Is the Bible Sexist?
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 Dr. Paul Ellis’s new book, The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.
I liked this, but i suspect that this might be one of those post’s that will bring about a lot of discussion.
All the best Paul.
I hope it generates discussion. The role of women in the church is something we need to talk about.
God bless your good work in the body. Shalom!
Hey Paul! Thank you for this. One of the difficult topics I grapple with is the conversation about sexism in the bible. Even in the context of a marriage, is it biblical that a wife should submit to the husband? Or are they considered equals in the eyes of the lord?
Those are two excellent questions that I deal with thoroughly in the book. I will put some articles on submission and equality here on E2R soon. Stay tuned.
I can’t wait to read Paul’s forthcoming articles on these questions, but regarding submission, I’ve always understood it this way:
(Eph 5:33) God told men to love their wives because men tend to operate more out of respect and honor, but women need to feel loved.
God told women to respect their husbands because the opposite, women tend to operate out of love, but men need to feel respected.
It would be easy for a husband to respect his wife, or for a wife to love her husband, but that’s not what each other needs. So Paul was telling us how we can meet the needs of our spouse. It’s not submission and that’s the end of the story. It’s mutually giving out of our comfort zones to meet the needs of our spouses.
Only love here has to be done as a fruit……………of the Spirit otherwise it is empty!
Elaine, the Greek word used in Eph. 5:33 is agapao. It means to totally give yourself over and be consumed and committed. Many husbands tend to be busy with work and other pursuits. Ephesians 5:33 is a good reminder for husbands to put their wives above those things and be fully committed and focused to their spouse. God bless.
I don’t mean to be sarcastic, always great in theory! Yes agapao is the beautiful total love of giving ones self, thank you Jesus. Thanks and God Bless
A discussion… the love GOD is only spoken of in 1:1000 verses in 35,000. Yes, as you are saying, spiritual perspective is so important.
Both JE-sus and 12 Apostles taught us that men & women are made the same; respect, submission to GOD comes before our Agape [actionable] love in this physical realm. see: Eph 5: 21. And out of that comes the love of GOD that GOD commands men to love our wife. Neither is designed by GOD to tend to act different to one another; with respect to GOD’s commands. The commands of GOD are not synonymous with the words of man… as in Love Languages. Men love, women respect by GOD’s design in the marriage. That does not mean that men don’t respect & women don’t love…
The man was created first, woman came out of the man [denoting the headship to the man – appointment by GOD, connoting the roles appointed by GOD to both] – which in order, keeps the design of oneness, in view. All the way to the oneness aspect of GOD’s design in being healthily, sexually active [Eros]. But how can we be prepared? We (both) are commanded to make [not a passive action by us] ourselves ready to be continually filled by the power of Holy Spirit – Eph 5: 19-21.
Yes Adam was created first, then Eve
From his rib at his side as a help meet
Equal to mankind, and mankind refers to women as well
A Help-Meet, side by side we stand and not deny God, as there is nom respect of persons from Father’s view, in actionable agape love given us to stand in by beleif, Faith
Add God, and we got a triangle you think, standing up in Love and peace and serenity
If I am to view anyone other than me I am to see all others better than me
Not like that told to us in Luke 18:9-14, humble thyself to not be better than anyone else
Kim here comments & hopes discussion will come of it – Paul Ellis says he will post some articles soon. May I…
Sexism is always a point of contention & more often – for those who suffer superiority complexes. Marriage [in man’s modern making] is predicted in-part, on the ceremony; whereas in the Garden experience, the ceremony was not designed in to that scenario. It played no part. There marriage is predicated on oneness. By the act of being fruitful [multiplying] & populating Earth. Yet, because an outlier symptom in man – the Fall collided with that design & marriage would no longer be seen as the man simply choosing a female partner.
The premise for this was taken out of who [the Character] GOD is – GOD designed in to Creation that Agape [English word, for “actionable” love] love – it is on the part of GOD that Earth is populated. Agape [action] love is seen in many places in the bible-record – as it was never a type of love that pertains directly to man’s love for man. As is seen by Eros, Phileo & perhaps we can include Storge [playful love] love. See: Jn 3: 14-15 for context to GOD’s Agape love mentioned in v 16.
