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  1. #1
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    Jun 2007

    How the Bible Views Women

    Here is a good article on How the Bible Views Women

    How the Bible Views Women

    Written by Taylor Carr - June 3rd, 2009
    "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." -Exodus 22:18, KJV

    Throughout the 14th to the 18th century, Exodus 22:18 served as the inspiration for thousands of witch-hunts, executions, and cases of sexist discrimination. Scholars estimate that as many as 63,000 women may have been executed worldwide during the period known as the Burning Times [1]. With such an uncomfortable and bloody past, it's really no surprise that Christianity tries desperately to distance itself from any appearance of sexism. It would also be a little disconcerting to find discriminatory beliefs and behaviors in a religion claiming to love and accept everyone equally. However, modern Christianity has gone above and beyond trying to wash its hands of the past. Many pastors, apologists and believers now assert that their religion paved the way for women's rights. The intent of this article is to examine this claim and discuss the portrayal of women as found in the bible.

    I. Sexism in the Old Testament
    What are some examples of the discriminatory language or sexist teachings in the bible? In the first book of the canon, we can already find one. Genesis 3:16-19 tells about the punishments given to Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree which God had forbidden them to eat from. Verse 16 says that God punished Eve by increasing her pains of childbirth and declaring that she would desire her husband Adam, and he would "rule over" her. Then in verses 17-19, we learn that Adam's punishment was that he would have difficulty toiling the earth for food. So on the one hand we have Eve, whose pain will be worse whenever she gives birth, and who is at the service of her husband - and on the other hand we have Adam, whose work gathering food will be more troublesome. Although Eve was the first to eat from the tree, both she and Adam disobeyed God, and all sin is equally offensive in God's eyes, according to many Christians. Yet Eve's punishment is clearly more severe than Adam's.
    Further along in Genesis 19, a man of God named Lot stresses the value of women in another way. Two (male) angels come to meet Lot and he insists that they stay at his house for the night. Not long passes before "all the men from every part of the city" surround Lot's house, demanding that he release the two angels so they can all rape them. Being a man of God, Lot answers the door and pleads for the mob to accept his two daughters instead of the angels. We read Lot's own words in verse 8:

    "Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." Later on in Genesis 19:30-36, these 'prized' daughters of Lot get their father drunk, each have sex with him, and both become pregnant. The bible never condemns Lot, in fact he's even called a righteous man in 2 Peter 2:7-8. Interestingly, a very similar story to Lot's trouble at Sodom is found in Judges 19, where an unnamed man accepts guests into his house, wicked inhabitants of the city turn out to demand the release of the guests for them to rape, and then the owner of the house offers his daughter and a concubine to the mob instead (verses 22-24). However, this version ends in a quite disturbingly different fashion, as the man sends his concubine out and she is raped and abused "throughout the night" until dawn (v. 25). In the morning her master finds her unresponsive and decides to cut her up into twelve parts, sending pieces to all the areas of Israel as a moral wake-up call.
    Another case of sexism is found in Exodus 21:2-11, where God instructs his people on the rules for owning and freeing slaves, emphasizing that female slaves should always please their masters and are not able to be liberated in the same ways that male slaves can be. God always sets the monetary value of a man higher than that of a woman in Leviticus 27:1-7. Women who wear men's clothing are detestable to God, according to Deuteronomy 22:5, and in verses 23-34, God orders that an engaged woman who is raped by a foreigner must be stoned to death because she did not cry out for help loudly enough. But if the woman is not engaged, the rapist is to pay 50 shekels, marry his victim, and never divorce her (Deut. 22:28-29).
    When King David sinned by having Uriah killed on the battlefield and committing adultery with his wife Bathsheba, God stated that David's multiple other wives would be raped in broad daylight as a consequence (2 Samuel 12:11-12). The rapist turned out to be David's own son Absalom, as we read later in chapter 16, verse 22. Such a simple punishment apparently wasn't enough for Yahweh though, as he also decided to kill the son David and Bathsheba first conceived in their adultery (verses 14-18). Understandably distraught by the whole situation, Bathsheba grieves and David consoles her by sleeping with her and getting her pregnant again (v. 24-25). Perhaps children are replaceable.
    So far all of these examples have come exclusively from the Old Testament, and I can imagine some Christians might protest because of it, as though it's not an important part of their 'perfect' and 'unchanging' bible. But while the Old Testament primarily contains stories with sexist implications, the New Testament features a lot of actual teachings that seem quite misogynistic.

