Tattoos, Debt, and Virginity: What Does the Bible Actually Say to Women? | CBE International

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Tattoos, Debt, and Virginity: What Does the Bible Actually Say to Women?

On July 30, 2018

Does God prefer “debt-free virgins without tattoos”? A recent viral article claims that men do, and that women should avoid college, independence, career, and the world—lest they fall into debt and sexual failure and be unattractive to Christian men.

Notably, tattoos, after the title, get precious little mention! And there's our first clue that the author doesn’t support her claims well. The article says nothing further about tattoos and also says little about biblical values regarding fiscal responsibility and sex.

Despite the author’s well-intentioned desire to teach young women to live biblically, she promotes a culturally-influenced view of Christian womanhood. Fundamentally, this cultural view of women assumes they’re more susceptible to worldly influence than men and that, unlike men, they’re called solely to a life inside the home, to wifehood and to motherhood. A life that includes neither higher education nor career. A life that needs—and has—fathers and husbands to explain Scripture to them and older women to teach young wives how to behave.

The Diverse Roles of Bible Women

So what does the Bible have to say about women pursuing callings outside the home? What does it say about women’s ability to comprehend the Scriptures and keep the faith? What does it say about women’s sexual temptations? What hope does it offer to non-virgins with debt and tattoos? And what, most significantly, does it say about what should motivate a woman in her faith journey?

Women are used by God throughout Scripture both inside and outside their homes. Motherhood is absolutely and firmly valued by the Bible. Yet it also values other roles for women. It doesn’t disparage work done inside the home. Nor does it prohibit roles outside the home. Rather, it affirms women in either sphere.

In Exodus 15:20, Miriam is referred to as a prophet. Deborah (Judges 4-5) filled the highest-ranking office in the nation, holding court and exercising military leadership. She’s also described as a wife and a mother, but those roles did not prohibit her from other callings. Esther saved her people by stepping outside traditional boundaries. In Proverbs 31, the “ideal wife” not only cares for her family, but also pursues trade, buys land, and serves the poor and needy—all of which take her outside the home and outside the limits of “traditional” roles.

The New Testament, too, includes women followers of Jesus who were defined by something other than their motherhood. Paul refers to Priscilla as his co-worker. He commends Phoebe as a deacon. Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, who believed in the Lord and who courageously opened her home to a house church.  While some of these women were wives and mothers, too, others weren’t.

Maybe most significantly, I think of the story of Mary and Martha. Mary was commended for sitting at Jesus feet, taking the posture of a rabbinic scholar along with the male disciples. Martha wasn’t berated for her efforts to serve nor for her hospitality, but she was invited to join the study. And, though Jesus quietly calmed Martha in her stress, she wasn’t permitted to demand a fellow female assume the same more traditional role that she'd chosen. Jesus didn’t say to Mary “stop learning with the men and go back to the kitchen,” at a moment when he most clearly could’ve done so.

Do Women Need Men to Explain the Bible to Them?

Beyond affirming diverse roles for women, the Bible doesn’t assume women are incapable of studying Scripture nor of keeping the faith without a man, in particular a father or husband, to explain the Word to us.

The Bible commends parents who teach their children the faith. Men are warned not to embitter their children (Eph. 3:21) and not to exasperate them, but to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are told to honor their parents and Paul indicated that Timothy likely learned his faith from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5).

These verses show that just as women can learn faith from their fathers and mothers, men can learn faith from their mothers and fathers. Parents who believe are commanded to teach their children and affirmed for doing so. But teaching the faith isn’t a gender role. God also calls those to faith whose parents or spouses aren’t believers. Clearly, we aren’t utterly dependent on a parent or spousal-mediator, whether we’re men or women.

Women in the Bible were certainly capable of learning the Scriptures’ teachings and we see them both teaching them and applying them. The Syro-Phoenician mother is commended for her theological understanding, which she used without male help when talking with Jesus. When Jesus rose and revealed the resurrection first to women, he didn’t assume them too weak with grief and emotion to bear this message to the male disciples, who were still in hiding in the upper room. Nor did he expect his disciples to dismiss a message brought by women.

Returning to Mary when she studied alongside men at the feet of Jesus, what was radical was that Jesus commended her for listening in and learning. She learned directly at the feet of Jesus. She needed no further male intermediary. The Bible commends women who learn and teach the faith, and indeed exhorts them to learn and expects them to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18). Women are capable of learning, from both men and women, and of hearing the Spirit of God directly themselves. They have the same High Priest as male Christians. 