True Agape Love is to me in seeing 1Cor.13:4-7
Which no man or woman can do, once one sees that then one needs that
And can only get it from God himself, the Fsather of the risen Son for us
As Abraham got it in belief that God’s love true love would be revealed
In Romans 4:17-25, is explained that only God can impute this Love to us that remain in belief to learn from each and every mistake, by listening to God speak to them in Spirit and Truth
Well my brother Paul, you have once again hit the nail of truth right square on its head!! Paul’s letters always reminds me that there is neither male nor female in his eyes, he sees us as sons, he made helpers and for oneness as he is. But being a helper makes them essential for the union to operate as a whole. So for a husband who doesn’t treat and love that helper with respect as he would respect himself has created a disjointed relationship. I believe if each person would see him/herself as God states, Christ in you the hope of glory, then that union would operate out of resting in Christ and allowing the dual Holy Spirit to operate, WOW what a relationship!!! Blessings…..
Created equal, there is no one better than anyone else, we are equal, as Father made woman a help-mate from Adam’s side, looks equal to me, even though the fall happened, Adam was right there when it happened and she ate, so then did he, in unbelief, and so here we all are today, as Father by Son the Two as Won (One) for us to be one with them as Won too, no male, no female, no Jew or Greek, circumcision’s of the heart that begins on the very first day anyone has turned to God to see
Ezekiel 36:26, fulfilled in the risen Son to get this new heart imputed in us and be equal
Also, Debra was a Judge in the first Testament as God has never once been impartial
Thanks Paul, more understanding of the truth about God seeing us all as equal
The world sees everyone as sinners
Yet God does not see that any longer, thanks to Jesus for us, proven in bein g risen that I see to stand in, no matter what the cost here on earth
Thank you always, brother Paul, for the Scriptural illumination. More grace to you!
In the Garden experience with GOD, the man was made 1st, the woman second; both equal yet, with varying modes or roles. Each have differing potential but equal. The man is appointed the office of ‘headship’ in the context of hierarchy only; thus: the woman, respectful & submissive to GOD – just as is the man [Eph 5: 21]; GOD’s doing, not mans’. Note: the woman respects & is submissive to GOD – in turn, she acts the same to GOD’s assigning the man ‘headship’. This is in a fashion is akin to the Newer Covenant; where we witness the 3 evidences that a person is always ready & available to be continually filled by the power of Holy Spirit. The answer to the question: How do we know we are filled with Holy Spirit. see: Eph 5: 19-21__ joy for one another (those) in the one Body [pronoun] of the Christ, thankfulness to GOD & respect or submissive to GOD.
People reject the biblical-record that promotes equality in men & women; in-part because they interchange gender [sex] to mean, worth. And make worth the sometimes object for man-made Rules making. Sadly, too many people see what man is doing & project that on to GOD. And rejecting the bible; where words inspired by GOD for guiding life; in this life & beyond – are not heard & listened to.
The biblical-record [text] is not Sexist… sex is not an issue with GOD; his design of one human race, is. Jesraels’ man-made laws are what GOD’s love [actionable] did; by separating what man does with law making – by giving the body [common noun] of the Christ to death on a tree, one time for all who would come to love GOD. Heb 10: 8-10.
Awesome article! I really struggled with this exact topic growing up, I think you communicated / cast some excellent thoughts & perspective. Surprised Galatians 3:28 wasn’t mentioned however :), the ultimate equalizer! “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The above is a short article extracted from a big book. You can be sure Gal 3:28 is in there. Glad you liked the article.
The ‘other’ 603 Laws in the OT came through Moses. So it is to be expected they would reflect the patriachical society he was a part of. The Law of Moses is exactly what it says it is – the Law of MOSES (not the Law of Jesus and not the Law of God – otherwise Jesus would have called it that!) It does not apply to us – any of us! Jesus has completely taken away the Law of Moses (‘nailed to the Cross’ is the way the NT puts it) and replaced it with an entirely different Law – the Law of the Spirit of Christ.
amen, plain and simple!!
