God made all of humanity—both men and women—in His image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, ESV, see also Genesis 2:20–24; 5:2). A woman is a person of the female gender, and a man is a person of the male gender. Spiritually, men and women are equal in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28). Both reflect God’s nature and character, yet the two genders each possess separate, distinct, God-designed identities.
It is impossible to consider the definition of a woman in the Bible without also contemplating the substance of a man, since the woman was created from the man: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.’ . . . So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:18–22, NLT).
As God carried out the task of creation, He observed only one thing that was “not good,” and it was “for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 11:11–12). Thus, God “made a woman” (Genesis 2:22). The Hebrew word banah, translated as “made” in this verse, literally means “built.” The woman is the only created being described this way, as “built” by God.
When God constructed the woman, He supplied what was lacking and necessary for a man’s fulfillment or completion. Eve was custom-made to be Adam’s corresponding opposite (Genesis 2:21–24). Only with God’s unique gift of Eve could Adam become not merely a solo male of his species but a legitimate model of the human race. Intrinsic in the biblical definition of a woman is this quality—this gift. Woman is man’s cooperative complement or reciprocal; she is not merely a helpful assistant or an add-on accessory (1 Corinthians 11:11; 1 Peter 3:7). Fitted together as woman and man, the two become symbiotic humanity created in God’s image. Only as such do man and woman find their sexual counterparts and necessary procreative match.
Since the ancient world was a patriarchal society, most written records of that time, including Scripture, present a predominately male perspective. Nevertheless, throughout the Bible, women play significant roles in the community, home, and church. Different biblical words are used to refer to a woman in relation to these roles. The most general Hebrew term for “woman” is ʾiššâ, but it can also mean “wife.” The Greek counterpart is gynē. Many other Hebrew and Greek words are used to describe women at different ages and stages of life.
The foremost role of a woman in the Bible is that of a wife. She is a companion who supports her husband (Genesis 2:18, 20; Proverbs 12:4:), enriches his life (Proverbs 31:11), and brings him joy and pleasure (Genesis 2:23; Song of Songs 4:1–15). An equally defining role of women in the Bible is child-bearer or mother (Psalm 113:9; Proverbs 1:8; 29:15; 31:28).
The ideal Old Testament woman resembles many women of strength and character today. She is dignified and virtuous, works productively not only at home but is capable of running a profitable business, supervising people with kindness and wisdom, making investments, and planning for the future, all while managing her household, building a solid family, and caring for the needy in her community (Proverbs 31:10–31; 14:1).
In the early church, women ministered alongside the apostles and supported the work of the church (Acts 16:14–15; Romans 16:6, 12; Philippians 4:2–3), hosted church meetings (Acts 16:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15), prophesied (Acts 21:8–9; see also Acts 2:17–18), mentored, and taught (Titus 2:3–5).
In God’s perfect design for the home, He intends for a woman to be submitted to the leadership of her husband (Ephesians 5:22–25; 1 Peter 3:1, 5). A wife’s submission and obedience are to be reciprocated by the husband’s love and self-sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25, 28–29, 33). In this way, the woman’s relationship with her husband portrays the church’s relationship with Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:9).
Jonathan Parnell writes, “What makes men men, or women women, is intrinsically connected to the majesty of the God in our design. We each exist as we do in order to display that glory” (Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood, Strachan, O., and Parnell, J., eds., Desiring God, 2014, p. 4). God created the woman to complement and complete the man and thereby become a God-glorifying representation of His nature and character. When a woman fulfills her God-given role, she honors the Lord in the church and shows forth God’s glory to the world.