The Biblical Woman

[A Complete Study on Women in the Bible]

Part One (circa 4,000 - 1,500 BC)


“Viva la difference!” say the French. Most men would agree with this. Most men would also agree that a woman is without question the premier creation of the Almighty and very few males on this planet would wish to go without a woman. Despite this longing, the so-called “battle of the sexes” has continued from the beginning. At no time is the subject hotter than today as men and women have entered the 3rd millennium CE. In the last 100 years much has changed in the Western world with regard to women and their place in the family, society, education, business, politics and particularly religion.

There have been several factors that have brought about radical changes with regard to women in contrast to their place in society for thousands of years. Not the least of these are the efforts of women to fight and win for themselves a proper place in a male dominated world. It must be noted, however, that most of the world and its six billion inhabitants has not fully adopted the Western view of female “liberation.” In the Western world, following World War Two, matters have slowly changed in the work place. One major factor in this was the birth-control pill which some women state gave them the freedom to have just as much sex as the men. Thus, many women took control of when and how they would have children.

Never has the “battle of the sexes” been hotter than it is today. In most contexts even the Biblical words head, submission, subjection, etc., are enough to make most women cringe and those lovely tendrils on their necks rise. This has become more predominately so as both men and women moved away from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic roots.

The subject here is The Biblical Woman. This discussion is not meant for those who are now irreligious, and no doubt most men and women will find the whole subject laughable. That be as it may, there are still others who are very much interested in what the Bible says about women. Some, feeling modern notions have proved no more successful than the “old fashioned” views, are very much interested in exactly what the Bible says about women. And, finally, trying to understand what God, the Creator of man and woman, has in mind for these two fascinating creatures at the very top of the food chain.

The Biblical Woman is a study of “woman” and not particularly “man” as this will be addressed in another article, The Biblical Man (See also the article “The Godly Husband”). What follows will be a chronological study of “woman” beginning in Genesis. It will deal with “woman” in several historical contexts from Eden to the present day. Hopefully it is presented as unbiased as possible, without an agenda, and without prejudice. It is a study of what the Bible says, not necessarily what is either right or wrong, or acceptable and not acceptable; or, even what is politely correct or not. Does the Bible -- and thus God -- have something to say beneficial to the modern godly woman? Whether one agrees with the following or not, it will certainly be a source of discussion where a dialogue may be fruitful for Christian women.

Woman in Paradise

We begin at the beginning, in the Book of Genesis. There are several words of interest: woman, female, mother, and wife. The first words used to describe the human creation are “male” and “female.” In Hebrew “female” is נקבה (neqebah, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #5347) which Strong’s states is from the root נקב (naqab, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #5344) “to puncture” (or, literally, “to perforate” ... pierce). If the female is the punctured, perforated, or pierced, then the male is the piercee upon first coupling. This word “female” occurs about 66 times. 12 of these are in Genesis and the most often occurrence is in the Book of Leviticus, 16 times. The word is used of human and animal females.

Something of the Greek equivalent occurs only five times in the Christian Bible. The Greek θηλυς (thelus, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #2338) is from the root “nipple” or “suckle” referring to the woman’s breast and her ability to feed her young. So, the Hebrew begins with this human creature as the one “punctured” in the male-female relationship, while the Greek refers to this creation as the one who suckles in the male-female relationship. In English the word “female” finds its root in the Latin fellare, to suck. A “woman” is femina, that is, “one who suckles” and is related to fetus, pregnancy.

Genesis 1:26-28 reads:

“And God went on to say: ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and the domestic animals and all the earth and every moving animal that is moving upon the earth.’ And God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God's image he created him; male and female he created them. Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.’" (NWT)

In Genesis 1:26 God use the term “man” with the article and then goes on to say “let them ... ” thus indicating this first occurrence of “man” (Hebrew a-dham = Adam) is something like saying “mankind,” or “humankind.” So, the verse could reasonably read in a paraphrase: “Let us make humankind in our image and let humankind have in subjection all the fish and animals.”

In both the Jewish Hebrew and Greek Bible Genesis 1:27 has the definite article before the word for “man” and thus it is literally “the man.” Translations vary on whether they include the article or not. If we translate the article then it is possible the verse refers to the first man, Adam. Then the final phrase, “male and female He created them” is something of a prophetic abstraction that looks forward to humankind in general.

The male and female are told to be fruitful and judging from the root meaning of “female” here in Hebrew it would infer a sexual puncture of the one with breasts in order for humankind to come about. Both male and female are to have “in subjection” all the animal creation. Beyond this we learn little about the “female” except her share in procreation and the subjugation of the earth. It is in the next chapter of Genesis when the word for “woman” occurs for the first time.

Genesis 2:7-9 first describes the “making” of the first human creature, the male, the man, who is first called Adam (meaning “man”) in Genesis 3:17 when names first appear in the Bible. It is at Genesis 2:18-25 where it is described how the “female” first came about. This “female” is given several designations.

And Jehovah God went on to say: ‘It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a [1] helper for him, as a complement of him.’ Now Jehovah God was forming from the ground every wild beast of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man would call it, each living soul, that was its name. So the man was calling the names of all the domestic animals and of the flying creatures of the heavens and of every wild beast of the field, but for man there was found no helper as a complement of him. Hence Jehovah God had a deep sleep fall upon the man and, while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over its place. And Jehovah God proceeded to build the rib that he had taken from the man into a [2] woman and to bring her to the man.

“Then the man said:

‘This is at last bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh.
This one will be called Woman,
Because from man this one was taken.’

“That is why a man will leave his father and his [3] mother and he must stick to his [4] wife and they must become one flesh. And both of them continued to be naked, the man and his wife, and yet they did not become ashamed.” (NWT)

Here it seems apparent the male was the female’s senior having been made first and having lived by himself for an unknown period in Paradise before the female was formed from the male’s own rib. Thus, according to the Bible, the female did not result as a process of evolution contemporary with the male over a vast period of time. The female came later though it is clear the Creator had her in mind from the beginning. God must have had a reason in not creating both the male and female at the same time so that they would be equals in life-existence. One of the reasons was Adam’s own divine education. He was warned about obedience and the Tree of Knowledge. Also, by viewing all the animals it was impressed on the male that he did not have what all the animal kingdom had -- a mate.

We note four designations of the female which give us an understanding of God’s intention regarding her role in the marriage and family to follow. First, the female is called “a helper” as a “complement” of the male. There are two Hebrew words here: ezer from a root meaning “to aid.” This “helper” is to be a neged -- a “front” or “opposite,” a counterpart. This is drawn from the root “to stand boldly out opposite.” From this we can understand that the female as an opposite and counterpart is to complement or fulfill the male.

Is it fair to conclude from this that the Creator of humankind intended the female to complement the male as a mate in procreation as well as to be his helper? Nothing is said which would reverse these roles: the male as the helper of the female.

Secondly, the female “helper” is now first called a “woman.” What does this word mean? In Hebrew the word is אשה (ish-shah, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #802) and means “a female man” or a “man with a womb.” The Jews of the third century, when translating the Septuagint Greek edition of this verse the rabbis used gynaika, “a woman.” The root is disputed but from Homer it simply means a “female being” in contrast to a male. In this regard the Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3, page 1055, comments: “In contrast with the rest of the oriental (religious) world, she is recognized as a person and as man’s partner.”

Commenting on ish-shah, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 1, page 59, states: “The word ishsha is the most common word for ‘woman’ and ‘wife’ in the OT. ... (Genesis 2:23) She is depicted as the physical counterpart of man, deserving of his unswerving loyalty. It is in this context that the word is first used in the same sense of ‘mate’ or ‘wife’.”

Thirdly, the woman, the female helper is to become a “mother.” Later in the Biblical record, the man Adam names his own mate, Eve, or in Greek, Zoe. This means “life” and the account explains this name because she was to become the mother of everyone living. Her biology clearly designates her for this, as one of the Greek words for the female implied suckling young at her breasts. The Creator has designed the woman to bear children. After the birth of her children, the woman becomes unique compared to animals in that she must care for these children for many years as they are defenseless and vulnerable for an extraordinarily long time compared to animals.

The woman is a breeding creature with hundreds of thousands of ovum that would allow for many thousands of years of existence as a producing mother. What is the reason for the overkill in the amount of eggs a woman is capable of using? If 100,000 eggs were available and a woman conceived yearly -- using only a few of the eggs in that period -- she must be able to live about 60,000 years as a producing mother. When many hundreds of generations removed from her are having their first children, she would still be producing babies.

As such a “mother” biologically hard-wired as a female rearing babies, she must also be uniquely equipped mentally, spiritually, and emotionally to continue to care for these children. We cannot actually predict what the world would have been like given the deviation that is unfortunately to follow. At least initially, life in the garden paradise of Eden must have been physically undemanding for man and woman. They were truly a team with the potential of an entire human race totaling billions of offspring in their loins.

Finally, the account designates the woman as a “wife.” In both Hebrew and Greek this generally is the same word for woman as it is in many languages in modern times, only the context indicating when “woman” means “wife.” Essentially, she is the male’s “woman.” The English word “wife” is Germanic wyf, or a female person, woman. The old English wyfman became “wife.” The original sense survives in HOUSEWIFE, “female person of the house.”

God, in bringing the woman to the man, effectively married the couple, with Adam making a poetic statement about the one to be named Eve. Adam’s phrase, ‘because from man this one was taken,’ makes it plain he understood the woman to be out of the man, so that the male was in the first instance the source or origin of the female. She was not created independently as a separate creation from the rich soil of Eden. The male and female blood-types are interchangeable and tissues or organs may be transplanted from one to the other. Had God done this perhaps one could view the female as a separate species, but in this delicate surgery under some divine anesthesia, the Creator was able to use the male’s DNA and construct a perfect duplicate which was truly ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.’

This account is later to be quoted and applied by Jesus Christ the Nazarene. We will deal with this meaning when we reach the discussion of woman in Christianity.

As a perfect couple there would be no need to introduce words like “submission” or “subjection.” This couple was in perfect agreement as a working unit made up of two opposites. Again, we can only speculate, though many would agree, the female was precisely designed so that even her brain functions in a different manner than the male. It may be compared to the two hemispheres of the brain: a left-hand logic center and a right-hand intuitive center, working together make for two approaches to a problem: one feeling and one thinking.

Though this vision of man and woman in Edenic perfection is pleasing, it is clear this situation did not continue. What happened and did this affect the woman’s future in any manner?

Woman After the Judgment

It is not our purpose here to analyze everything regarding this subject. We look only for those phrases which describe the woman in Genesis chapter 3.

First, we note the Serpent approaches, not the man, but the woman. The Serpent engages the woman in conversation designed to mislead her. He asks a poser with a truth regarding the tree. The woman answers, but she does not quote God’s command exactly. She omits the adverb “absolutely.”

Genesis 3:1-5: “Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you [This “you” is plural in the Hebrew though God only gave the command to the man and likely the man relayed this to his wife.] must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for eating of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You [In Genesis 2:17 the Hebrew “you” is singular, indicating Adam has repeated the warning to his wife.] must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it [Actually, this phrase is not in the original command to the man, thus we might assume Adam added this extra warning to his wife not to even touch the fruit.] that you do not die.'" At this the serpent said to the woman: "You positively [This word is in the original command to Adam.] will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.’"

Now examine what happens next with focus on the woman: “Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it. Afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it. Then the eyes of both of them became opened and they began to realize that they were naked. Hence they sewed fig leaves together and made loin coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6, 7 NWT)

The woman sins first and then her husband. Nothing is told to us about the conversation or situation in which the woman “gave some to her husband.” Nor, or we told Adam’s motivation for disobeying God. Most think it was because he loved his wife more than God: a lesson for future generations of men. Both are affected by their consciences and can no longer look upon one another cleanly.

At this God passes judgment on the man and the woman. Note in what follows God speaks first to the man: “And Jehovah God kept calling to the man and saying to him: "Where are you?" [“You” is singular showing this is being directed at the man.] Finally (the man) said: ‘Your voice I heard in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked and so I hid myself.’ [Adam does not say, “we were naked.”] At that (God) said: ‘Who told you that you were naked? From the tree from which I commanded you not to eat have you [singular] eaten?’ And the man went on to say: ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.’ With that Jehovah God said to the woman: ‘What is this you have done?’ To this the woman replied: ‘The serpent -- it deceived me and so I ate." (Genesis 3:9-13 NWT)

Adam blames both God and his wife. The woman blames, not her husband, or God, but the Serpent. What is God’s judgment on the woman?

Genesis 3:16 records the punishment: “To the woman (God) said: ‘I shall greatly increase the pain of your pregnancy; in birth pangs you will bring forth children, and your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.’” (NWT) Four elements are cited here:

1) The woman’s pregnancy “pain” is to increase over what might have occurred in perfection. Possibly this “pain” would involve the whole period of pregnancy, not just the birthing. This is shown by the Interlinear Bible where the literal Hebrew is rendered: “I will greatly increase your sorrow and you shall bear sorrow in your conception.” (Green’s)

2) The actual birthing would be attended by “birth pangs” indicating this may not have been the case in perfection. Certainly the depressing knowledge that her children would now be born to die instead of live forever must be a terrible burden for her sin?

3) “Your craving (IB: desire; NJB: yearning; JPS: urge) will be for your husband.” What may this mean? The Jewish Greek Bible, the Septuagint, translated the Hebrew with apo-strophe and rendered “submission” by Bagster’s version: “and thy submission shall be to thy husband.” This seems a reasonable meaning because of the following phrase: “and he shall rule over you.”

The woman is now married to a different man: a sinner and imperfect. We would suspect because of all the circumstances involved Adam is going to treat her harshly for he will always blame his wife -- just as he did before God (“I told you not to touch that tree!”) -- for the terrible situation which has now developed from rebellion against God. Like many marriages to follow, their relationship could not be a good one.

4) “He will dominate you.” That is, “rule over you.” The “you” is singular here referring to this woman particularly. The conclusion may not necessarily be drawn that this is a judgment for all women, but as it turns out in the rest of the Bible, it seems to be the case, generally speaking.

In perfection there would be no need to “dominate” his wife as they were a perfect team, well suited to one another by divine making. However, because of Adam’s error in “listening to his wife’s voice,” that is in responding to what she had said about the fruit, we could suspect his “rule” will be harsh and demanding. In perfection there would be no “rule” of the male over the woman, no domination. This was not God’s original purpose. Such rule and domination over a subjecting woman is the result of our first’s parents’ sin. Their role model in marriage has been passed down throughout the generations to us today.

Both the man and the woman were condemned to death, but this took nearly a thousand years. We are not told when Eve died, whether before or after her husband. However, by the end of nine centuries they and their offspring produced a multitude of children.

What would woman be like during this period of over two and a half millennia?

Woman Before the Law

Eve, the first woman is mentioned only one more time in Genesis after her and her husband were cast out of the Garden of Eden to till the difficult soil outside: “Now Adam had intercourse with Eve his wife and she became pregnant. In time [a period of pain] she gave birth to Cain and said: ‘I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah.’ [She gives the reason for calling him Cain.] Later she again gave birth, to his brother Abel.” (Genesis 4:1, 2 NWT) The first child is to turn out to be a murderer of his own brother. What pain this must have meant for her regarding her firstborn baby? So, our imagination can conjure up what the first woman’s life must have been like bearing so many children in pain and under the domination of her husband.

For nearly two thousand years following the ouster from Eden many “daughters” are born but not a single woman is named. (Genesis 5:4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 26, 30) Another “wife” is mentioned. This is Cain’s woman, who given the situation with her husband, must have led a difficult life, married to the first murderer. We would suspect this type of man would, like his father, “ruled” over his wife in “domination” and she would have no choice but to be in “subjection” otherwise she would be alone in a hostile world. [NOTE: feminine personal nouns are to occur 353 times in Genesis while masculine pronouns occur 1,863 times.]

