Submission? Oppression? Liberation? The woman in home and church...

The Christian Woman

"Born to Win"
Daily Radio Program
by Ronald L. Dart
Ronald L Dart
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Ronald L. Dart: "There are no women in heaven," chuckled the preacher. "How do I know this? The Lord revealed it in Revelation 8:1 when He said there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour."

It was all very amusing, and even the ladies enjoyed a little laugh at their own expense - after all, more than one of them had "talked someone's ear off" sometime in the past 48 hours.

[ABCOG: on average, women speak 25,000 words in a day, men 15,000.]

Still, there was a little hurt in the laughter of some. To them it was just one more "put-down" for women. Only this time it came from an unexpected source - their pastor from whom they felt they had a right to expect support, not humiliation.

It is bad enough to endure discrimination and even denigration from the world at large without having to endure it in the church. Why, even in this sanctuary from the hurts of the world, do women find themselves being hurt yet again?

"Who am I?" the Christian woman asks. "What am I? Why did God make me woman? Am I under some sort of curse? Am I only offered a secondary salvation? Am I some sort of inferior creature - a divine afterthought?"

Why have the churches left women so confused about their identity? What have churchmen taught about the role of the Christian woman? From whence come these teachings? The answer may surprise you.

The Church "Fathers"

From the very earliest times, the attitude of the "church fathers" toward women could be described as negative at best. Tertullian, for example, saw woman as the personification of fundamentally evil sex. He exhorts the Christian woman to wear somber clothes and to conduct herself as Eve:

... mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derived from Eve - the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium [attaching to her as the cause] of human perdition. "In pains and anxieties dost thou bear [children], woman; and toward thine husband [is] thy inclination, and he lords it over thee." And do you not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateways; you are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert - that is, death - even the Son of God had to die" [Tertullian, De cultu feminarum 1.1, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 40, pp. 117f].

Shocking, isn't it? Stripped of all frills, he says in the plainest terms that there is a sentence of God upon the female sex that lives on and the guilt goes on too. He says that women are the devil's gateway, the first deserter of the divine law, the destroyer of man and ultimately responsible for the death of the Son of God.

When we understand that this man was one of the earliest (A.D. 160-225) and most prolific of the church fathers, and that his influence was so pervasive that he has been called the father of Latin theology, we begin to get an idea of how early and how strongly negative attitudes toward women were inculcated into the church's theology. But where did Tertullian get these ideas? From the Bible? It is of at least passing interest that the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus - not generally accepted as canonical by Protestant churches - is quite negative about women: "Do not look upon anyone for beauty, and do not sit in the midst of women; for from garments come the moth, and from a woman comes woman's wickedness. Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace" (Ecclesiasticus 42:12-14).

Another of the early church fathers, Origen (A.D. 185-224), stated, "What is seen with the eyes of the Creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh" (Origen, Selecta in Exodus xviii.17, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Volume 12, Column 296 ). Origen is also quoted elsewhere as saying that it is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.

Yet another church father, Epiphanius (A.D. 315-403), wrote: "For the female sex is easily seduced, weak, and without much understanding. The Devil seeks to vomit out this disorder through women ... We wish to apply masculine reasoning and destroy the folly of these women" (Epiphanius, Adversus Collyridianos, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Volume 42, Column 740 f).

There were some curious lines of reasoning to be found among the early church fathers. Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 376-444), for example, explained why Mary Magdalene did not immediately recognize Jesus after His resurrection thus: "Somehow the woman [Mary Magdalene], or rather the female sex as a whole, is slow in comprehension" (Cyril of Alexandria, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Volume 74, Column 689).

