The Proper Relationship of the Woman to the Man

The Standard Bearer received the following question: 

“We are living in an age when the women of the world are demanding equal rights, as we see in the E.R.A. We also see in the church world that same demand, as women seek the office of minister, elder and deacon. 

“My question is this, what is the proper relationship of the woman to the man? Did God create the woman in such a way that she is subject to the man in all spheres of life, or does that submission pertain only to the marriage state and the church? Does Holy Scripture speak to us on this matter?” 

As the reader suggests, a question of this nature would hardly have been brought up a few decades ago, especially not in the church. 

It was during World War II that women were called to replace the men who had gone into the service in factories and business places. After the war, women continued to hold men’s jobs and soon became supervisors over them. Women voted for public officials and soon were holding public offices, so that today we have a woman in the Supreme Court, and some news commentators already predict that we might have a woman running for the vice presidency in 1984. 

This is nothing less than a part of the social and religious revolution that is sweeping the whole world, in which the ordinances and laws of God are openly defied. There is talk of a “new morality” in which God is deliberately cast out and every one does what is right in his own eyes. Women demand equal rights with men. (Oh, how they will rue the day!) Even in the church the women insist on their equal rights. In many churches women already attend and vote in school societies and congregational meetings. Women clamor for a place in the special office of deacon, elder, or minister. 

We are faced with the question, what is the proper relationship between the man and the woman? Have our fathers throughout the centuries always slighted the woman in this relationship? Has a deeper insight into the Scriptures and a more thorough exegesis discovered that we have never understood this relationship properly? What does Scripture say about this relationship in every sphere of life? 

We turn, first of all, to the creation ordinance in paradise as described in Genesis 2:18-23, where we read in part, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet for him.” Adam was created from the dust of the earth. Eve was taken from the rib of Adam. According to God’s purpose Adam stood as friend-servant of God, consciously and willingly devoted to God. He was king of all that he surveyed with the calling to devote himself and the entire creation to God’s glory. As such he was the head of the human race, the father of all mankind. But there was one great lack in his life. Adam was alone. He needed a companion similar to him. No, he did not need another man next to him to assume authority over the creatures with him. He needed a woman. The stallion had its mare, the lion had its lioness, even the birds had their mates, but Adam was alone. He needed a woman as his helper to fulfill his purpose and calling as our first father, as lord of creation, and as head of the human race. 

This woman whom God gave to Adam was his own flesh and bone, yet physically and psychologically different. He could father children which she could bear. He could serve God as friend-servant with Eve as his assistant. Adam was qualified to rule over his wife in the capacity of husband, to rule over the children God would give them in the capacity of father, and over the creation as its king. Eve could in no way fill that position, for she was wife to her husband, mother of their children, a helper in all the work entrusted to Adam, surrendering herself to him, so that his life became her life.

This is so much the in-created nature of the woman, lost through sin but restored by grace, that Peter says in his first epistle, I Peter 3:1, 2, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” Even in a home where the husband is an unbeliever the wife must not play boss, but must exercise a “chaste conversation coupled with fear.” In the verses that follow, Peter, or rather, the Holy Spirit points out that these Christian virtues should adorn every woman at all times. He states, “Whose adorning . . . let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Meekness and quietness characterize the Christian woman, not only in the home but also outside of the home. Boldness, arrogance, assuming authority over a man does not fit with her virtues as woman. Her beauty, her strength, and even her influence rest in a “meek and quiet spirit.” We admire a woman for her femininity, as much as we despise that in a man. This does not mean that a woman is forced to bury her talents, such as knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, but she will wisely use them as a woman both in her home and in the church. According to the creation ordinance a woman always remains a woman, and a man remains a man. 

This is confirmed in I Corinthians 11:3, 8, 9, where we read, “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. . . . For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” Scripture is not speaking here only of the husband-wife relationship, but of the relationship between man and woman. Here the headship, the position of authority is stressed. God is the Head, has the authority over Christ. Christ is the Head, has the authority directly over the man. The man is the head, has the authority over the woman. This follows, according to verses 8 and 9, from the creation ordinance in paradise. “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.” 

Concerning this passage the well-known commentator of the Netherlands, Dr. F. W. Grosheide writes, (I translate): “The apostle says that also in the realm of recreation, that is in the congregation, man is the one who rules over the woman. Not his own wife, but the woman. The expression is of great importance. In Greece—differing from the common practice in Rome—the woman was forced to the background. Christianity brought freedom, deliverance for the woman (compare verse 1). Now in Corinth misuse was made of this freedom. There was an urge toward emancipation, which brought the women to a misuse of their Christian freedom by wanting to be equal to the man in every respect. Paul opposes that by placing the man above the woman also in the congregation.” (Korte Verklaring, pages 135, 136.) 

It is in that light that we can understand I Timothy 2:12, 13, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” 

There is an obvious exegetical question here. Does Paul mean to say that a woman may not teach in the church, not even, for example, children in a Sunday School? Or does he say that a woman may not teach in the sense of having authority over the man? This question actually does not create a problem now. The point we wish to make is that the apostle emphatically states that, “I do not suffer a woman to usurp authority over the man.” The word used for “usurp authority” in the original means, “to act on one’s own authority,” as a self-appointed master, exercising an authority to which one has no right.

Paul bases this on the creation ordinance of paradise. The woman has no right to exercise authority over the man, because of her position over against the man by God’s very act of creation. It is contrary to the natural, innate, God-given position of the woman to exercise authority over a man. Paul does not suffer it, because God’s ordinance in creation does not suffer it. 

William Hendriksen wrote concerning this passage in his commentary on I Timothy as follows, “Let the woman not enter into the sphere of activity for which by dint of her very creation she is not suited. Let not a bird try to dwell under water. Let not a fish try to live on land. Let not a woman yearn to exercise authority over a man by lecturing him in public worship. For the sake both of herself and of the spiritual welfare of the church such unholy tampering with divine authority is forbidden. . . . Her full spiritual equality with men as a sharer in all the blessing of salvation (Gal. 3:28: there can be no male and female) does not imply any basic change in her nature as woman or in the corresponding task which she as a woman is called upon to perform. Let the woman remain woman! Anything else Paul cannot permit. Paul cannot permit it because God’s holy law does not permit it (I Cor. 14:34). That holy law is His will as expressed in the Pentateuch, particularly in the story of woman’s creation and of her fall (see especially Gen. 2:18-25, 3:16).” 

The principle that applies to teaching, or preaching in the church, that is, the woman exercising authority over the man, applies to every other sphere of life—and that according to God’s own creation ordinance.