The Bible on Woman

At the beginning, in Genesis 2, God formed Woman from the side of Man.  Men reason from this that woman is therefore inferior and owes submission to the man from whom she was taken.  Feminists often agree, concluding from this that the Bible teaches male supremacy.  But man was in the same way taken from the dust.  So why don't they argue that man is therefore inferior to the dust, owing it submission?

Genesis 3:6-20, where everything goes wrong, shows the source of this amazing stupidity.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Here we find the basis for the common belief that the woman is to blame for the fall, since she was deceived and ate first.  But that's because people don't read what it says.  The woman was deceived and ate first, but her husband was with her, and he ate - and he was not deceived.  Their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked only after he ate.  Her sin didn't do the damage; the problem was Adam's willful disobedience.  Paul was quite right to see that through Adam, not his wife, sin came into the world.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the wind (spirit) of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to the man and said, "Where are you?"  And he said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself."

God walks in the spirit (Hebrew ruach, not "cool," as some mistranslate it) of the day.  The man and his wife take refuge in darkness, hiding from the presence of the Lord.  So the promised death was not a judicial sentence, which God rendered later in expelling them from the garden, but a promised consequence of getting wisdom and understanding without the God of Life so as to be able to do without Him - the way thirst is a consequence of drinking seawater.  And as we read in 1 John 1, the remedy was then, and is today, to walk in the light ("the spirit of the day") as He is in the light, confessing our sins so that he might cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And He said, "Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"  And the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."  Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"  And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

The moment of truth.  He asks the man, and in one breath the man blames God and the woman God made for him, even though, unlike the woman, he knew what he was doing when he did it.  The first act of slander.  Here we see that it is an inflexible law - to the degree that we want to justify ourselves when we're wrong, we always do it by blaming someone else who is not wrong.  Bearing false witness against my neighbor is the price I must always pay to bear false witness in favor of myself.

God asks the woman, and she tells the truth.  The serpent deceived her, and she ate - and that's what she said.  People thoughtlessly equate her statement with the man's, as though she's wrongfully shifting blame to the serpent in the way that the man wrongfully shifted blame to God and the woman.  They're overlooking something.  God and the woman were not to blame for man's sin - that was a lie.  But the serpent was to blame for the woman's - he did deceive her, and that was the truth.  For her to have left him out of the statement would in fact have been to cover for him, to defend her seducer.

Have you noticed how women are pressed to stand by their abusers, cover for them, and take the blame for their wickedness?  It starts right here, where people blame the woman for correctly dropping the dime on Satan.  The woman told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and as we shall see, she found life and a great promise, unlike the man.

And the Lord God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly shall you go,
And dust you shall eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.

Satan won this round, but the price was high.  He himself is cursed, unlike the woman, as we shall see, or even the man.  We can win a round against God, getting our own way instead of His, but never without bringing a curse upon ourselves.  In this case, because he shamed the woman, God ordained enmity between them and that the woman whom his deceit had ruined should be the source of his destruction.  It is a high honor, and no curse as some suppose, to be set at enmity with evil, and with Satan in particular.  It brings to mind the prayer of Evan Roberts, "Lord, cause us to love the devil less."  Blessed is the one who sees the need to pray that way, and highly blessed is this woman to whom it was granted to be the enemy of the devil..

That enmity is nowhere more evident than in how Satan perverts the words of Scripture to persecute women, in the same fashion that he quoted Scripture against Jesus in the wilderness.  This is especially clear in the entire story of the fall, and most especially the words that follow, in which God spoke directly to the woman.  As we shall see, Satan and those held captive by him also pervert Paul's words about women in the same way.

To the woman He said,

I will greatly multiply your pain and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Yet your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.

Then to Adam He said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
And have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you,
"You shall not eat from it,"
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you shall eat the plant of the field;
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The word to woman is generally counted a curse, but how foolish!  There's no word of cursing here.  There is pain, but it is the pain of victorious battle - among the children brought forth in pain would be the Seed who would destroy the Serpent.  And that Seed would fulfill the nature of His mother, destroying the Serpent through a life of labor pains, leading to the ultimate act of bringing forth children through the death of the cross.  In Her Seed, her pains find fulfillment, thus reconciling even male and female through the cross and resurrection, in which His pains were forgotten as a woman forgets the pain of childbirth in her joy over new life.

In spite of this pain, her desire would be to her husband, and he would rule over her.  Here the sons of the serpent reveal how in tune they are with the serpent's enmity against the woman, because they seize upon this as justification for keeping women under the dominion of men.  But we read here that the reason for this dominion is not God's ordinance but her desire.  In exactly the same way that the woman would return to her husband from whom she was taken, God tells the man that he would return to the dust from which he was taken.