Leonard Swidler finds Cyril's conclusions contradictory since

the most celebrated non-Christian mathematician and philosopher of the neo-Platonic school in Alexandria was a woman, Hypatia. But in a neurotic sort of way the two elements fit together, for Hypatia, known for her "great eloquence, rare modesty, and beauty," attracted many students and naturally opposed much of what the authoritarian, violent Cyril stood for. Her existence as a proof of the falsity of Cyril's image of woman's uncomprehending nature was swiftly cut off by Christian monks who dragged her from her chariot into a Christian church, stripped her naked, cut her throat, and burned her piecemeal; Cyril was deeply complicit, indirectly if not directly [Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, Volume 7, 15, as quoted by Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman, page 345].

And so this pervasive attitude continues on with successive church fathers including Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Jerome and Augustine.

These latter two seem to have had grave difficulties with their sexuality. In his struggle with himself, Jerome lived the most extreme ascetic life in the desert. During this period he was filled with the wildest sexual fantasies:

Although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself amid bevies of girls. My face was frail and my frame chilled with fasting, yet my mind was burning with desire and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead [Jerome, Epistle 22:7]. At times he [Jerome] gratuitously projected debaucheries on women whom he did not even know and about whom he had no information, as, for example, in his letter to a Christian ascetic woman in Gaul in which he describes in lurid detail her imagined behavior, such as her mincing gait, pretended ascetic dress, carefully ripped to display the white flesh beneath, her shawl which she allows to slip and quickly replaces to reveal her curving neck [Jerome, Epistle 117, as quoted by Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman, page 347].

[ABCOG: lack of food and sleep (typical of the desert hermits) distorts brain functioning, inducing uncontrollable hallucinations - "what they fear comes upon them" - visions of demons, seductresses, etc.]

Augustine also struggled with his desire for sex and his belief that sex was evil.

A good Christian is found in one and the same woman: To love the creature of God (quod homo est) whom he desires to be transformed and renewed, but to hate in her the corruptible and mortal conjugal connection, sexual intercourse and all that pertains to her as a wife (quod uxor est) [Augustine, De Sermone Domini In Monte 1.15 Migne, Patrologia Latina, Volume 34, Col.. 1250].

The influential Augustine saw woman as the expression of the flesh:

Flesh stands for woman, because she was made out of a rib ... the Apostle has said: Who loves his woman loves himself; for no one hates his own flesh. Flesh thus stands for the wife, as sometimes also spirit for the husband. Why? Because the latter rules, and the former is ruled; the later should govern, the former should serve.

As late as the sixth century Gregory the Great is quoted as saying, "In holy scripture [the word] 'woman' stands either for the female sex (Galatians 4:4) or for weakness, as it is said: A man's spite is preferable to a woman's kindness (Sirach 42:14). For every man is called strong and clear of thought but woman is looked upon as a weak or muddled spirit" (Gregory, Migne, Patrologia Latina, Volume 75, Column 982 f).

The Source

From whence came these beliefs? Are they biblically derived? Or have they somehow been derived from human society and human values?

Certainly the Judeo-Christian tradition is not alone - it seems that most human societies and religions are shot through with ideas that at best regard woman as man's inferior, and at worst as being essentially evil.

In the orthodox Hindu religion, it is believed that women cannot obtain salvation as women, but only through being reborn as men.

In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, woman is seen as "an all-devouring curse. In her body the evil cycle of life begins afresh, born out of lust engendered by blood and semen. Man emerges mixed with excrement and water, fouled with the impurities of woman. A wise man will avoid the contaminating society of women as he would the touch of bodies infested with vermin."

In first century Jewish society, an adult male Jew thanked God three times a day for not having made him a Gentile, a woman or a slave. Did this idea originate from the Bible? Certainly not. It probably derived from Hellenistic [culture of Alexander the Great's empire] or Greek society where a fundamental tenet held that a man was to be grateful that he was born a human being and not a beast, a man and not a woman, a Hellene and not a barbarian.

There is ample reason to believe that the traditions of the Jews and even the later Christian societies regarding women might well have been derived from pagan cultures. But did they find any foundation at all in the Bible?

