The Bible’s Viewpoint
Does the Bible Discriminate Against Women?
TERTULLIAN, a third-century theologian, once described women as “the devil’s gateway.” Others have used the Bible to portray women as less important than men. As a result, many people feel that the Bible discriminates against women.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a 19th-century pioneer for women’s rights in the United States, felt that “the Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.” Of the first five books of the Bible, Stanton once said: “I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of woman.”
While some today might hold such extreme viewpoints, many still feel that some parts of the Bible support discrimination against women. Is such a conclusion justified?
How Women Are Viewed in the Hebrew Scriptures
“Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16) Critics point to this as a judgment of Eve by God and as divine approval of woman’s subjection by man. However, rather than a declaration of God’s purpose, this is an accurate statement of the sad consequences of sin and rejection of God’s sovereignty. Abuse of women is the direct result of mankind’s fallen nature, not God’s will. Wives in many cultures have indeed been dominated by their husbands, often in very harsh ways. But this was not God’s purpose.
Both Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. Moreover, they received the same mandate from God to become fruitful, fill the earth, and subdue it. They were to work together as a team. (Genesis 1:27, 28) Clearly, at that point neither was cruelly dominating the other. Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.”
In some cases Bible accounts do not indicate God’s view on a matter. They may just be historical narrative. The account of Lot offering his daughters to the Sodomites is related without moral commentary or judgment by God.*—Genesis 19:6-8.
The fact is, God hates all forms of exploitation and abuse. (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 27:19; Isaiah 10:1, 2) The Mosaic Law condemned rape and prostitution. (Leviticus 19:29; Deuteronomy 22:23-29) Adultery was prohibited, and the penalty was death for both parties. (Leviticus 20:10) Rather than discriminate against women, the Law elevated and protected them from the rampant exploitation common in the surrounding nations. A capable Jewish wife was a highly respected and esteemed individual. (Proverbs 31:10, 28-30) The Israelites’ failure to follow God’s laws on showing respect for women was their fault, not God’s will. (Deuteronomy 32:5) Ultimately, God judged and punished the nation as a whole for their flagrant disobedience.
Is Subjection Discrimination?
Any society can function well only when there is order. This requires the administration of authority. The alternative is chaos. “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.”—1 Corinthians 14:33.
The apostle Paul describes the family headship arrangement: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) Every individual except God submits to a higher authority. Does the fact that Jesus has a head mean that he is being discriminated against? Of course not! The fact that men Scripturally have been assigned to take the lead in the congregation and the family does not mean that women are being discriminated against. To prosper, both the family and the congregation need women and men to play their respective roles with love and respect.—Ephesians 5:21-25, 28, 29, 33.
Jesus consistently treated women with respect. He refused to follow the discriminatory traditions and regulations taught by the Pharisees. He talked to non-Jewish women. (Matthew 15:22-28; John 4:7-9) He taught women. (Luke 10:38-42) He protected women from being abandoned. (Mark 10:11, 12) Perhaps the most revolutionary step for his time was that Jesus accepted women into his inner circle of friends. (Luke 8:1-3) As the perfect embodiment of all of God’s qualities, Jesus showed that individuals of both sexes have equal value in God’s eyes. In fact, among the early Christians, both men and women received the gift of the holy spirit. (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 18) For those anointed, who have the prospect of serving as kings and priests with Christ, there will be no distinction of gender at all once resurrected to heavenly life. (Galatians 3:28) The Author of the Bible, Jehovah, does not discriminate against women.
[Picture on page 18]
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jesus treated women respectfully