Women in the Military and in Combat

Recently, in the United States, all military positions have been opened up to women, including the most dangerous combat roles. Shortly thereafter people began to call for women to be forced to register with the Selective Services to be conscripted in case of a draft. The issue of women in the military and in combat has been talked about for some time but now the situation has reached the most extreme of circumstances.

For now, we will leave aside the practical considerations such as the physical capabilities of women, casualty rates, and the fact that, “more women service members were raped by male soldiers in 2008 than all American deaths in Afghanistan in the past 11 years,” even when, “80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported,” (Time). In this post we will focus on the biblical and logical reasons why women should not be in war, even voluntarily, and how abominable it would be for any society to subject women to the draft.

The Nature of the Sexes

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

God made man male and female after His own image. He appointed man to be the head of his wife and created the woman to be a helper suitable for her husband (Gen. 2:18). Women are exhorted to be homemakers, (1 Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:5) and to bear children (1 Tim. 2:15), and men are to provide for their household. Women were created to be nurturing and to give life; they are the “weaker sex” that should be protected and cared for (1 Peter 3:7). Additionally, “The curse on the woman impacts her childbearing and her relationship to her husband (Gen. 3:16). The curse on the man affects man’s role as the primary bread winner and his life of toil (Gen. 3:17-19)” (Report I of the OPC Committee on Women in the Military and in Combat).

The purpose of war is to be a last resort to defend people against violence. The people most in need of protecting are women and children. To send women off to fight in war would defeat the entire purpose of war in the first place. It is the duty of men to step up and protect their families (Eph. 5). “It is for us a law and a duty to combat for wife, for children, servants, and subjects; we are bound to defend them against maleficent power, (Martin Luther, Table Talk).

O ye subverters of all decency, who use men as if they were women, and lead out women to war as if they were men! This is the work of the devil, to subvert and confound all things, to overlap the boundaries that have been appointed from the beginning, and remove those which God has set to nature. For God assigned to woman the care of the house only, to the man the conduct of public affairs. But you reduce the head to the feet, and raise the feet to the head. You suffer women to bear arms, and are not ashamed.

John Chrysostom, Homily 5 on Titus, Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers, 13:539.

Women Ineligible For War

Transvestism (cross-dressing)

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man [kĕliy geber], neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God (Deut. 22:5).

The Hebrew term kĕliy geber refers to military armor and is meant to elicit an image of the most masculine role possible. This verse has broad application but it can’t be ignored that it is the quintessential example Scripture gives of cross-dressing and calls it an abomination. John Gill states that it applies to the roles of men and women in general, but also specifically to war:

The word also signifies armour, as Onkelos renders it; and so here forbids women putting on a military habit and going with men to war, as was usual with the eastern women; and so Maimonides illustrates it, by putting a mitre or an helmet on her head, and clothing herself with a coat of mail; and in like manner Josephus explains it,

take heed, especially in war, that a woman do not make use of the habit of a man, or a man that of a woman;”

nor is he to be found fault with so much as he is by a learned writer, since he does not restrain it wholly to war, though he thinks it may have a special regard to that; for no doubt the law respects the times of peace as well as war, in neither of which such a practice should obtain.

Exposition of the Book of Deuteronomy, pg. 266

John Calvin likewise explains in his sermon on Deuteronomy 22:5 preached in January 1556:

Likewise though women attire not themselves in the raiment of men: Yet if they be too gallant & brave, and covet to have too great a show, they fail not to offend God, even in another respect, as I said afore. Yet notwithstanding, we must first of all see that men be so appareled as they become not womanlike, as we see diverse times that they attire themselves like brides. In so doing they seem to be sorry that God made them not women, & to be desirous to renounce their own sex. And that is a shameful thing. Again, when women go appareled like men of war, (as there be some which had rather to bear a hackbut [15th century rifle] on their shoulder than a distaff [used in making clothes] in their hand) it is against kind, and we ought to abhor it. Although we were not spoken to, nor had any law or ordinance of God: yet do we even of ourselves perceive it to be strange and whosoever hath any spark of pureness in him, will judge so. Ye see then that first of all the fashion which men do use in apparelling themselves, must shew that God hath created them to be as men: and that the women also must observe the modesty that is agreeable to their sex.