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God had a plan for man and woman. There are certain things that are evident in His original intent. We have two main ways of understanding this intent. First, some things are evident in the design of man and woman. The bodily structure and physical and biochemical functions of men and women differ in important ways. As someone aptly pointed out, the fact that the human species is mammalian has far-reaching and inescapable sociological consequences. The female, obviously, is designed for bearing and nurturing children. The male, on the other hand, is designed for protecting and providing for his family. Consequently, the male is generally larger and stronger than the female.

It's not difficult to proceed to the conclusion, then, that it was within the scope of God's original plan and intent that the larger, stronger and more mobile male would tend to be dominant in male-female relationships. It's a simple matter of the sociological consequences of biology.

The other way we discern God's intent is in the creation itself. Jesus Himself recognized in that account an "original intent."

It came to pass on a day that the Pharisees came to Him, attempting to lay a snare, and asked, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" Jesus' answer is simple and direct: "Have you not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:3-6).

It is important to note that Jesus did not say "they twain shall be master and servant." Nor did He describe them as lord and slave. Rather, He describes an entirely different relationship: "They twain shall be one flesh."

But is such a relationship implied in the earliest accounts of the creation of woman? Let's consider it beginning in Genesis 2:18: "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

The expression "help meet" has often been taken to mean helper in the sense of servant, menial, apprentice or, in the extreme, a slave. The Hebrew, however, will not justify such a meaning. In fact, the word help is often used of God Himself. In Psalm 46:1, for example, God is called "a very present help" in time of trouble. Numerous examples could be given, but it is clear that the word does not mean "help" in a subservient sense. What the scripture does imply is that man alone is incomplete, inadequate to God's purpose.

Returning to Genesis 2:19,20, we find the very curious account of the naming of the animals. The account almost sounds as though God expected He might find a helper for Adam among the animals and would not need to create woman at all! It's almost as though woman was sort of a "divine afterthought," a solution to a problem that had not otherwise been found. Such a suggestion-is absurd on the face of it. As James put it, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning" (Acts 15:18). The physical designs of man and animals show clearly that God never expected to find Adam's mate among the animal kingdom. The end of verse 20 is merely a simple statement of this fact.

Yet another misconception arises from Genesis 2:21: "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof, And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Some of the early church fathers suggested that because woman was taken from Adam's rib that she was somehow inferior to man.

The apostle Paul makes an interesting refutation of this theory in the 11th chapter of I Corinthians. He is in the process of discussing a rather obscure practice of the time having to do with head coverings, long and short hair, the shaving of heads, etc. In the process, he appeals to a pattern of leadership descending from the Father to Christ, to the husband, to the wife. However, lest someone assume that the woman is inferior to the man or less important in this relationship, Paul cautions: "Nevertheless neither is the man without woman, neither is the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man [Eve was taken from Adam's rib], even so is the man also by the woman [every man since Adam has come from the womb of a woman]; but all things of God" (I Corinthians 11:11, 12).

Paul seems to be taking up God's statement that it was not good for man to be alone and continuing to point out that both man and woman are incomplete without the other. Interestingly enough, the fact that all men since Adam come from women and that we all tend to revere our mothers conceivably could lead to matriarchy. It's almost as though God's purpose in taking our first mother out of Adam was to create an equality between men and women - to prevent women from having the ascendancy because all men come from women. Do you suppose there would have been different sociological consequences through the ages had God created Eve first and taken Adam from her?

It may be easier to argue that God's intent in taking woman out of man was to create equality between the sexes than it is to argue that it was His intent to make man superior to woman.

Some of the early church fathers attempted to conclude from this account that woman was not only inferior to man, but that she - unlike man - was not made in God's image. And yet we are told clearly in the original creation account, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them" (Genesis 1:27). Man in this verse is used in the generic sense. Man was created male and female. Woman, like man, is created in the image of God. Later, in commenting on the work that He had done that day, "God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (verse 31) - including woman.

