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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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The biblical account of the origins of the human race makes it clear that humankind, as existing in God’s image, consists of people of two sexes who are equal in status and worth in God’s sight (Genesis 1:27). The male and the female, though of opposite sexes, are complementary to each other. As partners they form a unit (Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:23). (For details relating to the role of women in marriage and the family see MARRIAGE; WIFE; FAMILY.)

Wrong attitudes corrected

Through the different physical, psychological and emotional characteristics he placed within the sexes, God equipped men and women for different roles in human society. He gave the ultimate responsibility for leadership to the man, but when sin entered the human race, the man misused his position to dominate the woman (Genesis 3:16). As societies developed, men increasingly denied women their rights and exploited them.

Israelite law helped restore the status of women by giving them rights in matters such as marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; cf. Genesis 24:57-58), divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), work (Deuteronomy 15:12) and inheritance (Numbers 27:8). Some women were prophets (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; Luke 2:36) and some rose to prominent positions in the nation’s leadership (Numbers 12:4; Judges 4:4-6; Judges 5:7; 2 Kings 22:14-16).

Both the words and the works of Jesus show that he treated women no differently from men. His openness with women was a surprise and a rebuke to those men who considered women inferior (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 7:36-50; Luke 10:38-42; John 4:7-27; John 8:1-11; John 11:5; John 11:20-33). A number of women, having become believers in Jesus, travelled with him and the apostles to help look after their everyday needs. During the events surrounding his trial and crucifixion, some of these women were more faithful to him than were the apostles (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41; Mark 16:1-2).

Women in the church

Life in the early church demonstrated that there is no difference between men and women in their status as believers (Galatians 3:28), their reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18), or their possession of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

Women prayed and prophesied publicly (Acts 1:14; Acts 21:9), though the custom was that when they did so they covered their heads (1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Corinthians 11:16). This practice was apparently to maintain harmony with what local people considered to be culturally acceptable (1 Corinthians 11:6; 1 Corinthians 11:13). Paul saw in it a reflection of the woman’s role in God’s order for church and society (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9), though he did not see it as meaning that she was inferior to the man (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).

Paul was always concerned that public meetings of the church be orderly (1 Corinthians 14:40). Just as he expected the speaker in tongues to be silent when no interpreter was present (1 Corinthians 14:28), and the speaker of prophecy to be silent when another person received a revelation (1 Corinthians 14:29-30), so he expected the women to be silent when they were tempted to question the speaker (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Although Paul permitted women to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:4; cf. Acts 2:17; Acts 21:9), he would not permit them to be the authoritative teachers or leaders of the church. He believed that, in general, they were more likely than men to be misled by false teaching (1 Timothy 2:12-14; cf. 2 Timothy 3:6-7). He considered that women should regard their first responsibility as bringing up their children to know and follow God (1 Timothy 2:15; 1 Timothy 5:14).

However, not all women have children. This indicates that Paul was not laying down a fixed law to be applied in all cases (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:34). Rather he was expressing what he considered to be a general principle. He himself acknowledged that at times a woman may have a more prominent teaching role than her husband (Acts 18:2; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3-4; 2 Timothy 4:19). Many women worked with him and used their spiritual gifts in a variety of ministries (Acts 16:13-15; Romans 16:7; Romans 16:12-15; Philippians 4:2-3). Women were recognized for their work in the churches (Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:10) and served alongside men as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:11). But there were times when women were just as guilty as men in leading people astray through false teaching (Revelation 2:20).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Women'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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