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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review and Historical Perspective on the Woman's Role

In my newsletters and here on my blog, I’ve been exploring the biblical role of a woman.

As we listened in the shade, we’ve covered the following:

1. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

Martha was troubled about many things--mainly preparing and serving the food. Yet only one thing was necessary according to Jesus—to be a disciple and learn from him.

2. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” ~Genesis 1:26

The “mankind” in these verses included both men and women. We saw that Eve was not made to cook, clean, and do laundry. At that time, there was no need to do any of that. Instead she was created to rule with Adam.

3. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” ~Mark 10:6-9

Jesus reiterated the oneness of husband and wife before the fall. We concluded that either there has never been a curse for man to rule over woman or else Jesus has lifted it—re-stating what marriage should have been if it had not been for the hardness of hearts.

4. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. ~1 Timothy 2:11-12

If Jesus reinstated the oneness of husband and wife, what are we to make of Paul’s words? We saw that these words were written a particular place, the church at Ephesus; during a particular time, when the church had false teachers; given for a particular reason, to stop the idle, foolish talk; and ordered by a particular man, the apostle Paul. We see that Paul uses first person to emphasize this was his particular teaching.

A friend of mine, Laura Lassiter, shared this with me from the IVP Commentary on Timothy 2:11 that sheds light on the historical background at the time.

From the IVP: The proper way for any novice to learn was submissively and “quietly” (a closely related Greek term appears in 1Ti 2:2 for all believers). Women were less likely to be literate than men, were trained in philosophy far less often than men, were trained in rhetoric almost never, and in Judaism were far less likely to be educated in the law. Given the bias against instructing women in the law, it is Paul’s advocacy of their learning the law, not his recognition that they started as novices and so had to learn quietly, that was radical and countercultural. (In the second century, Beruriah, wife of Rabbi Meir, was instructed in the law, but she was a rare exception. Women could hear expositions at the synagogues and did sometimes attend rabbinic lectures, but the vast majority of rabbis would never accept them as disciples, and Hellenistically oriented Jews like Josephus and Philo were even more biased against them than the rabbis were. There is evidence for a few women filling higher roles in some Diaspora synagogues, in local cultures where women had higher social positions, but the same evidence shows that even there prominent women in synagogues were the rare exception rather than the rule.)

1Timothy 2:12. Given women’s lack of training in the Scriptures (see comment on 1Ti 2:11), the heresy spreading in the Ephesian churches through ignorant teachers (1Ti 1:4-7), and the false teachers’ exploitation of these women’s lack of knowledge to spread their errors (1Ti 5:13; 2Ti 3:6), Paul’s prohibition here makes good sense. His short-range solution is that these women should not teach; his long-range solution is “let them learn” (1Ti 2:11). The situation might be different after the women had been instructed (1Ti 2:11; cf. Rom 16:1-4, Rom 16:7; Php 4:2-3).

We often forget, surrounded as we are by opportunities for women, that it has not always been so. Jesus broke with tradition when He allowed women to become his disciples. As we continue to search the scriptures to discover the true biblical role of women, this will give us perspective on the words of Paul.


  1. Very nice interesting, Sheila. Thank you for sharing all your research and hard work with us. Sometimes it's hard to understand exactly how to apply some Scripture to our current times.

  2. Very nice interesting, Sheila. Thank you for sharing all your research and hard work with us. Sometimes it's hard to understand exactly how to apply some Scripture to our current times.

    1. Thanks, Marie. If you have any insights, please feel free to share!


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