About a century before the Flood Genesis 6:1, 2 mentions women in a light that turns about to make them part of a rebellion against God:

“Now it came about that when men started to grow in numbers on the surface of the ground and daughters were born to them, then the sons [LXX: angels] of the true God began to notice the daughters of men, that they were good-looking; and they went taking wives for themselves, namely, all whom they chose. After that Jehovah said: "My spirit shall not act toward man indefinitely in that he is also flesh. Accordingly his days shall amount to a hundred and twenty years." (Genesis 6:1-3 NWT) Judging from what the Bible later says about this matter, these women must have willingly rebelled against God and submitted to this perversion, which is elsewhere called “fornication.” None of these women survived the flood of Noah’s day.

The next women to be alluded to are Noah’s wife and his three daughters-in-law. Other than the fact they survived the global deluge among the eight, there is no discussion regarding them. It is interesting that in the post-Flood blessing God speaks only to Noah and his sons. (Genesis 9:1, 8) When God addresses the four men, he says: “And God went on to say to Noah and to his sons with him: "And as for me, here I am establishing my covenant with you men and with your offspring after you, and with every living soul that is with you.” (Genesis 9:8-10 NWT) This later phrase, “every living soul with you,” would include the four women in the ark.

About two thousand years more have passed and no woman has been named but Eve. Following the flood and the generations that developed into what are called the Table of Nations as peoples spread abroad in the earth, “daughters” are mentioned but no woman by name. (Genesis 11:11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25) This covers about one thousand years.

The Woman Sarah

Now we come to the first woman named since Eve! One of the most famous women in the Bible now enters the Biblical picture. It is about the year 1,970 BC. God appears to Abram, Sarai’s husband, and tells him: “And Jehovah proceeded to say to A'bram: ‘Go your way out of your country and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country that I shall show you; and I shall make a great nation out of you and I shall bless you and I will make your name great; and prove yourself a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1, 2 NWT) God does not here mention his wife, Sarai, or mention her by name, or even by using the word “wife.” Perhaps, Sarai would not be willing to go. Her name means “Contentious” and she is about 60 years old, and barren.

What would be the woman’s response? Would she submit to her husband’s lead, trusting he had actually spoken with God? We can only imagine her reaction to her husband’s news: God spoke to me and told me to leave our beautiful home here in the Ur of the Chaldees, move 1,500 miles, and live in tents the rest of our lives. Would God bless her decision?

Time passes and this woman finds herself in Egyptian territory during a famine. (Genesis 12:10) Now her husband asks her to do something which many women, if not most, would object to do. Her husband realizes she is “a woman in beautiful appearance.” (Genesis 12:11) Her husband feared that because of her extraordinary beauty the Egyptians would kill him just to get his wife. Her husband tells her to say she is his sister, the second occurrence of the word in two thousand years. Her husband states his motive: “In order that it will go well with me on your account.”

Evidently this is a “half-truth” for Sarai was his half-sister so it was not a complete lie. (Compare Genesis 20:11, 12 where something similar happens again.) And, just as her husband predicted, the Egyptians are overcome with her beauty and Pharaoh shows serious interest in her. We are not told the details of how she handled this situation. However, this brings a great plague from God and Pharaoh realizes his error. The result her husband sought is anticipated as they are escorted out of Egypt. (Genesis 12:20)

After this the woman Sarai must follow her husband into a god-forsaken wilderness desert. It is likely she could have exercised her own self-will, remained in Egypt, adored by Pharaoh for her beauty, and then become one of his wives. (Genesis 13:1) Not that she was not very wealthy already as the account goes on to show.

God appears to her husband again and her husband is promised a great land as well as an heir to continue his name. This heir is to come out of his loins. How much of this her husband told her it is not reported. However, beginning with Genesis 16:1 Sarai takes the matter of her barrenness into her own hands. She speaks to her husband and suggests a solution. She wants her husband to have a child by her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. Note her language as she broaches this subject to her husband. (Genesis 16:1, 2) Note her use of “please” to get a her husband to have intercourse with another woman!

Hagar becomes pregnant and this arouses a distaste in Sarai’s heart. What she had thought a good idea before -- she is not so sure now. Now Sarai asks her husband to get rid of the very woman she had before asked him to mate with, to produce an heir. What moral may be drawn from this it is left to others. However, what results is the first case of God speaking to a woman since Eve, three thousand years before. The Angel of Yahweh tells this woman to return to her mistress and names her son, Ishmael, the father of all the Arabs.

Also, regarding Hagar, we have the first example of a woman praying to God. Genesis 16:13, “Then (Hagar) began to call the name of Jehovah, who was speaking to her: ‘You are a God of sight,’ for she said: ‘Have I here actually looked upon Him who sees me?’” There must be an extraordinary lesson here, for God has seen and listened to an Egyptian woman, possibly not among His worshippers. The strange account is given for several reasons, including the explanation of the genealogy of the Arabic world who trace their worship back to Abram and Ishmael. So, by means of two women, two great religions of the future merge here.

Sarai’s husband is told again he will have a child by means of his wife. Here in Genesis 17:15 God changes the woman’s name in keeping with the submissive example she has set for future heirs: “And God went on to say to Abraham: "As for Sar'ai your wife, you must not call her name Sar'ai [Contentious], because Sarah [Princess] is her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son from her; and I will bless her and she shall become nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ At this Abraham fell upon his face and began to laugh and to say in his heart: ‘Will a man a hundred years old have a child born, and will Sarah, yes, will a woman ninety years old give birth?’" (Genesis 17:15-17 NWT) What a blessing! What she would have lost had she refused to submit to her husband and remain in Ur; or, had betrayed her husband and became one of the wives of Pharaoh? Today, billions of people hold this woman in honor and respect because of her submissive role to her husband and her obedience to God.

To confirm this promise made directly to her husband, three angels of Yahweh visit the encampment of tents. These celestial visitors are on their way to Sodom. How does her husband treat these strangers?

Genesis 18:6, “So Abraham went hurrying to the tent to Sarah and said: ‘Hurry! Get three seah measures of fine flour, knead the dough and make round cakes.’" We note her husband has not said, “Please.” However, her submissiveness in doing what her husband asked rather than insisting she greet the strangers also is to be reward by the angels. Genesis 18:9-15 records: “(The angels of Yahweh) now said to him: ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ To this (Abraham) said: ‘Here in the tent!’ So (one of the angels) continued: ‘I am surely going to return to you next year at this time, and, look! Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the tent entrance, and it was behind the man (angel). And Abraham and Sarah were old, being advanced in years. Sarah had stopped having menstruation. Hence Sarah began to laugh inside herself, saying: ‘After I am worn out, shall I really have pleasure, my lord being old besides?’ Then Jehovah said to Abraham: ‘Why was it that Sarah laughed, saying, “Shall I really and truly give birth although I have become old?'” Is anything too extraordinary for Jehovah? At the appointed time I shall return to you, next year at this time, and Sarah will have a son.’ But Sarah began to deny it, saying: ‘I did not laugh!’ For she was afraid. At this (the angel of Yahweh) said: ‘No! but you did laugh.’”

We note God has spoken to her husband and not to Sarah. However, Sarah laughs “inside herself.” This does not escape God’s notice -- the One who knows the thoughts of women, and men. She is not totally lying when she says she did not laugh, perhaps meaning she did not do so openly. But God knew: “But, you did laugh.”

We note also that Sarah has addressed her husband as “lord” in her heart. Likely she did this verbally to her husband also as it was much of a custom. “Lord” being something like “senor” in Spanish. Even to this day some Jewish ladies address their husbands as “Mister,” a form of “lord.”

The Women of Lot

The experience of some other women is now introduced in Genesis: the daughters of Lot, as well as his wife. Almost two thousand years later, Jesus Christ the Nazarene is to warn his disciples: “Remember the wife of Lot!” (Luke 17:32) There is also something in the account greatly disturbing to modern women: the treatment of Lot’s daughters.

Genesis 19:1 picks up the historical record. Two of the angels who had visited Abraham and Sarah, now come to Sodom. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, shows hospitality to the strangers and invites them to his home. The account says Lot “made a feast for them” though we can probably assume this was being prepared by his wife and daughters.

During this meal with angelic visitors a homosexual crowd of sodomites begin to beat the door down demanding the “men” be delivered to them for immoral purposes. Lot now does something strange to a modern reader: he offers his daughters in the place of the angels. Lot gives his reason: “Do not harm these men, for they came under the shadow of my roof.” (Genesis 19:8) This was a powerful Oriental reason to protect these men no matter what: the Eastern host was duty bound to protect his visitors. Besides, possibly Lot knew these types would not be interested in women. Regardless of our view, the inspired perspective of Saint Peter is that Lot was “a righteous man” and so writes three times. (2 Peter 2:7, 8)

Of course, as the account goes, the angels rescue Lot and his daughters, while his wife is turned to a pillar of salt for looking behind and disobeying God’s representatives. (Genesis 19:15-26)

Now another matter occurs -- strange to a Western reader nearly four thousand years removed from this culture -- which has also shocked women. On the run and living in a wilderness cave (Hebrews 11:38) the daughters of Lot come up with the idea of copulating with their father in order to produce children so their family is not wiped out. They get their father drunk and then on two nights accomplish their deed. Perhaps we can forgive Lot based on Peter’s judgment cited above: he was drunk and did not know what he was doing. Some feel the account is there to reveal the genealogical descension of the Ammonites and Moabites -- later to become bitter enemies of Israel. Such hatred and animosity continues to this day in the Middle East. (Genesis 19:30-38)

The account does illustrate the extent these women of this period would go in order to have children. This, of course, was before the Law was given on Sinai, and “where there is no law there is no sin” (Romans 4:15) Later, under Moses, such incestuous sexual intercourse between a father and daughter was a cause for stoning. (See “Woman Under the Law”)

Back to Sarah, Genesis 21:1 states that God visited or turned his attention to her and in fulfillment of His promise she became pregnant and bore a son, named Isaac, which means “Laughter.” The name “Sarah” is to occur almost 50 times in the Bible and more than a millennium later Isaiah 51:2, “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gradually brought you forth with childbirth pains.” Saint Peter is to draw attention to this godly woman and the role model she set for future Christian heirs. The fisherman writes: “Let your adornment be ... the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God. For so, too, formerly the holy women who were hoping in God used to adorn themselves, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, as Sarah used to obey Abraham, calling him ‘lord.’ And you have become her children, provided you keep on doing good and not fearing any cause for terror.” (1 Peter 3:3-6 NW)

The Woman Rebekah

Another Biblical woman makes her important appearance beginning with the account in Genesis 24:1 when Abraham sends his faithful servant to his own kin to find a wife for his son, Isaac. What takes place is very alien to a modern Western world and its liberated notions.

When the servant asks Abraham, “What if the woman does not wish to come with me to this land?” it indicates the woman would have a choice. However, Abraham felt God was involved in this matter. And just so upon reaching the distant country the servant prayed to Abraham’s God and asked that the woman who gave him a drink and watered his camels would be THE WOMAN. Genesis 24:14 records the petition: “This is (the woman) You must assign to your servant, to Isaac; and by this (sign) let me know that You have performed covenant-loyalty with your master.” As things turned out it happened just so. It was a woman named Rebekah who gave Abraham’s servant a drink and offered to water his camels -- no easy thing. Genesis 24:20 reports about this Biblical woman, “So she QUICKLY emptied her jar into the drinking trough and ran yet AGAIN AND AGAIN to the well to draw water, and kept drawing for ALL his camels.”

What kind of woman must this be? This woman recognized a stranger alone. When he asked politely for a drink she responded without question or fear. Then, she herself offered to water ten camels. She did not have to do this but there was something in her character which made her uniquely hospitable and helpful. She is described, “the young woman was very attractive in appearance, a virgin” (Genesis 24:16) Such a woman of such beauty could have reasoned this work was beneath her and take her looks too seriously.

The servant realized he had God’s answer so he gave her a ring nose and bracelets worth about $2,000 (US) in today’s market. We can only imagine her reaction. She offers more hospitality -- “there is both straw and much fodder with us and a place to spend the night” -- and suddenly the man prostrates himself and begins to talk to an invisible God!

Well, the account continues with some exciting thoughts and finally the young woman of such beauty is asked her feelings and she agrees to travel the long distance home to meet a man she did not know who would become her husband. Upon reaching home she first sees a meditative man in the fields and she asks who he is. Upon being told it was the servant’s master she puts on a head-covering as a sign of submission.

Rebekah’s husband is to become a renowned patriarch in the Hebrew family --
“Jehovah was blessing him. Consequently the man became great and went on advancing more and more and growing great until he got very great.” (Genesis 26:12, 13) His name will occur 140 times in the Jewish Bible while her name will appear only once again in the Christian Bible. (Romans 9:10)

Attractive Rebekah is to experience the same challenge to her subjection when she is also asked to do the same thing Sarah did: claim she was the “sister” instead of the wife. (Genesis 26:7)

A particular event involves this woman as a mother highly concerned about one of her twin’s future. She is mother to Jacob (who will become “Israel”) and Isau (a man described as “not appreciating sacred things.” Hebrews 12:16) and she evidently discerned this because Isau marries outside of the family and any future inheritance would have a major impact on the history of what was to become “Israel.” In the account in Genesis 27:1-46 we are told of a husband who favors the bad seed and a wife who seeks the inheritance blessing on her other twin, a spiritual man. By a ruse Rebekah and Jacob fool her husband to bless the younger twin who was born grasping his brother’s heel. Isau had already sold his birthright for a bowl of stew to Jacob. God blesses the outcome and so we can forgive what seems deception.

This is not a role model or license for modern godly women to practice deceptions on their husbands. The matter here was of a deep “sacred” kind with far-reaching impact on Israel and the development of God’s purpose, reaching right down to us today. We give this woman tremendous credit for her godliness and ingenuity as well as her deep love for her one deserving son.

The Woman Rachel

Life can be full of tricks and unforeseen occurrences. The next godly woman in the Bible to catch our notice is Rachel. She was a shepherdess distantly related to the Abrahamic family and she meets her future husband, some years down the road, while herding sheep to the well. This is a woman who will wait fourteen years to finally marry the man she loves -- despite the fact her man is tricked into marrying her older sister first. The historical account is in Genesis 29:1-30.

No matter what one thinks of the quaint cultural mores in this story when it comes to the woman Rachel it must have been a whirlwind of emotions. (Genesis 30:1-24) After waiting fourteen years for her beloved husband she is found to be barren and this leads to a torrent of feelings. While her sister and her maid-servants bear children to Jacob -- creating the heads of the future twelve tribes of Israel -- “Finally God remembered Rachel, and God heard and answered her in that he opened her womb. And she became pregnant and brought a son to birth. Then she said: ‘God has taken away my reproach!’ So she called his name Joseph, saying: ‘Jehovah is adding another son to me.’” (Genesis 30:22-24 NW) Finally, having lived such an interesting life she dies given birth to Benjamin.

Rachel is to be mentioned about 50 times in the Bible. Many centuries later she and her older sister are praised in the Book of Ruth: “May Jehovah grant the wife who is coming into your house to be like Rachel and like Le'ah, both of whom built the house of Israel.” (Ruth 4:11 NW) Almost a thousand years later her tomb is still known. (1 Samuel 10:2) Following the birth of Christ this woman’s name is quoted in relation to the slaughter of babies by Herod. (Matthew 2:18)

The Righteous Woman Tamar

At a time when the generations of Israel were just beginning to grow, a woman appears on the scene who is pronounced righteous for what she did, though it involved a degree of deceit.

Tamar was married to Judah’s firstborn son, Er. However, before this woman could have children her husband died by God’s hand according to the account. In view of this Judah commanded his second son to have relations with Tamar to make sure the house and name of Er would not die out. This is later incorporated in the Law of Israel and is generally called Levirite or brother-in-law marriage. We can understand this standard when we appreciate God’s command to mankind, repeated to Noah, “be fruitful and fill the earth.” Additionally, the genealogy of Abraham which will one day produce the Messiah was critical and so the whole matter of child-bearing was taken very seriously.

The account in Genesis 38:1-26 reports how Onan practiced coitus interuptus with Tamar evidently not wanting to allow his brother’s lineage to continue. Judah promises his other son when he is old enough. However, this does not take place according to the promise. Tamar is still not pregnant so she plots to become so by the very man who did not keep his promise, Judah.

