Why the Church is Wrong about Women
How would you rate the most influential people in history?
This question is behind an ongoing study run by MIT’s Media Lab. A while back the folks at MIT reported that the most influential person in history was the Greek philosopher Aristotle. In second place was Plato, third was Jesus, and fourth was Socrates. Alexander the Great ranked fifth.
Why does this matter?
It matters because four of the five most influential people in history believed that women are inferior to men. And those four men had a profound influence on the way the church views women.
An incubator for sexual discrimination
The city of Athens gave us the most influential philosophers of western civilization. Men like Socrates, Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle laid the foundations for much of what we believe about women.
Which is a crying shame.
Socrates was relatively progressive in his beliefs that women should be educated, but he also said that women were inferior to men. In his Republic he opined that “all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.”
Plato and his student Aristotle both taught that women were inferior to men. It takes a special kind of intellect to say that women are substandard humans and defective by design, yet Athens was blessed to have two such minds.
The worst place to be a woman
Plato and Aristotle may have been intellectual giants, but when it came to women, they were Tweedledum and Tweedledummer. Of the two, Aristotle was worse. While Plato believed women could be made useful through education, Aristotle held no such hope. He said women were like animals who needed men to tame them.
With men like these running the show, ancient Greece was no place to be a woman. The young girls of Athens essentially had three career paths: they could become mothers, servants, or high-class hookers called hetairai.
If they chose the first and least objectionable option, they would be married off in their early teens and spend the rest of their uneducated lives cloistered away in their husband’s homes. They would not participate in civic life and their names would rarely be mentioned in public.
Alexander the Hellenizer
To live in Athens was a demeaning existence for women, but Alexander the Great thought the city was the pinnacle of civilization. Having been tutored by Aristotle, Alexander exported the Athenian model around the world in a process known as Hellenization.
If you’ve ever wondered why the New Testament was written in Greek, you can thank the energetic Alexander.
Israel, along with much of the Roman Empire, had been Hellenized. Educated Jews spoke Greek as a second language. And like the Greeks, the Jews treated their women little better than slaves.
And this is what makes Jesus so radical
In a Greek-speaking world where women were seen and not heard, Jesus gave women a voice. He encouraged them to speak and to lead. It was a new day for womankind.
For a hundred years or so after Jesus, Christian women enjoyed unprecedented equality with men. Women preached and pastored and got imprisoned and basically did whatever the men did. Courageous Christian women like Phoebe, Photini, and Junia carried the gospel all over the known world.
However, within a few generations of the original apostles, a new breed of men emerged to reassert male primacy and to lead the church back to patriarchy. These men are known to us as the Church Fathers.
Who were the Church Fathers?
They were ecclesiastical influencers who had been educated in a Hellenistic culture. They read the words of Jesus and the apostles through an Aristotelian lens, and they introduced the teachings of Athens to a Christian audience.
Men like Tertullian and Augustine taught that women were inferior to men and good for little more than making babies. Later theologians, like John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas, who said women were “defective and misbegotten,” perpetuated this sexist claptrap.
Even the great Martin Luther fell under the Athenian spell. Luther believed in the priesthood of all believers, but only if they were men. Women have weaker minds and were “chiefly created to bear children, and be the pleasure, joy, and solace of their husbands.”
Jesus and the apostles were fearless revolutionaries who defied longstanding prejudices by fighting for the emancipation of women. In contrast, some of those who came after were mealy-mouthed conformists who parroted what they had learned in school.
A church built on Athenian sand
Like some men today, the Church Fathers saw themselves as God’s men preaching God’s word, but their beliefs about women came straight out of Greece.
Xenophon, a student of Socrates, told his fifteen-year-old wife, “God has assigned women the indoor tasks,” and the Church Fathers said a hearty “Amen!”
Hesiod the Greek poet said women were tricksters out to ruin men, while Augustine said they were temptresses in the mold of Eve.
Aristotle said bad men would be resurrected as women, and Thomas Aquinas added that good women would be raised as men.
If you have ever wondered why the church treats women like second-class citizens, you can thank the Church Fathers and the Athenians who inspired them.
It was Aristotle who said women must remain silent and on the sidelines, not Jesus.
Something passing for progress
Happily, the world is changing. In many societies, women can now study, vote, and fly airplanes. They still get paid less for doing more, and they are more likely to get passed over, assaulted, and aborted. But the underlying trend is good.
Even the church is starting to shrug off some of its inherited prejudices.
A century ago, there were no women senior pastors. Now there is a tiny minority. (Less than 9 per cent according to a National Congregations Study finding released in late 2020.) I guess that’s called progress.
But we have a long way to go if we are to roll back the damage inflicted by our ecclesiastical forebears.
