In the church, you will encounter two views about women. There is the traditional view (women should be meek, stay-at-home-mothers) and the so-called progressive view (women can do anything men can do).
Which view is Biblical?
I suspect most people would say the traditional view. Many churchgoers believe that the Bible calls women to be subservient and silent housewives.
Most people would be wrong.
What we call the traditional view comes not from scripture, but ancient Greece. It was the pagan philosophers of Athens who said the ideal wife was silent and subservient, and their views were exported around the world in a process known as Hellenization.
The alternative idea that women are equal with men and can do anything they put their mind to is the older idea. It was articulated by our Creator in Genesis 1 and modelled throughout the Bible.
What we call “traditional” should really be labelled a perversion of God’s original plan for partnership. As we will see, the traditional view is demeaning to women, harmful to families and thoroughly unscriptural.
What follows are four brief comparisons of the Greek and Biblical perspectives. Extended quotes and sources can be found in the 10-page study note “A Biblical View of Women” that accompanies this article (it’s free).
The Greeks: Women are meant to serve men
The Bible: Husbands and wives submit to each other
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all taught that women are inferior to men. And because they are inferior, women should be ruled by men. “The male is by nature superior and the female inferior; the male ruler and the female subject,” said Aristotle.
The Greek-speaking Jews of the first century felt the same way. Josephus the historian said, “A woman is inferior to her husband in all things. Let her therefore be obedient to him.”
However, the Bible teaches that women are in no way inferior. Both male and female were made in the image of God.
If you want to know what God thinks of women, look at how Jesus related to them. Jesus treated women with kindness and respect. He even trained them, which was something no Greek or Jewish teacher did.
Misguided men have been oppressing women from the beginning, but male privilege has no place in the new creation. “There is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
The Greeks: A woman’s place is at home
The Bible: Men and women are to rule and reign and fill the earth
The philosophers and rabbis believed that only men could work, but this division of labor is not found in the Bible. God told the first man and woman they had been created to rule and reign together, and the Bible records many women who worked outside home.
Jesus encountered many women in his travels and not once did he send them home. He included women in his company of disciples, and he welcomed Mary when she left the kitchen to sit at his feet.
The Apostle Paul praised several women who he identified as colaborers in the gospel. Some of these, like Phoebe and Priscilla, travelled internationally. Others, like Junia, had such prominent ministries that they went to prison for preaching the gospel.
Raising children is a noble occupation, but the traditional view that a woman has no options besides being a homemaker is more pagan than biblical. In the Bible, both fathers and mothers are called to be active in the raising of children, and all of us are encouraged to fan into flame the gifts God has given us.
The Greeks: Women must be silent in the assemblies
The Bible: Men and women are encouraged to speak
The Greeks forbade women from speaking in public assemblies and the Hellenized Jews agreed. “It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men,” says the Talmud. Many today make the same error even though there are more than two dozen New Testament scriptures encouraging women NOT to be silent in church.
When the Jewish and Greek Christians of Corinth asked Paul whether women should be silent in church, he replied, “What? Are you out of your mind?” Paul rebuked the Corinthians for even contemplating such a thing and reminded them that “when you come together each of you can bring a hymn, a word, a tongue, an interpretation.”
The Greeks: Women cannot lead
The Bible: Anyone can lead if they are going in the right direction
In the pantheon of Greek philosophers, women are notably absent. Yet in the Bible we find many courageous women who led, and this was particularly true in the New Testament.
According to John Chrysostom, the women of the early church “were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake.”
The early Christians were well-acquainted with female prophets, female apostles, and female pastors. In the final chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul named ten people involved in ministry in one form or another, and seven of them were women.
Jesus encouraged women to lead, and for a while they did. Then in the 364AD, the Council of Laodicea banned the appointment of women leaders. Jesus encouraged his disciples to let their light shine, but after the fourth century Christ’s female followers had their gifts hidden under a patriarchal bushel.
A biblical view of womanhood
The philosophers and rabbis are responsible for some of the worst ideas we’ve inherited about women. As a result of their sexist swill, many women have been kept silent and sidelined, and the world is poorer for it.
“There should be no division in the body,” said the Apostle Paul, and so say all who have been baptized into Christ. Indeed, is this not the test of our fellowship, that we esteem those the world deems weak and womanly, while giving greater honor to the parts that lack it?
We who have learned to see through the eyes of Christ no longer regard anyone from a fallen, or Greek, point of view.
For sources and supporting material, check out Paul’s full-length study note “A Biblical View of Women.”