Faith Killers: Female Inferiority 

In this new series, I am going to tackle some of the toughest subjects I have encountered – subjects that have shattered people’s faith. I’m started with a major faith killer in today’s society, which is the Bible’s take on the role of women. I’ve watched my female friends bow out of Christianity because they believe the Bible makes women out to be weak, helpless, and inferior to men. They thought the Bible oppressed women and glorified men.

So, let’s clear things up! What does the Bible really say about women and how does that apply to us today?

First of all, Genesis 1:27 tells us that both men and women are created in God’s image. This means that God views us as equals. He didn’t create Adam like Himself and then make something up for Eve. Both are made to be like God in character. It is very important to remember that when the Bible is dishing out the roles of man vs. woman, there is no difference in value or importance. God designed each gender for the roles defined.

Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him,’” and in verse 22-23, “and the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of man.”

God made Adam, but realized that he shouldn’t be alone. God had given him authority over the Earth and animals, but without a companion, without someone he could share it with – it wasn’t enough. He then begins creating all different animals and creatures as Adam’s “helpers” but no one is “fit for him.” This means that nothing else is going to cut it until God creates Eve. When God crafts Eve, he literally takes part of Adam away in order to make her – this makes them one flesh. In other words, God specifically designed Eve for Adam and Adam for Eve. They complement each other. It does not imply that women are less than or even reliant on men. It is also important to note that the Bible is specifically showing a husband-wife relationship here, not just a man-woman relationship.

Things start getting more confusing in Genesis 3. Here Eve has given in to the temptation. She ate the fruit and now God is revealing the consequences: she must suffer childbearing pains (as the “mother of all living,” originally a blessed title), she will be ruled over by her husband, and now Adam is going to suffer and toil all the days of his life for joining her in eating the fruit. The key thing I want to focus on is in Gen. 3:16 when it says, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Assuming Eve is representing all women to follow, this would suggest that wives will be ruled by their husbands. As a woman, that’s a bit frustrating to hear. Why should all women have to pay for what Eve did? I thought God was just?

I’m just going to let that sit for a moment. In fact, I’m probably going to make you feel worse.

1 Timothy 2 has a lot to say about women’s roles after The Fall. Paul first stresses that women should be modest in how they dress – that seems reasonable. Tempting others to sin is sin (even unintentionally), even if they don’t follow through with the sin, they’ve thought it, and just thinking it is also a sin! Obviously, if we want to be clear of sin, choosing to dress respectfully to ourselves with the body God made for us is a good place to start.

But then, it goes on in verses 12-14, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

NOOO! If you read this out of context, it sounds like God’s decided no woman can ever have authority in any situation. She must be quiet and cannot teach anyone anything. Furthermore, man came first so man is superior and a woman messed up, so it’s all her fault the world is fallen.

Yikes. This is how I would have taken it in the past. Context is so important to understanding the true meaning of passages in the Bible. What is happening in 1 Timothy is that Apostle Paul is writing to the church of Ephesus, telling them how the church is supposed to be, in accordance to what God has revealed to him. When it says, “I do not permit,” that is Paul speaking in his authority as the one God called to raise the churches after Christ. When it says women cannot teach or exercise authority over a man, he is referring to women serving as Elders in a church. The Bible is very clear that men should be the leaders/overseers/elders of a church. Women are allowed to teach children and other women, but should be “quiet” as in not leading over a congregation.

I want to pause and point out that many theologians debate that the only reason things were laid out this way for the church in Ephesus and several other churches, is that in that culture, women were generally not educated. Most women, based on the laws (which we are told to follow the laws of our lands), could not even read. This means that those women could not study the Bible on their own and had to learn from their husbands, who were educated. It is a widely accepted theory that in today’s world, this means women with education and an ability to read the Bible and learn from it themselves are now fully “allowed” to teach and lead congregations (hence Joyce Meyer). Additionally, in Acts 18:24-26, two women are shown pulling aside a well-educated elder and teaching him the way of God. Obviously, this is not over the congregation, but it shows that women are allowed to teach and guide men.

