FEMALE (נְקֵבָה, H5922, אִשָּׁה, H851; θη̂λυς, G2559). Female designates that grouping of any species which has the capacity to produce ova and bear offspring. The female is differentiated from the male whose biological function it is to produce sperm and implant it in the ova.
The Biblical account of creation presents the idea that the biological differences between the sexes is the consequence of God’s creative activity (Gen 1:1, 2, 4). The Hebrews were aware early that sex relations between males and females were necessary for reproduction (1:28; 7:1-5). The beautiful account of the creation of the female of the human kind (2:18-24) has often been interpreted to indicate the inferiority of women. Not so! Rather, the female is pictured as helper, an integral part of man, the one with whom is experienced wholeness and completeness (2:23, 24). Anyone who has had a good marriage knows that this is the case.
Of course, the Bible partakes of the “male superiority” complex present in its culture. The account of the Fall (3:1-19) pictures the female as being the first tempted and the one who, in turn, carried the temptation to the male. To blame women for the entrance of sin into the world, as some naïvely have done, was rejected by God long ago (3:14). The prophetic utterance concerning the future relation between male and female (3:16) need not be taken as a proof text for male superiority. God may have been declaring what would happen because of sin entering the world, but not sanctioning it.
In the NT Paul seems to have accepted the cultural idea of the inferiority of women (1 Cor 7:11, 14; Eph 5; 1 Tim 2:12). However, it is to be noted that these references appear in the practical sections of his letters dealing with specific problems and may be instances of accommodation. His lone reference to females in the theological sections (Gal 3:28) announces the principle of the equality of the sexes. The Church has been slow in putting this principle into practice. Currently it is being challenged to do so by the Women’s Liberation Movement. Among the questions which they are raising are these: Does the creation story teach the inferiority of women? Is God male? Are men and women essentially different? Or are these differences culturally determined?
H. Luering, “Female,” ISBE (1915), 1106; J. O. Hertzler, The Social Thought of the Ancient Civilizations (1936); D. S. Bailey, Sexual Relations in Christian Thought (1959), 293-303; G. Farley, “The Saint Paul Hang Up,” The Student (April 1971), 30f.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
fe’-mal: Two Hebrew words are thus translated:
(1) neqebhah, which is merely a physiological description of the sexual characteristic (from naqabh, "to perforate"), and which corresponds to zakhar, "male" (see under the word).
(2) ’ishshah, with the irregular plural nashim (only Ge 7:2, in all other places "wife," "woman"), the feminine form of ’ish, "man."
The Greek word is thelus, literally, "the nursing one," "the one giving suck" (from thelazo, "to suckle").
Israelitic law seems frequently guilty of unjust partiality in favor of the male sex, but we have to consider that most of these legal and religious disabilities of women can be explained from the social conditions prevailing at the time of legislation. They are therefore found also in contemporaneous Gentilereligions. Though traces of this prejudice against the weaker sex are found in the New Testament, the religious discrimination between the sexes has practically ceased, as is evident from Ga 3:28: "There can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus"; compare also 1Pe 3:7.