    II. Sexism in the New Testament
    Considering the story of Eve once more, we find interesting sentiments from the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14-15...

    "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
    But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
    Like I stated before, both Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the definition of sin in Christianity is disobedience to God. How Paul concludes that Eve, and not Adam, was the sinner and the one deceived is unknown to me, but the preceding verses might give some hints.

    "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve." -1 Timothy 2:11-13 From these verses we can gather three important observations about Paul's view of women. First, that he expected women to be silent and submissive to men, inside and outside of church. Secondly, Paul did not allow women to have positions of power or authority over men in the church. Preachers and apologists will often point to Romans 16 as an example of the role of women in the early church, as it lists several female names involved in ministry. However, there is no information on the titles these women held, and Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 seems intended to deny women positions above men in the church, not to deny them any position of importance. Lastly, Paul supports his assertions by noting that Adam was the one created by God first, not Eve. To the apostle, there is a clear hierarchy of responsibility and authority among the sexes, and women fall into second place, because they were created second.
    These oppressive and demeaning teachings are expressed in Paul's other epistles too. 1 Corinthians 11:3 explains that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man". Men answer only to Jesus, but women answer to Jesus and to men. In verses 5 and 6, Paul also commands that any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered should have her hair shaved off. Men are exempt from this though, since they are "the image and glory of God", while the woman is merely the "glory of man" (verse 7). Verse 10 notes that one reason for women to cover their heads is because of the angels. Women must be modest so they don't tempt God's angels? Instruction is given to women to be silent in church in 1 Corin. 14:34-35, and they are only allowed to ask questions to their husbands at home after church.
    Paul is not the only apostle or character in the New Testament to utter misogynistic ideas though. The disciple Peter stressed, in 1 Peter 3:1-7, that women are the "weaker vessel", that they should be "in subjection" to their husbands, and they should dress modestly without braided hair or gold jewelry. Luke 2:22 tells us that Mary the mother of Jesus had to undergo purification rites after giving birth... to the son of God. Verse 23 mentions that firstborn males are to be consecrated to the lord, and there is of course no mention of firstborn females. The apocalyptic book of Revelation contains lots of strong negative imagery involving women too, such as the whore of Babylon and Jezebel the prophetess.
    There are more than enough verses in the bible to make a very solid case for calling it a sexist book, but before we jump to any conclusions, let's hear what the apologists and Christians have to say in response to the allegations, and try to determine if there are any redeeming passages.

    III. The Apologist's Answer to Sexism in the Bible
    In defending the bible against accusations of sexism, apologists and ministers tend to formulate their own arguments based on assumptions of specific events described in the bible, instead of citing any actual teachings that are pro-woman. A good example of this can be seen in an article from the Come Reason Ministries website [2]. Author Lenny Esposito answers the misogyny charge with the following arguments:

    "The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman (John 20:15-18). The first European convert was a woman (Acts 16:14). The only followers of Jesus to stand with Him in his crucifixion were women. There were woman in the upper room and anointed with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14, 2:1-4). Jesus was born to an earthly mother, but not an earthly father (Matt. 1:18, etc.). Only a woman understood Christ's upcoming death (Mark 14:8). These actions show that women played a part as crucial to Christ's ministry as the men." The problem with claims like these is that they really miss the point of what sexism is. It's not always a discrimination in authority or positions of significance. Just because women were allowed to be part of the Christian sect does not at all mean the religion was feminist. Christians can argue that women were first at the tomb (Paul actually says it was Peter that Christ first appeared to in 1 Corin. 15:3-8), that they believed the resurrection more than men, and all these details until they're blue in the face, but such things do not whitewash the bible or excuse the countless other clear instances of sexism. It's a bit like how the U.S. government gave African Americans the right to vote, but continued to discriminate against them for several more decades, through other means like poll taxes. Saying that the bible stories gave women significant roles is a matter of opinion and hardly holds any merit, considering the much more distinctive sexist writings of Paul and the Old Testament authors.
    Esposito goes on to quote Galatians 3:28 as evidence for the equal status of men and women in Christianity. The verse states that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." On the surface level, this does seem like a fairly good teaching, but think about what it literally says. Putting the verse back into context will better illustrate its true meaning:

