A pastor recently told me, “There is no way women can ever be equal to men!” He went on to say that women were probably quicker to hear from God, but that gender-specific character flaws—emotional instability and a penchant for deception—basically negated any strength they had. “I only want men on the front-lines of battle with me!” he said.
Now, at this time, women ran the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry of his church, ministering on a regular basis to the impoverished drug addicts and alcoholics in a very rough section of town. These women not only met the physical needs of these precious souls, but won many to Christ. Yet, for the entire year and a half that we attended this church, not one person came down front to receive salvation. Who, I couldn’t help but wonder, was really on the front-lines of battle in this community? Most would agree that this particular situation was rife with irony. Yet the pastor’s notion that women are the “weaker vessel,” is a commonly held idea among Christians today. Is this mindset productive? Is it biblical? Is it the will of God?
The reference to women as the “weaker vessel” in 1 Peter 3:7 has been interpreted many ways, but it has nearly always been taken to mean a spiritual and/or emotional defect peculiar to women. I even heard one pastor declare that it meant women were like “fine china,” suggesting that women were of great value, but easily broken or fragile. But an examination of God’s Word does not support this idea.
The Greek word for “vessel” is skeuos, meaning “an implement, a chosen instrument.” It was a common Greek metaphor for the body, since Greeks thought of souls living only temporarily in the flesh. So for the Word of God to declare that women are “weaker vessels” is merely an acknowledgement of our physically weaker bodies.
This verse in 1 Peter is a cry for equality and respect for wives, not a disparagement of their character:
In the same way you married men should live considerately with [your wives], with an intelligent recognition [of the marriage relation], honoring the woman as [physically] the weaker, but [realizing that you] are joint heirs of the grace (God’s unmerited favor) of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered and cut off. [Otherwise you cannot pray effectively].1
So the question now becomes, Does a physically weaker body somehow translate into spiritual weakness? Does a “weaker” vessel mean that a “weaker” Jesus abides within? Does a “weaker” vessel mean that women exhibit less empowerment by the Holy Ghost? Absolutely not!
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the strength or weakness of our “earthen vessel” is of little or no value—the “treasure” within is what makes it priceless: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7). And all Christians—men and women alike—carry the same treasure: the gospel of Jesus Christ. And all Christians—men and women alike—have the opportunity to be filled with the same Spirit of God.
In other words, being able to bench-press 350 pounds does not necessarily translate into being a mighty warrior for the Gospel. In fact, according to scripture, the weaker the vessel, the more glory that goes to God:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.2
But what about those raging hormones? Aren’t women the helpless victims of estrogen-induced mood swings? Well, John Revell, editor of the Southern Baptist Convention Life Magazine certainly believes so. In his recent article “Unhindered Prayer,”3 Revell explains to husbands how to live with their wives in an understanding manner. “We should understand that a woman’s emotions can swing dramatically as a result of her physical makeup, and we should be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for those changes,” he urges. He goes on to say,
Face it—in general, when it comes to the way they think and feel, women are wired soooo differently than men (no surprise to most who are reading this article). Many of us were shocked and dumbfounded when we first came face-to-face with those differences. But this passage [1 Peter 3:7] does not teach that we must relate to, or identify with, their reasoning or feelings. It does, however, require that we acknowledge and accept those differences and not expect them to conform to our own reasoning and emotions—frankly, that’s not very likely. (SBC Life [October 2005]; available at http://www.sbclife.org; SBC Life is published by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention)
Revell continues by suggesting that to dwell, “with a wife according to knowledge means realizing that her thinking, emotions, and personality can be influenced by a number of factors—things that we may have no control over. It means being patient with what we might perceive as insecurity or irrationality, or being patient when her mood or mind changes without warning.”
Revell’s comments reflect what the Church says about women—that we are over-emotional and deserving of a high, but yet not equal status—is exactly what my grandmother’s generation said about African Americans! And I mean word for word. Yes, science has certainly proven that hormones influence mood. But if we are to cast all females as being impoverished victims of hormone-induced mood swings…why do we not say that all men are slaves of testosterone-induced violence and rage? Neither is accurate.
If you do a search of Bible characters that were “overcome” with “emotion,” you’ll find two…and both of these were men! Genesis 43:30 says that Joseph made a “hasty exit because he was overcome with emotion for his brother and wanted to cry. Going into his private room, he wept there” (NLT). And 2 Samuel 18:33 tells us that David found himself in a similar state of emotion over the fate of his rebellious son, Absalom: “The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to his room over the gateway and burst into tears” (NLT). Yes, emotions belong to both genders.
Scripture does not depict women as mindless, emotional wrecks unable to serve on the frontline. The Bible is full of strong, capable women—women like Deborah who judged the nation of Israel, Esther who saved her people from annihilation, Phoebe who served as a beloved deacon to New Testament churches, Priscilla a respected teacher and leader among the saints, and Junia an apostle whom Paul said was “outstanding among the apostles.” And lest we forget, our contemporary history is also filled with strong, capable women of God.
- Corrie Ten Boom suffered for Christ in Nazi concentration camps. She lost four members of her family, but never lost faith in Jesus. At the age of 53, Corrie began a world-wide ministry that took her to more than 60 countries over the next 33 years. And her testimony that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” left an indelible mark upon this world.4
- Mother Theresa ministered for more than 50 years to the “poorest of the poor” in the streets of Calcutta, India. Taking the words of Christ to heart—“as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me”—Mother Theresa saw Jesus in the poor and diseased face of every man, woman, and child on the streets of India. Her devotion toward the poor won her respect throughout the world and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.5
- Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary, at the age of 33 dared to serve in Northern China and bring the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lottie often made personal sacrifices to meet the needs of the people she ministered to. When famine struck the land, Lottie gave her food to the people, suffering malnutrition as a result. This saint died on the trip back to America at the age of 72.6
Each of these women served on the frontlines of Gospel service, despite prejudice from brothers and sisters in Christ. It is time to confront gender prejudice. As people of God, we must be very careful not to parrot religion’s idea of femininity. We must begin to agree with the Word of God that we: 1) Have the mind of Christ; 2) are “children of God,” which is our spiritual position of authority; and 3) that many of us have been called into positions of leadership, just like women throughout the Bible. This is not worldly, strident feminism. This is simply biblical truth.
The Amplified Bible
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
October 2005 issue of SBC Life; http://www.sbclife.org/; SBC Life is published by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention