Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 9

Just as there is no inequality between Jew and Greek and between bond and free, in Christ there is no male and female inequality. Both are one in Christ. There was no gender inequality until Adam and Eve sinned and their eyes were opened by that sin. Before that they were one. There was no hierarchy in their relationship. That came later as a consequence of their sin. Only after they sinned did God say to Eve, ". . . yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).

In the new creation this division is also healed. As we have already seen in Ephesians 5, husbands who reverence Christ do not demand submission from their wives but instead they submit to Christ by laying down their lives for their wives.

Galatians 3:28 is a sweeping statement of equality; Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female are all one in Christ. In Christ the Jew is no longer superior to the Greek. Paul wrote, "For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him" (Romans 10:12). In Christ the slave is no longer inferior to the free man. Paul asked Philemon to receive back his runaway slave, Onesimus, not "as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, especially to me, but how much more unto you, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?" (Philemon 1:16). Paul adds male and female to the list of co-equal heirs in Christ. This recovery is a substantial part of the restitution of all things.

We are told in Genesis 2:20-22 that God formed Eve from Adam's rib to be a helpmeet, suitable, adapted and complementary to him. This seems to make Eve subservient to Adam in every way-a kind of tag along servant to do lesser and less desirable jobs. But as we cross-reference the word help (ezer), we find that it is not a term of subordination. It is never used of slaves helping their masters, but the help of an equal or superior. In his book One in Christ, Phillip B. Payne explains.

"The noun used here, however, throughout the OT does not suggest "helper" as in "servant," but "help, savior, rescuer, protector," as in "God is our help." In no other occurrence in the OT does this noun refer to an inferior, but always to a superior or an equal. Fifteen times it describes God as the rescuer of his people, their strength or power; the remaining four times of a military protector. . . this expression highlights the role of the woman as the rescuer of the man, "a strength corresponding to him," and hence no less than an equal." (Phillip B. Payne - Man And Woman, One In Christ, pg. 44, 45)

"Help meet" describes the spiritual partnership between the husband and wife. And as to their equality, the text is replete with evidence. The first man and women were equally created in the image of God. Together they were called man and Adam. "Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created" (Genesis 5:2). Together they mirrored the image, likeness and purpose of their Creator. They were together commissioned by God to "fill the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). This command was not given to the man only but to both man and woman. Together they were "Adam." Together they were blessed and commissioned by God. Together they shared authority over every living thing. The woman was different, and what man wouldn't thank his maker for that? These differences were complimentary-each supporting the other-each strengthening the other. There was diversity and there was equality. Something interfered with this blessed primal condition. Sin entered through disobedience and equality was the first casualty.

Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil God had forbidden them to eat. From that moment on everything began to fall short of the glory of God. His words to Eve reveal the consequences of that fall. "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:16-19 RSV).

What was once created good was now less than perfect because of sin. Everything had changed. The equality that man and women shared vanished along with their innocence. Man became dominate. Eve is told that she would be mastered by her husband from that point on. This was a vast departure from God's original intention of co-dominion.

"...though at their creation both were formed with equal rights, and the woman had probably as much right to rule as the man; but subjection to the will of her husband is one part of her curse. . ." (Adam Clarke on Genesis 3:16).

The redemption that is in Christ Jesus reverses this curse. His redemption is great enough to correct all that was undone in Eden. He has restored the equality of male and female, or has He delivered us from sin only to leave its consequences in place? Has He freed men and left women in abject subjection? As always, Jesus is our example.

Jesus, the Kingdom of God and Women

Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God and He depicted women as co-heirs in that Kingdom. This was a concept that was considered unorthodox by His fellow Jews, who believed that it was better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman (Sotah 3:4). Jesus ignored Jewish traditions of inequality. His respectful treatment of women violated every social taboo. Women, who had been repressed and marginalized all their lives, flocked to Him. Unlike other Jewish masters and rabbis, Jesus was as accessible to women and children as He was to men. He talked with women. He touched them with His healing hands, and they even dared to cross socially accepted lines and touched Him. A woman with an issue of blood, who according to the law was not to be touched and whose touch was considered defiling, overcame her fears, touched Him and was healed. Had she touched a Pharisee, she would have been rebuked immediately for being in public during the time of her uncleanness (Leviticus 15:25) and for defiling him. But what does Jesus do? He calmed her fears by calling her "daughter" and proceeded to commended her for her faith. Even the ceremonial law was secondary to the wellbeing of this woman.

Jesus violated another social taboo by coming in contact with women of ill repute. One woman, whose sins were many, dared to come into Simon the Pharisee's home where Jesus had been invited to eat. She brought with her an alabaster flask of ointment. Kneeling behind Jesus, at his feet, she began to wash his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, while kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

The thoughts of the host judged both the woman and Jesus. "If this man were a prophet he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him for she is a sinner.." This showed how women were devalued among the Pharisees. Turning toward the woman Jesus said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." And He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:36-50).