Somewhat difficult to argue that one considering there are several places in the Bible referring to the OT Law as the laws of God. However, if you read them through the lens of God meeting humans where they are and providing a framework for living in a fallen state (they were going to do things like own slaves, so provide them with a humane way to treat those slaves), then the laws begin to become less troublesome as they are God shifting a fallen society in the right direction while recognizing that he can’t provide ideal commands that any of us will be able to follow on our own. It’s an example of God not being afraid of meeting and engaging us in our mess. God Himself recognized that covenant as inferior, it just takes a casual reading of Hebrews, Galatians, or Romans to recognize that. Jesus freed you and me from living by the law, it is beautifully true and I am not suggesting that anyone try to follow any of those laws, but do not dismiss any piece of God’s dealings with humanity, including the Law. You do so at the peril of missing God’s heart. I love seeing my God who is willing to meet us where we are and draw us to Him rather than stand aloof and demand that I come to where He is. Even when we are doing terrible things to one another. Joseph Prince put it best when he said that Grace causes us to exceed the demands of the law (actually gets us to where God intended). The law can order me to not steal but it could never make me generous, only Grace can do that.
Love is the fulfillment of the Law. all Law
Oil (God) Water (man) does not mix
So only God can fulfill the Law and Prophets. and this is done in Son for us to be given new life in his risen Life. not in his flesh life or in his death, that was only for a very short while the took away the sin of the world, In Father’s sight, not mine or yours or anyone else’s
John 19:30, that had to be accomplished first. Then the resurrection, then the giving of new life in Spirit and Truth of God Father only
Amen to what you said Brother
Amen to that brother…….the law was fulfilled in Christ at the cross and he removed the curse off of man. We are fully forgiven, fully restored and are one in Him; but few come to this knowledge of the New Covenant and stick there. Many preachers/teachers/evangelists/prophets/apostles of today operate out of mainly law, but more today of a MIXTURE of grace and law….now that is a sad mess too!! I will only operate out of grace and truth (John 1:17), no law, that is why I get my nourishment from Paul’s letters. I’ve been to every church building in town, they all either teach law or law and a teency bit of grace!! So I’m an online seeker of truth!!! I can’t stand to listen to Old Covenant that is trying to be applied to me, it is like going back to kindergarten and it is not appealing to me or many others. Religion is bondage and no one wants it!!
I suspect that this comment will provide ample cover for those who argue that God is inconsistent and therefore not trustworthy. Worse, it allows followers of Christ to cite Isaiah 55:8 out of context by answering “God’s ways are not our ways.”
The “problem” of how the The Law treats women is the same one raised by slavery. Although both misogyny and slavery were common in the culture, that’s no reason God had to create laws that tolerated the practice. Simply forbidding it was an option open to God.
It seems that the issue is one of perception. The point about slavery, I think, is that God wanted us to realize we are all slaves already. Why forbid something that exists as a fundamental condition of a fallen world?
Perhaps the same holds true for allowing women to be treated differently. The fact is that God will treat people differently; not everyone will be in heaven. While this explanation is admittedly a stretch since no one chooses gender, I suspect that there is an overarching reality that is being reflected in the laws regarding women.
I never thought about this theory!
My idea was on Jesus’s comment on how Moses permitted divorce because the Israelites’ hearts were hard, even though God’s OG plan is to not have divorce at all. Said laws were probably permissive because God knew that the Israelites couldn’t handle total bans of divorce, slavery, and inequality.
The Israelites could not handle any aspect of the law! For example, they ignored the Jubilee Year until God sent them into captivity in Babylon, then returned after the land had its rest and continued to ignore it.
This is in spite of the fantastic promises found in Deuteronomy 28 for obeying the law.
The parallel for us is that the promises got better and the requirements got lowered, but we (or I, to be honest) continue to depend on myself and my own efforts instead of acting in faith.
NO ONE can live the LAW!!! that is why Jesus came and fulfilled it!! Yeah!! Set free to live “in Him”, IN CHRIST now!!! No male nor female!!! End of story!! …….Why are we still trying to fight with God’s wonderful new provisions…in grace and truth, ….in Spirit and Truth….
