ARE MEN IN AUTHORITY OVER WOMEN?
To be sure the question posed in the title of this paper is a controversial one. But it is an important one, and I will address it from a purely Scriptural point of view. I believe that the Word of God teaches that husbands are in authority over their wives, but I do not believe that the Bible teaches that men, as a gender, are in authority over women as a gender. In other words, if a woman is unmarried no man is in authority over her. The only One in authority over her as a woman is the Lord Himself.
The argument that women are subject to men is based on a few scriptures in the New Testament that seem to teach that women are subject to men. But I would like to start this little study in the Old Testament, namely, Gen. 3:16, “Unto the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee‘ “.
It is important to note that Eve is to be ruled over by her husband. If we take this thought down through the generations that follow, we must see that women are to be ruled over by their husbands. This says nothing about all men ruling over all women. It is simply saying that the husband is the head of his wife (which is repeated in the New Testament).
Let us consider Deborah. Deborah was a judge over Israel who “settled disputes” (Judges 4:5). I believe we may assume that at least some of these disputes involved men. Therefore, Deborah was in authority over the men who came to her for her judgments.
It was Deborah who told Barak to lead Israel in war (Judges 4:14). In this case too, Deborah had the authority over the man, Barak when she told him to lead in war.
Next let us consider Jael. She murdered the man Sisera (Judges 4:21) in her tent as he slept. Her husband didn’t tell her to do that, she did it on her own. She did it because Sisera was an enemy of Israel. Furthermore, her act was praised, as we read in Judges 5:24, that Jael was “Most blessed of women”. If men were in authority over women, Jael had no right to kill Sisera. But she not only did kill him, she was praised for doing so. So neither Deborah or Jael were subject to all men.
Now let us consider the New Testament verses that seem to teach that all men are in authority over all women. We read in I Cor. 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is a sin to permit them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home….”.
It is of the utmost importance to note that the Greek words translated “woman” and “men” are also translated “wives” and “husbands” respectively. In order to determine which the Holy Spirit had in mind, we must consider the context and/or parallel verses.
There are two clues in this passage which tell us that it is not women in general that are to be “under obedience”, it is wives who are to be under obedience. Those two clues are: 1) they should ask their husbands. Only wives have husbands, and 2) the phrase “saith the law“. I do not find a law that says that women must be under obedience to men. Dr. Bullinger’s cross reference in the Companion Bible is to Gen. 3:16, which says that Eve was to be subject to her husband. All women come under the curse of Gen. 3:16, but the curse is not that women shall be ruled by all men, it is that wives will be ruled by their own husbands.
In my opinion, the clues point to the subject of this passage as wives, not women. It is wives who must be in obedience to their husbands.
We read in I Cor. 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…”. The same Greek words are used as were used in 14:34-35. Here again we must determine the correct translation by the context and/or parallel verses. The Companion Bible gives a few parallel verses, among them Eph. 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife.….”. That would indicate that it is the wife that is the subject of I Cor. 11, not women in general.
But what about I Cor. 11:9 which reads, “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”. This is an obvious reference to Gen. 2:18, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help- meet’ “. God created Eve to be Adam’s help meet. If we carry this concept down through the generations we see that the wife is the husband’s help meet. It is the God given arrangement that the wife is to be the helpmeet of her husband. There is nothing in Scriptures that even hints that all women are to be the helpmeet of all men.
We come now to the oft quoted I Tim. 2:11-15. Verses 11-12, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”. Here again, we must determine by the context and/or by parallel passages whether the Holy Spirit had in mind “women” or “wives”.
We have already considered a parallel passage, i.e. I Cor. 14:34-35, and have found that it is wives being spoken of in that passage. And the context of I Tim. 2:11-15 also points to wives as the intended subject. Note verse 15, “Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue…..”. Obviously, the word “they” and the idea of childbearing refer to a wife and her husband.
So, both parallel passages and the context point to the subject of I Tim. 2:11-15 as wives, not women.
I believe that Acts 18:26 is helpful in determining if women are allowed to teach men. We read in verses 24-25 of, “A certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria” who had been “instructed in the way of the Lord…..and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John”. Then in verse 26 we read, “and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”. Note that we are told that Apollos was taught by “they” that “took him”. There is no indication that both Aquila and Priscilla “took him” but that only Aquila “expounded unto him the way of God”. I believe that God’s Word is accurate in every detail and that if Priscilla had not also taught Apollos the Word of God would have made the distinction. If we accept the Word in its most obvious meaning, this verse tells us that Priscilla taught a man, Apollos, who was not her husband.
In conclusion, we are told a number of times that wives are to be subject to the authority of their husbands. We are not told anywhere that I can find, that the male gender is in authority over the female gender.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond, please send your letter to: firstname.lastname@example.org