Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Woman's Place & Other Thoughts...

What is the Biblical view of a woman's place? This is something that has been percolating in me for several weeks. There are all sorts of doctrinal things on this subject. Many of them claim that women are innately - created - inferior to men.  This is where tonight's thoughts begin...

Hmm... The King James translation of the Bible refers to Eve as Adam's 'help meet' (Genesis 2:18, 20). Various other translations use these terms: helper, helpmate, companion, partner. In the religious circles I grew up in, this was interpreted as meaning that Eve was created for Adam's benefit - maybe even as his property. Yes, there are people teaching this still.

I was reading the comments on Adventures In Mercy and someone (actually 2 someones: Sandy Hovatter & traveller) mentioned that the original Hebrew word used in these verses didn't mean that. Hmm... So, I decided to investigate. Here is what I found.

The Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:18, 20 to describe Eve is 'ezer.' According to Strong's Concordance, this Hebrew word is used in the following verses: a) Isaiah 30:5, Ezekiel 12:14 and Daniel 11:34 to describe groups or nations that Israel, mainly, were leaning on instead of leaning on God; 2) Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, 33:26, 29, Psalm 20:2, 33:20, 70:5, 89:19, 115:9, 10, 11, 121:1, 2, 124:8, 146:5, and Hosea 13:9 to describe God's relationship to Israel. In the Genesis verses, it is translated meet (KJV), while in all the other verses, it is translated help (KJV). 

Hmm... so the word used is not a subservient one - unless we are prepared to take the position that God's role with Israel was subservient! The image I get from this is one who stands with - not behind, not sits under - stands with someone and helps them.

This reminded me of Romans 8:26 where Paul tells us that when we don't know what or how to pray, the Holy Spirit helps us. The Greek word used here is 'sunantilambavnomai' (a transliteration). The only other place in the New Testament where this word is used is in Luke 10:40 where Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha and Mary is sitting at His feet listening to Him teach while Martha is cooking. Martha asks Jesus to tell mary to 'help' her in the kitchen. Jesus response will have to wait for another post. ;-) (Although I will comment that he did not say that a women's place was in the kitchen!)

The meaning of this word is 1) to lay hold along with, to strive to attain with others, help in attaining; 2) to take hold with another. Hmm... the image this brings up in my mind is of a friend coming up along side me - shoulder to shoulder - and helping me lift - move - do - something I am unable to do on my own. This creates an interesting image of what Eve's role to Adam was meant to be - and what woman's role to man is supposed to be. Not a piece of property, not a slave, not even a servant - a helper, a partner, someone like him - of his kind.

In those same comments, something else was said that helps with this image... no Scriptural reference, just ponderings. :-) One gender was not enough to fully represent God - it required two.

This stirs up in me the controversy about whether women should be allowed to teach or lead in the church. The verses used to back this up are in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34. Okay, but what, then, do we do with the verses where women are in roles of leadership in the church, as in Acts and commended by Paul? (Acts 21:8-9, Romans 16:1) Hmm... in Romans 16:1, the King James translates the word servant, but the Amplified translates it deaconess. I looked it up in Strong's and guess what? It is the same word that is variously translated throughout the New Testament, referring to men, as deacon, minister or servant - often referring to Paul or one of the other disciples. So the woman referred to in Romans 16:1 Paul calls a deaconess on par with himself...

What is the point of this? Just that I think the patriarchal teaching in the church may be a bit unscriptural. Women and men are equal before God (Galatians 3:28). I think a lot is summed up in comparing the King James with The Message in 1 Timothy 2:11-15...

King James Version:
"11 Let the woman learn with silence with all subjection. 
  12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, not usurp authority over a man, but to be in silence.
  13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
  14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
  15 But withstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness and sobriety.

The Message:
"11-15 Don't let women take over and tell the men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. Adam was made first, then Eve; woman was deceived first - our pioneer in sin! - with Adam right on her heels. On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love and holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this."

Some will say that the Message reflects modern bias in the culture. Hmm... And the King James Version did not? A few points to think about... 

The King James was translated for the purpose of 'fixing' perceived doctrinal problems found in earlier English translations. Hmm... how many of you have heard that the King James is the best word for word translation of the Bible? Amazing what a little historical research can do to one's theology. ;-) 

The language the King James was translated into was the same English that Shakespeare used - the KJV was finished in 1611 - Shakespeare wrote from 1592 - 1613. The English language has shifted a lot in 400 years. The meanings of words shift over time. There are many places where words are used that we no longer use and the meaning has become obscure. 

Worse, there are words that we think we know the meaning of, but over time, the meaning has changed. This happens all the time. It is part of the way languages form. For instance, 100 years ago (and even 50 years ago), the word 'gay' meant 'happy, carefree,' etc. The 1890s were called the 'gay 90s' and it had nothing to do with one's gender preference. Now, it means homosexual. That's quite a shift. (In listening to some kids I know, it seems this word is still shifting in meaning...) Another example is the word 'uptight.' In the 60s, one of its slang meanings was 'excellent.' That meaning has been lost, making Stevie Wonder's 1965 hit 'Uptight, Everything's Alright' sound a little strange now.

