Women in the Old Testament
After concentrating on the New Testament for the past few years, this year I’ve decided to read through the Old Testament (OT). So far I’ve read Genesis, very slowly, and I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that, overall, there is a distinct difference in how women are perceived and described in Genesis, and a few other OT narratives, to how women are perceived and described in the New Testament.
For example, what do these OT women all have in common? The daughters of humans (Gen 6:2), Sarah (Gen 12:11,14), Rebekah (Gen 24:16), Rachel (Gen 29:17), Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:2), Tamar (2 Sam 13:1; 14:27), Esther (Esth 2:7) and Job’s daughters (Job 42:15).
All these OT women, and others, are primarily, or initially, described as being beautiful. The implication of this beauty—and this implication is far from subtle in a few texts—is that the most important attribute of these women was their desirability to men, either as a wife or simply for sex (cf. Deut. 21:11). The talents, intelligence, character, or piety of these women are not described.
Generally speaking, it seems that the highest quality a young woman could possess in that culture was beauty. Beauty, with virginity, gave a woman a greater chance of making a good marriage. And a good marriage was her best chance for happiness.
Once married, a woman’s fertility became all-important. The grief and disgrace of barrenness was profoundly felt by infertile women. So severe was the shame of infertility, that barrenness was considered a curse. Yet it was an affliction that several OT women faced. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah were all initially infertile.
Beauty, virginity, and fertility were considered important qualities for women. The OT, however, is not without warnings about the potential dangers, deception, and superficiality of female beauty (Prov 6:25; 31:30). And, to be fair, Joseph, David, Absalom, and other men are also described as beautiful in the OT (Gen 39:6; 1 Sam 16:12; 17:42; 2 Sam 14:25). The difference is that, while more than a few women are described only by their looks, at least initially, the men are described in other ways too.
Women in the New Testament
So, how many New Testament (NT) women are described as being beautiful?
None. Not one.
Moreover, Paul and Peter dissuade women from concentrating on their appearance. Instead, they encourage women to focus on their character and good works. Admittedly, their instructions were given mainly to wealthy married women, and not to potential brides.
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (NIV 2011) [More on this passage here.]
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV 2011) [More on this passage here.]
Women in the New Testament are mentioned primarily in reference to their faith and ministry, and not at all in terms of their beauty or marriageability. We simply do not know whether any NT woman was particularly good-looking, or not.
Moreover, many NT women, especially in Paul’s letters, are not mentioned in connection with a male relative. This is unlike OT women who were typically identified as either a wife, daughter, mother, or sister of a certain man. We don’t even know the marital status of several NT women. Were Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Martha, Lydia, Nympha or Phoebe married? Possibly not. (This calls into question the specious doctrine that women need some sort of spiritual “covering” from a man.)
Philip the Evangelist had four daughters who were not married. While we are given their family connection to a male relative, their father, the four daughters are described in terms of their ministry: they prophesied (Acts 21:9). Paul recommended singleness and celibacy so that people could minister with undivided devotion (1 Cor 7:32-35).
Some NT women were married, but we don’t know whether they were mothers. Was Priscilla a mother? Or Joanna? In the cases of women who are identified as mothers, their motherhood is usually not emphasised. For example, Paul mentions the grandmother and mother of Timothy in terms of their faith and teaching (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15; cf. Acts 16:1). And Mary, the mother of John Mark is mentioned in reference to her home where the Jerusalem church often met (Acts 12:12-14). Apart from Timothy and John Mark, however, we don’t know whether Eunice and Mary had other children.
Many NT women displayed great faith and devotion, and many were involved in significant ministry. The writers of the NT saw Christian women as more than wives and mothers; they regarded them as sisters in the faith and colleagues in ministry.
Christian Women Today
Some contemporary churches hold to a view of women that has more in common with the view found in the OT rather than in the NT, and their ideology of the status and of the possible roles of women does not take into consideration the New Covenant ideal of equality. New Covenant women have the same potential as their brothers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ, and to be sharers in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4). Furthermore, both Christian men and women can represent Jesus Christ in ministry.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first Christian believers and the Church was born, the Spirit equipped both men and women to be ministers (Acts 2:17-18). The Holy Spirit also brought unity by dispelling cultural prejudices and by fostering a casteless Christianity. I suggest that Christians who divide the church along gender lines and place restrictions on what women can be and can do, simply because of their gender, may be working against the Holy Spirit. Equality, or mutuality, is a fruit of the Spirit.
God tolerated patriarchy in the past, and he continues to tolerate it to some degree, but patriarchy is not God’s ideal. The rule of men over women came as a consequence of the Fall. Jesus came, however, to deal with the consequences of the Fall. We must look to the New Testament and the New Covenant to see how Jesus wants men and women to be regarded and treated. Jesus taught and entrusted certain women with the message of the gospel. And Paul valued and respected certain women as his fellow ministers. [See footnote 7.]
In Old Testament times, the community of God’s people grew and expanded, primarily, through procreation. So biological mothers and fathers were needed. In the New Covenant, the community of God’s people grows and expands through the ministries of evangelism and disciple-making. So spiritual mothers and fathers are needed.
Does your church equally encourage both men and women in Christian service? Or does your church mostly encourage women to be wives and mothers? Does your church trust gifted and godly women, as well as men, with the message and ministry of the gospel? Or does your church prefer men to function in these ministries? Does your church have an Old Testament view of men and women, or a New Testament view?
 Not all women in the Hebrew Bible are described only by their looks. For example, Abigail is described as beautiful and intelligent (1 Sam 25:3). The wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah and the wise woman of Tekoa are identified as being wise. “Wise woman” may have been a title of these women who were probably living repositories of oral lore and leaders in their communities. Furthermore, Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah, are described by their prophetic ministries. The domestic situation of female leaders (wise women and prophetesses) as well as their looks, is not highlighted. Nevertheless, a considerable number of women in the Hebrew Bible are primarily, or initially, described as beautiful.
 Elizabeth could be included in this list because she was alive before Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant.
 Here is a list of the beautiful people in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
 The once-popular idea, that a Christian woman needs the spiritual covering of a male has no biblical basis. The two passages that were used to support this idea are 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and Ruth chapter 3. In Ruth 3, Ruth follows the instructions of her mother-in-law and secretly goes to Boaz at night in order to effectively propose marriage to Boaz so that she and Naomi may be redeemed. This incident in the OT has no practical or cultural relevance to a 21st-century Christian woman. Moreover, the Bible tells of several occasions where God, or an angel, or a prophet spoke directly to a woman and bypassed husbands or male guardians. [My article on Bible Women with Spiritual Authority here. Articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.]
 Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual ministry gifts (1 Cor 14:1 cf. Acts 2:17-18). And he did not prohibit women from prophesying (or praying aloud) in congregational meetings (1 Cor 11:5). [More about prophetic Bible women here.]
 Parenthood is an important role that should not be minimised. Most people, however, do not restrict men to the role of a parent. Similarly, we should not restrict women to the role of being a parent. The New Testament writers did not view New Covenant women primarily as wives and mothers. [My article Is motherhood the highest calling for a woman? is here.]
 The following are all the women mentioned by Paul in his letters: Apphia (Phlm 1:2), Claudia (2 Tim 4:21), Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Euodia (Php 4:2), Julia (Rom 16:15), Junia (Rom 16:7), Lois and Eunice (2 Tim 1:5), Mary (Rom 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Rom 16:15), Nympha (Col 4:15), Persis (Rom 16:12), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), Priscilla (Rom 6:3-5); 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19), Rufus’ mother (Rom 16:13), Syntyche (Php 4:2), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12). These women were actively involved in significant ministry, some as leaders. A list of the 29 people in Romans 16:1-16, including 10 women, is here.
 Paul’s very basic instructions regarding young women in Crete, who seem to have been inadequate wives and mothers, cannot be taken as a prohibition of women in ministry (Tit 2:4-5). Similarly, Paul’s instruction to young widows in Ephesus, who were being idle and foolish, also cannot be taken as a prohibition of women in ministry (1 Tim 5:11). While Paul recommended marriage and domesticity for certain young women in certain churches, elsewhere Paul recommends singleness and Christian service (1 Cor 7:34).
 Paul referred to women, as well as men, as colleagues (co-workers): Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:3-5a); Urbanus (Rom 16:9); Timothy (Rom 16:21); Titus (2 Cor 8:23); Epaphroditus (Php 2:25) Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Phil 4:3); Aristarchus, Mark and Justus (Col 4:10-11); Philemon (Phlm 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phlm 24).
 The church needs to realise that the two verses that seem to prohibit women from speaking and teaching are not as clear as they seem in English translations, and these verses do not express a biblical consensus on the matter of women in ministry. There are numerous interpretations and applications regarding 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Articles on these verses are here and here.
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All my articles on Old Testament women are here.
Is motherhood the highest calling for women?
A List of the Beautiful People in the Hebrew Bible
“Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?
Paul’s Instructions for Modest Dress (1 Tim. 2:9)
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Women, Teaching, and Deception
Many women leaders in the Bible had this one thing in common
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
37 thoughts on “Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry”
It is my opinion that the lack of mentioning of a woman’s children in the NT was because the intention of women’s lives changed from being primarily child bearers to being Holy women of God useful in the Kingdom.
Thanks TL. If people don’t want to read my whole article, they can just read your comment. It amounts to about the same.
Great article. Thank you so much. We’re any of the women allowed to join a ministry or start a ministry if they were divorced? Were they treated differently?
Divorce was not uncommon in the first century among both Jews and Gentiles, but we simply don’t know if women such as Lydia, Phoebe, Nympha, and others who seem to be single, were widowed or divorced.
The New Testament also doesn’t tell us whether divorced people were excluded from some ministries or treated differently. Rather, Paul encourages gifted people to join in and participate in ministry and he rarely mentions marital status.
Paul does mention marital status, however, in 1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12, 5:9, and Titus 1:6: “husband of one wife” or “wife of one husband.” I believe these four verses are about men and women who were functioning in some kind of recognised or official ministry. I discuss this ministry qualification here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/ Check the footnotes too.
Towards the end of the first century, some parts of the church became puritanical and didn’t even allow ministers (bishops, presbyters, and deacons) to marry after being widowed. And some canons (rules) in the early church also prohibited married ministers from having sex with their own spouse. The preference was that ministers not be married at all! Some ideas back then were very different from ideas today.
The church has been tough on divorced people, rather than compassionate. And I can’t see any reason for a godly and gifted person not to minister just because they have been divorced.
My understanding is that divorce was quite common in the first century among Romans. If Paul had strong ideas about excluding divorced people (especially people divorced before becoming a believer) from ministry you would think he would have said so directly, because there would have been some divorced people in the Body. But the word is apparently never mentioned outside of Jesus’ words, which seem to be about divorcing your wife SO THAT you can marry someone else, like the guy who divorces the mother of his children so he can marry his mistress. I don’t think Jewish culture even had a problem with remarriage in general.
I agree with the implications of your discussion as a general statement.
I see the Genesis, etc. stories of the OT as speaking inside the culture that existed at that time, so I do not see the “beauty” statements there as negatives.
Today we have fertility treatments, OB/GYN specialists, and a lot of potential help for getting pregnant and birthing a healthy baby; but this was much less so in ancient times, pregnacy was a way to die (and still is, but very much reduced today) so that many older women got to live that long because they stopped having kids or avoided it altogether and the Roman empire therefore created laws to encourage procreation.
We also live in the times of the “green revolution” where there has been a massive increase in food production due to science. In ancient times, the expectation was that one grain was planted to produce 4, the famers ate 3 and saved one to plant the next year. But every year had the potential for famine and such shows up in books in the Bible, both OT and NT. In other words, fertility of both the crops and domesticated animals and people was a very real life or death concern to ancient peoples.
I don’t see the beauty statements as negative, just limited.
In Abigail’s case, she was described as beautiful and wise. Nice! But for most of the other women, the description stops at “beautiful.” And I believe there are more important qualities than beauty. I am wondering, though, whether in a few cases the adjective “beautiful” could also be translated as “fine,” as in an overall goodness.
I’m not sure why the women were initially fertile, except perhaps to show God’s later providence, but being barren was more than heartbreaking in those days.
“The barren women in the Bible seems to signify a promise delayed: The promise of a better, fruitful future that is worth the wait and the present frustrations, disappointments and sufferings.”
I have a complete list of the people described as beautiful in the Bible here.
Both women and men are called beautiful in the Bible. I see it as a part of God’s artistry, to be celebrated, but also not be be over-emphasized.
True, both men and women are called beautiful in the OT (not in the NT), but none of the patriarchs in Genesis are called beautiful. And the women are rarely described as anything but being beautiful.
I think “beautiful” has the implicit meaning of “sex appeal” in most occurrences. There are a few notable exceptions: David and Moses, etc. Even Joseph’s beauty is described in the same passage where Potiphar’s wife tries to get him to sleep with her.
VERY interesting insights! Thanks for posting them!
“Does your church recommend, and speak positively, about singleness for Christian men and women?”
Our church is VERY family focussed to the point that it has “family worship” in its name. Last Sunday Fathers were emphasized, and told to hold hands with their wife and children. They were also reminded that they are the priests of their home.
As this was going on, my husband was outside breaking his heart over stresses of life (new business, providing for family…). One woman whose son is very poorly with mental health issues wandered around looking for someone to join hands with. Widows stood alone, as did mothers whose husbands were absent that day. They were the majority compared to complete family units. It broke my heart to witness it so I went and held hands with a couple of lonely women.
I came across a quote the other day which I really want to blog about. It’s regarding how families, as important as they are, (I myself am a wife and mother), are raised above the greatest commandment and commission in life.
Great blog and post Marg!!!!
Hi Geraldine, That sounds awful!
My last church had a mission statement that went something like: “To reach families in the local area.” I expressed my concerns about this a few times. One of my friends even used their mission statement in a Bible college assignment about how many local churches do not consider the situations and needs of older singles in the communities. In real life, however, my church was very good at accepting and caring for everyone.
My present church does not seem to promote marriage or family over singleness. But I think all churches could be speaking more positively about being single.
Have you had a look at this: https://margmowczko.com/is-motherhood-the-highest-calling-for-women/
There is one section in the OT which gives advice on what a good wife is: a woman whose main attributes are her character, not her looks. I’m thinking of Proverbs 31… which specifically mentions that “charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised”, and which, significantly, is advice given by a MOTHER to her son. The fact that such sound advice did not come through a father should be a reality check to those who think fathers always have the last word on Godly wisdom.
I have written about King Lemuel’s mother here:
This is a strong delineation, Marg. I have observed the ‘beautiful’ thing before, but not in this context. Clearly, NT sees women differently.
And in response to a previous comment about ‘beauty’ being art and men were seen as beautiful too… that wasn’t the defining point about them. their whole stories were told…
[From a facebook comment, which I thought might be better here. The examples here are off the top of my head and could include misteaks].
This is an interesting survey, but I disagree that the overarching point of women in the OT is sexuality and that the portrayal of women is fundamentally different from the NT. The point of the stories of the Patriarchs is ultimately to demonstrate the lineage of the Jewish nation and the kings, leading to Messiah. Obviously, fertility and beauty are important to that. But Proverbs 31 and Song of Solomon, two of the most female-centric passages of the OT both celebrate the intelligence and virtues of women in addition to (possibly even over) their sexual desirability, and the women had at least some role in writing them. Among the Patriarchs, the stories of Jacob and Esau’s inheritance, Abraham and Sarah, and especially Moses and Gomer clearly show women heavily involved in familial decision making, for better and worse. The prophets chide women for focusing on sexual desirability to the detriment of virtue.
The commands against intermarriage are not based on sexual ability or even tainting the “holy line” – it’s all about virtue and spiritual influence. Foreign women who are virtuous (or become so) who intermarry are commended (Ruth, Rahab). And Esther is beautiful, yes, but do we really think it’s her sexual desirability that makes her stand out to a king who can have any number of sex slaves? Rather, from the infrequency of their being alone together, it seems that she was prized for something else.
Finally, Jacob wanted to be buried with Leah…not the beautiful Rachel. The thread of women being created to be “helpers” and not merely possessions is definitely subtle and often implicit in the Old Testament, and the Jews certainly were too paternalistic. But I think the message is intensified and clarified in the New Testament, rather than a totally different take on women.
The word or concept of “sexuality” covers a lot of things, including being able to provide an heir. It does not necessarily mean or imply being saucy or “sexy”. The Old Testament presents women overall in a positive light. Many OT women were courageous and smart, some were leaders and prophetesses, but there is still a highlighting of a woman’s beauty, virginity and/or fertility when it comes to marriage which is absent after Pentecost.
As for Esther: I think it is precisely that there was something about Esther’s sexuality, including her looks, figure, and youth (Esth. 2:7), as well as her character, which made her become queen. She was groomed for her night with the king for a whole year. This grooming probably involved more than just beauty treatments. The whole process of young women being virtually abducted by the king’s officers (Esth. 2:3), confined to his harem and cared for by the king’s eunuch, groomed for 12 months, and then having one night with the king is distasteful, even repulsive, to me; but that’s what happened. Nevertheless, God’s hand was in the choosing of Esther as queen, whatever Xerxes’ motivation.
The New Testament definitely has a whole new take on women
I think Esther is a power inversion story, so it is important to the story that she have little power at the start and shown to be under the power of others, but also show how God is working in the background for those with eyes to see.
Hi Marg. I was wondering why you think God designed it this way. Why God would have whether or not a woman with pretty in the Old Testament, but not the New? Why wouldn’t God just have the women of the Old Testament as well be known by who they were as a person and not just by beauty/how they related to males/marital status, etc.? What changed? Why wasn’t a woman’s true worth known straight from the beginning?
What changed? Everything changed!
Jesus came and dealt with sin. Patriarchy is a consequence of sin (Genesis 3:16).
And the Holy Spirit came to help us become like Jesus, to carry on Jesus’ work, and to help us to live lives where we don’t feel the need to elevate ourselves and domineer or control people, but we lower ourselves, as Jesus did, to humbly serve people.
In the Old Covenant, there were religious restrictions on all women (and many men). In the New Covenant, men and women have the exact same rights, responsibilities, and privileges, much like as at creation before the fall (cf. Genesis 1:26-28).
The worth of women was known at the beginning; then it was compromised by the fall.
Ok cool! Now I have a few questions concerning missionaries.
1. What is the Biblical definition of a missionary?
2. Is every Christian called to be in missions?
3. What is the difference between a disciple and a missionary?
4. Are there any Biblical figures whose title is NOT “missionary”?
The reason I ask is because I’m re-reading this book called Kisses From Katie, and it’s honestly STRESSING me out!! It’s about a woman who dropped her American dream lifestyle at the age of 19 and fled to Uganda to serve there. As inspiring as it is….. I feel so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so incredibly guilty!! I feel like a horrible person because I have no desire to leave America. But at the same time, I also feel like not everybody is called to do what she is doing, so I shouldn’t feel guilty. Do you think this would be correct?
Am I a bad Christian for staying in my cozy first world country? With my air conditioning and electricity and plenty of money? Should I feel guilty all the time for this? I just feel guilty because even though I am not considered “rich” by any means in my city, I am technically very, very wealthy compared to the rest of the world. And it feels wrong to stay here with all of these luxuries when there are people in need, but at the same time, I am in no way ready to be in missions full time. I’m trying to decide a major and what to do with my life and I have never felt SO LOST.
A missionary, or apostle, is someone sent on a mission. It generally involves travelling to a country or community that is different to home, or it may involve pioneering a new kind of ministry. Not all Christians are called to be missionaries or apostles.
Ideally, all Christians should be disciples. Disciples are students dedicated to following Jesus, learning from Jesus, emulating Jesus, being transformed into his likeness and carrying on his work in some way.
We can carry on his work in many small ways every day just by being kind and loving to those around us.
I’ve had many ministries in my life. And they can change with different “seasons.” Some are short-term ministries, some are long term. And there is usually never just one going on at any one time.
Are you involved in any ministry at the moment?
No I am not.
Is there a Christian ministry or organisation near you that you can volunteer at and help out? Is there something you can do for, or at, your church?
It’s often by volunteering and helping out that you discover your ministry gifts and passions.
In the meantime, just be an agent of Jesus in whatever situation you are in.
Oh yeah I guess in that case I am involved in ministry by baby-sitting all the kids at church when the services are going on. I thought you had to be typically overseas in order to have the title “missionary”.
Also, I just feel confused on the Biblical stance on wealth. While I know the Bible says that there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of our labors, the Bible also clearly says that we should not be storing up our material treasures here on earth.
So I feel kind of frustrated when the Bible says two things that seem to be the exact opposite of each other.
How can I enjoy the fruits of my labor when I know that there are so many women across the globe who don’t even have the opportunity to work hard to make a living?
Yeah, being a missionary generally involves travel. (I think I said that.) But it sounds like you don’t want to be a missionary, so just minister/serve where you can.
There are a lot of principles in the Bible where it can be tricky to strike a godly, healthy balance. Principles surrounding money fall into this category. I personally anguish over the fact that many people in the world don’t have the basics. It’s something I pray about every day.
Ok. It’s good to know that I’m not alone with finding a balanced view of money to be a bit tricky! I will thank God for my blessings but also not forget to give to those who don’t even have the opportunity to work and make their lives better. That makes me really upset and I will continue praying for them too.
Thanks again for all your help!
You’re very welcome, Megan.
Megan, I think this may help with the money aspect. Heb. 13:5 says to not love money, but be content with what you have. In addition, 1Tim. 6:7 says not to be arrogant and put your hope in wealth rather than God, who “richly” provides us with all good things. Some people are provided more than others, but we are all instructed to care for the widow and orphan, as well as our own relatives. The Holy Spirit will lead you to work, minister and provide as needed- learn to know his voice. Also, realize that not all giving is helpful. “Casting pearls to the swine” is not helpful as they don’t know what to do with them, so discernment is needed. And back to the “good things”, God does give you good things for enjoyment- it is not a sin to be in a position of wealth or plenty. The sin is when you trust in or covet wealth.
Oops…the Timothy reference should have been 1Tim. 6:17.
I would agree with everything you wrote! It’s the attachment that is wrong, not necessarily having the money/wealth!
Adam and Eve weren’t distracted from worshiping God because of their marriage, or sexual passion and relationships would have not been good instead of being alone declared not good. Everything God made, when used how he made it to be, is worshiping him. Why does Paul think trying to please a spouse is mutually exclusive to serving God, but not enjoying anything else God made? Song of Songs teaches the opposite of what Paul feels about marriage. He does teach that it’s his opinion, not a command from God.
I think Paul should be understood in the cultural context of that time. The Pharisees, for example, taught that a man that did not marry was half a man. Yet the Scriptures they had, showed that there were some unmarried people that served God.
I think Paul is trying to counteract the idea that some people look down on those not married. He points out (correctly) that the unmarried will have more time to serve in the Kingdom of God, simply because they will not have the (God-given) responsibility to take care of their spouse. That is, both can serve in the Kingdom of God and do not look down on another’s situation.
Eric, Paul doesn’t say that pleasing a spouse is mutually exclusive to serving God. And he says nothing about marriage being an impediment to worshipping God. Worship and service are not the same thing.
Paul thought the time was short, that Jesus would return any day. He believed that getting married wasn’t a priority with the new age about to dawn. On the other hand, he warned the Corinthians against singleness as he believed most people would not be able to sustain the single life.
