Tattoos, Debt, and Virginity - What does the Bible actually say to women?

by Jill Lin

Does God prefer “debt-free virgins without tattoos”?  A recent article claims that men do, and that in order to pursue a Christian man and a godly marriage, women should prioritize avoiding college, independence, career and the world, lest they fall into debt and sexual failure and thus become unattractive to a Christian man.  Tattoos, after the title, get precious little mention!

And there is our clue.  The article says nothing further about tattoos and also says little about Biblical values regarding fiscal responsibility and sex.  Rather, despite the author’s well-intentioned desire to teach young women to live biblically, the article promotes a particular, culturally-influenced view of Christian womanhood.  Fundamentally, this cultural view of women assumes they are more susceptible to worldly influence than men and that, therefore, unlike men, they are called solely to a life inside the home of wifehood and motherhood.  A life that includes neither higher education nor career.  A life that needs – and has – fathers and husbands to explain Scripture to them and women to teach them how to behave as women. 

So what does the Bible have to say about women pursuing callings outside the home?  What does it say about women’s ability to comprehend the Scriptures and keep the faith?  What does it say about women’s sexual temptations?  What hope does it offer to non-virgins with debt and tattoos?  And what, perhaps most significantly, does it say about what should motivate a woman in her faith journey?

Women are used by God throughout Scripture both inside and outside their homes.  Motherhood is absolutely and firmly valued by the Bible.  Yet it also values other roles for women.  It does not disparage work done inside the home.  Nor does it prohibit roles outside the home.  Rather, it affirms women in either sphere.  Miriam is referred to in Exodus 15:20 as a prophet.  Deborah (Judges 4-5) held the highest-ranking office in the nation, holding court and exercising military leadership.  She is also described as a wife and a mother, but those roles do not prohibit her from other callings, too.  Esther saved her people by stepping outside traditional boundaries. In Proverbs 31, the “ideal wife” not only cares for her family, but also pursues trade, buys land, and serves the poor and needy, all of which take her to some degree outside the home and outside the limits of “traditional” roles. The New Testament, too, includes followers of Jesus who were women defined by something other than their motherhood.  Paul refers to Priscilla as his co-worker.  He commends Phoebe as a Deacon.  Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, who believed in the Lord and who courageously opened her home to a house church.  While some of these women were wives and mothers, too, others were not.  Most significantly, perhaps, I think of Mary, who was commended for sitting at Jesus feet, taking the posture of a rabbinic scholar, along with the male disciples.  Martha was not berated for her efforts to serve nor for her hospitality, but she was invited to join the study and while Jesus quietly calmed Martha in her stress, she was not permitted to demand a fellow female assume the same more traditional role that she herself had chosen.  Jesus did not say to Mary “stop learning with the men and go back to the kitchen”, at a moment when He most clearly had a chance to do so.

Beyond affirming diverse roles for women, the Bible does not assume women are incapable of studying Scripture nor of keeping the faith without a man, in particular a father or husband, to “mansplain” the Word to us.  The Bible commends parents who teach their children the faith and this role is affirmed.  Men are warned not to embitter their children (Eph 3:21) and not to exasperate them, but to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).  Children are told to honor their parents and Paul indicated that Timothy likely learned his faith from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5).  Yet these verses show that just as women can learn faith from their fathers and mothers, men can learn faith from their mothers and fathers.  Parents who believe are commanded to teach their children and affirmed for doing so.  But this is not a gender role.  Likewise, God also calls those to faith whose parents or spouses are not believers and we are therefore not utterly dependent on a parent- or spousal-mediator, whether we are men or women.  Women in the Bible were clearly capable of learning the Scriptures’ teachings and we see them both teaching them and applying them.  The Syro-Phoenician mother is commended for her theological understanding which she used without male help when talking with Jesus.   When Jesus rose and revealed the Resurrection first to women, He did not assume them too weak with grief and emotion to bear this message to the male disciples, who at this point were still in hiding in the upper room.  Nor did he expect his disciples to dismiss a message brought by women.  Returning to Mary when she studied alongside men at the feet of Jesus, what was radical was that Jesus commended her for listening in and learning.  She learned directly at the feet of Jesus.  She needed no further male intermediary.  The Bible commends women who learn and teach the faith, and indeed exhorts them to learn and even expects them to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).  Women are capable of learning, from both men and women, and of hearing the Spirit of God directly themselves.  They have the same High Priest as male Christians. 

