WOMAN (אִשָּׁה, H851, meaning woman, wife, or female [cf. discussion of etymology below]; γυνή, G1222, meaning woman as an adult female, wife, bride).
Old Testament usage
Status and rights
Family and domestic roles
As leaders in society
That women actively may participate in the political life of the nation is obvious, particularly during the monarchy. Bath-sheba, the mother of Solomon, maneuvered the events toward the end of David’s reign to assure Solomon the throne (
Morality and spiritual idealism
As members of the covenant community
New Testament usage
The New Testament builds upon the Old Testament tradition; in some ways it is clearer, but in some respects more problematical.
Life and ministry of Jesus
In the Early Church
The offices of prophetess and deaconess in the Early Church
Pattern of life
The teachings of Christ regarding divorce are intended to protect the rights of women, and the New Testament reenforces the Old Testament emphasis on woman’s primary domestic role. In
Sexual perversion and the symbol of evil
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(’ishshah, "a woman" (feminine of ’ish, "a man"]; gune, "a woman" "wife"):
I. IN THE CREATIVE PLAN
II. IN OLD TESTAMENew Testament TIMES
1. Prominence of Women
2. Social Equality
3. Marriage Laws
5. Domestic Duties
6. Dress and Ornaments
7. Religious Devotion and Service
(1) in Idolatry and False Religion
(2) in Spiritual Religion
III. INew TestamentER-TESTAMENew TestamentAL ERA
IV. IN NEW TESTAMENew Testament TIMES
1. Mary and Elisabeth
2. Jesus and Women
3. In the Early Church
4. Official Service
IV. LATER TIMES
1. Changes in Character and Condition
2. Notable Examples of Christian Womanhood
3. Woman in the 20th Century
The generic term "man" includes woman. In the narrative of the creation (
See also ADAM; ANew TestamentHROPOLOGY.
I. In the Creative Plan.
Whatever interpretation the latest scholarship may give to the story of woman’s formation from the rib of man (
Sin, both in man and woman, has been universally the cause of woman’s degradation. All history must be interpreted in the light of man’s consequent mistaken estimate of her endowments, worth and rightful place. The ancient Hebrews never entirely lost the light of their original revelation, and, more than any other oriental race, held woman in high esteem, honor and affection. Christianity completed the work of her restoration to equality of opportunity and place. Wherever its teachings and spirit prevail, she is made the loved companion, confidante and adviser of her husband.
1. Prominence of Women:
2. Social Equality:
3. Marriage Laws:
The Bible gives no sanction to dual or plural marriages. The narrative in
Divorce was originally intended to protect the sanctity of wedlock by outlawing the offender and his moral offense. Its free extension to include any marital infelicity met the stern rebuke of Jesus, who declared that at the best it was a concession to human infirmity and hardness of heart, and should be granted only in case of adultery (
Hebrew women were granted a freedom in choosing a husband not known elsewhere in the East (
The Mosaic Law prescribed that the father’s estate, in case there were no sons, should pass to the daughters (
5. Domestic Duties:
6. Dress and Ornaments:
That women were fond of decorations and display in ancient as in modern times is clear from the reproof administered by the prophet for their haughtiness and excessive ornamentation (
7. Religious Devotion and Service:
The reflections cast upon woman for her leadership in the first transgression (
(1) In Idolatry and False Religion
Often woman’s religious intensity found expression in idolatry and the gross cults of heathenism. That she everywhere participated freely in the religious rites and customs of her people is evident from the fact that women were often priestesses, and were often deified. The other Semitic religions had female deities corresponding to the goddesses of Greece and Rome. In the cult of Ishtar of Babylon, women were connected with the immoral rites of temple-worship. The women of heathen nations in the harem of Solomon (
(2) In Spiritual Religion
The bright side of Hebrew history is an inspiring contrast to this dark picture. Prior to the Christian era no more luminous names adorn the pages of history than those of the devout and eminent Hebrew women. Jochebed, the mother of Moses, left upon him a religious impress so vital and enduring as to safeguard him through youth and early manhood from the fascinating corruptions of Pharaoh’s Egyptian court (
III. Inter-Testamental Era.
The women portrayed in the apocryphal literature of the Jews reveal all the varied characteristics of their sex so conspicuous in Old Testament history: devout piety, ardent patriotism, poetic fervor, political intrigue, worldly ambition, and sometimes a strange combination of these contradictory moral qualities. Whether fictitious, or rounded on fact, or historical, these portrayals are true to the feminine life of that era.
