An adult human female, one beyond the age of puberty. The Hebrew expression for woman is ʼish·shahʹ (literally, a female man), which is also rendered “wife.” Similarly, the Greek term gy·neʹ is translated both “woman” and “wife.”
Creation. Before the man Adam ever asked for a human companion, God his Creator made provision. After placing Adam in the garden of Eden and giving him the law respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, Jehovah said: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” (Ge 2:18) He did not oblige the man to go seeking a companion among the animals, but he brought the animals to Adam for naming. Adam was not inclined toward bestiality and was able to determine that there was no suitable companion for him among these. (Ge 2:19, 20) “Hence Jehovah God had a deep sleep fall upon the man and, while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over its place. And Jehovah God proceeded to build the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman and to bring her to the man. Then the man said: ‘This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.’”
Position and Responsibilities. The woman, being created out of the man, was dependent upon the man for being brought into existence. Being part of the man, “one flesh” with him, and a complement and helper to him, she was subject to him as her head. She was also under the law that God had given Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. She was responsible to work for the good of the man. Together they were to have children and to exercise dominion over the animals.
Since the normal course for women in Bible times was to marry, the scriptures that treat of the woman’s responsibilities usually have reference to her position as a wife. The primary duty of all women in Israel was to serve Jehovah God in true worship. Abigail, who became the wife of David after her good-for-nothing husband Nabal died, was an example of this. Even though Nabal took a bad course, refusing to use his material goods to help David, the anointed of Jehovah, Abigail realized that she, as Nabal’s wife, was not obligated to follow her husband in such action contrary to Jehovah’s will. Jehovah blessed her when her assisting his anointed one showed her persistence in right worship.
Secondarily, the woman was to obey her husband. She was responsible to work hard for the good of the household and to bring honor to her husbandly head. This would bring the greatest glory to her. Proverbs 14:1 says: “The truly wise woman has built up her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.” She should always speak well of her husband and increase the respect of others for him, and he should be able to take pride in her. “A capable wife is a crown to her owner, but as rottenness in his bones is she that acts shamefully.” (Pr 12:4) The honorable position and the privileges she has as a wife, together with the blessings to her because of faithfulness, industriousness, and wisdom, are described in Proverbs chapter 31.
A Hebrew woman who was a mother had much to do with the training of her children in righteousness, respectfulness, and industriousness and often did much in counseling and influencing older sons for good. (Ge 27:5-10; Ex 2:7-10; Pr 1:8; 31:1; 2Ti 1:5; 3:14, 15) Girls, especially, were trained to be good wives by learning from their mothers the arts of cooking, weaving, and general household management, while the father taught the son a trade. Wives also were free to express themselves to their husbands (Ge 16:5, 6) and at times aided their husbands in arriving at right decisions.
The bride was usually selected for a man by the parents. But, doubtless under the Law, as it was earlier in Rebekah’s case, the girl had an opportunity to voice her feelings and will in the matter. (Ge 24:57, 58) Although polygamy was practiced, God not yet acting to restore the original state of monogamy until the Christian congregation was established (Ge 2:23, 24; Mt 19:4-6; 1Ti 3:2), polygamous relationships were regulated.
Even the military laws favored both wife and husband in exempting a newly married man for one year. This gave the couple the opportunity to exercise their right to have a child, which would be a great comfort to the mother when the husband was away, and even more so if he should die in battle.
Laws applied with equal force to both men and women who were guilty of adultery, incest, bestiality, and other crimes. (Le 18:6, 23; 20:10-12; De 22:22) Women were not to wear the clothing of a man or a man the clothing of a woman, a practice that might open the way for immorality, including homosexuality. (De 22:5) Women could participate in the benefits of the Sabbaths, the laws governing Nazirites, the festivals, and, in general, all the provisions of the Law. (Ex 20:10; Nu 6:2; De 12:18; 16:11, 14) The mother, as well as the father, was to be honored and obeyed.
Privileges in the Christian Congregation. For those called by God to the heavenly calling (Heb 3:1) to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ, there is no distinction between men and women in a spiritual sense. The apostle writes: “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ . . . there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus.” (Ga 3:26-28) These all must receive a change of nature at their resurrection, being made partakers together of “divine nature,” in which state none will be women, for there is no female sex among spirit creatures, sex being God’s means for reproduction of earthly creatures.