Finally, what of the claim that a woman is particularly at risk of losing her faith and her virginity if she goes to college?  The Bible wants us to seek God and exhorts us to sexual purity.  Yet the Bible seems to have equal concerns on the likelihood of men or women straying from God, and views temptation to sin as problematic for both male and female.  Romans 3:23, so popularly quoted, tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”.  Indeed, the Bible, while exhorting women to modesty and sexual fidelity, also does so to men and does not give them a lighter load than it does to women.  Given how much the Bible directs warnings against sexual immorality towards men, too, it clearly does not think they are more able than women to withstand the lure of vice, in college or elsewhere!  In an era of sexual double-standard (does that sound familiar?) where men could divorce their wives and thus leave them economically and sexually vulnerable, but women could not divorce their husbands (and even if they could, ex-husbands would not be similarly vulnerable), Jesus prohibited men from treating unwanted wives so callously (Matt 5:32).  In Matthew 5:28 Jesus even addressed the problem of sexually objectifying and lusting after women.  He did not blame the women for their attire, tell them to cover up or stay home.  He told the men that if they look at a woman lustfully, they are guilty of adultery in their hearts.  Again, here is a place where Jesus could have made women withdraw from the public or male sphere, either for their own purity or to avoid tempting men.  But He did not.  He made men squarely responsible for their own lusts.  There is no place in a Biblical model for a sexual double standard, nor for an assumption that either men or women are more likely to be tempted (or more likely to be a temptation!).  Too often, society or the church has either offered men a pass in the case of sexual sin, or offered women a permanent scarlet letter.  God does neither.  Significantly, too, the Bible does not indicate that after a sexual sin women, or men, would become less attractive or loveable to God or less valued or used by Him.  After all He sent Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8).  Let us remember again that “all have sinned”, whether sexually or otherwise.  Hosea’s story shows us how God pursues us, loves us and keeps forgiving us even after dramatic failures in infidelity to Him, sexual, financial or otherwise.  This doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and sin willingly to let grace abound (Rom 6:1).  But it offers hope and healing in the case of a past that we wish we could change.  Both Adam and Eve sinned and both were excluded from the garden.  Since sin is a problem for men and women – both the separation from God and the resulting actions – then they both need the same solution to this problem.  They must seek God and His Redemption.  The Bible tells the same good news to men and women: God loves and pursues us, no matter our past, to give us salvation by grace and new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Which bring us at last to the core premise of the article.  Why are we assuming that we should motivate women to keep the faith and pursue any aspect of godly living so that a man will find them attractive?  Why are we not motivating women to godly living because of their identity as Daughter of the King of Kings?  Why are we intimating they should seek a husband more than they should seek the Spirit?  Our Evangelical culture is often quite obsessed with marriage.  This is not to dismiss the fact that the Bible has much to say about marriage and that we should seek its wisdom when considering marriage.  Nor am I saying that men and women who do marry shouldn’t seek marriage partners who seek to follow God.  However, we have seen women in the Bible being used by God irrespective of age, marital status, sexual history or level of financial independence.  There is no suggestion that the primary motivator of a Christian woman’s faith should be her marriageability, nor that her calling is dependent on it.  Women, and men, are called to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Mat 6:33) and to make choices for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31).  Marriage and procreation are not the highest or only state to be sought by Christians and should not be the primary motivator for Christian women – or men – to grow in faith and live godly lives.  Marriage is only for this world (Luke 20:34).  Marriage must not become our idol.

Instead of telling women to avoid college and justifying it by assuming college to be nothing more for them than a road to debt, secularism, promiscuity and loss of faith, let us encourage women to seek out God’s call on their lives and use their gifts for His glory, whether that includes college and career or not. 

Instead of telling women they are too weak and need a male mediator to understand and keep their faith, remind them that they have one High Priest and that the Spirit indwells them as their guide and counselor. 

Instead of telling women their value lies solely in their wifehood or motherhood, let us affirm that their value is in being a Child of the King, whatever sphere God has them serve in, within the family and without.

Instead of telling women to pursue godliness and disciplines of fiscal responsibility, service to others and sexual purity primarily to help them pursue a Christian man, let us encourage women to pursue God because His desire is for us to seek Him first.

And let us do the same for men.

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Jill is a stay-at-home mom with a passion for languages and history, loves attending a multicultural church and is a member of the DC chapter of CBE International.  After growing up and studying in England, she moved to the US to marry her husband.  She loves traveling, especially in Europe.