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What is the biblical view of a woman? Is she a man’s equal, his superior, or his inferior?
Modern extreme feminism places women in authority over men, while traditional Darwinian evolution places women far below men.1 And since the Bible directs that a wife be in submission to her husband, even Christians may wonder, “Is the woman inferior or equal?”
The Genesis account of God’s creation of the first male and female gives a clear picture that is extremely different from evolutionary views in our culture. God designed both the man and woman in His own image equally (Genesis 1:26–27).
Adam was created first, but God decreed that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Therefore, God fashioned Eve out of Adam’s rib. The well-known Bible commentator Matthew Henry said that Eve was “made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”2
Many women believe that the Bible’s command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22–23 (nkjv), NKJV) places a woman in an inferior role to her husband. However, this is not the case.
The concept of submission is found throughout the Bible. One of the keys to maintaining the order God desires is recognizing the authority structure He established. Of course, the best example of one who submitted to authority is our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who submitted to God and fulfilled the role He was called to by the Father (Matthew 26:36–39; Philippians 2:5–8).
The Creator chose to form man first and to entrust to him the role of leader in the home, for His glory. Obviously, man is not the ultimate authority, but is also under authority (1 Corinthians 11:3). The Bible commands the husband to be a loving servant leader who models the sacrificial love that Christ has showered on the church (Ephesians 5:23–33)—a love that led to His death on the Cross on our behalf.
God designed both the man and woman in His own image equally. Yet they were designed to fulfill different roles.
God assigned the married woman the responsibility of being a helpmate to her husband (Genesis 2:18, (20)). A helpmate (or helper) is a position of great responsibility and gentle strength. It is not a position of weakness as often associated with the command of submission (Ephesians 5). A godly helpmate entrusts herself to God, follows her husband’s lead, and uses her gifts and abilities to effectively support and aid her husband.
Josh Harris, author and speaker, reaffirms this biblical teaching in his book Boy Meets Girl.
From the first two chapters of the Bible we learn that Adam and Eve were created equal in God’s sight. Within the context of their equality, God assigned men and women different roles. He made Adam first, signifying his unique role as leader and initiator. He created Eve from Adam and brought her to Adam to be his helper in the tasks God had assigned him. She was made to complement, nourish, and help her husband. God’s greatest gift to man was “a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). This doesn’t minimize a woman’s role, but it does define it.
Men and women were created equal, yet different. And the fact that we’re different is wonderful.
God didn’t make us to duplicate each other, but to complement each other. The point here is not that Adam was better than Eve, just as God the Father is not “better” than God the Son. Father and Son are equal in essence, power, glory, but they have different roles; and the Son joyfully submits to the Father’s will (1 Corinthians 15:28). So in marriage a husband and wife are equal, even though Scripture tells the wife to joyfully submit to her husband’s leadership.3
Even with these truths, some women struggle to follow and thereby to fulfill the Bible’s requirements for godly womanhood. The husband, as the God-ordained leader of the home, can make his wife’s mandate to submit easier by also obeying God’s command to love his wife, “just as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25, 28–29; 1 Peter 3).
Both husbands and wives must realize that God’s plans are always for our good and that following them brings us happiness and fulfillment (Psalm 23; 33:18–22; 34:8–22). But when we attempt to reverse God’s lovingly prescribed order, we disobey His commands, just as our first parents did only a few thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God records the virtuous actions of women. Most are described in their role as homemaker, but a number are singled out as workers beyond the home setting.
Deborah was a judge in Israel (Judges 4) as well as a wife; Lydia was a seller of purple fabrics (Acts 16:14). The maidservant of Naaman’s wife told her master about possible healing for Naaman’s disease (2 Kings 5:3–4). Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses, led the Israelite women in celebration and worship, singing and dancing as they came out of Egypt (Exodus 15:20–21). The noble wife described in Proverbs 31 was wise, a beloved mother, a home-based businesswoman, charitable, strong, and unafraid of heavy work. Queen Esther used her position as the wife of the Persian king to save her people, the Israelites.
These women used their God-given abilities in many different roles. Whether married or single, whether in prominent positions or in humble service, these women focused on doing what God called them to do. Their obedience is what God values and highlights in His Word.
Modern culture has placed expectations on women. In the United States and other Western nations, women are expected to strive for prominent positions in politics, the workplace, and the education system. Often, Christian women buy into a worldly mindset of “reaching one’s potential” in society, and they associate their value with these achievements.
Another social pressure is for a woman to compare herself to others and base her value on that comparison. But this mindset is focused on the earthly and not the heavenly, as it should be for Christians (James 3:13–17).
Men and women alike bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are sinners equally in need of His saving grace (Galatians 3:28). Christ redeems sinners who deserve eternity in Hell. A Christian woman can glory in following after Christ and being conformed into His image (Romans 12:1–2). The Lord admonishes, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight” (Jeremiah 9:23–24 (nkjv), NKJV).
Christian women can find purpose in following God’s plan for them. The following verses outline His plan: Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 1:8, 12:4; 1 Corinthians 7:2–5; Ephesians 5:22, 33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:9–15, 3:11, 5:9–10, 14; Titus 2:3–6; 1 Peter 3:1–6.
Although the Bible does not prohibit achieving prominence in the workplace or acquiring possessions, Christian women should not glory in these things. Instead, our primary goal should be to seek after the things that God delights in, beginning with a personal relationship with Him and obedience to His Word.