2019-02-20
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Feminists have long accused Christianity of being a bastion of misogyny. They accuse Christians of being old-fashioned and anti-woman. They claim that Christianity itself is outdated and that the religion needs to be put aside. Unfortunately for most of those feminists, their issues with Christianity are largely based on lies and misconceptions. 

"All of Jesus’ disciples were male."

The Twelve Apostles were male, that is true, but Jesus had no shortage of female disciples. In fact, Mary Magdalene was one of a group of women who traveled with Jesus, listened to Him preach and largely supported His ministry financially. In fact, women were among Jesus’ first disciples. The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 who begged Jesus to save her daughter from demons was the first gentile to truly believe in Christ, and when He returned, the first people to learn that He was risen were women. Jesus clearly had a ministry that was a mix of both genders, something that was absolutely shocking in its time. Even during an overwhelmingly patriarchal time, Jesus refused to send the women away. They had as much right to hear His words as anyone else. 

"Only submissive virgins are seen as important in the Bible."

How exactly this misconception began is baffling. It is true that there are many women in the Bible who lived their lives within the gender roles that their culture prescribed. These women, however, were real people, not characters in a fictional story. Unlike within fiction, most people live within the social confines of their culture. The blatant disregard for cultural norms that is so often portrayed in fiction is just that, fiction. It happens in real life, but it is relatively uncommon.

Even taking the many “submissive” women into account, the Bible has a large number of strong women in both the Old and the New Testaments. Rahab the prostitute saved the Israelite invasion when she hid spies in her house. Esther risked her life to foil Haman’s plan to eradicate the Jews. Tamar manipulated Judah into following the law when his selfishness risked destroying everything, and Rebekah tricked Isaac into naming Jacob as his heir instead of Esau. Bathsheba overcame the trauma of rape and saw to it that her son ascended to the throne of Israel. Deborah was a judge. Huldah, Miriam and Anna were prophets. Jael and Judith both used their wits to get close enough to the Israelite’s enemies to kill them. Mary Magdalene was one of the main financial supporters of Jesus and the disciples. Thecla evangelized and spread the Good News of Christ just like Paul and Peter.  When He rose, Christ Himself appeared first to two women. Most of them may not lead armies into battle, but there is no shortage of strong women in the Bible.

"The Bible depicts all women as temptresses and seductresses." 

There are plenty of temptresses in the Bible, but that is not much different than how there are many male enemies depicted in the Good Book. Both men and women act as the villains in Bible stories. The women simply stand out more because they need to use less traditional weapons since ancient women had little to no access to swords, spears and arrows. 

Even though there are no doubt famous temptresses such as Potiphar’s wife, Delilah and Jezebel, there is no shortage of righteous women in the Bible. The Virgin Mary, the widow of Zaraphath, Phoebe the deacon of the early Roman congregation, Ruth, Esther and Ahlai, who was apparently so important that her son, Zabad was called “son of Ahlai” instead of being associated with his father.

Ironically, the claim that Biblical women are all temptresses is likely due to modern readers misreading the text. After all, modern Christians tend to look down on Tamar and Bathsheba as temptresses. In actuality, however, Tamar was following ancient laws and Bathsheba was a victim of rape. The Bible treats them both accordingly. It is modern readers who get confused.

"The Bible blames women when they are raped."

Those who make this claim usually point to Deuteronomy 22:25-27. According to this passage, a woman who is raped in the city is held responsible for the act as much as the man because “she did not cry for help.” The implication of that passage, however, is that anyone else is duty bound to stop the rape should they become aware that it is happening. This was quite unusual in the ancient world. 

Ironically enough, it is the tale of Bathsheba and David that debunks this myth the most. When David uses his position as king to force Bathsheba to have sex with him, the prophet Nathan condemns David’s actions. Interestingly enough, Nathan uses second person masculine pronouns in the ancient Hebrew. This means that God, speaking through Nathan, does not blame Bathsheba for David’s actions. The implications of this point to a more modern understanding of rape that was otherwise completely absent in the ancient world. Ancient peoples only saw it as rape when there was violence and, usually, a stranger involved. Nathan, however, recognizes that Bathsheba had no choice due not to any violence done by David but because of David’s position. Given that the modern world is still grappling with defining sexual harassment, ancient Israel was millennia ahead of its time.

"Women are less important than men in Christianity."

One of the most commonly quoted passages to support this idea is Genesis 3:16. As part of the punishment of Adam and Eve, God states that He will “put enmity between [Adam] and [Eve], and between [their] offspring…and [Adam] shall rule over [Eve.]” Feminists often point to this as proof that Christianity sees woman as inherently lesser than men. Those who do so miss the entire point of this passage. When God punishes Adam and Eve, He is doing just that, punishing them. Their actions have ruined His design, and He pushes it further out of balance. By the Bible’s own admission, Adam was not supposed to rule over Eve. When things were perfect, women were not subservient to men. It was not until the creation of sin that this unnatural state was created. Perhaps in order to reverse this state of affairs, no man was involved in Jesus’ birth. He was born of a virgin. There was only a woman and God involved in bringing Him to Earth.

"Jesus said women are not allowed to minister or teach."