That just makes inerrantism even more shaded by Jesus’ own words. Literalists like the Sadducees were forced to say that God approves of divorce, therefore it is moral. Jesus rejects the literal reading. Today, inerrantists like Evangelicals are forced to say God approves of indentured labor and sexism for the same reasons. Who needs a conscience when you have the letter of God’s inerrant, infallible, inspired word with all the answers?
It’s also worth noting that various people studied said passages and determined that the verses aren’t as sexist as they appear.
* For Ex 21:7, note different context. Modern era women go out to get jobs (since WWII); not necessarily in ANE (not much job openings for women, reflects human condition). However, Israel women found opportunity in marriage. So master can let son marry woman. If not, no reduction in food or woman must go free. Note Ex 21:8-15.
* Num 8:24 is kinda funky. Some translations like NIV use “men”, while other translations like NKJV don’t specify gender.
* Vow passages are also funky. Women are guaranteed forgiveness should husband stop vow. Also, husband can’t just stall and one day choose to stop vow. (Num 30:15)
* Deut 22:28-29 is trickiest. Hebrew word for “hold” (tapas) has different meanings, like holding shield as used in Jer 46:9. Some note that “taphaz shakab” (in Deut 22:28-29) mean “seduce” (similar to persuasion) while previous section was actually rape. Also, phrase “they were found out” implies that both did wrong (rather than male only). Even then, woman’s dad can say no, and the man had to pay up. Verse is similar to Exodus 22:16-17.
Whew! In the end, in God’s OG plan, as Paul E. describes, “women are equal partners”. Also, as implied from Matt 19:18, Jesus said that some laws like divorce are solely due to Israelites’ condition (though women are ensured protection and rights).
The suggestion that Levite priests included females is intriguing, but I’m not convinced. It all hangs on whether certain words should be translated as sons or children. In Numbers 3:15, God told Moses to “number the sons of Levi”, but the NKJV says “number the children of Levi.” However in the very next breath, and all the adjacent verses, even the NKJV specifies males. “You shall number every male from a month old and above.” Again and again it’s pretty clear that the Levites that counted were male.
In my big rambling on interpretations of some Bible verses, turns out I forgot to talk about Deut 21:10-14!
* First off, there’s absolutely no rape. Aside from rape not being a God-approved action, the Hebrew word used in Deut 21:14 (anah) — which means “afflicted” — does not necessarily mean rape. The woman can have a bunch of life problems not related to rape! User elika kohen went more in detail in Hermeneutics Stack Exchange.
* The marriage thing is more permissive than a command, as noted by the word “may”.
* Women are guaranteed protections, like no beatings and no selling for money. Also, she is allowed to mourn for a full month.
* It’s worth noting that in other nations, captured women were often treated as slaves. The married woman can’t be sold for money [Deut 21:14] and kidnapping is forbidden. Not to mention that marriage in Israelite time was opportunity for women.
To close this off, think of the Mosaic Law, the world’s law in Israelites’ time, and today’s standards (even God’s standards) as algebra, arithmetic, and calculus respectively. While not as complicated as calculus, algebra is more complex than arithmetic. Similarly, the Mosaic Law was more advanced than other laws in terms of protection, though not necessarily to today’s level. It’s likely because God knew that the Israelites couldn’t handle a total ban on inequality, slavery, and divorce, as implied from Jesus in Matt 19:18.
Deu 22:28-29 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.” Ask a woman whether she thinks that sounds like rape or not.
I definitely see your point, and yep, I definitely agree with your thoughts. Biblical apologetics and hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible) can be super weird. On paper, verses like Deu 22:28-29 sound fishy with the rape talk!
As stated in another comment of mine, the verse is more on the woman choosing to be seduced rather than being tackled and raped while crying out for help (the typical picture of rape). John Gill had a similar conclusion when studying the section. Additionally, I noticed that Deu 22:25-27 also talked about rape — yet the woman didn’t receive any punishment or marriage requirement. I also noted how funky Bible translations can be — NIV uses “rape” in both sections, but NET uses “overpowered and rape” in Deut 22:25-27 while using “take hold and sleep” in Deut 22:28-29.
