This article looks at the role women can play in the church while being submissive. The author shows that women can play a large role in witnessing, teaching, works of service, intercession and family life.

Source: Diakonia, 1991. 11 pages.

Free Church of Scotland: Role of Women in the Church A Report of the Study Panel of the Free Church of Scotland


Debate on the role of women has become a prominent feature of contemporary evangelicalism on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a large and growing body of literature, groaning with footnotes. The issue threatens to be every bit as divisive as the charismatic controversy. Christians are increasingly confused by the options on offer, each claiming to be God's will for today.

Secular feminism has been vocal, active and influential over the last quarter century. The background to recent change is traced to the ferment of the late 60s and early 70s, with their questioning of traditional attitudes and exploration of radical alter­natives. The rhetoric of the women's liberation movement of the time is expressed in Germaine Greer's notorious words:

The world will not change overnight and li­beration will not happen unless individual women agree to be outcasts, eccentrics, per­verts and whatever the powers-that-be choose to call the ... Women represent the most oppressed class of life contracted, unpaid workers for whom slaves is not too melodra­matic a description. They are the only true proletariat left ... The old process must be broken, not made new.1

We must deplore the exaggeration and excess of much radical feminist writing and activity, especially in relation to the family, but Anne Atkins cautions us against surprise if the women's libera­tion movement seems unsavoury: "It has had little Christian salt in it to save it from decay."2

Some British evangelicals are now calling for an alternative "Christian feminism." Anne Atkins wants such a feminism to recognize the priority of the proclamation of the Gospel, and to be biblical and altruistic instead of being obsessed with personal rights and fulfillment.3 Elaine Storkey looks to the biblical feminism of nineteenth century Britain and America for historical and inspirational roots. She describes a movement which was anti-slavery, anti-prostitution, and also anti-alcohol because of its association with economic hardship and wife abuse.

These feminists were motivated as Christians by belief in the dignity of the person and by compassion for women who were vulnerable economically, socially and legally.

They were prepared to identify with the abused and discarded in society, in a way which simply followed the footsteps of Christ him­self. I believe that it is with this tradition that Chris­tian feminists of today must compare themselves. Humility, love, compassion, concern for those weak and oppressed, and willingness to suffer, is a diffi­cult agenda to take on board.4

There is no doubt that in our culture, as in others, women have known discrimination on the grounds of their sex. For a long time they were denied access to higher education, they did not have the vote, they could not enjoy the same legal rights as men, they were denied the same work as men in others. They are still demeaned by pornography as sexual play­things.

John Stott writes:

Their gifts have been unappreciated, their personality smothered, their freedom curtailed, and their service in some areas exploited, in others refused.5

Christians welcome the advances of the decades in the direction of dig­nity, justice and freedom.

But what of the Church? As women's role in society changes, there is pressure to abandon traditional role distinctives here as well. Storkey sums up the consensus of feminist thinking within the Church:

Women, it is argued, are stifled in the majority of churches ... playing only a 'supportive', if any, role in their congregations. Men preach, women listen. Men pray, women say 'Amen.' Men form the clergy, the diaconate or the oversight, women abide by their leadership. Men study theology, women sew for the bazaar. Men make decisions, women make the tea.6

The mixed denominations in Britain have re­sponded by giving way on the ordination of women. The eligibility of women for the eldership was recognized by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1966, and for the ministry in 1968. Women are still a small minority in Presbytery and Assem­bly, but the picture is more varied at Kirk Session level, and there is increasing pressure on Sessions to ordain women to the eldership. The United Free Church, Baptist Union, Congregational Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church all have women ministers. The Church of England and Scottish Episcopal Church do not have women priests, but they are permitted in other Anglican Churches. English Anglicanism has seen a large increase in the number of deaconesses in recent years, and is prevented from ordaining women to the priesthood mainly by the ecumenical lobby for union with Rome.

