Viva la difference

Each time I commence writing, I seek the Lord for guidance on what I should say. As a result, each essay ends up being a real learning experience for me. With a subject as touchy as the Biblically correct place of women in the Church and marriage, I find myself in some trepidation (having numerous women to account to), almost hoping to come across some loophole which will miraculously let me off the hook of saying what I believe He wants me to say!  I will leave these few introductory words here, no matter what the end conclusion will be, and I will let you know whether that conclusion is what I expected.  Also critical in this whole excercise is that I believe with all my heart that all of us have an obligation to believe the entire Bible cover to cover.  If God is all-powerful, then it stands to reason He is in control of what is in the Bible, obviously not the individual translations, but the original manucripts.  And because He desires us to know Him intimately, He would not author confusion.

Let me also tell you my own preference in women. I like a woman who has a mind of her own, and has the ability to articulate her opinions.  I would be reluctant to have a meaningful relationship with any woman who did not possess those qualities. I hope you keep that in mind when you read this essay, and that it will confirm that I am being as objective as possible in reaching the end conclusion.


The Bible is full of pictures. Pictures described in words. Maybe ‘allegories’ or ‘analogies’ is a better word for them, but I prefer ‘pictures’.  Sometimes, these pictures have a purely symbolic meaning, whilst at other times, (such as in Genesis 1 and 2), a literal meaning prevails with the symbolism hidden underneath. Predominantly, these pictures describe some worldly scenario to illustrate a single spiritual principle. Consequently, we must be careful when interpreting these pictures to not read too much into them. Jesus, being God in human form, continued the practice by teaching in parables.  In Matthew 13, Jesus explained to His disciples why He spoke in parables so much of the time, quoting from Isaiah 6. The essence of what He explains is that only select people are privileged to understand these spiritual matters.  In the past, even many prophets and righteous men did not understand fully what was being revealed to the disciples. Apparently, He spoke in parables primarily to hide these truths from those not chosen to understand, rather than to enlighten the chosen ones! (Matthew 13:11-17).

So who are those not chosen to understand? Matthew Henry believed it was the ‘willingly ignorant’.  Verse 15 of Matthew 13 seems to confirm that. And who are those chosen to understand?  In John 10, Jesus tells us His sheep will hear His voice and in John 14 that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things.  That’s enough to convince me that all Christians are chosen to understand these spiritual matters.

So let’s look at the pictures which are particularly relevant to the subject matter. 


The very first thing I want to say, is that GOD IS MALE.

There is a real trend within new age thinking to try to take away the gender God has revealed for Himself.  This trend is to counter an impression left by old-school thinkers that the Bible has assigned a subservient, second-class citizen type, role to the female gender.  It is also to accommodate the ‘political correctness’ of new age society and to avoid accusations of discrimination on the grounds of sex.  

It is also replacing one falsehood with another. God has allocated different roles to each of the sexes, but not unequal ones; hierarchical ones, but not ones of less importance.  To ‘de-genderise’ God, takes away an enormously important, nay vital, element of the Gospel.  It leaves you with a Gospel message which has been watered down and lost its essence. It takes away many of the numerous and most meaningful pictures presented throughout the Bible – all depicting a MALE actively pursuing a FEMALE counterpart with the intention of becoming one with her for eternity.

Jesus was totally, utterly and undeniably Male.  Sure, He was born into a male dominated culture (generated by centuries of worldly thinking), but this does not in any way diminish the intent.  To understand the true meaning of maleness, we have to see it through God’s eyes, not our culture-induced perspective.  Jesus was also God in human form.  The many pictures presented right from the beginning in Genesis leave no doubt that God is male.  There is no doubt that Adam was created first and in God’s image.  (Just what it means to be created in His image is the subject of a later essay.)  What’s relevant here is that it soon became evident that within Adam there was a longing for a female to share his life with. A similar longing also existed within God and, in fact, was the reason for Creation. Adam’s longing was to be satisfied much sooner than God’s longing, but the intended comparison is only too obvious.


Right there, in the second chapter of the Bible, a second picture appears. The side of the first Adam is riven and out of this wound comes the material to fashion the first Adam’s bride.  When Jesus, the second Adam, dies on the cross, His side is riven and out of it comes a liquid which has separated into water and blood – the material needed to fashion God’s bride.  The water represents life eternal, the Holy Spirit. The blood represents covering for our unrighteousness. The creation of Eve was a prophecy of the Gospel message, given some 4000 years before the fact.


