“You are just a woman! Sit down and keep quiet!”
I was a young believer, no more than 17 years old, sitting in on one of my church membership meetings.
My mom had the audacity to voice her opinion on some issue at hand, and was rudely interrupted by one of the male members, who apparently thought it prudent to remind her of her place as a woman.
I learned a lesson that day.
Well, maybe a few lessons: 1). I have unfortunately been born a woman AND 2). I will either have to live with never voicing my opinion as a woman believer in church, or be ready to deal with public shame if I do dare to speak up.
Later, as I struggled to find a place and meaning in this world, I questioned everything I was ever taught to believe – including the various “truths” that were presented as “God-pleasing laws” (like forbidding to wear pants, makeup, etc.), and the often misunderstood scripture places used to silence women believers in church and at home.
Interestingly, I found that the same misunderstood Bible passages, are often used as assault weapons against Christianity by atheists, who argue that religious leaders conveniently use the Bible’s “anti women teachings” to control and oppress women.
They endlessly harp about how the Bible is “anti woman,” and how it is used by religious fundamentals to infringe on the rights of women.
Unfortunately, they are right in some of their accusations: There are various fringe branches of Christianity who erroneously do use the Bible to justify their unequal and oppressive treatment of women.
However, is this really what the Bible teaches? Did Jesus and his disciples endorse and promote the inferior treatment of women? Was apostle Paul really a misogynist who hated women and promoted his contempt for women by passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34?
Historically, in different cultures, women were always treated as second class citizens.
Let’s take a brief look at some examples of cultural treatment of women in history.
In ancient Greece women “virtually had no political rights of any kind and were controlled by men at nearly every stage of their lives. The most important duties for a city-dwelling woman were to bear children – preferably male – and to run a household” (The Ancient Greek World). In summary, women held a demeaning submissive status, seen as objects used in marriage transactions between men in order to maintain their superior positions (read more “Women Of Ancient Greece“).
The Roman women, although seemingly better off than the Grecian women, also were seen as second class citizens. Their roles were primarily child-bearing, and they remained under male control from birth until death. If a woman was found drinking wine, she could be put to death. (In fact, it was customary for fathers, male relatives, and husbands to randomly kiss women on the mouth to find out if they drank any wine). A woman’s opinion mattered very little, if at all, and if a woman acquired knowledge and education, men thought she had forgotten her place (read more “Ancient Roman Women: A Look At Their Lives“).
Jewish women were also not permitted to talk in public or to read the Torah out loud. In a synagogue women and men were segregated, and women were never allowed to be heard.
It just so happened to be that Jesus came into this world.
We often read the New Testament without any thought to what effect Jesus’ teachings and actions have on those around him.
He often spoke to women, teaching them spiritual truths all the while disregarding the social, cultural, and religious norms of that time. He, a rabbi, initiated a conversation with a Samaritan woman, something that was unthinkable and completely radical! Just read some of the rabbinical oral law and you will find teachings such as “He who talks to a woman in public brings evil upon himself” and “One is not so much as to greet a woman.” Never mind the Jewish cultural treatment of Samaritans.
Jesus treated women with honor and gave them respect equal to men. The Gospels give an account of a family very dear to him: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. While Martha assumed a traditional role of a woman by preparing and serving a meal for her guests, Mary sat down with deep insatiable hunger for spiritual truths, breaking another oral law: “Let the words of the Law (Torah) be burned rather than taught to women. . . . If a man teaches his daughter the law, it is as though he taught her lechery.”
None of this mattered to Jesus. He kept breaking rule after rule, norm after norm, showing that in the Father’s eyes “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” but all are one in Christ, as Paul later wrote in Galatians 3:28.
Moreover, after his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to: women. In a culture where a woman’s testimony was considered of no value because she was of no value, Jesus chose women to testify of his resurrection. He even instructed them to carry the Good News of his resurrection to the rest of his disciples.
The first Gospel was preached by women.
Two of Jesus’ followers, Peter and Paul, expounded on the teachings of Jesus.
Peter instructed husbands to “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” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV). John MacArthur comments on this verse with the following:
“Living with your wife with understanding first of all involves mutual submission. Prior to commanding wives to submit to their husbands the apostle Paul taught that we are to submit to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:21). Submission is thus the responsibility of Christian husbands as well as of wives. Though not submitting to his wife as a leader, a believing husband must submit to the loving duty of being sensitive to the needs, fears, and feelings of his wife. In other words, a Christian husband needs to subordinate his needs to hers, whether she is a Christian or not.” (“What Does It Mean To Dwell With Your Wife With Understanding?“)
The apostle Paul’s teachings, although often misinterpreted and taken out of context, also reflect a beautiful image of a God-designed marriage and paint an exquisite picture of women being made in God’s image. Paul doesn’t just call women to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, but he calls husbands to submit to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3).
He calls the husbands to love their wives in the same self-sacrificing way as Christ loved the church. In a culture, where women’s status was reduced to that of just a child-bearing object, Paul in reality elevated the status of women to a position completely foreign to the culture of his time. Moreover, from passages like 1 Cor. 11:5, we know that women were allowed to prophecy and pray out loud in church. In contrast, the Jewish women had no voice or place in worship in the Jewish synagogues and a pagan woman’s place in the pagan temple was limited to serving as a prostitute.
As Christianity spread across the world, it changed cultural norms, greatly improving the status of women.
The Christian teachings such as Gal. 3:28 declared men and women equal in their worth and value before God. While the Roman law of patria potestas gave absolute power of life and death to a man over everything he owned, including his wife and children, the Christian teachings commanded the husbands to love their wives and not to exasperate their children (Eph. 5:25; Eph. 6:4 and Col. 3:21).
The demeaning practice of polygamy was also abolished with the spread of Christianity. Yes, the great heroes of the Bible practiced polygamy. However, when Jesus came, he was perfectly clear that polygamy was never what God intended. Whenever Jesus spoke of marriage it was always in the context of monogamy: “The two (not three, four, etc.) will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8).
True, there was never a lack of be men who distorted and misinterpreted God’s Word for their own selfish gain and agenda. But their error is not a reflection of the Bible’s teaching on women. Certain men have always held and will hold their misogynistic beliefs in spite of what the Bible teaches.
However, when one truly looks at Christianity’s influence on history, one will see that wherever Christianity gained influence, the women’s status improved. We do not even have to go far in history to see this taking place. Take a look at places with very little to no Christian influence, such as the third-world countries and countries under Islamic control, where women have little to no freedom even to this day…
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