Jesus' initial question was very telling, "Do you see this woman?" Did Simon really see her? Did he comprehend the mystery that was before him? "Do you see this woman?" in that time, women simply weren't seen. They were devalued, ignored, marginalized and for the most part viewed as possessions. They were veiled and to some degree dehumanized. But here, in the company of those who didn't even offer Jesus the customary greeting or wash His road-weary feet, knelt an example of love and devotion for Christ. In a climate of rude disregard for the Son of man, here was a woman washing his feet with her tears.

Jesus' every word and action were indictments against the prevailing misogynistic bias. We see this in the record of Mary of Bethany who performed a very similar act. She took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Mary was anointing Jesus for his burial. Could it be that she understood Jesus' atoning death when it is clear from the scripture that even the closest of His disciples didn't comprehend it yet? Could it be that she understood the things of God better than Peter, who rebuked Jesus for even mentioning the cross? Could she have learned this at the feet of Jesus?

Mary sat at Lord's feet and listened to his teachings. This also was socially verboten. If a man gave "his daughter a knowledge of the law it is as though he taught her lechery" (Sotah 3:4). Martha, who was acting out the socially acceptable role of the women (in the kitchen), became upset with Mary's irresponsibility and sought Jesus' help to put her in her place. "Lord," said Martha, "do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." Jesus' answer was undoubtedly a surprise to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42).

Because of our western culture, we don't comprehend the full gravity of what it meant for Mary to sit at Jesus' feet. Adam Clarke comments, "This was the posture of the Jewish scholars, while listening to the instructions of the rabbis. It is in this sense that St. Paul says he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)."

In teaching Mary, Jesus was again disregarding the prevailing misogynistic mentality toward women. In his answer to Martha, who was dutifully carrying out her social responsibilities, Jesus affirmed Mary's choice by answering, "Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Jesus wholeheartedly approved of Mary's choice, and would have no part in taking it away from her.

Jesus healed both men and women on the Sabbath, giving us insight into Jesus' valuation of women as co-heirs in the Abrahamic Covenant. One of these women He healed had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years and was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. "When Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, 'Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.' And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God." The rulers of the synagogue were indignant and accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath and reminded Jesus that "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." This false show of piety didn't set well with Jesus, who answered, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (See Luke 13:11-16).

Asses and oxen were better treated than afflicted men and women were in that day. Animal owners could nourish and water their asses and oxen on the Sabbath and even help them out of a ditch but this poor, infirmed daughter of Abraham must continue to struggle in sickness. Jesus showed this woman respect by referring to her as a daughter of Abraham (a title that is used no where else in scripture).

In another instance, Jesus mercifully freed a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:2-11). The law demanded that both the man and the woman be put to death (Leviticus 20:10), but her accusers didn't bring the man who was also caught in the act. This shows the clear sexual bias of the Jews that Jesus refused to participate in.

In route from Judea to Galilee, Jesus took the most direct route through Samaria. Due to an age-old feud between the Jews and the Samaritans, many devout Jews journeyed twice the distance, up the eastern side of the Jordan River, to avoid Samaria altogether, but our Lord "must needs go through Samaria." Jesus came to Sychar, a place rich in history, for it was the sight of Jacob's well. Weary from his journey Jesus sat down on the well where a woman from the village came to draw water.

Jesus said unto her, "Give me a drink." By this Jesus broke two social taboos at once. He spoke to a woman in public and He asked for a drink of water from a Samaritan. In Rabbinic Judaism it was forbidden for men to talk with women in the street. "He who speaks much with a woman draws down misfortune on himself, neglects the words of the Law, and finally earns Gehenna" (Mishnah Aboth 1:5). She knew this very well. So she asked Jesus, "How is it that you, being a Jew, ask drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria, for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans?"

Jesus ignored the ethnic and gender biases underlying her question and spoke directly to her heart. He went on to share profound truths with this woman. He spoke to her of "the gift of God" and offered her "living water . . . springing up into everlasting life." He could see right through her. He knew she had problems, that she had been married five times, and that she was now living with a man who was not her husband, and yet, in the light of His gaze she was drawn and not driven away. He shared amazing truths about the new covenant with her that no Jew had ever heard. He spoke of a time when worship would no longer take place in holy mountains and holy sites like temples, but in Spirit and in truth. He shared with her the purpose behind this more perfect worship, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." And when she said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." Jesus did something that he had previously forbidden his disciples to do (Matthew 16:20). He told her in no uncertain terms that He is the Messiah, "I who speak to you am he." He could openly reveal himself to this woman of Samaria where he could not do so in Jerusalem (John 4:3-34).

Before it was all over this woman went into her city and brought everyone out to see this man who told her everything she had ever done. She was seen, she was valued and flattered by having such truth bestowed on her.

The redemption that is in Christ Jesus restores the equality of men and women. The only limitations now are based solely and uniquely upon their roles as man and woman-each one complimenting, filling up and strengthening the other. If man and wife are ever to know the oneness that Adam and Eve knew in their innocence they must come to see that only together are they whole. They must come to appreciate each others' strengths and cover each others' weaknesses. In this they become one.