Matthew Henry notes that, “Some [e.g. Maimonides and John Spencer] think it refers to the idolatrous custom of the Gentiles: in the worship of Venus, women appeared in armour, and men in women’s clothes,” but that the passage, “forbids the confounding of the dispositions and affairs of the sexes: men must not be effeminate, nor do the women’s work in the house, nor must women be viragos, pretend to teach, or usurp authority (1 Tim. 2:11-12),” and that, “The distinction of sexes by the apparel is to be kept up, for the preservation of our own and our neighbour’s chastity. Nature itself teaches that a difference be made between them in their hair (1 Cor. 11:14), and by the same rule in their clothes, which therefore ought not to be confounded, either in ordinary wear or occasionally.” So the worship of Venus, while idolatrous and immoral, is accidental to this passage, the essence, or main point of this passage is the distinction between the sexes, with the man’s military role being the most obvious example of masculinity.  What makes the practice wrong in and of itself is the reversal of the God-ordained roles and the violence to the nature of the sexes. Other accidental circumstances which also made it wrong at the time may not pertain to our circumstances today, but the essence still holds true. “The adoption of the habiliments of the one sex by the other is an outrage on decency, obliterates the distinctions of nature by fostering softness and effeminacy in man, impudence and boldness in the woman, as well as levity and hypocrisy in both” (Jamieson, Faussett, Brown commentary). It is an extreme violence to the nature of womanhood to force them to fight. “When it comes to the prohibition against the wearing of ‘that which pertaineth to a man’ we are on safe ground if we understand this to mean that women are not to engage in certain manly activities…a clear example of where the prohibition holds true is in the engagement by women of military combat, certain kinds of police work and other inherently dangerous and physically demanding work such as the construction trade” (James Gunn).

Further Biblical Evidence

Not only does the prohibition of transvestism demonstrate that women fighting in war is an abominable destruction of the moral order of creation in the sexes, God Himself enlisted only men in the armies of Israel.

Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies (Numbers 1:2-3).

This explicit requirement of God to muster the males to fight became the norm or standard from this time onward in the Old Testament, even when God is not directly speaking or ordering the mustering to be done (cf., e. g., Numbers 31:3-4; Joshua 1:14; 6:3; 8:3; Judges 7:1-8; 20:8-11; 1 Samuel 8:11-12 [contrast verse 13]; 11:8; 13:2; 14:52; 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:2; 1 Chronicles 21:5; 27:1-15, 23-24; 2 Chronicles 17:12-19; 25:5-6; 26:11-14; 2 Kings 24:14-16; Nehemiah 4:14 [“fight for … your wives and your homes“]). Similarly in Deuteronomy 20, a chapter devoted to matters concerning war, exceptions to combat are given for various reasons. In every case the one excepted is clearly evidenced to be a man (cf., e. g., verses 7 and 8, “Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her…. Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too“).

Report I of the OPC Committee on Women in the Military and in Combat

Using the confessional hermeneutic to determine whether this law pertains to us today, we must ask a few questions of the text. What made this command just when it was given? Was it just and equitable because of the particular circumstances of Israel (and hence particular in its equity)? Or was it just, being rooted in nature and fit for any people governed by the moral law (the law having general equity)? Given the clear teaching of Scripture on the roles God made for male and female we can easily see that this recurring Scriptural principle of male only soldiers is rooted in the Law of Nature. This principle is not rooted in any particular circumstance to ancient Israel, and is therefore of common equity for all times and places. Although we do not have a command to conquer the Promised Land today, the equity in the passage regarding the nature of the combatants of war is common to all people everywhere, namely, that only men should fight.

Some might suggest that the prophetess Deborah fought with Barak because she said she would go with him to the battle (Judges 4:9). However, that is a novel way of interpreting the passage. Deborah plainly told Barak that God wanted him and his men to go to battle (Judges 4:6), “Notice that this account has repeated the command of God, that we have already noticed, for a man to do the fighting—not the woman who even then is leading the people. And Deborah has faithfully passed that command on and yielded to a man to do the job” (ibid.). In his cowardice he requested that she come with him to the battle, not to fight, but, “being desirous that he might have her with him to pray to God for him, to give him advice and counsel on any emergency, she being as the oracle God…which he supposed would satisfy them [i.e. the soldiers] as to the mind of God in it, and animate them, and give them heart and spirit” (John Gill, Judges 4:9). And Barak was dishonored as a general because the woman Jael ended up killing Sisera in her house rather than Barak and his men defeating him in battle. Notice here the approval of women protecting their homes with weapons, but not in them fighting in the military. Self defense is a great thing, but subverting God’s gender roles is entirely different.

Elsewhere, “God himself indicates that he has not made women to be warriors by his repeated condemnatory statements that armies have become, are becoming, or are like “women” to indicate that he did not fit women for battle (Isaiah 19:16; Jeremiah 50:37; 51:30; Nahum 3:13)…God declares through Jeremiah that the Babylonians in their response to what God will do “will become women,” which he expands upon later by saying that “Babylon’s warriors have stopped fighting, they remain in their strongholds. Their strength is exhausted; they have become like women” (Jeremiah 50:37; 51:30). Against Nineveh God pronounces woes in Nahum 3:13 “Look at your troops—they are all women!” Why does God call troops of his foes “women” as an indication of their weakness and inability to withstand God? Because God has not made women to be the warriors and thus any army that is weak he designates in this way.” (OPC Report I).

