The Scriptural Status of Woman.

by Mrs. T. P. Holman

(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 10 October 1888, 2–3)

“There can be no male and female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus.” Gal. iii: 28. R. V.

Dr. Adam Clark, commenting on this passage says: “Under the blessed spirit of Christianity, they (women) have equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings; and, let me add, they are equally useful.”

The difference in the status of women in the heathen world and in the Christian world is immense. Under the Hindoo religion, we find for instance, that their laws decree that for women no sacramental right is performed with sacred texts, thus the law is settled, women, who are destitute of strength, and destitute of the knowledge of vedic texts (the sacred writings of the Hindoos), are as impure as falsehood itself; that is settled. She is forbidden to read the sacred scriptures, or even to pronounce a single syllable out of them. Some of the Hindoo proverbs teach that a woman (not some women) has the heart of a viper. That she is the chief gate to hell. That they are fetters to men. That they cannot be trusted. Not being allowed to receive any religious instruction and as there is not kind of education outside of religious instruction, women are debarred from all intellectual training whatever. In heathendom no possible misfortune is deemed equal to that of having been born of the female sex, because of the lowly status of womanhood. Socrates, one of the wisest and noblest of the Grecian philosophers, was accustomed to thank God daily that he “was born neither a woman nor a slave.” And even the Jews incorporated in their later ritual the utterance which is to this day used in some of their synagogues, “God, I thank thee that I was not born a woman.”

We of to-day, in this Christian land, are far removed from heathendom in many respects. But, in spite of ourselves, some of the prejudices of heathenism cling to us, and tinge our thoughts and actions in many ways. Heathen prejudice has debarred woman from legal rights, from intellectual culture, from religious instruction. Within the memory of many now living there were men in this country who refused to allow their daughters to learn to read and write. The first female college in this country celebrated its fiftieth anniversary a year or two since. And not so many decades ago, the Chamber of Deputies of France was exercised over a hot debate as to whether or not women should be allowed to learn the alphabet; and when the vote was taken it was decided that they should not.

Christ and the Christian religion has been woman's best friend. Slowly, surely, she has emerged from the darkness of heathenism into the full light of the perfect day of a Christian civilization. With the blessings of religious and intellectual culture, now freely bestowed, new vistas of thought and action open before woman, and with her strong emotional nature and loving heart, a few great souls among our women are pleading to be allowed to tell the story of the cross to the lost and ruined of mankind, that they may thus assist in the conversion of the world to Christianity.

While many say that women are not permitted to do any kind of public work in the gospel, and in this view are sustained by a large number of commentators, still the number of those who think that women should do public work in the gospel is growing larger and larger every day, and on this side may also be arrayed a large list of commentators, among them the learned Dr. Adam Clarke, who holds a high position in the exegetical world. Now let us turn to the other and unpopular side of the question of woman's public work for Christ. For I assure you that though unpopular, it has another side. In truth I find most questions have two sides, and the trouble with most people is that they can't be made to believe there is another than the side at which they are accustomed to look.

There are as many as three prophecies which are thought to relate to the prominence of women in the propagation of the religion of Christ. In the sixty-eighth psalm, of which Simon de Muis said “It may not improperly be termed the torture of critics, and the reproach of commentators,” in 11th verse, revised version, we read, “The Lord giveth the word. The women who publish the tidings are a great host.” This is admitted to be prophetic, and is taught to refer to the large number of women engaged in publishing the gospel news.

Another prophecy is found in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. Beginning at the third verse, (ff) we read “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, etc:” This is universally admitted to be a Messianic prophecy. John the Baptist himself quotes it in his preaching, heralding Christ. In the 9th verse we read in the unauthorized version, “O Zion that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain.” The revised version however makes Zion the recipient and not the publisher of the glad tidings, and it is there rendered thus, “Oh thou that bringest good tidings to Zion.” But the Hebrew participle there is in the feminine gender, which makes the bringer of the good tidings a female and the exhortation of the prophet to the woman sex, which fact is not brought out in either the authorized or revised versions of the holy scriptures. Rev. W. R. Brown in his book “Gunethics,” 46th page, following Dr. Adam Clark, translates Isa. xl: 9, thus: “O daughter that bringeth good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain! O daughter that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength and say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!”

