Carla Unseth

Can a Single Woman be a Biblical Woman?

In my previous blog post, I talked about the uncomfortable inconvenience of single women to our theology of womanhood. I said this because most discussions of womanhood revolve around women in marriage and women in the home. We look at passages like 1 Peter 3 and Colossians 3 and debate what it means for a woman to submit to her husband. We look at passages like 1 Timothy 2 and talk about whether a woman should lead in a church, and what it means to be “saved through childbearing”. We look at passages like Titus 2 and tell women they should work in the home. In many conservative circles, the result of this debate is to say that Biblical womanhood is to work quietly in the home to raise children, and to submit to one’s husband. There is debate over whether this is actually what these passages mean for women, but this blog post isn’t about that debate. Rather, it is about the fact that this conclusion leaves single woman in a place where they can’t actually fulfill “Biblical womanhood”. It means that I, a single mother and missionary, am not a Biblical woman. Of course, anytime I talk to the people who have laid out these conclusions, they agree that it is silly to think that I am not fulfilling Biblical womanhood. So, can a single woman be a Biblical woman?

Of course, the subject of Biblical womanhood is large and hotly debated, and I can’t clear it up in a blog post. But I would like to consider first whether singleness is acceptable, or whether singleness in and of itself, is wrong. I’m guessing that most of you are probably saying, “of course it’s not wrong to be single!” However, you may not be aware of how much the church teaches the opposite. I have been reading the book “The Meaning of Singleness” by Danielle Treweek*, and here are just a few of the quotes that she has found from major church leaders on marriage and singleness:

  • “The Bible elevates marriage, it embraces marriage, and marriage is to be honored and to be preferred.” Mark Driscoll
  • “[The heart of singleness is] escalating self-preoccupation, personal ambition, personal development, personal promotion.” John MacArthur
  • “If you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than get married … marriage is the preferred route to becoming more like him.” Gary Thomas
  • “Deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of Christian responsibility.” Albert Mohler
  • “The most devastating attack on marriage today is coming from singleness. Singleness is an assault on marriage.” John MacArthur

Ouch! As a single person, that hurts. But where do these ideas come from? Many of them are founded in the truths that are indeed found at the very foundation of the earth – in Genesis, and at creation. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Verses 23 and 24 continue, “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” These verses form the foundation for our understanding of marriage. People are not made to be alone. They are made to be joined to another person in marriage. Because marriage was created at the very foundation of the earth, we get the ideas in the Mark Driscoll quote above. Marriage is elevated, embraced, honored, and preferred for Christians. Marriage is always and intrinsically good, while singleness, by deduction, is always and intrinsically bad.

However, this attitude is in contrast to 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul gives a long teaching on marriage and singleness. Apparently, the Corinthian church was struggling with two competing heresies – one was that, in the last days, asceticism was called for and therefore marriage was wrong and only singleness was acceptable. The other was that God’s design was marriage, and therefore singleness was sinful. Paul addresses both of these heresies, saying that either state is desirable, and a person who isn’t married shouldn’t try to get married as a result of following Christ, and a person who is married shouldn’t try to get divorced as a result of following Christ. Paul’s conclusion actually is that both are good, though his personal feeling is that singleness is better. He says in verses 7 and 8, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.” It is hard to understand how Paul can say that singleness is better if our understanding of creation says that singleness is never good.

Clearly there is more to the story than just creation. Yes, creation teaches us that marriage is good, but something has changed by the time of Paul that would cause him to say that singleness is not just good, but preferable. One major change is the fall.

Now, I’m not trying to say that singleness is a result of the fall. That’s not the point. Instead, the point is that there was a fundamental shift in the purpose of humanity that happened as a result of the fall. Before the fall, God gave Adam and Eve a commission. Their commission, found in Genesis 1:28, is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God’s original commission to humans appears to be two basic things – to fill the earth with other humans, and to subdue the earth.

After the fall, however, this commission receives a spiritual aspect as well. At that point, not only is the commission to physically fill the earth, but the commission also is to spiritually fill the earth by bringing people into a right relationship with God. Humanity is now called to be spiritually fruitful and multiply. In the Old Testament, this is done through God’s chosen people – the people of Israel. They are called to be God’s representatives among the nations and to bring other nations to know God. However they aren’t able to complete this commission, and so in the New Testament a new way is provided for people to have spiritual life. This is, of course, through the death of Jesus Christ. By His death, He enabled people to come into right relationship with God. Once they do, they are commissioned to bring others into this relationship as well. This commission is stated in Matthew 28:19-20, which says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So, what does this have to do with marriage and singleness? If God’s commission to humans is purely physical, then it makes sense that a godly woman must participate in this by using her physical capabilities to have children and raise them. Those who cannot get married or raise children are, sadly, deficient. However, the shift to the spiritual commission means a great shift within the purpose of men and women, marriage and singleness. Participation in God’s commission is not dependent on one’s ability to physically fill the earth, but rather on one’s willingness to “take an assignment” from God, so to speak, in order to bring people to himself.

There is more to be said about what this looks like in a variety of contexts – married, single, widowed, working, homemaking, or even in college. However, I do believe that for each of these categories there is a way to participate in this spiritual commission of God to all people. It will look different in different situations, and that the individual person must be investing in a relationship with God in order to determine how He has called her specifically to be part of His plan. But, our first step is to understand God’s commission to all people, including single women. We can feel confident that we are Biblical women as we serve God in the way that He has commissioned us.

*Quotes are found on pages 46, 47, 48, 65, and 84, respectively