- If ruling over women was one of the results of the curse in Genesis … why do some believers still insist that men should rule over a woman, when after all Yeshua came to set us free from that curse?
To the woman he said, …Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you ~ Genesis 3: 16b
First Century Cultural Background
In the culture that the New Testament writers lived in, women were commodities and utilised for the sexual satisfaction of men and for producing heirs. They were not looked on as individuals having equal rights and were either the daughter of __ or the woman married to __.
In the Jewish culture they had no legal status and were under the authority of their fathers until they were married. They were looked on as being untrustworthy, unintelligent, unstable and not possessing wisdom. Therefore women were not considered reliable witnesses when two witnesses were needed in court.
Fathers arranged the daughters marriages around the age of 12-15 but they could be betrothed (engaged) to a man from the age of 7. A daughter could not inherit unless there were no sons. A father could sell his daughter into slavery but not his son. A woman could be stoned to death if caught in the act of adultery along with the man.
A Jewish woman could not divorce an abusive husband but a man could divorce a woman for the most trivial of reasons. But a divorced or widowed woman did not return to her father’s control.
Women were kept segregated from the men in the temple and in the synagogue. They rarely visited the synagogue and were not taught the Torah – the very Word of God. They played no active role and watched from the side lines as the men led and participated in the services.
Women, children and slaves were to be ruled over for the good of society.
You can also see that Jewish cultural worldview from the following statements recorded in history:
“The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to the man” ~ Josephus
“the female is nothing else than an imperfect male” ~ Philo
“wives must be slaves to their husbands, a servitude not imposed by violent ill-treatment but promoting obedience in all things” ~ Philo
“weak” and “naturally domestic” ~ Philo
Those views from the likes of the Jewish historian Josephus (37AD – 100AD) and the Jewish philosopher Philo (25BC – 50AD) were most likely based on a mixture of the misinterpretation of the Old Covenant law and the original Household Codes of Aristotle written in the 4th century BC.
Romanised Western Empire
The Romanised Western empire was a little different as women had slightly more freedom of expression especially if they belonged to the upper classes. Class was very important in the Roman culture and it was illegal for a high status woman to marry below her class.
Roman women were better educated aswell and encouraged to attend school. Some were able to run their own businesses and become independent wealthy householders.
There were only two roles that were out of bounds for women – being a Roman soldier or an imperial official. But the majority of Western Roman Empire women were under the control of their fathers, grandfathers or a male guardian. They still remained a member of their paternal family even when married or after divorce or widowhood.
Greek / Hellenistic Culture
“Women were a defective form of human. They were really just tame animals to be ruled by human beings, for this is how they are kept alive” ~ Aristotle
“The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior, one rules and the other is ruled; this principle of necessity extends to all mankind” ~ Aristotle
“A woman had to consider that her husband’s wishes are as laws appointed for her by divine will” ~ Aristotle
“Weaker souls were placed in women’s bodies” ~ Plato
Greek women were under more restrictions compared to the Roman or Jewish culture. Though it all depended on which city you lived in as some cities had more freedom for women than others.
Men were totally in charge of society and women were under the control of their fathers or husbands. A Greek man did not marry for love and did so in order to have children that would carry his name and care for him in his old age. A woman’s status was not very different from that of her husband’s daughter. The culture allowed men to use prostitutes and have concubines, while the penalty for a wife committing adultery was death.
The woman was just taught to read, write and be able to look after the home and children. The husband could decide which of the children to keep. Weak sons and most of the females girls were “exposed” at birth, left abandoned in a public place to die or would be picked up by someone and reared as a slave. The husband could divorce her whenever he wanted and then would take custody of the children. If the woman became divorced she became the property again of her father or male guardian.
A Different Household Code
New Testament Christians were a mix from Jewish, Greek Hellenistic Roman Empire and Western Roman Empire cultures. It’s one of the major reasons why there were so many issues that Paul and Timothy had to deal with.
In Paul’s day Christian husbands and wives didn’t have a hope of changing the heritage of family life into the way God had originally intended it to be before the curse. So Paul encouraged the Christian husbands to imitate Yeshua’s love for the church. But here’s the biggie Paul didn’t use an illustration of authority and leadership but a beautiful picture of giving and sacrificial love. Yeshua ‘gave himself’ for the church. He was crucified for her and He “laid aside his mighty power and glory”.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. ~ Philippians 2:5-7
That’s what Paul wanted the husbands to imitate! They were to lay down / empty themselves of the control, power and privilege over women that their Hellenic and Jewish culture automatically gave them. Sadly many in the church today have grasped that authority back and tried to use the scriptures as validation.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. ~ Ephesians 5:1
Just in the same way that Jesus used the illustration of becoming like little children as children had no power, control or social status in society.
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matthew 18: 1-3
Paul never gave instructions to husbands on how to govern/rule over their wives. He was deliberately undermining that authoritarian structure. Christians had to be different from the rest of that society. After all believers were now members of God’s Household. Paul instead instructed husbands to love, nurture and cherish their wives rather than control them. His message was all about love, equality and unity i.e. a mutually submissive, non-patriarchal marriage.
Becoming Mutually Submissive
We shouldn’t even bring male leadership and gender hierarchy into the Ephesians text as “We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 and that is directed to every believer irrespective of gender. Because in the Kingdom of God “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.
Wealthy Women in the Early Church
The early church became so popular for females. Many wealthy women who had their own businesses along with noble women from the upper classes of each culture converted. They were in charge of their own finances and were able to support their local Christian community.
The New Covenant brought women into equal standing with men. That was such a revolutionary and radical thing back in the first century church. It was something women had never known since the time Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden.
- So how come in the 21st Century we’re still wanting to keep women under the curse?