Dr. Adam Clark, commenting on this says: “The office of announcing and celebrating such glad tidings are here spoken of belonged peculiarly to women. On occasion of any great public success, a signal victory, or any other joyful event, it was usual for women to gather publish and celebrate the happy news.....So in this place, Jehovah having given the word by His prophet the joyful tidings of the restoration of Zion, and of God's returning to Jerusalem, the women are exhorted by the prophet to publish the joyful news with a loud voice from eminences whence they might best be heard all over the country; and the matter and burden of their song was to be, “Behold your God!”

The third prophecy to which I refer is found in Joel ii: 28, 29. “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

This prophecy is quoted in Acts ii: 17, 18, by the apostle Peter who explains that the time of its fulfillment had come.

When the Savior was born into the world he found womanhood in almost as degraded a condition as were slaves. The Roman law, under which were the Jews at that time gave the husband the power of life and death over his wife. The woman had no control over her own children, The general belief was that woman had no soul. The Jews, apt in this, as in other things, to imitate their heathen neighbors, came to adopt much the same sentiments in regard to women. Says Dr. Adam Clark, “The Rabbins taught that a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” The “sayings of Rabbi Eliezer are both worthy of remark and execration; they are these: “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to a woman.”

Almost from the Savior's first public appearance, he had a large following of women among his disciples. In the first year of his ministry, we read in Luke viii: 1, 2, 3, “And it came to pass afterward that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with him, and certain women,” among whom were “Mary Magdalene....and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna and many others, which ministered to him of their substance.” Think what love those fearless women must have borne their Savior, when they dared to oppose the customs of society and the traditions of their religion, “in following the greatest of Iconoclasts from city to village with a publicity and a persistence nothing less than outrageous to the conservatives of that day.” Our Savior honored a woman (at the well of Samaria) with the first disclosure of himself as the Messiah.

In Luke x: 38-42 we find our Savior in the home of the beloved family at Bethany. Mary one of the inmates, “Sat at Jesus' feet and heard his word.” Martha, her sister, appears to have been a woman tenacious of the existing conditions of society. Like a large number of people of the present day, she thought it was “a woman's place,” to attend only to domestic concerns and leave all other matters to men.

She was a careful and benevolent housekeeper, and on hospitable thoughts intent; and the thought that Mary was losing interest in domestic affairs, and concerning herself with matters fit only for men was very repugnant to her. In her impatience, she carried the matter to the Mater. “Dost thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” The Savior replied: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

I have not time to follow up the group of women who waited on our Lord during his earthly ministry. After the mock trial, which condemned him to the death of the cross, “a large company of women” followed him to the place of crucifixion, weeping and lamenting him. When all was over, with sad hearts and loving hands they helped to embalm his body for the tomb; then left him, “pale but victorious, to sleep through the Sabbath.” When the Sabbath was passed a group of women who loved him best, started at early dawn to perform some loving office for the dead that the near approach of the Sabbath had rendered impossible for them to perform on the day of the crucifixion. To these faithful loving women did our Lord first show himself after the resurrection and it was they who received the first commission from the Savior's own lips to tell the glad news that the Lord was risen, death was conquered, and man redeemed!

I never could understand how a man could say that woman shall not tell the story of the cross, when she received her commission to do so from the Savior's own lips. True, those who do so, make a distinction between public and private teaching that a careful reading has convinced me is not found in the Bible. If Paul's injunction to Timothy, “I suffer not a woman to teach or usurp authority over a man,” prohibits a woman from telling the glad news of the gospel in public, it also prohibits her doing so in private.

Had there been five hundred or five thousand present when Mary rushed into the presence of the disciples with her joyful news, she would not have hesitated to proclaim, “He is risen! He is risen! I have seen the Lord!”

