Woman’s Role in the Scriptures
“This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.”—GENESIS 2:23.
1, 2. (a) How do some people think the Bible views women? (b) To be fair, what comparison should be made, and what does one reference book state?
HOW do the Holy Scriptures view women? Opinions on this vary. One recent book on the subject states: “A current preconceived idea is that the Bible has belittled women.” Some people claim that in both its Hebrew and its Greek parts, the Bible is hard on women. Is this true?
2 To be fair, it is appropriate first to examine how women were treated in Bible times among peoples who did not worship Jehovah. In some ancient civilizations that practiced mother-goddess worship, women were honored as symbols of fertility. They appear to have been held in high esteem in Babylonia and Egypt. But elsewhere they fared less well. In ancient Assyria a man could put away his wife at will and even kill her if she was unfaithful. Outside the home, she had to wear a veil. In Greece and Rome, only rich women, many of whom were courtesans, or high-class prostitutes, had access to education and enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. Hence, it is refreshing to read in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:* “In contrast with the rest of the oriental (religious) world, she [woman in the Hebrew Scriptures] is recognized as a person and as a man’s partner.” This is well stated in the concluding book of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Jehovah’s prophet describes a man’s wife as his “partner,” adding: “With the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously.”—Malachi 2:14, 15.
Created as Man’s Counterpart
3 and footnote. (a) After creating Adam, what assignments of work did Jehovah give him? (b) Even though he had as yet no wife, what was true of Adam before Eve’s creation, and what was also true of “the last Adam,” Jesus?
3 According to the Bible, Jehovah created Adam “out of dust from the ground” and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate it. God brought the wild beasts of the field and the flying creatures to Adam so that he could study them and give them names. During whatever time it took for Adam to do this, he was alone. For the assignments he had received from Jehovah thus far, he was perfect, complete, lacking nothing.* He had “no helper as a complement of him.”—Genesis 2:7, 15, 19, 20.
4, 5. (a) When it was no longer good for Adam to continue alone, what did Jehovah do? (b) What long-term assignment did Jehovah give to Adam and Eve, and what would this require of both of them?
4 However, after some time had passed, Jehovah declared that it was “not good for the man to continue by himself,” and he proceeded to provide Adam with a companion to share with him in the tasks that lay ahead. He anesthetized Adam, extracted one of his ribs, and built it into a woman, ‘bone of Adam’s bones and flesh of his flesh.’ Now Adam would have “a helper,” “a complement,” or a counterpart. “Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.’”—Genesis 1:25, 28; 2:18, 21-23.
5 Notice that this assignment was given to “them,” to both the man and the woman. Their collaboration would not be limited to filling the earth. It would also include the subduing of the earth and the exercising of proper dominion over all the lower creatures. It would require intellectual and spiritual qualities, and both the man and the woman had the necessary potential for developing these in harmony with God’s will.
Woman’s Logical Role
6. (a) What does the Bible indicate about the relative physical strength of man and of woman? (b) How would women do well to reason in order to accept Jehovah’s arrangement of things?
6 Of course, subduing the earth would also take physical strength. In his infinite wisdom, Jehovah created Adam first, then Eve. She was created “out of man,” “for the sake of the man,” and apparently with less physical strength than man. (1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8, 9; compare 1 Peter 3:7.) This is a fact of life that many feminists, and some other women too, seem to have difficulty in accepting. They would certainly be happier if they tried to understand why Jehovah arranged things this way, thus accepting their God-given role. Persons who complain about God’s arrangements might be compared to a nightingale that sulks in its nest because it is not as strong as a sea gull, instead of flying to a high branch and singing in gratitude for the unique gifts God has given it.
7. Why was Adam in a good position to exercise headship over Eve and any children that would be born, but was this to Eve’s detriment?
7 Before Eve was created, Adam doubtless gained much experience in living. During this time, Jehovah gave him certain instructions. Adam was to transmit these to his wife, thus acting as God’s spokesman. Logically, he should have taken the lead in all matters concerning worship and godly activities that they were to carry out with a view to accomplishing their assignment. When children were born, he would be the head of the family. But this would not be to the detriment of his wife. Rather, it would be to her advantage because she would have someone to back her up when she wielded her own God-given authority over her children.
8. What divine order of things is outlined in the Bible?
8 According to the divine order of things, Adam was answerable to Jehovah, Eve was under the headship of Adam, any children would be under the direction of their parents, and the animals were in subjection to humankind. Man and woman had their respective roles, and each could live a happy and productive life. Thus, ‘all things could take place decently and according to order.’—1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:33, 40, footnote.
Sin Distorted Woman’s Role
9, 10. What were the consequences of the fall into sin for man and woman, and in what has this resulted for many women?
9 Naturally, the invasion of sin and imperfection into the original Paradise marred this orderly arrangement of things. (Romans 7:14-20) It brought hardship for the rebellious man and his disobedient wife. (Genesis 3:16-19) Since then, many selfish men have abused their rightful headship, bringing much suffering to women throughout the ages.