More and more British and American Evangelicals are in favour of the ordination of women. A variety of arguments is used, but all raise difficul­ties with the historic evangelical doctrine of Scripture. For example, some have to cast doubt on the integrity of Scripture. Paul Jewett, in his influential work, Man as Male and Female, argued that Paul was inconsistent in his thinking on the proper place of women in society and church, because of the unre­solved tension in his mind between his old faith and his new. Teaching like that of 1 Corinthians 11:9 is the result of Paul still thinking as a subordinationist Jew, whereas Galatians 3:28 is the apostle truly thinking as a Christian.7 For Jewett, the battle for ordination is won at the expense of the inerrancy of Scripture.

Others wish to retain a high view of Scripture, but seem to us to deny its clarity. Language about male headship is re-interpreted so that it does not really say what it has always seemed to say. Even a theologian like Roger Nicole, rigorously exegetical on other issues, now avoids the clear sense of the obvious passages and goes elsewhere to argue Scripture permits women preachers: "Since God was pleased to incorporate songs and statements by women in Holy Writ (Exodus 15:21; Judges 5; Luke 1:42-45, 45-46; etc.) is it improper to think that he may use women in expounding and applying his word?"8

Clark Pinnock has concluded that attempts to argue for women's ordination from Scripture founder on the plain sense of the words. "Biblical feminism will have difficulty shaking off the impression of hermeneutical ventriloquism."9

A third approach casts doubt on the finality of Scripture. The Bible is said not to be the last Word on the subject, but merely to point us in the right di­rection. Thus Richard Longenecker argues for a "developmental hermeneutic," in which we distin­guish between the principles of freedom, equality and mutuality which the New Testament proclaims and its description of how these began to be imple­mented in the first century.

The way or ways in which the gospel was practised in the first century, however, should be understood as signposts at the beginning of a journey.10

The two most important works opposing wom­en's ordination have come from James Hurley (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, Leicester: IVP., 1981), and Susan Foh (Women and the Word of God, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979). Each has a very high view of Scripture, and majors on solid exegesis to which we will make reference in the course of our discussion. Hurley includes material on how women were viewed in the ancient near east, in Judaism, and in the first century world, demonstrating that Scripture is not culturally conditioned but represents a break with prevailing attitudes in the surrounding culture. Hurley and Foh are resolutely opposed to women's ordination to the teach­ing or ruling office, because Scripture prohibits that. However they do argue for a much greater participation of women within the ministry of the Church than our tradition has recognized. So Hurley has written: "Scripture restricts the eldership to certain men with certain gifts and qualifications. Beyond that it knows no official gender distinctions within the organization of the church."11 Both Hurley and Foh see 1 Timothy 3:11 as referring to female deacons, outside the prohibition of women teaching or exercising disciplinary authority. Foh encourages women to be involved in Sunday School teaching for children and adults, writing, administration, finance, counselling, committees, and music.

Women's gifts and talents should be employed in the church and they can be without opening ordination to the min­istry to them.12

One recent mediating contribution is certain to be influential in the British debate, as it has come from the pen of John Stott. He suggests that while the requirement of submission is of permanent and uni­versal validity, because grounded in creation, the requirement of silence was a first century cultural application of it; not an absolute prohibition of women teaching, but prohibition of teaching which infringed the principle of male headship. If ordained Christian ministry always necessarily has the flavour of au­thority and discipline about it, then he accepts it must be for men only. But he argues for a concept of ordination which simply involves the public recog­nition of God-given gifts, together with the public authorization to exercise them in a team.

Thus he believes it is,

biblically permissible for women to teach men, provided that the content of their teach­ing is biblical, its context a team and its style humble. For in such a situation they would be exercising their gift without claiming a 'headship' which is not theirs.13

As we enter this discussion, it may be helpful to highlight three basic convictions with which we approach our study. The first is our firm commit­ment to the authority and sufficiency of inerrant Scripture. Our concern is to listen humbly to the voice of our Lord as he speaks through his own inspired Word. We will endeavour to follow proper canons of biblical interpretation, and also be ready to review our traditional understanding in the light of Scripture's critique. The burden of our study will be to examine the classic passages which figure promi­nently in most treatments of the topic.

