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.