Introduction to the Role of Women

One of the more debated issues in all of Christian theology is that of the role of women. There are varying views on the issue, and even varying views within the major overall views. So I would like to take some time (maybe a few weeks or so) to consider the matter of the role of women, not only in the church, but also in the home.

The first thing I would like to do is present what are probably the three major views on the topic at hand. Then, I want to close this introductory article by sharing some thoughts to consider as we approach Scripture. The three viewpoints around the role of women are as follows:

The Traditional View

The first view could be summarised as the most stringent of the three. Within this view, proponents have somewhat tended to regard men as superior to women, both within the church and outside the church. In former times, such as the patriarchal structure of the biblical world, a woman could even have been viewed as the property of her husband. But the traditional view, from a more modern perspective, would not tend to hold to such a strong belief.

Still, from the modern traditional view, the man is called to be the head within the home and the wife should be completely submissive to his leadership. The major role and function of the woman is that of homemaker and, thus, women might even be encouraged to not hold jobs outside the home. It is mainly the man’s responsibility to provide for the family. Specifically, within the local church community, women are not to have any major roles or responsibilities in regards to ministry. It is men that are given the responsibility of leading the church and its various ministries.

The Complementarian View

This view could be considered the more moderate view. In the structure of the home, this school of thought sees a mutual and complementary role existing between husband and wife, but the man still carries the lead headship role. Within society in general, it is completely acceptable for women to hold jobs outside the home.

In regards to roles within the church, women are allowed to function in ministry opportunities and other responsibilities. But, with reference to oversight and leadership, women are to be in submission to men. Thus, in this view, women can be given the freedom to lead such things as children’s ministries, women’s ministries, as well as serving in other ministry areas. But, and this is where we have varying views within a major view, it is possible that complementarians will either a) not allow women to teach men or exercise authority over them, or b) allow women to preach/teach with men in the context, but they are not to exercise authority in any main leadership role.

The Egalitarian View

This view could be considered the more liberal view of the three, though the word ‘liberal’ is a bit of a misnomer. Advocates of the egalitarian view do not believe men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes. But they believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church. Specifically, within the church, women should be given complete freedom in expressing their gifts and callings in God, and this extends into leadership roles, even if that leadership role is over other men.

Other Thoughts To Consider

What we must realise when it comes to this issue, as with most biblical-theological issues, is that we approach the Scriptures with the lenses of our particular background, culture and upbringing. What I mean is that, with this issue (and most others), we cannot just read a few passages like 1 Corinthians 11:3 or 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and unequivocally conclude that we can easily understand what is going on within the historical-biblical context. It’s just not that easy. Oh, if only it were!

Yes, as you guessed, I am egalitarian (though I am not a fan of that word due to the baggage it might carry in some people’s minds). But I’m not an advocate for chucking out the Scripture nor explaining away passages. But I am also not a fan of quoting a few of our favourite passages that seem to support our position and think we have dotted all our i’s and crossed all our t’s. Again, it is not that simple.

Let me give you another example where this has been done in the past. There was a day when slavery was thought to be a good practise supported by Scripture itself. Many proponents could quote their favourite passages as well, such as Ephesians 6:5-9. But, here we are a couple hundred years later and we know that slavery is an unacceptable practise. It is not ultimately at the heart of God.

Or, there was a day when we believed that the calling of women was to stay at home, raise the children and run the house. One hundred years ago, one could not fathom a woman working outside the home. Some probably even considered it wrong (i.e. sin). But, here we are now decades later and such a restriction seems quite foreign.

So, as we approach the all-important passages on the roles of women, we are going to have to be careful that we at least be aware that we could be approaching the passages with our own cultural lenses on. Now, this is not so easy to alleviate – for both you and I. Simply knowing that we might be approaching Scripture with lenses doesn’t mean we can always ascertain which passages we are viewing wrongly. But at least being aware of such can cause us to be open that we might just be reading a passage not as it was intended by the author.

As I continue this series over a few weeks, I will approach 9 major biblical passages that usually arise in the discussion. Those 9 passages can be split into four categories:

  1. The creation  – Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-22; Genesis 3:16
  2. The new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Galatians 3:27-29
  3. The church – 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
  4. The home – 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24

Following a discussion of those passages, I will look at other particular issues within this topic such as an overview of women in Scripture, can women be elders (which is the word for the major leadership role in the local church) and head coverings. I hope that, even if we don’t agree, this can at least bring good discussion.


97 thoughts on “Introduction to the Role of Women

  1. Thanks Scott. I did that twice in my post yesterday, copied and pasted a section from yours, and also from Scott J’s. As you see, the goblins deleted the text of both 😦

    Would it possibly be because I bracketed both quotes with <>? (double mirrored arrows…just in case these ones don’t come out either!). Is that some kind of ‘delete’ shortcut? Maybe I better try quoting with just quote marks 🙂

  2. Aha, yes, double mirrored arrows must be a ‘delete’ shortcut. that took out the xxx I had between the arrows, and only left one arrow each side. OK, well now I know what not to do.

