The Apostle Paul has gotten a lot of flak over the years for his statement that women should be silent in the churches. He's also had plenty of women irritated at him for saying they should submit to their husbands. Yet, while the Bible has been accused of promoting ancient patriarchal social structures or even downright misogyny, the Bible actually promotes women and provides excellent examples of women who were honored.
The Bible was written, just like all books, in a male-dominated society. Yet, even in a time before the 19th Amendment and Title IX, the Bible does a great deal to promote the cause of women. Women are treated with respect in its pages, and not as scapegoats or the property of men as in certain other religions. Even though Eve is credited with taking the first bite of that fruit, she's not faulted with the fall of humanity; Adam is (1 Cor 15:21-22). It's important for us to look at the treatment of women throughout the Bible.
In Exodus 35:25-26, women took part in providing for the tabernacle, the holy tent where God would speak face to face with Moses. These "wise hearted" women used their creativity and skill for the glory of God by spinning beautiful blue, purple, scarlet and linen cloths. Apparently, their hearts were spiritually stirred up to do the work along with the men.
Two books of the Bible, Ruth and Esther, are devoted to the excellent women whose names those books bear. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and therefore the ancestor of Jesus himself, and Esther's courage saved the lives of all the Hebrew people living in the kingdoms ruled by Babylon.
Deborah was a strong woman and a prophetess who judged Israel: "And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." – Judges 4:5
In 2 Kings 22:14-20, Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, Asahiah all went to Huldah the prophetess to receive instruction from the LORD.
Job, one of the most esteemed men who ever lived, gave his daughters an inheritance with their brothers. Job 42:15
God often has compassion for women in the Old Testament, like Hannah (1 Sam 1:2-20), Leah (Gen 29:31), and the two women in 2 Kings 4.
Solomon's statements about women can sometimes be considered humorous. He speaks both of foolish women and of wise women, of ladies wicked and virtuous. He had his share of wives, though, some of whom he apparently wished he could escape, as seen in statements like:
"It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house." - Proverbs 21:9
"It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman." - Proverbs 21:19
"A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike." - Proverbs 27:15
As much as we can enjoy some light-hearted humor at Solomon's expense, his words demonstrate something important; his wives certainly felt free to speak their minds.
And while many women resent her for her perfection, the last chapter of Proverbs is dedicated to describing an especially amazing woman.
Women are treated with great importance in the New Testament. Jesus' decent treatment of women, from prostitutes to foreigners, bordered on scandalous. The Gospels tell of many occasions in which Jesus healed women, even one considered "unclean" according to the Law (Mark 5:25-34; Lev 15:25). Jesus spoke one-on-one with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and on several occasions he came to the defense of women (John 8:3-11,Luke 7:37-50). Women loved him and a group of them followed him (Mark 15:40-41), and some of his most encouraging words were spoken to women (John 11:23-26, 38-40). Mary was welcomed to sit at Jesus' feet (Luke 10:39-42), taking the posture of a disciple. Women were the first to learn of his resurrection (Luke 23:55-24:10), and Mary Magdalene was apparently the first person he appeared to after he rose (John 20:14-17).
Paul is not such a criminal as many women might think. Paul gives one of the most excellent, beautiful descriptions of how a man should treat his wife that can be found anywhere, ancient world or present:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it… So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." -Ephesians 5:25, 28-31
Paul tells men to lay down their lives for their wives, to cherish them, and to love them as they love their own bodies. If all husbands behaved that way toward their wives, women would have no problem respecting their husbands.
Paul gladly accepts the ministry of women on several occasions. Paul, Luke and Silas found a safe house in the home of a certain businesswoman in Thyatira named Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul worked with several women in the ministry, like Priscilla (Rom 16:3), and he speaks with great warmth and appreciation of Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), telling the Romans to "assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you."
And about women keeping silent in churches? In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking about maintaining order during church gatherings. It's notable that just 3 chapters prior, in 1 Cor 11:5, Paul made it clear that women do prophesy. When were they supposed to prophesy then, if not in church gatherings? There have been several female prophets in the Bible, and they spoke to groups that also included men. Anna the prophetess is a notable example (Luke 2:37-38). It's obvious from the context that Paul's purpose was not to subjugate women, but to keep order when the people came together. Some have suggested that women, who were not necessarily literate, had been making a lot of noise during gatherings by asking their husbands questions. It was causing disruption, just as people prophesying all at once caused disruption. Paul finishes the whole section by saying, "Let all things be done decently and in order."
Ultimately, Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." -Galatians 3:28
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Related Links: Was Paul For or Against Women in Ministry? - Enrichment Journal