My first foray into the Bible, when I was a new Christian, was confusing and disheartening to say the least. Even before I finished reading Genesis I began to believe God hated me because I was born a woman. It was hard to think otherwise reading story after story of men doing heinous things to innocent women while still being considered worthy and righteous men of God. I remember the feelings of anguish and being forsaken by the same God I was supposed to believe loved me and died for me. It didn’t make sense
After several weeks I abandoned the Old Testament in favor of reading about the days and ministry of Jesus. It was obvious Jesus loved women and disapproved of the men who mistreated them. Though comforted by this, I still felt troubled by the recorded events of the Old Testament where women were concerned. Why would God allow it? Why would He not speak up or take action on behalf of the women? Why was there no rebuke of the men recorded in the Old Testament? If God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) how can I reconcile the silent God of the Old Testament with God, the Champion of women, in the New Testament?
It’s commonly held that God, Himself, ordained the power structures of society and by extension, the subjugation of women. Women were property. A woman’s only hope of keeping a roof over her head was to remain a virgin in her father’s house until the day she was chosen to be someone’s wife. After which, her welfare was only assured as long as her husband was pleased with her.
Read these stories and consider them for yourselves:
In Genesis (19:1-8) there is a story about two angels who encounter a man named Lot who was sitting in the gateway of the city of Sodom. Lot begs them to come home with him for the night. At first, they decline, saying they prefer to spend the night in the square.
Hospitality was paramount in that culture so Lot insisted they come home for dinner and a warm place to spend the night. The two relented and accepted his invitation.
After they’d enjoyed a nice dinner and were preparing for bed, a crowd of men from every part of the city surrounded the house. They called out to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to reason with them. “Don’t do this wicked thing.” He said. “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.”
[pullquote]No matter how you look at it, the virtue of the visitors is held to be more important than the lives and future of the innocent women being offered up in his stead. [/pullquote]
No matter how you look at it, the virtue of the visitors is held to be more important than the lives and future of the innocent women being offered up in his stead. In the ancient culture the loss of virginity outside of marriage was the ruin of the girl. The two virgin daughters would have no prospects for a decent future and their father knew it. Her only options would be prostitution or slavery the moment she was forced from her father’s house.
In Judges (19:22-23) there is another story that is nearly identical. Another stranger is protected; another daughter thrown to the wolves in his stead.
In Genesis (38 1:24) there is a story about a very famous man of God named Judah and his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. When Tamar’s husband died, Judah, promised her he would marry her to one of his other sons as soon as one came of age. He reneged on the promise and left her in social limbo for years.
Tamar’s only surety for a future in the house of Judah was to produce an heir. When she realized Judah wasn’t planning on keeping his word she tricked him into having sex with her by posing as a prostitute. As the story goes, Judah didn’t hesitate to take the bait. Three months later when Judah was told Tamar was guilty of prostitution and was pregnant Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
[pullquote class=”left”]All three of these stories underscore a malignant lack of regard for women in early biblical culture. A woman had no right to defend her virtue but was put to death if for any reason she’d lost it.[/pullquote]
It was no disgrace for men of God to use a prostitute for their own pleasure, but she could legally be put to death by the same “godly” men who made prostitution her only means of survival.
We’ve come a long way in how women are regarded in our society today. Women are leading Fortune 500 companies and running for President of the United States. Women are encouraged to pursue their dreams and develop their talents. The world has benefited greatly by the leadership of qualified women.
But the Church…not so much.
Why has male dominance survived in the church when it’s been all but vanquished elsewhere in our culture?
Because God said so?
Are you sure about that?
Most of us were raised on the narrative:
A: God created the man first which clearly means men matter more to God.
B: God created woman as man’s subordinate helper.
C: Eve was the one who was deceived in the Garden of Eden so it follows that man must keep her under tight control in order to protect the Church.
D: No matter how talented or spiritually gifted a woman may be, she must be under the authority of a man.
E: Any woman who desires something other than this is a usurper with an unnatural and ungodly desire for power that God ordained be given only to men.
Seems clear enough. Except for a couple of things.
A: When God gave the command to not eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve hadn’t been created yet (Genesis 2:16-17).