10 Foreseeing this particular consequence of sin, Jehovah said to Eve: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16) This abusive domineering has not been the proper exercise of headship. It has reflected man’s sinful condition and also woman’s imperfection, for sometimes women have suffered because they have attempted to usurp their husband’s authority.
11. What is true of many women, and what did one author write about women in patriarchal times?
11 But to the extent that Bible principles have been adhered to, many women have found fulfillment and happiness. This was so even in patriarchal times. Speaking of that period in her book La Bible au Féminin (The Bible in the Feminine Gender), author Laure Aynard writes: “What is particularly outstanding in all these accounts is the important role played by women, their prestige in the eyes of the patriarchs, their bold initiative, and the climate of freedom in which they lived.”
Women Under the Law of Moses
12, 13. (a) What was the status of women under the Law of Moses? (b) How did women fare spiritually under the Law?
12 According to Jehovah’s laws given through Moses, wives were to be “cherished.” (Deuteronomy 13:6) The dignity of wives was to be respected in sexual matters, and no woman was to be sexually abused. (Leviticus 18:8-19) Men and women were equal before the Law if they were found guilty of adultery, incest, or bestiality. (Leviticus 18:6, 23; 20:10-12) The fifth commandment required that equal honor be given to the father and the mother.—Exodus 20:12.
13 Above all, the Law provided women with full opportunity to develop their spirituality. They benefited from the reading of the Law. (Joshua 8:35; Nehemiah 8:2, 3) They were required to observe religious festivals. (Deuteronomy 12:12, 18; 16:11, 14) They shared in the weekly Sabbath and could take the Nazirite vow. (Exodus 20:8; Numbers 6:2) They had a personal relationship with Jehovah and prayed to him individually.—1 Samuel 1:10.
14. What does a Catholic Bible scholar say about Hebrew women, and what can be said about woman’s role under the Law?
14 Commenting on Hebrew women, Catholic Bible scholar Roland de Vaux writes: “All the hard work at home certainly fell to her; she looked after the flocks, worked in the fields, cooked the food, did the spinning, and so on. All this apparent drudgery, however, far from lowering her status, earned her consideration. . . . And those rare passages which give us a glimpse into the intimacy of family life show that an Israelite wife was loved and listened to by her husband, and treated by him as an equal. . . . And there is no doubt that this was the normal picture. It was a faithful reflection of the teaching enshrined in Genesis, where God is said to have created woman as a helpmate for man, to whom he was to cling (Gn 2:18, 24); and the last chapter of Proverbs sings the praises of a good housewife, blessed by her children, and the pride of her husband (Pr 31:10-31).” (Ancient Israel—Its Life and Institutions) Unquestionably, when the Law was followed in Israel, women were not treated badly.
15. (a) How does Sarah’s conduct illustrate a proper relationship between a man and his wife? (b) Why is Rahab’s case worthy of note?
15 The Hebrew Scriptures contain many examples of women who were outstanding servants of Jehovah God. Sarah provides a fine illustration of how a godly woman can be at once submissive to her husband and helpful to him in making decisions. (Genesis 21:9-13; 1 Peter 3:5, 6) Rahab’s case is noteworthy. It gives the lie to the accusation that Jehovah is racially prejudiced and hard on women. Rahab was a non-Israelite prostitute. Not only did Jehovah accept her as a worshiper but because of her great faith, backed up by works including a change of life-style, he declared her righteous. In addition, he rewarded her with the signal privilege of becoming an ancestress of the Messiah.—Matthew 1:1, 5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25.
16. What does the example of Abigail illustrate, and why was her course of action justified?
16 Illustrating that Jehovah does not require a wife to be blindly submissive to her husband is the case of Abigail. Her husband was a wealthy man, with large flocks of sheep and goats. But he was “harsh and bad in his practices.” Abigail refused to follow her husband in his bad course. Showing discretion, good sense, humility, and quick-mindedness, she prevented a situation that could have been disastrous for her household, and she was richly blessed by Jehovah.—1 Samuel 25:2-42.
17. (a) What outstanding privilege did some women have in Israel? (b) What lesson does the example of Miriam contain for Christian women who may be given certain privileges of service?
17 A few women were even prophetesses. Such was the case with Deborah, during the time of the Judges. (Judges, chapters 4 and 5) Huldah was a prophetess in Judah, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 22:14-20) The case of Miriam is worthy of note. Although she is spoken of as a prophetess, sent by Jehovah, apparently this privilege went to her head at one point. She failed to recognize the authority Jehovah had given her younger brother Moses to lead Israel, and she was punished for it, though she apparently repented and was restored.—Exodus 15:20, 21; Numbers 12:1-15; Micah 6:4.
Women Under Judaism
18, 19. What was the status of women under Judaism, and how did this come about?
