In God’s word, stories about women and instructions for women in the church can be disturbing for modern day ladies.
Women cannot speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
Women are to have a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).
Women are to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Women are saved by childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15).
The four verses above are some of the most common brought up in objection to the Bible and church’s view of women.
The first book of the Bible opens with a story of a woman ruining everything for humanity, then there are some weirdly gender-specific rules in the next few books. These are followed up by a lot of hair-raising stories from Israelite history (Tamar’s incest-rape, anyone?). Eventually we end with the apostles’ letters to the new churches, some of which have detailed instructions about what women can and cannot do.
To the casual observer, all of this makes the Bible seem to imply that men are superior to women.
Are Men More Valuable Than Women?
So, what does the Bible explicitly say about the value of men and women?
Genesis 1:27 states that both men and women were created in the image of God. While Adam was made first, he doesn’t fully encapsulate God’s likeness, and neither does Eve.
A few verses later, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). This specific word for helper—“ezer”—has beautiful and powerful connotations in Hebrew that don’t translate into English. Archeologist, Bible scholar and linguist R. David Freedman explained that the Hebrew word “ezer” is a combination of two roots: `-z-r, meaning ‘to rescue, to save,’ and g-z-r, meaning ‘to be strong.’”
In Psalm 33:20, God is described as his people’s “ezer.” Jesus uses the same word in John 15-16 to describe the Holy Spirit.
Peter writes in his book that both men and women are fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7), a sentiment that Revelations 20:4 seems to echo by not distinguishing between men and women as it discusses believers who will judge and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
John Piper points out that in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Paul “seems to be bent on affirming differences and affirming that, with every difference, there is a kind of counterpoint of indispensability.”
All of this points to women working together with men as fellow image-bearers of God who hold equal value.
If that is true, though, why do so many biblical stories not reflect it?
The Biblical Horror Stories
The early books of the Bible cover some rough periods of human history. Humanity had left God, and anything went in terms of behavior.
As a result, God’s law in Deuteronomy and Leviticus was intended to protect people, often from their own sin or from others’ sins. It was also meant to show humankind how poorly they were able to follow a holy way of living. Our sin just always seemed to ooze through the cracks.
Often these rules bring up a lot of questions, particularly the ones that seem alien to our modern culture and privileges. Why were women segregated during their menstrual cycle or punished for having sex with someone if they weren’t married?
Many of these laws were responding to specific problems the Israelites were facing freshly out of Egypt and slavery. In addition, God was setting up health and safety rules for people who had no justice system, no OSHA, no hospitals with medical standards.
Most importantly, though, the law showed how desperately people needed God’s help. No sooner would humanity receive a law from God than they would break it.
The Bible never shies away from honestly examining how broken people are in their treatment of themselves and each other. Nowhere is this more evident than in Judges 19. A mob surround a house, demanding that the owner give up his male guest to be molested by the crowd of men. The guest shoves his concubine outside where she is raped until she dies; the next morning, he cuts up her body.
It’s one of many horrific stories in the Old Testament.
“Judges describes over and over again the weaknesses of both the system of judges and the law previously given to Moses,” Katie Orr, creator of FOCUSed15 Bible studies, explains, “It points again and again to Israel’s need for a king, but later we see that the earthly kings were no better…. They all needed a perfect King who would give the perfect standard of righteousness. They needed King Jesus.”
“We need to understand this: just because abuse and inequities are recorded in the Bible, doesn’t mean it gets God’s stamp of moral approval.”
In fact, the abuses against women and men portrayed stand as terrible evidence of what happens in society without God.
The Cracked Image of Our Helper
Dr. James Hurley, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, explained in his book about men and women in the Bible that “the foundation-stone of Jesus’s attitude toward women was his vision of them as persons to whom and for whom he had come.
“He did not perceive them primarily in terms of their sex, age, or marital status; he seems to have considered them in terms of their relation (or lack of one) to God.”
The loving God who made women to be a partner-helper for men before the fall then gave men and women, in our sin and pain, a powerful partner-helper to live in our hearts: the Holy Spirit.
Many of the issues, then, between men and women in the church are a problem of being broken humans rather than biblical instruction.
In a sermon about women of deliverance, Gary Wilkerson spoke to the ladies, “God has called you to be a faithful mother to your children, a faithful wife to your husband, a faithful minister in the house of the Lord, a faithful witness to the world around you, a faithful worker in your job….”
Then he addressed the guys, “Sometimes we in the church think it’s all about us men. We need to be careful, men, that we don’t miss out on the reality that God calls on women, that God uses women.”
As unique halves of our creator’s image, we are called to bring God’s kingdom to earth together.