I Peter 3:7

Is Christianity, and by extension, God Himself, anti-woman? Those of us who know and love Jesus understand that the answer is absolutely, positively not! Jesus came to give us life and give it abundantly; to help us live up to our full potential–not oppress or needlessly constrain. Yet many younger women today struggle under the misconception that Christianity is an archaic construct of a bygone era that seeks to subjugate and hold women back in a second class position.

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the [physically] weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

A big problem with trying to understand the Bible is our lack of context–we in the twenty-first century have the experiences and values of the twenty-first century, and for the most part, no understanding whatsoever of life in the Middle East two thousand plus years ago. We don’t understand the original audiences of Scripture; what life was like for women–that they weren’t educated, were married off at a young age, were dependent on their male relatives, were not equal under the law, could not directly inherit property. Our closest point of reference is repressive present-day cultures such as Saudi Arabia or Iran that subjugate women, denying them basic privileges. Indeed, verses such as today’s that pronounced women heirs together with their husbands, were radical and a new concept altogether, because the rights and privileges of women were not equivalent to those of men.

An excellent examination of a similar verse, Galatians 3:26, is found in the Desiring God article “Daughters, God Has Made You Sons:”

“In ancient cultures, sons were named as the legal heirs. In turn, husbands and fathers were expected to provide for the women of their households. Being a direct heir, in society, would not have been possible for the Galatian women, though they would receive a kind of indirect inheritance through marriage.

Imagine the Galatian women coming to hear of this new status in God’s kingdom as Paul speaks in these otherwise familiar terms. Picture these women hearing Paul’s letter read — a letter addressed to the entire Galatian church. They understood sonship and all that it entailed, so hearing that God had given both brothers and sisters together the status of sons would have blown them away! God stepped in and radically declared that men and women are one in Christ, equally privileged and exalted (Galatians 3:28), co-heirs together (1 Peter 3:7). In his kingdom, both men and women receive the full inheritance through faith in him.” (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/daughters-god-has-made-you-sons).

So, men and women are joint heirs of eternal life in Christ, but what about the here and now–what about verses commanding a wife to submit to her husband, or men to lead in the church? Doesn’t God (or at least traditional Christianity) still favor men, allocating them the top spots? There are actually three separate situations for us to consider.

1) The first situation applies to women and men in general. No where does God declare women inferior to men; no where does the Bible prohibit women from achieving any of their full God-given potential!

Having said that, I need to point out what could be a difficult passage for many:

“A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. Adam was formed first, and then Eve. Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. But a wife will be brought safely through childbirth, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.” (1 Timothy‬ ‭2:11-15‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

The words translated “wife” and “husband” can also be translated “woman” and “man,” making the instruction more generic to men and women in general, rather than just within the context of marriage (because of this, many translations do use the words “woman” and “man”). Obviously, if women aren’t allowed to teach or control any men, rather than just their husbands, you get a much different social paradigm. So is Paul saying women can’t teach or be in authority over men in general? Or does this refer specifically to the family?

This is a situation where understanding the society helps us better interpret the passage. In first century Israel, women weren’t educated in the Scriptures, only men were. Because their understanding was limited to opinion, conjecture, and what their husbands had possibly passed on to them or they had heard in passing, their active participation at public gatherings would have been confusing and disruptive–just like showing up to class not having studied the material and insisting on participating. Thus, Paul instructed them to learn at home from their husbands who had been properly trained, and get their questions and concerns worked out there. Which brings us to the relationship between spouses.

2) The second situation refers specifically to a husband and wife. For the sake of structure and common sense, as the usually physically weaker gender, a woman is commanded to submit herself voluntarily to her husband (notice that the husband is not given permission to coerce or punish his wife into submission). Yet notice too that this command is given right after the command for both to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians‬ ‭5:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬), and before the incredibly tall order for, “Husbands, [to] love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians‬ ‭5:25‬ ‭NIV‬‬).

God ask much of both a husband and a wife in marriage; He asks what goes against our grain, what is contrary to our selfish nature–for a wife to give up her own will even though she may be right, and give in to her husband if she cannot convince him to see things her way; and for a husband to give his life serving his wife rather than seeking his own well-being first or even if need be, saving her rather than saving himself. Both God’s command to a husband and His command to a wife are completely contrary to human nature; both require each to deny themselves, take up their individual crosses, and follow Christ; both require a heart completely devoted to Christ to accomplish successfully.

3) The third situation is within church structure itself. Women can be administrators within the church, but even though there are women who teach Bible studies, traditional Christianity has understood Paul’s writings to mean that women should not be pastors. Today, of course, some churches reinterpret this to say a woman can be a pastor, too; I personally know two women who are pastors, yet both co-minister alongside their husbands, who are also pastors.

The bottom line is, God frees; He releases us to bloom to our full potential, and where He constrains, it is only for our or others’ good–not to hold us back. So it is my belief that a woman can declare God’s Word (there were prophetesses in the New Testament church) and exhort with Scripture, but because of the lack of clarity in the I Timothy passage, I feel uncomfortable with a woman seeking to independently shepherd (direct) a congregation, and would personally rather err on the side of caution in interpreting Scripture.

Of course, we certainly can lead in life–many women need to lead their families in the father’s absence, and there are female military officers, CEO’s and other supervisory professionals–but rightly or wrongly, if placing themselves under the spiritual authority of a woman within the church would be an obstacle for anyone, I do not consider my personal liberty of more importance than another human being’s need for Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You that you came to set us free and empower us through a knowledge of the truth! Help me focus less on my rights and more on how You can use me to bless others. Amen.

About essentialdailyscriptures

Do you want to grow in your knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but aren’t sure where to start? Essential Daily Scriptures is a ministry for people who want to study God’s Word, but don’t have a lot of time. Each day’s study covers one verse and takes approximately fifteen minutes, incorporating significant amounts of Scripture directly from the NKJV Bible, so you’re able to get right into God’s Word with a minimal time investment on a daily basis. May “the Father of glory…give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17b)
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