When Judah’s wife -- unnamed in Genesis 38:2 but identified in Genesis 38:12 -- died, Tamar plans to be present when Judah is at a certain location. She dresses in the garb of a pagan temple prostitute. (Remember: this is before the Law and its sanctions on prostitution.) Seeing a prostitute Judah arranges for her services not knowing this was his daughter-in-law. He agrees to pay a goat for her but she wants security for this promise and ends up with Judah’s signet ring, his belt, and his personal staff.

Later, it is reported that Tamar is pregnant by prostitution and Judah is incensed and wants her stoned and burned. However, Tamar reveals by whom she is pregnant producing the items she received from Judah. Judah confesses: “(Tamar) is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38:26) She gives birth to twins, one whom is Perez, a descendant of the Messiah. (Luke 3:33) Therefore, we owe it to Tamar’s righteous thinking and her ingenuity in providing one of the critical links in the lineage of Christ.

Women Just Before the Law

In concluding the study of the Biblical woman before the Law we direct our attention to another example of a godly woman who’s thinking and decisions greatly play a part in the divine purpose. This woman is the unnamed mother of Moses. Born of Israelite slaves under the oppression of the great Egyptian pyramid builders, the mother hides her “divinely beautiful” son for three months. (Exodus 1:2; Acts 7:20)

We are not told who made the decision to put little Moses in the reed basket and float him into Pharaoh’s household, but we get the strong feeling it was the mother’s plan. Thanks to this marvelous woman the world has Moses and today three great religions hold him in highest esteem as a great prophet and law-giver.

Another woman is to influence Moses, and possibly save his life. This is Zipporah (Birdie), his wife, a Cushite. The account in Exodus 4:24-26 has had many scholarly interpretations with no universal agreement. However, one view is that Moses had failed to circumcise his son according to the commandment at Genesis 17:14. For this reason Moses was in serious danger of divine execution. However, this woman, the wife of Moses, takes swift action and circumcises her son, placing the fresh foreskin at the feet of Yahweh’s angel. The angel lets Moses off and Birdie says -- alluding to the circumcision -- “Blood-bridegroom!” (Exodus 3:26; compare NJB, CC, KX, NEB, RSV footnotes) Thus, due to two women -- Moses’ mother and his wife -- we have Moses!

Summary: We have covered about 2,500 years of female Biblical history. Though there are many social and cultural (tribal) norms unusual to us, we see evidence of Yahweh’s prediction and judgment on the woman: she is bound by divine law to remain submissive to her husband. Though pained by difficult child-birth, emotional depression over her children, and sometimes the imperfection, selfishness and hard-hearted domination of males, the Biblical woman has been very instrumental in the historical life of Israel and God’s eternal purpose. (Genesis 3:17)

Under the Law (circa 1,500 - 1,100 BC)

Woman Under the Law

The Law Served to Protect Women in the Ancient World

Before the Law the idea of the husband as the owner of his wife was a social and cultural concept. (Genesis 20:3) Under the Mosaic Law this same relationship obtains between the Israelite husband and his wife. This legal attitude existed for a thousand years. (Exodus 21:3, 22; Leviticus 21:4; Deuteronomy 22:22; 24:4; 2 Samuel 11:26) It continued into the period of the Prophets. (Isaiah 54:1, 5; 62:4)

The wise Proverbs also convey this idea. Proverbs 12:4, “A capable wife is a crown to her owner, but as rottenness in his bones is she that acts shamefully.” Proverbs 31:11, 23, 28, “In her the heart of her owner has put trust, and there is no gain lacking. ... Her owner is someone known in the gates, when he sits down with the older men of the land. ... Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner [rises up], and he praises her.”

In the Prophets the belief the husband was the owner of his wife is also reflected in Yahweh’s relationship with Israel: God is the “husbandly owner” of the nation. (Hosea 2:16; Joel 1:8; Isaiah 1:3; 54:1, 5; Jeremiah 3:14)

Though this was the legal and spiritual relationship with his wife as her owner Yahweh judged those husbands who abused their women. The Hebrew Bible ends with this warning: “Jehovah himself has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you yourself have dealt treacherously, although she is your partner and the wife of your covenant. You people must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and with the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously. ‘For he has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said; ‘and the one who with violence has covered over his garment,’ Jehovah of armies has said. "And you must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and you must not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:14-16)

Consider now some of the features of the Law of Moses with regard to women.

Polygamy or plural wives was permissible under the law. However it was legally regulated to protect the woman and her children. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Exodus 21:10)

If a man seduced a woman he had to marry her unless her father forbid the union. (Exodus 22:16, 17; Deuteronomy 22:28, 29) If such a seduction occurred the man forfeited his right of divorce.

The Law allowed no arrangement for female divorce, so only the husband could divorce if something “indecent” was found in her. The parameters of this indecency was given wider and wider interpretations. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

As part of the Ten Commandments adultery was forbidden and sanctioned by the death penalty for either the husband or wife. (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 22:22) Surely here no double standard was permitted by Yahweh. Additionally the Law outlined a number of family relationships which disallowed marriage. (Leviticus 18:7, 8; 20:11; Deuteronomy 22:30; 27:20; Leviticus 18:9, 11; 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22; Leviticus 18:10; Leviticus 18:12, 13; 20:19; Leviticus 18:14; 20:20; Leviticus 18:15; 20:12; Leviticus 18:7, 17; 20:14; Deuteronomy 27:23; Leviticus 18:16; 20:21; Deuteronomy 25:5, 6; Leviticus 18:18)

Under the Law sanctions regarding incest protected the women, for such a perpetrator was put to death. (Leviticus 18:29; 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 20, 21)

No male could have intercourse with a menstruating woman. If such occurred and proven both were put to death. (Leviticus 18:19; 20:18) Such sanctions taught self-control and respect for the woman. However, if a husband accidentally or unknowingly had relations with a woman during her menstruation he was ceremonial “unclean” for a week and could not serve in any sacred or religious ceremony. (Leviticus 15:19-24)

Both the father and the mother were under divine command to teach their children the Law of Yahweh. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, 20-25; 11:18-21; Isaiah 38:19)

Children were to honor their mothers also and this was particularly manifest by respect and financial support in old age. (Exodus 20:12; 21:15, 17; Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16; 21:18-21; 27:16)

A woman (as well as a man) were forbidden to cross dress or wear those clothes of the opposite sex. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

Female homosexuality was sanctioned by death for sodomite relationships. (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13)

Examples of Biblical Women Under the Law

In the complete history of the period of the Mosaic Law to the coming of Messiah, there are about two dozen women who are featured prominently in the Hebrew Bible. Some are named and some are nameless. Let us review some of these.

Miriam the Prophetess

Miriam was the sister of Moses who possibly watched as his little ark floated toward Pharaoh’s family. Some believe her name means “Rebellious.” She is identified as a “prophetess” who led the women of Israel in song at Yahweh’s victory over the Egyptians. Did this position as female prophet, as well as the brother of the Israelite leader Moses, cause her to become jealous and ambitious?

Numbers 12:1-13 records: “Now Mir'i·am and Aaron began to speak against Moses on account of the Cush'ite wife whom he had taken, because it was a Cush'ite wife he had taken. And they kept saying: "Is it just by Moses alone that Jehovah has spoken? Is it not by us also that he has spoken?" And Jehovah was listening. ... And he went on to say: "Hear my words, please. If there came to be a prophet of yours for Jehovah, it would be in a vision I would make myself known to him. In a dream I would speak to him. Not so my servant Moses! He is being entrusted with all my house. Mouth to mouth I speak to him, thus showing him, and not by riddles; and the appearance of Jehovah is what he beholds. Why, then, did you not fear to speak against my servant, against Moses?" When Jehovah struck her with leprosy the account continues: “And Moses began to cry out to Jehovah, saying: ‘O God, please! Heal her, please!’”

What kind of lesson was there for future Biblical women? If God so chose to use a woman to fulfill His purpose, she ought to remember Miriam’s jealous ambition which led to her disrespect for God’s own appointment. Note God’s warning in cases of leprosy: “There should be a remembering of what Jehovah your God did to Mir'i·am in the way when you were coming out of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 24:8, 9)

Despite this error on this woman’s part she is remember in the prophets a thousand years later: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and from the house of slaves I redeemed you; and I proceeded to send before you Moses, Aaron and Mir'i·am.” (Micah 6:4) This illustrates that a woman, inspired by God, who fails in one area of her life, is not any kind of overall failure and, indeed, may be fondly remembered by other inspired servants of God. Surely, she will stand for her blessing in the Judgment of God.

Rahab the Gentile Prostitute

There is an interesting contrast between Miriam -- a woman born into God’s privileged nation -- and Rahab the prostitute of Jericho. Miriam is not to be mentioned in the Christian Bible. Whereas Rahab is not only mentioned but given as an example of faith and godly works.

Joshua 2:1-13 records the account about this Biblical woman of faith: “Then Joshua sent two men as spies, saying: "Go, take a look at the land and Jer'i·cho." So they went and came to the house of a prostitute [Hebrew: zoh·nah' ] woman whose name was Ra'hab, and they took up lodging there.” The account does not state how long they remained there. Some wish to make this a very short period of hours, while others make it days because it calls into question the length of time these spies spent in a house of prostitution. Some understand the word zohnah as something like “innkeeper” but there seems little basis for this. Rahab hides the spies and misleads the king of Jericho. However, even under the Law prostitution was not necessarily a forbidden trade punishable by death (unless adultery could be proven). (“Prostitute” occurs 50 times beginning at Genesis 34:31; compare also Genesis 38:15; Deuteronomy 23:18; Judges 11:1; 16:1)

Now she expresses her faith in Jehovah and gives her reasons: “And she went on to say to the men: "I do know [her faith] that Jehovah will certainly give you the land, and that the fright of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have become disheartened because of you. For we have heard [the basis for her faith] how Jehovah dried up the waters of the Red Sea from before you when you came out of Egypt. ... for Jehovah your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. And now, please, swear to me by Jehovah that, because I have exercised loving-kindness toward you, you also will certainly exercise loving-kindness toward the household of my father, and you must give me a trustworthy sign. And you must preserve alive my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters and all who belong to them, and you must deliver our souls from death.” As a result of her faith -- and immediate conversion -- Rahab’s house is protected when the walls come tumbling down. (Joshua 6:22-25)

The most marvelous news is that Rahab becomes an ancestor of Messiah as Matthew is to later record in his genealogy: “Sal'mon became father to Bo'az by Ra'hab.” (Matthew 1:5) Paul lists her as the only woman of faith in all the history of Israel under the Law: “By faith the walls of Jer'i·cho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Ra'hab the harlot did not perish with those who acted disobediently, because she received the spies in a peaceable way.” (Hebrews 11:30, 31) Also, the disciple James (also a descendent of Rahab) uses her as an example of justification by faith: “In the same manner was not also Ra'hab the harlot declared righteous by works, after she had received the messengers hospitably and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25)

Deborah the Prophetess

Deborah (or “Bee”) is the next Biblical woman who draws our attention. She is identified by Judges 4:4, 5, “Now Deb'o·rah, a prophetess, was judging Israel at that particular time. ... and the sons of Israel would go up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4, 5) Some argue that Deborah was not really a “judge” but this seems to go counter to what these verses state. Also, Deborah is seen giving instructions to Barak regarding the Israelite battle against Sisera. She goes on to make a prophesy regarding the outcome: “The beautifying thing will not become yours on the way that you are going, for it will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will sell Sis'e·ra." (Judges 4:9) As it turns out it is the Gentile woman Jael who hammers a tent peg through the temple of Sisera. Deborah goes on to compose a victory hymn commemorating the triumph. (Judges 5:2)

The account demonstrates that when qualified men are not available the God of heaven, the Maker of Eve, may choose and inspire a woman to accomplish His purpose. When this occurs in those rare occasions throughout the history of Israel, these Biblical woman take Miriam as a warning not to covet political ambition over men.

Ruth the Gentile Convert

One of the most well-known Biblical women was Ruth. This Biblical woman, though not an Israelite, demonstrate outstanding qualities of loyalty, devotion and faith. Her famous response to her mother-in-law Naomi demonstrates this: And Ruth proceeded to say: "Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you." (Ruth 1:16,17)

We have seen before in this consideration the enormous desire women had to continue the family line. When a culture or nation is looking for one of their members to become the deliverer at some future moment, then reproduction and genealogy become paramount. This is demonstrated in the case of Ruth who returns to Israel with her mother-in-law after the death of her husband. The account in the book of Ruth is about the process of “brother-in-law” marriage where a brother or kin of the deceased man was duty-bound to raise up offspring so his relative’s name not die out in Israel. The Book of Ruth is vital in a critical link in the ancestral lineage of the Messiah. The link between Rahab and Ruth is recorded by Matthew 1:5, “Sal'mon became father to Bo'az by Ra'hab; Bo'az became father to O'bed by Ruth; O'bed became father to Jes'se.”

Indeed, in Matthew’s genealogy covering 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus there are only five women mentioned and only four of them named. (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Mary; Bathsheba goes unnamed as the “wife of Uriah.” (Matthew 1:1-17) So, throughout a period of over nineteen centuries only these five women are mentioned in the genealogy. And, two of these during the period of the judges, one in the period of the kings. Thus, there were only four in the whole period of the Mosaic Law. Similarly, Paul is later to name only two women of faith in the entire history from Abel (c 4,000 BC to 29 AD). One before the Law, Sarah; and, one under the Law, Rahab. (Hebrews chapter 11)

Ruth is shown in the Bible book that bears her name (one of two books named after a woman, the other being Esther) to be loyally submissive to, first, her mother-in-law, and second to her future husband, Boaz. In brief Ruth is given advice on how to attract Boaz, a wealthy Israelite farmer, and related to Ruth’s deceased husband. Much in the account will be considered quaint and primitive but we must not judge the historical culture of another peoples without first considering how our own culture has undergone changes and growth.

Ruth is observed to be hard-working as she gleans the fields of Boaz. (Ruth 1:22-2:1) Ruth demonstrates that her character is a humble one when she tells Boaz that she is less than one of his female servants. Ruth 2:10-13 reports, “At that Ruth fell upon her face and bowed down to the earth and said to Boaz: ‘How is it I have found favor in your eyes so that I am taken notice of, when I am a foreigner?’ Then Bo'az answered and said to her: ‘The report was fully made to me of all that you have done to your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, and how you proceeded to leave your father and your mother and the land of your relatives and to go to a people whom you had not known formerly. May Jehovah reward the way you act, and may there come to be a perfect wage for you from Jehovah the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.’ To this Ruth said: ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, my lord, because you have comforted me and because you have spoken reassuringly to your maidservant, although I myself may not happen to be like one of your maidservants.’” Ruth is humble and respectful in her demeanor and speech, calling her future husband Boaz, “Lord.”

