The topic of women in church and society constitutes, conceivably, the single most important theological query of our century. Certainly, some scholars have compared it to the Gentile question in the early days of Christianity. Not amazingly, as arguments rooted in Scripture were used to continue the practice of forcing Gentiles to undergo circumcision as a condition of salvation, so too nowadays scriptural arguments are advanced to validate the age-old practice of excluding women from certain leadership as well as ministerial roles in church and society.
The Bible as the personification of the revealed will of God therefore plays a crucial role for Christians in their approach to the women issue today, to aspire to understand correctly what the Bible in point of fact says regarding the divine will for women. Luckily for the Gentiles, Paul, a God-inspired leader and scholar, was able to show on the same scriptural grounds that the law-inspired impositions laid on the Gentiles were actually opposed to the universal will of God contained in the promise to Abraham.
At present, if the women issue is to get its true understanding from God’s standpoint, as the Gentile question did, then it too will need God-inspired leaders and scholars who, like Paul, will be capable to reveal truthfully, objectively, and persuasively on the same scriptural grounds that the sustained practice of excluding women is in truth opposed to the expressed will of God revealed in the Scriptures and in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary. (Conrad Hyers, 1984).
This task calls for a close rereading in their literary and cultural contexts, Jewish and patriarchal, of those passages that handle women, mainly those that are said to exemplify the eternal and divine will for them in creation. It as well calls for a close observation of the way in which God in fact relates with and uses women to effect the divine plan of salvation for humanity. From God’s own actions exposed in the Scriptures, it must be probable to distinguish rightly what God’s will for women really is. The Constitutive Significance of Eve
The story of Eve, the first woman created by God and named “mother of all the living”, comprises a natural starting point for a study on women in the Bible. All through the centuries and in the Judaeo-Christian traditions particularly, the story of her creation and fall has been used as the divine norm for determining the role and standing of women in church and society. Traditional and popular belief views Eve, woman, as a being inferior to Adam, man, physically, socially, ethically, mentally, and spiritually.
Details of this inferiority are carefully worked out by the rabbis and by the fathers of the church, whose teachings have formed and nurtured centuries of opinion regarding women. The reasons presented for this belief are that the man was created first, the woman second, out of the man’s rib, therefore destined to serve only as his helper. Therefore, the woman is supposed to have no identity of her own, however to derive her being from the man and exist merely for him, to serve his personal and domestic needs and bear and rear his children.
Her formation from the man’s rib, somewhat than from his head, for example, is seen by the rabbis as representative of her essentially inferior status, lest she be proud or “that she should be modest. ” Ultimately, it is observed that as the ethically weaker sex, Eve, not Adam, succumbed to the devil’s deceit and so became the source of sin and death in the world. All the ills of humanity, together with the sinfulness of the man himself, are consequently to be blamed on the woman. (Conrad Hyers, 1984).
Noticeably this belief in the innate inferiority of the woman and in her elite instrumentality for sin and death is footed on a misreading of the Genesis accounts of creation and the fall and on failure to distinguish the distinctive purpose of each of these narratives. For the creation accounts taken at their face value furnish no grounds whatever for this belief. To a certain extent, they make basic statements regarding the nature of humanity in relation to God and the rest of creation, and regarding the personal relationship between man and woman.