Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun γυνη (gune) means woman and wife (hence the English prefix "gyno-"). Greek, like German (Frau), makes no distinction between woman and wife, and whether the text speaks of some woman (Matthew 13:33) or someone's wife (1 Corinthians 7:2) is established solely from the context. Our noun is used 221 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
Of women and wives
Sometimes the context in which our noun occurs isn't wholly clear, which makes excellent topics for endless discussions: should all women be dignified or only wives (1 Timothy 3:11)? Are only wives weaker vessels or daughters and maids too (1 Peter 3:7)? Are all women prohibited to teach or just wives (1 Timothy 2:12)? And of course: should all women be quiet in church or just the wives (1 Corinthians 14:34)?
Over the centuries, many men have sported elaborate opinions about these matters, and subsequently found themselves exiled to the couch, with their desserts forfeited or gobbled up by the dog. Here at Abarim Publications we have the good fortune to be blessed with wives who are much more dignified, stronger in all manners, smarter and prone to quiet contemplation than any of their husbands, so we usually stay far away from these salient Pauline assertions.
But if we do dare, we submit that the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire coincided with an unprecedented wave of women's liberation. Still, even Christianity didn't rise in a cultural vacuum, and its earliest context was that of pagan Rome. It was obviously very important to both Jesus and Paul that their audience wouldn't instigate a political or social revolution, and on those points evoke the establishment's retaliation, because that would have destroyed the entire movement. Now that we're millennia further, the dangers of that happening have abated and the Body of Christ faces other problems, this time problems that are only made worse if we would discriminate on account of gender. Studies even show that the brains of women are wired in such a way that they are indeed weaker in a society where competitors meet in slug-fests, but far outperform men in societies that are based on cooperation and the quest for mutual benefit.
In other words: when Paul wrote, people had better done what he said. Today, people better do the opposite. In Christ, after all, there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28).
Also note the visual similarity between our noun γυνη (gune), meaning woman and wife, the verb γινομαι (ginomai), meaning to be or begin to be, and the feminine noun γη (ge), meaning earth. The somewhat synonym θηλυς (thelus), meaning female (of humans, animals and even plants and soft cuddly things) relates to the verb θηλαζω (thelazo), meaning to suckle, which relates to θαομαι (thaomai) meaning to suck, which is identical to θαομαι (thaomai) meaning to marvel or admire, which relates to the verb θεαομαι (theaomai), meaning to stare at, contemplate or marvel at, which brings it in close associative proximity of words like θεωρια (theoria), a theory or thing observed, and of course θεα (thea) and θεος (theos), meaning goddess and god.
Derivations of our noun γυνη (gune) are:
- The diminutive form γυναικαριον (gunaikarion), meaning "little lady". This word seems to be somewhat on a par with our modern word "girls," and implies immaturity and gullibility. This word does not occur much in literature (and only once in the New Testament, namely in 2 Timothy 3:6), but the root of it also serves to form the much more common (by a factor of 600) noun γυναικωνιτις (gunaikonitis), or "place of women," which was the common, non-derogative denomination for the ladies' quarters in houses, palaces and temples (and to offer a parallel: our modern term "little boys' room" describes not a certain room for small boys, but rather a small room for boys of all sizes).
The myth that in antiquity all women were oppressed and all men as free as birds is of course nonsense, and although segregation comes with obvious disadvantages (women couldn't rule directly and had to pester their husbands to get things done), the bliss of designated quarters where men couldn't go can hardly be imagined today. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that in his letter to Timothy, Paul doesn't speak of silly little housewives who get swindled out of their pocket money by traveling salesmen, but rather of men who not only violate the sanctity of womanhood but first manage to gain illegitimate access (which insinuates that they cross-dressed to that intent) and then plunder those who have their guards down on the assumption that there are no men around.
Paul's use of the diminutive does not imply that he thought of all women as "little ladies," but rather submits that grown women normally have enough experience with the ways of men to withstand such assaults. Only the daftest adults or poorly instructed young ladies get hoodwinked out of their goods or virtues.
The term "heaped with sin" obviously applies to the victims but the actual sinning is done by the invading perps rather than the ladies.
- The adjective γυναικειος (gunaikeios), meaning "womanly" with the same footnote as made above. It applies to anything typically womanly, from dress to quarters to effeminate behavior whatever that may be perceived to be. This word also occurs only once, in 1 Peter 3:7, where it is famously tied to the term "weaker vessel." Slightly less famous is the understanding that the word σκευος (skeuos), for "vessel" is the common word for physique or body, and Peter rather urges households to abandon any socially common stratification based on the capacities of one's physique and embrace symbioses based on the diversity of equally valuable knowledge. An even more daring interpretation allows for individual members of a household to be considered masculine while the larger community is the female and thus the weaker vessel. After all, the Hebrew word for mother, אם ('em), is very closely related to the word אמה ('umma), meaning tribe or people — both these words derive from the amazing root אמם ('mm).