Growing up in several evangelical churches, a phrase I have often heard is “Christ and Culture”. This phrase generally refers to the difference (real or imagined) between biblical values/lifestyle and those of a secular or atheistic lifestyle. While “Christ and Culture” is not a phrase you often see applied to the church itself, that is exactly what I intend to do today.
If by chance you have not picked up on it yet, today (or whatever day you happen to be reading this) I plan on talking about the ordination of women and in extension supposed “gender” roles assigned or intended for men and women. Before I go further, I have a few things to clarify. While the topics discussed in this post are going to focus primarily on the teachings of evangelical Christianity, I am by no means saying that all evangelical denominations and Christians are opposed to the ordination of women (The Lutheran church and most United European churches do for example). Likewise, not all mainline denominations and Christians support the ordination of women (such as the Catholic church
and Edit: I was informed the United Methodist Church does ordain women and always has. My apologies for this error. most United Methodist churches). There is a great variation of beliefs in denominations (and nondenominational churches), however, the general consensus of evangelical churches is that women should not be head pastors and that God instructs men and women to follow strict roles. With that clarification set aside, I will now move on.
In the beginning….well, a lot of stuff happened, but arguably one of the most important things was the creation of humanity. Living, breathing, completely self-aware and sentient creatures who were capable of having a relationship with God. And at first, there was just one, man. The first man’s name was Adam, and God tasked him with the upkeep of the garden (of Eden) and with naming all the creatures that resided in it. After this was done, God saw that man was lonely, and thus enacted the next part of his plan. It was not good for man to be alone, so he created a “helper” (more on that word in a minute) for him.
A bit of a side note, but I’ve always found this interesting: God didn’t necessarily make women from Adam’s rib. In fact, the word used in Genesis refers to any biopsy, or more literally “section of flesh”. While it’s quite possible women was made from one of Adam’s ribs, this is one of those things like the forbidden fruit being an apple, we really just don’t know.
Anyways, time to get back on topic. The word most often translated as “helper” has raised a lot contention. Often used to justify a complementary (but not inherently diminutive) role for women, “helper” is interpreted as an assisting role. However, when we examine the actual word in question we see this is not the case. The word most commonly translated as helper is ēzer k’negdô which literally means “help-meet”. Again, in a literal context, this would refer to someone who met you where you were and lifted you out of your troubles through, well, help. Literally, it refers to an equal role. However, when we actually examine the context and parallel uses of ēzer things get even more interesting. The word ēzer k’negdô is used many other times throughout the Bible, but never in a diminutive sense. Elsewhere it is translated as “rescuer” and “savior” within similar contexts. God himself is referred to as ēzer (salvation) several times. So why then, is women referred to as the diminutive “helper”? All evidence points to a cultural bias in the original English translators (*cough* *cough*, KJV, literally one of the word Bible translations available) that has been inadvertently emulated to this day.
Another interesting thing we see here early in Genesis is that both man and women are created in the image of God (tzelem Elohim). It is not “man is created in the image of God” and then “woman is created in the image of man”. No, both are created in the image of God! To suggest that one is greater or more fit than the other borders on blasphemy in light of this.
So, I’ve examined the Biblical creation account to show that man and women were created equally and one is not created to be in subjugation to the other. Now, I will examine the Fall and Original Sin to show where traditional gender roles came from. While very few would say that sin was Eve’s fault, I would like to refute that argument nevertheless. God has told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit and had commanded him to relay this to Eve as well. Which he never did! In addition, we see in Genesis 3:6 that Adam was right with her when she ate the fruit “….She took of its fruit and ate, and also gave some to her husband who was with her” (ESV).
Now, on to the consequences, or results of sin. Also in Genesis 3, we see God tell Adam and Eve what the results of their sin would be. For clarity’s sake, I’ve listed them out for you (though you’re welcome to pull out your own Bible if you’d like):
- Raising children would be tiresome work
- The Husband Will Rule Over the Wife
- As they are cast out of the Garden, they will now have to work for sustenance
- As they are sinners, spiritual death is now a threat
All four of these are important, but for the purpose of this post the first two I will focus on. Often translated as “childbirth will be painful”, verse 18 is better translated as “rearing children will be toil”. This is another example of weird translations of words in spite of context. And next, “The Husband Will Rule Over the Wife”. Neither of these consequences existed before the fall. As I previously mentioned, both were created in the image of God. So does this mean that this is what God wants? No! Look back at consequence number 4, does God want us to suffer permanent Spiritual death? Of course not! That’s why he sent his son. To suggest that God wants us to participate in sin is silly, and glamorizes sin itself. In the early chapters of Genesis, we are slowly introduced to various types of sin (such as murder with Cain and Abel), and patriarchy is one of them.
Well, it only took a thousand words to get through Genesis, so now we’re finally going to move on to another: Job. Now wait, what does Job have to do with feminism? Isn’t that the poem about the guy who had a really bad day? Well, you’re certainly not wrong about that last point. Historians believe that Job is the earliest written book in the Bible. So, a reading of Job offers us a unique perspective into the early(ish) history and culture of mankind. It is especially helpful in examining God’s intent, as Job is one of the godliest men in the Bible. In chapter 42, after God blesses Job once again, he distributes his inheritance among his children. But interestingly enough, he gives an equal share to his daughters! This flies in the face of old world tradition. You never gave your daughters our inheritance, you gave it to your sons! And while his sons also received an equal share in the inheritance, they are never even mentioned by name, in contrast to his daughters. This also flies in the face of traditional Hebrew chronology, which at this time was based on of important men only (as the family name was passed down through men). So the fact that the earliest-written Biblical account primarily mentions a man’s daughters as his successors is a pretty big deal.
Finally, we will examine female prophets in the old testament. The bible, especially the old testament, did not have the current concept of a pastor or priest that we have today. The new testament has ministers, but the old testament had prophets. Prophets took on many forms and spoke many messages. But their primary purpose was to speak God’s will to his often-disobedient people. And interestingly, there were exactly seven female prophets in the old testament (for those of you who have never attended church or studied the Bible, the number seven is kinda’ a big deal). These prophets were: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Isaiah’s wife (we don’t know her name), Huldah, Noadiah, Esther. (There were other women who could have fit the prophetic role, but they are not explicitly referred to as prophetesses). Now, I would love to talk about each of these individuals but for time’s sake, I will focus on one: Deborah (who is conveniently pictured above).
For those who may be a bit rusty on their bible stories, Deborah was a Judge, which was basically a Warrior-Priest that settled disputes in the time before Israel’s kings. They could preach God’s Word and kick-butt. So not only did Deborah teach mean, preach to men, she also led men. In a time of war, the current commander of Israel’s rather ragtag army did not feel confident he could lead them to victory. So Deborah agrees to help him command the army but tells him a woman will claim the victory because of this. Indeed this was the case, as the women Jael ends up killing the enemy leader.
So that’s it for the old testament. While I have not written up a comprehensive examination of God’s will for “gender roles” in the old testament (that would be a book, not a blog), I hope I have at least written a thorough summary. Next week I will continue my study into the New Testament, especially the oft-misinterpreted letters of Paul. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to comment!