Proclaimers of the good news. Women, spoken of as “daughters” and “women slaves” in Joel’s prophecy, were among those receiving the gifts of holy spirit on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. From that day forward the Christian women who were favored with these gifts talked in foreign tongues that they had not understood before, and they ‘prophesied,’ not necessarily making predictions of important future events, but speaking forth Bible truths.
Their speaking about Bible truths to others was not to be limited to fellow believers. Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus had told his followers: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Ac 1:8) Thereafter, on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., when holy spirit was poured out upon them, the entire group of some 120 disciples (including some women) were empowered as his witnesses (Ac 1:14, 15; 2:3, 4); and the prophecy of Joel (2:28, 29) quoted by Peter on that occasion included reference to such women. So they were numbered among those who bore the responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” Consistent with that, the apostle Paul later reported that Euodia and Syntyche, in Philippi, had “striven side by side with [him] in the good news”; and Luke mentioned Priscilla as sharing with her husband Aquila in ‘expounding the way of God’ in Ephesus.
Congregational meetings. There were meetings when these women could pray or prophesy, provided they wore a head covering. (1Co 11:3-16; see HEAD COVERING.) However, at what were evidently public meetings, when “the whole congregation” as well as “unbelievers” assembled in one place (1Co 14:23-25), women were to “keep silent.” If ‘they wanted to learn something, they could question their own husbands at home, for it was disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation.’
While not permitted to teach in congregational assembly, a woman could teach persons outside the congregation who desired to learn the truth of the Bible and the good news about Jesus Christ (compare Ps 68:11), as well as be a ‘teacher of what is good’ to younger women (and children) within the congregation. (Tit 2:3-5) But she was not to exercise authority over a man or dispute with men, as, for example, in the meetings of the congregation. She was to remember what happened to Eve and how God expressed the matter of woman’s position after Adam and Eve had sinned.
Men serve as overseers, ministerial servants. In the discussion of “gifts in men” given by Christ to the congregation, there is no mention of women. The words “apostles,” “prophets,” “evangelizers,” “shepherds,” and “teachers” are all in the masculine gender. (Eph 4:8, 11) Ephesians 4:11 is rendered by the American Translation: “And he has given us some men as apostles, some as prophets, some as missionaries, some as pastors and teachers.”
In full accord with this, when the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about the qualifications for the service positions of “overseers” (e·piʹsko·poi), who were also “older men” (pre·sbyʹte·roi), and of “ministerial servants” (di·aʹko·noi) in the congregation, he specifically states that they must be men and, if married, ‘the husband of one wife.’ No discussion by any of the apostles discusses any office of “deaconess” (di·a·koʹnis·sa).
Although Phoebe is mentioned (Ro 16:1) as a “minister” (di·aʹko·nos, without the Greek definite article), it is evident that she was not an appointed female ministerial servant in the congregation, because the Scriptures make no provision for such. The apostle did not tell the congregation to receive instructions from her but, rather, to receive her well and to ‘assist her in any matter where she might need them.’ (Ro 16:2) Paul’s reference to her as a minister evidently has something to do with her activity in the spreading of the good news, and he was speaking of Phoebe as a female minister who was associated with the congregation in Cenchreae.
In the home. The woman is described in the Scriptures as “a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” She is to be treated accordingly by her husband. (1Pe 3:7) She has many privileges, such as sharing in teaching the children and generally managing the internal affairs of the household, under her husband’s approval and direction. (1Ti 5:14; 1Pe 3:1, 2; Pr 1:8; 6:20; chap 31) She has the duty of submission to her husband. (Eph 5:22-24) She owes him the marital due.
Adornment. The Bible throughout does not condemn adornment in clothing or the wearing of jewelry, but it commands that modesty and propriety be the governing factors. The apostle instructs that feminine dress be well arranged and that women adorn themselves “with modesty and soundness of mind.” Emphasis should not be put on hairstyles, ornaments, and expensive clothing but, rather, on the things contributing to spiritual beauty, namely, “good works” and “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit.”