Back to the verses, when Paul mentions Adam and Eve, he is showing us that the roles of men and women were part of God’s design and not necessarily just a result of the original sin. God intended for men to lead and women to support. This created a balanced relationship. If both tried to lead, there would be conflict. If both only supported, there would be no direction. Again, remember this is meant for married couples. Marriage was designed to symbolize the relationship between Christ (the groom) and the Church/Us (the bride).

This is best described in Ephesians 5:22-24:

“Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Here Paul is saying wives submit to their husband just like they submit to Christ. Still sounds a bit frustrating, but submission does not make us slaves to our husbands. God wants wives to listen to their husbands, respect them, run ideas past them, be agreeable, and trust them. Obviously, this doesn’t mean husbands should get to walk all over their wives and treat them like slaves and property. It doesn’t mean get in the kitchen and make dinner because he said so. It means God’s dream – if you will – is that wives will be eager to help, support, and please their husband. Also, notice it doesn’t say, “Women submit to men, as to the Lord.” It’s only to her own husband. He is illustrating the best way for a woman to be a godly wife – the way that will lead to the most happiness! Remember, God has our good in mind!

Ready for the flipside?

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself… Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:25-31, ESV)

The husband is supposed to put his wife before himself – to be willing to die for her, give up all that he has for her. This means that if he’s striving to be like Christ, he’s going to be leading in a way that is not best for himself, but best for his wife. The husband is supposed to be self-sacrificial. In God’s perfect dream for marriage, the wife is helping the husband and the husband is leading them toward her best interest. They take care of each other. Neither is more important. They are devoting themselves to each other’s happiness and fulfillment.

Let’s take on another difficult verse!

 1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

I like how when I first read this, I was all about it until I got to “weaker vessel,” then that was the only thing I originally took out of it. It’s easy to read that and think, “oh so now women are weak?!” There’s a couple ways to take it. Personally, I take it as cultural status. Women were viewed as lesser than men in that culture, so husbands were supposed to treat them as equal heirs because in God’s eyes, that’s what they are. Notice also, it says that the husbands’ prayers can be hindered by how he treats his wife! So, if a man is abusing his authority, mistreating her, hurting her, God’s going to look down and stamp a big fat “NO” on his prayers because he is disobeying His command. This can even be taken as a warning against physical abuse, since yes, generally speaking, most men are physically stronger than women and have a greater potential of hurting their wives. (Of course, it can go the other way too, and I’m sure God won’t answer the prayers of an abusive wife either.)

Most of the “trouble” verses are about wives and husbands, some of it applies to churches, but none of it applies to the workplace, school, or any other situation. Women are not inferior to men according to the Bible. In fact, if I had more time, I’d write all the examples of how much God loves his daughters and how big of an impact they have had! The bottom line is that God has a vision for the dynamic between a man and woman, but because it is so easy to misunderstand what is really being said, take things out of context, and misuse the Word, it was perceived and taught in the light of women being lesser than men.

As a final note, here’s some “Verses to Remember” about the type of women God actually hopes his daughters will be!

Proverbs 31:

  • V. 17: “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”
  • V. 20: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches her hands to the needy.”
  • V. 25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the times to come.”
  • V. 26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
  • V. 30-31: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

2 Comments

  1. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

    This verse doesn’t say either way that God made mankind as equals, only that they were made as male and female – which are two different kinds of mankind. Because they were made different, there allows for an inequality in that a denial of inequality is not expressly stated. I mean, think about reading this verse before feminism changed our understanding of humanity. Would you interpret it in such a way that men, with their natural leadership and women with their obvious submission, are equals? Further, Eve’s femininity has to come from somewhere – or else she’s something that is not in God. Yet suggest that there’s something feminine about God and people will jump down your throat as a heretic because God the father is male, God the son is male, and the holy spirit – is probably male, too. If we can’t honor the divine feminine in God, then how can we hope to honor it’s replica – the feminine in women?