Ruth’s mother-in-law instructs her in the way of Israel and its law on brother-in-law marriage: “(Naomi says), ‘And it should occur that when Boaz lies down, you must also take note of the place where he lies down; and you must come and uncover him at his feet and lie down; and he, for his part, will tell you what you ought to do.’ ... And Ruth proceeded to go down to the threshing floor and to do according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. Meantime Bo'az ate and drank, and his heart was feeling good. Then he went to lie down at the extremity of the grain heap. After that she came stealthily and uncovered him at his feet and lay down. And it came about at midnight that the man began to tremble. So he bent himself forward, and, look! a woman lying at his feet! Then he said: ‘Who are you?’ In turn she said: ‘I am Ruth your slave girl, and you must spread out your skirt over your slave girl, for you are a repurchaser [in brother-in-law marriage].’ At that he said: "Blessed may you be of Jehovah, my daughter. You have expressed your loving-kindness better in the last instance than in the first instance, in not going after the young fellows whether lowly or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid. All that you say I shall do for you, for everyone in the gate of my people is aware that you are an excellent woman. And now while it is a fact that I am a repurchaser, there is also a repurchaser closer related than I am. Lodge here tonight, and it must occur in the morning that if he will repurchase you, fine! Let him do the repurchasing. But if he does not take delight in repurchasing you, I will then repurchase you, I myself, as sure as Jehovah lives. Keep lying down until the morning.’" (Ruth 3:4-13)

There are two particularly interesting matters here. First, note what a commentary says regarding Ruth’s actions: "Undoubtedly this symbolical method of claiming the most delicate of all rights, presupposes manners of patriarchal simplicity and virtue. The confidence of the woman reposes itself on the honor of the man. The method, however, was one which could not easily be brought into operation. For every foreknowledge or pre-intimation of it would have torn the veil of silence and secrecy from the modesty of the claimant. But when it was once put into operation, the petition preferred could not be denied without disgrace either to the woman or the man. Hence, we may be sure that Naomi did not send her daughter-in-law on this errand without the fullest confidence that it would prove successful. For it is certain that to all other difficulties, this peculiar one was added in the present case: namely, that Boaz, as Ruth herself says, was indeed a goel [a repurchaser], but not the goel. The answer of Boaz, also, suggests the surmise that such a claim was not wholly unexpected by him. Not that he had an understanding with Naomi, in consequence of which he was alone on the threshing-floor; for the fact that he was startled out of his sleep, shows that the night visit was altogether unlooked for. But the thought that at some time the claim of Ruth to the rights of blood-relationship might be addressed to himself, may not have been strange to him. Even this conjecture, however, of what might possibly or probably take place, could not be used to relieve Ruth of the necessity of manifesting her own free will by means of the symbolical proceeding." (Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976, p. 42.)

Secondly, Boaz is to use a unique word to describe this Biblical woman. In the version above it is “excellent woman.” (Ruth 3:11) This is the Hebrew תיל (chayil) which Strong’s (#2428) states comes from a root (#2342 chiyl) with a meaning which includes “writhe in pain (of childbirth).” Additionally, Strong’s explains that תיל is a military word used of men (able-bodied man) and is associated with, force, army, valor, virtuous. This is the only place where this word is used to describe a named woman. The other rare occurrence in a female context is that description of the “capable ( תיל)” woman/wife of Proverbs 31:10. This word תיל in Proverbs 31:10 is variously translated: KJV: virtuous; ASV: worthy; BER: strength of character; NWT: capable. The power of this word תיל indicates what a strong woman Ruth was, one possessed of all those characteristics a man might look for in a godly woman: virtue, loyalty, hard-working, humble, charitable and respectful. These are to be attributes of that “capable wife” described in Proverbs chapter 31.

Certainly the book of Ruth is a living example of a godly Biblical woman who is blessed (“a perfect wage”) as a forebear of the Messiah. It is worth a careful reading by godly women to discern those qualities the Creator of Woman approves. (1 Peter 3:4)

Under the Law (circa 1,000 BC - 29 AD)

Woman Under the Law

We ended Part Two with the Biblical woman Ruth during the period of the judges. We now pick up our study with another important Hebrew lady.

Hannah -- Mother of Samuel the Prophet

1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 records the history of a woman who had to share her husband with another wife. Hannah (meaning, “Grace”) was barren and in her culture this must have placed much emotional stress on her. We find domestic conflict in her life and we feel great pain for her. (1 Samuel 1:6-8; NOTE: “Hannah” is to occur 14 times in 1 Samuel) We note the depth of her faith when we consider the following. We put ourselves in her sandals.

“And (Hannah) was bitter of soul, and she began to pray to Jehovah and to weep greatly. And she went on to make a vow and say: ‘O Jehovah of armies, if you will without fail look upon the affliction of your slave girl and actually remember me, and you will not forget your slave girl and actually give to your slave girl a male offspring, I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and no razor will come upon his head.’" (1 Samuel 1:10-11 NW) Hannah vows that a son born to her will be a Nazirite with special vows of religious service.

As life would have it an honest heart is criticized by a self-righteous fellow worshipper. Eli the high priest (later to have his own problems) suspects dear Hannah of being a drunk. There is an enormous lesson here. Most persons accused of being drunk in such a spiritual environment would become rather incensed. Note Hannah’s respectful reaction to a man in authority who has erred:
“At this Han'nah answered and said: "No, MY LORD! A woman hard pressed in spirit I am; and wine and intoxicating liquor I have not drunk, but I pour out my soul before Jehovah. Do not make your slave girl like a good-for-nothing woman, for it is out of the abundance of my concern and my vexation that I have spoken until now." (1 Samuel 1:15, 16) Happily, the high priest takes this respectful and gentle request in a godly manner and blesses her that she be favored with the answer to her prayer. He does this not realizing the outcome. (1 Samuel 1:17)

We learn another lesson from Hannah: “What you vow, pay.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4) What could be dearer to a mother than her only child? This vow Hannah keeps and the circumstances when she returns to Eli the high priest is most interesting also. Upon weaning her son she came to the Tabernacle. Of course, why should a busy priest remember a simple lady he had judged to be drunk? We wish we could be in Eli’s mind when he finally remembers his passing words to her: “May God grant your petition (whatever that was).” (1 Samuel 1:17) But, then, several years may have passed as children were weaned after considerable time compared to modern women. The account tells us (and we wonder what we may learn from this): “With that she said: "Excuse me, MY LORD! By the life of your soul, MY LORD, I am the woman that was standing with you in this place to pray to Jehovah. It was with reference to this boy that I prayed that Jehovah should grant me my petition that I asked of him. And I, in my turn, have lent him to Jehovah. All the days that he does happen to be, he is one requested for Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 1:26-28) And, thus, Samuel the great prophet enters upon his life-long service to the God of Israel, Yahweh. There is no attitude in Hannah’s voice. She is respectful and addresses God’s representative as “lord.”

Hannah now prays and this prayer is recorded. This is extraordinary for a couple of reasons. This is the first occurrence of the word “pray” in the Bible and it is that of a Biblical woman. Surely this was an inspired prayer befitting a godly woman who has displayed a loyal and faithful disposition as well as a respectful and submissive attitude. Her prayer is one of praise of her God Jehovah. Her prayer is also unique in that she may be the first person to mention the “Messiah” for in 1 Samuel 2:10 she prays, “That (Yahweh) may exalt the horn of his Messiah.” The Hebrew is MESHI-CHOH or “Christ” in the Jewish Greek Bible. Though “anointed” is used earlier in regard to the high priest, here it is poetically paralleled with Jehovah’s “king” something that did not then exist. (Psalm 2:1, 6) It will only be a matter of years before her own son Samuel will indeed anoint the Messiah-type David, the king of Israel.

Abigail -- Beautiful and Submissive

There is another woman who grips our attention during the period of the kings of Israel -- Abigail (meaning, Father’s Joy). As a Biblical woman she is an example of a loyal wife and submissive woman who is both beautiful and discerning. The one particular account we wish to consider is during the time of David’s flight from King Saul. His troop is in material need and David sends men to a certain Nabal to acquire provisions. However, Nabal rebuffs them and sends them on their way. When his wife, Abigail, learns of this she immediately discerns her husband’s serious error. She also understands what might be the consequences, so she gathers provisions and sets off to intersect David and his band before her husband is done any harm. We pick up the account at 1 Samuel 25:23. By way of introduction we ask how many modern “beautiful” women of the 90s in the Western world would display this kind of loyalty to her unworthy husband as well as her deep respect for the man about to kill him?

“When Ab'i·gail caught sight of David, she at once hastened and got down off the ass and FELL UPON HER FACE before David and BOWED to the earth. She then FELL AT HIS FEET and said: "Upon me myself, O MY LORD, be the error; and, PLEASE, let your slave girl speak in your ears, and listen to the words of YOUR SLAVE GIRL. Please, do not let MY LORD set his heart upon this good-for-nothing man Na'bal, for, as his name is, so is he. Na'bal is his name, and senselessness is with (my husband). As for me YOUR SLAVE GIRL, I did not see MY LORD’S young men that you had sent. And now, MY LORD, as Jehovah is living and as your soul is living, Jehovah has held you back from entering into bloodguilt and having your own hand come to your salvation. And now let your enemies and those seeking injury to MY LORD become like Na'bal. And now as regards this gift blessing that your maidservant has brought to my LORD, it must be given to the young men that are walking about in the steps of my LORD. Pardon, PLEASE, the transgression of your slave girl, because Jehovah will without fail make for my LORD a lasting house, because the wars of Jehovah are what my LORD is fighting; and as for badness, it will not be found in you throughout your days. When man rises up to pursue you and look for your soul, the soul of my LORD will certainly prove to be wrapped up in the bag of life with Jehovah your God; but, as for the soul of your enemies, he will sling it forth as from inside the hollow of the sling. And it must occur that, because Jehovah will do to my LORD the good toward you according to all that he has spoken, he certainly will commission you as leader over Israel. And let this not become to you a cause for staggering or a stumbling block to the heart of my LORD, both by the shedding of blood without cause and by having [the hand of] my LORD [itself] come to his salvation. And Jehovah will certainly do good to my LORD, and you must remember your slave girl." (1 Samuel 25:23-31)

Abigail has addressed David as “lord” over a dozen times. She has asked the blame fall to her. She has begged saying, “please.” She has politely and respectfully saved David from great “staggering” sin causing him to “stumble” before his God Jehovah. It is no wonder -- as events turn out -- that when free David is quick to spot a beautiful woman of discernment and takes her as his wife.

The entire lesson is one which highlights a godly woman’s responsibility to take matters of this nature into her own hands in order to protect her husband -- even one she knows to be “stupid.” She acts on her own without her husband’s knowledge for the greater good. The account continues to show Abigail did not hide this from her husband but revealed what she had done. Nabal was so tight-fisted and selfish the very idea of her charity to David caused him to die.

Esther -- Beautiful and Loyal

There is another Biblical woman whose name graces a Bible book, Esther. Her name in Hebrew is Hadassah (meaning "Myrtle"). She is introduced in the Biblical scene because of another woman, Vashti, of opposite disposition from Esther, the Jewess. The Persian king’s wife is called to appear before a banquet. The king’s motive is to show his guests her “loveliness.” (Esther 1:11) Here is the classic “trophy” wife. Vashti refuses to make an appearance and this leads to a highly charged situation -- a question of a husband’s headship and a wife’s subjection to him. If Vashti will not do as her husband demands, how will it go with other husbands in the Persian empire?

The official record reports what the Persian princes said: “For the affair of the queen (Vashti) will go out to all the wives so that they will despise their owners (husbands) in their own eyes, when they say, 'King A·has·u·e'rus himself said to bring in Vash'ti the queen before him, and she did not come in.' And this day the princesses of Persia and Me'di·a, who have heard the affair of the queen, will talk to all the princes of the king, and there will be plenty of contempt and indignation. If to the king it does seem good, let a royal word go out from his person, and let it be written among the laws of Persia and Me'di·a, that it may not pass away, that Vash'ti may not come in before King A·has·u·e'rus; and her royal dignity let the king give to a companion of hers, a woman better (more beautiful and more submissive) than she is. And the decree of the king that he will make must be heard in all his realm (for it is vast), and all the wives themselves will give honor to their owners (husbands), the great as well as the small.” (Esther 1:17-20)

Thus, the Jewess Esther enters the picture, not just to settle this Persian problem with male leadership in the family, but, as it turns out, a much loftier reason, one dealing with heaven and God’s own people. A nation-wide search for the most beautiful of women leads to Esther who finally becomes Queen. Esther 2:17 records: “And the king came to love Esther more than all the other women, so that she gained more favor and loving-kindness before him than all the other virgins. And he proceeded to put the royal headdress upon her head and make her queen instead of Vash'ti.” In all of this the Persian king is unaware his queen is a Jewess.

In the meantime there is a plot afoot to exterminate the Jews in a holocaust. As it turns out Esther becomes the prime instrument by which this evil plan is thwarted. This results in the Jewish feast of Purim celebrated to this day. The very law and basis for this feast is credited to the godly Biblical woman: “And the very saying of Esther confirmed these matters of Pu'rim, and it was written down in a book.” (Esther 9:32)

The Capable Wife

There is another unnamed woman stylized by the poetic voice of a king’s mother. It is recorded in Proverbs 31:10-31. Let us consider this perfect Biblical woman with brief commentary.

10 A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals.

The rhetorical question uses the same word used of Ruth, “excellent woman.” (Ruth 3:11) This is the Hebrew תיל (chayil) which Strong’s (#2428) states comes from a root (#2342 chiyl) with a meaning which includes “writhe in pain (of childbirth).” Additionally, Strong’s explains that תיל is a military word used of men (able-bodied man) and is associated with, force, army, valor, virtuous. This is the only place where this word is used to describe a named woman. The other rare occurrence in a female context is that description of the “capable ( תיל)” woman/wife of Proverbs 31:10. This word תיל in Proverbs 31:10 is variously translated: KJV: virtuous; ASV: worthy; BER: strength of character; NWT: capable. The power of this word תיל indicates a strong woman, one possessed of all those characteristics a man might look for in a godly woman: virtue, loyalty, hard-working, humble, charitable and respectful.

11 In her the heart of her owner has put trust, and there is no gain lacking.

She is “owned” by her husband and this is no embarrassment or dishonor to her.

12 She has rewarded him with good, and not bad, all the days of her life.

Her entire marriage results in nothing but good to her husband.

13 She has sought wool and linen, and she works at whatever is the delight of her hands.

She is a worker and takes delight in her art as a seamstress and weaver.

14 She has proved to be like the ships of a merchant. From far away she brings in her food.

She has great liberty to handle household commerce and is trusted to travel widely to secure what is needed to maintain her family.

15 She also gets up while it is still night, and gives food to her household and the prescribed portion to her young women.

She is an early riser, a “morning person,” arriving before dawn to prepare food for the day and supervise the household help.

16 She has considered a field and proceeded to obtain it; from the fruitage of her hands she has planted a vineyard.

Her liberty extends to the freedom to be involved in real estate and not only does she purchase a field but she plants a vineyard to make it profitable.

17 She has girded her hips with strength, and she invigorates her arms.

She is a strong woman, not a physical weakling due to the lack of work and exercise.

18 She has sensed that her trading is good; her lamp does not go out at night.

She is a good trader and knows a deal when she sees one. It seems as though she works night and day and late into the night her lamp shines over her working fingers.

19 Her hands she has thrust out to the distaff, and her own hands take hold of the spindle.

This late night work involves her work as a weaver and seamstress. Her hands are strong and perhaps even callused from honest work.

20 Her palm she has stretched out to the afflicted one, and her hands she has thrust out to the poor one.

She is charitable and is not so materialistic or selfish to forget the less fortunate.

21 She does not fear for her household because of the snow, for all her household are clothed with double garments.

She does not fret over the coming cold because she has already thought ahead for these unfavorable conditions. Her family is warm in winter because of her late night efforts.

22 Coverlets she has made for herself. Her clothing is of linen and wool dyed reddish purple.

She does not ignore her own appearance and surely appears modest and attractive to her husband.

23 Her owner is someone known in the gates, when he sits down with the older men of the land.

Because of her good reputation in the neighborhood evidenced by her charity, hand work, well-kept family, her husband (her “owner”) is held in high esteem among the elderly judges at the city gates. It must be often said of him, “He is the husband of that capable lady.”

24 She has made even undergarments and proceeded to sell [them], and belts she has given to the tradesmen.

She works so hard she even generates income for herself and her family.

25 Strength and splendor are her clothing, and she laughs at a future day.

However, though dressed in finery she has made and earned, her real garment is one of power and honor.

26 Her mouth she has opened in wisdom, and the law of loving-kindness is upon her tongue.

She is not a town gossip with a loose mouth but when she speaks it is wisely. She controls her tongue and when she speaks it is always in trust and loyalty.

27 She is watching over the goings-on of her household, and the bread of laziness she does not eat.

As if this needed to be mentioned despite the above. She is the overseer of her house. It is her realm. She need not seek her owner’s approval to carry on her family obligations because her husband knows she is not a lazy woman.

28 Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner [rises up], and he praises her.

As a result of her hard work and pleasant disposition her children and husband speak highly of her.

29 There are many daughters that have shown capableness, but you-you have ascended above them all.

This godly lady is the perfect example for others to imitate.

30 Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; [but] the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself.

Here lies her motivation -- her fear of God. It is not just her husband and family she wants to please. She wants God’s approval. She knows some women may use their charm as a ploy to get out of the hard work described above. She knows make-up and hair-styles and jewelry may be pure vanity -- so her true garments are those of a spiritual nature.

31 GIVE her of the fruitage of her hands, and let her works praise her even in the gates.

The king’s mother concludes with the advice to allow this kind of wife the fruitage of her hard work and not take selfish advantage of it. Allow others to praise her, even the judges who meet at the city gates. What a Biblical woman! No wonder the opening question, “A capable wife -- who can find?”


We have journeyed over four thousand years in our search for the Biblical woman. Though walking in the shadow of her male counterpart we have seen her as a servant of God, inspired on occasions, key to the development of God’s eternal purpose, often instrumental at critical moments. We have seen her discerning and intelligent, and yet submissive and supportive of her male counterpart.

We come now to one of the most historical moments in the development of the Biblical woman: the coming of Messiah. How will Jesus of Nazareth treat and view women? What role will women play in his ministry and the future of his Church?

Women and the Nazarene

There can be no question that the Nazarene loved women. Indeed, the very purpose of his first manifestation was to save also that half of humankind that is female. (John 3:16; Matthew 20:28) During his ministry on earth Jesus came into contact with many women. Women featured in his parables. Women are in the contexts of certain important portions of the Christian Scripture. Women were healed by Jesus. Women were taught by him. Women followed him. In the end, one of our Lord’s final thoughts was about a “woman.” A review of women and the Nazarene is thrilling and enlightening.

An Overview of “Women” in the Gospels

The word group “woman/women” occurs almost 100 times in the four Gospels. Christian women may be interested in the breakdown: Matthew, 22 times; Mark, 12 times; Luke, 43 times; and, John, 22 times. Clearly, we are going to find the Gospel of Luke of much interest to women for the good doctor deals with women two times as much as any of the other Gospels. It is also of interest that two particular letters of Paul deal with women the most: 1 Corinthians 25 times and 1 Timothy 11 times. We will review this in Part Five of The Biblical Woman.

There are less than a dozen women named in the Gospels, including Elizabeth, Anna, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, Salome, Joanna, Susanna. The Nazarene addresses only two women by name: Martha the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. He addresses all other women, including his own mother, as “woman” or “daughter.” Though many touched Jesus, the Nazarene is reported to only have touched one woman, Peter’s mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:15)

Though women are described as “following” him, no woman is ever called a “disciple.” (Matthew 27:55, 56; Luke 8:2; 23:49) The first woman named a disciple was Tabitha (Dorcas) in the Book of Acts. (Acts 9:36) Jesus chose no female among his Twelve Apostles, nor among the Seventy disciples he sent out to preach. No woman is ever seen alone with Jesus and his apostles at night in the mountains or at any other time when he is privately instruction his disciples. Despite the above women figure prominently in the Gospels. Consider three acquainted with the baby Jesus.

Three godly women and the birth of Christ

Anna the Loyal

There is an elderly Biblical woman mentioned only in the Gospel of Luke -- Anna. She is among the first to greet the babe Jesus.

“Now there was Anna a prophetess, Phan'u·el's daughter, of Ash'er's tribe (this woman was well along in years, and had lived with a husband for seven years from her virginity, and she was a widow now eighty-four years old), who was never missing from the temple, worshipping night and day with fastings and supplications. And in that very hour she came near and began returning thanks to God and speaking about [the child] to all those waiting for Jerusalem's deliverance.” (Luke 2:36-38)

It is the natural biological necessity for most women to bear children and manage a household. Most lie to see grand-children and sometimes even great-grand-children. Anna looses her husband after seven years of marriage. Evidently she choose to be close to the worship of Jehovah at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Anna is one of the handful of women called a “prophetess.” (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3) In this context she is described as regularly “fasting” and “praying” during the worship cycles at the Temple. Surely as an aged women with much life experience she taught the younger women as Paul later directs. (Titus 2:3-5) As a “prophetess” we find her among the first to be “speaking” about deliverance by the new-born Christ. She remains, thanks to Luke, as an outstanding example of modern godly women of age. Anna is an example for those whose youthful vigor has faded and are now limited to only prayers and fasting as part of their worship.

Elizabeth the Mother of John the Baptist

Another elderly woman is to be blessed in a special way. Elizabeth, wife of a dedicated priest, becomes pregnant. She is to give birth to the forerunner of Messiah, John the Baptist. Some believe Elizabeth was a cousin to Mary. The kind of gentle-lady she was is described by Luke.

“Elizabeth (was) righteous before God because of walking blamelessly in accord with all the commandments and legal requirements of the Lord (YHWH). But (she) had no child, because (she) was barren, and (she was) well along in years. ... Elizabeth became pregnant; and she kept herself secluded for five months, saying: ‘This is the way the Lord (YHWH) has dealt with me in these days when he has given me his attention to take away my reproach among men.’ ... So Mary rose in these days and went into the mountainous country with haste, to a city of Judah, and she entered into the home ... and greeted Elizabeth. Well, as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the infant in her womb leaped; and Elizabeth was filled with holy spirit, and she called out with a loud cry and said: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! So how is it that this privilege is mine, to have the mother of my Lord come to me? For, look! as the sound of your greeting fell upon my ears, the infant in my womb leaped with great gladness. Happy too is she that believed, because there will be a complete performance of those things spoken to her from the Lord (YHWH)." (Luke 1:5-7, 14-17, 24-25, 39-45)

Elizabeth, kinswoman of Mary of Nazareth, is the only named woman to be described as being “filled with the holy spirit.” Under such inspiration she speaks words which have become much used by members of the Catholic Church. Elizabeth recognizes Mary’s child is to be her Lord. There is no sense of jealousy or envy regarding her own privilege to bear Messiah’s forerunner.

Mary the Mother of the Lord

No doubt the most important woman and mother in the Bible is Mary of Nazareth. There must have been very godly and serious reasons why this particular young woman was chosen by the God of heaven to give birth to the future Messiah. She becomes the “virgin” foretold by Isaiah 7:14 (LXX).

When told by the angel Gabriel how she was to be used by God, Mary responds humbly: “Look! The Lord’s (YHWH) slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.” (Luke 1:23-38) Some months later when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share her joy, the virgin is inspired to declare:

"My soul magnifies te Lord (YHWH), and my spirit cannot keep from being overjoyed at God my Savior; because he has looked upon the low position of his slave girl. For, look! from now on all generations will pronounce me blessed; because the powerful One has done great deeds for me, and holy is his name; and for generations after generations his mercy is upon those who fear him. He has performed mightily with his arm, he has scattered abroad those who are haughty in the intention of their hearts. He has brought down men of power from thrones and exalted lowly ones; he has fully satisfied hungry ones with good things and he has sent away empty those who had wealth. He has come to the aid of Israel his servant, to call to mind mercy, just as he told to our forefathers, to Abraham and to his seed, forever." (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary recognizes that future generations will pronounce her as blessed. It did not take long before even some in Israel quickly began to place undue adoration on Mary. During the Nazarene’s ministry one lady in the crowd cries out: “’Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts that you sucked!’ However Jesus corrects the woman, probably to her embarrassment, saying, “No, rather, Blessed are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!’” (Luke 11:27-28)

Additionally there is an episode where Mary and her other children want to meet with Jesus. The Gospel reports: “While he was yet speaking to the crowds, look! his mother and brothers took up a position outside seeking to speak to him. So someone said to him: ‘Look! Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to you.’ As an answer he said to the one telling him: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And extending his hand toward his disciples, he said: ‘Look! My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. ... My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.’" (Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:21) The fact Jesus points to his disciples may well indicate Mary and his brothers were not “disciples.” (Mark 3:21; John 7:5)

The Biblical record indicates Mary had other children, the texts calling Jesus “firstborn.” How giving birth to the greatest man who ever lived has to take its toll in one way or another of such a woman. The tendency to take oneself too seriously and in affect overshadow her son would be a terrible temptation. It appears that Mary and her other children did not demonstrate their belief in Jesus during his life. (see above)

However, his mother is on the Nazarene’s mind just moments before his death. Mary is present with other women at the execution of her son. John 19:26, 27 gives the eyewitness report: “Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple [John] whom he loved standing by, said to his mother: ‘Woman, see! Your son!’ Next he said to the disciple [John]: ‘See! Your mother!’ And from that hour on the disciple [John] took her to his own home.” These are among the last few words of the Lord. At his death he thought of a woman, his mother. Fifty days later Mary is seen gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:14) After this Mary is never mentioned again in the Christian Bible.

The Nazarene and women

No teacher of the ancient world did more to liberate women than the Nazarene. This manifests itself in three primary ways:

First, Jesus taught that married men who lusted after a woman other than their wives were in serious, serious danger. (Matthew 5:28) By this the Nazarene elevated women above mere sexual objects whose sole purpose was to pleasure men. The heaven of the Nazarene is quite different than the paradise of Islam. While the Koran promises a multitude of virgins to those men attaining paradise, Jesus taught in the resurrection there is no marriage. (Luke 20:35)

Secondly, the Nazarene liberates women by giving them also the right to divorce an adulterous husband. (Mark 10:12) This is something the Law of Moses did not permit, for only men could divorce their wives.

Finally, the Galilean's treatment of women in the Gospels demonstrates their equal opportunity for salvation before God. Let us consider some of the women the Nazarene came in touch with and the lessons we learn from him and them.

The Nazarene Rebukes His Mother

In the Gospel record we never find Jesus addressing Mary as “mother” save indirectly at his execution. (John 19:27) Early in his ministry there is a situation in the context of his first “sign” where he is with his mother and brothers at a wedding feast. (John 2:1-12) [NOTE: Though Jesus had sisters they are not included in these verses. (Matthew 13:56; Mark 6:3)]

The wedding feast has run out of wine and evidently his mother tries to direct her son Jesus either to perform a miracle or to somehow provide more wine. His response makes many wonder. John 2:3-5 record the exchange: “When the wine ran short the mother of Jesus said to him: ‘They have no wine.’ But Jesus said to her: ‘What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to those ministering: ‘Whatever he tells you, do.’” This phrase, “What have I to do with you, woman?” is described as “An idiom; a repellent question indicating objection.” The Hebrew idiomatic question occurs about a dozen times in the Bible. Twice it is asked by demons of Jesus. (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28)

Showing the intent or meaning is how other scholars translate the phrase. Goodspeed: "Do not try to direct me. It is not yet time for me to act"; Torrey: "Trouble me not, woman; my hour has not yet come"; Knox: “why doest thou trouble me with that”; NEB: “your concern, mother, is not mine.” Some think the mother of the Lord took herself too seriously and she errs in trying to direct her adult son who is now the Messiah. Jesus rebukes her and makes it clear that he is not to be controlled by any woman, including his mother.

A Woman Who Breaks the Law

“And a woman, suffering subject to a flow of blood for twelve years, who had not been able to get a cure from anyone. She had been put to many pains by many physicians and had spent all her resources and had not been benefited but, rather, had got worse. She kept saying to herself: ‘If I only touch his outer garment I shall get well.’ She approached from behind and touched the fringe of his outer garment, and instantly her flow of blood stopped. Jesus recognized in himself that power had gone out of him. So Jesus said: ‘Who was it that touched me?’ When they were all denying it, Peter said: ‘Instructor, the crowds are hemming you in and closely pressing you.’ Yet Jesus said: ‘Someone touched me, for I perceived that power went out of me.’ Seeing that she had not escaped notice, the woman came trembling and fell down before him and disclosed before all the people the cause for which she touched him and how she was healed instantly. But he said to her: ‘Take courge, daughter, your faith has made you well; go your way in peace.’" (Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43-48)

Why is the woman so frightened? One reason may well be that she realizes she is violating the Law of Moses by touching someone in her condition. (Leviticus 15:26) Jesus does not condemn her for this. We learn from the woman that there are times when the “weightier matters of the law such as mercy” may take precedence. We learn of a suffering woman, now poor from paying out to doctors, who possesses both faith and courage. Often the two go hand in hand. The Nazarene addresses her as “daughter” -- his own kin in the seed of Abraham.

A Gentile Mother Changes the Lord’s Mind

There is only one case in the Gospels where a woman tells Jesus he is wrong. We turn our attention to this with great interest. The account reads:

“And, look! a a Grecianwoman, a Sy·ro·phoe·ni'cian nationally came out and cried aloud, saying: ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David. My little daughter is badly demonized.’ But he did not say a word in answer to her. So his disciples came up and began to request him: ‘Send her away; because she keeps crying out after us.’ In answer he said: "I was not sent forth to any but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. First let the children be satisfied.’ When the woman prostrated herself at his feet, saying: ‘Lord, help me!’ In answer he said: ‘IT IS NOT RIGHT to take the bread of the children and throw it to little puppies.’ She said: ‘Yes, Lord; but really the little dogs underneath the table do eat of the crumbs falling from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said in reply to her: ‘O woman, great is your faith; let it happen to you as you wish. Because of saying this, go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.’ And her daughter was healed from that hour on.” (Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 7:25)

Having said it was “not right” to take the bread intended for the children of the house and give it to “little puppies” our Lord turns right around and does what he said it was not right to do! The grieving mother, thinking not of herself, but only of her little daughter, is imbolden by her motherly love to make the Nazarene change his mind. She does this respectfully, addressing Jesus as “lord” the equivalent of “sir” or “senor.” She prostrates herself in the dirt at his feet even as Abigail did to David in the account about Nabal. She makes her plea humbly in public despite the rebuke of the Lord’s disciples. In the end it is her persistence and faith which turns the Nazarene’s heart to make an exception in her case -- healing a Gentile girl he has never met.

A Unique Woman Part of the Gospel

There is only one woman whom the Lord assures will forever be connected with the Gospel. The account has much to teach us:

“While Jesus happened to be in Beth'a·ny in the house of Simon the leper, a woman with an alabaster case of costly perfumed oil approached him, and she began pouring it upon his head as he was reclining at the table. On seeing this the disciples became indignant and said: ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a year’s wages and been given to poor people.’ Aware of this, Jesus said to them: ‘Why do you apostles try to make trouble for the woman? For she did a fine deed toward me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want to you can always do them good, but you apostles will not always have me. For when this woman put this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it for the preparation of me for burial. Truly I say to you apostles, Wherever this good news is preached in all the world, what this woman did shall also be told as a remembrance of her.’” (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3)

The words of the Nazarene assured that this story would be part and parcel of the Gospel message throughout the world. And, just so it is recorded in two of the Gospels. There is a marvelous lesson taught by this woman and Jesus: an expensive gift may be used according to God’s purpose. Not all potential financial benefit need go to the poor. The value of this woman’s gift equaled a yearly wage. What must this amount to in modern exchange? And yet, at the same time, the poor are not to be overlooked.

A Loving Woman Forgiven Much

One of the loveliest stories in the Gospels is the one of the “unwanted guest.” The Nazarene has been invited to a feast prepared by a religious teacher who held himself above mankind in general. The unique account in Luke 7:36-40 reads:

“Now a certain one of the Pharisees kept asking him to dine with him. Accordingly he entered into the house of the Pharisee and reclined at the table. And, look! a woman who was known in the city to be a sinner learned that he was reclining at a meal in the house of the Pharisee, and she brought an alabaster case of perfumed oil, and, taking a position behind at his feet, she wept and started to wet his feet with her tears and she would wipe them off with the hair of her head. Also, she tenderly kissed his feet and greased them with the perfumed oil. At the sight the Pharisee that invited him said within himself: ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman it is that is touching him, that she is a sinner.’ But in reply Jesus said to him: ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ He said: ‘Teacher, say it!’”

Jesus tells the parable of two debtors. For our purposes let us say one owed $5,000 and the other $500,000. Both debts were canceled by the master. The question of the Nazarene to the self-righteous rabbi is, “Which of the two will love the master more?” Luke 7:43-50 continues:

“In answer Simon said: ‘I suppose it is the one to whom he freely forgave the more.’ He said to him: ‘You judged correctly.’ With that he turned to the woman and said to Simon: ‘Do you behold this woman? I entered into your house; you gave me no water for my feet. But this woman wet my feet with her tears and wiped them off with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but this woman, from the hour that I came in, did not leave off tenderly kissing my feet. You did not grease my head with oil; but this woman greased my feet with perfumed oil. By virtue of this, I tell you, her sins, many though they are, are forgiven, because she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ Then he said to her: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ At this those reclining at the table with him started to say within themselves: ‘Who is this man who even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman: ‘Your faith has saved you; go your way in peace.’”

Some understand that where Jewish rabbis met for supper any might attend to hear God’s word. The presence of a prostitute is a bit much for the clergyman. He doubts Jesus as a prophet. Yet, as the Nazarene explains to him in an indirect rebuke, the Pharisee has failed in displaying love while “this woman” possessed the humility and love necessary to make such a public display of intimacy.

A Busy Woman and a Spiritual One

Woman often understand more than men what goes into entertaining guests. Women also can get very nervous about all the affairs of preparing for hospitality. What is one to do if the greatest man who ever lived calls at your home? Again, it is the good doctor who tell us a unique story (Luke 10:38-42):

“Now as they were going their way he entered into a certain village. Here a certain woman named Martha received him as guest into the house. This woman also had a sister called Mary, who, however, sat down at the feet of the Lord and kept listening to his word. Martha, on the other hand, was distracted with attending to many duties. So, she came near and said: ‘Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.’ In answer the Lord said to her: ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one. For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

We have to feel for Martha for her motives were as pure as her sister’s. However, Mary demonstrates the importance of spiritual matters over the material even if it means to sacrifice some amenities. The lesson is eternal and in one manner or another is repeated over and over again around the world.

One notes later, after he brother Lazarus dies, it is Martha who rushes to meet Jesus declaring her faith in the resurrection. (John 11:11-26)

A Self-Sacrificing Widow

It is the good doctor again who tells a unique story of another woman and how she gave her all. Luke recounts the episode:

“Now as Jesus looked up he saw the rich dropping their gifts into the treasury chests. Then he saw a certain needy widow drop two small coins of very little value there, and he said: ’I tell you truthfully, This widow, although poor, dropped in more than they all did. For all these dropped in gifts out of their surplus, but this woman out of her want dropped in all the means of living she had.’” (Luke 21:1-4)

The Nazarene demonstrate his keen awareness and skill at observance as he notes the exact amount of the widow’s donation to the Temple. The coins are smaller and thinner than the fingernail on the little finger. The little lady demonstrates to us the need to trust to God and be willing to contribute toward God’s purpose even beyond our own security. Our Lord is fully aware of our own charity.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

The Jews were under a heavy burden of does and don’ts which far beyond the original 600 laws of Moses. For example, rabbis did not engage women in spiritual discourse. Additionally, Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans who were considered demonized. (John 8:48) So, it is very unusual from the perspective of his own disciples to find the Nazarene chatting with a Samaritan woman. The beloved apostle John records the meeting. (John 4:7-30, 39-42)

“A woman of Sa·mar'i·a came to draw water. Jesus said to her: ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone off into the city to buy foodstuffs.) Therefore the Sa·mar'i·tan woman said to him: ‘How is it that you, despite being a Jew, ask me for a drink, when I am a Sa·mar'i·tan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Sa·mar'i·tans.) In answer Jesus said to her: ‘If you had known the free gift of God and who it is that says to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ She said to him: ‘Lord, you have not even a bucket for drawing water, and the well is deep. From what source, therefore, do you have this living water? You are not greater than our forefather Jacob, who gave us the well and who himself together with his sons and his cattle drank out of it, are you?’ In answer Jesus said to her: ‘Everyone drinking from this water will get thirsty again. Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.’ The woman said to him: ‘Lord, give me this water, so that I may neither thirst nor keep coming over to this place to draw water.’ He said to her: ‘Go, call your husband and come to this place.’ In answer the woman said: ‘I do not have a husband.’ Jesus said to her: ‘You spoke well, ... For you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. This you have said truthfully.’ The woman said to him: ‘Lord, I perceive you are a prophet. Our (Samaritan) forefathers worshiped in this mountain; but you (Jewish) people say that in Jerusalem is the place where persons ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her: ‘Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you (Samaritan) people worship the Father. You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know; we (Jews) worship what we know, because salvation originates with the Jews. Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him: ‘I know that Mes·si'ah is coming, who is called Christ. Whenever that one arrives, he will declare all things to us openly.’ Jesus said to her: ‘I who am speaking to you am he.’ Now at this point his disciples arrived, and they began to wonder because he was speaking with a woman. ... The woman, therefore, left her water jar and went off into the city and told the men: ‘Come here, see a man that told me all the things I did. This is not perhaps the Christ, is it?’ They went out of the city and began coming to him. ... Now many of the Sa·mar'i·tans out of that city put faith in him on account of the word of the woman. ... Consequently many more believed on account of what Jesus said, and they began to say to the woman: ‘We do not believe any longer on account of your talk; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man is for a certainty the savior of the world.’”

By this moving and famous discourse we learn our Lord did not share the prejudice of his own religion -- the Jewish hatred of the Samaritans as demonized second class citizens. Also, the Nazarene does not share the rabbincal view that speaking to women about religious matters was verboten. Jesus is not going to be influenced by social or cultural attitudes toward women as well as others of different religious backgrounds.

We cannot fail but note that the much-married lady leaves her water jar at the well -- interrupting her duties -- and immediately reports to her own people the experience she has just enjoyed. Likely, the Samaritans, like the Jews, rejected the testimony of women, and so they had to see for themselves.

The Nazarene had stated he came only to “he lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) but he stated after his resurrection he would draw all kinds of people. (John 12:32) Thus, later in the Book of Acts the Samaritans receive an official apostolic mission. (Acts 1:8; 8:1-17) Possibly this was the second of three “keys of the kingdom” given to Peter. (Matthew 16:19) Thus, we may give the credit to the Samaritan woman at the well to be the first evangelizer leading to the conversion of the Samaritans.

Women at the Death  and Resurrection of Jesus

Women play a strong and courageous part in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene. Though the personal apostles of Jesus seem to tremble in fear and remain aloof from any close proximity to the Lord’s execution, women are there throughout the entire process.

First, note the women present at the execution of the Lord: “Moreover, many women were there viewing from a distance, who had accompanied Jesus from Gal'i·lee to minister to him; among whom was Mary Mag'da·lene, also Mary the mother of James and Jo'ses, and the mother of the sons of Zeb'e·dee. (These woman) used to minister to him when he was in Gal'i·lee, and many other women who had come up together with him to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:41) No where does the account in the Gospels record that the Nazarene’s male followers were so gathered to witness his death. The exception is the beloved apostle John. All the men fled and thus fulfilled the prophecy: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered about.’ (Matthew 26:31; Zechariah 13:7) Here the “sheep” are largely the males among the disciples of the Nazarene.

Next, it is largely women who are brave enough to handle and prepared the lifeless body of Jesus for burial.

“So they [Joseph, the women in attendance, and possibly John] -- women who had come up together with him to Jerusalem -- took the body of Jesus and bound it up with bandages with the spices, just the way the Jews have the custom of preparing for burial. Incidentally, at the place where he was impaled there was a garden, and in the garden a new memorial tomb, in which no one had ever yet been laid. There, then, on account of the preparation of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the memorial tomb was nearby. ... Accordingly Joseph [and the women] bought fine linen and took him down, wrapped him in the fine linen and laid him in a tomb which was quarried out of a rock-mass; and he rolled a stone up to the door of the memorial tomb. But Mary Mag'da·lene and Mary the mother of Jo'ses continued looking at where he had been laid. The women, who had come with him out of Gal'i·lee, followed along and took a look at the memorial tomb and how his body was laid; and they went back to prepare spices and perfumed oils. (Mark 15:41-47; John 19:40-42; Luke 23:55-56)

It is stated that it took courage for Joseph to ask for the body of Jesus. Just so, likely it took courage on the part of the various women to declare themselves in the matter of preparing the body of Jesus for burial. In this process they become iron-clad witnesses that Jesus was in fact dead for they had handled the corpse.

Finally, for reasons we will explain, it is women who are the first witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection. Again, while the male disciples are basically in hiding struggling with their doubts, it is the women who go to visit the tomb Sunday morning.

“After the sabbath, when it was growing light on the first day of the week, Mary Mag'da·lene and the other Mary came to view the grave. Mary Mag'da·lene, and Mary the mother of James, and Sa·lo'me bought spices in order to come and grease him. And very early on the first day of the week they came to the memorial tomb, when the sun had risen. And they were saying one to another: ‘Who will roll the stone away from the door of the memorial tomb for us?’

And, notice! a great earthquake had taken place; for the Lord’s angel had descended from heaven and approached and rolled away the stone, and was sitting on it. His outward appearance was as lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. When they entered into the memorial tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side clothed in a white robe, and they were stunned. The angel responded to the women: ‘Why are you looking for the living One among the dead? Do not you be fearful. Do not be stunned, for I know are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He is not here, for he was raised up, as he said. Come, see the place where he was lying. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he was raised up from the dead, and, look! he is going ahead of you into Gal'i·lee; there you will see him. Look! I have told you.’ So when they came out they fled from the memorial tomb, for trembling and strong emotion were gripping them. And they told nobody anything, for they were in fear. Quickly leaving the memorial tomb, with fear and great joy, they ran to report to his disciples. [ Mary, however, kept standing outside near the memorial tomb, weeping. Then, while she was weeping, she stooped forward to look into the memorial tomb and she viewed two angels in white sitting one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her: ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them: ‘They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ After saying these things, she turned back and viewed Jesus standing, but she did not discern it was Jesus. Jesus said to her: ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She, imagining it was the gardener, said to him: ‘Lord, if you have carried him off, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her: ‘Mary!’ Upon turning around, she said to him, in Hebrew: ‘Rab·bo'ni!’ (which means ‘Teacher!’) Jesus said to her: ‘Stop clinging to me. For I have not yet ascended to the Father. But be on your way to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and YOUR Father and to my God and YOUR God.’ Mary Mag'da·lene came and brought the news to the disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ and that he said these things to her.] And, look! Jesus met (the other women) and said: ‘Good day!’ They approached and caught him by his feet and did obeisance to him. Then Jesus said to them: ‘Have no fear! Go, report to my brothers, that they may go off into Gal'i·lee; and there they will see me.’ They were the Mag'da·lene Mary, and Jo·an'na, and Mary the [mother] of James. Also, the rest of the women with them were telling the apostles these things. However, these sayings appeared as nonsense to them and they would not believe the women." (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:10, 11; John 20:11-18)

It is impossible to put in words the rapturous emotions which must have been occurring at this moment. Besides this, what is most exciting from a historians viewpoint is that the testimony of women was useless in a Jewish court. The fact all the Gospels testify that women were the original witnesses proves the account is genuine. If the story was a fabrication written much later it would seem the male authors would have contrived the original eye witnesses as males. The accounts also are candid in admitting that the male disciples were in effect hiding out of fear. The Gospels have the powerful ring of truth and the above has not escaped the notice of recognized historians.

We also note that the angel tells the ladies to report to “his disciples” limiting these to males as no woman has previously been called a disciple.

These are the last mention of women in the Gospels. Though the important event of the ascension of Christ to heaven is reported, there is no Scrptural evidence that women witnessed this event. It seems to have been limited to only the eleven apostles. (Luke 24:33, 51; Acts 1:4-11)

Women in the Early Church

As we approach the year 2,000 it is clear women have taken on major roles in religion. There are women clergy in Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues, with frequent appearances of evangelical female preachers on the electronic pulpit. Some women have taken up the roles of spiritual advisers and teachers on the Internet. As sensitive as this subject of female teachers in the Christian Church is, there is one man blamed for negative views on this subject of women teachers: the Apostle Paul. What does the widowed missionary teach on the place of women within the Christian congregation? Is it just one man’s opinion or much more?

A Brief Overview of Women in the Apostolic Writings

The word group “woman” (women, female, wife, etc.) occurs 126 times. It has been observed before that in all the inspired writings of the Lord’s disciples it is First Corinthians which discusses women the most, with about four dozen occurrences. So, we expect in this epistle to the urban congregation to tell us the most about the place of women in the first century church.

In the historical records of the Acts of the Apostles by the physician Luke women appear about two dozen times. There are some particular “acts” which involve women that attract our notice.

Women During Pentecost

Of course, women are also seen waiting in Jerusalem until the foretold outpouring of the Holy Pneuma as Jesus promised. The apostles are seen engaged in prayers with women, “With one accord all these were persisting in prayer, together with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) Little is told us about what appears to be an informal gathering where prayers were the highlight. We are not told whether any of these women prayed audibly or merely followed the lead of the apostles.

Were these same godly women present at the replacement of Judas and the later outpouring of holy Pneuma? Many feel they were. In the account at Acts 1:15-26, which really represents the first “organizational” or official gathering of the apostles and others the main item on the agenda was the replacement of an episkopen (later a “bishop”). Acts 1:15 states it was the “brothers” who were gathered, totaling about 120. Acts 1:15, 16 records the meeting: “Now during these days Peter rose up in the midst of the brothers and said (the crowd of persons was all together about one hundred and twenty): ‘Men, brothers ... ‘”. Peter addresses an assembly group of “brothers.” The phrase “crowd of persons (names)” is in the masculine gender. Peter opens his address with the Greek ANDRES ADELPHOI, “men, brothers.” There is no hint that women are present at this official organizational meeting. It is very possibly the 120 were the total of the ‘men during all the time during the Lord’s ministry’ and were composed in part by the “seventy.” That would include with the apostles at least 81 males. Nothing indicates any woman, no matter how close to the Christ, nor whether a witness of the Nazarene’s resurrection, is given a moment’s consideration.

Who were present at the Pentecostal outpouring of holy Pneuma? Acts 2:1 has a conjunctive break and it may indicate the move to a new time period or place. It is good to remember that when Jesus foretold the arrival of the Comforter or Helper it should be remembered that the Nazarene spoke these words to his apostles in private meeting. No where does Jesus ever indicate a general outpouring of spirit on his congregation as a whole.

We feel the contextual evidence in Acts chapter two points to only the twelve apostles being present at this particular manifestation of the holy Pneuma. The account describes the episode and then notes the multitude of Jewish “men” present in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. (Acts 2:1-5) These godly Jews heard in their own languages “the magnificent things of God.” We note their first response: “Indeed, they were astonished and began to wonder and say: “See here, all these who are speaking are Gal·i·le'ans, are they not?” (Acts 2:7) The question is phrased in the masculine gender and it is acknowledged that those speaking are “all Galileans.” This description fits the apostles, for all were Galileans save for the now dead Judas.

Acts 2:14 further points to only the apostles being present when it states, “Peter stood up with the eleven ... “ Additionally, after Peter gives his stirring spirit-inspired Pentecostal speech the spell-bound men asked what they were to do. The phrase of those men begins, “Males, brothers ... “ (Acts 2:37; compare Acts 15:7, 13) This address also points to the truth that only the twelve apostles were present at this Pentecostal outpouring.

This does not mean women were overlooked. For even in his sermon, Peter, using Joel 2:28-30, proves that the holy Pneuma would be poured out on “all flesh” (something to occur later) with the future result that young women would “prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18) The first indication women were being added to the truly formed congregation of Christ is recorded in Acts 5:14. [NOTE: women are to be mentioned over a dozen times in Acts of the Apostles.] Women now coming to the Lord is against stated in Acts 8:12. Both men and women “belong to the Way.” (Acts 9:2)

There are a few women who are named and featured in dramatic moments in the good doctor’s historical record.

