Recently in the Bill Maher thread, Clydey presented three Biblical passages as clear evidence that Christians/the Bible are misogynistic.
Initially I refused to take up the topic, because I knew that it would take a post at least as long as the current one to deal with it, and that such would be an entirely wasted effort on someone who frankly has no interest at all in understanding them properly.
However, I’d been tossing it around in my mind a bit, and I considered that there might well be other posters on MTF who would
be interested in understanding more fully and honestly both those verses and the Biblical view of men and women (not exhaustively and comprehensively, of course, but I can try to scratch at the surface). I had a chunk of time today, so I thought, “What the heck? It can’t do any harm.”
I had accused Clydey of "cherry-picking" a few verses out of their proper context and understanding, and what is fascinating is that in each of the three cases
, the very next verse
(among others) mitigates the charge of misogyny.
Now by way of preface, it is important to note that in the Biblical view of human relationships, men and women do indeed have different roles and responsibilities.
These differing roles correspond largely to innate
differences between men and women, most of them strictly biological
. While I realize that the acknowledgement of differences between men and women and their subsequent roles in relationships is not at all popular or well-accepted in the modern ethos, it does not mean that such acknowledgement is inherently misogynistic
, as I will endeavor to demonstrate.
The first passage that Clydey presented is from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22:20-21 (all verses from HCSB translation). It reads:
Originally Posted by Deuteronomy 22:20-21
But if this accusation is true and no evidence of the young woman’s virginity is found, they will bring the woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city will stone her to death. For she has committed an outrage in Israel by being promiscuous in your father’s house. You must purge the evil from you.
It looks appalling on the face of it. Does the Bible advocate the slaughter of non-virgins?
Remember that the only appropriate context for sexual relations in the Bible is between a married man and woman. All sex outside of that context is seen as some variation of adultery
. When a person has sex before he or she is married, it is akin to “cheating” on his or her future spouse (assuming that a future spouse is taken – the passage concerns the punishment only for a non-virgin who takes a different husband
Still, killing a woman just because she commits adultery is as misogynistic as it gets, right? Surely the Israelites would dare not treat a man in the same fashion! But then we come to the immediately following verse
Originally Posted by Deuteronomy 22:22
If a man is discovered having sexual relations with another man’s wife, both the man who had sex with the woman and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel
Men faced the same punishment that women did for committing adultery: death. The passage even goes on to detail a scenario wherein a man and an engaged woman (to a different man) have sex. If it is consensual, they are both put to death; if it is a ra*pe and the woman cannot help herself, only the man
is put to death.
Now while these laws may certainly strike us as overly severe
, they can hardly be called “misogynistic,” because they are applied to both men and women
with similar punishment.
The purpose for the general “severity” of OT laws is a very different discussion and not relevant to the topic at hand.
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The second “misogynistic” passage is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians in the New Testament:
Originally Posted by Colossians 3:18
Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Now what exactly does this submission mean? And on what basis is it made? Does it mean that women have to blindly do everything that their husbands tell them to, and moreover must do this simply by virtue of the fact that they are women and their husbands are men?
This passage will require a longer discussion because it entails the differing “roles” of husband and wife that I mentioned in the preface. When these roles are properly understood, I think that it will be seen that this injunction is anything but “misogynistic.”
The most important passage concerning these “roles” is found within Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he fleshes out in more detail the same basic exhortations that he wrote to the Colossians. He draws an extremely significant and instructive analogy between the relationship of Christ to the church
(church here meaning the whole body of Christians, not a building or a congregation) and husband to wife
Originally Posted by Ephesians 5:22-33
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands should also love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. [quoting Genesis 2:24:]For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
This analogy between Christ’s relationship to the church and that of husband to wife should not be glossed over, for it is presented to husbands as THE model
upon which to base their relationship to their wives, and the instruction given to wives is much better understood when we also have a firm grasp on the role of the husband.
So what exactly is the relationship of Christ to church, at least insofar as it serves as a model to husbands? It is characterized primarily by devotion, care, service, provision, and self-sacrifice.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus put His love of the people over Himself completely, devoting Himself totally to providing and caring for their spiritual and bodily well-being, and eventually making the ultimate sacrifice of Himself (and atonement for their sins) so that they might be saved.
There is no more profound example of perfect love and sacrifice, and this is the model that is given to husbands for the ways that they are to love and care for their wives. Of course, we are sinful human beings, and no husband can love his wife as perfectly as Christ loves the church. However, we are called to imitate His example as best we can, and husbands should thus love their wives through devotion, care, service, provision, and self-sacrifice.