  3. This discussion appears to be quite interesting but I am a little confused. There seems to be a great deal of reference and reliance being made upon the writings of men and the concern of the cultural implications of the roles of men and women outlined in Scripture. I was just wondering what approach to Scripture that is being followed.

    I personally accept the Bible to be plenarily inspired and supra-cultural. When that approach is taken with Scripture I believe it eliminates a great deal of confusion on this subject. I make a great effort to no overlay American cultural presuppositions or norms when examining Scripture as it usually results in a biblical interpretation and practice that is unique to American culture.

    For the record I am probably what would be classified as a complementarian. My primary reasons for this are the example of Scripture, the explicit commands of Scripture, and the purpose of these roles as described in Ephesians 5:32.

    Just an aside on the authority issue–I can only remember one period in Scripture that the Bible records every person doing what was right in their own eyes and it was in the days of the Judges. God clearly establishes human authority in the lives of His people from the beginning of Scripture and continues this pattern until the end. I appreciate the post that pointed out that someone’s abuse of a biblical practice does not negate the necessity for that biblical practice.

    Well that’s all for now.

  4. Wesley –

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I personally accept the Bible to be plenarily inspired and supra-cultural. When that approach is taken with Scripture I believe it eliminates a great deal of confusion on this subject. I make a great effort to no overlay American cultural presuppositions or norms when examining Scripture as it usually results in a biblical interpretation and practice that is unique to American culture.

    The Scripture and gospel message as a whole are definitely supra-cultural. That is what is so awesome. But not every single aspect is supra-cultural, is it? Again, examples are slavery, women’s clothing as in 1 Tim 2, head coverings, etc. Neither was a lot of things laid out in the OT which were given to a theocratic nation. It’s much neater and easier to claim it is all supra-cultural and not time sensitive. But I think that is misleading.

    It doesn’t mean we simply chuck out whatever we want. But, also, we must recognise that there are not 7 easy steps to figure out what is time sensitive and what is for all time sake. And we can even gleam wisdom from those things that were given as time/culture sensitive.

    We all look to make an effort to not bring our cultural presuppositions into Scripture. But, guess what? It happens and it happens a lot. And has been for a long time. It doesn’t mean we give up on reading, studying and understanding Scripture. But it means that we have to stay humble and think that we just might not have it all together.

    So, we shall start with Scripture. Or that is my desire. I will start in Genesis 1 next week. But it isn’t as easy as quoting a few passages to back up our point. We have to jump into that culture, ask if a certain practise was time sensitive and cultural, or was it given for all time sake. And that is not the easy task.

    • ScottL: “So, we shall start with Scripture. Or that is my desire. I will start in Genesis 1 next week. But it isn’t as easy as quoting a few passages to back up our point. We have to jump into that culture, ask if a certain practise was time sensitive and cultural, or was it given for all time sake. And that is not the easy task.”

      I will just jump in early here to note a few things about starting in Genesis. I was raised to assume that Genesis is the foundation of our worldview, the seed-bed of all subsequent revelation and the pattern for God’s purpose with [hu]mankind. So, it seems, do other contributors here.

      I now no longer look at it this way. I find this view of Genesis arises from, and feeds back into, a shallow and generally material view. Genesis is history, interesting indeed. But it is the prequel to the Old Covenant, a law-based, hierarchical, cursed accommodation to sin. Jesus and the New Covenant is our basis and beginning; we start with him.

      From a New Covenant perspective, Genesis 2-3 is not so much concerned with what Adam and Eve were, and did or didn’t do, but what the allegory reveals of Jesus and his church (believers).

      Heb 1:10 [citing Ps 102:25] tells us the Son [Jesus]… “laid the *foundations* of the earth”. NIV

      John 1:1 In the *beginning* was the Word…10…the world was made through him…14…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…15 John bore witness of him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for *he existed before me*.’” NASB

      Col 1:15 He is the*image of the invisible God, the *firstborn* over *all creation*. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is *before* all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the *head* of the body, the church; he is the *beginning* and the *firstborn* from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the *supremacy*. NIV

      Jesus is the basis; the cornerstone; the solid foundation for the plan and purpose of Creation. Any primacy and privilege in spiritual matters belong to him alone. He is the man to our woman, the Adam to our Eve, and the Creator and Sustainer of our spiritual existence and experience.

      So, to the business end of the above: Adam does *not* represent all men. Eve does *not* represent all women. This is an unspiritual fallacy. Adam represents Jesus. Eve represents all of us, both men and women, in our corporate feminine identity as Jesus’ bride/wife.

      • Deb –

        I am very good to see Genesis as foundational. I don’t think it is the final say. That belongs to Christ and the new covenant. And since we are new covenant believers who are in Christ, we are called to centre our theology in Him. But Genesis 1 (especially ‘pre-fall’, before sin & death) is going to be helpful and foundational.

      • Haha, Scott, now you’re trying to get me in trouble…as if I am not in enough trouble already Man!! (or should that be “Woman!!”?)

