Before getting into part 2 of our series, I need to make a correction to something I said in part 1 as well as add a clarification to something else said there.
One of the commentors kindly informed me that my claim that “woman” in English is derived from two words, “womb” and “man”, signifying a man with a womb, was wrong. Now as a member of the Governing Body, I’ve asked the local elders to take the troublemaker into the back room of the Kingdom hall have get him to either recant or be disfellowshipped. What’s that? I’m not a member of any Governing Body? I can’t do that? Oh, well. I guess I’ll have to admit I made a mistake.
Seriously, this illustrates the danger we all face, as this was something I “learned” a long time ago and never thought to question. We have to question every premise, but it is often difficult to distinguish between hard facts and untested premises, especially if the premises go way back to childhood, because our brain has by now integrated them into our mental library of “established fact”.
Now the other thing I wanted to bring up was the fact that when one looks up Genesis 2:18 in the interlinear it doesn’t say “complement”. The New World Translation renders this: “I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” The two words often translated “suitable helper” are in Hebrew neged ezer. I stated that I liked the rendering of the New World Translation over most other versions, because I believed this was closer to the meaning of the original. Okay, I know that a lot of people don’t like the New World Translation, particularly those who favor belief in the Trinity, but come on, it is not all bad. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, shall we?
Why do I think that neged should be translated “complement” or “counterpart” instead of “suitable”? Well, here is what Strong’s Concordance has to say.
Neged, definition: “in front of, in sight of, opposite to”. Now notice how rarely it is translated “suitable” in the New American Standard Bible compared with other terms like “before”, “front”, and “opposite”.
against (3), aloof* (3), away (1), before (60), broad (1), demoralized* (1), directly (1), distance* (3), front (15), opposite (16), opposite* (5), other side (1), presence (13), resist* (1), risked* (1), sight (2), sight* (2), straight ahead (3), straight before (1), suitable (2), under (1).
I’ll leave this on the screen for a moment so you can review the list. You might want to pause the video while you take this in.
Of particular relevance is this quote taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:
“From nagad; a front, i.e. Part opposite; specifically a counterpart, or mate”
So even though the Organization diminishes the role of women in God’s arrangement, their own translation of the Bible does not lend support to their view of women as subservient. Much of their view is the result of the aberration in the relationship between the sexes caused by the original sin.
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (NIV)
The man of Genesis 3:16 is a dominator. Of course, there is also a woman of Genesis 3:16 whose personality traits are likewise thrown out of balance. This has resulted in untold suffering for countless women down through the centuries since the first human pair were cast out of the garden.
However, we are Christians. We are the children of God, are we not? We will not allow sinful tendencies to serve as an excuse to taint our relationship with the opposite sex. Our goal is to restore the balance that the first pair lost by rejecting their heavenly Father. To accomplish this, we have but to follow the pattern of the Christ.
With that goal in view, let us examine the various roles that Yehovah assigned to women in Bible times. I come from a Jehovah’s Witnesses background, and so I will contrast these Biblical roles with those which are practiced in my former faith.
Jehovah Witnesses do not allow women:
- To pray on behalf of the congregation;
- To teach and instruct the congregation as men do;
- To hold positions of oversight within the congregation.
Of course, they are not alone in restricting the role of women, but being among the more extreme cases, they will serve as a good case study.
At this stage, I think it will be advantageous to lay out the topics we will cover in the rest of this series. Starting with this video, we are going to start to answer these questions by examining the roles Yehovah God himself has assigned to women. Obviously, if Yehovah calls upon a woman to fill a role which we might feel only a man can fill, we need to readjust our thinking.
In the next video, we will apply that knowledge to the Christian congregation to understand the proper roles for both men and women and examine the whole issue of authority within the Christian congregation.
In the fourth video, we will examine problematic passages from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as well as to Timothy that seem to severely restrict women’s role in the congregation.
In the fifth and final video, we’ll examine what is commonly referred to as the headship principle and the issue of head coverings.
For now, let us start with the last of our three points. Should Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as other denominations in Christendom, allow women to hold positions of oversight? Obviously, the proper exercise of oversight requires both wisdom and discernment. One has to decide which course of action to follow if one is to overseer others. That requires good judgment, does it not? Likewise, if an overseer if called upon to resolve a dispute, to arbitrate between who is right and who is wrong, he is acting as a judge, is he not?
Would Yehovah allow women to act as judges over men? Speaking for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the answer would be a resounding “No”. When the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended to Witness leadership that they include women at some level of the judicial process the Governing Body to be adamantly intransigent. They believed that to include women at any stage would be to violate God’s law and the Christian arrangement.
Is this really God’s view?
If you are familiar with the Bible, you are probably aware that there is a book titled “Judges” in it. This book covers a period of about 300 years in the history of Israel when there was no king, but rather there were individuals who acted as judges to resolve disputes. However, they did more than just judge.
You see, the Israelites were not a particular faithful lot. They would not keep Yehovah’s law. They would sin against Him by worshipping false Gods. When they did that, Yehovah withdrew his protection and inevitably some other nation would come in as marauders, conquer them and enslave them. They would then cry out in their anguish and God would raise up a Judge to lead them to victory and free them from their captors. So, the judges also acted as saviors of the nation. Judges 2:16 reads: “So Jehovah would raise up judges, and they would save them out of the hand of their pillagers.”
The Hebrew word for “judge” is shaphat and according to Brown-Driver-Briggs means:
- act as law-giver, judge, governor (giving law, deciding controversies and executing law, civil, religious, political, social; both early and late):
- specifically decide controversy, discriminate between Persons, in civil, political, domestic and religious questions:
- execute judgment:
There was no higher position of authority in Israel at that time, which was before the time of the kings.
Having learned its lesson, that generation would usually remain faithful, but when they died out, a new generation would replace them and the cycle would repeat, confirming the old adage, “Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
What does this have to do with the role of women? Well, we’ve already established that many Christian religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, will not accept a woman as a judge. Now here is where it gets interesting.
The book, Insight on the Scriptures, Volume II, page 134, published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, lists 12 men who served as judges and saviors of the nation of Israel during the approximately 300 years covered by the Bible book of Judges.
Here’s the list:
Here’s the problem. One of them was never a judge. Do you know which one? Number 7, Barak. His name appears 13 times in the book of Judges, but never once is he called a judge. The term “Judge Barak” occurs 47 times in the Watchtower magazine and 9 times in the Insight volumes, but never once in the Bible. Never once.
During his lifetime, who judged Israel if not Barak? The Bible answers:
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the mountainous region of Ephraim; the Israelites would go up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4. 5 NWT)
Deborah was a prophet of God and she also judged Israel. Wouldn’t that make her a judge? Wouldn’t we be right to call her Judge Deborah? Surely, since that is right there in the Bible, we should have no problem calling her a Judge, right? What does the Insight book have to say about that?
“When the Bible first introduces Deborah, it refers to her as “a prophetess.” That designation makes Deborah unusual in the Bible record but hardly unique. Deborah had another responsibility. She was also evidently settling disputes by giving Jehovah’s answer to problems that came up. — Judges 4:4, 5” (Insight on the Scriptures, Volume I, page 743)
The Insight book says that she was “evidently settling disputes”. “Evidently”? That makes it sound like we are inferring something not explicitly stated. Their own translation says she was “judging Israel” and that the “Israelites would go up to her for judgment”. There is no evidently about it. It is clearly and explicitly stated that she was judging the nation, making her a judge, the supreme judge of that time, in fact. So why don’t the publications call her Judge Deborah? Why do they confer that title on Barak who is never depicted as acting in any role as judge? In fact, he is depicted in a subservient role to Deborah. Yes, a man was in a subservient role to a woman, and this was by the hand of God. Let me lay out the scenario:
At that time, the Israelites were suffering under the hand of Jabin, the king of Canaan. They wanted to be free. God raised up Deborah, and she told Barak what had to be done.
“She sent for Barak (He didn’t send for her, she summoned him.) and said to him: “Has not Jehovah the God of Israel given the command? ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulun with you. I will bring to you Sisera, the chief of Jabin’s army, along with his war chariots and his troops to the stream of Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” (Who is planning military strategy here? Not Barak. He’s taking his orders from God by the mouth of Deborah whom God is using as his prophet.) At this Barak said to her: “If you go with me, I will go, but if you do not go with me, I will not go.” (Barak will not even go on this military campaign unless Deborah comes along. He knows that God’s blessing is coming through her.) To this she said: “I will certainly go with you. However, the campaign you are going on will not bring you glory, for it will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will give Sisera.” (Judges 4:6-9)
Further to all this, Yehovah reinforces the role of women by telling Barak that he will not kill the chief of the enemy army, Sisera, but that this enemy of Israel will die at the hand of a mere woman. In fact, it was a woman named Jael who killed Sisera.
Why would the organization alter the Bible account and ignore God’s appointed prophet, judge and savior to replace her with a man?
In my opinion, they do this because the man of Genesis 3:16 is very much in dominance within the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They cannot countenance the idea of a women in charge of men. They cannot accept that a woman would be placed in a position in which she would be able to judge and command men. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says. Clearly facts do not matter when they conflict with the interpretation of men. The Organization is hardly unique in this position, however. The fact is that the man of Genesis 3:16 is alive and well in many Christian denominations. And let’s not even start with the non-Christian religions of the earth, many of which treat their women as virtual slaves.
Let us move forward now to the Christian era. Things have changed for the better because God’s servants are no longer under the law of Moses, but under the superlative law of Christ. Are Christian women allowed any judgment role, or was Deborah an aberration?
Under the Christian arrangement there is no religious government, no King other than Jesus himself. There is no provision for a Pope ruling over all, nor for an Archbishop of the church of England, nor for a President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor for a Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So how is judging supposed to be handled within the Christian arrangement?
When it comes to handling judicial matters in the Christian congregation, the only command from Jesus is that found at Matthew 18:15-17. We discussed this in detail in a previous video, and I’ll post a link to it above should you want to review that information. The passage starts out by saying:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” That’s from the New International Version. The New Living Translation render it as: “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
The reason I like these two translations is that they remain gender neutral. Obviously, our Lord is not speaking about a fleshly brother but a member of the Christian congregation. Also, quite obviously, he is not limiting our response to the sinner to those who happen to be male. A female Christian would be dealt with in the same way as a male Christian in the case of sin.
Let’s read the entire passage from the New Living Translation:
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 New Living Translation)
Now there is nothing here that specifies men have to be involved in steps one and two. Of course, men can be involved, but there is nothing to indicate it is a requirement. Certainly, Jesus makes no specification about involving men in positions of oversight, older men or elders. But what is particularly interesting is the third step. If the sinner does not listen after two efforts to bring him or her to repentance, then the entire church or congregation or the local assembly of the children of God are to sit down with the person in an effort to reason things out. This would require that both men and women be present.
We can see how loving this arrangement is. Take as an example a young man who has engaged in fornication. At stage three of Matthew 18, he will find himself facing the entire congregation, not only the men, but the women as well. He will receive counsel and exhortation from both the male and the female perspective. How much easier will it be for him to fully understand the consequences of his conduct when he gets the viewpoint of both sexes. For a sister facing the same situation, how much more comfortable and secure will she feel if women are also present.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reinterpret this counsel to take the matter before the whole congregation to mean before a committee of three older men, but there is absolutely no basis for taking that position. Just like they do with Barak and Deborah, they are recrafting Scripture to suit their own doctrinal position. This is pure vanity, plain and simple. As Jesus puts it:
“It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.” (Matthew 15:9)
It is said that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. The pudding that is the Jehovah’s Witness judicial system has a very bitter taste, and is poisonous. It has resulted in untold pain and hardship for thousands and thousands of individuals who have been abused, some to the point where they took their own lives. This is not a recipe designed by our loving Lord. There is, to be sure, another Lord who has designed this particular recipe. If Jehovah’s Witnesses had obeyed Jesus’ instructions and included women in the judicial process, particularly in step three, just imagine how much more loving the treatment of sinners within the congregation would have turned out to be.
There is yet another example of men altering the Bible to fit their own theology and confirm the dominant role of men in the congregation.
The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which according to Strong’s Concordance means: “a messenger, one sent on a mission, an apostle, envoy, delegate, one commissioned by another to represent him in some way, especially a man sent out by Jesus Christ Himself to preach the Gospel.”