So man and woman were both perfect in their creation. They were both created in the image of God. Woman, indeed, was created for man, but a simple study of male anatomy will show that man also was created for woman. There is nothing in the creation account to imply female inferiority, male superiority, or to justify a man lording it over his wife.

Returning to Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees: After He had cited the Genesis account and made His oft-quoted statement, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder," the Pharisees replied, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?"

An important question is asked, and a vital answer is given.

"He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so" (verse 8).

Jesus clearly states that God had an original intent for man and woman which had gone astray through human weakness. The permission of divorce under Moses was not an expression of the original intent of God. It was an accommodation to human weakness and a merciful response to human sin.

The First Sin

Man went astray so soon! The very first man and the very first woman sinned and changed the course of history for all mankind. The account of this sin is found in the third chapter of Genesis, and it's from this account that much of the understanding (and misunderstanding) of the nature of woman has proceeded.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" [Genesis 3:1]

Tertullian no doubt would have underlined the word woman and observed that Satan struck at the first family through its weakest link. Some modern interpreters have done the same, but it is a gratuitous assumption. There is nothing in the Genesis account to indicate any such thing. Some of the same interpreters who tell us that Satan will strike the family at its weakest link will also tell us that Satan likes to strike a religious organization at the very top.

The story of the deception of Eve is familiar. She responds to the serpent with an accurate accounting of God's commandment. The serpent questions God's motives and lies to the woman about what the tree is really for.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

From this account Tertullian derives his assertion, "You are the Devil's gateways; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of Your desert - that is death - even the Son of God had to die." But wait. It is true that the woman was first in transgression, but she was not alone in it. Her husband was with her!

It is curious that so few have noticed the argument that Satan struck at the family through its weakest link is self-defeating. If Adam was morally the stronger of the two, why did he not speak? Why did he not argue with Satan? Why did he not assume the role of leadership in this situation? We are presented with an image of Eve carrying on a dialogue with the serpent while Adam stands meekly by. Eve turns and hands the forbidden fruit to her husband and he eats, no questions asked! Eve was first in the transgression to be sure, but why do we assume she was worst?

Perhaps some of this derives from other biblical writers, such as Paul. Consider the following from Paul's first letter to Timothy:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, not 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 [I Timothy 2:11-14].

This scripture has sometimes been used by churchmen to argue that woman was the "first cause" of sin in the world. That she was the one who was guilty, not Adam. This argument is also self-defeating. Look carefully at verse 14. We are told that Adam was not deceived while Eve was. Question: Who has the greater responsibility? The one who is deceived and sins or the one who is not deceived and sins? (see Luke 12:47, 48.)

Paul answers this question for us elsewhere, and he does so without ambiguity:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ... Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression ... For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they that received abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ [Romans 5:12-17].

Isn't it interesting that in this account of what many call the "original sin" full responsibility for the introduction of sin in the world is laid at the feet of Adam, not Eve?

Why, then, does Paul seem to lay the responsibility at Eve's feet in his letter to Timothy? Let's look at it again, but this time let's look at the entire context of chapter 2. The subject of the chapter is prayers, intercession and giving of thanks. Paul exhorts that prayers be made for kings and all in authority and, indeed, for all men. The context of Paul's remarks about women begins in verse 8:

I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

The wording almost sounds like a shift in context between verse 8 and verse 9. It sounds like verse 8 is talking about prayer and verse 9 is talking about women's apparel. The words "in like manner," however, imply that he is also talking about women praying but that he is concerned that the women in Timothy's church may be giving more attention to their appearance than to their attitude and their prayers.

Is Paul suggesting that women should not braid their hair? If they have a gold wedding ring, are they not to wear it? If their husbands should give them a gift of lovely cultured pearls, are they to leave them in a box at home? Somehow, this seems unlikely, especially in view of God's own conduct toward Israel recorded in Ezekiel 16:10-12. Here God is pictured as clothing Israel with badger's skins, fine linen and silk. He is pictured as decking Israel with ornaments, bracelets, neck chains, jewels, earrings and even & beautiful crown.

