a plant (Ex. 3:2), or a rock (Luke 19:40), but never a woman. See also Female Supremacism: A Parody.


Even with the worst possible interpretations of scripture, the Bible treats women far better than secular or religious communities have done. The Christian community needs to reject gender roles for Christian roles, flesh-based permission for spiritual gifting, and chains of command for mutual service. The truly humble don’t fight for the last place in line or forbid others to join them there. Authority to teach or preach never lies with the speaker but with the indwelling Holy Spirit, who does not dispense gifts in pink and blue boxes (i.e. by the flesh). This renders moot the entire question of Christian women’s permission.

Let us stop hobbling the Body of Christ, and start treating all fellow believers as equals, with humility and compassion. Only the proud fear equality, and such pride harms the Christian community and our witness to the world. Remember what Jesus warned in Mat. 19:30 and Mark 10:31: But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. A whole-Bible study on this topic can be read here.

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