In the second place, we assume the equal dignity of man and woman. This is true in creation, in all that is implied in the imaging of God: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27). And it is true in Redemption, with man and woman enjoying equal standing in grace: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). This holds true what­ever role distinctives we find in the text of Scripture. These functional differences say nothing against equal status in Christ.

Thirdly, we believe that ministry is broader than ordination. Every Christian has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a gift or gifts which are to be used in ministry, in the building up of the body of Christ.

James Packer writes:

I judge that the best of most women's ministry, like the best of some men's, will be informal, domestic and non-institutional rather than official and role regulated ... those for whom women's ministry means only allowing women to do all that men do officially seem to me not to know what they are talking about.14

Our study will move to a positive conclusion, as we outline what the role of women can and must be in the Church of the Lord who has gifted all his people for service.


Most of those who argue for the equality of men and women in the church take their starting point from the creation narrative. They begin by stating that God created men and women equal and they see the later domination of husband over wife as a curse on sin (Genesis 3:16). Through the work of Christ the curse is removed and men and women are again jointly equipped for their task as God's children. Thus gifted women should be given ruling and teaching functions in the church. A church dominated by either sex will be hampered in its being the body of Christ. For example, Paul Jewett regards Genesis 1-3 as of vital importance. Building on Karl Barth, he sees the image of God in man as involving the male/ female relationship, man as man-in-fellowship. He proceeds to criticize Barth for not taking his doctrine of creation to its logical conclusion and so repudiating subordinationism. When dealing with Genesis 2, Jewett asserts that subordinationism can only be read into it. He links the creation narratives with Christ's attitude to women and with Galatians 3:28, to form what he calls an "analogy of faith" argument to show that Paul's commands to women to submit to men are out of keeping with the rest of Scripture and so, are culturally conditioned or time-bound and of no relevance to us today.15

Because of the use made of the pre-fallen man-woman relationship, it is important to understand what Scripture has to say on this point. The New Testament interpretation of Genesis 1-3 helps us in this. Here we disagree strongly with Jewett16 who regards Paul's exegesis of Genesis 2:18ff as wrong (e.g. in 1 Timothy 2:13, 14). Paul, he asserts, had been influenced by the traditional rabbinic understand­ing of the verses. Subordinationism can only be read into Genesis 2 and that is what he did. Those of us who hold to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy cannot accept Jewett's treatment of Paul. The Epistles of Paul are the Word of God and surely God knows how to interpret His own Word in Genesis 1-3.

In 1 Timothy 2:13, 14 women are commanded to be in subjection: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve, and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression." From this we learn that, even in the prefallen state, Adam had a certain priority over Eve because he was created first.

  1. 1 Corinthians 11🔗

The man's leadership role over the woman is dealt with at length in this chapter:

For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image of the glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man: for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.verses 7-10

This is a difficult passage. Many think that Paul is here citing Genesis 1:26 to prove that man was created in the image of God whereas woman was not. However, this seems very unlikely because in Genesis 1:28, which is a description of God's fulfillment of His purpose, God commanded both man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth. Both partners are in view and both are created in the image of God. Paul's wording in verse 7, it must be noticed, is deliberately not that of Genesis 1:26 "image and likeness", but rather "image and glory".

The whole passage (1 Corinthians 11:3-16) argues that men have a headship or leadership role over women. The man in his relation to the woman and the rest of creation is to image the dominion of God. The woman cannot image God in this way towards man, because she is to be subordinate to him. Once again we emphasize subordinate does not mean inferior. She is equal to man in everything else. Man and woman are equally the children of God and the objects of his love. However, man has a certain headship over the woman, and so Paul speaks of the woman not as the image of God (which she is in everything else apart from dominion over the man), but as the glory of the man. The glory of the sun or moon is the brightness which corresponds to its station (1 Cor. 15:41). The brightness of each, points to that of which it is the brightness or glory. Man is the glory of God by standing under God pointing to God's dominion. The woman similarly is the glory of the man by standing under him and over the rest of creation.

