‘If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee….’ (Surah 10, Yunus, verse 94)
Many people in Western nations paint a bleak picture regarding the life of women in Islam. Probably as a reaction to that some Muslims have read the Bible mainly to try to find fault about the Biblical position of women. To read any book in order to look for confirmation of one’s preconceived ideas is bound to end up in failure. In the past many false beliefs, even cults, have arisen out of such careless studies that neglect the big picture and concentrate on details only instead. Well meaning people have become victims of such dangerous undertakings. In this article we shall therefore first present the frame work in which numerous misinterpreted passages will later be explained. Realizing our own limitations we will then briefly look at what Islam has to say about women. The reader will realize that all the observations are made in form of questions. Any attempts to answer them by writing to the author are certainly more than welcome.
In order to get a comprehensive picture of what the Holy Bible has to say on the position of women we need to go back to it’s first chapters. After God had created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) he made Adam (2:7) to work the ground and take care of it (2:15). However, being on his own Adam could not fully realize his humanity:
The Lord God said, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ (Gen 2:18)
People are not isolated beings, complete in themselves. The Hebrew phrase ‘ezer k`negdo’ translated ‘a helper suitable for him’ means literally ‘a help answering to him.’ These words imply that on our own we are incomplete. The word ‘helper’ is not to be understood in an inferior way since God himself is described as helping all of us
(Deut 33:26, Psa 33:20). According to Genesis 2:23-24 the relationship of a husband with his wife is very profound and personal. Together they represent God on earth. Therefore, both are to treat each other with great mutual respect and honor. Their deep and unique fellowship on the physical and spiritual level gives clear evidence of God’s original intention that each man should only be married to one wife. He is to leave his own family in order to become the servant leader, the first among equals, in a new relationship:
‘The man said, this ‘is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’
Like all leaders he is ultimately responsible for the affairs of those he leads. That is why God later called Adam to account for what happened after they had disobeyed him and taken the forbidden fruit. (3:9-13).
While the institution of marriage between husband and wife is a good answer to our need for relationship, it is not the only one. Jesus, the ideal man, was never married. Through his other centered life committed to community he showed that it is possible for a single person to be truly and fully human.
In Genesis. 1:26-28 we read that women are of the same value as men. They are physically and emotionally created in different ways and therefore fulfill their common purpose by taking on different roles. None is better than others, they are just different and therefore have different, yet equally important roles. Both are made in God’s image. Both are to be fruitful and increase in numbers, to rule and subdue the earth:
‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
A. Men’s rebellion against God and its tragic consequences
Genesis chapter 3 describes how the wonderful dignity of Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with each other was tragically destroyed by sin. Satan clothed himself as a serpent (Rev 12:9) and created doubt in them about God’s words:
‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it (the forbidden tree of knowledge) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then they eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’ (verses 4-7)
The great deceiver blatantly denied the specific divine pronouncement that death would follow the taking of the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil (2:17). Besides being a real fruit that was good for food it also had a spiritual significance. ‘Knowing good and evil’ is a Hebrew expression meaning, ‘having experiential knowledge of everything regardless of its moral or spiritual value.’ Knowledge is a good thing inherent in everyone. Adam and Eve knew already a lot. Otherwise God would not have let them face that test to prove their loyalty towards him. However, Satan tempted them into thinking they could become like God who alone knows everything. Having reached that state they would not have to fear punishment anymore. Adam and Eve erred in not regulating the measure of their knowledge by the will of God. They desired to know more than is right, more than He allowed. Therefore, their basic sin was unbelief. It lead to disobedience towards God and his word. The result was pride, the perception that one does not need the help of God or anybody else. Adam and Eve wanted to be in control of their own lives.
Both failed equally. While Eve was deceived (1 Tim 2:14) Adam can not blame her for the misery. From James 1:14-15 we learn that, ‘each one is tempted, when by his own evil desire he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.’ Adam rebelled knowingly against his maker. All the time as the history changing drama unfolded, he stood silently right beside Eve (2:17). Because he was the leader, the one who is ultimately responsible, we read in Romans 5:12-14 that sin entered the world through him.
