One of the many supposed moral arguments that Atheists make against The Bible is that it treats women as inferior human beings, that it diminishes their value, that it’s sexist. Passages they point to in an attempt to prove their point would be passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which says “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” and Ephesians -24 which says “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” These passages, these skeptics argue, diminish a woman’s value. After all, why should men be allowed to teach, but not women? Isn’t it sexist to ban women from being able to teach theology while allowing men to do it? Moreover, doesn’t it suggest that women have lesser value since they’re commanded to submit to the authority of her husband?
Aren’t these passages of scripture bona fide evidence of sexism? I don’t think so.
Not Allowed To Teach?
First of all, even if it were true that The Bible forbade women from teaching in the church, that would not necessarily be an indicator that they have lesser worth. Biblically speaking, men and women have different roles to play in the family, and in the church, but that doesn’t mean that women are inferior to men in any way. Jesus had a different job from the Father or The Spirit in the process of salvation. It was the Son who was to die on the cross (Luke 23, John , Romans 5:8, Philippians 2:8), not the Father or the Spirit, and it’s the The Holy Spirit that convicts and draws people to salvation (John 16:7-11), and The Father did the sending. The Father sent The Son (John -18, John -45), and The Father sends the Spirit to believers (John ). But all 3 persons of the Trinity are equally God. Just because they perform different roles in the economy of salvation doesn’t mean that one is inferior to another. The persons of the Trinity are all equals but they have different jobs in the economy of salvation. By the way, women have a role that men cannot play; child bearing. Should we think God is being unfair to men because He has given women a job we cannot perform?
However, does the Timothy passage even forbid women from teaching in the first place? Is the common interpretation of this passage even correct? Some would say yes while others would say no. The commentators who would dispute the popular interpretation of the passage dispute it by pointing out that Paul did not forbid ALL women from EVER teaching as is shown in the fact that Paul's commended co-worker, Priscilla, taught Apollos, the great preacher (see Acts 18:24-26). In addition, Paul frequently mentioned other women who held positions of authority in the church. Phoebe worked in the church (Romans 16:1). Mary, Tryphena, and Tryphosa were the Lord's workers (Romans 16:6, 12). These cases, these theologians argue, are evidence that 1 Timothy was not a universal ban on women teaching The Bible.
Well, if Paul wasn't banning all women at all times and all places from teaching, then what did he mean in 1 Timothy 2:12? Several commentators argue that Paul was very likely prohibiting the Ephesian women at Timothy's church rather than all women, from teaching. They point out that in first-century Jewish culture, women were not allowed to study and that the reason Paul did not want the Ephesian women to teach was because they weren't knowledgeable enough of the scriptures to be good teachers. One must be well taught in order to teach well, and since the Ephesian women weren't well taught yet, they were therefore not allowed to teach. If a woman is knowledgable in the scriptures (and I could name several godly women who are), I don’t think Paul would protest if they taught others. By contrast, if a man weren’t well versed in scripture, I think Paul would protest him teaching just as much as the women he’s referring to in 1 Timothy 2:12.
As for the command to be quiet in verse 11, I read a commentary a while back by Ben Witherington III on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where he said that this was because the women at church would constantly interrupt the preacher with questions. Therefore, Paul urges women to stay silent and ask such questions to their husbands once they got home. This commentary was about two verses in 1 Corinthians 14, but this could apply to 1 Timothy 2:11 as well since it's a parallel passage.
Submitting To Your Husband?
But what about the argument that Christianity cheapens women’s value because of passages that talk about submission to the husband (such as Colossians and Ephesians )? To this argument I say that I don’t think it follows that because a woman is commanded by The Bible to submit to her husband that therefore she is of less worth than her husband. After all, The Bible tells us that during His earthly ministry, Jesus submitted to The Father (Matthew 26:39, Philippians 2:5-8), but Jesus wasn’t inferior to the Father. They’re both God (John 1:1, John , Isaiah 9:6).
This raises another question though; what exactly does submission mean? Scripture doesn’t command women to be the slaves of their husbands or the door mats of their husbands as skeptics like to say, rather it means that the husband is to be the head of the household; the decision maker. When big decisions need to be made, the husband has the final say. This does not mean that the wife is to be quiet or not offer an alternative decision. As Shelly Poston of CARM.org writes "A submissive wife is not relegated to idly sitting by while her husband makes all the family decisions. In a healthy marriage, husband and wife work as a team. When a decision cannot be jointly agreed upon, the leader makes it, knowing he is responsible foremost unto God for that decision. In these circumstances or in a decision that the husband must make alone, a submissive wife is not overstepping her boundaries by offering counsel. She must learn to do it in a way that shows respect for his God-given position as head of the family." (from the article “What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband?” on Carm.org)
Of course, she does not “submit” to abuse—that is not right or lawful or God-honoring. To try to use the principle of “submission” to justify abuse is to twist Scripture and promote evil.
Both Men And Women Are Made In God’s Image.
I know that God considers men and women to be equals because of what His word says in the account of the creation of the first man and woman; Adam and Eve. God said “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” – Genesis . Human beings are made in God’s image. We know that both men and women are made in God’s image because of what the very next verse says; “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27
If human beings are made in God’s image, then that means that they’re ontologically equal to each other. Men and women are ontologically equal because they bare the imageo dei. Commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “The woman was made out of Adam’s side. She was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” All I can add to that is amen!