Many churches still subscribe to the Athenian (and thoroughly unbiblical) view that women must be silent and subservient. I’ve encountered plenty of leaders who say women are equal, but they don’t treat them equally. They speak a good line but deny women the opportunities to exercise their God-given talents. The world is infinitely poorer for it.
For the sake of our wives, our daughters and ourselves, we need to confront our Athenian heritage. We need to stop conforming the ways of the world, renew our minds, and become a church without division.
In short, we need to treat women the way Jesus did.
For sources and extended quotes for this article, check out The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.
More articles about women in the church.
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Paul: Your writing on women in ministry is fabulous and overdue! Thank you for your efforts. As confirmation of your work, may I highly recommend to your followers the pioneering book, “Neither Male Nor Female”, Q.M. Adams, third (and final) printing by Christ For The Nations, 1984. (The late Dr. Queenie Mae Adams, M.D. of England, a true church pillar. Her ground breaking book almost lost to time and priceless when you can find a copy).
Thank you, John.
All are equal, not all are treated this way, as all play God as if they are God. As God has said we are God’s yet there is only One God. And God’s view is having no respect of person’s. Renew thy mind, YES!! From Father’s view through risen Son Jesus for you. The fight between carnal nature and the Spirit of God given us continues. Galatians reveals this truth as Romans, does too. To be dead to first born self. To be alive is to be dead.
Thanks Paul again for standing up for equality
I read this and could not read anymore. Why the long statement? Not trying to be rude but it would have been more credible if you told more of the truth about the today’s Christian men. If we are under grace as we claim to be, it would easily be shown in the way how Christian men treat Christian women by being first humble, then honest. If someone is really close to Christ in grace, he would not I’ll treat women as inferior in the first place. When we talk about grieving others, I know that don’t include women. You should have put this in two parts, show the history of where it came from, and stop blaming the first inflictors by the ecclesiastical forebears or Greeks and take as a real man, full responsibility, like we don’t have the Holy Spirit it lead us into all truths. Don’t get it twisted thou, women understand that satan wants a devide, his to blame but men loves to look after males interest as we all know so for decades, they have kept silence when they hear wrong statements about women. Its serves Christian mens interest, this self involed, self importance that keeps them up, it’s their prop up, when Christ should be there prop up. so theres some deep embedded insecurity in many Christian men that champions it and for others, that tolerates it. Thank God, there are Christian men that are not like that so, satan is behind it first and foremost, but for many Christians men, they know it’s wrong, but serving Male’s interest is selfish and irresistible. The main thing is thou, it’s a serious lack of humble ness, of not going to Christ and bearing ones soul of their anti-Christ views of women. Christ won’t force any Christian man to come to him for help with this. If a lit more came to him, then we would not be in this situation. That’s the heart of the matter. We just now need to see more men that are willing to be humble and go to Christ and let him by the power of the Spirit, help them out in that area big time. So blaming the Greeks on today is not justified in any opinion, we have the Holy Spirit to lead us in to all truths. Stay Safe.
I think you make a good point about humility. It’s required to function successfully as a true believer. This, in fact, applies to either gender. Some of the stigma on women probably stems from individual women’s attempt to “fight fire with fire,” meaning they try to get even in a man’s world, instead of trusting their Creator to vindicate and promote them. More often than not, we gals favor subversion over brute force (play to our strengths, right?). Not a blanket statement at all, just an observation (I realize men can behave this way, too). Nobody likes being bullied, but the temptation to backlash versus being better than our transgressors has to be fought so Satan doesn’t win. I differ from you for changing the subject regarding Paul’s message; there are many churches that are shockingly archaic in their stances on this matter, and the underlying Greek philosophies are indeed to blame (also to blame for half-baked interpretations of Scripture). The more one looks into the literature that governs most seminaries, the more clearly this reveals itself. It’s a boy’s club, by and large. Circling back to your point, Fifi, it does indeed have to do with men taking full advantage of keeping their little world they way they like it to avoid true growth, but the way they justify it stems largely from toxic, anti-Christian Greek views.
Hey, Paul. That is such a great article!! What you said about Christian men taking their cue from Hellenistic philosophers rather than Jesus really makes sense to me now ; ) I think we need to also begin rethinking the way we believers have treated the LGBTQ individuals over the millennia. I think we need to do as the Bible says, listen more and speak less. We need to listen to people and their stories rather than dismiss them with Christian platitudes. The same goes for women. Men have ignorantly and/or purposely demeaned women and Christian men in this generation and earlier ones for the most part have ignored what Jesus modeled and how he elevated women to equal status. Thanks again for all you do, Paul in uncovering the darkness that has shrouded so much of Christian practice : )
I was just telling a lady in South Africa the problem about the church and women. You said exactly the same thing about the “church fathers”. The Apostle Paul echoed the same lousy teachings. He claims he had no man teach him but the Spirit but that was rather deceptive because he was a high ranking Pharasee.
