I am currently enrolled in a college course discussing Western Religions.
Currently the topic is Christianity. For the most part, the information
presented has been bias, and not exactly fair. A recent topic of
discussion has been how the religion may be oppressive to woman. Certain
scriptures that were pointed out were : Ephesians 5:22 (Wives, submit to
your husbands….) and Timothy 2:11(A woman should learn in
quietness…..) I certainly already have my response to this, but I feel I
may lack some proof for them. I hope that you may be able to point out a
few things I may not yet have the wisdom of. Thanks for any help!


The charge that the Bible is opressive to women is certainly not a new
one. I believe this question deserves careful attention, not just a quick
little answer. To think carefully about the “women’s issue,” we must look
both at the big picture and at the details.

First, let us look at the big picture. First of all, consider the world
as it would be outside the influence of the Bible and Jesus’ treatment of
women. Virtually without exception, all human societies have been
extrememly repressive of women. In the Greek world women were virtually
slaves in thier own homes. They were not allowed out of the homes. They
did not own property, they did not have political or economic power. The
Jews treated their women hardly better than the Greeks. A famous Jewish
proverb (I am paraphrasing) was for a Jewish man to pray, “Thank God that
I was not born a Gentile or a woman.”

Now, let us look at Jesus. Jesus had several women in his inner circle of
friends. He freely associated with them in public, despite Jewish
prejudices. His treatment of the Samaritan woman at the well in John
chapter 4 sets a standard which no culture up to that time could even come
close to meeting. Jesus was a revolutionary in his treatment of and
respect for women. Anyone who thinks of Jesus as an enemy of women and
their rights is surely ignorant of his actions.

Paul followed the example of Jesus. In his travels, he frequently
befriended women and let them into his inner circle of friends, using
their leadership liberally. Lydia is pointed out from all the converts in
Philippi. “She and the members of her household were baptized.” (Acts
16:15). It is hard for us to appreciate the significance of this
statement, and of Paul’s relationship with Lydia. Apparently both
Pricilla and Aquila were powerful leaders in the church under Paul’s
leadership. It is not an accident that Luke lists Pricilla first.
Apparently, of the two, Pricilla stood out. She and Aquila taught Apollos
more adequately. Remember that Paul approved of the appointment of
deaconesses in the churches under his care as well (Romans 16:1). In his
list of greetings to the churches in Rome, well over half of the close
friends and associates he mentions are women.

The Bible teaches that all are one in Christ. “There is neither… male
nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26).

Having said all this, there remain statements and commands in the Bible
which imply that although men and women are equal, they are not identical,
and their roles are therefore different. I do not want to pretend that
there are absolutely no statements in the Bible which may offend some of
those who believe the Bible supports the opression of women. The Bible
describes an equal but not identical role in marriage. The husband is to
be the leader and the wife is to be in submission. Taking our cue from
the way Jesus treated women, we can assume that in a Christian home, the
wife’s desires and opinions should carry equal weight to the husband. The
wife definitely should not be treated with disrespect, but should be held
up in the highest honor (1 Peter 3:7,8) and treated with an unrivaled
love. The husband is charged to meet the needs of his wife. Both should
be in submission to each other (Ephesians 5:24), but the wife to the
husband in a somewhat different way than the husband to the wife.

Another passage with which some are uncomfortable is the one you mention
in 1 Timothy 2:11. The biblical role of women in the church is equal to
in importance, but at least in certain situations, men are described as
leaders, and the women are in a more submissive role, at least in the
public realm. Remember that Paul had women who were powerful leaders in
his inner circle. The same applies to Jesus. Nevertheless, when it comes
to appointing elders and evangelists, the Bible implies that these roles
should be taken by men. By the way, it should be noted that Paul
appointed deaconesses. The early churches had a significant role for
women in almost every aspect of church life. It was the influence of the
male-dominated society, especially in Rome, which led to the exclusion of
women from their God-given active role in the church. It is well known
that the Roman church eventually lifted up celibacy and a male-only
priesthood, but this is not supported by the Bible. It is also worth
noting that the more submissive role for women in the Bible is reserved
for marriage and in public leadership roles. There is no general
submission of all women to all men anticipated in the Bible. We can see
examples in the Bible of women teaching men and overseeing ministries with
men under their influence.

Of course, people will debate whether it is “fair” or wise or good for the
Bible to reserve somewhat different roles for women. Not everyone will
agree with God on this one. Exactly how we should apply these principles
in a modern context is debatable to some extent. To what extent the
traditions passed to the early church by Paul and the other apostles is
binding today is an important question which I will not attempt to resolve

To summarize, to a person who feels that men and women are exactly the
same and that they should have the same role in every conceivable
situation, it is possible that they may not agree with biblical teaching
on the topic. If one looks at the Bible and at Christianity in the big
picture, it is not unreasonable to say that the Bible and Christianity
have done more to advance the rights and role of women than any other
force. The Bible does not teach in any way the subjugation or inferiority
of women. It does recognize some inherent differences and advise roles
based on those difference.

John Oakes

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