Is the Bible sexist?
Ask that question to a liberal Christian and the answer will be a morally outraged, "No, absolutely not. How can you possibly say that? The Bible tells men to love their wives, not be harsh to them, and love them as Christ loved the Church."
In addition to the derision and scorn, Biblical passages will be quoted ad nauseum, in a futile effort to prove this, conveniently overlooking certain critical factors such as context and intent. This, while emphasizing the necessity of looking at context and intent in order to justify redefining terms. This is particularly true if you happen to be having this debate with a pastor or a relatively well indoctrinated member of the "flock".
The two main passages offered as "proof" of the Bible's and therefore God's love for women are Colossians 3:19 and Ephesians 5:25-33.
Let's look at what these passages say and the context in which they were written. For convenience I'm looking at the NIV version of the Bible which is recognized as the most common version. There is no substantial difference in these particular passages between NIV (New International Version) and KJV (King James Version).
This passage states as follows:
"15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism."
One of the liberal Christian arguments boils down to the following. The Bible says that we are members of one body, that of Christ. True, the Bible does say this. Then the leap in logic follows where the Christian will state that this means that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord.
Note that nowhere in the above passage does the Bible even imply that there is equality between all members of the "body". In fact, different direction is given to each of the components of the "body" which in fact indicates that each one has a different role and the roles are not equal, particularly given the culture at the time. Remember we're talking 2000 years ago here.
A variation of this Christian argument states that we shouldn't take the Bible literally, that is we should look at the intent and not the specific context. However, looking at the statements from either the point of view of context or intent or both actually changes nothing here.
Men must love their wives, and the wives are to submit to their husbands. Sounds like the type of relationship a man would have with his dog. Man loves dog, dog submits.
The controversy that rages here is around the word Submit and what it means. The dictionary definition and current social understanding of the word is:
sub•mit (səb mit′)
transitive verb -•mit′•ted, -•mit′•ting
1. to present or refer to others for decision, consideration, etc.
2. to yield to the action, control, power, etc. of another or others; also, to subject or allow to be subjected to treatment, analysis, etc. of some sort: often used reflexively
3. to offer as an opinion; suggest; propose
Etymology: ME submitten <>
1. to yield to the power, control, etc. of another or others; give in
2. to allow oneself to be subjected (to treatment, analysis, etc.)
2. to defer to another's judgment or decision
3. to be submissive, obedient, humble, etc.
Source: Your Dictionary : Submit
The definition provided by one liberal Christian Pastor was:
"Submission is a willful yielding to the will of one who has proven he always acts in your self-interest." --Michael_E of AvC.
He claimed that this was the meaning of the word in the context of the Bible as a whole.
Now frankly, one can jump through hoops to justify whatever one wants to justify if your Dogma is at stake. One can pull in all kinds of disparate Biblical passages to make a claim which is no more or less valid than the more honest (albeit more sexist) claims of the Christian fundamentalists, which are simply that women are inferior and are being punished by God because of the Original Sin.
The fact is that the Pastor's definition doesn't match the existing definition of submission and so can't be interpreted in this way as intent. It also doesn't match any ancient definition of the word as you can see by the etymology part of the definition above. The Pastor is a liberal Christian, seemingly a nice guy, but his cognitive dissonance here is effectively making him a liar.
The reality is that 2000 years ago women were considered chattel, marriages were arranged and her value to a man was not much higher than any other property he owned. There is no requirement for the women to love their husbands only to submit because the woman's feelings didn't matter. She was expected to accept and do as she was told. Men are told to love their wives and not be harsh. The Bible is essentially saying that men should treat their property well.
Treating women nicely has little to do with accepting women as competent equal partners in a relationship no matter how you look at it. So removing the context and looking at intent changes nothing here.
to be continued in Women And The Bible, Part 2.
Written by Trance Gemini of AvC