    Genesis 2 has been interpreted, re-interpreted, and misinterpreted to death – and then some. The Bible authors refer to it and people read the New Testament into it all the time. Culturally speaking, a lot of times “the help” is considered as inferior. The fact we have to fight that tendency by reminding people over and over again that help isn’t inferior, that God is known as Israel’s help and he’s not inferior – shows you how deeply ingrained that attitude is – but it’s hard to put it to rest given that women are put in a position where they are not in any true sense of power. Women help men, but men aren’t thought of as women’s helpers, are they?

    Genesis 3 – English betrays us here. The talking serpent uses a plural “you” when it asks the woman (she has no name yet, she’s possibly She-Adam and he’s He-Adam, it’s hard to say from the ancient tongue how they’d distinguish them.) about eating from trees. Given that the serpent is intelligent enough to speak and form a coherent sentence, it seems quite a flaw to go to up to someone and say “y’all” unless that’s just what it meant. So the man was there with her and not really doing anything to stop her or to jump into the conversation. Only after she is cursed does she get the name Eve. Many use this moment, as well as the earlier poem to assert: “Adam names her woman, then Eve, therefore he has authority over her – as all namers have authority over all namees.” So every which way, they find a reason to say Adam has authority over Eve, by being created first, by naming her, by being directly in God’s image and not as a derivative image bearer. Since then, men have been asserting authority over and ruling women.

    1 Timothy 2 is one of those sets of verses that are often used to interpret Genesis 2-3 because of the reference to Adam and Eve. The question of modesty may very well be resolved when one considers that women rarely dressed as to be sexually provocative in ancient Israel (or modern Israel or in the modern Middle East) because of the extremely prevalent cultural disapproval of such attire – rather, it existed to tell the rich women to stop dressing to the nines in such a way that the poor women felt under-dressed and outclassed in church. But even so, the rule that women must be quiet, is forbidden from teaching, and can only be saved through childbearing is more than enough reason to have qualms about Christianity. But this is the church in Ephesus, and most of the women in question are ex-priestesses. If one takes that into account, then the rule could be understood as: “Women should learn the ropes of Christianity before taking the reigns.” I’d like to imagine such rules as training wheels, meant to guide an ancient church until such time that they’re no longer needed. They might not have been culturally open to women being teachers and elders, but surely today that should be okay by God given how men and women are educated equally and breadwinners equally. In fact, let’s take a moment to consider how the early church operated: Grapte was a co-leader, working alongside Clement to teach the widows and the orphans. Jerome once referred the elders of the church to Marcella for education on a tricky theological point. Two deaconesses were brought before a leader to answer for their faith. Women had a role in the early church that has been denied them in the modern church.

    As a single individual, these marriage-centric focus really leaves me outside of Christianity. I’m not fulfilling my role – I’m a nothing. Ancient Israel’s families were nothing like ours, their households contained a head of household, usually a father, and oftentimes, the master of the slaves. He was married to his wife, who could order some slaves, didn’t have a lot of authority over her kids, but that’s their culture. The kids – well, the Bible says that a kid is pretty much along the same lines as a slave – up until inheritance or coming of age. So they didn’t have it all that sweet either. The wives and the slaves had the same order: submit. One wouldn’t eternally order the institution of slavery as one of permanence built on God’s design, but marriage does just that.

    The problem is that people have this great skill at taking anything and twisting it – God might have meant slavery to be a beneficial program, an early version of welfare – but people oppressed each other. So too, with these verses on marriage, much harm has been done. Some wives have been taught to NEVER tell their husbands “no” because that’s not submitting to them in everything. I’ve seen men who use the “I’m the decision-maker” card to give themselves whatever they want. One man advocates “punishing” his wife by not giving her the things she wants, like a dishwasher, when she’s not being sufficiently submissive. Oh, and these are all Christian misinterpretations of the text, some preached from a pulpit as if it were out of the mouth of God.

    Ultimately, personal experience has won out. Whenever I walk into a church, I get swarmed:

    “Are you plugged into a ministry yet? The nursery is always looking for some help. Speaking of, when are you going to be popping out a kid? You are married, right? You’re old enough to be.”