As a result of their rebellion against God and his absolute holiness they became aware of their nakedness and probably of the potential for abuse that lies therein. Their guilt showed itself in shame and the fact that they covered themselves with fig leaves, presumably as an attempt to put right their wrong. Both received a terrible punishment. Adam and Eve faced immediate spiritual death in the sense that they had to leave the Garden of Eden (3:23), away from the presence and relationship of the Lord. Later they would have to face physical death too. He punished them in a way that would affect their different tasks and roles through which they were to fulfill his purpose. For Eve that meant to bear children in pain and to see her desire for fellowship with Adam producing anguish and trouble rather than blessing and joy as originally intended. Now she would be led by Adam who became wrongly inclined to turn his God given leadership role into a despotic rule. He too was to suffer painfully because of his abuse of leadership:
‘To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for you husband, and he will rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened (in this context the word means literally ‘obeyed’) to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ (3:16-17)
The consequences of these punishments can still be seen in society up to this very day. In addition we too have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, far beyond the boundaries allocated to us. To this end all means are justified, even the occult. ‘But is it fair,’ some may ask, ‘why do we have to suffer for their sins?’ On the contrary those critics do not mind being recipients of all the good gifts the first human beings got from God like thought, will and emotions. Surely God has every right also to pass on the consequences of their behaviour to us. After all, Adam was not only constituted by God to be the natural head of all his descendants but also their federal head and representative. When he fell, they fell with him. Similarly when leaders of states and families misuse their power all the followers suffer too.
B. God’s dramatic rescue plan
In the midst of the tragic events found within the first few pages of the Holy Bible God announces his eventual victory over Satan! He tempted Adam and Eve into sin. Now he too was about to receive his just punishment:
‘So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock….And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ (Gen 3:14-15)
The phrase ‘between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head’ speaks about a progressive plan from many to one single person who will crush the enemy’s head. Eve gave birth to three sons, Cain, Able and Seth (4:1-2, 5:3). Only through Seth the human family was preserved through the flood and carried on in Noah. (5:7-32) Again, out of Noah’s sons only Shem lived an upright live and was therefore blessed by God. Abraham descended from Shem (verse 11) and was the only one in whose seed all nations were to be blessed, and that not through Ishmael (Gal 4:21-31) but through Isaac alone:
‘When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. (Gen 17:1-9)
The law concerning a widow that has not given birth to a son described in Deuteronomy 25, verses 5-10 has to be understood in the light of the promises and the covenant God gave to Abraham. In order to participate in that wonderful promise the name and the family of a deceased husband had to be preserved. For the sake of this greater cause the widow had to marry her former husband’s brother. In these exceptional circumstances she therefore unselfishly gave up her right to have a say regarding whom she would want to marry. Because widows in general were considered especially vulnerable God enjoined special consideration and justice for them, along with orphans and strangers. Severe punishment was threatened for those who did otherwise. (See Exo 22:22-24, Deut 10:18, 24:17-21, Mal 3:5, Jam 1:27, Mar 12:40, 1 Tim 5:3-16)
Eventually the promise of Genesis 3:15 will be fulfilled in Christ, the descendant of Abraham (Mat 1). At his first coming he took the punishment for our sin upon himself by dying on the cross for us. Romans 16:20 refers to those out of all nations who are united to Jesus by faith in what he did for them. They are formed into one body of which he is the head and will share in his victory at his second coming:
‘The God of peace will soon crash Satan under your feet.’
Praise the Lord! Wrong foundations do not need to be for ever! Christ wants to rebuild them in our lives. In the meantime practicing Christians aim to follow the principles Jesus demonstrated during his encounters with women:
He dared to speak with a woman who was regarded to be an outcast (Joh 4:27). He taught them (Luk 10:39). He even broke the Sabbath in order to heal a woman (Luk 13: 10ff). Jesus worked closely together with them. (Luk 8:1-3). Single women like Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, were among his companions. Singleness and childlessness will be the norm in heaven (Mat 22:30). That may well be the reason why these positions are no longer looked at as unfortunate but as symbols of hope in the New Testament. Through Jesus a woman’s dignity does not depend on whether she is married or on how many children she has. Both, Jesus and Paul spoke of singleness as a gift to be used to serve God and the Church. (1. Cor 7:34ff, Mat 19:10ff). In a truly Christian marriage the partners are asked to be willing to lay down their very lives for the sake of each other (Eph 5:21-33).
C. The general purpose of the law
To understand the absolute necessity of God’s dealing with sin through the work of Christ we need to look at the purpose of the law. It was given after the time of Abraham when God worked out his divine will through Moses and the Israelites:
‘Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.’ (Deut 27:26)
‘For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.’ (Rom 3:20)
‘Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary.’ (Gal 3:19)
‘For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near.’ (Heb 10:1)
From the verses above the main purpose of the law becomes clear: While the moral part of it (e.g. ten commandments) set standards forever, the ceremonial part (e.g. laws on sacrifice and washings) was given to the Israelites during a limited period of God’s history with mankind. The law set them apart from the idolatrous nations that surrounded them (Deut 18:9-13). The comments Jesus made on it proves that noone can keep it totally (Mat 5) The commands reflect God’s standard of perfect holiness which only he himself can meet. Because he is completely separated from all evil he can neither accept sin nor all it’s consequences, such as death, widowhood, divorce, sickness, disabilities, even the very life after the fall itself. (Lev 21:13-18) However, because of God’s love for his creation he has provided a way for us to be acceptable in his sight. Ultimately it is Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. The principle that God himself rescues us from our sins through what he does and provides, not through our own good deeds is illustrated throughout the whole Bible.