Right there, a third picture emerges – the God-ordained sexual relationship between two people is a heterosexual one.  It is the basis for what we know as a monogamous marriage. It is intended as a picture of God’s own desires. Whilst at creation woman came out of man, in future man will enter woman and the two will become one flesh!   Much as the thought may sit uncomfortably with some males in the Church: men and women together will constitute the bride of Jesus.  Perhaps the fact that males require substantial boosts of testosterone, during specific foetal stages, for them to develop masculine characteristics, is meaningful somewhere within this picture. Without those boosts, men would be distinctly effeminate and the Y chromosome would do very little to compensate.

There is no jealousy on God’s part of the love relationship between husband and wife.  This is just an incredibly beautiful feature of His creation. The marital union is a picture of what He desires for himself. So God rejoices every time husband and wife express their love for each other through sexual intercourse. God is only jealous of other gods taking His place.  And He abhors sexual practices which make a mockery of this God-ordained one.


After such an ideal start, where the only possible spanner in the works was free-will choice, things rapidly went sour.  Adam and Eve did make a wrong choice, and unfortunately Eve was first, then seduced Adam.  Despite God's warnings, little did they know the enormity of the repercussions of that choice: the decision to disobey God. Genesis 3 places much of the responsibility for the disobedience on Eve. She received a special curse, which, among other things, said:

"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16)

Submission of wives to their husbands is a consequence of the original sin.


The next picture represents the wife unfaithful: the woman unwilling to accept her punishment, rebelling against her God-imposed curse. This picture emerges repeatedly throughout the OT.  First the entire human race rebelled and went their own way. Degeneration of the entire Creation was set in progress. Things got so bad that God ‘regretted’ having started the project. (We must keep in mind here that all the time He knew beforehand what would happen, and it is therefore difficult for us to truly tune into His mindset.) He was so ‘regretful’, He destroyed all but a few in a world-wide flood, the evidence of which event surrounds us to this day.  He chose one family to start again, but it wasn’t long before the effects of the original disobedience became clear once more– soon most of mankind again turned away from God.

Then God selected one branch of the human race to be His ‘Chosen People’.  These were the Jews, the nation of Israel. But this lot also strayed from serving Him, over and over again.  The entire book of Hosea is a picture of God’s faltering relationship with His chosen people.


Matthew 22 gives us the parable of the wedding feast.  When those chosen didn’t want to come (This represents Israel), all and sundry were invited, both evil and good, as long as they had on proper wedding clothes (this represents all Christians, covered in Christ’s blood).  It would be easy here to take the interpretation too far, as some have, arguing that therefore we, as Christians, are only guests at Jesus’ wedding, not part of the bride. But that was never the intent.  The parable was intended only to illustrate a single spiritual principle: – there is only one way into heaven: Jesus’ blood. And Romans 11 and Ephesians 3 make it very clear that Gentiles are now included in God’s promises and joint heirs, (but only because of the unfaithfulness of Israel).

Matthew 25 gives us the parable of the ten virgins.  This parable illustrates the spiritual principle of preparedness. If we want to be at the wedding, it will be on God’s time-table, not ours.  The oil represents the Holy Spirit. Obviously, it is possible to run out of oil.  There have been many ‘conversions’ or ‘decisions for Christ’ which have been made half-heartedly, without true repentance, or without being aware of the true implications.  As a result we have many back-sliders and people who say ‘I’ve tried Christianity, but it didn’t work’.  These people are much harder to reach the second time round. But when Jesus comes back for us, I’m sure they will come knocking on heaven’s door, claiming to qualify.


In traditional Jewish custom, when a man found the woman he wanted to marry, his own father’s permission was needed before anything.  Then he would approach the bride’s father, and pay a price for her, if her father agreed. This was to compensate him for all his expenses in bringing her up – (she was nowhere near as productive as a son would have been.)  Arranged marriages were common. Finally, he would make a contract with the bride and they would seal it by drinking a cup of wine. He would then return to his father’s house to build a bridal chamber for a seven day long honeymoon – a chamber that would have to be approved by his father before he could go and collect his bride for the wedding.

While waiting patiently for her groom to return, secure in the knowledge of the contract and price paid, the bride would wear a veil whenever she went out, so as not to attract other possible suitors. The bridegroom could return at any time, so it was important for her to be ready.  He would come like a thief in the night, to steal her away (with her father making sure it really was him) to take her back for the wedding, the honeymoon (seven days), and celebrations as a consummated couple (another seven days).

