Beliefs have consequences. To believe the Bible teaches wives are in subjection to their husbands in a way husbands aren’t to their wives creates an environment most conducive for domestic abuse and the other atrocities women face at the hands of men throughout history. Since interpretations are fallible, we must error on the side less prone to abuse. Mutual submission is impossible for men to twist to justify their subtle or blatant mistreatment of women.
I will never tire trying to convince others that the Bible doesn’t teach men have any type of authority over women. One person wrote to the editor of a newspaper “…it’s been bothering me since 9/11. What’s the difference between the strain of Islam that proscribes gender roles and its counterpart in Christianity that does the same thing, albeit with a different set of prohibitions?” It just doesn’t make logical sense why God would put a man in charge based on history, common sense, and human nature. Lack of mutual accountability is disastrous. The truth is to not teach complete equality is confusing to those seeking to know our God better.
- Genesis, the first book in the Bible, is often used to suggest God ordained separate gender roles and as you might suspect the men aren’t women’s helpers. The English implication of the word “helper” translated from the Hebrew word ezer is nowhere to be found in the Bible (2:18). Ezer is used of God and implies or often is translated as “strength” (Deut. 33:29). R. David Freedom has argued convincingly that the best translation of Genesis 2:18 is “I will make [the women] a power [or a strength] corresponding to the man” (Walter Kaiser Jr., Tough Questions About God And His Actions In the Old Testament, p. 140). Genesis 3:16 describes what happens when sins enters relationship. Men will rule over women. God got that one right! God is describing problems not prescribing roles. If the context is suggesting God’s will, then farmers sin by trying to combat weeds (3:17-18).
- The Apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament is accused of being a woman hater or seriously misinformed of God’s view of women especially in his first letter to the Corinthians. Is Paul really duplicating synagogue ways and telling women in church to just shut up and sit there and be thankful you are even allowed to come to church? (14:34) Paul’s response suggests otherwise: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached” (14:36). Besides, Paul wouldn’t waste his time controlling a practice in the previous verses of how men and women should speak in an orderly fashion if it was forbidden to begin with (14:26-33). Paul’s goal was to restrict unauthorized women who were deceived but not authorized to teach such as Priscilla (2 Tim 4:19). This surely is Paul’s meaning as the rest of his letter speaks of the equality of the sexes: husbands and wives share equal authority over their body (7:4); women are not condemned for prophesying which clearly involved speaking (11:5); again, women and men possess the same authority and in fact are interdependent (11:10-11). Yea, Adam was created first but then no more men were created without women. The bottom line is all human beings are better off being dependent on God using whatever spiritual gifts they may have. If Paul supposedly told women to hush, why didn’t he explain which spiritual gifts are gender specific (12:1-31)? It is way too risky to not give Paul the benefit of the doubt and not empower half the church in their giftedness.
- Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is often used to suggest wives are subordinate or under the leadership of their husbands in a way husbands aren’t to their wives (5:22). The truth is that mutual submission is a way of life for all followers to imitate Jesus: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). In verse 22 in the original manuscripts, Paul literally says: “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” The verb missing is supplied from verse 21 so the TNIV translates verse 22 “wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” If we defend wives are subordinate or under the leadership of their husbands, then we must also say church members are in subordination or under the leadership of one another (v. 21). Mutual submission in marriage is critical. Many men assume an impasse in a marriage cannot be solved through normal conflict resolutions means, especially when they think they are to provide leadership through decision-making just because they are male. One may argue that relationships must have a final decision maker. A President of a country has to govern through laws and make decisions such as whether to go to war against other countries. There are more checks and balances when under authority of one’s government or church leadership. There are many creative alternatives in marriage such as the partner who has the most expertise with the matter at hand making the final decision. Personally, in thirty-three years of marriage all decisions have been solvable without insisting one be the final decision-maker. Women do not need male leadership in marriage; women need unselfish men who have the heart of a servant (5:28-29).
- Many women are denied the privilege to exercise their spiritual gifts in the church because of one main biblical passage (I Tim. 2:11-15), which is highly debated among scholars. Those who suggest this passage teaches women can’t teach men allow women to teach women and children as if they are less important than men! Women were never referred to as pastors in the Bible but then neither were men. There were plenty of men and women ministers/co-workers. A primary problem in Ephesus was false teaching in which untaught women may have been the target (I Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-7; 6: 6-10, 20-21; 2 Tim 2:16-26; 3:5-13; 4:3-4). Philip Payne argues that “to teach or have authority” in verse 12 likely conveys a single idea such as “assuming authority to teach” and not two different actions (Man and Woman, One in Christ, p. 443). Paul had already prohibited men from teaching false doctrine (1:13, 20). Then, Paul teaches that a woman must not teach or have authentein over a man but Paul had in mind what the first woman did to the first man – prevailed upon Adam to go along with the false view of God’s word that she heard from the serpent. It is the repetition of the error of Eve that Paul disallowed, not a woman’s faithful exercise of her teaching and leadership gifts in the church body. While we are reminded that Eve was deceived, it was Mary that heard and brought the Christ into the world (2:15).
The gods of the nations in biblical times were described as either male or female. By contrast, the Jews did not speculate about the “masculinity” of God. There are language limitations when referring to God by gender. It can be difficult to refer to God without using either he or she, but God is never referred to as a “male” or “female” in the Bible. Personally, I prefer to think of my God as either my Creator or my loving, perfect, Heavenly Parent. God did not create a male-controlled relationship between Adam and Eve in the beginning. Nations thereafter chose to be patriarchal, but God does not simply annihilate people because His desires are not followed. Jesus clearly encouraged equality between the sexes and mutual respect against culture norms. Some religious extremists would rather be dead than advocate for that. We must not become corrupt and have physical or mental images of God “…whether formed like a man or a woman (Deut. 4:15-16). We cannot be sure what form God will be until we see Him in Heaven. I simply know that God, my Creator, they love me in unimaginable ways no one else can.