Women and the Bible

Rev. Christine A. Smith
Rev. Christine A. Smith

Rev. Christine A. Smith gave an outstanding presentation, “Women and the Bible,” at Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program at Memphis Theological Seminary (MTS). In her presentation Rev. Smith, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Euclid, Ohio, and board member of Equity for Women in the Church, drew from her book Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors and from other biblical scholars.


Although participants in the Calling in the Key of She program didn’t need convincing that the Bible supports women’s calling as pastors and as other church leaders, we all face challenges from people who still try to argue that it’s unbiblical for women to serve as leaders. Many church leaders and members still take some biblical passages out of context and use them to prevent women from serving as pastors and leaders in the church. These biblical misinterpretations are among the obstacles women encounter in claiming our calling. One of the goals of Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program is to give participants the tools to use in teaching people that the Bible, when interpreted correctly, presents both females and males as the embodiment of God’s image and as equally called to be leaders. Rev. Smith was among those who provided these tools at the MTS program.

Chris1Rev. Smith begins with the first chapter of Genesis where we find the foundational biblical truth that male and female are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). She explores the implications of being made in the Imago Dei (the image of God): equality of females and males in creation, equality of females and males as reflections of God, and equality of females and males in responsibility and leadership.

The second creation account in Genesis 2, Rev. Smith demonstrates, has often been misinterpreted. The Hebrew word ezer, usually translated “helper,” referring to the creation of woman, does not mean “someone who is lower in a hierarchy, authority or leadership.” Rev. Smith quotes biblical scholars Linda B. Hinton and R. David Freedman who explain that the correct interpretation of the Hebrew word for “helper” is to “surround (that is, to protect or save)” and “to be strong.” The word ezer denotes strength and power, and is often used in the Bible to refer to God.

Turning to Genesis 3, Rev. Smith laments that women have been blamed for the “Fall” of humanity and that this misinterpretation has been used to overshadow the initial pronouncement in Genesis 1 of females’ equal creation in the image of God and equal responsibility for the earth. She lists other misinterpretations of Scripture and “bad theology” that have been used to justify the second-class status of women in the church:

* Women are portrayed as sexual predators (Genesis 19:3-36; Judges 16; 1 Kings 11).

* Women are depicted as deceitful and untrustworthy (Genesis 39:7-20).

* Women are suspected of fornication or adultery (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; Numbers 5:11-31).

* Women are silenced for stepping out of place in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

Rev. Smith quotes from Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: “Frequently, persons who draw on these passages to argue against women clergy ignore the broader implications of the texts. Much work has been done to refute the misinterpretation of these and other Scriptures that have been cited to prevent women from serving as pastors and church leaders.” (In a footnote she includes Daughters of God: Southern Baptist Women in the Pulpit, by Denvis O. Earls).

Still, these biblical misinterpretations along with formidable patriarchal structures “inculcated and advanced an inferior and subordinate view of women and their perceived appropriate roles.” Despite the biblical passages that have been misunderstood to bar women from church leadership, Rev. Smith points to “compelling Scriptures” that speak positively about women as prophets and other leaders. Women prophets “speak on behalf of God,” providing “leadership, guidance, wisdom, insight, confrontations, instruction, and words of warning to men, women, and entire nations.” She gives examples of women prophets found in the Bible:

* Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22-28);

* Deborah (Judges 4:4-10);

* Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21);

* Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3);

* Anna (Luke 2:36-38);

* daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9).

“These passages verify that a woman’s word and leadership were highly valued. Her prophecies were respected; there were no inquiries regarding her gifts or her calling from God. Gender never became a part of the conversation. These women prophets’ leadership roles were never questioned in the text.”

At Calling in the Key of She, Rev. Smith gave us a handout with additional women leaders in the Bible, including these:

* The Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 26:33; 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Joshua 17:3-6): They led in changing inheritance laws in Israel.

* The Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42): Jesus’s conversation with this woman is the longest dialogue recorded in the Gospels. She preached to her whole village that Messiah had arrived, and they believed.

* Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; 6:17-25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25): She saved her family and the Israelite spies. In New Testament passages, Rahab is commended as a paradigm of faith.

* Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2): She was a deacon who preached and taught in the church, and a benefactor who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. As a leader in the church, Phoebe had the authority to speak on Paul’s behalf to answer any questions the Romans had about the letter.

* Priscilla/Prisca (Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 24-26; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19): Priscilla and her husband Aquila were leaders, co-workers with Paul, in churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. Priscilla likely had a higher status in the church than her husband, since her name is listed first more often than his.

Rev. Smith cites other biblical affirmations of women as leaders:

* The prophet Joel declared that women as well as men would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29).

* Jesus welcomed women as close followers (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3), an act most teachers of that day would have viewed as scandalous.

* Each of the four Gospel writers reported that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, although the male disciples dismissed their testimony.

* Paul proclaimed that in Christ there is no distinction between male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Rev. Smith also discusses the power of biblical female names and images of God to affirm women as equal embodiments of the divine image and as equally called as church leaders. She gave us a handout listing some biblical female divine names and images:

* “Wisdom” (Hokmah in Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 1, 3, 8; Sophia, Greek word for “Wisdom,” linked to Christ in Christian Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30);

* “Mother Eagle” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12);

* Ruah (Hebrew word for “Spirit,” Genesis 1:2);

* El Shaddai (Hebrew for “The Breasted God,” Genesis 49:25);

* Shekhinah (feminine Hebrew word used in the book of Exodus to denote the dwelling presence and/or glory of God);

* “Midwife” (Psalm 22:9-10);

* “Mistress of Household” (Psalm 123:2);

* “Mother Hen” (Matthew 23:37);

* “Baker Woman” (Luke 13:20-21);

* “Searching Woman” (Luke 15:8-10).

As Rev. Smith clearly shows, there is no excuse for anyone to use the Bible to place limits on women called to serve as pastors or in any leadership roles. She gave powerful proof that the Bible affirms females and males as equal embodiments of God’s image and as equally called and qualified to be church leaders.



2 thoughts on “Women and the Bible

  1. Thank you, Kathy. I hope it helps people see that the Bible and God do not place limits on women’s ministry.

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