Thanks for your work. I am buying the book.
I’m glad you’re getting the book Bob, because I hope to change your mind about Paul. After Jesus, perhaps no man did more for women.
To consider: Should husbands submit to their wives, or any man to a women for that matter? Yes, says the apostle Paul. In Eph 5:21 he tells us to “submit ourselves one to another”. There is no limit on this principle. Exemplified by Christ as he SUBMITTED himself to US as he endured the cross, suffering our scorn and rejection.
Interesting read. It stirs up so many thoughts for me. I love Jesus, but I gotta say, this woman he is with (the church), she really is so annoying. But I guess if we’re gonna hang with Jesus, his bride is part of the package.
And then there’s the whole issue that I, myself, am a part of this church, the very bride I find so frustrating. I’m in agreement with the article. But my mind jumps ahead. I wonder what other prejudices, influences, or ingrained cultural standards have us missing out on the life Jesus is sharing with us right now but we simply are unable to see him, embrace him, or engage with him on that level until enough articles and books are written to expose the flaw and open our hearts. I know the Holy Spirit is at work and it takes time, I just find our (myself included) blindness and reluctance to come to Jesus for sight overwhelmingly disappointing sometimes.
Thanks for your work, Paul. Super thankful for E2R.
When you think about how much Jesus loves his bride, and the sort of people you find in the church, it gives you a fresh appreciation for grace. It’s truly humbling. Every one of those misguided men who said women were inferior were basically insulting the cross and the Creator (and women!), yet Jesus loves them to bits!
You said in an earlier post that you would like to change the posters mind about the Apostle Paul, that aside from Jesus, he did more for women than any other. I would love an explanation about that to include your thoughts on when Paul insisted that women are to stay silent in the church. Looking forward to your book!
Hi Lesley, glad you’re looking forward to the book. Here is an older article on that “silent in church” passage.
Jason, your comment hit a tender spot in my heart. I have experienced bitter frustration in church experiences in my own past and feel I can identify with what you’ve stated. It’s like, how can we really be a part of the group that can cause us so much grief, right? And, if we continue to relate, perhaps you understand my struggle with feeling all the more frustrated by my own discrepancies with Biblical ideals. Paul already went straight to the center of the matter by referring to grace. I recently listened to a sermon by a Tulsa preacher named Michael Todd. I think it was 3rd in a series on forgiveness and it was powerful in its transparency (you could youtube his name and/or FU – Forgiving Unfair; the FU stands for Forgiveness University). The reason I bring it up here is because it opened me up to what had previously been stuck in my head as concepts rather than beliefs. It ultimately helped me apply the grace Paul speaks of. I hope that little plug serves you well and doesn’t come off as offensive. I also pray that you love Jesus right into being like Him, as with all of us fellow, humbled members of His Bride. Best wishes.
No one made mention to what the bible says about women in the church assembly. My bible says women are to keep quiet and let their husbands do the talking; even to cover their heads in certain instances. I just want to know and consider the truth of what God’s Word says about this subject. To all the comments above, I remain quite confused. What am I to believe about lifting up women to be leaders and orators in worship when the bible seems to be quite contrary Re. 1 Corinthians 14:33-35? Yes. I remain quite confused on this subject. Let me say it again: I’m only interested in what God means for people to know about this and not necessarily what man says.
Hi Ed, There is a lot of confusion over what the Bible seems to say about women and what it actually says. This confusion arises whenever people read the scriptures through the lens of manmade tradition.
It’s a big topic, and far too big for a single post. However, I have written articles on all the passages you mention and you can find them in the Archives>Scripture Index. Alternatively, check out the entry under “Women” in the Archives>Subject Index.
Love your enthusiasm for, ‘what does the bible say’. The bible books are all subject to the burdens man carries – it’s my understanding that man-made traditions are some of the issues that Jesus shed his Light on. In his short itinerant [as a man] time on Earth. He exposed the idolatry, in making some [over time] traditions & weaving them in to – a day in the life of that society. Meaning: they hold some traditions above the authority of Elohim-GOD. He scolded them, often for not believing Creator-Father – as he was representing the Father.
Ask GOD why he would include the words in 1 Cor 14: 33-35 – then does he turn, say & teach the opposite… sola scriptura is not the musings nor the biases of mans’ flesh. GOD means what GOD says. As for bible books – it is up us to ask Wisdom to download the truth to our spirit – in the only Name that matters here – Jesus.
Some footnotes would make this article far more convincing. I could not finish it based upon that lack of credibility. Unfortunate. Intriguing nevertheless.
All sources are cited in the book from which this article was extracted.