Because of verses that raise eyebrows, many Bible scholars do close examinations of said verses to determine what the true meaning is. And as expected, there are also claims that said verses actually mean the abuses seen at first glance. And unsurprisingly, there are also heated debates and arguments on other forums (or even in real life) regarding the meaning.
I find it very interesting that in this statement in Deu 22: 28-29 that the “was virgin” has no choice, and only “if they are discovered”?? Hmmmmm!!!
What are the greatest of all Law
There are two, and these are Love, God’s type as in 1 Cor 13:4-7 tells me at least
Now these Laws are not exposed in the Ten Laws are they, yet this Laws of God are the fulfillment of those Ten you all
First Three, Love thy Lord God first and above all else
Last Four, Your Neighbor as yourself, deeper that that how about how are you presently loved now and forever though Son, who took away all sin from his Father for us to be given new life in his resurrected life?
Just asking and seeing there is no condemnation to those that are in beleif, that have and continue to surrender to God for the new life given them to lead them
No Jew no Greek, No male, or female, all today in risen Son are equaled for Father to be here on earth in Spirit and Truth to save you too.
God just loves us all you all start right there and stop the condemning tudes, please
Well, if anyone has disbelief in the book of Genesis, they’ll have great trouble in the book of Revelation. No, the Bible didn’t even create the word “sexist,” because it takes mankind to twist and warp ideas into worldly format. Take heart in 1 cor 10:13.
GUYS….It truly all goes back to loving your wife as Christ loved the church and died for it. Men need a sacrificial love, one that nurtures and encourages and makes her…his own and fulfills her needs and desires! When this happens guys, she will be all over you with a power of love in unity! Now after that happens if you go back into your old ways…………..well, so many times she will begin to get what she NEEDS when another comes along and takes the time to “listen”…..yes, somewhere/someone else……….due to your negligence!! More often than not this works!! She chose you, don’t forget!!
If you look at the difference of the jobs that women had to do the old testament/covenant, they had to fix meals, take care of the children, etc……..much harsher conditions, grow food, haul water, sweep dirt floors……………….just no comparison with what we have today!!
Hi, in relating to whether The Bible is sexist, I always wondered why The Apostle Paul advised that women should not preach. Given that he was a New Covenant teacher, I don’t understand why he said this. What do you think about this? Thanks.
I have written several articles on Paul’s comments about women. You can find them in the Archives > Subject Index > Women.
Paul, thanks for taking on the difficult topics. Your study/research skills and disciplines challenge us all to step back and take a fresh look at things so we can move forward in spiritual transformation. God bless you, brother!
Thank you, Kevin. Although my hope is that this article will inspire someone to make a great Christian movie.
I am so thankful when I read these things about women that we can look at the church in a whole different realm, anyway I do. I look at the “grace and truth”, new covenant section where he made us all “one” in Christ. Anyone who puts a negative to that is in jeopardy rejecting their own body, the body of Christ!!
When I think of male/female, I also think how Jesus, the Son of Man no less, never had a sexual relationship with a woman. And yet for us earthlings, many seem to consider sexuality to be the prime indicator of male or female-ness. I mean, what was Jesus’ penis used for? lol. Peeing. Go figure. 😉 It’s also interesting how in the Hebrew, the word for son can also be translated child… offspring. And how in translations ‘he’ was often inserted when describing Holy Spirit, when there was no ‘he’ in the original. My personal bottom line, lol, is that at my age all I really care about is the beautiful all-encompassing Spirit of the Lord, which is neither male nor female, filling our hearts and homes. And when that happens, everything else pretty well shakes out. 😉
Love your response, : ) … yes the Holy Spirit which lives in us all (no sex there). In them we live and move and have our being….
Loved this piece. You answered the title’s question quite thoroughly! I recently wrote about the parallels of the thirty pieces of silver being the same “value” for Christ as it was for women in Leviticus. Your perspective explains this topic SO well!