The apostle Peter tells such submissive women who display chaste, respectful, godly conduct that “you have become [Sarah’s] children, provided you keep on doing good and not fearing any cause for terror.” So these wives have a grand opportunity, not by being descended from faithful Sarah in a fleshly way but by imitating her. Sarah was privileged to bear Isaac and become an ancestress of Jesus Christ, who is primarily the ‘seed of Abraham.’ (Ga 3:16) Thus Christian wives, proving themselves to be figurative daughters of Sarah even toward unbelieving husbands, are sure to receive a rich reward at God’s hands.
Women Ministered to Jesus. Women enjoyed privileges in connection with Jesus’ earthly ministry, but not the privileges given to the 12 apostles and the 70 evangelizers. (Mt 10:1-8; Lu 10:1-7) A number of women ministered to Jesus from their belongings. (Lu 8:1-3) One anointed him a few days before his death, and for her act Jesus promised: “Wherever this good news is preached in all the world, what this woman did shall also be told as a remembrance of her.” (Mt 26:6-13; Joh 12:1-8) Women were among those to whom Jesus especially appeared on the day of his resurrection, and women were among those to whom he appeared later.
Figurative Use. In several instances women are used symbolically to represent congregations or organizations of people. They also are employed to symbolize cities. Christ’s glorified congregation is spoken of as his “bride,” also called “the holy city, New Jerusalem.”
Jehovah spoke to the congregation or nation of Israel as his “woman,” he being as “a husbandly owner” to her by reason of the Law covenant relationship between them. In restoration prophecies he speaks to Israel in this way, sometimes directing his words to Jerusalem, the governing city of the nation. The “sons” and “daughters” (Isa 43:5-7) of this woman were the members of the nation of Israel.
In many instances other nations or cities are referred to as feminine or as women. A few are: Moab (Jer 48:41), Egypt (Jer 46:11), Rabbah of Ammon (Jer 49:2), Babylon (Jer 51:13), and symbolic Babylon the Great.
The “woman” of Genesis 3:15. At the time that he sentenced humankind’s parents, Adam and Eve, God gave the promise of a seed that would be brought forth by the “woman,” and who would crush the serpent’s head. (Ge 3:15) Here was a “sacred secret” that God purposed to reveal in his due time. (Col 1:26) Some factors in the circumstances existing at the time of the prophetic promise provide clues as to the ‘woman’s’ identity. Since her seed was to crush the serpent’s head, he would have to be more than a human seed, for the Scriptures show that it was not to a literal snake on the ground that God’s words were aimed. The “serpent” is shown at Revelation 12:9 to be Satan the Devil, a spirit person. Consequently, the “woman” of the prophecy could not be a human woman, such as Mary the mother of Jesus. The apostle sheds light on the matter at Galatians 4:21-31.
In this passage the apostle speaks of Abraham’s free wife and of his concubine Hagar and says that Hagar corresponds to the literal city of Jerusalem under the Law covenant, her “children” being the citizens of the Jewish nation. Abraham’s wife Sarah, Paul says, corresponds to “the Jerusalem above,” who is the spiritual mother of Paul and his spirit-begotten associates. This heavenly “mother” would be also the “mother” of Christ, who is the oldest among his spiritual brothers, all of whom spring from God as their Father.
It would follow logically and in harmony with the Scriptures that the “woman” of Genesis 3:15 would be a spiritual “woman.” And corresponding to the fact that the “bride,” or “wife,” of Christ is not an individual woman, but a composite one, made of many spiritual members (Re 21:9), the “woman” who brings forth God’s spiritual sons, God’s ‘wife’ (prophetically foretold in the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah as cited in the foregoing), would be made up of many spiritual persons. It would be a composite body of persons, an organization, a heavenly one.
This “woman” is described in John’s vision, in Revelation chapter 12. She is shown as bringing forth a son, a ruler who is to “shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.” (Compare Ps 2:6-9; 110:1, 2.) This vision was given to John long after Jesus’ human birth and also after his anointing as God’s Messiah. Since it obviously has to do with the same person, it must have reference, not to Jesus’ human birth, but to some other event, namely, his being installed in Kingdom power. So the birth of God’s Messianic Kingdom was here pictured.