-God himself took away Adam and Eve’ shameful nakedness by clothing them with animal skins. (Gen 3:21)
-God initiated a covenant with Abraham to which he responded primarily by faith (Gen 15, 17, Rom 4:13-14, Gal 3:18)
-God gave the ceremonial and sacrificial laws through whom the people of Israel could be made acceptable before him when they fell into sin. (Exo 12, Lev)
-God sent Jesus through whom the law was to be fulfilled doctrinally, by setting it forth fully and by giving the true sense and meaning of it. He fulfilled it practically, by yielding perfect obedience to all its commands, whereby he became ‘the end’, the fulfilling end of it. By faith in Jesus God makes us acceptable in his sight. Out of thankfulness we then do good deeds.
Some people have tried to prove from the following Biblical passages that women are allegedly inferior to men. Having provided the Biblical world view above we shall now study those verses in the context of the ‘big picture’:
‘The LORD said to Moses: ‘Say to the people of Israel, If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her; then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.’
The Bible clearly teaches that to get children is a great blessing (Gen 9:1, 30:23, Psa 127:1-3, 128:1-6) The rules described above therefore are a consequence of Adam and Eve’s rebellion and the subsequent punishment that affected them and their children (Gen 3:16-17). Those rules and all the other statements regarding clean and unclean things are a stern reminder of the seriousness of sin and eternal death. Throughout those passages, however, God presents a way out of the dilemma. By means of sacrifice forgiveness can be obtained from God. The Quran too acknowledges that animal sacrifice was commanded by God in the time of Moses (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verse 67). Verses 6-8 of Leviticus 12 where the same sacrifice is prescribed in both cases, the birth of a female or a male child, make it clear that in God’s view both sexes are treated as being equally guilty. If he regarded women as more sinful than men, then surely they would have to bring more or at least different sacrifices. The reason why the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than in the case of a boy is not explicitly stated. In the light of the above it may well be because the women’s involvement in continuing the sinful human race is more direct than that of the man. In opposite to the man, she bears the child, gives birth to it and looks after it physically.
This passage describes what to do if a man accuses his wife of unchastity. Since marriage was and still is one of the pillars on which a healthy society rests, a detailed process is here given to protect it. The law given is in harmony with the fact that Israel at that time was not ruled by a king but by God directly. As such he had the final verdict in cases were testimony stood against testimony. Compared with the dangerous tests and their unpredictable results prescribed for this situation by pagan idols, God’s law meant a huge improvement and the certainty of a just judgement. (See ‘Egypt and the books of Moses’ by Hengstenberg, pages 190ff.) This test applied to the wife only because at that stage of Israel’s history God did not prohibit men from having more than one wife or to take concubines to his own wife. Therefore he only violated marriage when he committed adultery with another man’s wife. The betrayed husband would then proceed according to the passage under discussion. This would lead in most cases to the conviction and the subsequent death penalty for the adulterer as described in Leviticus 20:10.
Here a situation is discussed where a husband accuses his newly wedded wife of not being a virgin. The reason why her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity was not because the testimony of the woman would not count but because it was opposed to that of her husband. It was only fair for her to get help in proving her innocence. Once that was established the husband faced a heavy, twofold punishment:
Firstly, the word for ‘punish him’ in verse 18 is also used in chapter 21, verse 18. There it speaks about bodily chastisement. Consequently, and also in the light of chapter 25, verse 3 and the Jewish Talmud, he gets forty lashes except one.
Secondly, the culprit had to pay a hundred Shekels of silver, twice as much as the average bride price according to verse 29 of the same chapter. That was a heavy fine in terms of the economy existing in ancient Israel. (Hos 3:2, Jer 32:9) A husband would therefore think twice before falsely accusing his wife. Because the marriage relationship is absolutely sacred and irrevocable to the Lord, he hates divorce (Gen 2:24, Deut 24:4, Isa 54:5, Mal 2:13-16, divorce is only tolerated because of the hardness of human hearts, Mar 10:1-12). In the light of this teaching the command in verse 19 for the husband not to divorce the wife he mistreated becomes understandable. Better to do God’s will and have peace with him at the cost of being looked down upon by society than the other way round. Deuteronomy 22, verses 28-29 have to be read in connection with the parallel passage found in Exodus 22, verses 15-16 where the choice of marriage is explicitly given.