        How did you do the italics and bolds above? Sorry, no blog sense…yet.

  5. Okay Scott. I will keep an eye out for your post on Genesis 1.

    I do find it interesting that we relegate to culture of the time the tenants of Scripture that are uncomfortable for us culturally. You mentioned 1 Corinthians 11 as an example. It is common in most places in the world for women to be veiled or have their heads covered as it was here in the early years of America. Now we observe the men uncovering their heads but do not observe the women covering theirs. It was cultural for the women but scriptural for the men. The inconsistency in our application of this passage is glaring. You also mentioned slavery. That as well does not seem to be a topic governed by time or culture considering that statistics indicate that there are more slaves currently on the continent of Africa than there were in the American colonies at any given time. Since slavery never ended on earth as a whole then there are still those who would find 1 Corinthians 7’s instruction to not be concerned if they are converted and a slave but realize they are God’s freeman. It seems that only the instructions that are contained in the church epistles for the purpose of establishing the practices of Christians in the churches seems to have to be examined in light of a culture that has long since ceased to exist. I am of the mindset that if these things were not valid for the churches in all ages and all cultures it would have went the way of the epistle written by Paul to the church at Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:16. Doesn’t it seem strange that Paul is the only one warning of people refusing to consent to the doctrine being taught in his epistles (1 Timothy 6) and being contentious (1 Corinthians 11) about these teachings in opposition to Christian practice. It seems God is always one step ahead of us.

    I look forward to the remainder of the discussion. Thanks for the hospitality ScottL.

  6. Where are all of these people coming from, Scott? I tuned out for a few days and returned to find you’ve got a tiger by the tail. Search engines are amazing.

    It will be good to get into Genesis. God’s words but crazy stuff.

    -7 days with mornings and evenings but no sun until the 4th day
    -talking snakes
    – animal naming parade
    -a tree that somehow gives ‘life’ [what’s that all about?]
    -A man gets a surgical removal and a woman is made out of his side

    Go for it.

  7. Yes, good to get into Genesis. But I am not sure I will address those 5 points specifically. And I will refrain from inserting comments on my overall theology of Gen 1-11. That one is just as much a tiger.

    • Haha, Scott, now you’re trying to get me in trouble…as if I am not in enough trouble already 😉 Man!! (or should that be “Woman!!”?)

      How did you do the italics and bolds above? Sorry, no blog sense…yet.

  8. Deb –

    Yes, there are varying views with complementarianism. Most would allow for women to be in quite a variety of ministries. The question usually centres around leadership (or ‘headship’ and ‘authority’).

    • The question usually centres around leadership (or ‘headship’ and ‘authority’).

      Well, Scott, it seems to me that this is where an ‘egalitarian’ who also believes in church ‘authority’ is compromised. If there is such a thing as ‘headship’ or ‘authority’ in the church, then the dictum “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1Ti 2:12) allows for the validity of men’s authority over women and their unrestricted privilege to teach.

      There are other ways to interpret 1 Tim 2, and I am aware of them. But to me, the simplest and broadest approach is to simply observe that this passage does not allow men to [teach in such a way as to] exercise authority over a woman *either*. It is not allowing or endorsing the converse. That is, Paul is redressing the balance, and not inverting an imbalance, between the genders.

  9. From Bishop N. Tom Wright’s address to the CBE in Durham, 2004, this paragraph regarding the terms ‘egalitarian’ and ‘complementarian’.

    “Second, I do worry a bit about the word ‘equality’ and the language of ‘egalitarian’ and so on. I recognise what is being said of course, and if I didn’t endorse that point I probably wouldn’t be speaking here now; but those words carry so much freight in our various cultures that I do wonder whether it’s wise, whether it actually helps the cause you want to set forward, to highlight those terms in the way you do.

    Not only is the word a red rag to all kinds of bulls who perhaps don’t need to be aggravated in that way (though some may); it is always in danger of being inaccurate, far too broad, implying to many (wrongly of course, but one cannot police what people will hear in technical terms) not only equality but identity.

    Likewise, to use the word ‘complementary’ and its cognates to denote a position which says that not only are men and women different but that those differences mean that women cannot exercise ministry, or some kinds of ministry, within the church, is I think a shame; as I shall suggest, I think the word ‘complementary’ is too good and important a word to let that side of the argument have it all to themselves.”

    For this reason, I don’t use the word ‘complementarian’ to describe those who would silence and sideline women in ministry. I always have a brief confusing moment when I hear or read the word ‘complementarian’ and think “Oh yes, that’s my view”, and then have to remember that hierarch(al)ists have claimed it to mean something quite rigid and exclusive.

  10. Deb –

    Yes, there are many other views on the 1 Tim 2 passage. But we centre too much of our discussion around this passage. I think things start before this in Gen 1 (the original creation) and in Gal 3 (the new creation).

    But I shall come to 1 Tim 2 in a couple of weeks or so.

  11. Pingback: The Role of Women – Genesis 1:26-28 « The Prodigal Thought

  12. Pingback: The Role of Women Revisited, Again | Near Emmaus

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