Some people reject the Bible because they believe it promotes a male-dominated worldview. “The Bible is oppressive to women. It reinforces patriarchal stereotypes that view women as inferior.” There is a measure of truth to this claim.
Consider the laws of ancient Israel. Israel had laws that permitted the kidnapping of foreign women, and prescribed conditions under which a rape victim could be compelled to marry her rapist. Under the law a man could overrule his wife or daughter’s vow, and an impoverished father could sell his daughter as a concubine. By law, only men could work as priests and serve in the temple. (See Ex. 21:7, Num. 8:24, 30:3–15, Deu. 21:11–14, 22:28–29.)
But to reject the Bible because it provides an accurate portrayal of patriarchal cultures is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Bible also champions the role of women. It honors female pioneers and leaders. The Bible empowers and elevates women many different ways. Since we’re talking about ancient laws, how about these ancient laws…
The Ten Commandments given to Israel are among the world’s oldest known laws. They were utterly radical for their time because they promoted gender equality in a world of inequality.
Consider the fifth commandment:
Honor your father and mother. (Ex. 20:20)
God made men and women equal, but the Fall of man created patriarchy. “He will rule over you.” This skewed arrangement was never God’s plan and the proof is in the Ten Commandments. Honor both of your parents.
Consider the fourth commandment:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant… (Ex. 20:9-10)
Again, equality. In an age where women were considered property, God defended their rights. “Treat your mothers like your fathers and your daughters like your sons.”
So why the inconsistency in Israel’s laws? Why is there one set of laws (the Ten Commandments) promoting equality and another (the 600+ miscellaneous laws) promoting discrimination?
<Insert philosophical shrug here.>
The world is a messy place. What God gives, men take away. We started well, but we fell.
The human condition is complicated, and the Bible reflects this. It provides an honest assessment of our many shortcomings, especially in the way we treat women.
But one thing you need never doubt is this: God’s desires all people – male and female – to be free. This was true even in the old covenant.
A man by the name of Zelophehad died leaving five daughters. Their names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah (Num. 27:1–7). In those days, it was the custom for sons to inherit land while daughters got dowries. Not these ladies. “We want our inheritance,” they said to Moses. To his credit, Moses brought their case before the Lord. The Lord told Moses to give them their land.
Stories like this remind us that God’s view of women is often different from ours. Cultures come and go, but God never changes. He created both male and female in his image, and his desire has always been for us to rule and reign together in partnership.
Is the Bible sexist? No, but we are, and the Bible portrays this. The Bible also reveals the good heart of our Maker. Men write the rules and rig the game, but in God’s eyes women are equal partners. They have a voice and an equal share in his kingdom.
Extracted from Paul’s forthcoming book, Roar: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice