Natalyia German’s article, “Are Women Oppressed in the Churches?” defends the view that God made men to exercise authority over women in the church and in the home. From beginning to end, her article appears to have been written by someone with a mindset that assumes patriarchy (the rule of men) is God’s will. It then misinterprets (and sometimes mistranslates) Bible verses accordingly. The only source cited by the article’s author is Wayne Grudem, a theologian who also views the Bible through patriarchal lenses.
Here are a number of quotations taken from the article, followed by an egalitarian, biblical response:
Article: “Only men are given the spiritual power and authority that qualify them as spiritual heads of the household and permit them to serve in the capacity of a priest or a bishop over both genders.”
Response: In Roman culture, Roman men were referred to as the patres famalias. They were the “heads” (rulers) of their households. Throughout much of Roman history, woman had to submit themselves to the authority of a male family member from birth until death. Although much of the Bible was written to a patriarchal culture, it does not condone the notion that men should rule over women. Power that is based on variables like sex or gender is an example of systemic injustice. It is innately oppressive, in that some are born to power, while others are born to a life of servitude.
The New Testament does not use the term “head” in the same manner as Roman law and culture. When Christ is referred to as the “head” of the church, the Greek word “kephale” is used. In context, the term refers to Jesus as the “source” of the church’s life and growth. The term is used this way in Paul’s letters to Corinth, Ephesus and Colossae. Here is a sample, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head. From him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament. And as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-17). The idea of “kephale” as “source” (not ruler) is found throughout ancient Greek literature. An article on that topic is available here: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/the-meaning-of-headship-in-the-bible/
The source of the church’s life and growth was/is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. It was love that moved Jesus to do this. As it says in Philippians 2:5-8, Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant, and was obedient to the point of death on a cross, to save humanity from our sins. Paul instructs all Christians to relate to one another in this manner; and in Ephesians 5:25 he tells husbands to specifically love their wives in this fashion: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Jesus’ love would be a source (kephale) of life and growth for the church; so too would a husband’s love nurture his wife (Ephesians 5:29), and be a source of life and growth in their marriage. To suggest that Paul means to say that husbands are mandated to “rule over” their wives misrepresents the meaning of the Greek text, and puts a very “Roman” spin on related verses.
Unfortunately, theologians that have had a strong influence on today’s complementarian (patriarchal) church movement, lived and wrote their viewpoints at a time when the church became the official state religion of the Roman Empire. This development did not bode well for women. Roman law specifically gave spiritual authority to men. It was only after this point in history, that a church council presided over by the Roman state prohibited women from being priests. This was a new development in more ways than one. Peter referred to all Christians as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Now priests would be an office of the Roman state—an office made available only to men, eventually only celibate men. If we wanted to protect the Word of God from fallen cultural influences, this is when we needed to take a stand. Now patriarchy, a fallen and oppressive cultural norm, has become confused with “God’s will” through church tradition. The spiritual hierarchy that now uses titles such as “priest” and “bishop” is not the church we read about in the New Testament. Terms have been redefined to fit a patriarchal institutional model.
Article: “Let’s take a closer look. Genesis 2:7, 18-23 shows that Adam was created first, then Eve as his helper (Genesis 2:7, 18–23). The sequence of creation suggests that God created Eve for Adam and not Adam for Eve. It also suggests that Adam was intended to be a leader in his family.”
Response: This is a very androcentric (man-centred) interpretation of the Genesis account. It confuses an androcentric inference with biblical revelation. Yes, Eve was taken from Adam’s side. That is all the Bible tells us. It does not tell us that this was meant to indicate that women should be subjected to male authority. In fact, the apostle Paul seems to refute a similar tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:12 by reminding the church, “for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” Rather than agreeing with patriarchal assumptions in 1 Corinthians 11, a close examination of the Greek language in context demonstrates that Paul first mentions and the refutes oppressive oral traditions that some in the early church attempted to impose on Christian women. Paul’s text follows the same pattern in 1 Corinthians 14, where he first directly quotes an oppressive oral tradition (requiring women to be silent in religious assemblies), and then tells the church not to hinder the Spirit, when women were speaking in tongues or prophesying. You can read more about this in the following articles: https://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/a-question-about-head-coverings-pauls-response-to-the-church-in-corinth/
Article: “Paul draws on the principle of birthright as he affirms that women cannot exercise spiritual authority over men in church or a household: ‘A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve’” (1 Timothy 2:11–13).