B: It wasn’t God who told Eve, but Adam, and he was standing right next to her when the serpent deceived her. Not only did he not do anything to stop her, he ate the apple too! (Genesis 3:6)
C: Yes, God created Eve to be a suitable mate and a helper for Adam. But it is a very slippery slope to say this implies a subordinate position. God is our Helper (Psalm 79:9, Psalm 60:11, Psalm 70:1, Psalm 121:1, Exodus 13:19, 2 Kings 6:27, Matthew 15:25) and no one would ever claim God is lesser, weaker or in any way subordinate to man.
Blame Eve for the fall of man if you want to; Adam certainly did (Genesis 3:12). But there is still one more Biblical fact that undermines the idea of male authority being God’s intended order.
D: It wasn’t established in creation but as a consequence of the fall. It was a Curse.
“To the woman He said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16
[pullquote]This was God’s curse…not God’s plan for humanity. [/pullquote]
This was God’s curse…not God’s plan for humanity. This was the consequence of sin…not God’s perfect will for His creation.
Once sin entered the world nothing came easily to men or women ever again. Men lived by the sweat of their brow and women often died giving birth.
Men learned how to succeed by using their authority, power and control. Women learned how to survive by being desirable to the men who had authority, power and control.
[pullquote Class=”left”]Greed and inequality are the manifestations of a sinful mankind.[/pullquote]
Jesus said “It is finished.” (John 19:30) He didn’t say, “I’ll finish it when I come back next time. “
The Apostle Paul, after a lifetime of being trained up as a “Pharisee of Pharisees”, was converted to Christ on the road to Damascus. Though his faith in Christ came in an instant, his views on culture and tradition didn’t change overnight.
Though his letters are held as the preeminent authority on how and where women are accepted in the church there is a long standing dispute over which letters he actually wrote and which were attributed to him erroneously. Only seven of Paul’s letters are undisputed. Spoiler alert: 1 and 2 Timothy are not on the list.
Also noteworthy is the letters as they appear in the Bible are not in chronological order. When studied chronologically a very different view of Paul emerges. The apparent contradiction of Paul’s admonishments about women with his praise of Priscilla (who is thought to be the actual author of Hebrews) as a Co-worker and Junias as outstanding among the Apostles is greatly diminished to say the least.
One thing that is not in dispute is Paul clearly said that Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death.
[pullquote]Why would we continue to embrace the curse as though it were good? Who benefits from that?[/pullquote]
Why would we continue to embrace the curse as though it were good? Who benefits from that?
I’ll tell you who doesn’t benefit from that. The Church. The World. The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you’ve been trained up to believe male authority is an essential and incontrovertible fact of God’s order to the world I doubt anything I say will change your mind. I’ve been speaking and writing about this for years and, for the most part, have been criticized and accused of being a power hungry woman…mostly by other women. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts the negative comments that follow this post will be written by women. It’s rather tragic if you ask me.
It can be difficult to loosen our grasp on ideas we’ve staked our “truth” on all our lives. I know it was for me. It took some time for me to accept the calling God placed on my life as truly legitimate. I was blessed and excited about serving God as a pastor but, at first, felt vulnerable and insecure about it. Whenever someone criticized me for it I held my head high, but then raced back to my knees before God for assurance. Not anymore.
You might be saying, “Who do you thing you are claiming such authority on scripture?” and I suppose that would be a legitimate reaction. Perhaps you’d be willing to read about how some better known and very prominent MALE Evangelicals changed their minds about what the scriptures say about women in ministry? Check out “How I changed My Mind About Women in Leadership” You’ll learn how Tony Campolo, Bill Hybels, John Ortberg and several others changed from an ingrained Male Authority or Complementarian view to a fully Egalitarian view.
If none of them convince you then perhaps God can. Though the Old Testament shows very little deference to women it does include a few key stories about women who changed the course of history because of their leadership and dedication to the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus came to earth to put humankind back on the right path in their relationship with God and one another. He went out of His way to use women in a culture that didn’t give women the time of day. He taught women, defended women and elevated women into positions of leadership that launched the early Church. All of these persuaded me to believe our God truly did create women in His image with every intention of using their gifts, talents and strengths in any way that would build His Church and accomplish His plans.
Because I know Jesus, I know God was never okay with the way His daughters were mistreated, abused and silenced.
We were created to make manifest the glory of God by using the glorious gifts He imparted to us – regardless of our gender.
Doesn’t that make a lot more sense?
In His love and service,
Sharon Bollum, Pastor, Writer and Producer