I was recently asked an interesting question. To paraphrase, I was asked how, as an empowered female, could I adhere myself to a religion whose religious texts by their nature subjugated women. I’ve taken about a week to consider my response and research it adequately, and it’s now time to write my response. I’m not done, by any measure of the word, but I’m done enough to feel confident that I won’t stick my foot so far in my mouth that it will come out the other side, so to speak.
Let’s start with Genesis.
God creates land, he creates plants, he creates animals. All of these things he describes as “good.” Then he creates man, and what does he say? “Is it not good for man to be alone.” This is when things get interesting- because woman is not an individual creation. Instead he takes the man’s rib and makes for him a woman. And when Adam sees Eve, he calls her “flesh of my flesh.” This can be a difficult passage for some women, because women don’t like to be seen as no more than an extension of man. The other way to look at this, though, is in terms of what God was doing. He wasn’t creating all of womankind- he wasn’t creating all of mankind, either. He was creating one man and one woman from whom the rest would be made. And he created that one woman to be of equal value as the man to whom she was given, he made her not out of dust, but to be “bone of [his] bone, flesh of [his] flesh”. She was of equal value to him as his own body was.
This, to me, is significant. More so because it is only after the creation of woman that God looks at all he has done and calls it “very good.”
Now, about Eve as the deceiver…
Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Did you catch it? A lot of people miss it. It’s the part where it says, “her husband who was with her.” He wasn’t elsewhere. She didn’t hunt him down and give him the fruit while he was unaware of what it was. He was with her. He didn’t try to stop her. He didn’t try to reason with her. He was with her, he watched her take the fruit, and when she handed some to him, he ate it.
Then comes the interesting part. God comes, and they hide, like little kids, naive of the fact that they are already found out. God questions them, and Adam says, “look, it was the woman’s fault.” The woman, not to take the blame, says, “nope, I only did it cause the serpent told me to.
That’s when God starts in with the cursing. First he tells the snake that it will crawl on it’s belly, in the dirt, and the woman’s children will crush it’s head. Then he tells the woman that she will find pain in childbearing, and that her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her. That’s two curses for the serpent and two for the woman.
Then comes the man, and this is what God tells him:
- cursed is the ground because of him
- through painful toil he will eat
- God will give him thorns and thistles
- He will eat only by the sweat of his brow
- UNTIL HE DIES
Numbers two and four are pretty similar- I just find it striking that while the serpent receives two paragraphs of cursing, Eve only gets one and Adam gets three. It’s fairly clear who God is actually having take the responsibility for the fall- and it’s not Eve. It’s also interesting to note (although not particularly salient to the topic at hand) that this is when the first sacrifice to atone for sin takes place, as God himself kills animals and gives Adam and Eve garments of skin to wear.
Now- on to the fun stuff. How many people here have read the entire Old Testament? If I ask who the old Testament women of note are, most people would probably respond “Esther and Ruth”- two obvious choices, as they have books named after them. But those aren’t the only women worth mentioning.
Tamar: The wife of a son of Judah, who after having her husband and her husband’s brother struck dead by God before giving her a child, eventually tricked her father-in-law into impregnating her. It’s an interesting story not just because there’s so much sex involved, but because Judah says, “she is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38)
Rahab: The prostitute who took in Israelite spies and hid them from the guards- she was rewarded by herself and her whole family being saved and accepted into the Israelite camp- something which directly contradicted God’s command. If I remembered correctly, she is in Christ’s lineage (I could be remembering incorrectly, and that’s one of my facts I haven’t double checked). (Joshua 2)
Deborah: A prophetess. Because Barak, a commander, wouldn’t ride into war without her, Deborah said that the battle would be given into a woman’s hands. Jael, a woman, killed Sisera (The Canaanite commander) with a tent peg through his head. Then Deborah burst into song. This would make an interesting movie, no? (Judges 4)
Hannah: Hannah was a favorite wife, but barren. Her rival for her husband’s affections had born many children and mocked Hannah to the point that Hannah was reduced to tears and refused food. So Hannah prayed that God would give her a son, and pledged that son to be raised by the priesthood. God honored Hannah’s prayers, and Hannah honored her promise. That son was Samuel, who has two books of the Old Testament named after him. (1st Samuel 1)
Abigail: A woman whose wisdom was so appreciated by King David that he married her when her “surly” husband died. (1st Samuel 25)
This is a woefully incomplete list, but as I said, I haven’t been able to take the adequate time to research things. Are there as many women playing prominent roles as men? No, of course not. But the point is that contrary to what many people believe, the Bible as a whole doesn’t paint all women as wicked Jezebels with the exception of two Old Testament books. Women are shown in roles both as wicked and good- but the same is true of men.
Let’s talk about the new Testament. There are a lot of things to say here. The first is that Jesus showed honor to women, not least of all in that he saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8). There is the oddity of the female disciple, Junia (Romans 16), whose name is often translated as Junias- but why would one translate a name? Also note the amount of times that the apostles, in their letters, mention the women of the church, the women that host people in their homes, the good work of the widows and elderly women… It’s amazing. The women truly mattered to the early church- it couldn’t have survived without them.
And then there is the simple fact that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared first not to a man, but to a woman. This fact is often touted as proof of a genuine story, for if the disciples had wanted to fabricate a resurrection myth, they never would have involved females.
The question then becomes, does Christianity by it’s nature and mythology actually devalue women? I don’t think it does. I think that misogyny and the subjugation of the masses in early Catholicism did a lot to harm our perception of what the Bible truly says. I think that stories were retaught in new ways and certain passages were intentionally mistranslated in order to color things a certain way. The power to think independently was stripped from the masses. Women were taught to be devalued because they were not allowed to have power- not even over their own sexuality, a thing that they were taught was evil. The curse that was spoken over Eve and thus over all women- that we would find pain in bearing children, that we would desire for our husbands and they would lord it over us- became a very real one.
But let’s not forget that Christ broke the curse of sin and death- the one that was spoken over Adam. And he broke the curse spoken over Eve, as well. We are no longer cursed to desire for men who are our kings in body and mind. We are free. We must remember that Jesus honored women- he taught them as equals to men, a thing unheard of in those times. Women were not even allowed into the inner courts of the temple, they could recieve no teaching except from their husbands.
“Ah-” a clever female reader may respond, “but Paul wrote that women should not speak, but receive teachings from their husbands.”
Yes, my response to that is, but that was a specific letter to a specific church, one in which the women were famous for speaking out about the problems their husbands were facing and generally disrupting the teachings. It certainly would be better, in those circumstances, for the women to be silent and confront their husbands alone. There are a lot of ways to view how the Bible portrays women and their worth, but this is my favorite:
Ephesians 5 states that women are to honor their husbands. This verse has been often used to tell a woman to shut up when her and her spouse disagree. But what does it say to the husbands? That they are to see their wives as radiant and without blemish, and to give up their lives for their women as Christ did for the church. Who, in that situation, is given the most burdensome task? What’s harder- to honor someone, or to see them as Christ sees them? To give your life for them?
As my honored mother says, “the reason women are subjugated by the church is because men have traditionally done the teaching, and they’ve had their own reasons. Let a woman read the Bible for herself, with no preconception as to what it says. That is when you’ll learn the truth.”
Amen, and amen.