Numbers 27:1-11, 36:1-12, Deuteronomy 21:15-17
The difference in inheritance is due to social circumstances. At the time of the Old Testament men were responsible for the maintenance of their wives their families and any needy relatives. Daughters could get their deceased father’s possessions only if he had no sons. Females therefore had no need of inheritance. This fact is also reflected in Surah 4:11 which says that women only get half the inheritance of males.
God’s original will was for marriage to consist of one man and one wife (Gen 2:18, 24). Jesus supported only the monogamous marriage (Mat 19:4-6). While plural marriages in the Old Testament are not directly condemned on numerous occasions it describes their evil effects (Gen 35:22, 37:18-28, 2 Sam 13:1-29, 15:1ff, 1 Kin 11:1-12). The Quran allows polygamy (Surah 4:3) but under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly. However, even Muhammad himself was unable to prevent jealousy in his own household. According to a Hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol. 7, p. 89-90, see also pages 115-116, a dispute arose that was so strong that people thought he had divorced all his wives.
These sad facts should prevent us from abandoning God’s ideal of monogamy. Some Muslims try to find support for polygamy by saying that in most human societies females outnumber males. But this is not really true as The Encyclopedia Britannica (15th edition) states in Volume 7, p.998, in the section ‘genetics, human’:
‘… Reliably, in almost all human populations studied at birth, there is a slight excess of males; about 106 boys are born for each 100 girls. Throughout life, however, there is a slightly greater mortality of males; this slowly alters the sex ratio until, beyond the age of 50 years, there is an excess of females.’
These figures show clearly that in the usual age when people consider marriage, i.e. in the range of about 18-40 years, men slightly outnumber women. Since most Muslims who practice polygamy marry additional women below the age of fifty they are actually making the already existing imbalance worse. By doing so younger men will find it harder to find a suitable wife. If any male reader should still be in doubt then he should ask himself the question, ‘How would I like it if I had to share my wife with other men? Am I willing to allow several husbands for a woman in those societies or circumstances where the balance for some reason might be tilted the other way? My wife told me that she would rather prefer to live alone than to be eaten up by jealousy. The Bible agrees with her when it says:
‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals of it are coals of fire, which has a most vehement flame. (Song of Sol 8:6)
‘I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare. ‘Look,’ says the Teacher, ‘this is what I have discovered: Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things – while I was still searching but not finding – I found one [upright] man among a thousand, but not one [upright] woman among them all. This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.’
Firstly, by using the phrase ‘the woman’ not ‘a woman’ or ‘women’ it becomes clear that only a particular type of women is addressed not the female sex in general. This view is confirmed by the descriptive phrase that follows, ‘whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains,….the sinner she will ensnare.’ It identifies the particular woman spoken about as a prostitute. Secondly, the phrase ‘not one (upright) woman among them all’ refers in the Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was written first, clearly to the ‘among the thousand’ not among all women on earth. Thirdly, the phrase ‘God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes’ confirms that both, men and women are sinning against God. Fourthly, the fact that he found one upright man but no upright woman among the one thousand has to be understood in the context of the phrase ‘this is what I have discovered.’ It was his personal experience only. The book of Ecclesiastes expresses numerous personal opinions that contradict God’s truth, such as:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ (1:2)
‘Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.’ (4:19)
1 Timothy 2:8-15:
8: It is my desire, then, that in every place men may give themselves to prayer, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or argument. 9: And that women may be dressed in simple clothing, with a quiet and serious air; not with twisted hair and gold or jewels or robes of great price; 10: But clothed with good works, as is right for women who are living in the fear of God. 11: Let a woman quietly take the place of a learner and be under authority. 12: In my opinion it is right for a woman not to be a teacher, or to have rule over a man, but to be quiet. 13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve; 14: And Adam was not taken by deceit, but the woman, being tricked, became a wrongdoer. 15: But if they go on in faith and love and holy self-control, she will be kept safe at the time of childbirth.’
