Session 8 - The Single Woman and the Role of Women in the Church
An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the
Lords affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.
But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world how
she can please her husband. I Corinthians 7:34
- The church and the single woman.
- Some may find it surprising how much the scriptures emphasize
the single woman in her role in the church (I Timothy 5:3 16, I
Corinthians 7:8 24).
- Many women who played a prominent role in the New Testament were
apparently single (e.g. Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Dorcas
- Single women have always played a critical role in the work of
the church (from the widows of Timothy through many single women noted
for their spirituality during the Middle Ages [such as Teresa of Avila]
to many single women in the church today who are looked to for leadership
and guidance by other women).
- The importance of the single woman escapes us primarily because of
our focus upon the nuclear family (which in the church is a relatively
- Analysis of Passages Relating to Single Women in the Church.
- I Timothy 5:3 16 and the widows.
- The passage addresses the problem of the vulnerability of widows
and the issue of enrollment.
- The true widow or the real widow is probably
a widow in need who has no one to help her. (see v. 5:16)
- Honor (proper recognition) of these women is to come in the form
of respect, considerate treatment and financial assistance, for they
have undergone an extreme test of their faith. If, on the other hand,
she copes with her loss by focusing on wealth and a self-indulgent
lifestyle (v. 6) then she is spiritually dead.
- The provision of assistance, however, is first to come from the
family. (v. 7, 8) In fact, one of the major reasons for Pauls
discussion is to clarify for the church which widows should be supported
from church funds.
- In vs. 9 and 10, the probable best reading is that the enrollment
is not for financial assistance, but rather for some type of service
which requires experience and trustworthiness. (Perhaps a role of
women who taught the younger women as indicated in Titus 2:3
5.) Enrollment clearly is related to some type of service rendered
by these women (the word suggests enrollment for a purpose).
- The enrolled widows were widows (probably in need) who were over
60 (and who probably would not remarry), who were committed to service
(v. 10). The characteristics suggest that she was independently a
person known for her service (and not just as a mother). The emphasis,
however appears to be upon the commitment required for Christian service
and the difficulty in maintaining that commitment. True widows (those
who qualify for financial assistance) should not necessarily be equated
with enrolled widows (those singled out for service).
- Exclusion of the younger widows from enrollment (vs. 11
13) probably relates to problems with enrollment previously (v. 15).
- A key point, frequently overlooked, is that single women (in this
case older widows) may be uniquely qualified to render service to
- Titus 2:3 5 and the teaching younger women.
- This passage is not addressed specifically to widows, but given
that it is addressed to older women, it can reasonably be included
- Once again, the setting of this passage is advice of Paul to Titus
regarding a series of pastoral problems which had arisen among the
local churches of Crete. The specific problem was that the congregations
were not properly organized to resist the inroads made by unorthodox
teachers who were ruining whole households (v. 1:11).
- The advice regarding women is set in a section of the letter providing
advice to various groups (older men, young men, slaves).
- The contrast between reverent and slanderous (v. 3) is key. Reverent
suggests the demeanor of those who handle holy things in a holy way
and slanderers suggest the devil.
- The older women are to teach what is good (probably by verbal teaching
as well as practical example), especially about responsibilities at
home. Perhaps Paul is saying that domestic virtues depend for transmission
from one generation to the next upon adequate communication and instruction
from mother to daughter.
- The controversy regarding this passage is the translation of the
Greek word oikouros which is rendered keepers at home
in the KJV and busy at home in the NIV. Some have suggested
that this means women are to stay at home and therefore
their work is at home. Workers at home or domestic
is probably a better rendering.
- I Corinthians 7:8 24
- Paul is responding to specific questions forwarded to him by the
Corinthians in Chapter 7. The context of the passage probably derives
from questions related to the proper use of liberty in Christ, specifically
questions regarding behaviors of super-spiritual Christians
who had used their freedom in Christ such that they had defiled their
bodies and souls (vs. 6:12, 13, 19, 20).
