When I graduated from university, I’d incurred a substantial amount of debt and had been sexually active, so I wasn’t unaware that certain serious conversations were going to be had if I ever met someone I wanted to marry. It flitted in and out of the forefront of my mind during my twenties, and after a few serious relationships (all of which ended amicably, and none of which ended because of either my debt or my sexual history) I was willing to accept the limitations of my personal situation. To be honest, I wasn’t terribly concerned about it, because I didn’t violate the Scriptures in assuming debt for an education I couldn’t afford on my own, and any man that would overlook every other quality I possessed for greater financial independence and / or an unbroken hymen wasn’t a man I wanted. I’d long since repented of my sexual sin, and figured that if it didn’t stop Christ living and dying for me, then it wouldn’t stop a Christian man from truly loving me, either.
This didn’t mean that my single life was easy—it wasn’t. I think my former pastor (a pious, patient, longsuffering man whose care for me during that time will assuredly be accounted unto him as righteousness) spent as much time talking to me about celibacy and marriage as he did to the rest of his congregation combined, and his constant refrain to the singles in our church during those years was: “You don’t need to be married. You’re not waiting for some higher-level Christian experience as a wife and mother—you’re a fully-formed member of the body of Christ right now. Jesus is your husband and federal head; these little children whom you care for are your spiritual children. If you want to be a wife and a mother, you want a good and noble thing—pray for that. But you are not incomplete or unfulfilled as a single woman.”
At the time, I thought he was talking through his head—there was (and is) a fair amount of Christian literature available on the topic of being a godly woman, and much of it centers on being a godly wife and mother, not on being a fully-formed member of Christ’s church. The impression I’d been left with as an impressionable 18-year-old is that wife and motherhood were the highest callings a Christian woman could attain to, and the church I attended at the time (before university) did little to dispel this. Of course, considering their congregational demographic, it is understandable—there were many young and middle-aged families in the church, and they had a natural and right desire to encourage and strengthen one another as sisters in Christ in similar domestic vocations. The Christian fiction available in bookstores today largely centers on women finding (often simultaneously) fulfillment in both Christ and a husband—the fiction section of the Christian bookstore I visit is invariably covered in a panoply of softly-lit, pastel-hued pictures of wistful, beautiful white women, gazing into the distance.
So when I opened Instagram one evening and saw a screenshot of the now-infamous ‘Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos’ blogpost, I got over my initial shock fairly quickly. In a culture where marriage and motherhood are highly valued and popular books and films are centered around finding love and the joys of the domestic life, of course Christian women are eager to learn how to attract a good man and prepare for a happy marriage. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, and I’m sure Mrs. Alexander (the author of the post) wanted nothing more than to teach what is good, train young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, so that the word of God might not be reviled (Tit. 2:4-5). Women and men ought to be prudent and circumspect with managing their finances, and the apostles repeatedly exhort the church to sexual purity. But the reason for doing this is not so one can attract a desirable spouse.
My concern is with the author’s presupposition that wife and motherhood are the only callings to which pious women should aspire. Her notes on the nature of a university education and the role of women in society don’t encourage true Christian virtue so much as they promote an extremely reductionistic view of Christian femininity. It’s certainly true that secular universities don’t teach a biblical view of womanhood or how to run a home, but they do enable women to use their education to glean a better understanding of the world they live in and equip her to use her particular gifts to seek the good of the city to the glory of God and the service of her neighbor. Running a home is not the exclusive province of women, and biblical womanhood comprises a great deal more than being a stay-at-home wife and mother. Paul certainly admonishes women to work at home, but he never says that a woman ought to confine her activities to the home. The Bible is peppered with examples of this: Deborah was a judge of Israel, and the wife and mother of Proverbs 31 worked in both retail and real estate as well as managing her household. Lydia, the Gentile ‘seller of purple’ mentioned in Acts 16, is upheld as a godly woman whose career proved a blessing to the apostles who stayed in her home, and Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, used her education to help instruct Apollos (an eloquent and learned man himself) in the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26). Acts 21:9 mentions the unmarried daughters of Phillip, the evangelist, who also prophesied. What we see here is neither a mandate to pursue higher education or an admonition to get married, but the many wonderful ways in which women’s individual gifts and various callings are used by the Lord to further his gospel and build his church.
There certainly are some women who choose careers over children, but that choice is not necessarily made for sinful reasons—motherhood is not an inalienable right guaranteed to any woman, and a lack of children is not a sign of selfishness or God’s disfavor. A university education may result in the delay of marriage and motherhood, but nowhere in Scripture are women commanded to be married and mothers at any age, much less in their early twenties. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul actually encourages the unmarried people to remain single, saying:
“The unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:34-35)
The big takeaway for women (and men) in the New Testament is not that they must marry and have a family, but that Christ has reconciled them in his body of flesh by his death (Col. 1:21-22), they are God’s temple and his Spirit dwells in them (1 Cor. 3:16), that they are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19) and are therefore called into the fellowship of the Son (1 Cor. 3:16). It is because of these things—because of what the Father has ordained, the Son has accomplished, and the Spirit has applied in their hearts—that a woman ought to be wise in the path she chooses to walk on. It’s because she acknowledges herself an image-bearer of the Triune God—not a self-creating creator—that she should keep a long-term vision of her life, and trust God to fulfill the desire of her heart as she delights herself in him. She should study the Word and stay on the narrow path that leads to life, not because she needs to attract a husband, but because it is in that Word that she knows who she is as a disciple of Christ, and has the assurance of her salvation in him, which—whether married or single—will one day result in her glory, when all she hopes for will be ultimately and finally realized in eternity.
Brooke Ventura is the former associate editor of Modern Reformation. You can follow her on twitter at @BrookeVentura.