Let us look at those verses in more detail:
Verse 8: The outward posture is a sign of inward expectations and dependence on God. According to 1 Corinthaians 11:5 women too are allowed to pray and prophesy in Church. Verses 9-10: This is not to be understood as a total ban on wearing jewelry or braided hair. However, the caution was very appropriate in a society where they were signs of extravagant luxury and proud personal display. The specifics mentioned are permitted as long as they are an expression of inward beauty. To have one without the other is wrong. In other words they are not wrong in themselves but become inappropriate when they indicate misplaced values. (See also 1 Pet 3:3-4)
Verse 11-15: Dr. Zodhiates, a recognized authority on the Greek New Testament gives the following comment: ‘The relationship expressed in this passage is not that of women being inferior to men, but of a wife in her proper relationship to her husband. Observe I Timothy 2:11. It does not say women but a woman, and better still, a wife. The word in Greek is ‘gune’, which indicates either a woman generically speaking or a wife, depending on the context. In this instance, since it stands in apposition to the word ‘andros’ (the genitive singular of ‘aner’ here meaning only ‘husband’ and not ‘man’ generically), it must be translated as ‘a wife.’ It is because of the mistranslating of these passages that the Christian world has had so much difficulty in understanding the proper position of a woman in the Christian Church. I Timothy 2:11 should be translated ‘Let the wife learn (the indirect imperative of the present tense which means continuously to learn at any time and at all times) in tranquillity in her positioning under.’ The word translated ‘quietly’ is the noun ‘hesuchia.’ It occurs in Acts 22:2; II Thessalonians 3.12 and I Timothy 2:11-12. The adjective of the same word is ‘hesuchios,’ and it is used in I Timothy 2:2 and is translated with the word ‘peaceable’, and in I Peter 3:4, it is translated with the word ‘quiet.’ In both instances it means ‘tranquil not disturbed.’ The verb is ‘hesuchazo’ and in Luke 14:4 it is translated as ‘kept silent.’ In Luke 23:56 it is translated as ‘rested’. In Acts 11:18 it is translated as ‘quieted down.’ In Acts 21:14 it is translated as ‘fell silent.’ In I Thessalonians 4:11 it is translated as ‘to lead a quiet life.’ The correct meaning, therefore, of the word ‘hesuchia’ in this text is not silence, but it is ‘tranquility, not in a disturbing way.’ Another important word in I Timothy 2:11 is the word ‘hupotage,’ which is translated as ‘submissiveness.’ This noun is made up of the preposition ‘hupo,’ ‘under,’ and the verb ‘tasso’ which means ‘to place in proper order.’ There are many derivatives of this verb. What did Paul want to teach in I Tim. 2:11? It was that a wife should display a tranquil spirit in her attempt to learn. We must bear in mind here that during that period usually only men had the privilege of education. If the word ‘hesuchia’ meant complete silence, how could she ever learn or satisfy her hunger for knowledge if she did not have the opportunity to ask questions.? Paul encouraged a wife to ask questions and to learn, but always to realize that her questions should not be of a nature which would disturb the peace that existed between her and her husband or which in any way would embarrass her husband. She should bear in mind the proper positioning of a wife in relationship to her husband, who is her head, and consequently responsible to provide for and protect her. ‘To be in subjection’ means to recognize one’s position in relationship to one’s husband. The two who constitute one body have one head under Christ, and that is the husband. Verse 12 is again poorly translated in the K.J.V. It should not be ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach,’ but ‘I suffer not a wife…’ As Paul continues the discussion, the word ‘gune’ is here used in contrast to ‘aner’, ‘husband,’ and not ‘man’ as the A.V. has it. ‘Gune’ in this verse must also be translated as ‘a wife’ as in v.11. Paul says, ‘I do not permit a wife to teach.’ The word for ‘teach’ in Greek is the infinitive ‘didaskein’ in the present tense which means to teach continuously. The situation presented is that of the common presence of a wife and husband in the home or the assembly or anywhere else. Paul says, ‘I do not want a wife to constantly teach.’ If she did, she would undermine her husband’s position, giving the impression that she is the head of her husband, which is contrary to God’s ordained order between husband and wife. A wife should place limitations on her own liberty in Christ in both her dress, her adornment and her speech. Paul does not want women to be drab or mute, but to be careful lest they go beyond the bounds of accepted propriety. A wife should be characterized by ‘sophrosune’, ‘sober mindedness’, and also ‘aido,’ ‘modesty’. so that her husband may not be embarrassed. In view of vv. 9,10 we are told that she should not dress in such a way as to be the center of attraction, but rather should express her goodness by her good works.
The word translated ‘exercise authority’ is the Greek word ‘authentein’ or ‘authenteo,’ and this is the only place in the N.T. that it occurs. Interestingly enough, in Classical Greek an ‘authentes’ was an autocrat, a person who ruled even to the point of committing murder. In one instance, it referred to a murder of one of the same family. The noun ‘authentia’ means absolute sway or authority. In other words, a wife in her private or public life should not do anything to kill the position that her husband has been given by God. A wife should never be a usurper of the role of a husband or a father.
In v.13 Paul explains why, ‘For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.’ It is not because the husband is better or more intelligent or more worthy. It is simply the order originally ordained by God, and as such it must be respected. Two personalities constituting one body, one flesh, can only have one head. This is intrinsic in God’s creation….
