By David Jones
I may not know much about women, but I do remember one of the first things I was ever taught about them: Sin was all their fault.
I mean right from the get-go. At Genesis 2:22 Eve was created, and within nine verses (Genesis 3:6) she ate of the forbidden fruit and seduced Adam to eat it, resulting in the fall of mankind into sin and mortality. A lot of the diminishment of women through Western history starts from that view.
It’s sad that so many practitioners of persecution and bias develop their views from holy writings. Wherever discrimination exists, you won’t have to look hard to find a religious book, teaching or tradition nearby.
But it’s not the fault of a book. A holy book is just words; how those words are defined, interpreted and applied are human choices. Those matters often differ between author and reader, as well as from one reader to another.
According to the account, Eve is indeed the first to bow to temptation.
However, the apostle Paul lay the introduction of sin and death at Adam’s feet, not Eve’s. Romans 5:12 says “… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,” and verse 14 clarifies by saying “… death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”
Speaking of Paul, let’s look at a common bible reference used as authority to limit women’s roles in the church—one founded upon that view of Eve I mentioned at the beginning.
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
When folks point out how misogynistic the Bible is, these verses get a lot of attention.
But wait…why are Paul’s thoughts here so strikingly different from before? In Romans, Paul says sin and death came in by way of Adam, and salvation from sin and death comes through Jesus. In the letter to Timothy, Paul asserts that the first sinner was Eve because she was deceived and said a woman’s salvation will come, not through Jesus, but through having children!
For the moment we’ll ignore that a majority of modern bible scholars believe 1 Timothy wasn’t actually written by Paul but agree that Romans was. We’ll also ignore the contradictions and dogmatic implications of who we’re blaming for sin and death. Let’s just look mindfully at the basic text.
The Paul in 1 Timothy says flat out “I don’t allow women to teach or have any authority over a man.” All other concerns aside, he says “I do not permit this.” The verse is a simple viewpoint of a single man.
You might argue “It’s not just a man, it’s the apostle Paul!” But even Paul would admit that shouldn’t matter. “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.” (1 Corinthians 4:3, 4)
Paul told the Corinthians that his judgments weren’t something to build on as a foundation nor to lean on as an authority equal to Christ’s. Jesus was the believer’s foundation, and still should be.
So whether or not you believe Paul wrote everything ascribed to him, or that all scripture is inspired of God, it must be obvious by now that treating women as inferior beings has no place in the Christian heart, life, teaching or congregation.
And if you still want to condemn Paul or the Bible for misogyny, the apostle wants you to meet someone: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” (Romans 16:1)
Imagine that! A woman who Paul was glad to see in a position of authority. There were a lot of people who wanted to oppress women using religion (and still are) but I don’t think the real Paul was one of them. It’s not the book but the interpretation and application which are at fault.
But even if an ancient Bible writer truly hated women, it’s only modern bigotry that says we should use that for a modern standard of practice.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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