It seems plain enough that Paul is correcting women who would try to substitute outward appearance for the inner attitude.

Why, then, does Paul draw the Genesis account of the woman's first sin into this exhortation? What Paul is doing is drawing a historical analogy from the book of Genesis in order to remind women that no matter how polished, no matter how cultured, no matter how prim, no matter how proper they may be, they are subject to deception and sin. Women are not morally superior. Any arrogance on their part is out of line. It is as simple as that. Paul is not trying to establish a doctrine that women may not wear jewelry; nor is he trying to establish a doctrine of female inferiority or blaming women for the sins of all mankind. It simply appears from the context that there were a few women in Timothy's church who had become vain and may have been trying to usurp authority over their husbands or even over Timothy himself.

It's an old, old story. Jesus, Paul and the other apostles had indeed been champions of women in their society. Paul had written: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). The women in the church had come to appreciate fully their "liberty in Christ." But it seems inevitable that in any such situation there will be a few who will carry things entirely too far. A few women, having experienced even greater liberation than the men had experienced, may well have become somewhat arrogant - even to an assumption of female superiority.

It would be a terrible mistake to take Paul's writings out of context and use them in an attempt to establish female inferiority.

We should also point out that it would be a mistake to take too literally Paul's admonition that a woman should not teach. For he wrote to Titus with some specific instructions for older women in the church:

That they [the older women] may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home [Greek: keepers of the house], good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed [Titus 2:4, 51.

What Paul seems to be saying to Timothy is that women should not teach men [ABCOG:????] - not that they shouldn't teach at all.

Another note in passing: Paul was not trying to suggest in his comments to Titus that women should be confined to the home. The expression is not "keepers at home," but "keepers of the house." When coupled with Proverbs 31:10-31, the position of keeper of the house obviously is one of considerable responsibility - she is not just another household servant. We'll have more to say on Paul's writings later.

The First Punishment

Returning to the third chapter of Genesis, we find Adam and Eve so smitten with guilt that they hide themselves from the presence of God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). After God had made inquiry of them as to what had happened, He immediately cursed the serpent:

And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel [verses 14, 15].

It's important to notice in this account that God curses only the ground (verse 17) and the serpent. He does not curse the man. He does not curse the woman.

Both the man and the woman, however, must bear their punishment. In the pronouncing of the punishment upon man and woman, there are two words in common to both - the words "in sorrow," which mean in pain, anguish or struggle. No change in the role of man or the role of woman is suggested. What is suggested is that the woman shall bear children in sorrow.

It is important enough to repeat: In punishing the man and the woman, God did not change their sociological roles. Neither the design of women to nurture children, nor the design of man to protect and provide, were changed. But it was not going to be easy any more.

Also, in verse 16, God says to the woman: "And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Notice that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It is in the simple future tense (he shall), not the imperative (he must). God is not describing the way things should be, but the way they will be as the result of sin. And in truth down through all generations woman has been dominated. In nearly every society the woman has experienced the rule of man. She has been treated like a slave and even bought and sold. Often robbed of her human rights, she was treated as chattel or property by her husband.

But from the beginning it was not so.

This passage is not a description of the way God wants things to be, but the way they will be when men go contrary to His words. It is not God's will for man to "lord it over" his wife. For a Christian to use this verse to justify the oppression of his wife is an utter travesty! The Christian man and wife should be one flesh as it was from the beginning.

Can a Woman Lead?

If indeed it was God's intent that women be subordinated to men throughout history, we should expect God to assiduously avoid circumstances where women dominate. Is this the case? Has God ever used a woman in a position of leadership over men?

The answer is a clear and resounding yes!

Perhaps the most notable example in Scripture is a woman named Deborah - a prophetess and a judge in Israel in the years following Joshua. She is introduced to us in the fourth chapter of Judges:

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment [Judges 4:4, 5].