Anna is a beautiful example of wifely devotion. By her faith and hard toil she supported her husband, Tobit, after the loss of his property and in his blindness, until sight and prosperity were both restored (Tobit 1:9; 2:1-14).
Edna, wife of Raguel of Ecbatana and mother of Sarah, made her maternal love and piety conspicuous in the blessing bestowed on Tobias on the occasion of his marriage to her daughter, who had hitherto been cursed on the night of wedlock by the death of seven successive husbands (Tobit 7; 10:12).
Sarah, innocent of their death, which had been compassed by the evil spirit Asmodeus, at last had the reward of her faith in the joys of a happy marriage (Tobit 10:10; 14:13).
Judith, a rich young widow, celebrated in Hebrew lore as the savior of her nation, was devoutly and ardently patriotic. When Nebuchadnezzar sent his general Holofernes with an army of 132,000 men to subjugate the Jews, she felt called of God to be their deliverer. Visiting holofernes, she so captivated him with her beauty and gifts that he made a banquet in her honor. While he was excessively drunk with the wine of his own bounty, she beheaded him in his tent. The Assyrians, paralyzed by the loss of their leader, easily fell a prey to the armies of Israel. Judith celebrates her triumph in a song, akin in its triumphant joy, patriotic fervor and religious zeal, to the ancient songs of Miriam and Deborah (Judith 16:1-17).
Susanna typifies the ideal of womanly virtue. The daughter of righteous parents, well instructed in the sacred Law, the wife of a rich and honorable man, Joachim by name, she was richly blessed in position and person. Exceptionally modest, devout and withal very beautiful, she attracted the notice of two elders, who were also judges, and who took occasion frequently to visit Joachim’s house. She spurned their advances and when falsely charged by them with the sin which she so successfully resisted, she escapes the judgment brought against her, by the subtle skill of Daniel. As a result, his fame and her innocence became widely known.
Cleopatra, full of inherited intrigue, is influential in the counsels of kings. She married successively for political power; murdered her eldest son Seleucus, by Demetrius, and at last dies by the poison which she intended for her younger son, Antiochus VIII. Her fatal influence is a striking example of the perverted use of woman’s power (1 Macc 10:58; Josephus, Ant, XIII, iv, 1; ix, 3).
1. Mary and Elisabeth:
A new era dawned for woman with the advent of Christianity. The honor conferred upon Mary, as mother of Jesus, lifted her from her "low estate," made after generations call her blessed (
2. Jesus and Women:
3. In the Early Church:
See also CLAUDIA.
4. Official Service:
From the first, women held official positions of influence in the church. Phoebe (
Their existence as a distinct order is indicated in
Other special duties, mentioned by the Church Fathers, included prayer and fasting, visiting the sick, instruction of women, preparing them for baptism, assisting in the administration of this sacrament, and taking them the communion. The spiritual nature of the office is indicated by its occupant being variously termed "the intercessor of the church"; "the keeper of the door," at public service; "the altar of God."
Many of these duties were transferred, by the 3rd century, to the deaconesses, an order which in recent history has been restored to its original importance and effectiveness. The women already referred to in
V. Later Times.
1. Changes in Character and Condition:
Tertullian mentions the modest garb worn by Christian women (De Cult. Fem. ii.11) as indicating their consciousness of their new spiritual wealth and worthiness. They no longer needed the former splendor of outward adornment, because clothed with the beauty and simplicity of Christlike character. They exchanged the temples, theaters, and festivals of paganism for the home, labored with their hands, cared for their husbands and children, graciously dispensed Christian hospitality, nourished their spiritual life in the worship, service and sacraments of the church, and in loving ministries to the sick. Their modesty and simplicity were a rebuke to and reaction from the shameless extravagances and immoralities of heathenism. That they were among the most conspicuous examples of the transforming power of Christianity is manifest from the admiration and astonishment of the pagan Libanius who exclaimed, "What women these Christians have!"