Image has an active sense while glory is passive. The man actively images God as he seeks to rule over creation but he is the glory of God by being under God and over creation. The woman could also have been said to be the image of man by her ruling over the creation under him. Mindful perhaps of the confusion this could engender vis-a-vis Genesis 1:26, Paul did not call woman the image of man. It is to underscore man's dominion over the woman that Paul introduces the fact that woman was created to have a relation to man rather than vice versa.17

However, this does not make the woman an inferior creature. As we have said before, this chap­ter is dealing with authority relations not essential ontological relations. To guard against misunder­standing on this point, the apostle asserts in verses 11 and 12, "Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God." The man cannot do without the woman and, indeed, since the time of Adam every man has been born from a woman. This, however, does not negate what has been said earlier nor does it relegate Paul's creation argument for subordination to the category of Biblical illustration. Rather, these verses must be seen as a caution against despising women or re­garding them as in any way inferior.

Verse 10 has been much discussed by exegetes. It seems best to understand it as looking backwards and forwards at the same time. It would not be unusual for Paul, by this means, to make a transition from one thought to another. "For this cause..." should be understood as the conclusion of the theo­logical argument set forth in verse 7 and supported by verses 8 and 9. It should be understood as saying, "Because of this (which has been said) a woman ought to wear (a sign of) authority on her head." The relation of the woman to the angels and to her husband is complicated by the fact that Paul uses the word "Exousia" to designate that which she has upon her head. "Exousia" is used in both the New Testament and the secular writers in an active sense, indicating authority exercised rather than authority obeyed. The Corinthian believers felt themselves to be reigning with Christ already (1 Corinthians 4:8). Hurley suggests that one of the manifestations of this basic error was that they boasted they were already reigning over angels (cf. 4:8, 9; 6:1ff; 13:1).18 Their error was an over-realized eschatology. In chapter 11 Paul is stressing that there is a divinely instituted hierarchy which places women under their husbands' authority until marriage is abolished by the return of Christ. If the woman accepts her sub­ordinate role, it is not valueless. The woman's long hair (v. 14) marks her as one who is obedient to God and to His ordering of creation. However, by cutting her hair and so trying to remove all distinctions and to be equal to men, she rather marks herself as a rebel who, instead of judging angels, will herself be judged. This is the way we are to understand the end of verse 10, "because of the angels." This sign of the hair, which the Corinthians had interpreted as one of abject subjection, was in fact one of great authority. With her husband the woman is at present vice-regent over all creation and she will one day judge angels.

Thus we see that Paul teaches women to submit to their husbands, and not to teach and rule in the church because he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, un­derstands Genesis 1-3 to teach the submission of women. Having briefly considered Paul's interpre­tation we shall now turn to these first chapters of Genesis.

  1. Genesis 1-2🔗

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish 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 thing that moveth on the face of the earth. Genesis 1:27, 28

From verse 27 we see that, although all living creatures were created in both sexes, this is only stressed with regard to human beings. The reason for this is to emphasize that both man and woman were directly created by God and are equally in his image. This ontological (essential) equality is further pregnantly expressed by the transition from "him" to "them."

Paul Jewett, drawing on Barth's understanding of the divine image as human sexuality or man in fellowship, argues that this demands equality for woman in the home and church. He cannot see how woman's subordination to man can be established without asserting woman's inferiority to man. However, we do not argue that all women should be submissive to all men, but only that a specific woman be submissive to a specific man who is head of that family and in the church that women and men be submissive to the leaders who are appointed from among the male membership. Even if the image of God consists in the male/female relation there is no reason why God should not lay down a further ordinance that only a male should, in the family and church, take the leading role of the first among equals, as there are authority relations among men in all sorts of areas. The family, like any autonomous or semi-autonomous unit needs a leader in order to prevent anarchy.19

It is difficult to be dogmatic on what constitutes the image of God. The words "image" and "likeness" seem to refer to something more concrete than the male and female relationship. It is also worth noting that in the other Scriptural declarations concerning the image no direct reference is made to the male/female relationship. Surely when Paul refers to the new man as "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Colossians 3:10), he is describing knowledge as a central part of the image lost by the fall and regained by grace. Righteousness and holiness are also part of the image (Ephesians 4:24). When it is said that God created them male and female it is to emphasize that both are created in the divine image, they both need one another and the marriage bond is one which God has blessed.

