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What does the Bible say about women’s rights?

I’m likely to get in hot water for this. All I really want to do is ask some questions. There are a lot of people who need to ask and try to answer (for themselves) some key questions that up till now they’ve let others answer for them. So here goes:   What does the Bible say about women…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I’m likely to get in hot water for this. All I really want to do is ask some questions. There are a lot of people who need to ask and try to answer (for themselves) some key questions that up till now they’ve let others answer for them. So here goes:
What does the Bible say about women’s rights?
The best answer to the question may be, “I don’t know, read the Bible for yourself and ask God to help you understand what he meant.” Too often we want other people to do this for us. And too often, self-appointed “theologians” are all too willing to figure out what we should believe, not because they know, but because they have a need to have the matter settled and to be right.
Since the first century, well-meaning theologians have disagreed on even the most basic of doctrines. For example, most of us who believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant believe that Jesus is the son of God, fully man and fully God. But early on, some theologians claimed he was either entirely God or entirely man.
The good news is that God gave us the Holy Spirit as a counselor – when issues get dicey and polemical, he helps us sift out the truth from fiction. He helps us not only discern what passages of Scripture mean, but how they relate to our experience and how to apply them to our lives.
Let’s take a look at a few verses surrounding the issue of women in the Bible, for instance.
  • Gen. 2:24   When a woman marries a man, Scripture says the two become one flesh.
  • 1 Tim. 5:8   The father takes responsibility to care for, provide for, protect, and love his daughter and all those in his family.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:34  Women should not speak in church.
  •  Eph. 5:23  The husband is the head of the wife.
What do you think they mean? Does a married couple become literally “one flesh?” No, this is a figurative statement. Is it possible that Paul was advising the Corinthian women about something that was cultural or even situational (in the sense that some people talk in the middle of a church service and just need to be shushed)? Or does it necessarily mean that women have fewer rights than men?
And after we’re done looking at what Paul said, what are we to make of the sensitive, inclusive way that Jesus treated women? How does that fit into our doctrinal position?
I like women – I’m married to one and have four daughters. So my hope is that God wants them to express themselves. Yet it would probably not serve you for me to establish a doctrinal statement on the matter and absolve you from thinking about and praying through the issue on your own. But that’s what we’re tempted to do about a hundred issues like this one that are not central to the faith. How should a person be baptized? How is the world going to end? Does God prohibit certain instruments from being played in a church service?
Really? Is it more important that we be right and others wrong about these matters than it is to try and make Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers in John 17 come true?
The question of women’s rights is a huge issue. We’re talking about half the human race here. Yet does this need to be a doctrinal dividing line? You might get the theology right and in so doing, be wrong by diminishing others you should be loving. Good people can agree to disagree on this issue and still be brothers. So why not ask God to show you what these Scriptures mean? And then why not allow others the grace to do the same? Why the need to be right? Given how Jesus treated the theologians of his day, maybe what we really need is a doctrine about doctrines. At some point all the theologizing gets in the way of the main thing – loving relationships.
Be clear about the person of Jesus. After all, he said he’s the way, the truth, and the life. Be clear about the Scriptures, after all, your faith hangs on their validity. Be clear about the main things, but then maybe one of the main things is to allow the Holy Spirit the room to do his job as a counselor.
It’s a good way to grapple with complicated issues where a lot is at stake, but where our need for certainty can keep us from loving others we disagree with.

Comments (16)

  • These brave women spoke up for women’s rights and changed the future of women…because Moses as their leader, heard them, and then, the LORD heard them!

    The daughters (5) of Zelophehad stood before Moses after their father died, with no son for an inheritance and they said, give us a possession among our father’s brothers. Moses brought their case to the Lord. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, The daughters of Zelophehad are right…and further, speak to the sons of Israel, If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. Numbers 27

    But this is key, the need for certainty can keep us from loving others we disagree with. The bible is very clear, love one another.

  • The Lord made us in his image, ALL of us. From my perspective, women are among his most extraordinary, wondrous work. Women are right up there with the ocean, Grand Canyon, sunsets, children,…well, everything.

    Speaking of children, to have them, and family, women are essential. That alone explains how highly the Lord regards women. So, there has never been any doubt in my mind of women being equal to men, very, very different, but equal.

    When I look at my wife, I see some of the Lord’s very best work. She has always been, and will ever be, breathtaking! She is smart, sexy as can be, beautiful, opinionated, very opinionated, and her laughter is the purest joy. The Lord made her exactly this way. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for her.

    • That’s an ironic comment from someone who calls himself “wanderer”.

      Sometimes we arrive at truth more directly by wandering. Our need for clarity is not always served by walking in a straight line.

  • As a woman desiring to serve God, I have dealt with women’s biblical rights. I completely agree with you. Sometimes we allow ourselves to desire to KNOW rather than to humbled ourselves and allow and TRUST the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor…its been a learning experience and He’s still patiently teaching me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • What a great topic for discussion!!