Response: In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he makes no mention of a man’s “birthright” to rule over women. His letter is a warning against a particular form of false teaching that was present at the time in Ephesus. Some features of the false teaching are mentioned in chapter 4 of his letter. In chapter 6:20-21, he warns Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to him against that which is “falsely called knowledge” (gnosis in Greek). In a paper written earlier in the same century, Philo Judaeus similarly warned against a “false gnosis” of God. He said that a man who embraced a false view of God would become the murderer (authentes) of himself. Paul warns against a teaching that might lead to the murder (spiritual death) of a man in 1st Timothy 2:12. Paul uses the word “authentein.” It is the infinitive verb form of the noun “authentes”: the word used by Philo. The notion that women may not “usurp the authority of a man” comes from early English translations of the Bible that were based upon a 16th century Latin text, written by Erasmus. Erasmus, in turn, was influenced by a patriarchal ascetic of the 4th century known as “St. Jerome.” Jerome wrongly interpreted 1 Timothy 2:12 as a prohibition against women teaching or “dominating” man. (He used the Latin dominari). Jerome also wrongly interpreted 1 Timothy 2:15 to mean that women could have their sins forgiven by literally bearing children. In Paul’s day, the language he used—in context—was more likely a warning against the false teaching of “a woman” that would somehow be responsible for the spiritual death of a man. The nature of the teaching was the problem, not the sex of the teacher. For instance, Priscilla–a woman–taught a man “the way of God more accurately” in Ephesus (Acts 18:26). The destination of Paul’s letter to Timothy was also Ephesus. More can be learned about a 1st century Greek understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the following article: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/other-1st-century-jewish-writers-who-used-greek-words-like-authentein/
Article: “The dynamics between the Father and the Son were to be manifested in the household headship, as we find in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (KJV).
Response: As mentioned earlier, the language used in this passage “kephale” did not convey the Roman sense of “head” as “ruler.” Rather, it conveyed the Greek sense of “kephale” as “source.” Christ was the creation source of every man. God the Father was the miraculous source of Christ’s incarnation, and Adam was the source of Eve, his wife. As noted earlier, Paul is responding to the attempts of others to use the order of creation to oppress women, and Paul does not view the order of creation as a mandate for male authority. He reminds his audience later in the same chapter that just as a man was the source of the first woman, so too is a woman the source of every man (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).
Article: “The principle of a husband representing the Lord in the household is further reflected in Ephesians 5:22-24: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything’” (KJV).
Response: Later copies of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians add an additional command to wives (submit) in verse 22. This verb is not present in our two oldest Greek manuscripts of the passage.
In this passage, the apostle Paul introduces the idea of “submission” in Ephesians 5:21. After telling all Christians to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18, he then explains what this will look like: “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). The verbal participle used here is in the masculine plural; that means that those who do the submitting must include men. Ephesians 5:22 then adds the phrase “wives to your husbands” as an example of what this mutual submission will look like. English translations of Ephesians 5:24, like the NASB, add additional words to the text to frame a woman’s submission to men as a command. In reality, this language is not present in our oldest available Greek texts. You can read more about that in the following article: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/ephesians-522-when-men-add-commands-to-the-bible/
Article: “Particularly due to the spiritual authority Adam was entrusted with over his family, God addresses Adam first to account for what has happened in the Garden of Eden.”
Response: Once again, this confuses biblical revelation with patriarchal inference. Yes, God addresses Adam first; the Bible does not tell us that God did this because Adam was in charge. God may have addressed Adam first for any number of reasons. One may have been that he transgressed with full knowledge that what he was doing was wrong.