The word ‘sophrosune,’ again translated ‘self-restraint,’ is used at the end of v.15 which indicates, as previously explained, personal limitation of one’s freedom, Paul argues in vv. 14,15 that it was the woman who was deceived by Satan, but that in childbearing she has regained her position before God in equality with man. However, she must beware lest she misuse that freedom granted to her by God.’ (‘The Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible,’ AMG Publishers, 1990, pages 1599-1600)
Furthermore, the phrase ‘And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner,’ means that Adam sinned not by being deceived but by willingly disobeying God. The phrase, ‘But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety,’ means they will be saved in doing this not by doing it.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
’34 Let women keep quiet in the churches: for it is not right for them to be talking; but let them be under control, as it says in the law. 35 And if they have a desire for knowledge about anything, let them put questions to their husbands privately: for talking in the church puts shame on a woman.’
In the light of 1 Corinthians 11:5 where women are allowed to pray and to prophesy in the church it is obvious that the passage above cannot be taken to be generally speaking. Instead it speaks specifically into the situation in Corinth which was influenced by what happened across the bay from Corinth in Delphi, Greece’s most famous center of oracles. ‘Those who wished to gain wisdom had first to make an animal sacrifice. Later on a priestess would utter incoherent sounds under the influence of intoxicants. These were interpreted by a waiting poet. The message that was always obscure was then handed over to the inquirer.’ (‘Greece’, Stuart Rossiter, London, Ernest Benn, Ltd. p. 400)
What was revealed in 1 Corinthians therefore, must have been influenced by this custom and the involvement of women in it. Women who speak incoherently and lead men astray as in Delphi should be prevented from doing so in the churches. The fact that the word for ‘talking’ in verse 34 is ‘laleo’ further strengthens the argument. It refers to the mere utterance of sounds without the speaker necessarily knowing what he is saying or others understanding. The Greek word for saying something that is a product of one’s thoughts, ‘lego’, deliberately is not used here. Moreover, the phrase, ‘keep quiet’ in verse 34 is also used for men in verse 28, when they speak in an unknown language without an interpreter. (See also verse 30) The passage is not about women versus men but about order versus confusion according to verse 40. Lastly, in accordance with the context, verse 35 mentions husbands, the word ‘gunaikes’ erroneously translated as ‘women’ should be rendered ‘wives’. Whenever the Bible mentions submissiveness on the part of a woman it always refers to a wife towards her own husband. It can not be applied to the relationship between men and women in general.
1 Corinthians 11: 3-16
‘3: But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4: Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5: but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head–it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6: For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. 7: For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9: Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) 10: That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. 11: (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12: for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) 13: Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14: Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, 15: but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16: If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.’
The veil was common in the days of the Old Testament. Women wore it out of modesty and as a sign that they accepted the leadership of men within the family. (Gen 24:65) As the passage above shows, the eternal principle of male headship can express itself in different cultural forms. It is addressed to Christians from Corinth, a Greek city. In Greek culture men traditionally had their heads uncovered and the women covered theirs. This was contrary to Jewish tradition where even today men cover their heads in worship, but not the women. The text above is a response to the question of the Corinthian Christians what to do with the existing custom of their day. The advice given is to examine the symbolism of the custom. If it has nothing in it that goes against God’s word or his order in creation, one is free to accept it or not. That liberty is reflected in verse 13 which should better be translated as, ‘Decide in regard to it your own selves.’
Greeks believed in New Testament days that by not covering their heads, men declared independence in contrast to slaves who had to cover themselves. Women covered themselves to symbolize the protectiveness they enjoyed from their husbands. Verses 8-12 refer to God’s order in creation and show that there is nothing wrong with the Greek tradition under question as long as men remember that Christ is their head (see verse 3), even though they do pray without a covering. Verse 11 confirms the teaching of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Peter 3:7 where women are declared to be equal in worth yet different as to how they fulfill their purpose.
The phrase at the end of verse 10, ‘because of the angels’, signifies that whatever one does on earth one must make sure it also has the approval of heaven represented here by angels.
The passage under consideration teaches that existing customs, as long as they are not contrary to morals and Scripture, are to be followed for the sake of unity. In applying the teaching above to today’s culture found in Western nations, Christian women are being asked to dress modestly so as not to tempt men sexually. (See also 1 Tim 2:9) In order to achieve that goal one does not have to ask both, young and old, to go to the extreme and cover their whole bodies. This causes very considerable discomfort in hot countries especially since women are usually asked by traditional Muslim Islamists to wear black cloths. In opposite to the Quran there are several biblical passages that place equal responsibility on men to guard themselves from falling into temptation. (Prov 6:25, Rom 7:7, Job 31:1, 1 Cor 6:18, 2 Tim 2:22) Perhaps the strongest warning is given by Jesus in Matthew 5:28:
‘But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’
Furthermore, female acceptance of male leadership within the family will be shown in culturally appropriate ways such as the British marriage vows and by adhering to the husbands advice provided it is expressing biblical truth.