There are all sorts of passages that can be quoted to state that women should not preach or teach in the church. So, at first, this looks to be a true statement, until one looks at where those passages come from in the Bible. Most of them are from the letters of Paul or the Acts of the Apostles. Statements to this effect, however, are rather pointedly missing from the actual Gospels. Jesus never said that women could not minister or teach. That idea came later and was likely influenced by ancient culture more than Christ’s actual teachings. Apocryphal books also uphold the idea that Jesus had no issue with women acting as heads of churches. The recently rediscovered Gospel of Mary states that Jesus spoke specifically to one of the Marys in His ministry and told her to teach others what He taught her. The Old Testament has several female prophets, and even some of Paul’s other letters hint that the young Church had female leaders. Persis from the Epistle to the Romans is described as working “hard in the Lord,” the only person to earn such a distinction and Phoebe, also of the Roman congregation, was stated to be the “deacon” of the church. Phoebe was also the one that Paul entrusted to carry his actual message to the Roman church from Cenchreae, a journey of over 700 miles.

"Christianity is inherently patriarchal."

Somehow the idea that God is described as “Father” has come to mean that Christianity and God Himself hate women and actively work to keep women from positions of power. The interpretation is ridiculous. It is true that for many centuries women were forbidden from acting as ministers or pastors, but during those same centuries, there were all sorts of ridiculous laws on the books. As much as Christianity would like to see itself as completely separate from culture, it is impossible for culture not to influence religion at least somewhere. Religious interpretations are done by people who bring their own cultural backgrounds, biases and understandings to the act of interpretation. As such, culture tends to seep into religion over time. This is why women were barred from power, because the culture outside of religion forbid it. Feminists who level this charge also need to consider what would need to happen for them to consider Christianity to have gender equality. Would there need to be exactly as many female preachers as male? If so, why is it that numbers determine equality? Having a woman as a preacher does not mean that a congregation cannot have a misogynistic quality to it any more than a male pastor could not head a congregation that was largely powered by women. Equal numbers do not mean that something is necessarily truly equal.

"A woman’s only worth is as a baby maker."

The Bible was written during a time when there was no social security, welfare or any other form of protection for aging parents. Children were a necessity both to take care of parents in their old age and to work the fields that provided food for the family. As such, having children was the priority of any couple. Whether anyone likes it or not, most of the work of child-creation is done by the woman. That is the biological reality of mammals. Given the culture of the time, children were a woman’s greatest symbol of wealth. The Bible, however, shows repeatedly that women were worth more than their ability to have children. Abraham loved Sarah even though she could not have children. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife even though she was barren. Luke 23:29 states that “blessed are the barren,” Isaiah 54 begins with “sing, barren woman who has born no child” and Wisdom 3:13 states that “blessed is the barren woman.” Children were central to the Israelites, but women who could not have children still played an important role.

It is sometimes noted that the inability to bear children is always seen as the mother’s fault. This is not a misogynistic belief but one that comes from a lack of modern medicine. Ancient peoples did not understand the intricacies of fertilization and gestation as people do today. All they were aware of is that a man and woman would have sex, but no child would result. The woman was likely blamed because men’s infertility issues are invisible to the naked eye. A man who has trouble with his sperm will still ejaculate. As such, ancient peoples would assume there was nothing wrong with the man. A woman’s part in childbearing, however, was invisible to ancient people under she started to show. As such, the problem was assumed to be with the woman. Once medicine understood male infertility, this mistaken belief largely vanished more or less overnight.

"Women’s sexuality shamed and policed, but men’s is left alone."

Once again, this is the case of not reading what lies beneath the actual words on the page. It is true that the Bible has quite a bit to say about sex and sexual morality. Considering that sex is required in order to produce the children that are necessary for a culture or nation to survive, it should be unsurprising that the Bible has rules for sex. It is, in part, a book of law. Of course it deals with such issues as marriage, inheritance and adultery.

Women’s sexuality is focused on in the Bible largely because of the time during which it was written. There was no such thing as a paternity test. No one can deny who is the mother of a child, but proving the identity of the father was impossible. Ancient peoples did not even have the basic understanding of genetics that state that two light eyed parents cannot give birth to a brown eyed child. As such, the only way to know the father’s identity for certain was to insist that women have sex with their husbands and their husbands only. Hence, most of the focus was on women

Men’s sexuality, however, is still discussed in the Bible. There are rules laid down about who a man can and cannot sleep with, what he is to do if he sleeps with someone who is more or less off limits and states that slandering his wife or fiancé is a punishable offense. Men are held accountable for such offenses as adultery, just like women, and there are clear punishments laid out for those who would be vicious enough to rape.

"Women are responsible for the existence of sin and death."

Eve has been blamed for centuries for the existence of sin. In reality, Adam is just as much to blame. The Book of Genesis states that Adam was standing beside Eve when the serpent spoke to them. He could have walked away. He could have told Eve that listening to the talking snake was a bad idea. He could have simply refused to eat the fruit. Instead, he is as entranced by the serpent’s lies as Eve. It just so happens that she is the one who take the first bite. God’s punishment also reflects this. He does not punish Eve and let Adam off the hook. Both of them are held responsible for their actions. 

Those who blame Eve for sin imply something very interesting about the story of mankind’s fall. If Eve is responsible for the first sin, then that means that she tricked Adam into taking the fruit. As such, Satan’s perfect lies were required to trick the first woman, while another mortal was enough to beguile the first man.

Christianity is not a misogynistic religion. Jesus had close friends and disciples who were female, preached actively to both women and men and, when He rose again, chose women to be His messengers. Despite this, the religion He founded is often presented as loathing or oppressing women. The reality, however, is quite different when all the lies and willful blindness is stripped away. After all, Christianity’s deepest roots were found in a woman. Jesus came from God and Mary. There was no man involved.
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