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Does the Bible Demean Women?

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by Sharon James


If there is an unforgivable sin today, it is that of sexism. We are conditioned by modern presuppositions about equality to react against any role distinctions for men and women. We read that God created woman as the “helper” (Gn 2:18), that “the man is the head of the woman” (1 Co 11:3), that wives should submit (Eph 5:22), or that only men are to lead the church (1 Tm 2:12), we instinctively think, How unfair! The issue is even more serious because throughout history men have used their superior physical strength to exploit women, and sometimes the Bible has been misquoted to justify abuse of women.


It is sadly true that, since the fall of humanity into sin, male leadership has often been expressed in sinful oppression (Gn 3:16). It is also sadly true that, often in church history, the gifts of women have not been properly affirmed. Yet historically, wherever Christianity has spread, the status of women has improved. Those countries where women are most exploited today are those with least exposure to the gospel. The Bible teaches that men and women were made equally in God’s image (Gn 1:27-28) and that all human life is sacred. Christians have been among the first to provide education and other rights for women.


What about the intrinsic Patriarchy of Scripture? Evangelical feminists (egalitarians) reject role distinctions. They argue that the Bible was written in a patriarchal context but that we have moved beyond that today. So marriage is an equal partnership with mutual submission (see Gn 2:24; Mt 19:4-5; Eph 5:31), and women should engage in every ministry in the church. But their efforts to explain away the “difficult texts” (for instance, 1 Tm 2:8-15) are unconvincing. Feminist scholars who reject the authority of Scripture simply say that the Bible is wrong on this issue.


We should be willing to challenge the contemporary presuppositions in the light of Scripture.


Presupposition 1: Equality means sameness. Talk of different roles is discriminatory.

Response: Equality does not mean sameness. The three persons of the Trinity are equal in deity but different in role.


Presupposition 2: Difference in role relates directly to personal worth. Submission equal relegation.

Response: Submission does not mean being of lesser worth. The Son submits to the Father, while being equal in deity, and His submission is His glory.


Presupposition 3: Women will be empowered only when they have become the same as men (filling the same jobs and reaching the same status).

Response: Women do not have to fill the same jobs as men in order to be empowered. This idea insults the large number of women who regard relational success as of greater importance than career success. The bible honors those women who were wives, mothers, and homemakers (Pr 31; 1Tm 5:9,10,14) as well as women who ministered and worked in other ways.


If we abandon false presuppositions, we can see the Bible affirms women. God wonderfully designed them to bear and nurture new life, equipping them in a multitude of ways (physical, emotional, psychological) for that task. The calling of wife and mother is an exalted one. The Bible also affirms the calling of single women (1 Co 7:34), those who are unable to have biological children: they can be “spiritual mothers” to many. God equips women with distinctive strengths that can be used not only in the family but also in many areas of ministry as well as in the workplace.


Those men who lead the church are responsible for equipping other members, including women, for ministry (Eph 4:12). The NT mentions many women who were involved in important ministries. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna traveled with Jesus and the Twelve and supported His ministry financially (Lk 8:1-3). While all but one of the disciples was in hiding following Jesus’ arrest, several women witnessed Jesus’ death and prepared His body for burial (Mt 27:55). Jesus first appeared to women following His resurrection (Mt 28:1-7). The church at Jerusalem met at the home of Mary, mother of John Mark, apparently a woman of means (Ac 12:12). Paul commended Phoebe and other female co-workers (Rm 16); Euodia and Syntyche contended with him in the cause of the gospel (Php 4:3); Priscilla and her husband taught Apollos (Ac 18:26); women prayed and prophesied in the meetings of the Corinthian church (1 Co 11:5) godly widows were placed on an official list-- probably to receive aid and for a ministry of prayer and practical service (1 Tm 5:3-10). Many believe that female deacons were involved with mercy ministries (1 Tm 3:11). Elders were to equip mature women to teach younger women (Ti 2:3-5).


Those who see defined gender roles in Scripture maintain that the Bible explains the meaning behind gender distinctions. Masculine strength can be for protection and provision. Many women are gifted with a “helper design”-- relational capacities to nurture and care. These distinctive qualities, and the way we relate to each other, reflect something deep within God Himself. In short, a close look at Scripture shows that women are honored and affirmed in the Bible. They are not second class in His eyes.

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