Suddenly, so many scriptures, things Jesus said, start to make sense.  “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”(Matt.24:36), and the words of John the Baptist in John 3:29, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom”. And Paul explaining: “We are bought with a price” (1 Cor.6:20 & 7:23).


Ephesians 5 is probably the greatest revelation of God’s intended relationship with the believers. It explains the relationship between a husband and wife in great detail.  And then it suddenly jumps in with: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”


"And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:2-4)

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Revelation 19:7-8)

These lines speak for themselves, but I might just stress that while Christ will build His church (Jesus provides our righteousness), the Bride gets herself ready (a heart decision)!


In this second series of essays, I am tackling many of the things some of us would really prefer that they weren't in the Bible.  Myself, I have the greatest problem with Old Testament violence. I ask myself: "How can God tell His own Chosen People to kill Pagan women and children living in the Promised Land?"  That must remain the subject of a later essay. The subject of this one is: 'What is the Biblically correct role for women in the Church and marriage?' The Bible says lots of things about this, many of which don't go down real well with the liberated new age woman.

The reason I put up all the pictures above, is because the role of women in church and marriage is governed by them.  Women who object to fitting their Biblically prescribed, God-designed role are out of sync with God’s will. My purpose here is to try to separate that which is God’s intent, (which is non-negotiable), from that, if any, which is or was cultural, yet rates a mention in the Bible.

The scriptures I’m referring to, as I’m sure you know, are things like: "Wives submit yourselves to your husbands", "It is a shame for a woman to speak in church" and "Every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head". I will address each scripture separately.


"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." (Ephesians 5:22-24)

To look at the quoted lines in isolation is enough to get all the women in the church to run out and burn their bras. Modern wedding ceremonies often like to take out any hint at a wife having to 'obey' her husband.  Often the couple make up their own promises which end up looking more like a declaration of how they feel right now, than a promise of lifelong partnership.  

But the lines were never meant to be read in isolation.  The chapter begins with the relationship between all believers and the requirement for all of us to submit to one another.  The lines are followed by far greater responsibility being heaped on the husbands: they are required to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. That requires a far greater commitment than submission. It calls for laying down your life. The passage then concludes by explaining the entire discourse was intended to explain the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church!

What is submission?  First let me tell you what it is NOT.  It is not becoming a doormat or showing weakness. It is not passively allowing your husband to have his way with you.  And it is not withholding communication, or not expressing how you feel.  I will deal with this in much greater detail in my essay on Humility. Basically, where there is a clash of wills, it is a surrender of one will, to favour the other.

The only formal hierarchy approved by God in the Church is: Jesus the head of the husband; husband the head of the wife. While there is a place for apostles, teachers, prophets, evangelists, pastors, deacons, overseers, and what-have-you, none of these gifts makes these brothers or sisters more important within the body than the person who washes the floor or cleans the toilets. While we may choose to enable them to exercise a full-time ministry by paying them a salary, they should never become 'head honcho', or the man you can't get close to, because he is too high up to mix with you. Neither should the privilege of serving the Lord full-time, courtesy of His followers, become a means of lining one's own pockets with gold. Read all about it in 1 Corinthians 12.

Back to the subject. Nowhere does the Bible instruct husbands to make wives submit.  As in all matters relating to the proper functioning of things in the heavenly realm, everything should be done out of free will choice.

There are those who argue that under the New Covenant the curse on the woman has been lifted and therefore she is no longer under her husband's rule. It is true the curse has been lifted and in the spiritual realm that freedom already applies. But if total freedom from the curse here on earth was already in force, no born-again Christian would ever sin, or become sick, or age, or physically die. Ephesians 5 leaves no doubt that submission is a vital element of the Gospel message. The curse has been lifted to the extent that mutual giving in the marital relationship is now totally by free will choice. Neither party has the right to demand that the other conform, and such demand would actually make the giving utterly meaningless.


"… the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head: for that is the same as if she were shaven." 
(1 Cor.11:3-5)

Paul makes it clear in verse 2 that he is discussing traditions which he personally delivered to the Christians at Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 7:12, Paul makes it clear that on at least one occasion he is giving his own opinion, as opposed to sharing an inspired word.  Whether there are other instances of such an aberration, I don't know.  I have to admit that there are times when I am reading Paul's letters, that I think he had to be something of a chauvinist.  On the other hand, we must always remember that most of Christianity would not exist without his letters. In my essay "Exegesis", I make the point that as Christians, if we are going to believe at all in an all-powerful God, we must have faith that He was always in control of His message to us. Based on that premise, even if Paul did not regard his own words as inspired by the Holy Spirit, God still wanted to tell us something through them.