In Christ all who believe have returned to an Eden-like existence, which, in a very specific sense, takes us back before sin and its consequences. There were no ethnic distinctions in Eden. In Christ, the inequality of humanity is so completely eradicated that all social, economical, and gender inequalities are removed. Woman was not inferior in the beginning, neither is woman inferior in the new creation. In Christ there is a new (fresh) beginning. In Christ the equality of man and woman is restored.

Some might protest here, "But doesn't the scripture teach that women are to submit to their husbands?" Yes, it does. But it also teaches that men are to submit to their wives. Let us return for a moment to Ephesians 5. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." This is not a top-down, hierarchal subjection. This is mutual subjection out of regard for Christ. Paul first applies this concept of mutual subjection to husbands and wives. This reciprocal subjection "one to another" respects God's unique design in the creation of man and woman. Inferiority or superiority have nothing to do with it. This subjection reverently focuses on the specific roles of husband and wife as related to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Any subjection that does not hold this end in view is not biblical subjection but tyranny. Biblical subjection and equality are not at odds. For the wife who subjects herself to her husband out of reverence for Christ is equal to or one with her husband. Her free and loving submission is required for this mystery to be seen. The husband submits both to his Lord and to his wife by laying down his life for her. He does this out of reverence for Christ and love for his wife. Together they reverence Christ by fulfilling their unique roles.

All this disappears the moment subjection is demanded or taught as a duty. It all becomes a perverted mess when husbands stop laying down their lives for their wives out of reverence and love and start demanding submission. It all goes wrong when wives stop lovingly yielding to their husbands and start demanding that their husbands lay down their lives for them. Such submission is not unto the Lord, but rather demanding and self-serving. Christ is not reverenced in this and the mystery of Christ and the Church is not modeled but rather perverted.

Subjection can only be given unto the Lord. Paul writes, "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). Remember this is not hierarchal subjection but mutual subjection, "one to another." If it were otherwise Paul would have written this to husbands, "Husbands, subjugate your wives as Christ subjugates the Church." No. The husband's focus is to be elsewhere. His role in this great mystery is to lay down his life for his wife and in doing so to nourish her and cherish her as Christ does the church.

The mutual submission of husband and wife is to be tempered by the knowledge that both are members of Christ's body. "Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:28-30 RSV).

As a husband married to the same woman for over forty years, I (George) must confess that this truth has been a long time coming. Charlotte has been my lifelong companion, friend and wife and because of my outgoing nature, she was known as "George's wife" for a long time. All the while she was cooking, doing the dishes, doing the laundry and other household chores, between birthing, nurturing and raising our four children. To me she is a model mother and wife, and if the greatest in the kingdom are the servants of all, she is the greatest I have ever known. But it has only been in the last 10 years or so that I have come to know Charlotte in a much deeper way. I have come to know her as a member of the Body of Christ. I have come to realize that I am married to my sister. Charlotte is first my sister in Christ, then she is my wife (and in that order). She is first a member of Christ's body to whom I owe deference and honor then she is my wife.

Dorothy and I (Michael) have a similar history as George and Charlotte. For years I believed in a misogynistic gospel; women were to keep the home, raise the kids and make life easier for their husbands. No other input was acceptable or expected. After seeing the fruit of this kind of thinking bring forth a full crop of weeds for many years, a marriage counselor pointed out to me that Dorothy had something of value to contribute to our relationship besides slavery. Imagine that! He told me that God created certain qualities and strengths in her that were actually lacking in me and vice versa. He showed me how our marriage would only be complete as we learned to rely on one another's strengths in our areas of weakness. This is what God meant for her to be my "help meet." Mutual submission was necessary if we were to be a healthy whole together in Christ. "The two shall become one flesh." Since then His words, "It is not good for man to be alone" have taken on a much deeper meaning.

This knowledge was common among early believers. Paul wrote of it, "Have we no right at all to be leading about a sister as a wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5 CLV). In a letter to his wife, Tertullian, an early church leader, wrote about Christian marriage in terms of endearment and equality that are uncommon today.

"What kind of yoke is that of two believers, (partakers) of one hope, one desire, one discipline, one and the same service? Both (are) brethren, both fellow servants, no difference of spirit or of flesh; nay, (they are) truly "two in one flesh." Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit too. Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God; equally at the banquet of God; equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither hides (ought) from the other; neither shuns the other; neither is troublesome to the other." (Excerpt from Ad Uxorem)

This gives us a sense of the mutual subjection of husbands and wives in the early Church. Both are brothers (siblings and of the same Father) and fellow-servants. They are two in one flesh. They do all things together. They pray together. They fast together. Mutually they teach, mutually they exhort, and mutually they sustain. "Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God . . .."

Again, the only proper submission is unto the Lord; a mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ. Those who live by the new creation rule must dispense with every thought, word and action that keeps those old ethnic, gender, and class distinctions alive. If God sees no Jew or Greek, no slave or free man, no male or female, then we shouldn't see them either. Who are we to keep the old ethnic and gender dividedness alive, when God has made one those who believe?

There are many other passages that could be considered here but that would involve a far too lengthy and time consuming study. We would however like to recommend the work of an author who has already done the research. We recommend the definitive book (from which we previously quoted) Man and Woman, One In Christ by Phillip B. Payne, Zondervan Publishing, 2009.

Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 9

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