Then and Now: Some thoughts on Gender and the Bible

I have been a complimentarian most of my life, which means that I believe in a traditional reading of the Bible, that although men and women are equal in worth, they have different roles in the home, in society, and in the church.

As with many of my beliefs, I am just putting that up for review right now. I am asking, “Is that healthy?”

I got to thinking about some of the things that were different 2,000 years ago, to now. Since things were different, wouldn’t it be healthy and normal to also shift our views on gender roles…?

Some things that were different then:

  1. Men normally married around ten years younger. Times were hard. It was a way of matching optimal fertility with optimal ability to provide. 
  2. Everyone worked, including women. This meant that everyone was an asset: if a woman left the family/clan, her loss would be compensated for by a dowry, to help the clan that had lost an able-bodied worker. Times were hard. 
  3. Society had to hold together to survive. There were no contraceptives. A teenage pregnancy was a disaster, as it broke down the family/clan structure. Adolescent sex was tightly controlled, and women sometimes sequestered until they were given in marriage. Clans were organized around a male patriarchal head. Dissension was like treason, and treated as such. The only way to survive was to stick together. Times were hard. 
  4. There were no feminine hygiene products, and very minimal medical supplies. This very greatly limited the mobility and health of women: especially in cultures with strict rules on ceremonial cleanliness. 
  5. There was no birth control, and many children died in infancy. By necessity, the role of a married woman was to watch children, and tend to the very busy domestic chores of life. Times were very hard. 
  6. When there was education to be had, the men usually got it first, as they had more ability, they were probably older than their wives, society was organized patriarchally, and the education would seem to be more useful in the hands of the family/clan leader. Remember, times were hard. 
  7. Although Jesus broke down stereotypes by making a missionary out of a woman, having female followers, and teaching women, Paul knew these practices would not go over well in the general population. Paul’s great passion was to get the message of the Gospel out, and “not cause offense” to the Jewish and Greek audience. The Jews of Jesus’ day often saw women as spiritually inferior and incapable of receiving the law. The Greeks often saw women as “less spiritual,” more “fleshly,” and emotional vs. Intelligent 

…and so just keeping this in mind as we read Paul…

  1. When Paul said, “let wife’s learn from their husbands,” (1 Cor. 13:35) he was speaking into a situation where the women would have been less educated, had less experience outside the home, less religious training (if any), and usually were a decade younger than their husbands. 
  2. When Paul said, “it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly,” (1 Cor. 14:35) …he may have simply been pointing out a fact. It was shameful for women to speak publicly in that context. (He was not saying it was always a sin for women to speak in church because…)
  3. …when he said that a woman should have her head covered when prophesying (speaking) in church, clearly that meant something to them in their culture and context (1 Cor. 11). There is much discussion about short and long hair, and coverings in this passage. Some interpret this as timeless commands: but Paul may also be guiding a church in how to be culturally appropriate in their own time: a great principle to apply in our own.
  4. When he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man,” (1 Tim. 2:12) he may have been laying down a universal command, of he may have been sharing his personal rule in a private letter to his closest friend and protégée. If so, there were definite cultural reasons why this made sense at the time, but…
  5. …there were also Biblical examples of women with teaching capacity, such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), Acquilla (Acts 18:26), and others. 
  6. When Paul said that women should be “workers at home,” he was almost certainly not thinking of cooking and cleaning and looking pretty, with all of the modern conveniences, like a 1950’s “model woman.” The proverbs 31 woman bought fields, hired employees, and handled the finances for her (very fortunate) husband.
  7. In Titus 2:5, Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands, “…so that the word of God will not be maligned.” Well folks, we have the opposite situation today. People are more likely to “malign” the word of God if wives are not allowed to pursue careers because of outdated mandates: does this mean that it is also time to update how we see this verse?
  8. …when Peter told husbands to live with their wives in and understanding way, “as the weaker vessel,” (1 Pet. 3:7) he was not speaking about a lower worth (as he goes on to immediately say that they have equal worth as “co-heirs” of the gospel) but teaching husbands to be compassionate for the difficult plight of women in that day. Times were hard. 

