Quartz Hill School of Theology

Is Barefoot and Pregnant God's Plan For Women?

R.P. Nettelhorst

To hear most fundamentalists talk, God has established certain roles for the woman in the marriage relationship, and these roles are to be understood practically as:

1) Slave

Any housework that is to be done is to be done by the woman. It is not the man's place to wash the dishes, mop the floors, clean the toilets, do the laundry, change the diapers or any of the other tasks that need to be done to keep a household functioning.

2) Child raiser

Caring for the children is exclusively the role of the mother, except that fathers are supposed to take the boys to ball games and teach them sports, along with other masculine activities like wood working, auto repairing, belching, and the like.

3) Homebody

The wife must sit at home while the husband makes all the money; perhaps, if the children are grown, the wife might get a part time job, so long as her income is less than her husband's, and so long as it is less prestigious as well.

While this may be the popular view among conservative Christians, a view endowed with a status of divinely blessed appropriateness, the reader of the Bible would be hard pressed to discern that this is the ordained scriptural picture of things. In fact, one might even suggest that fundamental Christianity has raised cultural tradition to the status of the divinely inspired, and then searched scripture after the fact to "prove" the already assumed position.


There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

One of the most remarkable things about this verse is the reaction to it by those who insist that women are to have a subservient role. Look at the reaction of the author of a pamphlet on the role of women, typical of the conservative position:

Equality of being before God does not require the elimination of all role distinctions in society.

Equality of being does not rule out authority and submission in relationships. We could point to many examples of relationships in which there is equality and yet a difference in roles involving authority and submission - the Trinity; the President and U.S. citizens; parents and children; employers and employees; elders and church members. (The Role of Women, Grace Community Church, 1985, p. 14)

Ignoring the problems with some of their examples (especially with the Trinity and their understanding of American democracy), consider the import of the statement: that theology really has no practical significance - in this case. Or more specifically, it has no significance on the male/female relationship. The elimination of slavery and the elimination of the racial superiority inherent in early Jewish-Christian relationships with gentiles is laudable and appropriate, but when it comes to women - it doesn't really mean they're equal.

The thoughtful reader might be wanting to object at this point: "Isn't the wife supposed to be subject to her husband? I seem to recall a passage of scripture..."

Perhaps a look at the passage in question would be helpful.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Church - for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:21-30)

It is instructive, in this light, to notice two other passages which have profound impact on the subject, though they are rarely considered:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:3-4)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Also notice two other instructive passages:

Jesus called them together and said "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Interesting picture considering husband and wife should relate to each other as Christ does to the Church. Leadership in the Christian setting, the concept of the husband being the head of the wife, must be understood in the light of what Jesus said about the nature of leadership. The one who leads is servant of all, and what is entailed by that is illustrated well by the incident where Jesus washed the disciple's feet. Love does not mean that you make others do stuff for you; love means that you do stuff for them - and without expecting anything back in return!

Regarding the conservative idea of how bad it is if women work outside the house, since they're supposed to take care of the children - consider common statements like this, illustrating the position:

The biblical pattern for raising and instructing children in God's truths was established in Deuteronomy 6 where children are to be taught by parents "when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." Parents are responsible for the spiritual education of their children, and mothers who work full-time outside their homes usually lack the quality time to instruct their children adequately. Nor can the responsibility for this instruction simply be transferred to someone else. (The Role of Women, p.10)

An interesting switch here from "parents" to "mothers". And the whole premise is wrong besides. Biblically there is very little said about the role of mothers in the raising of children - though a lot is said on mothers bearing them. But the raising of children was the work of fathers. The passage in Deuteronomy just quoted above, Deuteronomy 6:6, is written to men - not women. In Hebrew there are four forms of the pronoun "you" available: masculine singular, masculine plural, feminine singular, feminine plural. Guess which is used in Deuteronomy 6:6? Masculine singular. Women aren't even being addressed!

Moreover, if the reader were to look in a concordance under the words "father" and its related forms and the word "mother" and its related form, he or she would discover the following (from a computer search):

1612 occurrences of the word "father", "father's" or "fathers".

Only 338 occurrences of the word "mother", "mother's" or "mothers".

Fathers seem to be discussed more frequently. Moreover, one will discover, in looking at the word "mother" that in most contexts the mother is either bearing or nursing the children; little is said of a mother's role beyond that.

Look at Ephesians 6:4 as an example:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

It is mothers and fathers both who are to be obeyed (Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1-3), not one more than the other.

It was David who was criticized for how he raised Adonijah, not Adonijah's mother:

His father had never interfered with him by: asking, "Why do you behave as you do?" He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom. (1 Kings 1:6)

In a similar vein see 1 Sam. 3:13 (Eli), 1 Sam. 8:3 (Samuel), Luke 15:12-13 (the prodigal son).

Notice that it is the men raising children in Prov. 13:24, 19:18, 23:13, 22:6, and 1 Tim. 3:4.

Regarding women working outside the house, notice 2 Cor. 12:14:

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Notice "parents" are saving for their children, not just the father.

Perhaps most disturbing of all for the male chauvinists would be finding out how the ministry of Jesus and his disciples was financed:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3)

Consider all the women of the Bible working outside the home:

1. The mighty woman of Proverbs 31 (she has children!)

2. Ruth gleaning grain (Ruth 2)

3. Deborah, judge of Israel (Judges 4:4, 5:7)

4. Lydia, seller of purple (Acts 16:14-15)

5. Priscilla, a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3)

6. Wisdom, personified as a woman, is active in the creation of the world (Prov. 8:27-31)

Regarding the odd statement quoted above, "Nor can the responsibility for this instruction [of children] simply be transferred to someone else [other than the mother]," perhaps the authors of the pamphlet chose to ignore the work of nurses and servants as mentioned in both New and Old Testaments? (cf. Gen. 24:59, 35:8, Ex. 2:7-9, Num. 11:12, 2 Sam. 4:4, 2 Kings 11:2-3, 2 Chron. 22:11). We perhaps shouldn't even mention Samuel being raised in the temple by the priests (1 Samuel 1-2)...

Of course there are those who might argue that the only reason women want to work outside the home, get careers and the like, is because the feminist movement has filled them with wrong-headed dreams and aspirations. Those darn feminists are the ones who've made women unhappy and dissatisfied with their "proper, God-given roles" in the home.

Uh huh.

Like the slave holders of a different era, who complained that "If it weren't for those durn abolitionists filling the niggers with wool-headed ideas they wouldn't be near the trouble; getting them all riled up about liberty and equality and who knows what other gosh durn foolishness!"

The reason a woman might like a career and be dissatisfied fulfilling the role of a slave is because she is a human being, created in the image of God, with the same common ideals and aspirations, hopes and fears, that fill the male half of humanity, since woman, too, is as much a part of humanity as man:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)

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