Whether a woman in the 21st century should only pray when her head is covered, I think is a matter between her, her husband and her Lord. Personally, had I been born a woman, I think I would play it 'safe' and wear one.


"Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, as long as you do well, and are not afraid of anything. Likewise, husbands, dwell with them with understanding, 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 3:6-7).

Are women 'weaker vessels'?  The verse doesn't actually say that.  It really says 'as if'. But, it certainly could be taken as implied. I know there are women who could easily lift ten times anything I could.  Some, I wouldn't like to meet in a dark alley! Instructing men to approach their wives with the attitude that 'they are weaker vessels' appears condescending and hardly conducive to a healthy growing relationship.  Observing Muslim women under men's rule, reminds us of the influence culture can have, causing men to take advantage of the 'weaker sex' and go on a power trip.  But I guess, on average, women are physically weaker than men.  (To win Wimbledon, women only have to win best out of three, but men the best out of five.) Does the verse refer solely to physical strength?  Or is the reference tied back to Eve's psychological vulnerability?

In all of it, we must remember these are earthly pictures of some spiritual principle. When we arrive on the 'other side', there will not be male and female believers: Jesus will be the male and the believers collectively will constitute the female.  So we will not marry or be given in marriage to each other. Whilst we will recognise each other because God saves our souls, apparently we will not be sexually aware or remember each other that way.  The truth is that, after the wedding, the relationship between God and His bride will not be one of equal standing.  We, the chosen, will remain in submission to Him.

So the choice we really have to make is: are we prepared to fall in line with these God-designed pictures or not.  In other words, are we prepared to modify our behavior in such a way that our lifestyle illustrates the Gospel?  It probably comes down to whether we believe Paul’s words are inspired by God or that they were just his chauvinistic opinions.  It falls into the same category as: should we really turn the other cheek and really give our coat to the person who steals our shirt?  Are we going to believe the Bible, cover to cover, or only the bits we find palatable?

If we dismiss what Paul had to say about women, we automatically bring into question anything else he had to say, including the reason Gentiles are part of the New Covenant.


"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

There have been suggestions that this was a purely cultural thing - men in church would go on and on, debating religious points; the women would sit around and gossip.  

I can't see that being a valid explanation, especially if we examine the next item.  Whether it was merely Paul's opinion, having its source in many years of male dominated culture, I wouldn't like to decide. I do believe every word in the Bible is there for a God-inspired reason.  Be that as it may, it is interesting that the instruction comes from a chapter that finishes with: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Obviously Christian gatherings in Corinth had become somewhat chaotic and Paul felt some rules were needed to keep things orderly.


"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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Timothy 2:11-14)

In my time here on earth I have learnt much wisdom from women. These instructions to Timothy are not saying women have nothing worthwhile to contribute.  In fact, earlier we heard of women being allowed to prophesy, provided they wore a head covering.  The instructions appear to describe a spiritual condition, brought on by original sin. Just as all men are ‘born in sin’ as a consequence of Adam’s fall, so all women appear to be destined to be in submission as a consequence of Eve’s fall.  It is not possible to write these statements off as cultural, because the reason for the silence is very clearly given: Eve was born after Adam.  And Eve was in the transgression!

Again, we need to decide, each person for themselves, the meaning of these God-designed pictures. We need to decide how important they are, both to ourselves and to God.  If it is not important, why is it in there? God looks on the heart. But the heart shows in the fruit we bear.  Legalistic application of these scriptures has no more meaning than forcing someone to say the 'sinner's prayer'.  Our Christian walk should be a constant revelation through our interaction with the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit reveals it is important, even if we still don't understand why, that's when we should act.

The scriptures should confirm what the Spirit has revealed. Note Paul's explanation of the reason for the hierarchy - Eve was created second, but transgressed first!  It goes right back to the original sin and the curse God placed on the woman: "Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you!" (Genesis 3:16)

We cannot possibly argue that this doesn’t apply under the New Covenant, as Paul was writing well and truly after Pentecost.


In the end, it all comes down to a very simple answer: If we really believe (the Gospel), then we have no choice but to accept that there is a God-designed hierarchy within the Body of Christ. This hierarchy appoints husbands as the head of the marital union.  In the same way, Christ, as the spiritual husband, is the head of the Church.  The weight of responsibility for loving the spouse is far greater on the husband than on the wife. Just as Jesus loves us far more than we could ever love Him.

