A Woman’s Honorable Role
“WHY should a woman be more like a man?” This somewhat ambiguous question was the title of an article by psychologist Carol Gilligan in which she stated: “Woman’s place in man’s life cycle has been that of nurturer, caretaker, and helpmate, the weaver of those networks of relationships on which she, in turn, relies. But while women have thus taken care of men, it is equally true that men . . . have tended to devalue that care.”—Psychology Today.
It is a present-day fact that many women feel justified in complaining about certain inequalities and discrimination against their sex. Admittedly, selfish men have exploited womenfolk in all parts of the world—in some countries and civilizations more than in others. Some explain that this is due to social systems that assign a subordinate role to women. Others point to the Bible as being at least partly to blame, claiming that in both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures (commonly called the Old and New Testaments) the Bible is hard on women. Is this true?
God’s Purpose for Woman
The Bible states: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, . . . male and female he created them.” What was the purpose of this sexual distinction? The answer is clear. It would enable the first couple to carry out the divine order outlined in the very next verse: “God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection . . . every living creature that is moving upon the earth.’”—Genesis 1:27, 28.
Notice that this order was given to “them,” to both the man and the woman. Both would share not only in filling the earth with other humans but also in subduing the earth and exercising dominion over the lower creatures in harmony with God’s will. To do this, both would need intellectual and spiritual qualities, and they had the same potential for developing these.
God did, however, assign different roles and responsibilities to man and woman. During the time it took Adam to study the animal species and give them names, he acted as a perfect, complete man. For that assigned task he lacked nothing. (Genesis 2:19, 20) But when the time came for man to begin filling the earth with offspring, obviously he needed a wife. That is why “Jehovah God went on to say: ‘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.’”—Genesis 2:18.
The Bible says that God made her as “a helper for him, as a complement of him.” The Hebrew word translated “complement” can also be rendered “counterpart,” which has been defined as “a thing that fits another perfectly.” God’s purpose for woman was for her to be a fitting complement of man in the fulfillment of their joint mission, which was to “fill the earth and subdue it.”
God’s Original Arrangement Distorted
The Bible does state that “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:13) It describes woman as “a weaker vessel, the feminine one,” and says that, just as man has a head (Christ), “the head of a woman is the man.”—1 Peter 3:7; 1 Corinthians 11:3.
According to Jehovah’s original arrangement, monogamy was the standard for marriage. (Genesis 2:24) Man was created first and was to take the lead in all matters concerning worship and godly activities carried out with a view to filling the earth and subduing it. This would include family matters. The father was to be the head of the household, but this would not be to the detriment of the wife. Rather, it would be to her advantage because she would have someone to back her up when she wielded her God-given authority over her children.—Ephesians 6:1-4.
As in other areas of human endeavor, sin and imperfection have marred this proper relationship between man and woman. (Romans 7:14-20) Selfish men have abused their rightful headship, bringing much suffering to womenfolk throughout the ages. Foreseeing this particular consequence of sin, Jehovah said to Eve after her rebellion: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16) This abusive dominating would not be the proper exercise of headship. It would reflect man’s sinful condition, and also woman’s, for sometimes it would result from her attempting to usurp her husband’s authority.
Women Under the Law of Moses
The Law Jehovah gave to Israel protected the rights of virgins. (Exodus 22:16) It safeguarded “the due right of daughters.” (Exodus 21:9) Wives were to be “cherished,” not “dealt treacherously” with. (Deuteronomy 13:6; Malachi 2:14, 15) The dignity of wives was to be respected in sexual matters. (Leviticus 18:19) Women were not to be sexually abused.—Leviticus 18:8-17.
Writing in the book Religion and Sexism, doctor of theology Phyllis Bird states: “Israel’s laws differ most notably from other known law codes in their unusual severity in the field of sexual transgression . . . Israel’s view of the proper place of sex and the harsh penalties laid upon sexual offenders presumably reflect a deliberate antithesis to the practices of the surrounding peoples (specifically Canaanites) . . . Sexual offenses are religious offenses in Israel. They are not private matters but matters of vital concern to the whole community.” Such strict laws certainly protected the rights of women.
In Israel, men and women were equal before the Law if they were found guilty of adultery, incest, bestiality, or other crimes. (Leviticus 18:6, 23; 20:10-12) Laws concerning Sabbath benefits, festivals, Nazirite vows, and other provisions applied equally to men and women. —Exodus 20:10; Numbers 6:2; Deuteronomy 12:18; 16:11-14.
In the book of Proverbs, the Bible praises the “good wife,” the “capable wife,” the “discreet wife,” and “the truly wise woman.” (Proverbs 18:22; 12:4; 19:14; 14:1) Proverbs chapter 31 describes such “a capable wife” and shows how much trust her husband had in her and how many prerogatives he allowed her in handling important household matters. Unquestionably, when the Law was followed in Israel, women were not treated badly.
Women in the Christian Congregation
Under patriarchal and Mosaic Law, polygamy and concubinage were tolerated; but they were regulated, and the rights of both wives and concubines were protected. (Genesis 16:3; 29:23-29; Exodus 21:7, 8; Deuteronomy 21:14-17) Christ, however, restored God’s original standard for marriage, namely, one man for one woman. (Matthew 19:4-6) He also did away with divorce on any sort of grounds, allowing only one valid reason—fornication.—Matthew 19:7-9.
Of course, Christ’s tightening up of the marriage arrangement benefited both men and women within the Christian congregation. But it is obvious that women were the prime beneficiaries.
According to Christian standards, wives were to be loved and cherished. (Ephesians 5:28, 29, 33) Male members of the congregation were to treat younger women “as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Christian women received the holy spirit and ‘prophesied,’ or boldly spoke forth “the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:11-18) Older Christian women were to be “teachers of what is good” for their younger spiritual sisters. (Titus 2:3, 4) All, young and old, were to take an active part in carrying out the commission to ‘make disciples of people of all the nations.’—Matthew 28:19, 20.
God’s original arrangement for marriage was restored within the Christian congregation. Here, the principle of male headship was to be respected. (1 Corinthians 11:3) Christian women were to be in subjection to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24) They were also to respect the elders appointed within the congregation, all of whom were men, whether these were single or were ‘husbands of one wife.’ (1 Timothy 3:2) Christian women were to leave public teaching in the congregation to such appointed “older men” and refrain from publicly contradicting such teachers. (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35) This would make for peace within the individual congregations. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40) Any improper feminine influence within a congregation would incur Christ’s unfavorable judgment.—Revelation 2:20-23.
Jehovah’s Concern for Women
Is the Bible hard on women? No. Throughout its pages, it reveals Jehovah’s deep concern for the happiness and welfare of this “weaker vessel, the feminine one,” of which he is the Creator. They are assigned honor. (1 Peter 3:7) He knows best which role is suited to each of the sexes, for their mutual benefit. He has given headship to men but many precious privileges to his female servants, including the great honor of being his witnesses. “Jehovah himself gives the saying; the women telling the good news are a large army.”—Psalm 68:11.
Psychologist Carol Gilligan put the question, “Why should a woman be more like a man?” The Bible answers: There is no good reason. She will be happier herself and make others happier if she fulfills her God-assigned role.