. They are to put the bodily and spiritual needs of their wives above their own; they are to make every sacrifice that needs to be made to this end, up to and including their very life. They are to provide and care for them materially and immaterially (i.e. emotionally, etc.) and meet all of their needs to the absolute best of their ability.
Understanding this role of the husband, then, it is far easier to understand why the wife is exhorted to “submit.” This does not mean that she must blindly agree with everything he says or does. It means that she is to her entrust her care and well-being to her husband (which she pledges to him through the act of getting married), show him respect, and not attempt to obstruct or oppose his sincere efforts to care for her.
While both the husband and the wife are called to be the best spouse that they can be regardless of how “good” or “bad” a job that the other spouse is doing, it is naturally much easier for both partners if both are fulfilling their duties to one another. That is, it is much easier for a husband to care for his wife sacrificially if she is not contentious and does not attempt to oppose him at every turn, and it is likewise much easier for a wife to submit to her husband if he is sincerely doing his best to serve her, care for her, and put herself above himself at every turn.
Ironically enough, the only husband who would ever even feel the need to throw the “submission” verse at his wife is very likely failing miserably
in his own responsibility. He might find that his wife is more agreeable if he is serving her as he is supposed to. Or, to approach it slightly differently, for the husband who points to that verse and says, “You’re supposed to submit to me,” the wife could rightly point to that passage and say, “And you’re supposed to put my needs, desires, and well-being above your own, loving me as Christ loved the church!”
Again, there can be little dispute that all of the above is terribly “out of step” with our modern conception of relationships, “gender roles,” and marriage. But it can hardly be called “misogynistic.” There is abundant reciprocity and co-dependency in the relationship. The sense in which a husband is placed “above” his wife (i.e. the “head” of the relationship) is at once the same sense
in which he is placed “below” her (i.e. in service and devotion to her).
Another quick example of the reciprocity between a husband and wife is the sexual duty that they have to one another. From 1 Corinthians:
Originally Posted by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does. Equally, a husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another.
Neither the husband nor the wife has some kind of sexual priority or exemption in the relationship.
Above I said that the alleged “misogyny” in each passage is diminished by the very next verse that follows. Colossians 3:19 says:
Both husbands and wives
Originally Posted by Colossians 3:19
Husbands, love your wives and don’t become bitter against them
have specific obligations to one another, and these obligations not only entail no kind of misogyny, but they go as far as to establish the wife as the more “served” and prioritized member of the relationship.
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The final passage that is allegedly misogynistic comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. (I add in verse 8 to clarify 9-10). Paul writes:
Originally Posted by 1 Corinthians 11:8-10
For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head: because of the angels.
Now there are a few contextual considerations that need to be elucidated before we can understand these verses. First of all, they are in the midst of a passage about “head coverings,” and the “symbol of authority” that the woman is to wear on her head refers to a head covering to be worn during “prayer” or “prophecy.” It is another reference to the analogically symbolic relationship of Christ’s “headship” (see verse 3), the meaning of which I addressed above.
When Paul says that woman was “made from” and “made for” man, he is referring to the following passage in Genesis:
Originally Posted by Genesis 2:18, 21-24
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.[…] So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
Lest this passage be mistaken, this does not mean that women are subservient to men
. It merely means that women “complete” the human picture that was started with man. They constitute “one flesh” when they unite. “Man” alone was insufficient for God’s purposes for humanity, so He created woman as well. They are equally dignified human persons who are the same in terms of value in the eyes of God and in their dependence on one another.
To prevent misunderstanding, Paul actually makes this equality in terms of value and interdependence explicit in the very passage quoted above
, in the verses immediately
following the two that Clydey presented. He writes:
Originally Posted by 1 Corinthians 11:12-12
However, in the Lord, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God.
Paul is careful to make the Corinthians understand that men do not have some kind of priority or special standing over women by virtue of the fact that woman were created subsequently. Indeed, it is Paul who makes the great decree of ultimate or spiritual equality when he writes to the Galatians in the passage that Orka N quoted in another thread:
Originally Posted by Galatians 3:27-28
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I have done my best to render the above “misogynistic” passages clear, and I think that it is quite apparent at this point that such a label is grossly inappropriate and erroneous.
The fuller picture shows that Biblical Christianity is anything but “misogynistic,” instead treating men and women both as equally valued children of God.
And I hope that we also notice a very important sidebar here in terms of “criticism” involving Scripture. Random isolated “verses” can sometimes be grossly misunderstood inasmuch as they are separated from their fuller context. It is extraordinarily easy to snag a few verses and toss them about carelessly, but it requires a greater investment of time and thought to understand them honestly