Are Women More Prone to Sexual Sin?

Finally, what of the claim that a woman is particularly at risk of losing her faith and her virginity if she goes to college?

The Bible wants us to seek God and exhorts us to sexual purity. Yet it seems to have equal concerns on the likelihood of men or women straying from God, and views temptation as problematic for both male and female. Romans 3:23, so popularly quoted, tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Yes, the Bible exhorts women to sexual fidelity. But it also does so to men and doesn’t give them a lighter load than it does to women. Given how much the Bible directs warnings against sexual immorality towards men, too, it clearly doesn’t think they’re more able than women to withstand the lure of vice, in college or elsewhere!

In an era of sexual double-standard (sound familiar?) where men could divorce their wives and leave them economically and sexually vulnerable, but women couldn’t divorce their husbands (and even if they could, ex-husbands wouldn’t be similarly vulnerable), Jesus prohibited men from treating unwanted wives so callously (Matt. 5:32). In Matthew 5:28, Jesus even addressed the problem of sexually objectifying and lusting after women. He didn’t blame the women for their attire, tell them to cover up, or to stay home. He told the men that if they look at a woman lustfully, they’re guilty of adultery in their hearts.

Again, here’s a place where Jesus could’ve made women withdraw from the public or male sphere, either for their own purity or to avoid tempting men. But he didn’t. He made men squarely responsible for their own lusts.

There’s no place in a biblical model for a sexual double standard, nor for an assumption that either men or women are more likely to be tempted (or more likely to be a temptation!). Too often, society or the church has either offered men a pass in the case of sexual sin, or assigned women a permanent scarlet letter. God does neither.

Significantly, too, the Bible doesn’t indicate that after a sexual sin women, or men, become less attractive or loveable to God or less valued or used by him. After all, he sent Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). Let’s remember again that “all have sinned,” whether sexually or otherwise.

Hosea’s story shows us how God pursues us, loves us, and keeps forgiving us even after dramatic failures in infidelity to him—sexual, financial, or otherwise. This doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and sin willingly to let grace abound (Rom. 6:1). But it offers hope and healing in the case of a past that we wish we could change.

Both Adam and Eve sinned and both were excluded from the garden. Since sin is a problem for men and women—both the separation from God and the resulting actions—then they both need the same solution to this problem. They must seek God and his redemption. The Bible tells the same good news to men and women: God loves and pursues us, no matter our past, to give us salvation by grace and new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Which bring us at last to the core premise of the article. Why are we assuming that we should motivate women to keep the faith and pursue any aspect of godly living so that a man will find them attractive? Why aren’t we encouraging women toward godly living because of their identity as children of God? Why are we implying they should seek a husband more than they should seek the Spirit?

Ending A Marriage Obsession

Our evangelical culture is often quite obsessed with marriage. This isn’t to dismiss the fact that the Bible has much to say about marriage. We should seek its wisdom when considering marriage. And I’m also not saying that men and women who do marry shouldn’t desire marriage partners who seek to follow God. But God used women in the Bible irrespective of age, marital status, sexual history, or level of financial independence. There’s no suggestion that the primary motivator of a Christian woman’s faith should be to increase her marriageability, nor that her calling is dependent on it.

Women, and men, are called to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33) and to make choices for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Marriage and procreation aren’t the highest or only state to be sought by Christians and shouldn’t be the primary motivator for Christian women—or men—to grow in faith and live godly lives. Marriage is only for this world (Luke 20:34). Marriage must not become our idol.

We Can Do Better

Instead of telling women to avoid college and assuming college to be nothing more than a road to debt, secularism, promiscuity, and loss of faith, let’s encourage women to seek out God’s call on their lives and use their gifts for his glory, whether that includes college and career or not. 

Instead of telling women they’re too weak and need a male mediator to understand and keep their faith, remind them that they have one High Priest and that the Spirit indwells them as their guide and counselor. 

Instead of telling women their value lies solely in their wifehood or motherhood, let’s affirm that their value is in being a child of the King.

Instead of telling women to pursue godliness and the disciplines of fiscal responsibility, service to others, and sexual purity in order to attract a Christian man, let’s encourage women to pursue God because the Bible encourages us to seek him first.

And let’s do the same for men.

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