    “Um, no. I like kids just fine – but I’d rather not babysit them unless there’s a major emergency like the roof being on fire or zombies. Um, I’m not pregnant. Nope, I’m single. No, really – I had no idea I was old enough to be married. I’d actually like to go on dates or something first, crazy me – I wouldn’t marry just anyone.”

    “Date? Do you have permission from your father? Courtship is just so Biblical, that’s why God prefers it.”

    “Right … so which Bible verse says that God requires my potential suitors to go through my father? I’m pretty sure courtship is a rather recent conflagration of the bible and dating practices from last century or so thanks to a book by one Joshua Harris called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Anyway, is anyone up for a debate on the finer points of infralapsarianism?”

    “We have a code red: a female who’s not a Martha Stewart-type who used the word “infralapsarianism” – let’s have her do arts’n’crafts until she sees sense and stops talking about theology. Maybe if she stops using big words and losses a few IQ points we’ll be able to marry her off to one of the eligible bachelors.”

    And here I am thinking: “estas igrejas são loucas” – these churches are crazy, It’s a good thing I didn’t tell them I’m multilingual.

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    1. Hi!

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment with such detail and thought!

      I definitely feel that this is a subject that can be interpreted many different ways, and fortunately, the beliefs and opinions we form on it do not actually effect our salvation. So, surely we can disagree on the details. Please note: I am not interested in debating on my blog, but I feel I need to respond to the questions my readers might have after reading your comment. Please, do not take it as a challenge to your beliefs, rather it’s an expansion on what I wrote before. It’s not my place to convince anyone to believe as I do.

      Regarding Genesis: the reason I conclude that God creating man and woman in his image makes them equal, is that humanity is the only thing in all creation made after God’s likeness. Consider the trinity. The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are all equally God but they all serve a different role. The Father is the creator and author of all things, The Son is the savior and the bridge between sinners and the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the helper. While they have different roles – like man and woman – they are still equally God and equal in importance. So, God created a man and a woman for different purposes, but neither is less important when you consider they are both made in God’s likeness.

      Also, notice how the Holy Spirit is often referred to as “The Helper.” Just as woman is referred to as a helper. Perhaps this is that femininity in God? While the Holy Spirit is also referred to as male, he serves as our Helper, guide, and source of power and strength. I think that alone tells us the title of “helper” is incredibly important and equal in value. I am honored, personally, to share that title with the Holy Spirit!

      However, all that being said, we live in a fallen and authoritarian world. One of the enemy’s favorite things to do is to twist and turn the Word of Truth so that it sounds right, but it’s still lies. Basically: lies wrapped in truth. Obviously, with a highly spiritually disconnected society (now and throughout history) the world would take advantage and misuse what God was saying. In religious culture (relying on rituals and not seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance), people are likely to enforce irrelevant to our time rules – such as women not being able to have power. In that sense, I wholeheartedly agree with the comment here. The world is ridiculously good at going against God’s Truth, and often, without even noticing it. I definitely believe women have a prominent place in the church and it doesn’t always mean teaching children – though that is important, both genders can perform that. The Holy Spirit can speak through whomever he wants, whenever and wherever he wants – so long as that person is listening and obeying him (and even sometimes when they aren’t). I don’t think the Holy Spirit is going shy away from using a woman as an instrument just because she’s a woman.

      Lastly, my post was not meant to say unmarried women are “a nothing.” In fact, Paul even mentions that being single is better than being married, because if you are single than you can focus completely on God, but when you are married, now you are focusing on God and someone else. Of course, marriage is also a wonderful blessing. Both are great in their own way. I constantly emphasized that the verses I used were about married couples because it’s important to notice it’s a relationship-design not a culture-design. Women are not asked to submit to all men. It’s only to their husbands, who are asked to sacrifice everything for their wives. This means that woman can be managers, governors, captains, world leaders, etc. Unfortunately, cultures (and many crazy churches!) still take advantage of women – I am not in denial of that. I simply wanted to offer another viewpoint on women’s roles in a Christian belief system, hoping to help those that believe God views women as inferior to men.

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