We stray from the truth when we apply too much secular thinking to putting that into practice. We all are to submit to one another. We all have a New Commandment to obey. Agape love is the answer. There is no room within the expression of the readied Bride for the pursuit of individual selfish agendas, no matter how unselfish they may appear on the surface. There also is no room within the Body of Christ for anyone to force anyone else to do or not do anything.  In the end, we all have to surrender to a wonderful Comforter, who's primary job it is to get the Bride ready.  

Fitting into God's hierarchy is not a claim to greater power, strength, talent, ability, knowledge, gifting or importance. It is merely deferring to God's wisdom. No one person in the body of Christ is more important than anyone else (1 Corinthians 11). The entire proper operation of the Body, as an organization of people, is full of principles which confound secular thinking. Under God's rule, the first will be last, the last will be first.  Those who wish to be leaders should be servants.  To think of the Christian hierarchy in earthly terms, by believing that merit or qualification plays a part in determining which place you occupy, is to make a grave error of judgment.  Submission to one another is demonstrating to God that we have not only understood our place in our eternal relationship with Him, but that we have entered a phase where we are able to function willingly in that way.  (He has already endured a rebellion of angels, a rebellion in Eden, repetitive rebellion of His chosen people, and a constant rebellion of the world population at large. He doesn't want another rebellion on His hands after the wedding, just because we didn't quite realise what we were getting ourselves into!) 

Neither is it God's intention to restrict anyone from blossoming and achieving their full potential, in accordance with their God-given talents.  (We have become so brain-washed by earthly thinking, that we still fail to understand, even though we are chosen to understand if we want to.  We block our own ears and harden our own hearts, because we consider the surrender of self too great a cost.) 

We cannot pretend that Christianity does not embrace the concepts we have tested here.  They are part and parcel of the Gospel message.  God Himself felt they were important enough to include them. I have no doubt that, as we grow closer to Him and less concerned with self, the true expression of the Church here on Earth will embrace them without so much as giving it another thought.  (And, as promised, I can say I have learnt a lot, but the conclusion is what I expected.  What I didn’t know when I started this essay, is the remarkablereason for the requirement to submit to one another)


I am sorry girls to be the bearer of unpopular tidings, but I cannot find any way around it. Much as I myself would prefer it if these statements by Paul had never been recorded in God’s Word, there is a hierarchy within the Body of Christ, making a husband the head of the wife. (However, being the head confers more responsibility to love, not more power.) 

The reason for us demonstrating submission to one another here on Planet Earth, is that we can prove to Him we have fully grasped the true nature of our relationship with Him for eternity: us in submission to Him. The reason women have to demonstrate more submissiveness than men, is that Eve disobeyed first and then caused Adam to do the same. Hard as we find it to accept this part of God’s nature and the Gospel message, if we leave it out we are telling Him we don’t like Him just as He is.

This essay wouldn't be complete if I didn't at least venture an opinion whether women should teach or speak in church. The answer in my opinion is 'No'.  But preventing them by compulsion is also wrong. Men should wait patiently and lovingly for the Holy Spirit to reveal Truth to their spouses, so that when it happens, it comes from revelation rather than grudging compliance.

So what about women who are single? They are answerable direct to Jesus, but the same spiritual principles apply. For all of us, the most important thing to remember is that no matter what spiritual gifts we have, if we have not love, it is worth nothing. The rest of the world won’t recognise us by our spiritual gifts, but by the love we have for each other!

It takes an incredible humility to know you have something important to share, and to feel compelled to bury it deep inside, or share it with the Church through your husband as spokesman.  But read my essay on 'Exegesis' - I believe even teaching by men is totally overdone.  Individually, we need far more teaching direct from the Holy Spirit, replacing much of the stuff we are fed from the pulpit. Jesus said:"But do not be called Rabbi (honourable title for teacher), for One (God) is your Teacher, and you are all brothers." (Matthew 23:8)

The Truth is that the entire system we call 'Christianity' is in need of a complete overhaul, so that we can get back to the plain Gospel that Jesus Himself brought us.

And finally, let's celebrate the wonderful God-designed difference between men and women, not spurn that difference under the cloak of new-age concepts. As the French say: 'Vive la difference!'

What don’t we like about God?  We don’t like His old-fashioned values. If only He would move into the twenty-first century and get with the program!