The social and legal status of woman instantly improved when Christianity gained recognition in the Empire. Her property rights as wife were established by law, and her husband made subject to accusation for marital infidelity. Her inferiority, subjection and servitude among all non-Jewish and non-Christian races, ancient and modern, are the severest possible arraignment of man’s intelligence and virtue. Natural prudence should have discovered the necessity of a cultured and noble motherhood in order to a fine grade of manhood. Races that put blighting restrictions upon woman consign themselves to perpetual inferiority, impotence and final overthrow. The decline of Islam and the collapse of Turkey as a world-power are late striking illustrations of this fundamental truth.
2. Notable Examples of Christian Womanhood:
Woman’s activity in the early church came to its zenith in the 4th century. The type of feminine character produced by Christianity in that era is indicated by such notable examples as Eramelia and Macrina, the mother and sister of Basil; Anthusa, Nonna, Monica, respectively the mothers of Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen and Augustine. Like the mothers of Jerome and Ambrose they gave luster to the womanhood of the early Christian centuries by their accomplishments and eminent piety. As defenders of the faith women stand side by side with Ignatius and Polycarp in their capacity to face death and endure the agonies of persecution. The roll of martyrs is made luminous by the unrivaled purity, undaunted heroism, unconquerable faith of such Christian maidens as Blandina, Potamiaena, Perpetua and Felicitas, who, in their loyalty to Christ, shrank not from the most fiendish tortures invented by the diabolical cruelties and hatred of pagan Rome.
In the growing darkness of subsequent centuries women, as mothers, teachers, abbesses, kept the light of Christian faith and intelligence burning in medieval Europe. The mothers of Bernard and Peter the Venerable witness to the conserving and creative power of their devotion and faith. The apotheosis of the Virgin Mother, though a grave mistake and a perversion of Christianity by substituting her for the true object of worship, nevertheless served, in opposition to pagan culture, to make the highest type of womanhood the ideal of medieval greatness. The full glory of humanity was represented in her. She became universally dominant in religion. The best royalty of Europe was converted through her influence. Poland and Russia were added to European Christendom when their rulers accepted the faith of their Christian wives. Clotilda’s conversion of Clovis made France Christian. The marriage of Bertha, another Christian princess of France, to Ethelbert introduced Roman Christianity into England, which became the established religion when Edwin, in turn, was converted through the influence of his Christian wife. The process culminated, in the 19th century, in the long, prosperous, peaceful, Christian reign of Victoria, England’s noblest sovereign.
3. Woman in the 20th Century:
The opening decades of the 20th century are witnessing a movement among women that is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of mankind. It is world-wide and spontaneous, and aims at nothing less than woman’s universal education and enfranchisement. This new ideal, taking its rise in the teaching of Jesus regarding the value of the human soul, is permeating every layer of society and all races and religions. Woman’s desire for development and serf-expression, and better still for service, has given birth to educational, social, eleemosynary, missionary organizations and institutions, international in scope and influence. In 75 years after Mary Lyon inaugurated the higher education of woman at Mt. Holyoke College, in 1837, 60,000 women were students in the universities and colleges of the United States; nearly 40,000 in the universities of Russia; and increasingly proportionate numbers in every higher institution of learning for women in the world; 30,000 were giving instruction in the primary and secondary schools of Japan. Even Moslem leaders confessed that the historic subjection of woman to ignorance, inferiority, and servitude was the fatal mistake of their religion and social system. The striking miracle occurred when Turkey and China opened to her the heretofore permanently closed doors of education and social opportunity.
This universal movement for woman’s enlightenment and emancipation is significantly synchronous with the world-wide extension and success of Christian missions. The freedom wherewith Christ did set us free includes her complete liberation to equality of opportunity with man. In mental endowment, in practical ability, in all the higher ministries of life and even in statecraft, she has proved herself the equal of man. Christianity always tends to place woman side by side with man in all the great achievements of education, art, literature, the humanities, social service and missions. The entire movement of modern society toward her perfect enfranchisement is the distinct and inevitable product of the teaching of Jesus. The growing desire of woman for the right of suffrage, whether mistaken or not, is the incidental outcome of this new emancipation. The initial stages of this evolutionary. process are attended by many abnormal desires, crudities of experiment and conduct, but ultimately, under the guidance of the Spirit of God and the Christian ideal, woman will intelligently adjust herself to her new opportunity and environment, recognizing every God-ordained difference of function, and every complementary and cooperative relation between the sexes. The result of this latest evolution of Christianity will not only be a new womanhood for the race but, through her enlightenment, culture and spiritual leadership, a new humanity.