- This passage is addressed to both men and women and the thrust
of the passage does not significantly discriminate between the instructions
given to men and women. The passage is addressed to both the single
and the married. We will concentrate on the instructions to single
women, but we should recognize that in no way does Paul condemn marriage.
- Few can challenge the thrust of Pauls specific instructions
to the Corinthians who were widowed or virgins; namely, if they were
in the state of being single, they should strive to remain that way.
- Pauls general instruction is that freedom in Christ permits
one to refrain from certain states and behaviors which may hinder
ones full participation in the work of the Lord. Notice the
use of the word good [or kalos in Greek] in 7:1, 8 and 26. This word
does not mean morally good but rather denotes a commendable attitude
of restraint in ones behavior. Paul is therefore not commanding
the Corinthians but rather encouraging them to a preferred state.
- Many commentators suggest that Paul was speaking specifically regarding
the difficult times Christians faced and therefore felt that the single
state was more appropriate for the battle Christians must wage in
a world where the Christian would be persecuted (vs. 26 31).
- Others suggest that Paul is responding to the super-spiritual
aesthetics in Corinth (who may have identified with Pauls
single state) and that, though, he agrees that the single state is
preferred, he does not recommend it generally and fully expects that
most Christians will marry (vs.2, 9).
- Pauls instructions to singles (and for our purposes single
- The usual state is one of marriage and faithfulness
in marriage (v. 2). Within the married state, sexual intercourse
should not be limited, except by mutual consent (vs. 3
- To Paul, however, the single state is preferred. (vs. 1,6,7).
- To strive, if one is an unmarried widow or virgin, to remain
in the unmarried state (vs. 1,7,8, 40).
- If one separates from ones husband, either return to
him or remain in the unmarried state. (v. 11) (We cannot address
in this series of lessons the Biblical injunctions regarding marriage
and divorce. Nevertheless, we need to consider this verse in light
of the general context of the passage, i.e. it is better to be
in the single state.)
- Remain in the place in life to which God has called you. (vs.
- If one is a virgin, it is best to remain in this state due
to the present crisis (of course, this is not the only reason
that one may elect to remain a virgin). (vs. 25, 26) The unmarried
should not look for a spouse. (vs. 27)
- The unmarried woman is concerned about the Lords affairs,
the married woman about how to please her husband. (vs. 34, 35)
- The church and the single woman.
- The status of and instructions to single women in the New
Testament exceeds to a considerable extent the emphasis placed upon the
single woman in the church today.
- The teachings of Paul regarding the value of being single have been
under emphasized by the church for at least two reasons.
- The Protestant church during the Reformation reacted against the
monastic life and therefore reacted against a life which did not value
marriage and the family.
- The church has become a powerful support for the nuclear family
in a society where divorce, the homosexual life style, sexual activity
outside marriage and child abuse/neglect are increasingly visible.
- The church would do well to attend to the New Testament teachings which:
- Dont value the married state over the single state.
- Recognize and encourage the unique contributions which single women
can provide to the church.
- Work to recognize and organize women so they may be of greater
service to the church.
- Women (and men for that matter) who become divorced or widowed should
not rush too quickly to regain the married state. Such women are not morally
wrong if the seek to be remarried but they are encouraged to consider
how they might be uniquely situated to serve the Lord while single. In
other words, being single provides a freedom to women in their service
to the Lord.
- The church has a responsibility to single women (especially widows
and perhaps the divorced) who cannot care for themselves financially and
who cannot rely upon their families. Families, however, have the first
responsibility and the church should teach this responsibility.
- Moore MD: The widows in I Tim. 5:3 16, in Osburn CD
(ed.): Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity (Volume1). Joplin, MO, College
Press, 1993 pp. 321 366.
- Helton SN: Titus 2:5 Must women stay at home?, Osburn CD (ed.):
Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity (Volume1). Joplin, MO, College Press,
1993 pp. 367 376.
- Lightfoot NR: The Role of Women: New Testament Perspectives. Memphis, TN,
Student Association Press, 1978.
- Scanzoni L, Hardesty N: All Were Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach
to Womens Liberation. Waco, TX, Word, 1974.