Article: “While it is very possible that Adam was present with Eve during her conversation with the serpent, some scholars have suggested that he was not…Thus, Adam’s primary transgression was defined by his choice to obey Eve instead of the Lord” (Genesis 3:6).
Response: Our oldest available Bible manuscripts in every language (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) indicate that Adam was present with his wife when they were both tempted to eat of the forbidden tree. Patriarchal commentary, written centuries later, introduced the faulty notion that Eve later tempted her husband in private. “Listening to women” then became equated with sin—an example of blatant misogyny.
Article: “So, what is the meaning of Genesis 3:16: ‘… and he shall rule over thee’? I submit that Genesis 3:16 did not assign men their unique spiritual role but began the ‘epoch of the usurpation of power’ by fallen men over fallen women. As Dr. Grudem puts it: ‘In the punishments God gave to Adam and Eve, He did not introduce new roles or functions, but simply introduced pain and distortion into the functions they previously had’” (Bible Doctrine, 205).
Response: Genesis 3:16 is not a mandate that “God gave to Adam and Eve.” Rather, it is God’s prophetic description of how human beings will now relate to one another in the aftermath of humanity’s first sin. You can read more about this in the following article: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/changing-genesis-316-to-rationalize-the-subjugation-of-women-a-response-to-planned-changes-in-the-esv-bible/
Article: “Furthermore, throughout biblical history, genealogies were traced through men.”
Response: The practice of tracing a blood-line through a man’s name is an androcentric and patriarchal tradition that is a product of humanity’s fall into sin. The practice is acknowledged in the Bible, but it is never mandated as “God’s will.” Here, the article confuses the cultural backdrop of the Bible with its message. Furthermore the Indigenous peoples of many regions (Anatolian, North America) were/are matrilineal. They trace their lineage through the mother’s name. Patrilineal cultural traditions are by no means universal.
Article: “Women’s ministry of prophecy and evangelism definitely involved teaching God’s Word but without exercising spiritual authority over men and only with submission to male spiritual authority. An example would be Priscilla who together with her husband Aquila instructed Apollos on correct understanding of Scriptures” (Acts 18:26).
Response: This statement is false. Deborah exercised spiritual authority as a prophet and leader in Israel. There is no reference to her doing this under male spiritual authority. Priscilla ministered alongside her husband and taught a man “the way of God more accurately.” The Bible does not say anywhere that Aquila functioned as her spiritual leader. In our oldest available Bible translations and commentaries, Junia is referred to as both a woman and an apostle. Phoebe, in Romans 16:1-2, is noted as a “diaknon” (deacon or minister) and a “prostatis.” In Romans 12:8 the gift of leadership is referred to using a verb form of “prostatis”; namely, “proistamenos.” Furthermore, the King of Judah paid heed to a woman and prophet named Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20). The notion that women can only preach and prophesy under the spiritual authority of a man is mere human tradition, not biblical revelation.
Article: “We should be reminded that when we tamper with God’s instruction, we partner with Satan as once did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:1-7).
Response: Patriarchal men have tampered with the Bible. They have changed the language of numerous verses about women so that the Bible appears to support the oppressive human tradition of male authority. For example, our oldest Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts of Isaiah 3:12 say nothing about “women” rulers being a bad thing. This notion was introduced into the Latin translation completed by St. Jerome in the 4th century AD. Much older manuscripts of Isaiah 3:12 contain a prophetic warning against “extortioners.” Words have been added in translations to verses like Ephesians 5:22 and 24. Later Latin tradition even changed the apostle Junia’s name to a man’s: Junias. Some English translations say that church leaders must be men (1 Timothy 3:2 NLT, 1 Timothy 3:8 NASB). This male-centred language cannot be found in any Greek manuscripts of the New Testament whatsoever. As noted earlier, the meaning of Greek words has also been systematically misinterpreted through the patriarchal lenses of influentian Latin theologians of the 4th century. If we truly believe God’s Word must not be tampered with, we must seriously endeavor to recover the original meaning of the Biblical text, which has so frequently been distorted by men who confuse the fallen tradition of male authority with the will of God.
Bob Edwards, co-author of “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy.”