Compared with the appalling status women in Saudi Arabia had in pre-Islamic times the Quran has brought considerable improvement for them. However, in the light of the following verses (translated by Marmaduke Pickthall and approved by the ministry of religious affairs of the government of Pakistan), the question that begs the answer is: Are women really declared to be of the same value as men?
According to Surah 4 (An-Nisa), verse 34, are women treated like children!
According to Surah 4 (An-Nisa),verse 15, the punishment in case of lewdness is confinement to the house until death! Some commentators believe that the punishment later was altered to 100 lashes. But if women are created physically weaker than men why do they have to endure the same punishment as they?
According to Surah 4 (An-Nisa), verse 176, why do men inherit twice as much as women?
According to Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah), verse 282, why do two female-witnesses count as much as one male?
According to Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah), verse 221, and Surah 5 (Al-Ma’idah), vers 5, why can women not marry non-Muslims, while men are allowed to?
According to Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah),verse 223, wives are as a field unto the husbands; why can they approach them when and how they will?
According to Surah 4 (An-Nisa) verse 24, Muslims are allowed to have sex with female slaves! Does this horrifying verse not amount to legalising rape among prisoners of war? (See also 23:5-6, 33:50, 70:22-30)
The Quran does not say anything about women who for some reason can not or choose not to get married. Does this status virtually not exist?
According to Surah 56, (Waqi’a), verses 35-38, are newly created virgins waiting for men only in paradise? (See also Surah 55, (Rahman), verses 56-57)
According to Surah 2 (Al Baqarah), verses 226-242, Muslim men only are allowed to divorce and get reconciled to their wives twice without having to give reasons. Muslim women can seek a divorce mainly in the following seven extreme cases, but they generally require to be ratified by a decree from the Qazi or “judge”: (1) Jubb. That is, when the husband before marriage has been by any cause deprived of his sexual organ. This condition is called majbub. (2) Cases of evident madness (3) leprosy. (4) Refusal of Islam. If one of the parties embraces Islam, the judge must offer it to the other three distinct times, and if he or she refuses to embrace the faith, divorce takes place. If they keep living together both are technically committing adultery for which the punishment is death by stoning. While a Muslim man is allowed to marry a woman from among the ‘People of the book’, the Jews or Christians, this privilege is denied to a Muslim woman. (5) La’n, or “imprecation.” That is, when a husband charges his wife with adultery, the charge is investigated, but if there is no proof, and the man swears his wife is guilty, and the wife swears she is innocent, a divorce must be decreed. (6) Difference of country For example, if a husband flees from a daru ‘l-harb, or “land of enmity,” ie “a non-Moslem country,” to a daru ‘l-Islam, or “country of Islam”, and his wife refuse to perform hijrah (flight) and to accompany him, she is divorced. (7) Apostasy from Islam The author of the Raddu ‘l-Mukhtar ( vol ii p 643) says: “When a man or woman apostatizes from Islam, then an immediate dissolution (faskh) of the marriage takes place, whether the apostasy be of the man or of the woman without a decree from the Qazi.” And again, (p. 645), “If both husband and wife apostatize at the same time, their marriage bond remains; and if at any future time the parties again return to Islam, no re-marriage is necessary to constitute them man and wife; but if one of the parties should apostatize before the other, a dissolution of the marriage takes place .” For more details and the following quote see ‘Dictionary of Islam by T.P. Hughes, 1988, ‘divorce’: “Burckhardt tells us of an Arab, forty-five years old, who had had fifty wives, so that he must have divorced two wives and married two fresh ones on the average every year. We have cases of Muhammad’s own ‘Companions’ not much better. This is the natural and legitimate effect of the law”” Compared with the Biblical teaching explained hereafter it becomes even clearer how much Muslim women are disadvantaged
“If a man takes a wife, and after they are married she is unpleasing to him because of some bad quality in her, let him give her a statement in writing and send her away from his house. And when she has gone away from him, she may become another man’s wife. And if the second husband has no love for her and, giving her a statement in writing, sends her away; or if death comes to the second husband to whom she was married; Her first husband, who had sent her away, may not take her back after she has been wife to another; for that is disgusting to the Lord: and you are not to be a cause of sin in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for your heritage.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
This is the permission which the Pharisees erroneously referred to as a law in the New Testament (Matthew Mt 19:7). They thought that Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement. It was not so; because it was a practice contrary to the original institution of marriage. God always abhorred it. Jesus told them that he only permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts, for fear that, if they had not had liberty to divorce their wives, they should have ruled them with such cruelty that could have led to the death of them. During the time when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt they took over local customs that permitted husbands to divorce their wives for any reason just by speaking the words ‘I divorce you.’ The main point of our passage under consideration is not that God commands divorce but that he gave four rules to avoid the further abuse of this custom:
Firstly, a man might not divorce his wife unless he found some bad quality in her. (Verse 1) It was not sufficient to say that he did not like her, or that he liked another better, but he must show cause for his dislike; something that made her disagreeable and unpleasant to him, though it might not make her so to another. This bad quality must mean something less than adultery because for that a marriage partner had to die according to the law. People disagree as to what it is exactly. Whatever is meant by it, doubtless it was something considerable; People, who think divorce is allowed for every reason, as was the case in Egypt, are therefore severely mistaken.