From our discussion it can be seen that there is no necessity for reading Genesis 1 as against the submission of the woman in the family and church. This is true even if the divine image is defined as "man as male and female." Genesis 1 asserts the essential (ontological) not the relational equality of man and woman.

In the second chapter of Genesis the brief state­ment of Genesis 1:27 is greatly expanded. The first point of importance for our subject is in verse 7.

And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.

It was the male of the species who was first formed (see also verses 18, 21, 22).

From Genesis 1 it appears that there is a progres­sion in creation from the less to the greater. Man is created last as the crown of creation. But then the woman is created after the man (Genesis 2). Does this not leave her superior to the man? But Paul argues that the woman should be in subjection because she was formed after the man (1 Timothy 2:13). The Bible views Eve's creation as the perfection of the creation of Adam. The man had to learn his loneliness and helplessness and then the woman was brought to him as the answer to his need. It would seem that before Eve was created, God made his covenant with Adam (Genesis 2:16-17). Although man and woman are regarded as ontologically equal there is a certain sense in which Adam is the representative of Eve before God; he is the head of the woman. Paul agrees with this interpretation in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 where Adam, as the head of humanity, is contrasted with Christ, the last Adam, who is the head of the new humanity.

When God created Eve, He used a rib taken out of Adam.

Clarence Vos argues:

If it be noted that according to Genesis 2:7 man was taken from the dust of the ground, it must be concluded that the thought to be taken from need not imply inferiority or subordination to that from which it is taken.20

We agree with Vos that there is no inferiority implied here. However, on the question of subordination we must agree with Paul rather than with Vos. He adduces as one of his reasons why women should be submissive, "For the man is not of the woman but the woman of the man" (1 Corinthians 11:8). One must see the fact that man was formed from the dust of the ground as of symbolic significance. In spite of man's high station created in the image of God, he must always remember that the dust is a constituent part of his make-up. This should keep him from un­seemly pride.

Following Adam's sin, part of the curse upon mankind was, "Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19). But man had a high origin as well as his lowly one. The Genesis narrative relates that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). He has a heavenly origin and must be subordinate to the God who breathed into him the spirit of life rather than to the inert creation. When God creates the woman, the symbolic significance of the rib is quite different from that of the soil. Instead of the two-fold reference to the lowly dust and the heav­enly breath, the reference is to one origin, the rib of Adam. The idea behind this symbolism is that of parenthood. Part of Adam's bones and flesh was taken and made into the woman. Adam is pictured, as in a parental way, the origin of Eve's life not just of the atoms and molecules of which she is com­posed.

The idea of the earth being the parent of Adam is quite foreign to the Scriptures here and elsewhere. God is always pictured as his parent, the God who formed him and breathed into him the breath of life (Luke 3:38). The idea of Adam, however, as the parent of all, fits in well with the Scriptural data here and elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Because Adam was, in this sense, Eve's parent, he has a headship over her. We must, however, re-empha­size that the woman is not regarded as inferior to the man. Augustine put this rather quaintly when he said that if God had meant woman to be superior to man He would have created her from man's head; or if He had wanted her to be inferior to man He would have made her from man's feet. Her creation from man's side shows her to be of equal value. Further "helper" (verse 18) should not be understood as an inferior help, or a subordinate assistant. Of the nine­teen times the word occurs in the Old Testament it never refers to an inferior and fifteen times it is used of God as the one who brings succour to the needy and desperate. "Helper" here is a partner who will complement the man who is alone.