The women were present with the other disciples when our Lord appeared and convinced the most sceptical, opening their minds that they might better understand the scriptures, and said “Thus it is written and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.”

The women were present on the day of Pentecost at that mighty outpouring of the spirit and men and women alike were equally blessed with that wonderful ???? that enabled them to speak with tongues and to prophesy.

It certainly cannot be said that women did not speak in public on at least one occasion in the New Testament, where there were as many as one hundred and twenty persons present when they began, and a much larger number when they quit. In Acts ii: 4 we read, “And they were ALL filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues at the Spirit gave them utterance.” That the women were present on that occasion we will find by referring to Acts i: 14. “And these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren: That they all continued to speak for a while after the arrival of the crowd is evidenced from the fact that every man there “of every nation under heaven” heard them speak in his own tongue, and one man could only have spoken in eon language at a time. Then the others kept silent while Peter, as spokesman, stood up with the eleven apostles and preached that wonderful sermon that is the admiration of all ages. He told them that the time had come when the Lord had promised he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh; when the sons and the daughters should prophesy. And that this was the fulfillment of that prophecy.

After the death of Stephen, there arose a persecution at Jerusalem that scattered all the disciples (men and women) abroad except the apostles. Acts viii: 7. The conversions had been of both men and women. In Acts viii: 4 we read, “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”

In the ninth chapter of Acts we find Saul getting authority that would allow him to bring both men and women who were of this religion bound to Jerusalem. If women were not allowed to speak of it except to their husbands at home, what possible harm (?) could they have done?

In the twenty-first chapter of Acts we read of Philip's “four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” In the eleventh chapter of first Corinthians we read Paul's directions that women should be veiled, that is have their heads covered when praying or prophesying. As these veils were only worn in public or in the presence of men this shows that the praying and prophesying spoken of was done in public or in the presence of men. Paul also explains 1 Cor. xiv: 3, 4, that prophesying is for the edification /3/ of the Church. So here we have both the permission and example of women doing public work in the Church for Christ.

Paul's letter to the Romans was written at Corinth and was sent by Phoebe to Rome. Thus one of the most important of the epistles was sent by a woman, and the taking it involved a sea voyage and a visit to a foreign country by a woman, when traveling was neither so common, nor nearly so safe as at present. Of this woman he writes: “I commend unto you, Phoebe, our sister which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many and of myself also.” So she not only took a long and dangerous voyage, taking with her this important letter, but she was also entrusted with the performance of some important business, and Paul entreated the assistance of the Church for her in this business. The translation makes Phoebe a servant of the church. The revision renders it deaconess in the margin. The word translated servant here, is the Greek diakonos. This word is used thirty times in the New Testament and twenty times is translated minister which means, in many cases, at least, one who speaks or proclaims in public. “Ministers by whom ye believed.” 1 Cor. iii: 5. “Whereof, I was made a minister.” Eph. iii: 7. “I Paul am made a minister.” Col. i: 23. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.” 1 Tim. iv: 6. “Tychicus, a beloved and faithful minister in the Lord.” Eph. vi: 2. “He hath counted me (Paul) faithful, putting me in the ministry (diakonian). 1 Tim. i: 12. The ministry (diakonian) which I have received of the Lord Jesus. Acts xx: 24. The word is translated deacon three times, and servant seven times. In regard to servants, it is used especially of servants at table. In Romans xvi: 12 he speaks of “Tryphena and Tryphosa who labor in the Lord,” and at Phil. iv: 3, we read of “those women who labored WITH ME in the gospel.” If he had said these men who labored with me no one would have thought of any thing else than that they were, like Paul, preachers of the gospel. But as it was only “those women,” why of course they did—they did—well we don't exactly know what they did, only we guess they din't preach any. But how they could labor with Paul without doing the same sort of labor he did is hard to be understood. The case of Phoebe, diakonos, servant, deaconess or minister, is not a solitary instance. In 1 Tim. third chapter, after telling the qualifications of deacons, he says in the eleventh verse “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderous, sober, faithful in all things.” Now if you notice must, their and be in the authorized version are in italics, which shows, as all know, that those words were supplied, and were not found in the Greek. The revision puts it, “Likewise should women be,” etc. Meaning as a large number of commentators say women deacons or deaconesses. Of this passage Dr. Daniel Steele remarks: “Paul gave explicit directions respecting the ordination of women deacons in 1 Tim. iii: 11. There the translators have put a bushel over the deaconesses by using the word 'wives.' In his Biblico Theological Lexicon, Cremer, a German, a man of a nation strongly inclined to put woman down in a very low 'sphere,' is constrained to admit that 'this text is a passage which for preponderating reasons must be taken as referring to deaconesses.' Says Dean Alford: 'In this view, the ancients, are, as far as I know, unanimous.' A succession of first class exegetes, from Chrysostom to Philip Schaff, sustain this interpretation, among whom are Grotius, Mosheim, Michaelis, DeWette, Wisinger, Ellicott and Whedon.”

