Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Is the Bible sexist against women?

Hi, Lenny.

Question: How can a just, loving God be against women? Paul says in the bible (I'm not sure where) "I do not allow a woman to teach a man." Is this God, or Paul? If I believe that all scripture is error free, than God himself is against women. This is not just, but sexist. If it is merely Paul saying this, than the bible is not error free. How can I deal with this?

Paul Moffett

Hi Paul,

I do not believe God is "against" women. The passage to which you are referring is 1 Timothy 2:12, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." On its face, this may seem a sexist position. Why can't women teach? Aren't they as knowledgeable as men? Aren't they as smart? This line of thinking takes the passage out of context, though.

The above passage (along with several others) is meant to set down the structure of leadership in the church as an organized body. Before I go into detail on this, let me first explain what it is not saying. Warren Wiersbe gives us a great account of how the New Testament approaches women.(1)

  • The Bible does not say that a woman cannot teach a man about Christ. Priscilla, along with her husband, taught Apollos the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).
  • It does not say women cannot exercise spiritual gifts. The four daughters of Phillip had the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:9). 1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us "But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation." Thus prophesy and other gifts can be used between women and men.
  • It does not say that women cannot evangelize. Lydia, after being converted, had regular fellowships in her home and evangelized others(Acts 16:14,40).

The Bible clearly gives a very high view of women, especially when one looks at their position in the culture of the times. In the ancient world women were considered more property than persons. They were purchased with a dowry, they had to have total obedience to the will of their husbands, and they could not participate in any governmental or political actions. In ancient Palestine a man could divorce a woman by giving her a hand-written note (for an offense a slight as burning the evening meal) and their testimony was not permissible in a court of law.

Given this history, let's see how God approaches women in the Bible. 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. (In fact, if someone was "making up" stories for their new religion, as has been charged to the writers of the New Testament, they certainly wouldn't have the women as the only ones brave enough to stand at Calvary or the first ones at the empty tomb. Remember, a woman's testimony was inadmissible in a court of law, so the incident not only makes the disciples look bad, but actually undermines from their assertion that it happened at all! Luke 24:11 states that even the disciples thought their story was "nonsense, and they would not believe them." This is actually a benefit in proving the validity of the Gospel account.)

Now we'll examine what the Bible says about women and their position. In Galatians 3:28 the scriptures explicitly state that women hold a position of equal value and importance to men: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." When the Messiah was born, He was presented to the prophetess Anna as well as Simeon, again showing the equality of importance in women as well as men. This scripture does not mean that we ignore all differences and treat everyone as one homogenized lump, though. Paul, who penned the above lines, also wrote on how slaves should conduct themselves differently from free men (Eph 6:5-6). In Galatians, Paul is showing that the value of each of those categories has been raised, for by believing in Christ that person becomes a child of God, no matter what their condition previously.

So, taking all of the above into account, how do we interpret the passage in 1 Timothy? 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. The best example of this I can think of is the tribes of ancient Israel. The Levites were chosen out of the twelve tribes to be the priests and to run the house of God, but this didn't mean they were superior to any of the other tribes. That is just the position in which God placed them. In the same way, men are to be the authority in the church. Women are allowed to teach other women, and instruct men. Even Timothy, the recipient of this epistle, was tutored by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15). God also commanded Abraham to listen to the council of his wife in Genesis 21:12. However, since the authority falls to the man, it is he who will be held accountable for improper decisions, such as also happened to Abraham when he followed bad advice from Sarah in Genesis 16.

So, God is not against women at all. Because each sex has a different role to play, doesn't make one role more important than the other. Men are entrusted with leading the church. Women are entrusted with bearing children and providing them with a Godly and secure home life so they may become Godly adults making an impact on our society. I believe I can successfully argue that the responsibility placed on a mother is one of the most important in the world. Sometimes our society glorifies position and career to the neglect of other weightier matters. Every person in the church has a role, and as is stated in 1 Corinthians 12, all positions become equally important to the mission of glorifying Christ and doing His will.

I hope this will help clarify things for you. Please let me know if you have any confusion about the things we discussed here. I pray that you continue to search the scriptures and see if these things are true.

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References

Wiersbe, Warren The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2
Victor Books, Wheaton Ill. 1989 pp. 217-218

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