I guess what I am saying is that maybe we should use caution in deciding what a translation means or in hanging our theology or doctrine on a single translation. Translating with a bias toward a particular doctrinal idea is probably almost a given. So, at the end of the day, we must rely on the Teacher - the Holy Spirit - to help us sort it all out. 

I strayed pretty far afield here, perhaps, but I think this ties in with how to avoid spiritual abuse. The more we seek a personal living relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the Living Word, the more we will understand what the Bible actually means - and the less vulnerable to being spiritually manipulated and abused we will be.

I'll end this with a quote from one of my favorite authors:
"It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken as weapons." C. S. Lewis


Stormchild said...

Katherine, this is magnificent.

Simply magnificent.

Katherine Gunn said...


Wow. Thanks.

Hannah said...

1 Peter 3:7 You husbands, in like manner, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; that your prayers may not be hindered.

Seems to be one verse people get hung up upon as well! They just CLING to the 'weaker vessel' part! Funny how the 'your prayers would be hinder' part isn't talked about as much.

Adventures in mercy is a good blog as well!

Awesome job on your article! I really enjoyed it!

Katherine Gunn said...


:-) Thanks.


"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, AND AS BEING HEIRS TOGETHER OF THE GRACE OF LIFE; that your prayers be not hindered." 1 Peter 3:7 (emphasis mine)

That part seems to be ignored, too - heirs together, not one above the other...

jON said...

i think i'll start here since it is the topic i can speak to the most quickly. in my opinion, women being inferior is simply a fallacy. in fact, when the "creation account" is viewed more closely, we see god's creation becoming more and mroe complex until the creation of man. oh, wait, god didn't stop with man. he realized that MAN NEEDED A HELPER. so he created one final being, woman, and rested. nowhere in there does it say that the woman needed the help, but the other way around. and if you've ever spent any amount of time in a relationship with a man, you know how true this is.

in my opinion, women have a far greater capacity to love, give, communicate, empathize, multi-task, endure pain both physical and emotional, sacrifice, etc...

i see woman as created last, and therefore best.

the whole concept of the man ruling over woman was, if i'm not mistaken, PART OF THE CURSE. so why do we continue to promote the curse when the curse has been done away with?

"thanks for the forgiveness of sins and all, but we're going to hold onto the domination of women if you don't mind..."

Katherine Gunn said...


Hmm... that is a view I hadn't heard - at least not quite that way. :-) Thanks!

kathyescobar said...

hey katherine, i really liked the thoughts here and i had never heard that cs lewis one at the end, either. oh so good. i really like jon's comment about true reconciliation/restoration through jesus and heard someone else recently say out here in blogland when calling out how bizarro it is that so much fury & energy gets spent picking apart this issue: "yeah, don't you think it's interesting that jesus came to reconcile & restore all people in all ways EXCEPT that funky power relationship between men & women"....interesting. i appreciate your strong thoughts on these big issues.

Katherine Gunn said...

Hey Kathy~

Thanks for coming over and checking things out. I will probably be doing more posts on this issue... ;-)


Sue said...

Cool, dude! Cool.

Thank you for that end quote by CS Lewis. It's a pet peeve when people talk about "reading the Word". He's not a bloody book!!!!

It's no coincidence, is it, that the patriarchal Christendom of the past has been much more enamoured with looking at God as a harsh disciplinarian than as the "many-breasted one".

Keep talkin', Katherine. Lurve your stuff :)

Katherine Gunn said...


Thanks! I don't plan on stopping any times soon. ;-)

James said...

Once I knew a wise caring and compassionate woman. A wife of a dear friend of mine, well both were dear friends to me really. She too didn’t like the way a woman was view in the scriptures sometimes and the way many churches view her place in the Father’s house. Much did I learn from her and so much more am I indebted to her. Why you ask? Because as a foolish youth I too thought men as better then a woman. This wise caring and compassionate woman did teach this foolish youth the ways of his follies and loving guided him to a more wisely place of understanding and tolerance.

Once I heard this said from this wise caring and compassionate woman and her telling me once, James don’t you see that’s why God in all his wisdom created a woman from a man by talking one of Adam’s ribs!

You see James. That’s why God our Father did so to remind men always that women should always be by his side. That they shall always be side by side. Never should a man raise her to a higher standard, putting her higher then himself. Nor never should men put women lower then themselves in a prison of slavery and submission for only their needs. God wanted to remind Adam’s male children never to wear a woman like a crown showing her beauty off like gems shinning in the desert sun but nor shall men wear women like sandals beneath their feet. To walk on and destroy her spirit. No James, a woman place is by his side. Understood as an equal in every way known to men. A partner of co-creations with a acceptance and understanding of mutuality. A person of personal power of herself and he should never use power over her to dominant her and control her.

God created Eve from Adam’s rib to remind Adam she is equal to him always and that God wants both to love the heavenly Father as equal partners in and of equality toward the heavenly Father for all eternity.

Jeremy Myers said...


Great investigation, and great conclusion. Translations can be tricky, and as you point out, none of them get everything right, and so it is a good idea to consult several.

I like what you uncovered here.

Katherine Gunn said...


Thanks for checking it out. I haven't ever really followed up on this line. I guess I got what I needed. :-)

Future project maybe...