Where are all the independent, unmarried women?


Numbers 30 

And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded.

2 If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

3 If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth;

4 And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.

5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.

6 And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;

7 And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.

8 But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her.

9 But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.

10 And if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath;

11 And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.

12 But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and the Lord shall forgive her.

13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.

14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.

15 But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.

16 These are the statutes, which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s house.

BibleI have been reading through the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), and I just finished Numbers 30. This is the passage that speaks about vows made unto the Lord by the people of God. Making a vow to the Lord is a serious matter, and God takes vows made to Him extremely seriously. Christ Himself even addresses the practice of making vows unto the Lord and castigates the Jews for their foolish vows and even more for their foolish attempts to wriggle out of honoring the vows they had made. [1]

The subtext of Number 30, however, also demonstrates the proper roles and authority of various human relationships. Men are obligated to honor their lawful vows to God (v. 2). But, in cases where the woman is subject to the authority of another, the legitimacy of the vow is contingent upon his approval.

The first of these situations concerns a young woman still in her father’s house (vv. 3-5).

If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth;(v. 3) [2]

The father has the authority over the woman and may disallow the vow upon hearing it. But, if he holds his peace, the vow is binding.


The second situation where a woman is subject to the authority of another involves a married woman (vv. 6-8).

And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;(v. 6)

Similar to the woman subject to the authority of her father, the married woman’s vow is contingent upon the approval of her husband. If, upon hearing it, he disallows the vow, it is not binding upon the woman. But, if he holds his peace upon hearing it, the vow is binding as in other situations. One thing that is interesting to note about the situation of the married woman is that if the husband attempts to disallow the vow after he has already held his peace, the guilt of breaking the vow actually falls on him, not the woman.

Numbers 30 also addresses the situation where a woman who had been married previously is now under her own authority because she is a widow or divorced: [3]

But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.(v.9)

So, this passage addresses widows, divorced women, married women, unmarried women still in their father’s house, and all men.

kate of taming of the shrewBut, did you notice who is not included in this passage? What woman is not mentioned? Where is the woman who is neither a girl in her father’s house, nor a wife or widow or divorced woman? [4]

Where is the “independent” woman? Where is the career woman? Where is the thirty-year-old unmarried woman living alone in an apartment, who is the CEO of a major corporation and has achieved all of the goals our society has set for her?

Scripture appears to remain completely ignorant of such a woman. And, this disregard of the “modern woman” continues in the New Testament:

Titus 2

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:

2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.

3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;

4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.

7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,

8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

Titus 2 speaks of aged men (v. 2), aged women (v. 3), young women (v. 4-5), and young men (v. 6-8). This seems to cover all of the bases; both men and women, both young and aged. But, wait just a minute… What is it that it said about the young women?

“…teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children…” (v. 4; emphasis added)

a-helping-hand.jpg!xlMediumNow, hold on. Husbands? Children?! Shouldn’t that say “the young women who have husbands”? Shouldn’t that say “the young women who have children”? It sounds like this passage has only married women in mind. Scripture seems to take for granted that the young women will be married.

But, once again, where is the independent, unmarried woman? Where is the “modern” woman?

Scripture is once again silent concerning a woman would be young yet not married. Scripture is silent about a woman who is mature enough to leave her father’s house but remains unmarried and lives on her own. But, why? I believe it is because Scripture views marriage as so normative for young men and women that it does not even acknowledge a possible alternative.

In 1 Timothy 5, the apostle Paul urges even those young women who are not married that they should marry. [5] In fact, young marriage is presented as so completely normative that even young widows were encouraged by the apostle to remarry, and they are outright refused from the care of the Church (verse 11). He includes widows under the age of 60 as “younger widows” (verse 9). Why is this? It is not because they are more likely to have older children who would be able to care for them. The most likely reason is that those under the age of 60 would be more able and likely to re-marry (and Paul says as much in verses 11 and 14).

So, if young widows are encouraged to marry and widows all the way up to the age of 60 are expected to marry, how much more young, virgin women? Of this, John Calvin says in his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:

“…if the Spirit of God, by the mouth of Paul, declares that no woman under sixty years of age deserves to be admitted into that order, because at that age the unmarried state was dangerous; what effrontery was it, afterwards, to lay down a law of celibacy for young women in all the warmth of youthful years? Paul, I say, does not allow of abstaining from marriage till they are in extreme old age, and altogether beyond the danger of incontinence. … Accordingly, it is rash, and even cruel, to lay a snare for those who still are young girls, and who would have been fitter for the married state.”


So, perhaps Numbers 30 does not mention the independent, unmarried, mature women and Titus 2 assumes that young women will marry for the same reason that Ephesians 5-6 does not acknowledge fully grown, unmarried children or unmarried men and women living on their own [6]. The reason being that marriage (especially young marriage) is so dramatically normative.