There is one other point worth mentioning which suggests that Adam is the leader. When Eve is brought to Adam he says:

This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.Genesis 2:23

Adam is here pictured as the one who gives Eve her name. Throughout the Scriptures the naming of an indi­vidual is seen as a very important event. Often God Himself chose a name for individuals and revealed this to the parents or to the individual himself. In Genesis 2:20 Adam asserts his headship over the animals by naming them. So there is at least a sug­gestion of Adam's headship in that he names Eve.

Considered as a whole, Genesis reveals Adam as the head of Eve. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 conclusively confirms our understanding of the creation order.

  1. 1 Timothy 2🔗

This passage, Paul states "Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived has fallen into trans­gression" (1 Timothy 2:14). Some have argued that the Apostle here is contradicting the account given in Genesis 3.

The Apostle does not say, however, that Adam did not sin but rather that he was not deceived. Indeed even the word "deceive" translates two dif­ferent words in the Greek. It could be rendered as follows: "Adam was not deceived (simplex) but the woman being terribly deceived (compound with 'ek') has fallen into transgression." Adam's sin was different from Eve's.

When questioned by God about her sin, Eve pleaded that she had been deceived by the serpent "The serpent beguiled me and I did eat" (Genesis 3:13). Adam, however, did not plead that the woman had deceived him. Rather, he says, "The woman whom thou gayest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat" (Genesis 3:12). The Genesis story concentrates on the deceiving of Eve. This was the difficult part of the procedure for the serpent. How­ever, once the woman is deceived, we are simply told, "and she gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat" (Genesis 3:6b). There is no mention of here having to use wiles or tact to get him to eat. She simply gave the fruit to him and he ate it. Originally Adam had the position of headship and Eve that of subordination. In their sin the positions were re­versed. Eve was deceived, she took the position of leadership, ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. He who had been the head became the feet and followed Eve in the transgression. Paul's point here is not the relative abilities of male or female to lead, but rather the divinely appointed relationship between the sexes. God did not give Eve to Adam to rule over him but to be his partner under his headship. When the divine order was reversed and Eve became the leader, sin entered. This was not because Eve was naturally less gifted and less able to lead, rather because this divine order of leader and led had been violated. Adam should have obeyed God rather than his wife and, being present at the time (Genesis 3:6b), he should have intervened when he saw her being deceived by the serpent.

It is often said that the woman is the more susceptible to temptation. She is thought of as the weaker vessel in the moral sense. But neither the context here, nor in Genesis, requires that woman be regarded as morally or intellectually inferior to man. She was created perfect and equal to man. If one wishes to make distinctions one could argue that the serpent attacked Eve because she was the more intelligent of the two. Once she was deceived the battle was won.

  1. Genesis 3:16🔗

One verse on which there has been considerable discussion over the years is Genesis 3:16b, "and thy desire shall be unto thy husband and he shall rule over thee." What is meant by the woman's desire? Some understand it as sexual desire which is so strong as to make her ready to have the pains of childbirth. Others understand it as the desire which makes her a willing slave of man with an immense psychological dependence upon him. Susan Foh in an excellent article deals convincingly with the sub­ject before us.21

First she shows that teshugah (desire) is probably linked etymologically with the Arabic saga, meaning to urge, drive, impel. She argues as we have done that the husband ruled over his wife before the fall and so rightly rejects the view that the subjection of the woman was part of the curse. She also rejects the commoner view that the fall and curse led to tyran­nous rule by the husband, for if we hold to the view that the woman's desire makes her a willing slave of her husband the hardship of the punishment in Genesis 3:16b vanishes. Also this desire of the woman would clash with experience and render the New Testament commands unnecessary (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:11).