But I never hear it argued that God has therefore ordained that man is to be subject to the dust and return to it.  Everyone recognizes that this is a manifestation of death arising out of alienation from God.  What power of darkness hides from their eyes that the woman returning to the man from whom she was taken is exactly the same manifestation of death, a symptom of alienation from God's life?  These are parallel reversals of the life-giving act of creation that took man out of the dust and woman out of the man - each sinking back to where he and she were taken from.

Now the man called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

And indeed she is.  As we see in this account, she became so in the most humble way, by simply telling the truth when God asked her about her sin.  And we are invited to do likewise.

It's certainly true that it's easy to read this account in a way that is hostile to women.  If that's wrong and abhorrent to God, then why does He make it so easy?

I think the best way to explain this is by a couple of examples.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told "to some who considered themselves righteous and despised others" a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray.  Some therefore read the parable and know it's not directed to them because they aren't like the Pharisee who considers himself righteous and despises others.  So they consider themselves righteous and despise the Pharisee, saying to themselves, "Thank you Lord that I'm not like him!"  It turns out that the parable is intended for everybody, but presented so as to invite the conceited to think it's not for them - and so they are deprived of its truth, sent away empty, fulfilling the word of Mary the mother of Jesus.

1 Peter 3:1 says for wives to be submissive to their own husbands in order to win them by good behavior without a word, if they are disobedient to the word.  It's clearly meant for women, who need to know their place, not for men, right?  Well, let's look a little closer.  In saying "likewise," it refers to the example given right before, which is Jesus, who endured silently before His persecutors, who were disobedient to the word.  It also refers to that other son of man, Ezekiel the prophet, who when he was sent to the rebellious house, was unable to speak and gave them instead an object lesson (Ezekiel 3:26-4:8).  Since the advice draws from the example of two males, it's quite obvious that this advice is for everybody, not just women - unless you're a man disposed to think women your inferiors.  In that case, God has arranged to hide this word from you.  He gives grace to the humble, but if you're proud He resists you, blinding you by means of your own conceit.

So we come to certain words of Paul the apostle that are used against women.

Peter the apostle said that Paul said some things that were hard to understand, which the unstable and unlearned twist to their own destruction.  The conceited will know this doesn't describe them and not worry about it, but others will figure that if Peter sometimes found Paul's words difficult, then we might have a problem too, and can use any help there is.

A good place to start is with Paul's own instruction on how not to misunderstand him.  In 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul cleared up a misunderstanding - and his advice should interest anyone else who doesn't want to misunderstand him: "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.  I did not mean at all with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world."

Paul originally wrote simply the unconditional order not to associate with immoral people, but his readers were wrong to understand it that way.  How can this be?  If I have a date with Motor Vehicle and I call them to say I'll be a couple of minutes late, they might say, "OK, just get here as fast as you can."  Do they really mean unconditionally that I'm supposed to go as fast as my car can go without hitting somebody, running all the red lights I meet on the way?  No, their instruction is set in the context of the prior understanding that Motor Vehicle wants me to obey traffic laws.

Paul, then, like other human beings, expects his words to be understood in the context of prior truth.  So, since his hearers knew that God had put them in the world to be like Jesus who ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners in order to restore them to health, Paul expected them to understand his statement in that context.  As Paul told Herod Agrippa (Act 26:22), he said nothing except what Moses and the prophets said would happen.  You don't have to trust Paul to know that his enemies would have held him to this discipline.  And being the apostle of Jesus Christ, was he about to contradict Jesus?

Let's then consider a couple of Paul's difficult sayings:

Let your women keep silence in the churches for they are not permitted to speak, but to be submissive, as the law also says.  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

The first point often overloooked is that they're supposed to ask their husbands at home.  Not all women have husbands.  All wives do, and "woman" and "wife" are exactly the same in Greek, so it's evident that our first problem here is mistranslation.  In this context it should be wives, not women, since the advice given can apply only to wives, and not to women who are not wives and therefore have no husbands to ask.  Let's try it again with the right English word:

Let your wives keep silence in the churches for they are not permitted to speak, but to be submissive, as the law also says.  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for wives to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Now we can get to what "the law also says," since the law says nothing about women in general not being permitted to speak, but it does say something about wives.  The law says that if a wife makes a vow, her husband may annul it, although if he keeps silent day by day, it stands.  In general, the man is the head of the wife and ultimately responsible for the positions the family takes in the world.  For this reason, when the husband and wife are together in the church, it's his responsibility to speak, although this can certainly be delegated, as we see for example in Priscilla and Aquila, or in Phoebe the deaconness - not to mention Deborah the judge and prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth.

