Racism, sexism and oppression are themes in the story of man’s relations to other men (and women) throughout history. Many people today have the enlightened notion that the Bible perpetuates those old tropes from the Bronze Age and that modern men and women who have progressed by our will to advance know better. But is that really true?
We introduced the question, “what the Bible says about sexism and racism”, in Part I. In this second part in the series, we look at what the Bible reveals to us about sexism. In Part 3, we begin to explore how the Bible addresses racism. In Part 4, we observe what Jesus reveals about sexism, and Part 5 tackles racism through the life of Jesus and what he taught.
Regarding sexism, the Bible first reveals God’s view of the interrelationship of men and women at the very beginning, back before sin entered the world. In Genesis, we are told God created Adam and Eve, the first (or representative) people, and we get a glimpse, there, of what God intended. Genesis gives us critical clues on how God views men and women in their original, intended state.
In Genesis 1:26, we are told that God made man (using the generic term for humans) in His likeness. Lest we might not be clear what is meant, verse 27 says,
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”(Emphasis in the original)
These verses are clear in their import that male and female, together, reflect the image of God. Both men and women are given dominion and stewardship, together, over the earth and everything in it. These verses make no distinction and suggest no hierarchy.
In Genesis 2, we read that Eve was made to be a “suitable helper” for Adam. Many people take this to mean that Eve was created to be a servant to Adam and subject to Adam’s control. But, that is a distortion of what the Bible really suggests by this term. Such an interpretation misses the mark (just as sin literally means “to miss the mark”).
The idea that Eve was intended to be Adam’s servant misses the mark because the Bible uses the same exact term (translated “suitable helper”) for God, Himself, in Deuteronomy 33:7, Exodus 18:4 and Psalm 33:20. A derivative of the same Hebrew (Eliezer) is also used to describe God in Genesis 2, meaning “God is help”. In fact, there are at least one hundred (100) verses in the Bible that describe God as our helper.
Given the ubiquitous application of the same term to God, Genesis 2 suggests only that men are not adequate, alone, and need help to embody the likeness of God. Further, it could suggest, perhaps, that Eve is to Adam what God is to mankind. Far from suggesting a hierarchy in which men stand over women, if anything, it suggests that women may inhabit the space of God who helps men.
Some might even argue, based on this, that women are superior to men, but that notion would miss the mark as well. The word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 and 20 is linked with the word translated “suitable”, suggesting that men and women go together like counterparts that are required to make up the whole.
This ideal picture of men and women as counterparts to each other, neither one being superior, but fitting together like yin and yang to reflect God’s image, is in contrast to the way men and women have been perceived throughout history. Far from a story seeped in primitive notions from the Bronze Age, the Bible shines light from its very beginning on the backwardness of modern sophisticates.
We are only now (in the last 150 years in the West) catching up to the idea that men and women exist in hierarchical tension with each other. Men and women are equally deserving of respect. They have equal value. Male and female, together, embody the likeness of God as the ancient text in Genesis reveals.
Even so, those values still elude much of the world. The history of the world is characterized by male dominion over women, and the vestiges of that male to female paradigm continues all around the world in greater or lesser emphasis. Even in the enlightened western culture men continue to abuse and oppress women in interpersonal relationships and other ways persists.
This is sin, and it misses the mark. The imposition of male-dominated relationships is a distortion of what God intended, as revealed in the Bible, and this sin is even evident in the religions that use the Bible as their guide. Not even the church is immune from its influence. Does that mean that the Bible is false?
As Paul says in Romans, though every man be a liar, still God is true. We often confuse what the Bible reveals about God’s heart with what we see in other people, and especially those who call themselves by God’s name. We must be careful therefore, not to let our opinions of God be derived from people, even people who claim to know God. Though God is true, people fail and fall short.
There is much written about men and women throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, but all of it should be read in the context of the creation of men and women, together, reflecting the image of God. The Bible is the history of God revealing Himself to people. We need to understand the history, the culture of the various times and societal mores that determined the context in which God communicated Himself. Throughout that history, we find glimpses and clues of how God ultimately views men and women, but those glimpses need to be pulled out of the context in which they were revealed.
Even though the historical, cultural and societal context often made it difficult for the people at the time to understand God’s view fully, and even for us as we wrestle with the difference between context and overarching principles, some statements shine through loud, simple and clear. One such principle is the pronouncement by Paul to the Galatians that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:8) This bookend to the idea that men and women are counterparts who, together, reflect the image of God is consistent with the notion that God, as revealed in the Bible, is not sexist.
But nowhere is the Bible more clear about God’s intentions than through the words and life of Jesus. We will explore what Jesus has to say on the subject of sexism in Part 4, but first we will turn to address racism from the overarching message of the Bible in Part 3 of this series on what the Bible says about sexism and racism.
Meanwhile, for much more in depth coverage of what the Bible says on men and women, and broader examination of what Genesis says, carried forward through the Old Testament, and the New Testament, I commend you to the After Class Podcast six-part series on Women in the Bible.
 Elem – image, “something cut out”, a representation. It is used five times of God creating mankind in His Essence, i.e. “cut out of” the same stock (“in His likeness”)
 The same Hebrew word, elem, is used in verse 27.
 The Hebrew sentence structure here emphasizes the fact that God created man in his own image. Not only is the phrase repeated twice in verse 27, the sentence structure places emphasis on that phrase, in his own image. It is also repeated from verse 26 so there can be no doubt of the intention of placing pointed emphasis on the fact that God created us in His image.
 The Hebrew sentence structure also emphasizes male and female. The intention is clear in the original Hebrew that both male and female, together, reflect the image of God. Male and female reflect the image of God not individually, and not separately, but together.
 Ezer means a help, helper.
 The Open Bible lists 100 places God is described as our helper.
 The Hebrew word is nege, meaning in front of, in the sight of – hence, make conspicuous (“front and center”); get in view, be situated directly across (opposite to). It has the specific connotation of a counterpart or a mate.
 For an interesting take on this see Why Men Oppress Women by Steve Taylor, PhD. in Psychology today. Interestingly, Taylor blames the Abrahamic religions on this history, though he recounts that the phenomenon is more universal than that. As with many people, he seems completely unaware that the Bible actually paints a very different picture.
 Romans 3:4
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