In Romans 16:7, Paul sends his greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are outstanding among the apostles. Now Junia in Greek is a woman’s name. It is derived from the name of the pagan goddess Juno to whom women prayed to help them during childbirth. The New World Translation substitutes “Junias” for “Junia”, which is a made-up name not found anywhere in classical Greek literature. Junia, on the other hand, is common in such writings and always refers to a woman.
To be fair to the translators of the Witness Bible, this literary sex-change operation is performed by many Bible translators. Why? One must assume that male bias is at play. Male church leaders just cannot stomach the idea of a female apostle.
Yet, when we look at the meaning of the word objectively, is it not describing what we would today call a missionary? And do we not have female missionaries today? So, what is the problem?
We have evidence that women served as prophets in Israel. Besides Deborah, we have Miriam, Huldah, and Anna (Exodus 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14; Judges 4:4, 5; Luke 2:36). We have also seen women acting as prophets in the Christian congregation during the first century. Joel predicted this. In citing his prophesy, Peter said:
‘“And in the last days,” God says, “I will pour out some of my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams, and even on my male slaves and on my female slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17, 18)
We have now seen evidence, both in Israelite and in Christian times, of women serving in a judicial capacity, acting as prophets, and now, there is evidence pointing to a female apostle. Why should any of this cause a problem for the males in the Christian congregation?
Perhaps it has to do with the tendency we have of trying to establish authoritative hierarchies within any human organization or arrangement. Perhaps men view these things as an encroachment on the authority of the male.
The whole issue of leadership within the Christian congregation will be the subject of our next video.
Thank you for your financial support and your words of encouragement.
Being a man, I actually feel warm and comfortable seeing women put in their right place. In my letter to the Dutch branch and GB, I actually did suggest that based on Scriptural precedents like these, a woman can be part of a Judicial Committee (still chaired by a man) or at least advice them. It’s so sad how people can be stubborn to stick to their traditions and habits, rather than applying new lessons learned. Very much like politics and as Scripture says somewhere “always learning but never coming to an accurate knowledge”.
Hi Eric. Thank you (and not only) for this series of videos about women in congregations, which is excellent and very necessary. Women are beautiful and in congregation are irreplaceable for their qualities that men do not have. After all, they form an integral part of God’s creation called Man. Because a simple equation applies: MAN = man + woman. They are equally valuable in God’s eyes. An explanation of Genesis 2:18 using the words “neged, ezer” is already in my archive :-). Also the analysis of Judges 4: 6-9 and others are very good. I have only a small… Read more »
Correction. Greek intrelinears present this name as “Iounian”. I did a little research in publications about Roman names. The wording Junia is possible for female name and thus Junia and Junian could be the same. So I think the woman-apostle’s name could be – she, Junia or Junian. I am imperfect man only 🙂
Thank you, Frankie. I based that part of the video on research obtained from the book Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament
I read my comment again and realized a little inaccuracy. I wrote: “An explanation of Genesis 2:18 using the words “neged, ezer” is already in my archive”. I meant: I’ve already put your explanation into my archive. You know, English is not my native language :-).
Why do I learn more about the Bible from your video’s than I do at the Meetings?
Merci Eric. Pendant des décennies j’ai eu l’impression que la WT mettait les femmes au niveau des enfants et même en dessous des enfants. Quand vous avez un tout jeune adolescent qui fait la prière pour un groupe alors que des soeurs matures spirituellement et physiquement doivent se taire, c’était choquant. De même lorsqu’une mère ne peut même pas prier chez elle devant son enfant baptisé. L’enfant est mis au dessus de sa mère. Je ne crois pas qu’on rendait service à ce jeune pour cultiver l’humilité et respecter l’enseignement de sa mère. Heureusement, que nous les femmes, nous avons… Read more »
Thank you, Fani.
Hi Eric. Thank you for acknowledging the meaning of Woman is not man with a womb. My dictionary suggests the word is from Old English, and means wife of man. I enjoyed the rest of the article very much. Interesting that the Insight book does not refer to Barak as a judge, at least under the section “Barak”. I look forward to seeing what you have to say about 1 Tim 2:11 “Let a woman learn in silence”. While there is nothing to indicate that women could be used in a priestly capacity, it is only due to bias and… Read more »
Thank you Eric for your well thought out and researched articles. I will use this series in particular to help my wife who is slowly waking up to the “truth about the Truth”.
Let us know how it goes, please.