“Sin began with a woman, and thanks to her we must all die.”
—ECCLESIASTICUS, SECOND CENTURY B.C.E.
“You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law . . . You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.”
—TERTULLIAN, ON THE APPAREL OF WOMEN, SECOND CENTURY C.E.
THOSE ancient verses are not from the Bible. For centuries, they have been used to justify discrimination against women. Even today, some extremists still cite religious texts to legitimize the domination of women, claiming that women are to blame for mankind’s ills. Did God really purpose for women to be scorned and abused by men? What does the Bible say? Let us see.
Have women been cursed by God?
No. Instead, it is “the original serpent, the one called Devil,” who has been “cursed” by God. (Revelation 12:9; Genesis 3:14) When God said that Adam would “dominate” his wife, God was not indicating his approval of the subjugation of woman by man. (Genesis 3:16) He was simply foretelling the sad consequences of sin on the first couple.
Thus, the abuse of women is a direct outcome of the sinful nature of humans, not of God’s will. The Bible does not support the idea that women must be subjugated to men in order to atone for the original sin.
Did God create woman inferior to man?
No. Genesis 1:27 states: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” So from the very beginning, humans
Prior to Eve’s creation, God declared: “I am going to make a helper for him [Adam], as a complement of him.” (Genesis 2:18) Does the word “complement” imply that the woman was inferior to the man? No, because this Hebrew word can also be rendered “counterpart” or “a help corresponding to” man. Think of the complementary roles played by a surgeon and an anesthetist during surgery. Can one manage without the other? Hardly! Though the surgeon performs the actual operation, is he more important? It is hard to say. Likewise, God created the man and the woman to cooperate closely, not to compete with each other.
What shows God’s concern for women?
Foreseeing what fallen, sinful men would do, God early on expressed his intention to protect women. Speaking of the Mosaic Law, instituted in the 16th century B.C.E., author Laure Aynard, in her book La Bible au féminin (The Bible in the Feminine Gender), notes: “For the most part, when the Law covenant speaks of the woman, it is to defend her.”
For instance, the Law commanded honor and respect for both father and mother. (Exodus 20:12; 21:15, 17) It also required that due consideration be shown to pregnant women. (Exodus 21:22) Even today, the protection provided by those laws of God stands in sharp contrast with the lack of legal rights that some women experience in many parts of the world. But there is more.
A Law That Reflects God’s View of Women
The Law that Jehovah God gave the nation of Israel provided the people
1. Individual freedom. Unlike women in many other nations in ancient times, the Israelite woman enjoyed a great measure of freedom. Though the husband was given the role of the head of the family, the wife, with her husband’s full trust, could ‘consider a field and obtain it’ and ‘plant a vineyard.’ If she had skills in spinning and weaving, she could even run her own business. (Proverbs 31:11, 16-19) Women under the Mosaic Law were seen as individuals in their own right and not as just an appendage to man.
In ancient Israel, women were also free to have a personal relationship with God. The Bible speaks of Hannah, who prayed to God about a personal matter and secretly made a vow. (1 Samuel 1:11, 24-28) A woman from the city of Shunem used to consult the prophet Elisha on Sabbath days. (2 Kings 4:22-25) Women, such as Deborah and Huldah, were used by God as his representatives. Interestingly, prominent men and priests were willing to seek advice from them.
2. Access to education. As party to the Law covenant, women were invited to listen to the reading of the Law, which provided them with opportunities to learn. (Deuteronomy 31:12; Nehemiah 8:2, 8) They could also receive training for participation in certain aspects of public worship. For example, some women likely did “organized service” at the tabernacle, while others performed in a mixed choir of singers.
Many women had the knowledge and skill needed to run a profitable business. (Proverbs 31:24) Contrary to the culture in other nations at that time
3. Honored and respected. The Ten Commandments clearly stipulated: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12) In the proverbs of wise King Solomon, we read: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.”
The Law included detailed regulations regarding conduct among unmarried persons, showing respect for females. (Leviticus 18:6, 9; Deuteronomy 22:25, 26) A good husband had to take into account his wife’s physical and biological limitations.
4. Rights to be protected. In his Word, Jehovah portrays himself as “a father of fatherless boys and a judge of widows.” In other words, he was the Protector of those whose rights were not safeguarded by a father or a husband. (Psalm 68:5; Deuteronomy 10:17, 18) Thus, in one case when the widow of a prophet was treated unfairly by a creditor, Jehovah intervened with a miracle so that she could survive and keep her dignity.
Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the family head Zelophehad died without leaving a son. His five daughters therefore requested Moses to give them “a possession” in the Promised Land. Jehovah’s response went far beyond their request. He told Moses: “Give them the possession of an inheritance in the midst of their father’s brothers, and you must cause their father’s inheritance to pass to them.” From that time on, women in Israel could receive an inheritance from their father and pass it on to their offspring.
God’s View of Women Misrepresented
Under the Mosaic Law, women enjoyed an honorable status, and their rights were respected. However, from the fourth century B.C.E. on, Judaism started to be influenced by Greek culture, which regarded women as inferior.
For example, Greek poet Hesiod (eighth century B.C.E.) imputed all mankind’s ills to women. In his Theogony, he spoke of “the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble.” This idea gained ground in Judaism early in the second century B.C.E. The Talmud, compiled from the second century C.E. on, gave this warning to men: “Do not converse much with women, as this will ultimately lead you to unchastity.”
Throughout the centuries, this distrust has had a profound effect on women’s role in Jewish society. In Jesus’ day, their access to the temple precincts had already been limited to the Court of Women. Religious education was solely for men, and women were likely separated from men in the synagogues. The Talmud quotes one Rabbi as saying: “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah [the Law] teaches her obscenity.” By misrepresenting God’s viewpoint, Jewish religious leaders instilled a contempt for women in many men.
When on earth, Jesus noted such prejudices, which were deeply rooted in traditions. (Matthew 15:6, 9; 26:7-11) Did such teachings influence the way he dealt with women? What can we learn from his behavior and attitude? Has true Christianity brought relief to women? The next article will answer these questions.