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Objections to Biblical Limitations on Woman's Role

by Bobby Graham

From beginning to end under every dispensation, the Bible is clear about the role of woman in relation to men.   Hers is a secondary role of submission to her husband in the family and to men in the local church (Ephesians 5:22-24; I Corinthians 14:34-35; I Timothy 2:8-15).   Whatever the culture, Lord always dictated His will on such matters on some other basis than culture.   What the Scriptures mandated along this line was never the reflection of society’s norms (current practice), though Christians were urged to conform to those norms not in conflict with God’s will.  

Instead of leading, they submit to their husbands or to elders.   God consistently has placed man in the primary position of leadership.   The wife/woman cannot submit to God without submitting also to her husband or to her elders.     In the congregational relationship and in that of the family, elders and husbands also must submit to their wives/women in the exercise of their leadership (Ephesians 5:21, 28; I Peter 5:2-3).   Under the headship of the husband, the wife also has a charge from God to guide the household (I Timothy 5:14).   To discharge her task in this guidance, she submits first to her husband and then to her own family, because she must act in the best interests of her charges, not of herself alone.

This kind of teaching has become the focus of attack from those unwilling to accept the teaching of the New Testament.   They have objected to this idea that there are limitations imposed on women in the Scriptures.   A consideration of these objections is the purpose of this study.

Woman Haters 

The unique role of woman in the home and in the church does not denigrate her worth, quality, dignity, or significance.   Her divine assignment, in fact, serves to accentuate her supreme worth in the areas in which God has positioned her to function.   Those objecting to woman’s subjection have historically decried the writers of the Bible as woman-hating chauvinists, while the opposite is really the truth of the matter.   Many have labeled Paul and others as despisers of women who were trying to oppress them.   It was quite common to hear some modernist charge Paul with being an old bachelor who neither understood or cared for women.   Such a charge is altogether inconsistent with their writings.   No one can fairly conclude this about Paul after reading his instructions to the husbands concerning their tender and gentle treatment of their wives.   No more exalted status has ever been given to women that that they enjoy in the ideals and principles of the New Testament.   Neither Rome, nor Greece, nor traditional Judaism, nor the current modern “liberation” movement accords them such honor.   In view of the elevating and ennobling influence of the teaching of Christ on women, there is absolutely no evidence for this charge.

Cultural Bias

Earlier we have alluded to this allegation.   Some have recently referred to Biblical restrictions on the role of women as merely cultural, reflecting the biases of the society of that ancient day.   The truth stands out as quite different.   Every passage dealing with such restrictions has within it the reasons for the restrictions, and they never were cultural.   In I Corinthians 11 and 14, the apostle very carefully showed that the reasons behind the limitations were related to the creation and to divine law.   Likewise in I Timothy 2, some of the same reasons were given for the restrictions imposed, with the additional one of woman’s being thoroughly deceived in Satan’s temptation.   Paul’s admission that woman enjoys the first-class status of a full-fledged member of Christ’s body and his insistence that Christians live according to God’s will, not the norms and standards of society, shows the gospel of Christ to be trans-cultural and counter-cultural  (Galatians 3:28; Romans 12:2), not merely reflective of current society.

Historic Abuse Demands Liberation  

The claim is that society (including religious leadership) has always deprived women of their deserved place, and that even husbands have abused their wives.   According to the vocal proponents of such ideas, women now deserve to have their shackles removed.   Let it be understood that no defense is made here for any society or religious leaders who promoted female enslavement, either officially or unofficially.   No such abuse or deprivation of God-given rights or dignity ought ever to exist, though it sometimes has happened and still happens.   Such never resulted from an application of biblical principles; in fact, the understanding and application of them would immediately erase all such abuse and mistreatment.   Marriage as established and governed by God has never resulted in “institutional slavery, as Hillary Clinton once charged.   Divine restrictions must still be respected.   Historic mistreatment of women does not justify anyone’s disregard of what the Lord has said.   Furthermore, the limitations of the Scriptures will not hinder any woman from performing all of the service that God designs and desires.  

Use Their Gift 

Women who are blessed with a gift from God ought to able to use that gift, according to even “conservative” religious people.   One able to be a public speaker or lead a church ought to be able to function as a preacher or a pastor, it is claimed.   While this argument might sound good to some, may we recall that such a line of reasoning (?) has never been followed in the New Testament as justification for any role or function.    If you can find it, then send the information to this writer.   It is important for all to use whatever abilities they have from God, but within the framework of God’s will.   No talent would ever allow anyone to go beyond the teaching of Christ or to ignore the restrictions found there (II John 9).   Women might sometimes function as teachers/speakers, if they maintain the restrictions.

Equal Position Based on Equal Nature  

While woman has a nature equal to that of man, she does not have the same position or function that God gave to man.   It might be useful to remember that Jesus on earth had equal ability with the Father at His disposal, but not equal position.   In His decision to leave heaven for redemption’s work, the Lord voluntarily gave up His heavenly rank and glory to become a servant (Philippians 2:5-8).   He never gave up His divine nature.   Position (function) bears little relation to nature or worth; it relates more to divine assignment, which is sometimes based on need and qualification.   Rank and position do not reflect value and importance of work in anybody’s case—Jesus’ or ours.

No Limitations Now

The contention is often heard that Galatians 3:28 removes all distinctions based on one’s sex, in that “there is neither male nor female.”   In the context of this verse, however, Paul is not even hinting that all of these distinctions are removed.   If this were his point, why would he direct a slave to return to his master in the Letter to Philemon, thus indicating that the master-slave relationship still obtained?   If this were Paul’s point, why did he allow some Jewish national customs to continue without religious connection (like circumcision in the case of Timothy)?   His point is that these distinctions do not bar one from full status in the church, enjoying all blessings in Christ.   A Greek woman can be a Christian as readily as a Jewish man.

This writer has heard nothing from the proponents of “full rights for the women” that would overturn this teaching.   The problem, as too often is the case, is that many will not allow the Lord’s teaching to overturn (correct) their notions or ideas.   The only rights that any person — male or female — has are those that the Lord has given and the Bible recognizes.   No one has the right to differ with God!