There can be little doubt that Deborah was the dominant leader in Israel at this time. It is evident from the fact that when she sent for Barak, the military commander, he came at her bidding (verse 6).

Deborah was a prophetess. The Hebrew word for prophet is nabi, and its feminine form is nebiah. There are many different sorts of prophets to be found in the Bible, but essentially a prophet or a prophetess is one through whom God speaks. Consequently, when she called Barak he realized that God had a message for him.

Her message was simple. God had commanded Barak to go and take 10,000 men to fight against Sisera the captain of Jabin's army. Barak's response is of considerable interest: "And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go" (verse 8). He was dependent upon this woman not only as a messenger of God, but as a source of moral support and as an obvious leader - although not herself a military leader.

Deborah went with him, but she warned that the honor of the battle would not be Barak's, but the Lord would give Sisera into the hand of a woman. The battle was fought, Sisera and his men fled in disarray, and Sisera himself was killed by a woman named Jael who drove a tent peg through his head.

The entire account would be strange indeed if God shared the inclinations of Tertullian, Augustine and Jerome. Clearly He does not.

Some interpreters are fond of citing this period in Israel as a time when all the men were so weak that there was no one left but a woman to lead Israel - as though it were a low point in Israel's history. Yet, it was a time when a great battle was fought and won followed by 40 years of peace. A strange circumstance for a time when God was so displeased with the character of the men of Israel.

The truth is that God simply chose a woman to hold the position of leadership during this particular point in history.

Miriam and Huldah

There are two other prophetesses of note in the Bible. The first is Miriam, Moses' sister. In Exodus the 15th chapter we find "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron," taking a timbrel in her hand and leading all the women in a song of triumph. Her words have found their way into Scripture as the song of Miriam.

Much later in Israel's history King Josiah began to reign. In his 18th year, a book was discovered in the temple - it was the book of the law. When King Josiah heard the words of the law read to him, he rent his clothes and immediately sent to inquire of God for he realized that the wrath of God was upon these people because they had not listened to the words of this book. So he sent Hilkiah the priest and others to inquire of God. They went to a woman named Huldah, a prophetess.

And she said unto them, thus saith the Lord God of Israel, tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord ...

Thus begins a rather lengthy prophecy about the evil that was to befall Israel, and a promise that it would not fall in the days of Josiah because of his humility before God. It is a simple account, but it underlines once more that occasionally, for reasons of His own, God decides to speak to man through a woman.

To be sure instances of feminine leadership were rare indeed in Old Testament times. But, then, instances of righteous male leadership are rare enough as well.

It isn't as though God wanted to establish feminine dominance, or even to erode the principle of male leadership. But it may have been necessary for Him to make a statement that women were not to be treated as man's inferiors.


Before we leave the Old Testament completely, it might be well to give a little attention to the question of Christian women and makeup. Relatively few Christian sects these days prohibit women from wearing makeup. Most of those that do seem to be holdovers from another era when "respectable" women in society did not wear makeup. Some of these groups still try to find biblical support for their position and quite forcefully forbid women to wear makeup in church - some forbid the wearing of it at any time.

It is of singular importance to note that nowhere does the Bible specifically forbid women to wear makeup. It is not mentioned at all in the law of God or the teachings of Christ. All of the reasons advanced for not wearing makeup are inferences from prophetic writings. There are four principal scriptures that are advanced.

Probably the earliest reference is found in II Kings 9:30 and recounts an instance of Jezebel painting her eyes: "When Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window," (II Kings 9:30, RSV).

There really is very little to be learned about makeup from this verse. Jezebel is, of course, used in the Bible as a bad example, but it would be impossible to derive from this verse alone that makeup was wrong. One thing is evident from the verse: she had no intent of seduction! When she leaned out the window, she said to Jehu, "Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master." This is hardly a seductive speech - it is rather bald provocation. It may well be that Jezebel knew her death was near, so she faced it defiantly. She prepared herself completely all the way to eye makeup and head ornaments and then defiantly flung her accusation in Jehu's face.