Satan is shown later as persecuting the “woman” and making war with “the remaining ones of her seed.” (Re 12:13, 17) The “woman” being heavenly, and Satan by this time being hurled down to the earth (Re 12:7-9), he could not reach those heavenly persons of whom the “woman” was made up, but he could reach the remaining ones of her “seed,” her children, the brothers of Jesus Christ still on earth. In that way he persecuted the “woman.”
Other uses. In foretelling famine conditions to come upon Israel if they disobeyed and broke his covenant, God said: “Ten women will then actually bake your bread in but one oven and give back your bread by weight.” The famine would be so great that ten women would need only one oven, whereas they would each use one in normal times.
After warning Israel of the calamities that would come upon her for unfaithfulness, Jehovah said, through Isaiah the prophet: “And seven women will actually grab hold of one man in that day, saying: ‘We shall eat our own bread and wear our own mantles; only may we be called by your name to take away our reproach.’” (Isa 4:1) In the preceding two verses (Isa 3:25, 26), God had pointed out that Israel’s men would fall by war. So he was telling Israel of the inroads such conditions would make on the manpower of the nation, creating such a shortage that several women would attach themselves to one man. They would be glad to take his name and have some male attentions, even if they had to share him with other women. They would accept polygamy or concubinage to have some little part in a man’s life. Thereby some of the reproach of widowhood or of the unmarried state, and childlessness, would be removed.
In a prophecy comforting Israel, Jehovah said: “How long will you turn this way and that, O unfaithful daughter? For Jehovah has created a new thing in the earth: A mere female will press around an able-bodied man.” (“The woman woos the man!” AT) (Jer 31:22) Up until then Israel, with whom God was in the relationship of marriage by reason of the Law covenant, was turning “this way and that” in unfaithfulness. Now Jehovah invites the “virgin of Israel” to set up road marks and signposts to guide her back and to fix her heart upon the highway that leads back. (Jer 31:21) Jehovah will put his spirit in her so that she will be most eager to come back. Thus, as a wife would press around her husband in order to get back into good relations with him, so Israel would press around Jehovah God in order to get back into good relations with him as her husband.
“The desire of women.” Of “the king of the north,” Daniel’s prophecy says: “To the God of his fathers he will give no consideration; and to the desire of women and to every other god he will give no consideration, but over everyone he will magnify himself. But to the god of fortresses, in his position he will give glory.” (Da 11:37, 38) “Women” here may represent the weaker nations who become ‘handmaids’ of “the king of the north,” as weaker vessels. They have their gods that they desire and worship, but the “king of the north” disregards them and pays homage to a god of militarism.
The symbolic “locusts.” In the vision of the symbolic “locusts” at Revelation 9:1-11, these locusts are depicted as having “hair as women’s hair.” In harmony with the Scriptural principle that the woman’s long hair is a sign of her subjection to her husbandly head, the hair of these symbolic “locusts” must represent the subjection of those whom they symbolize to the one who is shown in the prophecy to be head and king over them.
144,000 ‘not defiled with women.’ In Revelation 14:1-4, the 144,000 described as standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion are said to have been “bought from the earth. These are the ones that did not defile themselves with women; in fact, they are virgins.” These are shown as having a more intimate relationship with the Lamb than any others do, being the only ones to master the “new song.” (Re 14:1-4) This would indicate that they make up the “bride” of the Lamb. (Re 21:9) They are spiritual persons, as revealed by the fact that they stand on the heavenly Mount Zion with the Lamb. Therefore their ‘not defiling themselves with women’ and their being “virgins” would not mean that none of these 144,000 persons had ever been married, for the Scriptures do not forbid persons on earth who are to be joint heirs with Christ to marry. (1Ti 3:2; 4:1, 3) Neither would it imply that all the 144,000 were men, for “there is neither male nor female” as far as the spiritual relationship of Christ’s joint heirs is concerned. (Ga 3:28) The “women” therefore must be symbolic women, doubtless religious organizations such as Babylon the Great and her ‘daughters,’ false religious organizations, the joining of and participation in which would prevent one from being spotless. (Re 17:5) This symbolic description harmonizes with the requirement in the Law that the high priest of Israel take only a virgin for his wife, for Jesus Christ is Jehovah’s great High Priest.
With reference to Jesus’ addressing Mary as “woman,” see MARY No. 1 (Respected, Loved by Jesus).