“In Mosheim's History of Christianity we read: "Justin Martyr (A.D. 150.) says: 'Both men and women were seen among them who had the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold, by which he endeavored to convince the Jews that the latter days were come.' Dodwell in dissertations on Irenaeus says, 'that the gifts of the spirit of prophecy were given to others besides the apostles, and that not only in the first and second, but in the third century, even to the time of Constantine, all sorts and ranks of men had these gifts; yea, and women too.' Eusebius speaks of Potumania Ammias, a prophetess, in Philadelphia, and others who were equally distinguished for their love and zeal in the cause of Christ. The Church had ever belonging to it from its very first rise a class of ministers composed of persons of either sex who were termed deacons or deaconesses.”

That women were recognized as ministers in the early Christian Church, appears also in a report of the younger Pliny to the Emperor Trajan, about A.D. 104 in which there is written, “However I thought it necessary to apply the torture to some young women who were called ministers (ministrae.)” How women could have been ministers and deacons and have done no public work in the Church, or of what use the gifts of tongues and of prophecy would have been to them if they could not use these gifts except in private, is something that I cannot understand; and I think it would take a man (or woman) with a large measure of spiritual endowment to make it plain. In the Jewish economy only a certain class of men were priests to God. But in the Church of Christ, the entire membership is “made to be a kingdom, and priests unto God his Father.” Rev. i: 6; and so in the Christian religion men and women alike are entitled to the rights and duties of the priestly office.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Church of Christ; these thoughts are submitted to you in all humility. In all I have written, I have not desired to invalidate a single word written by the apostle Paul. I fully believe his letters are the work of inspiration. And though, in them, I find, as the apostle Peter says of them, (2 Pet. iii: 15, 16) “Some things hard to be understood,” I am willing to stand or fall with any command he has given. My only endeavor has been to reconcile Paul with Paul, and himself with other inspired writers.

I think Saint Paul one of the grandest characters known in the history of the world. He who suffered for his religion “in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft; perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” yet through it all “fought the good fight” and “kept the faith,” until the Lord should call him, I think, presents one of the grandest spectacles of unfaltering courage, and unflinching faith ever known in the history of humanity. The New Testament, after the resurrection, with Paul left out, would be but a meager document indeed. The recorded labors of all the other evangelists, almost seem to pale into insignificance, by the side of great work done by this greatest of all apostles, the apostle to the Gentiles; who yet could reckon himself as among the least of all disciples.

He who would strive to invalidate a single word written by any inspired writer in order to gratify or prop up some previously conceived notion would indeed be worthy of severest condemnation. But I pray thee, brethren, that however we may differ in our exegesis of the Scriptures, let us, in all charity, and brotherly kindness, at least give each other the credit of being sincere in our convictions, and conscientious in our interpretations.

Fayetteville, Tenn., Sept. 4, 1888.

(e-text: JoAnne Toews)

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