In regard to ministry, Paul rightly recognised that an unmarried person like himself could be devoted to Christian ministry with an undivided devotion. But he never ministered alone. He had helpers.
In 1 Corinthians 7:7 he says, “I wish all people were like me [i.e. single], but each has a particular gift from God: one has this gift, and another has that one.”
In 1 Corinthians 7:35 he says that being single is “not to restrict you but rather to promote effective and consistent service to the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35 CSB).
I’ve written about the context of 1 Corinthians 7:1ff here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-74-in-a-nutshell/
As for Adam and Eve, they seemingly had no one but themselves to minister to. Genesis 5:3 tells us that Adam was 130 years old when he had his third son Seth. So neither Adam or Eve were swamped with either family commitments or ministry commitments. It would have been hard for married couples of child-bearing age to be devoted to ministry as, before the days of contraception, many ordinary women were often pregnant or breastfeeding.
Great article, but I am a big defender of the OT and see the New Covenant all over the place in it. I seem to remember that none of the women leaders/ministers are described by their appearance good or bad. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, the Wise Woman, Proverbs 31 woman, and Ruth’s looks aren’t mentioned, but she has a whole book of the Bible extolling her character, that really has no reason to be there unless the story is spiritually valuable. Yes, Esther was beautiful but the rest of the book is about her cunning and bravery. And frankly, most of the “beauty” mentions are to explain the story, like Sarah and Pharoah, Jacob falling madly in love with Rachel, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (no mention of HER beauty!), and David and Abigail, and Esther being taken to the harem. What happened, happened. And scripture is usually brutally honest. Also people tend to remember when they see someone startlingly beautiful, and then talk about it, just as they would anything. Its only natural. I remember about falling to the floor when I first saw Catherine Zeta Jones in Zorro. I was literally just tonight telling of my college friend who had the most stunning head of red hair I have ever seen. I’m not obsessed with beauty, but I do appreciate it and sometimes remember it. Doesn’t mean I don’t value other qualities more. And the fact that Joseph had so much stunning beauty in his foremothers certainly explains why HE was so beautiful. We should also remember the scripture mercifully never mentions anyone’s ugliness or plainness specifically (depending on how you interpret one line about Leah. And if it IS negative, then again, it is critical info to understand Laban and Jacob’s behavior, it’s not at all gratuitous. People act the way they act, and scripture just records it. If scripture writers were obsessed with outward appearance, they would point out the ugly people too, and have TONS more description. Instead there is almost none. The focus is on relationship with God and the effect on your behavior. Most of the men in the whole Bible are jerks, scripture doesn’t whitewash them, and it never suggests we follow their bad behavior.)
Ordinary people NEVER get in the history books. Women who are “just” wives and mothers are not going to get in anymore than men who are “just” dads and regular hard-working plumbers or low-level congressmen. Only when someone does something remarkable do they get noticed. It’s absolutely not a statement about the value of mothers, dads, or plumbers, who are all critical to everyone. Do you know the name of Margaret Thatcher’s husband? Kamala Harris’? Golda Meir’s? Jean Guyon’s? I don’t, or even if a couple of them married at all! And if you do, it’s probably only because their wives are famous for their own significant accomplishments! Those men aren’t in the history books, or just as a passing mention– less space than Bible women. What is stunning is that there are so many women all over the place, portrayed sympathetically and seriously, and no one in scripture seems to have a problem when they DO rise to prominence. The men in control of transmission of the writings could have left them out.
It doesn’t even tell us what happened to most of the 12 apostles or anything they said or did.
Like I said on another page, I think there may be something a bit more behind the idea of being beautiful or good looking. It may have been a bit more than skin deep.
For some, like Moses and Saul, it may have signified being special. For others, there may also have been an inference of character as ancient people thought that looks indicated character. And for still others, like Esther, being beautiful is an important part of the story.
But it is interesting that women ministers in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament are never described by their appearance or beauty.
I just compiled this list: https://margmowczko.com/beautiful-people-bible/