It's written specifically to women, but, again, is it only to women?  I remember listening to a woman preaching and considering, as she spoke, that in just the same way I was not permitted to speak while she was preaching.  Right then it would have been shameful for me to speak in just the same way that Paul wrote about here.  Indeed, as Paul clearly wrote elsewhere, everybody is supposed to be submissive, and no one should speak until it's his turn and God gives him something profitable to say.  In fact, immediately before this passage Paul gives exactly this instruction to everyone, concluding "you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted" (1 Cor. 14:31).  Even in its most immediate context, it's quite obvious that Paul could not possibly have intended for this instruction to be unconditional.  "You all can prophesy" clearly includes wives and certainly women in general.  If they're supposed to prophesy they are certainly supposed to speak, and not to remain silent.

Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.  For it was Adam who was first formed, then Eve.  And not Adam was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived fell into transgression.  But they shall be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

It's pretty clear on its face, isn't it?  But then so was Paul's direction not to keep company with evildoers.  So although someone will accuse me of trying to explain Paul's words away because I don't like them, I am not ashamed to take the man's own advice on how to understand them.  This looks like it might be one of those hard to understand words Peter was talking about, so let's look at it very carefully as one normally does with things that are hard to understand.  One thing is sure.  As Peter warned us, we certainly can expect to get it wrong if we're not careful.

We can't understand this passage until we understand the value of submissiveness.  The reason women are called to be submissive is that submissiveness is a good thing, the way to high position.  As Paul writes to both male and female in Philippians 2, we are all to let this mind be in us which was in the Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ.  He became submissive even to the death of the cross in order to fulfill the promise to the woman that her Seed would trample the Serpent and be the redeemer of mankind and the whole universe.  The example for the submissiveness Paul teaches in this passage is actually the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you think submissiveness is for the inferior, because that's their place, and that that is why Paul prescribes it for women, you have no clue.

The basis of Paul's teaching here is Adam and Eve in the original creation.  It's not a cultural matter; it's fundamental.  If the teaching is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hebrew Scriptures are the context in which to understand it - not some of them but all, because Paul tells us that he teaches nothing except what the Law and the Prophets declare must happen.  They make it obvious that in fact women are often to teach and exercise authority over men, with God's hearty approval.  Deborah the prophetess judged all Israel, which is certainly teaching and exercising authority over men.  The wife of Manoah certainly taught her husband (Judges 13:23).  The early chapters of Proverbs take pains to tell the son not to forsake his mother's teaching.

Well then, what problem was Paul speaking of?  We need to look at what Paul was showing us - how Eve fell into transgression.

Her problem was simply that she responded unadvisedly, as seemed best in her own eyes.  A close parallel is how Joshua and the elders of Israel were deceived by the Gibeonites (Joshua 9) because they followed what they saw, as Eve did, instead of inquiring of the Lord - and these were all men.  How is a woman to fulfill her maternal, female function of teaching the law of kindness (Proverbs 31:26) while avoiding the unsubmissive presumption that caused Eve to stumble?

A few examples:

While Sarah called Abraham her lord, she was not afraid to say to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid will not be an heir with my son Isaac" (Genesis 21:11).  And God backed her up, saying, "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her" (Genesis 21:12).  As the Roman centurion realized about Jesus (Matthew 8:8-9), the key to Sarah's authority here was her submissiveness.  She could tell Abraham what to do because the only issue was truth, not who was boss.  In the same way, Abraham's submissiveness to God gave him freedom even to tell God what to do (Genesis 18:25).

Abigail the wife of Nabal of Carmel learned that Nabal had sent David's messengers away with insolence.  Learning that Nabal had earned punishment and knowing that he could not be reasoned with, she took the initiative to bring David's men the provisions Nabal had refused to give them.  She could have gone along with Nabal's will and thereby brought about his destruction.  Instead she rejected his decision in order to save his life and therefore his authority.  Although he was no fun to live with, she honored his authority even when that required acting against his wishes, and God backed her up (1 Samuel 25).

Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, knowing that her husband was at peace with Sisera, pinned his head to the ground with a tent peg.  In this way she assured that her husband would not be swept away with Sisera as his ally.  The Bible takes pains to call her "most blessed of women" (Judges 5:24-27).

These women and a number of others like them are the examples Paul had in mind as he wrote.  There is one more to consider, the Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ.  This man was saved through His death on the cross into the resurrection because He continued in "faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."   In this way, He brought forth a new people descended from Him through that death.

Paul's statement is designed to look really ugly if we read into it ugly things - arrogance, contempt for submissiveness and for women, self-assertion, and the spirit of modern revolution - and if we reject the wisdom of God and His law of kindness.  It turns out that it is like the rest of the Bible, a mirror.  The ugliness we see is in our own hearts, as we read it into the passage.  Instead of passing judgment on Paul's word, God invites us to accept its diagnosis of our own hearts and be cured, whether we're men or women.  Indeed, is Paul requiring of women any more than Jesus had to do?  And if Jesus had to go there, doesn't every man who means to follow Him?

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