The word teshugah occurs only three times in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:16; 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10). By comparing Genesis 3:16 with Genesis 4:7, Foh notices that, though the Hebrew is the same except for appropriate changes in person and gen­der, the English translations vary. In Genesis 4:7 sin's desire is to enslave Cain but God commands him to master it. If teshugah is translated the same way in Genesis 3:16 as it is in Genesis 4:7, then the woman has the same sort of desire for her husband that sin has for Cain, a desire to master and control him. As the Lord tells Cain to master and control sin so God states what the husband should do — rule his wife. These words, as also in the case of Cain, do not say who will be the victor but rather they mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. Sin has corrupted the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The rule of love, founded in paradise, is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination. The husband must master his wife if he can. Experience corroborates this interpretation. If the words of Genesis 3:16b "and he shall rule over you" are understood in the indicative, they just are not true, because many wives dominate their hus­bands and often have no desire, sexual or psycho­logical, for their husbands. A translation of Genesis 3:16b would now read: "and your desire shall be to control your husband but he should master you." She summarizes the reasons for preferring this inter­pretation:

  1. It is consistent with the context. The pun­ishment for sin is the destruction of the har­mony of marriage.
  2. It permits a consistent understanding of teshugah in the Old Testa­ment and one which is consistent with its etymology.
  3. It recognizes the parallel be­tween Genesis 3:16b and Genesis 4:7b;
  4. It explains the fact that husbands do not rule their wives. (It is further supported by the New Testament commands for wives to submit to their husbands and for elders to rule their families).

This work of Susan Foh leads to a very important conclusion. Women's insubordination to their hus­bands and their desire to master them, by whatever means, wit or force, flows from Original Sin. It is a product of Sin. It is a product of the Fall. Things were not so from the beginning. This characterizes much of the work of the Women's Liberation Movement not as "Christian" or even harmless, but as sinful. Christian women must remember that God's com­mand to Adam was to rule his wife, or at least try to. If we wish to get back to the perfection of paradise in this matter, the wife should acknowledge the head­ship of her husband and the husband should lovingly lead his wife.

Paul builds his theology of the relative author­ity-functions of men and women in the church upon the God-ordained structure in the prelapsarian family. As the inspired apostle, he need not have presented any Scriptural argument with his com­mand that women be submissive in the churches. He had direct revelation from God and so could lay down commands binding on the church till the end of time. As an apostle, he had authority over the churches. However, in order further to convince the contentious, Paul often proves his point with argu­ments from the generally accepted Scriptures of the Old Testament. The question at issue is one of those.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul argues for the hierarchy: God, Christ, man, woman, reasoning from the fact that the woman was created out of man and for the man. Of course, this does not make the man superior to the woman, just as it does not make God superior to Christ. Man cannot exist without the woman in the sense that, since the first woman was created, all men have been born from women. Man and woman are mutually dependent and ontologically equal but there is a relational distinction. Man is the head of the woman as God is the head of Christ (v. 3). The male leadership in the church develops naturally from this doctrine of the headship of man which, as we have just seen, is clearly taught in the creation ac­count. Similarly in 1 Timothy 2 the woman's silence and subjection in church are grounded in Genesis ­1-3. Adam had a priority being created first. When the authority relations were reversed, deception and transgression followed.

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34🔗

1 Corinthians 14:34 is somewhat more difficult. Paul commands that the woman be "in subjection as saith the law." The question arises as to what "the law" refers to here. Some suggest that it refers to the rabbinic tradition which imposed silence upon a woman in the synagogue as a sign of her subjection.

Paul, however, just before this, in verse 21, used the law in the sense of the Old Testament Scriptures. He is using it here with the same significance. The reason why so many find difficulty with the words "as also saith the law" is that they misread Genesis 3:16. They see the role of man over woman as part of the curse which came in with sin and was removed by the death of Christ. As we have seen, this is exactly the opposite of the true meaning of the verse. Rather, the law in Genesis 3:16 states plainly that the woman should be in subjection and that all insub­ordination is sinful and a product of the fall.

Thus we see that in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul bases his doctrine of the headship of man and the consequent exclusion of women from the preaching and ruling function in the congregation, upon the creation order. Just as God at creation gave human­ity the mandate for cultural development (Gen. 1:28), and the creation order for marriage (Gen. 2:24), so also he laid down the order for male/female rela­tions. Paul does not appeal to the culture of his own day, but rather to that which transcends culture and indeed should be determinative in cultural develop­ment, the God-ordained pattern of existence laid down at creation.

