The Theological Sexism of the Bible
The Bible is an ancient book written by primitive men with primitive morals, chief amongst them being a thoroughly sexist view of women. Sexism saturates the Bible from beginning to end. It is inextricable because it is entwined with the fundamental theological understanding of God himself who is not only male but a Trinity of males consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This male God stands at the head of a hierarchy of male authority that puts women at the bottom:
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)
The sexism of the Bible cannot be denied without attacking its fundamental theological view of God and his relation to humans:
- Male Ruler: God
- Male Ruler: Christ
- Male Ruler: Man
- Female Subject: Woman
This view is confirmed and amplified in many passages. It is the basis of the fundamental analogical relationship between God (Husband) and the Church (Wife):
Wives are to be subject to their husbands in the same way as their husbands are subject to God and this is the biblical image of the relation between God and his people. Peter confirms this view when he says that wives should submit to their husbands and call them “lord” –
Wives, children, and slaves are all told to submit and obey in a parallel set of commands:
The Bible commands women to be subject to their husbands, children to obey their parents, and slaves to obey their earthly masters. This is the fundamental and inextricable teaching of the Bible supported by an integrated network of mutually confirming verses that span the entire text from beginning to end.
The Bible begins with sexism. The creation myth blames the woman for all the sin in the world and says God himself placed two curses upon her: 1) the pain of childbirth and 2) male domination:
This verse cannot be explained away because its plain meaning is confirmed and applied in the New Testament where it is used as a justification for why women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in Christian churches:
Women are not allowed to teach because 1) males have primacy because Adam was created first and 2) women are not reliable teachers because they are easily deceived, like Eve. And it completes the picture of the creation myth when it says “woman will be saved through childbearing” (which is the only value they had according to some church fathers, see below). That women must be silent and in submission to men is confirmed and explained as being “in the law” in 1 Corinthians:
Paul appealed to the creation myth again to justify the male hierarchy of authority described above:
This verse gave rise to the abominable doctrine that women do not even share in the image of God because Paul said man is “the image and glory of God” whereas woman is merely “the glory of man.” Here is how the highly influential seventeenth century commentator Matthew Henry explained this verse:
His interpretation is entirely consistent with the male domination and sexism that saturates the Bible. It is the mainstream view held by most preachers and teachers throughout the Christian millennia. According to Wikipedia, “Famous evangelical preachers such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon used and heartily commended” Henry’s work, “with Whitefield reading it through four times – the last time on his knees” and notes that Charles Spurgeon said “Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least.” This view dominates church history because it is what the Bible undeniably teaches, as shown below in the section reviewing the sexism of prominent Christian teachers throughout the ages.
The Divine Institution of Sexism of the Bible
There are many examples of explicit and egregious sexism in the laws which are presented as being directly dictated by God himself. The very core of the Old Testament law classes women along with property in the Tenth Commandment:
After noting this fact in his article The Marginalization of Women, Christopher Rollston explains that “Ten Commandments were written to men, not women. There’s even more evidence, linguistic in nature. Hebrew has four distinct forms of the word ‘you’ and these are gender and number specific. The form of ‘you’ in every single commandment is masculine singular. The text assumes its readers are men.” We see the same presumption throughout the Bible, as in for example the book of Proverbs in which the reader is addressed as “my son” and is repeatedly warned of the dangers of evil, strange women. The book never addresses the reader as “my daughter.”
Many gross gender-based asymmetries exist in the Biblical laws. The right to divorce is given only to the man, whereas the women is “bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives” (Rom 7:2). Indeed, a man could divorce his wife if he merely found some “indecency” in her (Deut 24:1). And if she fails to bleed on her wedding night, she is presumed guilty of having illicit sexual relations and is stoned to death (Deut 22:13). If a woman intervenes in a fight between males and grabs a man’s testicles, her hand is to be cut off (Deut 25:11). If the “spirit of jealousy” comes over a man, his wife is put through a gruesome trial by ordeal in which she is forced to drink a potion made of septic “dust” from the floor of the tabernacle (which was a blood-soaked slaughter house, Num 5:14). On and on it goes. The Biblical laws are utterly barbaric, irrational, and fundamentally biased against women.
The treatment of virgins captured in war is particularly disturbing. If an Israelite man saw a beautiful woman amongst the captives, he could take her, have sex with her, and discard her like a used rag if she did not please him (Deut 21:11). But he could not sell her for money, because he took the only thing of value a women of that time had, her virginity. This also is the basis of the law that says a rapist must pay the father fifty shekels and take the damaged goods off the father’s hands. Virginity was greatly prized, so if a man’s property was damaged by another there was a price to pay:
I can’t imagine the horror of being a woman living under the laws of the Bible.
The bias against women manifests in all aspects of the text. Females are literally devalued, in monetary terms, relative to males. When consecrating a person with a vow, the price schedule is as follows (Lev 27:2-7):
|20 – 60 years||50 shekels||30 shekels||60%|
|5 – 20 years||20 shekels||10 shekels||50%|
|60 years and above||15 shekels||10 shekels||67%|
|1 month – 5 years||5 shekels||3 shekels||60%|
Likewise, when a female child is born the mother is unclean twice as long as when giving birth to a male (Lev 12:1-5). Space prohibits reviewing more of the evidence here. An extensive analysis is given in my wife’s article The Male Bias of the Bible.
The Fruit of this Sexist Tree
The sexism of the Bible saturates everything from its fundamental theological view of God to the most mundane laws governing society. It forms an inextricable fully integrated network of mutually confirming texts that teach that women are inferior to men, that women are of less value than men, that women are the source of sin and deception, and that women must be in constant subjugation under male rule. It was therefore inevitable that the men who believed these words and carried this tradition down through the ages would be corrupted in their view of women. It is impossible that they would not manifest this corruption in their own commentaries on the Bible. Here is a brief sampling of the fruit this tree has produced:
- Clement of Alexandria (150?-215?) “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.”
- Tertullian (2nd-3rd c. Church father) In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell.
- Tertullian “Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You led astray one whom the devil would not dare attack directly. It was your fault that the Son of God had to die; you should always go in mourning and rags.”
- John Chrysostom (349-407): “Amongst all the savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”
- Saint Augustine of Hippo, Church Father and Bishop (354–430) “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”
- Augustine “Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God.”
- Jerome (345?-420): “If it is good for a man not to touch a woman, then it is bad for him to touch one, for bad, and bad only, is the opposite of good.”
- Thomas Aquinas, Saint, Doctor of the Church (13th c.) As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.
- St. Albertus Magnus, Dominican theologian and Doctor of the Church (13th c.) Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. … Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.
- Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546) “If [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth–that is why they are there.”
- Luther “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”
- Luther “God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.”
- Luther “Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.”
- Martin Luther, Reformer “No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”
- John Calvin (1509-64): “Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.”
- John Wesley (1703-91): “Wife: Be content to be insignificant. What loss would it be to God or man had you never been born.”
And for a modern example, watch this fundamentalist preacher man who says that he would “never get his theology from a woman” because “it was a woman who damned the whole world to hell. The reason your sorry soul is going to hell is because a women told Adam what God thinks about things.”
An endless river of such citations could be given. The time has come to reject sexism absolutely without any kind of reservation or caveat. It is part of the collective nightmare from which all humanity is striving to awake. The time is now.