Monday, September 5

Is God Sexist?

Collin's English Dictionary defines sexist as, "discrimination on the basis of sex, esp the oppression of women by men."[1] From a cursory reading of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, it may seem as if God and the Bible are sexist. Particular passages seem to favor males over females, especially in marriage, and it seems as if the heroes in the Bible are all male. But is this an accurate depiction of what God's Word actually teaches, or is it a mere representation? History demonstrates that many women had to strive to bring about equal voting rights, the right to run for a government official, the right to work, among many other things - not only in the United States, but elsewhere. Hence the question is asked - are God and the Bible sexist? (Photo credit: Edwin Long - 1878 painting of Esther; Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld - "Ruth in Boaz's Field", 1828)

It is apparent that at a glance, God's Word contains many references which we may find sound discriminatory in nature. However, simply because something sounds a certain way does not mean we ought to read into the passage that way. In like manner, we must bear in mind that when the Bible describes a particular action, it does not necessarily mean that it condones it. For example, when Rahab lies to protect the Hebrew spies, the Bible records her lying to the authorities at Jericho, but merely because it records it does not mean it condones it. We find recorded in Scripture that David, in his lust, had Bathsheba's husband Uriah sent to the front lines of battle to be killed and proceeded to make her his wife. We find recorded the prophet Jonah, who, after receiving a direct command from God to preach to those at Nineveh, disobeyed and ran the other way.

In each instance, sin was present - God did not condone the actions, but these historical events were recorded for our sake, that we may learn from them so that history would not "repeat itself," so that we would be able to archaeologically and historically verify Scripture, among other reasons. Likewise, when the Bible records men treating women as if they were nothing more than property, it does not mean that God approved or condoned this. The patriarchal structure was prevalent during the Hebrew Bible era, and from a modern view of values and society, this may appear to be sexist. So while God's Word may record an event such as a murder, a lie, or a sexist attitude toward someone, it does not necessarily mean that merely because it was recorded that it was condoned.

Painting by Edwin Long (1878) of Esther
In Genesis 1:27 we read, "So God created human beings in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." Genesis 2 provides a more detailed account of the creation of man and woman - and contrary to popular belief, is one creation account, not two separate accounts. Genesis 1 gives a basic overview of creation week, whereas Genesis 2 goes more in depth on what transpired during day 6. Woman, the first female created from the rib of Adam, is then named Eve (Genesis 3:20), and was the first woman to give birth (Genesis 4:1-2). Other mothers are mentioned throughout Scripture, such as Hannah the mother of Samuel (1st Samuel 1:22, 28), Sarah wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac (Genesis 17:15-17), Rebekeh wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:6-19), Hagar the mother of Ishmael (Genesis 21:17, 21), Jochebed mother of Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Exodus 2:1-9, 6:20), as well as Mary mother of Jesus, God manifested in the flesh (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), among many other mothers.

Under Christ, both men and women are equal. John 3:16 teaches that "whoever believes" in Jesus will not be condemned but have eternal life - not just men. Interestingly, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which the likes of the Jesus Seminar among other skeptics claim should be in the Bible, says something different about women. The Gospel of Thomas was unknown aside from name before 1945, when peasants digging around to find fertilizer happened upon a jar containing thirteen leather-bound manuscripts which were buried in the late fourth century, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.[2] It is a collection of 114 sayings, unlike the four Gospels, and is not a narrative. It was likely written in the second century, after the disciples - including Thomas - had died. The point of interest in question is the final saying, saying 114, "Simon Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every women who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'"[3] Evidently, this statement was clearly sexist in nature. It essentially states that if a female does not make herself male, she cannot be saved. This, among other reasons, is why this work is not in the Bible. John 3:16 is an all-inclusive statement that leaves no gender, race, or creed - but that "whoever believes" would be saved. In Galatians 3:26-28, St. Paul is speaking about salvation and says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). This does not mean that Jews, Greeks, males and females, slaves and frees do not exist, simply that at the cross, no sexism, racism, or prejudice exists.

The Bible does make it clear that men are in a position of authority, that in marriage, men take the leadership role, but giving different roles to males and females does not necessitate sexism. This does not make women less intelligent, it does not make them inferior to men, nor does it make women any less capable. God has given males and females specific positions for our good, because there has to be structure as well as leadership and authority in this sin-cursed world on which we live. Consider, " was Adam who was first created, and then Eve" (1st Timothy 2:13). Adam's role as the first created being was one of authority. Also, Adam named the animals and the woman (Genesis 2:19-20, 3:20), which nineteenth-century Hebrew scholars C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch point out, " Adam is to become acquainted with the creatures, to learn their relation to him, and by giving them names to prove himself their lord."[4]

It is often objected that God must be sexist because the Bible states, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). However, the Bible also conveys, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Ephesians 5:28). "A man who under-stands that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life’s blood for the Church will likewise love his wife sacrificially and passionately. He will honor her, respect her, protect, love, and cherish her as much as he does his own body, as he is instructed to do (Ephesians 5:28). He will never say or do anything to harm or demean her. It is in this atmosphere of love and security that a godly wife willingly submits herself to the protective arms of her husband. She does this not because he is better than she is, but simply because this is God’s order for His creation."[5] Proverbs 31:10-31 describes "the wife of noble character."