One of the first of these named women is Sapphira who makes the disastrous mistake of lying to Christ’s apostolic representative. (Acts 5:1-11) The next Christian lady named is Tabitha (Dorcas, meaning “Gazelle”) and becomes the only woman named a “disciple” in the Christian Bible. After her death she is praised by her “good deeds and charity.” When Peter arrives on the scene the local widows showed the apostle the many garments Dorcas had made for her fellow Christians. (Acts 9:36-42)

The traveling merchant Lydia is next named as a woman, likely a Jewess, meeting with other women for prayer. She is noted for her sincere hospitality where “she just made us come” to her own home as a place to stay. (Acts 16:14, 15)

A Christian woman who has been much noted is Priscilla (Prisca) the wife of a tent-maker. They were Jews who fled Rome. Paul worked with them as a tent-maker. Some make something out of the fact she is always mentioned first in the mention of the couple. (Acts 18:18, 26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19) However, Paul does once put her husband first. (1 Corinthians 16:19) In the account in Acts the couple is seen in dealing with a Jew “mighty in Scripture” who had not been baptized in the name of Jesus and thus having not received the holy Pneuma. The account reports: “Now a certain Jew named A·pol'los, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent man, arrived in Eph'e·sus; and he was well versed in the Scriptures. This man had been orally instructed in the way of the Lord (YHWH) and, as he was aglow with the spirit, he went speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus, but being acquainted with only the baptism of John. And this man started to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Pris·cil'la and Aq'ui·la heard him, they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him.” (Acts 18:24-26) This is not the case of a Christian woman teaching or correcting a Christian male. It is the case of a couple teaching a Jew who had been baptized in John’s baptism, possibly after Christian baptism became legitimized following Pentecost.

Acts 21:9 describes Phillip the missionary as, “This man had four daughters, virgins, that prophesied.” These women were certainly part of what Peter had mentioned regarding the prophecy of Joel in Acts chapter two. At this time in the early history of the church the gift of prophecy -- a gift later to be “done away with” (1 Corinthians 13:8) -- did move certain women under the inspiration of God to speak. Whether this speaking in a prophetic mode is limited to groups of women, or to non-Christians, will be discussed later.

Role of the Wife in Marriage

It is appropriate at this time to discuss women in their role as wives within marriage. Both Paul and Peter incorporate this important topic in their letters. The tenor of their counsel echoes what the king’s mother told him in Proverbs chapter 31. Let us consider these inspired teachings.

Wifely Subjection

We here combine what Paul wrote regarding wives:

“Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord -- 1 Corinthians 11:3, “The head of a woman is the man.” -- because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of [this] body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish. ... The wife should have deep respect for her husband. ... You wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as it is becoming in the Lord. You husbands, keep on loving [your] wives and do not be bitterly angry with them. (Wives) love their husbands, love their children, be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Ephesians 5:21-27, 33; Colossians 3:18, 19; Titus 2:4, 5)

There is much here for both husbands and wives. Since our focus in this particular work is on the Biblical woman we will limit our commentary on that counsel directed to Christian women.

It seems clear -- consistent with the Hebrew Bible’s thrust (1 Corinthians 14:34) -- that wives are to be in “subjection” to their husbands. This is how God so stated the matter to Eve in Genesis 3:16 (LXX). Paul encourages the Christian ladies to be in subjection: a) in fear of Christ; b) as the church is in subjection to Christ; c) as it is becoming in the Lord; and, d) so the word of God is not blasphemed. These are powerful reasons for a wife’s subjection to her husband.

Additionally, Paul uses the Greek word PHOBOS (phobia) often rendered reverence (KJV), or deeply respects (LB). How does a wife display subjection and respect? In the former matter of subjection such would only be necessary if the wife disagreed with some action or decision on the part off her husband. When they perfectly agree there is never a need for “subjection.” A wife’s subjection then is demonstrated by her obedience to either her husband’s lead or his direct command as her head. Her respect is mainly shown by her speech. If she is publicly argumentative or critical. Certainly it seems clear that a woman who speaks disparagely of her husband to others, or even gossips to other women about her husband, has lost her respect long ago. Of course, it is best if this respect is won and deserved. However, this idea is not present in Paul’s inspired remarks. By virtue of her marriage to a man the Biblical woman agrees with the divine role placed upon her husband as head, leader and director of the family. This requires that she submit to her husband’s decisions which she does not agree with them. It also requires that she control her speech so that she truly demonstrates she respects her husband, if not because of who he is, then surely because of God’s own appointment.

The apostle Peter gives similar advice to women at 1 Peter 3:1-6:

“In like manner, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect. And do not let your adornment be that of the external braiding of the hair and of the putting on of gold ornaments or the wearing of outer garments, but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God. For so, too, formerly the holy women who were hoping in God used to adorn themselves, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, as Sarah used to obey Abraham, calling him ‘lord.’ And you have become her children, provided you keep on doing good and not fearing any cause for terror.”

Peter encourages “subjection” even when a husband is “not obedient to the word.” It is the wife’s chastity and respect which will win her husband. Peter teaches that what ought to characterize the Biblical woman is “the quiet and mild spirit.” Other versions use words for this phrase like, gentle (amiable, courteous, tame), meek (humble, calm, submissive), peaceful (gracious, dignified, mellow), and, modest (humble, unpretentious, unassuming). Such a woman is not heartless, cruel, assertive, arrogant, noisy, violent, or excessive -- the opposite of those qualities Peter lists.

As a new Christian woman grows in the development and perfecting of her character and attitude she will resemble more and more Sarah and less and less Jezebel. An older Christian lady married for many years will, indeed, reflect those attributes both Paul and Peter highlight.

There are ungodly, unchristian and evil men. Peter argues that a quiet and mild woman demonstrating deep respect and virtue may win over her husband with giving any sermon to him at all. Despite these godly efforts on the part of the woman there will be those men so vile that nothing -- not even God -- can change their virulent disposition and unclean character. No woman is bidden to disobey God in her subjection to her husband. Nor should she violate her virtue because of a disgusting husband. God is very aware of what goes on in a marriage. He was the main witness to their original union. Indeed, the Hebrew Bible ends with this warning:

“On this account, that Jehovah himself has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you yourself have dealt treacherously, although she is your partner and the wife of your covenant. And there was one who did not do [it], as he had what was remaining of [the] spirit. And what was that one seeking? The seed of God. And you men must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and with the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously. For he has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said; ‘and the one who with violence has covered over his garment,”’ Jehovah of armies has said. ‘And you must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and you must not deal treacherously (with your wives).’” (Malachi 2:14-16)

Thus the godly Biblical woman can be assured that her husband will receive his judgment before the throne of God. Meanwhile, her “quiet and mild spirit” is highly valued by God who is not ignorant of what occurs in the marriage and family.

Having considered what Paul and Peter taught on the woman’s role in marriage, we now move on to her role within the Christian congregation.

“What is to Be Done?” -- In the Congregation

Twice Paul asks the Corinthian congregation, “What is to be done?” (1 Corinthians 14:15, 26) These questions fall in the context of Christian meetings as well as the woman’s place in such. To answer this question first, we turn to Paul’s conclusion. How are we to view the following? He concludes his congregational instructions with the words: “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual man, let him fully know the things I am writing to you, because they are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this he is not to be recognized.” Can we view them simply as the opinion of a man? Those who choose not to recognize or acknowledge this position within the Lord’s commandment, Paul says, “let him refuse it at his peril.” (Confraternity version)

By way of introduction to the words of Paul there were four thousand years of God’s dealing with humankind, both men and women. (See parts 1-4 of The Biblical Woman) We have covered this in the previous sections.

In the Hebrew Scriptures women do not occupy the offices of priest, under-priests, judges, elders, teachers, or prophets with but very rare exceptions. Eight times “prophetess” is mentioned and include Miriam, Deborah, Hulda, Isaiah’s wife, Anna, and Jezebel. (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:26; Revelation 2:20) So in 1,500 years of Biblical history only six women are mentioned as “prophetesses.” The word group “prophetess” occurs 8 times whereas the male “prophet” appears 569 times.

How do the Scriptures refer to women? When the “capable wife (woman)” is praised in Proverbs chapter 31 she is not described as a teacher or leader in Jewish worship. In Paul’s list of the faithful of old he notes only two women by name, Sarah a Hebrew and Rahab a non-Israelite. Though Jesus the Nazarene is famous for his liberation of women in the matter of divorce, he does not select any females as part of the Apostles or the Seventy. Though he violates some Jewish social rules in talking to women, no woman is called a “disciple” during the ministry of the Messiah. Paul is also well aware of the tradition within the synagogue arrangement: women remained separated from men and only men speaking in the synagogue. With this background in mind we examine those verses in Paul’s letters where he discusses women in the context of congregational (GRK: ecclesia) matters: First Corinthians and First Timothy.

There are fourteen (14) inspired affirmations Paul makes in the verses dealing with women in the congregation. These are numbered in brackets [ ] within the verses and listed following the texts.

Headship and Women in the Ecclesia

1 Corinthians 11:5-16 ---

a) A woman may pray or prophesy as directed by a gift of the Pneuma.

[1] Every woman that prays or prophesies (under the Pneuma’s influence) with her head uncovered shames her head, for it is one and the same as if she were a woman with a shaved head.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Paul does not state whether this is outside the congregation or within. We note earlier Paul had said a particular type of “prophecy” was to be done away with. (1 Corinthians 13:8, 9) Peter quotes from Joel (Acts 2:17) agreeing that men and women may “prophesy,” that is speak forth God’s righteousness. It is to be noted only men have visions and dreams according to Peter’s quotation. Acts 21:9 describes four virgin “daughters who prophesied” without indicating the environment of such speaking. Even though the Pneuma may have fallen on some women to allow them to prophesy, Paul teaches this kind of female “prophet” will be done away with and so this gift is no longer in operation today.

b) Even when she prays the Christian woman must have her head covered.

Paul gives his reasons:

“For if a woman does not cover herself, let her also be shorn; but if it is disgraceful (GRK: AISCHRON -- the word used at 1 Corinthians 14:35) for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a male [GRK: aner] ought not to have his head covered, as he is God's image and glory; but the woman [2] is man's [GRK: andros] glory. For man is not out of woman, but woman [3] out of man; and, what is more, man was not created for the sake of the woman, but woman [4] for the sake of the man. That is why the woman [5] ought to have a sign of authority upon her head because of the angels.”

Paul’s reasons include:

  1. Male (aner) is God’s image and glory;
  2. Woman is “out of” man (andros) as Eve is take from Adam;
  3. Woman (Eve) was created for the male’s (aner) (Adam) sake.

Paul mentions the congregational “custom”:

“Judge for your own selves: Is it fitting for a woman to pray uncovered to God? Does not nature itself teach you that if a male has long hair, it is a dishonor to him; but if a woman [6] has long hair, it is a glory to her? Because her hair is given her instead of a headdress. However, if any anyone seems to dispute for some other [7] custom, [as many are ought to do in the Nineties] we have no other, neither do the congregations of God.”

There is no other custom among the “congregations” -- he is not discussing an isolated situation but something common among all the congregations. Paul seems to expect “dispute” on this matter but he simply states no “other custom” is to be accepted for there is only one among “the congregations of God.”

[NOTE: RE: BEYTh HaK:nESETh or Synagogue (“The Place of Women in the 1st-Century Synagogues,” by S M Safrai in “The Jerusalem Perspective.”) --- “According to the Halachah to have a congregation (or, EDAH), ...a minimum of 10 persons... Before 500 CE, women could be counted as part of the 10 ...public or congregational prayer could not be conducted without this number... It is NOT true that there was a set time for Synagogue services ..or that public worship is a religious obligation... One could pray anywhere and at any time of the day.. (Women's Section) ... In the 1st Century there was no special women's section or divider... It should be emphasized that there was also no separation of men and women in the temple.. In the Court of the Women men and women mingled.. Women normally did not go beyond that court... (An Inequality) Women were not allowed to read the Scriptures publicly.”]

Who Speaks in the Congregation?


Paul continues in these verses:

“Pursue love, yet keep zealously seeking the spiritual gifts, but preferably that you may prophesy. [That is speak by a direct Pneumatic gift; a gift to be done away with -- 1 Corinthians 13:8] For he (males) that speaks in a tongue speaks, not to humans, (GRK: anthropois) but to God, for no one listens, but he (the male) speaks mysteries by the Pneuma. However, he (the male) that prophesies upbuilds and encourages and consoles humans (GRK: anthropois) by his speech. He (male) that speaks in a tongue upbuilds himself, but he that prophesies upbuilds a congregation. Now I would like for all of you to speak in tongues, but I prefer that you prophesy. Indeed, he that prophesies is greater than he that speaks in tongues, unless, in fact, he translates, that the congregation may receive upbuilding. But at this time, brothers, if I should come speaking to you in tongues, what good would I do you unless I spoke to you either with a revelation or with knowledge or with a prophecy or with a teaching? So also you yourselves, since you are zealously desirous of [gifts of the] spirit, seek to abound in them for the upbuilding of the congregation. Therefore let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he (male) may translate. For if I am praying in a tongue, it is my [gift of the] spirit that is praying, but my mind is unfruitful.” (1 Corinthians 14:1-14)

Paul then asks his first of the two questions:

What is to be done, then? I will pray with the [gift of the] spirit, but I will also pray with [my] mind. I will sing praise with the [gift of the] spirit, but I will also sing praise with [my] mind. Otherwise, if you offer praise with a [gift of the] spirit, how will the man (male) occupying the seat of the ordinary person (he) say ‘Amen’ to your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? True, you give thanks in a fine way, but the other man is not being built up. I thank God, I speak in more tongues than all of you do. Nevertheless, in a congregation I would rather speak five words with my mind, that I might also instruct others orally, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not become young children (GRK: LITTLE BOYS) in powers of understanding, but be babes as to badness; yet become full-grown in powers of understanding. In the Law it is written: “’With the tongues of foreigners and with the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and yet not even then will they give heed to me,” says Jehovah.’ Consequently tongues are for a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers, whereas prophesying is, not for the unbelievers, but for the believers. Therefore, if the whole congregation comes together to one place and they all speak in tongues, but ordinary people or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are mad? But if you are all prophesying and any unbeliever or ordinary person (MAN) comes in, he is reproved by them all, he is closely examined by all; the secrets of his heart become manifest, so that he will fall upon [his] face and worship God, declaring: ‘God is really among you.’” (1 Corinthians 14:15-25)

Paul asks his question the second time:

“26 What is to be done, then, brothers? When you come together, one (he, a male) has a psalm, another (MALE) has a teaching, another (MALE) has a revelation, another (MALE) has a tongue, another (MALE) has an interpretation. Let all things take place for upbuilding. And if someone speaks in a tongue, let it be limited to two or three at the most, and in turns; and let someone (him) translate. But if there be no translator, let him keep silent (GRK: SIGATO) in the congregation and speak to himself and to God. Further, let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern the meaning. But if there is a revelation to another one while sitting there, let the first one (HIM) keep silent. (SIGATO) For you can all prophesy (A GIFT TO BE DONE AWAY WITH) one by one, that all may learn and all be encouraged. And [gifts of] the spirit of the prophets are to be controlled by the prophets. For God is [a God], not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)

Paul again refers -- as he did earlier -- to a matter observed in “all the congregations of God”:

“As in all the congregations of the Saints, let the women [8] keep silent (GRK: SIGATOSAN) in the congregations, for it is [9] not permitted for them to speak, but let them be [10] in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them [11] question their own husbands at home, for it is [12] disgraceful (GRK: AISCHRON -- as 11.6) for a woman to speak in a congregation.” [NOTE: the Greek sigatosan is the same as that of verses 28, 30 and means not to speak or remain quiet.] (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

Paul may be summarized here: a) if the above is so then the former ones prophesying are men and not women; b) this is a rule in all the congregations; c) women are not to ask a question in the congregation.

Paul continues:

“If anyone thinks he is a prophet or gifted with the spirit, (spiritual man) let him acknowledge the things I am writing to you, because they are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone is ignorant, he continues ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 14:37, 38)

Thus, these are not just opinions but “the Lord’s commandment.”

Paul concludes:

“Consequently, my brothers, keep zealously seeking the prophesying, and yet do not forbid the speaking in tongues. But let all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1 Corinthians 14:39, 40)

Now, we continue with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy.

