Is the Bible Sexist?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “The Bible is sexist and is oppressive to women.” What would you say? Many modern-day feminists believe that not only is Christianity outdated in its views of women, but that the Bible is largely to blame for patriarchal oppression. But the next time someone says “the Bible is sexist,” here are 3 things to remember: Number 1: ‘The Equality of the Sexes’ is a biblical ideology, not a naturalistic one. Naturalists believe that everything comes from natural causes and consists of natural properties, meaning that there’s no such thing as supernatural beings like God. Many feminists fall into this category, but fail to realize that their philosophy doesn’t offer any basis for gender equality. According to Naturalism, human beings have no intrinsic value because our lives are simply evolutionary accidents. Consequently, naturalists have no basis for claiming gender equality, or frankly, any human rights. After all, if the name of the game is survival of the fittest, then why shouldn’t we say that might makes right, or that it’s every man for himself? The Bible, however, tells a radically different story from the very first page: In Genesis 1 it says, “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” According to Christianity, not only are both men and women made by God, but they are made in the likeness of God. Those who claim to be too feminist for Christianity fail to recognize that the equality they long for is grounded in the very God that they reject. This statement in Genesis of gender equality is unparalleled in the ancient world, and its implications are profound. No other system of belief provides the same foundation for gender dignity and gender equality. Number 2: The God of the Bible isn’t sexist, people are. As an ancient record detailing both the highs and the extreme lows of human behavior, the Bible includes genuinely distressing accounts of rape, polygamy, incest, and other forms of female oppression. The purpose of these texts, however, is not to commend, but to condemn, this sexist, appalling behavior. The key to making sense of challenging passages is to recognize when the text is being prescriptive (or, giving instruction), and when its descriptive (or, reporting what happened). If a text is prescriptive, such as in certain law codes relating to women, we need to ask the follow-up question: what is this law protecting? No matter how strange the text may first appear to us, time and again what becomes clear when we take into account the cultural norms of the time, is that laws which initially seem oppressive for women were in fact put in place for their protection. If you’re interested, a more in-depth discussion of this challenging topic can be found in Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? Number 3: Jesus sets the standard for how women should be treated. Jesus was extraordinarily counter-cultural in his treatment of women. At that time in the ancient world, women were seen as second-class citizens and inferior to men, despite the protective biblical mandates. The education of women was extremely limited, and they were often confined to domestic duties. They weren’t even allowed to testify in court. This was the world that Jesus grew up in, which makes his own attitude towards women even more surprising. For instance: In the culture Jesus lived in, promiscuity was blamed not on the actions of the man, but on the woman who ‘led’ him astray. Jesus, however, turned these cultural assumptions upside down, saying that “anyone who even looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” By demanding that his hearers take responsibility for their own lust, Jesus calls them to a higher standard of seeing women not as sexual objects, but as human beings equally made in the image of God. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus consistently lived out the radical welcome which came to define the approach of the early church in their counter-cultural treatment of women. The Apostle Paul, instructing the early Christians, said that according to the Kingdom of Jesus, "There is neither… male [nor] female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." So the next time someone tells you that “the Bible is sexist,” remember these 3 things: Number 1: ‘The Equality of the Sexes’ is a biblical ideology, not a naturalistic one. Number 2: The God of the Bible isn’t sexist, people are. Number 3: Jesus sets the standard for how women should be treated. For What Would You Say, I’m Brooke McIntire.