Verses 10-12 say, "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." Verse 28 conveys, "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her," with verse 31 concluding, "Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Along with the infamous Song of Songs, we find wives placed in the Wisdom books placed in high regard. In Proverbs 31, the husband of the wife praised her and honored her - certainly not sexist. In the New Testament, St. Paul spoke highly of the women who "labored" with him. He utilized two different concepts to recognize their work. He first describes them as sunathleo those who are "engaged in the contest" with St. Paul, like "a man [who] also [strives] for masteries" (2 Timothy 2:5). 

The second phrase Paul uses is sunergos, describing those who have accomplished meaningful work with him. In 2nd Corinthians 8:23, Titus is described as St. Paul's "partner and fellow helper," and by being placed alongside Titus, it is clear that these women had earned Paul's respect for their commitment to Christ.  Something to consider would be as follows, also found in the New Testament: if God was sexist, when God manifested in the flesh and redeemed mankind through dying on the cross (John 1, 8:58, 10:30-32, 20:28; Philippians 2:6-8; Colossians 2:9; 1st Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:1-9; 2nd Peter 1:1; 1st John 5:20), when He rose from the dead, why is it that He appeared first to women? If God was sexist, would he not have appeared first to men? It has been claimed before that God is sexist when it comes to prophets. But is this claim valid?

Although all the prophets in the Hebrew Bible who wrote books were males, this does not make God sexist, nor does it mean that women were not and could not be prophets. In Isaiah 8:3, Isaiah describes his wife as the "prophetess," and it is possible that he is describing her as such in an honorary fashion. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2nd Kings 22:14) and Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) were prophets, and given the context, appeared to be in active ministry. Though there were very few female prophets, there was not a sexist bias in Biblical prophecy. It is worth noting that King Josiah, a good king, sent government leaders to retrieve the advice of the prophetess Huldah concerning the finding of the "book of the law" (2nd Kings 22:8-10), one of the most pivotal events of his reign as king. There were false prophets who were women, just as there were men, but sexism was still not prevalent - and certainly not condoned by God.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: "Ruth in Boaz's Field" (1828)
One must also bear in mind that two books of the Hebrew Bible in particular focused on females: the book of Ruth and the book of Esther. Ruth, written ca.1000 BC presumably by Samuel, is the account of a foreign woman whose husband died, and in her courage and devotion, stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi, moving with her to Bethlehem (the future birthplace of Christ). Ruth fell in love with Boaz, Naomi's relative. After a while, Boaz went to the family guardian and asked if he wished to marry Ruth, and Boaz was then given the right to marry her. Like Rachel and Leah who helped build up the house of Israel, Ruth also contributed. "Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son" (Ruth 4:13). Interestingly, Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, through whom Jesus was born a millennium later. 

Esther, written ca.465 BC presumably by Mordecai or a group of officials, is the record of a Jewish girl named Hadassah, who then went under the name Esther to protect her lineage. Through a string of events, Esther became the Queen of Persia, replacing Vashti, and married King Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes). Mordecai, Esther's cousin, had uncovered a plot, and after later discovering that Haman, an official, was planning to eradicate the Jewish people, Esther set up a series of events which led to the King discovering Haman's intention, who had Haman put to death, and proceeded to (ca.478 BC) send out an edict on behalf of the Jews. The Jewish celebration of Purim was then established, during which the days are observed :as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). Through Esther, God saved the Jewish people who lived in the Persian empire. Evidently, is God was sexist, He would have used a male, not a female.

Though men are in a leadership position in marriage, and there were more men than women prophets of the days of the Hebrew Bible, neither fact makes God - or the Bible - sexist. As St. Paul so eloquently put it in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Though aspects of society remain sexist today, God - nor the Bible - are sexist or were sexist. God is unchanging (see Psalm 90:2 and Hebrews 13:8, for example), and does not favor male or female. He placed males as the authority in marriage, but this does not make the woman any less capable, intelligent, or honored - passages such as Proverbs 31 demonstrate this. Is God sexist? Having examined several texts, it can rightly be determined that God is not sexist, and while "God is no respecter of persons," (Acts 10:34) God loves us with the love He has had from eternity.

Troy Hillman

[1] "sexist." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 04 Sep. 2011.
[2] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Scriptures. 2003. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 19. Print.
[3] Ibid, pp.28
[4] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols., Volume 1, The Pentateuch, 3 vols. in 1, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976 rpt.), 1:88.
[5] "Claim: "Christianity oppresses women by making them submit to their husbands!"." The Evidence Bible. The Way of the Master and Living Waters, n.d. Web. Sep 2011.

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