In December 2015 the United States Secretary of Defense declared all military combat roles open to women. That proclamation led quickly to the question of whether women should have to register for the draft with Selective Service, as men are required to do. After all, if women can fight in uniform wherever men fight, however men fight, as well as men fight, then why should the country require one sex to register for potential combat roles, while exempting the other?
The question makes perfect sense if you have a godless worldview. Secularists are not the target of this piece, since no appeal to Scripture will convince those who already despise Scripture. But there are still many in America who claim respect for the Bible. A Christian worldview has always maintained a distinction between the sexes by appeal to biology (the way God created men and women) and the Bible (what God wrote about men and women).
Our discussion here has nothing to do with women’s spiritual value, capacity for good, or importance to society. The gospel of Christ elevates women as nothing in history has done. Women’s potential for glorifying God and lifting humanity is etched throughout the New Testament’s pages. Far be it from anyone to denigrate women or belittle their worth. But, take away the Bible and those results are inevitable. Ours is a plea to recognize that people’s greatness, whether women or men, lies in fulfilling God-given roles.
We are not here concerned with statistics, demographics, effect on morale, physical fitness requirements for military service, what other countries are doing, or even whether women should be in the armed forces in any capacity. Our question is simple: What does the Bible say that would bear on the subject of putting women on the battlefield?
There are unchanging facts of gender. God created woman from Adam’s rib to be his helper, not his commander (Gen. 2:18). As Paul stated, “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor. 11:3). Likewise, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:12-13, ESV). The armed forces are all about chain of command, and more and more the commands are issued by women to men.
Peter wrote about “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4). Though he is, in context, addressing wives, it is hard to see how the principle does not apply to all women. It is equally difficult to see how a combat atmosphere filled with bombs, bullets and blood is conducive to nurturing the “gentle and quiet spirit” God wants women to cultivate.
In the same chapter, he charges “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7). Only a fool would say there is, generally, no difference in brute strength between men and women. But, if the difference is real, then what sense does it make to throw in the weaker against the stronger in combat with death at stake?
All people are obligated to live in such a way that the gospel is honored, instead of ridiculed. That includes respect for the God-given role of women. “So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim. 5:14). The ideal plan is that young women marry. Faced with widowhood, the ideal is that they remarry and “manage their households.” When God’s plan is followed, it helps forestall potential criticism since no excuse is given the “adversary” to “slander” the gospel. How, exactly, does a woman take care of her household when she dons a uniform and ships off to fight, gone for months or longer at a stretch? In similar vein, the apostle instructs older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:4- 5). None has the right to revile God’s word, or put himself at odds with it. “Working at home” sounds about as far removed from combat duty as can be imagined. Anyone thinking that is antiquated advice has no grasp of what God says about the family. If “working at home” is old fashioned, then it is old enough to be new again, and would be revolutionary for the good were it to be put in practice once more.
Consider, also, some relevant points from the Old Testament. They offer unique insight because God himself governed the Jewish army (and civilians). In regulating Israel’s warfare, God stipulated interesting exemptions, such as, “is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her” (Deut. 20:7). It was a given that men comprised the army. Someone may object, claiming that an all-male military was simply the custom in ancient times. But, it was the cultural norm because it was correct. If not, God had the perfect opportunity to set matters right, integrate Israel’s army and show the world that women could be soldiers just like men. He did not.
Historically, men have been the warriors due to concrete differences between the sexes—not because society arbitrarily mandated the custom. Thus, when Israel began to conquer Canaan, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh (even though they were inheriting land outside of Canaan proper) had to go fight. “Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them” (Josh. 1:14). Interestingly, in the Bible the word “valor” is always associated with courageous men—never with women. Women can and should cultivate many noble character traits, and in certain ways they can far outshine their male counterparts. But it seems God never emphasized that courage under fire (i.e. “valor”) be a thing for which righteous women are known.
What of the principle that a woman’s wardrobe should not be masculine? “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 22:5). If men and women cannot be distinguished by dress, something is wrong. Yet, geared up for modern combat, soldiers look alike. This passage is not mentioned as though it settled the controversy but is offered as another in a line of mounting evidence. If women dressing like men was “an abomination to the Lord” back then, how could it not hold true now? And, if all this strikes the modern reader as radical, could it be testimony to how far we have drifted from how God would have it?
In regulating personal scuffles (and, although not a wartime scenario), God specified this: “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity” (Deut. 25:11-12). Several commentators approach the prohibition on the woman as though it were intended to protect a man’s ability to father children. But, if so, why is it not directed to men, as well as women? Furthermore, why would a woman enter a fight in that way, unless it be due to her inferior strength? Whatever can be said about that passage, it is clear God did not allow a woman to jump into a violent situation and fight however she liked.
Perhaps more revealing are several declarations of God in the prophetic books. For example, “My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths” (Isa. 3:12). The nation had lost its manhood, so that God described it as dominated by babies and ruled by females. Neither portrait was complimentary. “In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them” (Isa. 19:16). Clearly, women are not portrayed as model soldiers, but, rather, the opposite. Likewise, the Lord prophesied against Babylon: “A sword against her horses and against her chariots, and against all the foreign troops in her midst, that they may become women!” (Jer. 50:37). Thus, God foretold Babylon’s doom, spelling it in part with soldiers who “become women.”Akin to it is this: “The warriors of Babylon have ceased fighting; they remain in their strongholds; their strength has failed; they have become women; her dwellings are on fire; her bars are broken” (Jer. 51:30). Those are God’s words, and that is God’s perspective. When warriors lose their fighting ability, in effect, “they have become women.”
So, we arrive at this astonishing incongruity. When God portrayed Babylon as weak and unable to fight, he said their “warriors…have become women.” Now, America is talking about her warriors becoming women, as though it were a good thing! Could our country have it more backward, and how out-of-touch with Scripture can we be?
When he wanted to stress spiritual toughness for men and women, Paul wrote, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). Both sexes should emulate in their faith the masculine trait of strength. But, let us ask: How else could Paul have said it? It would be nonsense to write, “act like people,” since that carries no definitive meaning. Including both sexes with the word “people” would rob the very point he was making. Likewise, his meaning would have suffered had he said, “act like women.” In fact, though men and women are not contradictory, it could be said that, had Paul written, “act like women,” he would have been making the opposite point that he intended. Plainly, the terms “men” and “women” are not interchangeable because the differences are real. Nothing else would capture the same sense as his terse order: “act like men.”
Our now largely godless culture can continue to experiment with social institutions, to erase ancient boundaries, to eradicate cherished beliefs, to expunge admirable history, to exceed the limits of common sense, but can she escape accountability to God? If America would send her daughters into combat, her battles will be against biology and against the Bible, and she will lose on both counts.
-Weylan Deaver, TBC Online Instructor