Having argued on the basis of what the Law says in 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul proceeds to declare in verse 35 that "it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church." Many writers understand by this that it was shameful in the general estimation of people at the time for the woman to speak in the church.

Paul, however, does not say that. The only judge he has appealed to in the passage is "the Law," i.e. God's Word and so God Himself. So Paul does not mean or imply, "in my judgment or in that of the churches or of the public in general." What really matters is what God thinks and if something is shameful in His sight. Paul pertinently adds two rhetorical questions loaded with irony: "What? Was it from you that the Word of God went forth? Or came it unto you alone?" (1 Corinthians 14:36). Paul shows here again what is meant by the "law" in verse 34, namely God's Word. God Himself is the sender of His Word. The force of the first question is that the Corinthians are implying by their behaviour that they want to take the place of God and that they know better than Him. They were making God's Word mean what they thought it should mean. The second question has the same force. They were im­plying that they were the only ones who received God's Word and were presuming to tell everyone else what to do. Perhaps these two questions could relevantly be applied to those who are asserting that Paul's command to women to be in subjection is culturally conditioned.

  1. Summary🔗

The essential (ontological) equality of man and woman as taught by Genesis 1:27 does not preclude subordination in relationship. Genesis 2 shows clearly that the man had a headship role in the pre-fallen family. This can be seen from the following:

  1. The fact that Adam was created first and that Eve was brought to him as an answer to his need.
  2. God made His covenant with Adam thus acknowledging him as head of the human race (Genesis 2:16, 17). This headship of Adam is further seen in Chapter 3 where God addresses him first as the representative of Eve (Genesis 3:9-12).
  3. The woman was made from the man (Genesis 2:21, 22). Adam accepts Eve and gives her name.
  4. Reversal of the God-ordained authority relations was a factor in the fall.
  5. Adam, before the fall, was the head of Eve because the New Testament teaches this (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1Timothy 2:13-14).

Genesis 3 teaches that the fall brought tension into the man/woman relationship. The woman has a desire to control her husband but God says to the man that he should rule his wife. We saw how Paul based his argument for the subjection of women in the church upon that which transcends cultures, the God-ordered pattern, and so it does not matter what cultural changes take place, the woman must not rule or teach in the congregation. By basing its argument upon authority-relations within the prelapsarian family, Paul explains why women would wish to lead in the churches. It is an expression of the curse which has made a woman insubordinate to her husband. By the grace of God, women should try to overcome such sinful desires for leadership over men in the churches.


  1. ^ Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, (New York: McGraw‑Hill, 1971), pp. 325-329.
  2. ^ Anne Atkins, Split Image, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987), p. 14.
  3. ^ lbid., pp. 226, 239.
  4. ^ Elaine Storkey, What's Right with Feminism, (London: SCK 1985), p. 149.
  5. ^ John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, (Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1984), p. 234.
  6. ^ Storkey, op. cit., p. 47.
  7. ^ Paul Jewett, Man as Male and Female, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 112.
  8. ^ Alvera Mickelsen, Ed. Women, Authority and the Bible, (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1987), p. 50.
  9. ^ lbid., p. 57.
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 83.
  11. ^ Shirley Lees, Ed., The Role of Women, (Leicester: IVP., 1984), p. 140.
  12. ^ op. cit., p. 254.
  13. ^ Stott, op. cit., p. 253.
  14. ^ Mickelsen, op. cit., p. 296.
  15. ^ Paul Jewett, Man as Male and Female, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 112-113.
  16. ^ op. cit., p. 119.
  17. ^ James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in 1 Corinthians, unpublished Ph.D dissertation, (Cambridge University, 1973).
  18. ^ op. cit. pp. 62-65.
  19. ^ op. cit., pp. 46, 83-84.
  20. ^ Clarence Vos, Women in Old Testament Worship, (Delft N.V. Verenijde Drukkerijen Judels Brinkman, 1968), p. 17.
  21. ^ Susan T. Foh, "What is the Woman's Desire? The Westminster Theological Journal, XXXVII No. 3, (Spring 1975), p. 376-383.

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