The Divine Subordination of Woman
By divine design, man is to be the “head” of woman—in society, in the church, and in the home (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24). This graduation of authority rests on two bases: first, the original constitution of the sexes as created, and, second, woman’s role in the fall.
Concerning the former, the Bible teaches:
Woman was made as a help for man—not the reverse (Genesis 2:18, 20).
Paul wrote: “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9).
And again, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13).
As to the woman’s role in the fall, she believed Satan’s lie that she might become as God, and hence, was “beguiled” (Genesis 3:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3) or “deceived” (1 Timothy 2:14); whereas Adam, laboring under no such deception (1 Timothy 2:14), merely sinned due to his weakness for the woman (Genesis 3:12). Accordingly, woman’s subjection was increased after her fall (Genesis 3:16).
These facts do not suggest that woman is inferior to man, but they do mean (to those who respect the testimony of Scripture) that she is subordinate in rank to man. It ought to be emphasized that as Christ’s subjection to the Father involved no deprivation of dignity (Philippians 2:5-11), so there is none in woman’s subjection to man. So, as we shall presently observe, because of these historical facts, the sphere of woman’s activity has been divinely circumscribed.
Is 1 Corinthians 14:33 Applicable Today?
Perhaps a further comment regarding 1 Corinthians 14:33 is in order. May this context be used to oppose women preachers?
One view contends that it may not. It is alleged that contextual considerations indicate that the meeting contemplated in 1 Corinthians 14 is not comparable to any convened in the church today, and so, these verses are not applicable to church assemblies of today (Woods 1976, 106-112).
A more reasonable view that also recognizes that 1 Corinthians 14 has to do primarily with a unique first-century situation, i.e., the reception of spiritual gifts, sees Paul here enunciating essentially the same principle as set forth in 1 Timothy 2:12ff.
H. P. Hamann writes:
If we have the same writer in both letters writing on the same matter, we have the right to allow one text to explain the other, and especially to let the clearer or more definite throw light on the less precise. So 1 Tim. 2 is the key for the understanding of 1 Cor. 14 (1976, 8).
Professor Hamann then parallels the two as in the chart below (click on the chart to enlarge).
It is certain that 1 Corinthians 14:33ff lends no support to the notion of women preachers. Such are not sanctioned anywhere in the Scriptures.
Men Are Designated Leaders for Worship Assemblies
Finally, the New Testament makes it clear that the men are to lead the acts of worship in assemblies of mixed sexes.
In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul instructs that “the men [andras—accusative plural of aner, males only] pray in every place.” Now, woman may certainly pray (1 Corinthians 11:5)—and it would hardly be denied that she could pray in every place; however, there is a sense in which only males may pray in every place. Obviously, it is the leading of prayers in mixed groups that is confined to the man.
Commenting upon this verse, a noted Greek scholar has well said, “The ministers of public prayer must be the men of the congregation, not the women” (White 1956, 106). The same principle, of course, would also apply to other acts of public worship.
It has become fashionable to assert that Paul’s teaching regarding feminine subordination was aimed at conformity to the culture of his day—somewhat as instructions concerning slavery; and, it is claimed, as the New Testament contained seeds for the abolition of slavery, so, it also contained the seed for woman’s eventual full equality with man in church life.
The alleged parallel is simply not valid. In the four major contexts where Paul discusses male-female relationships (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33b-35; Ephesians 5:22-23; 1 Timothy 2:8-15), the principle of subjection, as well as its application to specific situations, are grounded upon historical facts of Old Testament history, and not upon culture.
(Note: Some contend that the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is binding today, but not Paul’s specific application [Roberts 1959, 183ff], while others believe that both the subjection principle and its specific application are required today [Jackson 1971].]
While it is important to study ancient culture so as to better understand the Bible, it must not be an overriding factor in interpretation. To substitute culture for a stated apostolic reason is to turn exegesis into eisegesis (Sproul 1976, 13ff).
It is regrettable that such major attention must be given to the negative side of this issue, but such appears to be necessary in view of prevalent error currently being propagated. The New Testament abounds with examples of godly women who, consistent with their assigned roles, served their Master with dignity and honor. Yes, women whose names will still be mentioned with admiration long after the modern-day feminists are gone and forgotten!
God’s women make a vital contribution to the kingdom of Christ on earth. Whether they are continuing steadfastly in prayer (Acts 1:14), doing good works and almsdeeds (Acts 9:36), showing hospitality (Acts 12:12; 16:14; 1 Timothy 5:10), teaching the word in harmony with divine authority (Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3, 4), being good wives (Proverbs 31:10ff), rearing godly children (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15), or accomplishing various other commendable tasks, let us “rise up and call them blessed.” And may their name be Legion!
Arndt, William and F. W. Gingrich. 1967. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Brown, Colin, ed. 1976. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 11. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Bruce, A. B. The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Vol. 1. W. Robertson Nicholl, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eardmans.
Edersheim, Alfred. Marriage Among The Ancient Hebrews. The Bible Educator. Vol. 4. E. H. Plumptre, ed. London, England: Cassell Petter & Galpin.
Edersheim, Alfred. 1957. Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Hamann, H. P. 1976. The New Testament and the Ordination of Women. The Christian News, March 1.
Hurst, John F. History of the Christian Church. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Eaton & Mains.
Jackson, Wayne. 1971. A Sign of Authority. Stockton, CA.
Lenski, R. C. H. 1961. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
Lewis, Jack P. The New Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Reuel Lemmons, reviser. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Moulton, James and George Milligan. 1963. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. London, England: Hodder and Stoughton.
Pratt, D.M., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), Vol. V.
Roberts, J. W. 1959. Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, 4th Quarter.
Sproul, Robert C. 1976. Controversy at Culture Gap. Eternity, May.
Thayer, J. H.. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
White, Newport J. D. 1956. The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Woods, Guy N. 1976. Questions and Answers – Open Forum. Henderson TN: Freed-Hardeman College.
Zahn, Theodor, Introduction to the New Testament I (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909), Vol. 1.
p.s. before I get "castrated" for posting this...let it be known that I am a firm admirer of women...and equal rights!