A question I get asked around the world is how women can be expected to be under the authority of their husband when the Bible says that men and women are equal. This is an important question and one that I have an answer for.
The Bible clearly teaches that women are made to take a different role on the earth than that of the man. Yet today’s egalitarian and feminist motivations resist that Biblical position. Then there is the Bible text which teaches that men and women are equal before God.
How do we reconcile those seemingly contradictory Biblical positions? How can a woman be expected to take a place different to the man while the Bible says there is no difference between the man and the woman?
The Woman in a Different Place to Man
The Bible repeatedly reveals that men and women are different, in both the Old and New Testaments. Men and Women are different in their creation – Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from the side of the man. They are also different in their purpose – Adam to be in the image of God and Eve to be as a helper for her husband. When God cursed the man and woman after the fall He gave unique and distinct punishments to the woman to the man.
In the New Testament we find that wives are asked to behave toward their husbands differently to the way husbands are asked to behave toward their wives. Instructions are given to the men to pray with uplifted hands and the women are given instructions about their beauty. Men and women are treated differently in both the old and new testaments.
I often refer to the authority hierarchy which God gives us through the Apostle Paul, in 1Corinthians 11:3. There we see that the man and woman are put in a completely separate place under God’s authority.
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Apostle Paul, 1Corinthians 11:3
On the strength of this hierarchy and the other Bible texts about women a case has been made throughout church history for a different role for women in the church to that of men. That is still a hot issue today.
The Equality Issue
Apart from feminist notions and demands for equality the Bible gives a proof text to support the idea of equality between men and women.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Some people have been taught, on the strength of Galatians 3:28, that all distinctions between men and women have been done away with in Christ. A Christian woman should be allowed to do all that a Christian man would be allowed to do.
So how to do we reconcile the distinction between these two competing truths? Women have a different place to men, yet women are equal. How can that be?
The simple answer to this dilemma is in the setting these two seemingly competitive truths refer to. In Paul’s statement about the equality of men and women he also mentions other things which are now equal in Christ. He mentions Jews and Greeks and slaves and freemen. Slaves and freemen are equal in Christ, yet when a slave becomes a Christian he or she is still a slave. When a Greek becomes a Christian he or she is still a Greek.
Before the throne of God Greeks and Jews are equal in Christ. Yet in the setting on earth the Greek is under Greek customs and government and the Jew is under Jewish customs and government.
Standing before the throne of God a slave and a freeman have the same rights to enter into relationship with God and to expect God’s grace and power on their behalf. But in the earthly setting the slave must get up each day and do the will of his master/employer.
So there are two settings in which our personal reality is worked out. Those settings are the setting of heaven and the setting of our earthly circumstances. We can be one thing in one of those settings and yet have a different set of constraints in the other
The Setting for Women
Women operate in two settings. On earth they are created to be a very effective part of their husband’s world. They are created as helpers and put in a place under the care and authority of the husband. That is their earthly setting.
In Christ, however, before the throne of God, a woman has the same rights to God’s forgiveness, grace and blessing as any man could hope to have. Before God’s throne there is no difference between a man and a woman. They are equal and indistinguishable. That is the great elevation of womanhood that comes through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Equality is God’s Gift to Women
God gives women equality that they are often denied in homes and cultures. While women have responsibilities for which they are accountable before God, they also have full and undiluted personal status before God’s throne. The prayers of a woman are as valid in God’s ears as the prayers of any man.
Positionally, before God’s throne, women enjoy wonderful liberty and equality. Functionally, in the various roles they are given on earth, each woman has a place to take and a part to play that is under the authority of her husband.