Logical Consistency

Women throughout history have always been doctors nurses and given medical attention to soldiers in war. Leaving aside the issue of whether there is biblical basis for women working outside the home, perhaps if the military created support and secretarial roles for women that were strictly stateside, without the possibility of deployment, and didn’t require women to be trained in combat in Basic Training, then these types of jobs would be appropriate and safe for women, if voluntary. Although medical personnel are protected from being military targets, cannot carry weapons, and cannot be prisoners of war, etc. by the Geneva Convention, many of the enemies we face today do not respect such humane rules and would just as soon kill, rape, and/or take them prisoner. Therefore, it may not be prudent to have women deployed in medical roles at this time.

“Report I” recommends that the OPC ought to oppose the drafting or inclusion of women in “combat service” or “combatant units,” but not the inclusion of women in “non-combatant positions.” According to one of our Chaplains who is an U.S. Army Infantry School instructor, this distinction is actually a misnomer and is based upon older World War II military doctrine. In modern military doctrine there is no distinction between combatant and non-combatant units. It is true that some units are in more direct combatant positions. But in modern warfare it is the support units and the sustainment forces which are attacked early due to the fact that they are high pay-off targets. Is this a more suitable place for women? Surely, it would be more consistent simply to oppose women being in the military at all.

Report II of the OPC Committee on Women in the Military and in Combat

Those who support women in combat see this logical consistency, but they have unfortunately chosen to side with the  sinful, dangerous feminist perspective. All positions are combat positions in asymmetrical warfare and women in “support roles” have already been in combat for nearly 15 years. That is the main argument which attained women access to every Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) in the first place.

Some might say that it is acceptable to submit and have our wives and daughters register with the Selective Service because the probability that a draft will ever be issued is very low or that in the unlikely event that they ever actually call a draft we would be right to practice civil disobedience. I suggest we stand on principle and not be naive. What sense does it make to sign an oath making oneself subject to military conscription and then when your name is called to suddenly protest? If we do not stand in principle, against the immanent potential for, and legal permissibility of, women being drafted, then we won’t stand against it later either. If women are ineligible for war by God’s standard, then who are we to add them to the rolls of eligible troops? God forbid! The purpose of war is defeated if we send off those to fight whom we should be protecting. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Conscientious Objector Status for Women

Thankfully, many Presbyterian and Reformed denominations have written statements against women fighting in order to preempt this exact inevitability, which should be able to (Lord willing) serve as precedent for conscientious objector status for Christian women in America. May we diligently pay attention to this matter and not allow our wives and daughters to be taken and slaughtered on the battlefield!

From the RPCNA 2015 Report to Synod from the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRCCMP):

The Commission directed the Chairman of the PRCCMP to establish a committee to draft a letter addressing our respective churches of the likelihood of a radical change of the Selective Service law of the United States, namely the required registration of 18 year old females on the Draft Rolls, most probably by 2016. Further, that this letter recommend adopting the following (or similar) declaration in individual congregational by-laws, namely that the Bible forbids women serving as warriors, as well as an explicit declaration that registering 18 year old women for the draft or being drafted is evil and unbiblical. This will provide a valid argument for conscientious objector status for covenant daughters, granddaughters, and other women of our respective denominations.

Therefore, be it now resolved: That, while recognizing the right and duty that women have to self-defense, which may involve physical violence (Judges 9:53), it is our conviction that Biblical teaching does not give warrant to employ women for military combat” (RPCNA 168th Synod, 1998).

That the 68th GA declares that the use of women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God” (OPC 68th General Assembly, 2001).

This Assembly declares it to be the biblical duty of man to defend woman and therefore condemns the use of women as military combatants, as well as any conscription of women into the Armed Services of the United States” (PCA 30th General Assembly, 2002).

The Word of God gives no warrant expressed or implied that women are to be conscripted into military service or required to participate in military combat. Therefore, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church opposes the registration of women for Selective Service and the assignment of women to combat duty or to duties which involve a significant risk of engaging in combat” (ARP General Synod, 2016, Index 20).

See also the following reports for more information:

Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission Letter Regarding Women in Combat (OPC, PCA, RPCNA, KAPC, KPCA)

PCA Ad Interim Study Committee on Women in the Military

RCUS Special Committee Report on Women in the Military (1996)

PRCCMP Policy Guidance for PRCC Chaplains

Trinity PCA in Kentucky’s Statement on Opposition to Women Serving in the Military

(If there are any we’ve missed, please provide the links in the comments!)

PS. This video clip demonstrates another reason women in combat is a bad idea: Female Marine vs Male Marine in a Round of Pugile Sticks.



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