The Bible exalts women. The Bible applauds and honours the role of women in the home and in the society. The Bible is filled with examples of women whose influence and actions have served to fulfil God’s plan and purpose for His Church and the world. Women play prominent roles in many key biblical narratives as judges (Deborah), queens (Esther), prophets (Miriam) and warriors (Jael). Wives are venerated partners and cherished, equal companions to their husbands. In Genesis 2 v 24 God established the marital union where husband and wife become ‘one flesh’.
When God issued the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20:12, God commanded children to honor both father and mother, thus giving the mother and father equal status as parents.
In Genesis 2:18 God gave Adam his wife Eve he said that Eve was to be a ‘helper’ to Adam. Contrary to our usual understanding of the word ‘helper’, that implies ‘provider of assistance’ to someone else, the word ‘helper’ is translated from the Hebrew word ‘ezer’ which means ‘power’ or ‘strength.’ The only other times that the word helper’ is used in the Old Testament is the instances where God is somehow described, in terms of power or strength, often God promises to be a helper to Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:26 and 29 – “There is none like the God of Jeshurun, The Rider of the Heavens in your strength (ezer), and on the clouds in his majesty.” And “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is the shield of your strength (ezer) and the sword of your majesty.”
So in Genesis 2:18 where Eve is to be a helper to Adam, I would say that God intended that in marriage, Eve would offer “power” or “strength” to Adam as an equal partner. As a ‘helper’, a wife is not to be thought of as second rung at all, but rather as a divine gift, key to humanity’s survival.
Paul’s epistles have proven to be confusing and controversial for some Christians. In his first epistle to the Corinthian Christians, Paul writes that wives are to submit to husbands, that the man is the head of the woman in marriage, women should keep silent in church and should not teach. Some Christian denominations follow these words literally and women in these denominations are led to believe that they are second rank to men. Others say that Paul was teaching at a time when cultural practices and differences required women to be subservient and that since times have changed, Paul’s teachings are irrelevant.
My own view is that Paul’s intention was to bring order to the Corinthian Christian congregation that was experiencing problems at that time. Corinth was a wealthy, multi-cultural city and the congregation there reflected the cultural and demographic diversity of the city. Members of the congregation comprised Jewish and pagan converts. There were problems such as the continued observance of pagan practices (1 Corinthians 10: 19 – 33), divisions and dysfunctional relationships (1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 15, 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 19), improper observation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11: 20 – 33), and misunderstanding of the use of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12).
In 1 Corinthians 11: 1 – 2, Paul recommended that members of the congregation should follow his example, that included a common set of Jewish traditions that would serve to unify the congregation and clearly define the Corinthian church in a multi-cultural city. Some of these traditions included the covering of women’s hair, relationships between husband and wife and the role of women in worship. (1 Corinthians 11) By recommending the roles and responsibilities for men and women to follow, Paul intended that harmonious relationships in marriage, family and in the church would be established.
I do not believe that women are by any means marginalized or relegated to any second-class status in the Bible – either in the Old Testament or in the New Testament and even within Paul’s Epistles. I support my opinion because of what Paul says and does in regard to women and their role in his ministry.
- He says in Galatians 3:28 that there is no distinction between male and female and we are all one / equal in the sight of God.
- Paul included women in his ministry. He cites several examples of women who ministered alongside him – Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe the deaconess in Cenchreae (Romans 16:1) and Prisca and Aquila who risked their lives for Paul in spreading the gospel (Romans 16 v4).
- There are also many other examples of women ministering with Paul and who he commends for serving in positions of leadership and influence in the early church. A fairly complete list is in Romans Chapter 16.
I do not believe that Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians contradict the teachings of the Bible on women and their status in God’s sight.
Christian men and women need to work together as equals, doing God’s will and responding to His specific call to serve Him in the world, and bring glory and honour to Him.
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