The Extraordinary Value of Women (I)
A few days ago I received an interesting email from a reader of this site. She had read an older article of mine in which I affirmed the Bible’s position about the extraordinary value of women. While she was grateful that I had written such an article, she shared some of her struggles with distinguishing between differing roles and differing value. She wrote “No matter how I push my body to its limits, and no matter how much endurance I have to exhibit, God will always consider me a ‘weaker vessel.’ Galatians 3:21 seems to indicate that men and women are of equal value, but it’s very difficult to distinguish between a lower ROLE and a lower VALUE. It’s an uphill battle for me. God told me to embrace what I cannot change.”
I thought I would try to address her misgivings and struggles over the next couple of days. Today I will post an article based on the one I first posted a couple of years ago. Tomorrow I’ll discuss her questions more specifically.
I think it is important to affirm that there is no system of religion that exalts women higher than biblical Christianity. That is quite a claim, I realize, but one that can be easily proven by examining Scripture and comparing what Scripture says about women to the way they are treated by other religions or by those who adhere to no religion. Those who think the Bible is unfair to women and somehow feel they need to raise the status of women always end up damaging women. The result of decades of feminism testifies to this truth for womanhood has suffered terribly in our society. More on this soon.
Some time ago a person sent a question to the Reformed Baptist mailing list, of which I am a member. He recounted that he was teaching eighth graders and one young lady asked a question about Adam and Eve. This girl noted that after Adam named all of the animals and saw how they were paired, he realized that there was no counterpart to him. And so God created Eve as a helper to Adam. It seems, suggested the girl, that God created Eve only to serve as a partner to Adam in allowing him to procreate. It is almost as if women were an afterthought in God’s mind. So why didn’t God create man and woman together as He had done with the animals? Why did He introduce Eve in such a way that she seems primarily to serve her man?
Turning to Genesis 1:27 we see that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The next verse reads, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living things that moves on the earth.” It must be noted that God created both male and female in His image, and that He did so before He actually called either into being. In reality, then, men and women were created concurrently for they are inseparable in their God-given role of multiplying and subduing the earth. God could hardly create only a man and command him to be fruitful and multiply!
One astute member of the mailing list replied that this girl has probably created in her mind a romanticized version of the events leading to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 2:20 we read that “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Previously, in verse 18, God has already said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.” It makes a nice story to believe that Adam named all of the animals and then, noting that there was no helper suitable for him, felt loneliness. The Bible, though, does not state this. Scripture tells us that it was God, not Adam, who noted “that it was not good that the man should be alone.” We have no basis to assume that Adam was in any way lonely or that he felt any insufficiency. Adam lived in a perfect world and had perfect communion with God. Surely he did not feel any sense of loneliness. The person concluded, as I have, that Adam did not need Eve to fill some deep-rooted emptiness in his life, but that he needed a wife to fulfill his God-given mandate. Thus woman was not created to fill a social or sexual need in Adam, but to complete the Lord’s purpose for humans. Eve was not needed to complete Adam, but to complete God’s command to Adam.
So let’s return to my claim that the Bible regards women in a way that is higher than other religions. The reason for this is obvious: the God who created us male and female, also prescribes our roles. As our Creator, He knows the reason He made us and knows how we can best live our lives. Only the Bible outlines the Creator’s instruction to His creatures. We must understand that while God affirms equal worth, He speaks of differing roles. For example, women have the unique role and privilege of bearing children. Because they are physically weaker than men they have a need for support and protection, and this is a need God has commanded husbands to fill. God also establishes proper order in the family by assigning to men the job of headship in home and church.
One of the best (and most succinct) summaries of Scripture’s position on women comes from the introduction to John MacArthur’s book, Twelve Extraordinary Women. In this book MacArthur makes several important points about women, some of which I am borrowing here.
Special Honor - While recognizing role distinctions, the Bible sets women apart for special honor. A husband is commanded to live sacrificially and to value his wife’s life higher than his own. Women are highly valued by God and are to receive this same value from men.
Due Distinction - The biblical accounts of the great men of the Old Testament consistently give distinction to their wives. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are only a few examples of women who play prominent roles in Scripture. Other women who are integral to the Bible are Eve, Miriam, Deborah and Ruth. We even find Wisdom personified as woman and the church being called the bride of Christ. God does not shy away from giving credit to women of faith and to using metaphors that require female imagery.
Religious Equality - Women were never excluded from the social and religious life in either the Old or New Testaments. Women participated in feasts and times of public worship. They were not required to be silent or to be hidden from sight behind veils. Jesus’ group of disciples included several women, a practice almost unknown at the time. In my repeated readings of Acts I have seen time and again that women are given constant mention among the first converts and among those who played integral roles in the early church. One could almost argue that God goes out of His way to point to the importance of women in these situations.
The biblical teaching on the value of women stands in stark contrast to that of other religions, and especially religions of that day. Women in pagan societies were often treated with little more dignity than animals. Many systems of religion and philosophy taught that women were inherently inferior to men, a claim that is clearly revoked in Scripture. Pagan religion, while it may have paid homage to female deities, devalued women by creating elaborate rituals which required sacred prostitutes. These religions, while supposedly honoring women, in reality debased them, much as feminism does in our day.
MacArthur concludes (read this carefully for it is of utmost importance!) that “Wherever the gospel has spread, the social, legal and spiritual status of women has, as a rule, been elevated. When the gospel has been eclipsed (whether by repression, false religion, secularism, humanistic philosophy, or spiritual decay within the church), the status of women has declined accordingly.” Secular efforts to increase the status of women have largely failed, as we have seen with the feminist movement of the twentieth century. This movement sought to elevate the status of women, but did so at the cost of their femininity, seeking to rob women of what makes them so distinctive. The whole message of the feminist agenda is that there is nothing all that extraordinary about women, for they are just like men. The Bible, though, tells a different story. MacArthur states that “[W]henever the Bible expressly talks about the marks of an excellent women, the stress is always on feminine virtue. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of their careers, but because of their character. The message these women collectively give is not about “gender equality”; it is about true feminine excellence. And this is always exemplified in moral and spiritual qualities rather than by social standing, wealth or physical appearance.”
The Bible continually affirms that women are extraordinary. Women have value and worth that is in every way equal to men. Women are no mere afterthought, but are an integral and equal part of God’s design for human beings. The Bible is unique in that it honors women as women, exalting them for their femininity, and encouraging them to seek honor in a uniquely feminine and God-glorifying way.
I’ll continue this tomorrow.