    While I have some (very strong) opinions on this . . . I want to speak to your mention of the verse in 1 Corinthians. I live and work in west Africa . . . in a very poor country . . . where polygamy is the norm and women have few rights. Most girls are married by the time they get their first period and are taught that their place is only in the home. They never go to school. They never sit through classes, let alone lectures. When they are not caring for their family, they are visiting the homes of other women in the community. They are never given the opportunity to develop the skills of listening and reflecting in a scholarly way.

    I believe that for many of the women in the first century church, they too were not used to sitting and listening for extended periods of time. Learning and study were for men. The work of the home and family was for women. Sometimes it’s hard enough for those of us with higher education to have the discipline to sit still and silently, let alone someone for whom all of this is brand new. So in my opinion, looking through a cultural context more similar to that of Biblical times than my own reveals that Paul wasn’t saying women cannot speak (or teach or preach) in church, rather, they are to not whisper amongst themselves during the teaching but listen and learn.

  • I wasted too many years struggling with “knowing my place” as a female and sensitive to man’s opinion. It may not have been a big deal if I had what many consider the “female” gifts: mercy, helps, organization, etc. But what happens if a female gets what many label as “male” gifts? I don’t see gender gifts in Scripture. When the popular verses are quoted about women being silent or not permitted to teach, why are the same rules not applied for interpretation there? Like looking at the Scripture according to cultural context, original language and intent, immediate context and whole-Bible context? The books that have most helped me are Jon Zens “So what’s with Paul and women?” and Loren Cunningham “Why Not Women?”

    I agree with the authors that the enemy has used this deception to cut off or hinder at least half the Kingdom resources in this world. If women are to remain silent, then why is it OK for women to preach, plant churches, etc. in other cultures but not here?

    OK, I’ll stop. 🙂 But I could go on…..

    Upon just returning from legalistic Romania, I met a female missionary who was bringing gypsies to the Lord. After bringing them to her church there, she was encouraged by local church leadership to start her own church of gypsies so they didn’t have to deal with them in their congregation. What happened to their theology about a woman’s place? (BTW, she has planted 4 churches for the sake of those not wanted in “normal” churches.)

  • There is no doubt why the government this time strongly enforce the rights of women. It is because since then, the God was ordered that we must value the rights of women.

  • I’m a female, and I believe women should not be allowed to drive, or vote. I was forced into getting my permit as a teenager, and that is as far as I went learning to drive. I also believe that if women do speak up, they should do so respectfully, especially if speaking up to a male. I don’t look down upon women who don’t agree with my ideas. However, my mom didn’t stay home to raise me, and I see what it did to me. I see what people doing that has done to society. Without a woman to hold up a household, it cannot be held up. I think that’s one of the many reasons society is so screwed up today.

  • Uuuugh? ChickenBoo… How the heck can a woman run a household these days if she can’t even drive a vehicle. Were you raised Amish off somethIng?

  • Chickenboo– I agree with you that without a woman, a household cannot be held up, however driving is almost a necessity of holding up a household. How will you take one of your children to the hospital if he/she is terribly hurt? How will you supply the needs of your family if you can’t drive to the grocery store? To each their own, but I believe if a woman is to righteously care for the household there are just some things you can’t not do in order to run a household in the 21st century.

  • chickenboo, you should move to saudi arabia. i think you would love it there because women are not aloud to drive there and have few rights. you will fit in well in a place like that. i hope you arent living in the US where so many have suffered so that women like me could have the right to vote, have a college education and the right to own property! So please move to Saudi Arabia where you may enjoy the lack of rights you so desire.

  • Boy, could I write a book about my journey through this question.
    A very thought-provoking post, Seth.
    Your gentle focus on relationship comes through with the power of the still, small voice.
    I was raised by a father who both sexually abused me and taught me to be a fighter.
    The enemy hoped to forever damage me and create a woman who would never be able to embrace her womanhood.
    It has taken years to lay down my “natural” instincts to fight and to shed the “arms” of an angry warrior.
    To revel in a place of softness and yes, weakness.
    To be fully feminine.
    I no longer aspire to be a “man.”
    The journey has been long, but the destination sweet.
    I am just a new arrival, but the peace and rest of this place is deep.
    As far as rights, I tend to think that as slaves and bondservants of Christ, neither man nor woman should be seeking rights.
    We should be servants of His, seeking to serve others and put their needs above our own.
    Only the truly strong in Christ can lay down their lives and rights.
    It is a conundrum: It takes strength to become weak.
    Better said, perhaps: It takes strength to become meek…and mild.
    Just some personal thoughts.
    I, like you, desire to put relationship above my “take” on anything.
    Thank you for the opportunity.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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