How to Conduct Oneself in the “Household of God”

Paul discusses women more often in this letter to Timothy than any other, save First Corinthians. His reason involves the purpose of his letter to the young elder Timothy: “That you may know how to conduct yourself in God’s Household.” (1 Timothy 3:15) This conduct will involve women, including widows. Paul is to mention women and widows 21 times. His first two references to women involve dress and congregational conduct. (1 Timothy 2:9-15) A women should dress modestly and with good sense, avoiding elaborate hair styles, gold, pearls and expensive clothing.

Paul states his authority regarding women within “the Household of God” and the limitations to their roles in the congregation:

“Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not [13] permit a woman to teach, or [14] to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and came to be in transgression.” ((1 Timothy 2:11-15)

The phrase “exercise authority over a man” is variously rendered: ALF: to rule over; ASV: to have dominion; BER: neither to domineer; MOF: dictate to men; LB: lord it over; PME: position of authority. Paul concludes his statements with, “that statement is faithful.” (1 Timothy 3:1) Is Paul only giving his opinion which has strong limitations to it? (2 Peter 3:16) Why allude to the Book of Genesis for authority regarding, a) the seniority of the male; b) the female’s deception? Are these words in harmony with those in First Corinthians where they were the “commandment of the Lord”?

Paul continues to discuss the office of Overseer. (GRK: episkopes = KJ: bishop; GDSP: superintendent; MON: minister; WMS: pastor; NJB: presiding elder) He does not include women in this leadership role. When he considers “deacons” he may include women in verse 11 though some feel these are the wives of elders and deacons. Paul teaches Timothy how to treat women: the older as mothers and the younger as his own sisters “with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:2) When Paul discusses widows, older and younger, he no where includes teaching or leadership roles within the congregation. He says to honor those who are characterized by: devotions at home, care of parents and grandparents, prayers, a good testimony, hospitable, washed the feet of saints, and relieved the afflicted. These matters are right at the heart of the Nazarene’s teachings. On the other hand women are to avoid gossip and slander, being unoccupied and busybodies.

What does Paul omit when discussing women in chapter 1 Timothy 5:9-16? He does not mention preaching or teaching or leadership roles. The apostle has full opportunity to add to the list works of preaching or teaching or leadership within the congregation. After considering all the above verses dealing with women in the Christian congregation a list may be compiled of those affirmations by Paul.

A List of Affirmations

  1. A woman praying without a head-covering shames her head
  2. Woman is to glorify man
  3. The source or origin of woman is man
  4. Woman is created for the sake of man
  5. Woman must have a sign of authority
  6. Long hair glorifies a woman
  7. There is only one custom
  8. Women keep silent in congregation
  9. Women not permitted to speak
  10. Woman to be in subjection
  11. Woman not to ask questions in congregation
  12. It is a disgrace for a woman to speak in a congregation
  13. Woman are not permitted to teach
  14. Woman are not permitted to exercise authority over a man


Christian women are to remain silent in congregational meetings. Christian women are not permitted to teach within the congregation. Christian women are not to exercise authority over Christian males. Paul states this is “the Lord’s commandment” and those who do not fully acknowledge this are putting themselves in peril.

There is much for women to do under the blessing of God the Father and in obedience to their Lord, Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The Father considers these important and women who submit to their Creator will be blessed with all that salvation entails along with men. Those men or women who do not understand this Biblical position must either search the Scriptures with an open mind or wait until that future moment when God will reveal the correct attitude. (Philippians 3:15)

We expect that some women, and some men, will strongly disagree with the above given the “political correctness” of the Nineties, particularly those “fond of disputing” (philo-neikos). (1 Corinthians 11:16 KIT) We affirm that there are those matters of a doctrinal nature with which Christians disagree as well as matters such as the above. Paul seems to expect this reaction or “dispute” (1 Corinthians 11:16) from some for he adds to his remarks: “However, though woman cannot do without man, neither can man do without woman, in the Lord; woman may come from man, but man is born of woman---both come from God.” (1 Corinthians 11:11, 12 NJB)

Paul’s own argument rests upon what he calls “custom” (1 Corinthians 11:16) as well as the “Lord’s commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14:37) Both men and women accept their God-given places in the Divine arrangement and refrain from reacting as Paul describes: “But what right have you, a human being, to cross-examine God?” (Romans 9:20, 21 NJB)

Other Interpretations

Some contemporary interpreters who seem to strain for the political correctness of the 90s -- and appear terrified of female reaction to a straightforward interpretation of Paul -- have suggested the following. The critical verses in First Corinthians are explained to be a quotation by Paul of the Corinthian claim so that the account ought to read: (1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 37, 38) --- “BUT YOU CORINTHIANS ERRONEOUSLY INSIST: ‘As in all the ecclesias let the women keep silent for it is not permitted for them to speak. Let them subject themselves as the Law also says. But, if any (woman) wants to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home. For it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in an ecclesia.’” Paul could have written it that way if he intended to consider a question or assertion on the part of the Corinthians.

Thus, these interpreters of Paul, insist he is really attacking the mistaken notion of the Corinthians that a woman should be in subjection and remain silent in the congregational meetings. This approach has numerous adherents. But, is it reasonable and consistent with Paul’s teachings? We remember that if we did not have Paul’s words to the Corinthians we have something similar in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Peter 3:1-6.

It is true in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he often refers to their questions or statements. For example, consider the following: 1 Corinthians 1:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 1 Corinthians 10:28; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 15:35; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:12.

Thus, there are a dozen examples of those case where Paul does address a question or subject posed by the Corinthians. However, we note these are always made very clear. We do not see this kind of wording in the context of headship, women, and their roles within the congregation and family.

Others suggest Paul is only giving his opinion when he comments on women. However, note how Paul always makes it clear where he is presenting his own uninspired view: 1 Corinthians 7:12, “But to the others I say, yes, I, not the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 7:25, “Now concerning virgins I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who had mercy shown him by the Lord to be faithful.”

1 Corinthians 7:40, “But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. I certainly think I also have God's spirit.” 2 Corinthians 8:10, “And in this I render an opinion.”

On the other hand when Paul is revealing to the Corinthians what he has received from the Lord he also states that: “For I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:23) This he has also done in 1 Corinthians 14:37 right in the context of women within the congregation. He declares what he has written as “the Lord’s commandment” and warns any who would insist on another view.

Elsewhere Paul lists characteristics of a mature Christian woman: “Thus, older women --- be reverent in bearing, not slanderers, not enslaved by a lot of wine, teachers of what is good so they may help the young women to have healthy thoughts: to be fond of males, fond of children, healthy in their thinking, chaste, home-workers, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands so the Word of The God is not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3-5)

Here Paul says that such an elderly woman, perhaps over 60 years of age, ought to be a “teacher.” What is the realm of this woman as a teacher? He seems to make clear this is teaching of younger women, not within congregational meetings. This would naturally follow what women do and have done throughout cultural history: they teach younger women within the community. Thus, these Christian ladies have a wide and strong influence on the character of the Nazarene community.

What is the Major Role of Women in the Church

The Nazarene emphasize the subject of love -- mainly in a material, charitable way -- and the natural role of the wife and mother in the family puts her right in the middle of that loving role. The Biblical woman’s role within the Nazarene community and Christian congregation is similar to that of those female followers of the Lord who “ministered to him from their belongings.” (Luke 8:3) It was just such charity and giving that characterized the only woman designated a “disciple” -- Dorcas, or Tabitha. (Acts 9:36, 39)

Paul mentions one woman in particular who was something like a “deaconess” within the congregation. Romans 16:1-2 records: “I recommend to you Phoe'be our sister, who is a minister [DIAKONON] of the congregation that is in Cen'chre·ae, that you may welcome her in [the] Lord in a way worthy of the Saints, and that you may assist her in any matter where she may need you, for she herself also proved to be a defender of many, yes, of me myself.” In what way was Phoebe a “minister”?

The Jerusalem Bible describes Phoebe as a “deaconess,” while the New English says, "She holds office in the congregation at Cenchrea." The Christian woman was a “servant” -- a diakonos -- one with dusty feet from doing errands in service on behalf of others. When it comes to men who are diakonos (“deacon” is an old English corruption of this word) they serve, not in teaching or governing positions, but as servants to the material needs of the congregation. Consider Acts 6:1-7 and the first Christian appointments of “deacons.”

Some suggest Romans 16:1, 2 and the Greek word PRO-STASIS may infer a leadership role in the congregation. They reference Lidell & Scott: “one who is a leader, or ruler ; a front-rank person; one who exercises authority.” However, consider, “The word PRO-STATIS (before + stand) is unique to this single verse. The masculine version PRO-STATES took on a technical sense.” (BAG, page 726) However, this work defines the word as “protectress, patroness, helper ... she has been of great assistance to many, including myself.” Thayer’s adds: “caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources.” (page 549)

The word is variously translated: NWT: defender; KJV: succourer; ASV: helper; GSPD: protector; TCNT: staunch friend; NRSV: benefactor/helper; NJB: come to the help of; WMS: befriended many; BW: assistant of many; PME: of great assistance to. Thus Phoebe was much like those “many women who ministered [DIEKONOUN] to (Jesus and the apostles) from their belongings.” (Luke 8.3) Irrespective of the unique meaning of PRO-STATIS Paul could not contradict himself elsewhere.

“The Head of a Woman is the Male”

Some have argued for a meaning of the word “head” regarding the male or husband’s position to completely neutralize the traditional role of the man in the family.

The Greek for “head” is kephale and is used 20 times by Paul to refer to the human “head” as well as figuratively for a husband’s leadership role regarding his wife. Regarding Christ as head (kephale) Paul indicates this involves his authority and rule as well as the submissiveness and subjection of those within his realm:
“It is according to the operation of the mightiness of his strength, with which he has operated in the case of the Christ when he raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come. He also subjected all things under his feet, and made him head over all things to the congregation, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills up all things in all.” (Ephesians 1:19-23) Would it not seem here Christ’s headship is total? Paul uses kephale again in Ephesians 4:15.

Then again in Ephesians 5:22-27 Paul uses kephale twice, once with regard to Christ and then with regard to husbands: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of [this] body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

Regarding the meaning of kephale note the comments from The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, pages 156-158: “In secular Greek kephale means: ... 2. What is decisive, superior. ... Thus kephale in the LXX can denote also the head i.e. the one who occupies a position of superiority in the community. ... [First century Jewish philosopher] Philo’s use of kephale was seminal. The logos is the head of the universe which God created, its source of life, overlord, ruler.”

While the woman is to be fully submissive to her husband, the “head” is to imitate Christ’s love in his marriage. This love was demonstrated by Christ in two ways: a) he sacrificed his physical life for his Woman; b) he is the one who “cleanses” her “by means of the word.” The former is something of the physical relationship and the later the spiritual.

Of course, this is all well and good when the husband is Christ, or a perfect man. Godly women of all ages have been sometimes married to a man for whom it was difficult to be in subjection. (Compare Abigail at 1 Samuel 25:3-38) Surely, Paul was aware that your average husband is less than perfect. Nonetheless, his wife was “to be in subjection in everything.” Surely no woman can display this “subjection” by gossiping about her husband and publicly showing disrespect for God’s own appointment. The wife is to be in subject “as to the Lord.” What can one get from this other than how a woman should view her husband as the appointment of the Lord.

Paul says something similar to this when he uses kephale three times in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “The head of every male is the Christ, but the male is the head of a woman, and the Head of Christ is The God.” Paul continues to list three Biblical reasons for this relationship between man and woman at 1 Corinthians 11:7-9:

  1. The male exists in God’s image and glory; but the woman is the glory of the male.
  2. The male is not out of the woman; but the woman is out of the male.
  3. The male was not created for the sake of the woman; but the woman was created for the sake of the male.

This role as “head” in the marriage is one of “lord” (English = bread-winner and thus master). Peter when arguing women should demonstrate “deep respect” [Greek = phobia] for their husbands points to Sarah who considered Abraham “lord.” (1 Peter 3:6) Another example of this recognition that the husband is “lord” and to be obeyed is seen in the wedding psalm: “For (your husband) is thy Lord [NJB: he is your master now]; and worship thou him.” (Psalm 45:11 KJV) Other translation render this: ASV: reverence thou him; RS: bow to him; ABPS: do him homage; HAR: submit to him.

This secondary position of the woman in the marriage relationship reaches a terrible judgment in the case of Eve. The Jewish Bible of the third century BC when translating the Hebrew into Greek rendered Genesis 3:17, “And thy submission shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” It may be to this “submission” Paul refers when he writes: “But let them be in subjection even as the Law says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34)

In all the Christian Bible the single word which describes that characteristic of the husband is agape. A wife is never told to “love” her husband. Rather, she is told to “respect” him. So, LOVE is the husband’s characterizing word, while RESPECT the wife’s characterizing word. This “respect” is something commanded of the woman, not necessarily earned by the husband. However, if the husband should be respected he ought to prove respectable. Nor, does the woman have to earn the husband’s love -- he is commanded to love her despite any “spot or wrinkle” which it is his duty by bathing her spiritual with the word, bring her before God as holy and unblemished. No where is a woman so instructed to, as it were, cleanse her husband. However, if this woman would be loved she must show herself lovable.

The husband’s love is shown, according to Paul, by “feeding and cherishing” his wife as his own body. How will the woman’s respect be shown? The major way this is manifest is by the use of the tongue. If she belittles and berates her husband, she behaves as if she were the “lord” in the marriage. If she speaks slightingly about him to others, she proves she has no respect for him. If she contradicts or criticizes him in public, she again demonstrates she does not view him “as the Lord.” Actually no friend does these things to another friend loved and respected.

Note, among other things, what caused David to fall in love with Abigail. Read the account in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Consider her manner and attitude. Note how often she calls David “lord” and uses the word “please.” It is no wonder he was attracted to this god-fearing and beautiful Biblical woman.

It is interesting to note about the name-change of Abraham’s wife. She was first called Sarai which means “contentious.” One wonders how she got this name. However, one day when her husband came home, at some point her name was changed to “Princess.” Possibly Abraham said to her: “Well, dear Contentious, there is good news and there is bad news. The good new is God has talked to me. The bad news is we have to leave our beautiful home in the Ur of the Chaldees, travel 1,500 miles to live the rest of our lives in tents with herds of animals surrounding us.” One wonders how Contentious responded? How ever it was, her attitude must have had a bearing on her new name, Princess. She was clearly lovable and there is no question Abraham was respectable. What a perfect marriage! No wonder she called her husband “lord.” Can modern women learn from this? Peter writes they better. Even as should their husbands. (1 Peter 3:1-7)

“There Is Neither Male nor Female”

There is a text much discussed and debated regarding the equality of men and women within the congregational arrangement. It is Paul’s statement of faith in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither male nor female.” What does Paul mean by this affirmation? Does he mean that in the order and arrangement in the formal congregation male and female are equality in authority and role?

Would it be fair to state that it is highly unlikely Paul would contradict himself in three of his other letters? Let us consider the context.

“You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham's seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

Paul’s major point is that all who have been baptized in Christ are one as a congregational body, the Seed of Abraham. In other words, this single corporate body is not a Jewish body, a Greek body, a body of slaves, a body of freeman, a male body, or a female body. It is one body in Christ as the Seed of Abraham.

Paul cannot mean there are no Jews, Greeks, slaves, freeman, males or females. For all of these truly existed within the Christian congregation. A survey of a concordance will establish the truth of this. Therefore, Paul’s affirmation is the that Body of Christ, the Church itself, is not identified as Jewish, Greek, slave, freeman, male, or female. In doing so he looks forward to that celestial place of the Church following the resurrection in which there is no such institution as marriage, but rather than the glorified Saints are like angels, sexless. (Luke 20:35, 36)


We judge that the Christian Bible agrees with the Hebrew Bible that women, and particularly wives, should be characterized by subjection and deep respect within the family arrangement. Consistent with this the role of the Christian woman in a formal meeting of the ecclesia is one of respectful observer.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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