Religion has often been used as an excuse for inequality between men and women. Historically, and even today within many world religions, women find themselves restricted in what they are allowed: in their appearance, their behavior, and of course their opportunities. I wish I could say that has never been true within the faith I hold, Christianity, but throughout time Biblical texts have been pulled out and used to justify the bad behavior of men and reduce the importance of women.
It is in the source of my faith, the Bible, that I look for the answer when exploring the different positions found in the culture of religions. But, when seeking answers to specific questions, it is imperative that we glean from the entirety of Scripture, not relying on a single verse, to find the most precise and accurate answer.
The establishment of equality begins at the very start of humanity, according to Genesis 1:27, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them” (NLT). In this text, there is no caveat that either gender held more of God’s nature or qualities than the other. Equality was founded in creation and was never deviated from throughout all of the Bible.
With few exceptions, the Old Testament followed cultural norms by assigning women to a specific status within their communities. Often divided by gender, the roles women filled were considered less than, not equal to their male counterparts. The New Testament provided clarity through the life of Christ on many subjects, including the value of women. As Jesus walked the earth, it was the defiance of cultural norms that upended the treatment of women in the world of men. He elevated their status by his very words and actions.
Did you know?
Christ’s first miracle was performed when his mother asked him to (John 2:1-11).
The first revelation that he was the Messiah was to a woman (John 4:25- 26).
The most astounding miracle he performed was in response to a request by two women (John 11:1-44).
Women were members of his group of disciples (Mark 15:41).
Following his resurrection, his first appearance was to a woman (John 20:1- 16).
The very first people who were commissioned to be evangelists were women (Matthew 28:1- 10; John 20:17).
The Spirit of God was given equally to men and women at Pentecost (Acts 2:17).
The first church in Europe began with a group of women and met in the home of a woman (Acts 16:13-15).
The early church staff included many women (Romans 16:12, Philippians 4:3).
The very inclusion of these interactions says to me that God wanted women to understand their value, importance, and their worth in a culture that spoke quite the opposite. There have been attitudes within our faith since that time that have sought to diminish that value when the life of Christ said just the opposite.
It leads one to wonder: if Jesus’ treatment of women set the standard, why do we still have some within the circles of the Christian faith who continue to treat women in a domineering and disrespectful manner? Recently, an article written by Beth Moore spoke of the sometimes-condescending attitudes from men in ministry and frustration she has experienced. As a woman who has studied the Bible for more years than some of those with attitudes toward her have been alive, it seems she should have earned at the very least a little bit of respect. Perhaps those young pups were merely demonstrating their youth and yet-to-be-acquired wisdom. Whether male or female, I believe that anyone who has studied Scripture and maintained a solid reputation is worthy of being listened to and treated with dignity.
Equality was founded in creation and was never deviated from throughout all of the Bible.
I recently read a story of Billy Graham that spelled out the influence a woman can have on a man of God. Before his ministry exploded in Los Angeles, California, he had just come off a very unsuccessful crusade in Pennsylvania. Discouragement and doubt led to a discussion with a fellow evangelist, Charles Templeton, which caused him to question his faith. It was in this season that Mr. Templeton, who had been a preacher with Youth for Christ, was embracing the philosophy that the Bible could not be fully trusted and the preaching that Rev. Graham was espousing was outdated. He sought to use that explanation to address the lack of success that had so discouraged the young evangelist.
It was during this time that Billy Graham accepted an invitation to speak at a conference center under the direction of Dr. Henrietta Mears. It was on those grounds amidst conversations with Dr. Mears, whose beliefs were the polar opposite of those held by Mr. Templeton, that he surrendered his doubt. Alone in the woods, his prayer of surrender and belief launched the most impactful ministry of the last two centuries. What if he had listened to the opinions of a man over a woman just because of their gender? Wisdom can indeed come from both and should never be discarded merely because a woman espouses it.
This conversation seems to lead us to the next one—indeed the more difficult one.
What does one do with the text about the submission of wives to their husbands in Ephesians 5? Does this text contradict the rest of the Bible that speaks to the equality of men and women? Or is there a healthy balance to be found?
I honestly hate the word submission. Not just because it seems contrary to my “take care of business” nature that makes it easy for me to dismiss, but because of how it has so often been abused. When it is not seen in the context of the entire chapter, but pulled out to justify one gender imposing dominance over another, it has been used to accept behavior that cannot be justified within the whole of the Bible.
As a Christian woman, if your husband is abusive, does submission mean you accept this behavior? The answer is no. If your husband doesn’t share your faith and tells you to abandon it, do you submit? The answer is no. What if your husband uses Ephesians 5 to live a selfish life with no consideration for you his wife? If that’s true, he has not read the entire chapter, and I would say counseling is in order. It’s the cherry picking to serve one’s purposes that I think creates a problem.
The definition of this word, submission, is the act of accepting or yielding to the will of another, the synonyms include capitulation, compliance, and acceptance. The antonyms to this word are defiance, non-cooperation, and insolence.
I believe that the right interpretation of this text comes somewhere between capitulation and defiance.
A woman who chooses to create peace in her home by expecting her husband to love her in the way Christ loved the church and learn to depend upon his leadership can find peace in this discussion.
What this doesn’t mean is that we check our brain at the door. Nor does it indicate we should be absent opinions or surrender our standards. And it most certainly does not mean we are any less than the man in our lives. But the ability to follow the lead of another creates harmony and peace. It’s true in organizations, true in churches, true in business, and true in families.
God wanted women to understand their value, importance, and their worth in a culture that spoke quite the opposite.
I think what is frequently dismissed in this conversation is the portion of Ephesians 5 that follows the one discussing submission. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). There is a mutual submission displayed in the entirety of Ephesians 5. Should husbands choose to emulate Christ, which is what is instructed here, they are willing even to surrender their very lives for their wives. In genuinely following the path Christ walked, a man would leave his comfort and face pain, torment, and humiliation, reflecting a love that by example revolutionized the world.
I believe what is indeed demonstrated in the entirety of this text is a mutual submission of wills. Marriage in its most beautiful and successful form joins two into one. Both with the goal of a creating a healthy, vibrant relationship, one designed to truly exemplify the love and surrender of the God we serve.
The very fact that women have played a valuable role throughout Scripture and throughout history should undergird our importance. Jesus’ sacrifice to bridge the gap between sinful man and a holy God served not only to enable us to enter into his kingdom but taught us how to live until we do. He lived a life without prejudice, treating all men and women equal. He taught us, by his life, the definition of true, sacrificial love. He humbled himself and showed us how to do the same. He treated men and women equally because that’s what he knows us to be. From creation to the end of the age, this is true. We have jobs to do, roles to fill, and needs to meet.
May we find that balance—the landing place between compliance and defiance, creating peace in our home by the respect we give to the man whom God has called to lead it. But never forgetting our worth, as the apostle, Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are . . . heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). My friend, we are equal; today and every day; the source of everything I hold dear tells me so.