All this verse tells us is that Jezebel once used eye makeup. Anything more is drawn from [ABCOg:???] human reasoning.

The next reference that is often quoted does not even refer to makeup. It is found in Isaiah 3:16:

Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet; the Lord will smite with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

Adam Clark's Commentary speculates that the expression "wanton eyes" (Authorized Version) was a reference to "falsely setting off the eyes with paint." As it turns out, the Revised Standard Version translation is quite correct in saying that it is the glances of the daughters of Zion that are wanton and not the eyes. The verse doesn't mention eye makeup at all.

The context of the verse is instructive, however, in the matter of drawing inferences from prophetic writings. Read the judgment of God beginning in verse 18:

In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, the scarfs; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; instead of the girdle, a rope; instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; instead of beauty, shame. Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground [Isaiah 3:18-26, RSV]

It would not be difficult for some preachers to infer from this verse that God does not approve of women wearing anklets, headbands, crescents, armlets, sashes, signet rings, nose rings, etc. One could conclude that He did not approve of the use of perfume or the setting of hair.

In making such a conclusion, however, one would entirely miss the point. The prophecy begins with the statement, "Because the daughters of Zion are haughty ..." What follows is a promise from God of the reduction of their arrogance to abject humility. Anyone should be able to understand that God has no objection to beauty (verse 24).

But because of their arrogance they will lose their beauty. The same is true of all the outward trappings of beauty and wealth. There is no sin in signet rings and perfume boxes. There is sin, however, in arrogance.

The next scripture used by some churchmen to condemn makeup is found in Jeremiah 4:30. We'll need to go back to verse 27 to get a feeling for the context:

The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

The picture is clear. We are dealing with the time of the Day of the Lord. Earlier, in verse 19, Jeremiah says, "My heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war."

What does all this have to do with a woman wearing makeup? Continuing with the context in verse 29:

At the noise of horsemen and archer every city takes to flight; they enter thickets; they climb among rocks; all the cities are forsaken, and no man dwells in them. And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life [Jeremiah 4:29, 30].

What does this picture? The nation of Israel is pictured as a desolate woman in a time of trouble. The mountains are quaking, the skies are black, the alarm of war has sounded. And what does foolish Israel do? She dresses herself in her most expensive scarlet dress. She decks herself with all of her ornaments of gold and makes up her face. She beautifies herself to try to turn her lovers' anger away, but it fails utterly. This scriptures says nothing about the good or evil of eye makeup. It speaks only of the futility of attempting to beautify yourself in the day of God's wrath. Not only is an attempt to make up the eyes futile, so is dressing in scarlet and decking oneself with ornaments of gold. How can one insist from this scripture that eye makeup is a sin but that wearing of gold or scarlet apparel is not a sin. It isn't just reason that calls for this conclusion; honesty demands it. This scripture no more condemns the wearing of eye makeup than it does the wearing of golden ornaments, which God specifically permits (Ezekiel 16:11-14). Further, the passage allows that the purpose of eye makeup is beautification - any idea of seduction must be reasoned indirectly.

The next scripture advanced to argue that makeup is a sin is Ezekiel 23:40, where the two harlots, Ahola and Aholibah (Israel and Judah), prepared themselves for their lovers:

They even sent for men to come from far, to whom a messenger was sent, and lo they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and decked yourself with ornaments; you sat upon a stately couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed my incense and my oil.

What is the point of this passage? Makeup is used in this passage as a part of the process of a woman beautifying herself and preparing herself for an illicit lover. Painting her eyes in this context is also coupled with bathing!

About the most one can conclude from this verse is that there is a negative inference connected with the use of makeup - nothing more. We have already seen, however, that we have to be careful about drawing negative inferences. In this case bathing is cast in just as negative a light as is painting of the eyes!

