July 8, 2014 / Felicity Dale

The Bible: A Woman’s View

Does God prefer men?

Some Christians perceive the Bible as a book that favors men—limiting the role of women to serving their vision. While a few isolated passages apparently limit what women can do, they stand in contrast to the general tenor of Scripture which points toward women being equal co-heirs and co-laborers alongside their male counterparts.

The God of the Bible is not against women. He has been progressively revealing himself as “on their side” throughout history, specifically through the Bible.

  • If God, as some say, has chosen only to use men in leadership, then, despite a highly patriarchal society, he picked a remarkable number of women to demonstrate his purposes. As we look at the Bible, we see God working with women throughout its pages. In the Old Testament:
    • Eve is described as the mother of all living. (Despite Eve being deceived, Wisdom in Proverbs is specifically designated as feminine.)
    • Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah played a crucial role in the founding of the nation of Israel.
    • For years, Deborah held the highest office in the land.
    • Both Deborah (with Jael’s help) and Esther rescued the nation.
    • Miriam is described as a prophet, and Huldah’s prophetic word to King Josiah changed the course of history.
    • The books of Esther and Ruth are devoted to the story of women.
    • The teachings of King Lemuel’s mother form part of the Bible.

In none of these examples is there any hint that God was only using these women because he couldn’t find a man to do the job.

Although women were not usually mentioned in Jewish genealogies, Jesus’ ancestry specifically mentions women, even some “less than savory” candidates. Tamar masqueraded as a prostitute to her father-in-law, Judah, in order to obtain justice. Rahab, a prostitute, rescued the spies sent by Joshua to scout out Jericho. Ruth, the Moabitess, gave up her own people in choosing to follow her mother-in-law. Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, but was the mother of Solomon.

  • If we want to know what God is really like—the ultimate revelation of the Father—we need look no further than Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, who reveals the character of the Father by his actions, attitudes and words. He also reveals God’s attitude towards women.
  • Jesus refused to be bound by the conventions of his day, especially in his treatment of women. Jesus treated all women with dignity and respect. He regarded them as friends in a society that viewed them as inferior. There’s no hint of superiority in his attitude toward them. We never hear him speak in a condescending way to them—in fact, some of his deepest theological conversations occurred with women. He didn’t cringe when a prostitute wiped his feet with her hair, or flinch when Mary anointed him. He encouraged Mary to adopt the posture of a disciple. He entrusted the message of his resurrection to women.
  • Jesus featured women in his stories. He gave illustrations that women would relate to, never told a story where a woman was the “villain,” and publicly honored women as examples to follow. He welcomed their children; he defended their rights. He befriended and discipled them—in fact, a group of women accompanied Jesus for much of his ministry.
  • And what about the rest of the New Testament? The church was born into the context of God pouring out his Spirit and working through both men and women (Acts 2:17-18). All believers are called to be a royal priesthood and ambassadors of the Kingdom.
  • Junia was an apostle, the daughters of Philip prophesied and Priscilla taught. Women evangelized.Paul called several women co-workers or workers for the Lord. In fact of the 29 individuals mentioned in Acts 16, ten of them are women. When Paul lists spiritual gifts, none have gender restrictions. Women obviously played an active part in all that went on.

So what do we do with the passages that apparently limit women? Knowing where the general trend of the Scriptures points, we seek other ways of interpreting those challenging passages that have equal integrity. We all want to obey the Bible.

Sometimes the difficulty lies with translation. For centuries, as Scot McKnight points out in Junia is Not Alone, Junia (female) became Junias (male) because the translators assumed there were no female apostles. Another example: First Timothy 3 usually begins, “If any man desires the office of a bishop…” According to theologian Philip B. Payne, in the original Greek, there is not one masculine pronoun in the requirements for elders and deacons. The passages on women in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 can equally be interpreted differently.

God’s desire for liberty and freedom from oppression are writ large through the pages of both Testaments and are a major theme of God’s interaction with his people. When Jesus announced his mission at the beginning of his ministry, he used a passage from Isaiah about healing broken hearts and setting captives free.

The New Covenant that Jesus ushered in through his death and resurrection reversed the effects of the Fall back to the goodness of the created order where men and women were to co-reign over creation together.

If Jesus came to set captives free, then the church, above all places, should be the place where freedom for women is proclaimed and experienced. As Paul put it in the letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

[Image via The Junia Project]