The unmarried woman is not addressed in these passages because it is considered to be so rare as to be not even worth mentioning or acknowledging. It is expected to be more rare even than the number of unmarried widows or divorced women. The modern situation of literally thousands of unmarried Christian men and women well past the flower of age is wholly foreign and utterly unthinkable to Scripture.

But, if the “independent” unmarried woman is mentioned anywhere in Scripture, she might be found in verse 11 and following of 1 Timothy 5:

11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;

12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.

13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

15 For some are already turned aside after Satan.

775px-Eugene_de_Blaas_The_Friendly_GossipsNotice that this is still talking about widows, who would be the natural exceptions, since they had already been married. Paul warns that such women, loosed from the responsibilities of keeping a home, bearing children, attending to a husband are likely to “give…occasion to the adversary” by becoming first idle, then busybodies and gossips. He says, “some are already turned aside after Satan.”

And this is talking about widows, those who have already been married once before and may already have children. Is it any wonder, then, that verse 14 makes the charge to marry universal, including all young women, not just widows?

All of this, if nothing else, should reinforce the principle that marriage, even young marriage, is emphatically normative. But, I think it goes even farther. I think it speaks to Scripture’s (perhaps unspoken) condemnation of unduly prolonging the unmarried state. [7] It expects all young women to attend to the duties of keeping a house, having a husband, bearing children, etc. It expects women who are not in their father’s house in their youth to be wives (if not widows or divorced). Even widows, especially if they are young, are expected to remarry and continue with the duties of guiding a house, lest they should give occasion to the adversary or cause the Word of God to be blasphemed.

Scripture’s exclusion of the “independent” woman, the woman (not a widow) who is unmarried in her thirties and working a career outside the home is more than mere oversight. It was intentionally omitted. That may be considered an argument from silence, but that goes both ways: Those defending the status quo have the burden of proof to show that Scripture in any way supports their position. But, instead, Scripture overwhelming supports young, fruitful marriages within the Church with the woman guiding the household, submitting to her husband, bearing children…

…to the utter exclusion of the contrary.


[1] ^ Matthew 5:33-37

[2] ^ Note that the verse specifically says “in her youth”. This is likely because it would be strange for a woman to continue (unmarried) in her father’s house beyond her “youth”. Indeed, Scripture teaches that it is normative to marry in youth: The Bible speaks of the “wife of thy youth” (Prov. 5:18; Is. 54:6; Mal. 2:14-15), “husband of her youth” (Joel 1:8), and “children of the youth” (Ps. 127:4). In the New Testament, Paul advises younger women to marry (1 Tim. 5:14). Scripture also speaks of not letting children pass the flower of their age (1 Cor. 7:36).

[3] ^ It is possible that a woman may return to her father’s house after her husband dies or is divorced, but in such a case, the father does not have the same authority over the woman that he had prior to her marriage. In his commentary on Numbers 30, Matthew Henry says, “… if she return to her father’s house, she does not therefore so come again under his authority as that he has power to disannul her vows (v. 9)…” The final verses of 1 Corinthians 7 (1 Cor. 7:39-40) also indicate that a woman loosed from her husband (e.g., a widow) is at liberty, thus under her own authority, unlike a married woman or even a woman living in her father’s house in her youth.

[4] ^ It is possible that the “independent” woman would be included in verse 2 of Numbers 30, using “man” in the most general sense (generously general, I would add). Laws are often stated in the masculine when they clearly apply to both men and women. But, I believe this verse is best understood as applying exclusively to men for the following reasons: The word for “men” is the Hebrew word ‘iysh (Strong number H376). This is a word is sometimes used in the general “mankind” sense, as in Exodus 16:29: “…abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day,” which would include both males and females. But, first and foremost, the word ‘iysh (“man”) is used in contrast to a woman (‘ishshah). This is the sense it is used in Numbers 30:2, since the next verse contrasts the woman’s duty against what was already given as the man’s duty. Also, in his commentary, John Calvin agrees, saying, “…there is here a distinction made between males and females.”

[5] ^ 1 Timothy 5:14-15

[6] ^ Such a person might be included in 1 Corinthians 7, but this is someone with a particular gift for a particular purpose in a particular situation (see: Why 1 Corinthians 7 Is the WORST Passage to Defend “Singleness” in the Church). And likely it is not a “for life” gift.

[7] ^ The Westminster Larger Catechism also includes “undue delay of marriage” as a sin in violation of the Seventh Commandment, citing 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 and Genesis 38:26 in support of this.

Written by Jeff Woodward

Approved by: Vaughn Ohlman

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