The fact is that none of these scriptures shows that the use of makeup is a sin! If one accepts the assumption that makeup is a sin, then they can be used (or misused) as negative inferences to underline that assumption. But one must look elsewhere for the proof.

We have already noted that neither the law nor the teachings of Christ say anything at all about what women put on their faces. Interestingly enough, however, there are some specific instructions in the law dealing with the faces of men. In Leviticus 19:27, Moses commands, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar [harm] the corners of your beard." More than one religious sect has taken this to mean that it is wrong for godly men to shave their beards or cut their hair. Some simply dismiss the scripture as "Old Testament," but others, who believe in keeping the laws of the Old Testament, still don't grow beards. Why not? What is the rationale one might use to explain this scripture?

The answer is relatively simple. The Living Bible translates it thus: "You must not trim off your hair on your temples or clip the edges of your beard, as the heathen do." What is here condemned is not the trimming of the beard, but the shaping of the beard to convey pagan images. It was an ancient custom, for example, to trim the hair of the head and the beard to create a circle around the face - the circle being symbolic of the sun. In this version the mustache was shaved off completely. The wearing of the beard in this case was a means of nonverbal communication - it said, "I am a sun worshiper."

It is easy enough to justify the shaving of the beard completely because we say that we are not doing it "as the heathen do." We are doing it to project a clean-shaven look rather than to project images of heathenism. Today, we tend to strive for the "clean cut" look, rather than the rugged masculine look of a full beard.

Why would the same principle not apply to makeup? Makeup is indeed a form of nonverbal communication and it can be applied in such a way as to say all sorts of different things - just as a man's beard could be trimmed to make different statements about pagan gods. A woman can be made up to look like a harlot, or she can be made up to look pink-cheeked and wholesome.

Since makeup isn't mentioned in the law of God, and trimming the beard is, how can we condemn the wearing of makeup while we allow men to shave their beards? If we rationalize the trimming of the beard based upon the attitude and intent of the man who does it, why can't we do the same thing for a woman wearing makeup?

Does Makeup Deceive?

Another argument advanced is that makeup is deceptive and Christian women should not deceive. It is difficult indeed to follow the argument that makeup is wrong on the grounds it is deceptive. Just how deceptive is it, anyway? Are women's lips really scarlet? Is a man likely to look at a woman's lips and be deceived - believing that they really are that color - that she is not wearing lipstick? Is a man likely to be deceived and to really believe that a woman's eyelids are green or blue?

The truth is that makeup is not generally worn to deceive, but to enhance - to beautify. A stylish woman selects her makeup much the same way she selects her clothes. She wants to draw attention to her good features while playing down her bad features.

One other reference should at least be considered in the matter. In the Song of Solomon, chapter 4, verse 3, we read,"Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks."

What woman's lips are naturally like a thread of scarlet? Perhaps a blush might reach the temples with a comely pink, but the color of pomegranate? To be sure, it is an obscure reference, but one might be justified in thinking he saw an indication of the use of makeup.

A Gesture of Humility

There doubtless are sincere Christian women who have read the Scriptures and have come to the conclusion that they personally do not wish to wear makeup. They know their own heart, they know their own struggle, and they have chosen, in genuine humility, not to wear makeup, expensive clothes, etc. People who are doing this out of a sincere heart and in humility before their God deserve our respect.

On the other hand, there are those, men and women, who insist on judging others and imputing motives. It is no small thing to imply that a Christian woman of fine character and high moral principle is following the harlots merely because she tries to make up her face to look healthy and wholesome.

When we see that there really isn't any biblical support for a "no makeup" doctrine, we are left to wonder why such a doctrine exists at all. We suspect that it may be due more to the dualism [ABCOG: "pure" soul encased in evil flesh] of Augustine and the sexual repression of Jerome than an honest exposition of the Scriptures.

Go to Part 2: Jesus, Paul and women

By Ronald L. Dart, 1982

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