    "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." -Galatians 3:26-29 These verses in Galatians are only stating that the Greek is just as much in Christ as the Jew, the slave is just as much in Christ as the free, and the female is just as much in Christ as the male. In other words, the religion accepts everyone, and no person can be more of a believer in Jesus than another person. It does not follow, however, that all of the aforementioned groups are treated equally in other matters aside from their faith in Christ. Reading some of Paul's other writings as listed above, we could've easily suspected in advance that Galatians 3:28 is not intended to advocate equal treatment of all persons. Esposito ironically solidifies this when he explains how passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 should be interpreted...

    "God created the world and its systems with an order to them. He has divinely given the responsibility of authority for the church as an organized body to the man, just as the ultimate authority of the marriage relationship rests on the man. This does not make the man superior, only placed in a different role than the woman." So God has given men authority and responsibility in the church and in relationships... and what authority and responsibility is given to women? To submit to their husbands and bear children? Please read the last line of what Esposito says again. Men are not superior, they only have a different role and different authority than women. But in all honesty, the role and authority of men, as the bible reads in numerous passages, is above or over women. This is not even a teaching of 'separate but equal', no attempt at equality is even made. The bible is clear (1 Corin. 11:3, 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Titus 2:4-5, 1 Peter 3:1) - the role and authority of men is not just more distinguished than that of women, but it is over women. Women must submit to men.
    In stark contrast to Mr. Esposito, there are also Christians who realize the danger that feminism presents to their patriarchal religion and outspokenly condemn it. The following excerpt is from an article on the Christian apologetics website

    "Feminism is a counterfeit solution to the real issue of the inequality of women in a sinful society. Feminism arrogates to itself the right to demand respect and equality in every aspect of life. Feminism is based in arrogance and it is the opposite of the call to the born again believer to be a servant. The actions of the modern, militant feminists are geared to cause women to rise up and rebel against the order that God has given to mankind. That brand of feminism seeks to impose humanistic solutions that are in direct opposition to the Word of God." [3] I don't think much needs to be said on this. The entire article demonizes the feminist movement and the advocacy of women's rights, instead recommending that women live their lives based on the bible to truly be 'free'. This brings to mind another common claim apologists frequently make about the bible and women.

    IV. Pioneers of Equality?
    By naming the female apostles and telling us that women were the first to discover the empty tomb, apologists indirectly assert that Christianity was ahead of its time, pioneering the equality of men and women. Ravi Zacharias and many other Christian theologians are fond of introducing such claims with a remark on how women in those days weren't considered reliable enough to testify in a court of law [4]. Somehow that's supposed to mean that the bible was progressive for its time or that God values women equally, since he decided to let them be the first to happen upon the resurrected savior. Believers who try to argue that Christianity led the way to feminism and women's liberation are grossly misinformed. Even if it did contain clearly pro-woman teachings, the bible still would not have been the first record of an open policy of sexual equality.
    Egypt, the great enemy of Israel in the bible, had powerful female deities in its pantheon of gods, warrior women in their culture, and a very lax attitude on responsibility and authority between the two sexes. Archaeological and historical evidence has shown that Egyptian women were even payed the same rations as men, for working the same jobs [5]. In addition to the Egyptians, Scandinavian lore is filled with tales of Valkyries, Shieldmaidens, and many other independent, dominant women. Many of the ancient Greek philosophers considered sexism to be a disease, caused by the fear of women, and the word 'misogyny' even has it origins in Greek [6]. Christianity did not pioneer sexual equality or feminism in any sense, especially given that the apologist claims of pro-woman biblical content are so insignificant and vague to begin with.