Secondly, it must be done, not by word of mouth, for that might be spoken hastily, but by writing, and that put in due form, and solemnly declared, before witnesses, to be his own act and deed. This needed time, and left room for consideration, that it might not be done in a moment of anger.
Thirdly, the husband must give it into the hand of his wife, and send her away, which some think forced him to make provision for her, that might help to marry her again.
Fourthly, that being divorced it was lawful for her to marry another husband (Verse 2). The divorce had dissolved the bond of marriage as effectually as death could dissolve it; so that she was as free to marry again as if her first husband had been naturally dead.
Verse four mentions that the one who is divorced and remarried is dishonoured. God permitted them to divorce their wives, because of the hardness of their hearts. Yet he considered all after-marriages to be dishonouring. It is on this ground that Jesus argues, that whoever marries a divorced partner is an adulterer: This could not have been the case if God had allowed the divorce to be a legal and proper separation of the man from his wife; but in the sight of God nothing can be a legal cause of separation but adultery on either side. In such a case, according to the law of God, a man may put away his wife, and a wife may put away her husband (Mark 10:12)
Jesus confirms the above interpretation:
“And certain Pharisees came to Jesus, testing him, and saying, Is it right for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he said in answer, Have you not seen in the Scriptures, that he who made them at the first made them male and female, and said, For this cause will a man go away from his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and the two will become one flesh? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Then let not that which has been joined by God be parted by man. They say to him, Why then did Moses give orders that a husband might give her a statement in writing and be free from her? He says to them, Moses, because of your hard hearts, let you put away your wives: but it has not been so from the first. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19: 3-9)
So is there hope for any of us? Yes, there is! Jesus came to die for our sins. If we believe in him we can start again a new life. His unconditional love indeed means that he does not remember our past. Neither must we! However, out of thankfulness we now do what pleases him. If we don’t and just carry on with our old lives (see Romans, chapter 6) it means we have not truly understood his love. Then our faith becomes meaningless and we deceive ourselves. God’s word can not be changed. If it goes against the feelings of our hearts then they need to be changed.
How does one have to understand the following respectable Muslim traditions regarding women?
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490: ‘Narrated ‘Aisha: ‘The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, ‘Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).’ I said, ‘You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away. for I disliked to face him.’
Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2155: ‘Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: If one of you marries a woman or buys a slave, he should say: ‘O Allah, I ask Thee for the good in her, and in the disposition Thou hast given her; I take refuge in Thee from the evil in her, and in the disposition Thou hast given her.’ When he buys a camel, he should take hold of the top of its hump and say the same kind of thing.’
This study raised numerous questions regarding the status of women in Islam which have yet to be answered satisfactorily. On the other hand, the contextualised approach has made it clear that womanhood according to the Bible is highly respected and valued. Numerous commandments have been shown to make a lot of sense within the framework of the Biblical world view. However, a word of caution has to be added regarding rules and regulations. No doubt laws are needed to keep a society in order. Compared with thousands found in the federal and state codes of the USA there are only over six hundred in the Old Testament. Though limited in wording they are very comprehensive in spirit. Yet no one has ever written all comprehensive commands and even if they had, no one would be able to keep all of them. Only a pharisaic or Islamic fundamentalist approach, to obey the letter rather than the spirit of the law, has a worldly guarantee of success (Matthew 23:223). Judges and juries will always be needed to determine whether a violation has taken place. Fundamental human needs will never be met by regulations only but by relationships. That is exactly what Christianity offers, a unique relationship between God and men and consequently between men and men based on the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. It enables guaranteed forgiveness and the power to love by living less selfish lives. Only relationships based on what God himself offers in Christ will eventually glorify him alone!