18 As we have seen, the Law of Moses protected women’s rights and, when followed, allowed womenfolk to lead a satisfying life. But as time went by, particularly after the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., there developed the religion of Judaism, based more on oral traditions than on the written Law of Jehovah. From the fourth century B.C.E. on, Judaism absorbed much Greek philosophy. By and large the Greek philosophers paid little attention to the rights of women, so there occurred a corresponding drop in the status of women within Judaism. From the third century B.C.E., women began to be separated from men in the Jewish synagogues and were discouraged from reading the Torah (Law of Moses). The Encyclopaedia Judaica acknowledges: “As a result few women were learned.” Education was principally for boys.
19 In his book Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, J. Jeremias writes: “On the whole, the position of women in religious legislation is best expressed in this constantly repeated formula: ‘Women, (Gentile) slaves and children.’ . . . We may add to all this that there were plenty of disdainful opinions expressed on women. . . . We have therefore the impression that Judaism in Jesus’ time also had a very low opinion of women.”
Faithful Women Who Were Awaiting the Messiah
20, 21. (a) In spite of the scornful attitude of the Jewish religious leaders toward women, who were to be found among those on the watch as the time for the Messiah drew near? (b) What shows that Elizabeth and Mary had deep godly devotion?
20 This scornful attitude toward women was another way in which the Jewish rabbis ‘made the word of God invalid by their tradition.’ (Mark 7:13) But in spite of this disdain, as the time for the coming of the Messiah approached, some godly women were alertly on the watch. One of these was Elizabeth, wife of the Levite priest Zechariah. She and her husband were “righteous before God because of walking blamelessly in accord with all the commandments and legal requirements of Jehovah.” (Luke 1:5, 6) Elizabeth was favored by Jehovah in that, although barren and well along in years, she became the mother of John the Baptizer.—Luke 1:7, 13.
21 Moved by the holy spirit, Elizabeth expressed deep love for another godly woman of her day, a relative named Mary. When, about the end of 3 B.C.E., the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would miraculously conceive a child (Jesus), he addressed her, “Highly favored one,” adding: “Jehovah is with you.” Soon after, Mary visited Elizabeth, who blessed her and the unborn child she was carrying, calling Jesus her “Lord” even before he was born. At that, Mary burst into an expression of praise to Jehovah that bears eloquent testimony to her deep godly devotion.—Luke 1:28, 31, 36-55.
22. After Jesus’ birth, what God-fearing woman showed that she had been among those awaiting the Messiah?
22 When Jesus was born and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to Jehovah, another God-fearing woman, the aged prophetess Anna, expressed her joy. She returned thanks to Jehovah and spoke about Jesus to all who were anxiously awaiting the promised Messiah.—Luke 2:36-38.
23. How does the apostle Peter speak of faithful pre-Christian women, and what questions will be examined in the following article?
23 Thus, as the time for Jesus’ earthly ministry approached, there were still in existence “holy women who were hoping in God.” (1 Peter 3:5) Some of these women became disciples of Christ. How did Jesus treat them? And are there women today who gladly accept their role as outlined in the Bible? These questions will be examined in the following article.
Volume 3, page 1055.
“The last Adam,” Jesus Christ, was likewise a perfect, complete man, although he had no human wife.—1 Corinthians 15:45.
Questions for Review
◻ How did the treatment of women in Israel contrast with that in other lands?
◻ What were the relative positions of Adam and Eve, and why?
◻ What status did Israelite women have under the Law, and were they spiritually at a disadvantage?
◻ What are some lessons to be learned from the lives of outstanding women in the Hebrew Scriptures?
◻ What fine examples of faith can be found despite the views in Judaism?
[Box on page 10]
“THE WOMAN THAT FEARS JEHOVAH”
“10 A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals. 11 In her the heart of her owner has put trust, and there is no gain lacking. 12 She has rewarded him with good, and not bad, all the days of her life. 13 She has sought wool and linen, and she works at whatever is the delight of her hands. 14 She has proved to be like the ships of a merchant. From far away she brings in her food. 15 She also gets up while it is still night, and gives food to her household and the prescribed portion to her young women. 16 She has considered a field and proceeded to obtain it; from the fruitage of her hands she has planted a vineyard. 17 She has girded her hips with strength, and she invigorates her arms. 18 She has sensed that her trading is good; her lamp does not go out at night. 19 Her hands she has thrust out to the distaff, and her own hands take hold of the spindle. 20 Her palm she has stretched out to the afflicted one, and her hands she has thrust out to the poor one. 21 She does not fear for her household because of the snow, for all her household are clothed with double garments. 22 Coverlets she has made for herself. Her clothing is of linen and wool dyed reddish purple. 23 Her owner is someone known in the gates, when he sits down with the older men of the land. 24 She has made even undergarments and proceeded to sell them, and belts she has given to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and splendor are her clothing, and she laughs at a future day. 26 Her mouth she has opened in wisdom, and the law of loving-kindness is upon her tongue. 27 She is watching over the goings-on of her household, and the bread of laziness she does not eat. 28 Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner rises up, and he praises her. 29 There are many daughters that have shown capableness, but you—you have ascended above them all. 30 Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; but the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself. 31 Give her of the fruitage of her hands, and let her works praise her even in the gates.”—Proverbs 31:10-31.
[Picture on page 8, 9]
Woman’s place in the family was dignified