    V. Pro-Woman Teachings of the Bible
    When it comes to just about any moral issue, the bible may be found to have both positive and negative things to say, good stuff and bad stuff. I've already laid out an overwhelming amount of verses that pretty clearly espouse sexism and misogyny, but there are a few redeeming teachings in the bible that cast women in a much more favorable and honorable light.
    The book of Esther tells the tale of a heroine who saves the Jewish people and her own cousin from annihilation. Esther is often spoken of very favorably throughout the book, portrayed as an ideal woman of God. The book of Ruth is also a positive and pro-woman story, involving a daughter-in-law who decides to stay and comfort her mother-in-law (Naomi) after her children and husband die. A man named Boaz becomes attracted to Ruth, partially because he has heard of her compassion and care for Naomi. It might be worth noting that both Ruth and Esther were fairly submissive in their relationships with their husbands and most other men, but there are other bible heroines who are a bit more independent.
    In Judges 4-5 we read of two women, Deborah and Jael, who both fought valiantly in battle for Israel. A prostitute named Rahab is a heroine in Joshua 2, for hiding spies sent by God in her home and helping them escape from soldiers. In the end, the Israelites spared Rahab during their conquest of Jericho. Rahab is praised further in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 for being a woman of faith and a doer of good works.
    Jesus did not directly teach equality of the sexes, but a few of his treatments of women described in the bible were unusual for the time. He ignored the superstitious purity laws of the Old Testament when he cured a woman who had been suffering from menstrual bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34). Christ spoke to and interacted with foreign women from Samaria and Canaan, although he also called non-Jews "dogs" in Matthew 15:25-26. Then of course there is the famous story of Jesus sparing and forgiving the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11.

    VI. It's a Mixed Bag
    The bible does have some good things to say about women, but it features plenty of sexism and misogyny as well. I would not go so far as to say the entire book is sexist, because it's not. Yet the apologists and believers who assert that it influenced women's rights or that it innovatively emphasized sexual equality are dead wrong too. What should we think about the bible's depiction of women then? Think the only reasonable thing that can be ascertained from reading it. The biblical text is the product of several different time periods and cultures, and so naturally it contains various thoughts and feelings from various human authors. Equality was not the norm during the days of the Old Testament or the New Testament, and it is not surprising to find that the bible has a lot more male chauvinism in it than feminism. History shows that believers have interpreted the bible in support of both views too.
    Literalist Christians want to believe their holy book is the inspiration for all the positive advancements of humanity and civilization, because they are convinced that the bible has all the answers and is a source of perfect, unchanging morality. Fundamentalists rarely follow the Old Testament laws though, which is puzzling to find in people who claim that there is no relative or subjective morality in their religious text. The faithful will do their best to justify the uncomfortable portions of the bible, but it is just simply ignorant and disrespectful to the countless victims of sexism to pretend that Christianity has never been anything but a proponent of women. If we don't own up to our mistakes, we will never learn from them, and discrimination and prejudice will continue to survive. The easiest way to foster their survival is to cling to the primitive barbarisms of the past, invoking tradition as an excuse.
    Never trust anything you are afraid to question ~

    To know oneself is to know the universe...

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    My new Blog site: God and Butterfly

  2. #2

    Butterfly Child

    Hi Rose,

    I have been swapping ideas with "your other half" for a few weeks, and had a read of the above article (How the Bible Views Women"). I will post some comments on it once I get a bit more up to date with the posts with Richard.

    I thought you might enjoy an audio file done by an Israeli girl who "escaped" from a lot of repression back home - (and landed in a lot more in this part of the world - a long story).Her audio is something she sells with a book, so I can't post it on a public forum, but I will see if I can get the private message thing working. She talks in English,and puts the story into a very new-age package - but the chants are really Hebrew sounds, somewhat transposed (fittingly for a Rabbi's daughter) from God's name.

    The story's title is "Butterfly Child" -- which was why I made the link - ie when I saw your "Free as a butterfly" graphic,

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