The Greeks would not have had so much success spreading their ideas if it were not for the narcissistic nature of the men who gobbled them up. Which is why God’s life in us that changes us is the solution. Some great points in this article and the historical aspect was educational for me, but I would caution that women who choose to serve their families are also not less. Many families would not be where they are without the women who have devoted their lives to serving them. Biblical leadership is serving. Jesus said, “the greatest among you shall be your servant. I’m not saying this is the role of women, but I am saying let’s be careful not to diminish those who do. Thanks
Indeed. Genuine submission and service is not forced on us from above; it is something we offer out of love.
God was able to use a donkey to correct someone who is not discerning of what HE wants to accomplish! The book of Numbers Chapter 22 explains it really well. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV) If we are in Christ it should not make any difference How God wants to bless us through, be it from a male or a female vessel. Thankful for you Paul, and God’s wisdom flowing through you a “willing vessel”.
Hello Paul. Its great you stretch the concept boundaries about women in the church. I acknowledge what you say regarding the Greek philosophers shaping men’s narrow mindedness and unbiblical perceptions towards women good point. Not an easy subject to tackle as it still is in some ways a work in progress. Men in history have not been generally kind towards women yet Jesus changed all that…My concern is where do you draw the line? … Thanks Paul for your ability to unpack difficult biblical passages and putting them out there to deliberate on. God bless. Davio
Hi Davio, thanks for your comment and your questions. It’s great to see you working through these issues so thoughtfully. Please note I have written several articles relevant to your questions, and you can find these in the Archives > Scripture Index. These should help. Please also note that I don’t normally don’t publish lengthy comments. Thanks.
You state your opinion as if it was fact.
You wrote: “In a Greek-speaking world where women were seen and not heard, Jesus gave women a voice. He encouraged them to speak and to lead. It was a new day for womankind. For a hundred years or so after Jesus, Christian women enjoyed unprecedented equality with men. Women preached and pastored and got imprisoned and basically did whatever the men did. Courageous Christian women like Phoebe, Photini, and Junia carried the gospel all over the known world.”
Your statements are very popular today, but completely false and contrary to the Bible. Women are not equal to men and men are not equal to women. God created man and woman. They are as different as night and day. Their bodies are different and the brains are wired differently. You are only serving the devil by encouraging women to do as Eve did in the garden, rule over men, call the shots. God corrected man for not taking charge and being the leader he created him to be, and he told the women that her husband would rule over her. You are helping the devil destroy the order God made in the creation. All of what you said is a lie. When Eve acted on the devils lie, she got us kicked out of Eden into the corrupted world we have today. The church is the bride of Christ She does no rule Jesus. She submits to Jesus, just like Christian women submit to their husbands, just like the women in church keep silent and men do the directing. Women are equal to men in value, but on this side of heaven, there is a difference, and they are unequal in function. Its that simple, but the devil loves to mess up what God created.
Hmm… “equal in value” but “unequal in function”. I can go along with that. It sounds like a good starting point and basis for building our understanding of God’s handiwork – the human family. I think we drift off course from that basis when we rate in our minds certain “functions” as higher, greater, or more significant than others.
My problem with telling women they are “unequal in function” is it’s sexual discrimination. We are all unequal in function in the sense that we all have unique gifts and talents. But telling half of the body of Christ that they can’t speak in church or lead on account of their gender is unbiblical, illegal, and flat out wrong.
I agree, Paul. Elmer, above, has gone to the dark extreme point of view, according to his comment. Which is the point I meant to make – that we can actually start with a good healthy way of seeing things and bend it out of proportion and make it ugly.
There is an undoubtable beauty and inspiring wonder in how men and women are unequal in function, or to say it another way (b/c function is probably too rigid of a word here) – how we are uniquely made for each other. But I totally agree that to turn that beauty into “telling half of the body of Christ that they can’t speak in church or lead on account of their gender is unbiblical, illegal, and flat out wrong.” All of that superiority nonsense doesn’t do anybody any good. It’s ugliness needs to be exposed as you’ve done in these articles.
If the church (myself included) could just learn to live loved instead of so insecure and angry and scared.
Hi, Jason and Paul. Two weeks ago a new friend of mine was recently telling me that her ex-husband, a Christian apologist, told her that God would not speak to her directly but would only speak to her through him and that she was to submit to him as Scripture commanded. She said she really believed that for several years of their marriage which was full of abuse. He actually decided one day while the three boys were still young to pack up and leave the marriage. I can tell that she is still damaged by all of this and she doesn’t really understand what grace is and our sufficiency in Christ and is grasping for answers from others who have either abandoned Christianity or were never believers at all. I gave her my copy of The Silent Queen. I’m hoping God will use it to open her eyes to the truth and to see that Jesus actually elevated women to a place that no one and no religion had before.
I will pray for this lady to be totally set free from the hurts that have been inflicted on her. I hope there is a second part to this story in the fullness of time.