…this is not a definitive list. However, I think this is the first time that I have pulled together these bits of information to review as a whole the question of gender roles within Christianity. 

In our very different times, when age, education, health, hygiene, kids, and the difficulty of life are not such a crushing burden on us all….is it not time to upgrade our view of gender?

…or must we continue in exactly the same patriarchal holding pattern that our ancestors developed to solve very specific problems back then?

Paul’s words are…interesting. “So that the word of God will not be maligned.”

What is the #1 reason people turn away from our faith today? As a campus pastor, one objection came up over and over.

“I can’t be a Christian because of their outdated and sexist views on women.”

🤔 Interesting…

So what would it look like if we prioritized our witness, and cultural sensitivity on this issue, in 2020?

Published by

Josiah

I have been a missionary. I have been a pastor. I have been to seminary. Right now, I'm all about getting healthy, and caring for my family. The healthier I get, the closer I seem to get to God. ...and life seems to make more and more sense. It's working for me. Join me on my journey, if you would like.

2 thoughts on “Then and Now: Some thoughts on Gender and the Bible”

  1. Do the upgrade. My two sense. I have studied the Bible my whole life and I look at it with new eyes now. Being held back and being part of patriarchal systems was suffocating. These same systems also treat other men with disrespect as well because hierarchal structures of power can so easily be abused and give people a sense of entitlement. It amazes me that what is illegal now as far as bullying and harassment in the workplace takes place in churches every day. The church made up of humans needs a diversity of voices to be inclusive. We can all be servant leaders in our own Spheres of ministry.
    Just for the record, my husband has always treated me as an equal and respected my gifts. At different stages in marriage we took on different roles in the family, work and church. He is very nurturing and we co-parented. I am ambitious and he supported my passion for my work. Somehow we even managed to home educate our children together and they turned out to be fantastic humans.
    Together we feel called to elevate the marginalized and make our communities better through our work. We are both leaders and have different styles. As Christians, we can help make society better and I don’t mean being ‘one issue’ Christians. God cares about the whole person throughout the lifespan. I have also been challenged to be taught and learn from our Indigenous brothers and sisters and people of colour. We see so many things though the unconscious biases of our upbringing and privilege. It is the human condition. We can be lifelong learners and cross the bridge to understanding.

    But the real question is, why are only the woman asked to make the casseroles and the men to set-up the chairs? Lol

    Some books to read about rethinking the traditional roles of women and especially the ones limiting their ministries:

    The Blue Parakeet by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight

    Parakeets make delightful pets. We cage them or clip their wings to keep them where we want them. Scot McKnight contends that many, conservatives and liberals alike, attempt the same thing with the Bible. We all try to tame it. McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet calls Christians to stop taming the Bible and to let it speak anew to our heart.

    McKnight challenges us to rethink how to read the Bible, not just to puzzle it together into some systematic belief but to see it as a Story that we’re summoned to enter and to carry forward in our day.

    Junia is not Alone, By Scot McKnight

    Description
    In this fierce essay, leading Bible scholar Scot McKnight tells the story of Junia, a female apostle honored by Paul in his Letter to the Romans—and then silenced and forgotten for most of church history. But Junia’s tragedy is not hers alone. She’s joined by fellow women in the Bible whose stories of bold leadership have been overlooked. She’s in the company of visionary women of God throughout the centuries whose names we’ve forgotten, whose stories go untold, and whose witness we neglect to celebrate.

    But Junia is also joined by women today—women who are no longer silent and who are experiencing a re-voicing as they respond to God’s call to lead us into all truth.

    McKnight, the author of over 30 books and the blogger and curator of the blog “Jesus Creed,” is a trusted, authoritative, and accessible voice on the Bible and theology. Junia Is Not Alone is a must-read for longtime followers, a valuable introduction for new readers, and a necessary call to awareness and action for the entire church.

  2. Thank you for your comments and links, Sherry! I think I have made the “upgrade.” I am just working out the fine-print! 😉 I may just check out some of those resources to help me make sense of a new way of seeing things. thanks again!

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