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 notion that the Bible perpetuates those things, and that enlightened men and women 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.
In regard to sexism, to get an idea of what the Bible reveals about God’s idea of the interrelationship of men and women, we need to go back to the beginning, back before sin entered the world. There we are told God created Adam and Eve, the first (or representative) people. In the creation story, we get a glimpse of what God intended, and we begin to see 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 on the meaning of this, verse 27 says,
Therefore, 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.
In Genesis 2, we read that Eve was made to be a “suitable helper” for Adam. Many people take this to mean that the Bible suggests Eve was created to be a servant and is inferior to Adam. 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 is inferior to Adam and is intended to be his 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 this use of the term, Genesis 2 suggests that men need help, and Eve is to Adam what God is to mankind. 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. But, there it is in the very beginning of the Bible. We are only now (in the last 150 years or so) catching up to the idea that men and women are equals and deserving of equal respect that was conveyed in the ancient text of Genesis.
Even so, those values still elude much of the world. Many parts of the world continue to be male dominated. That is true even in parts of the world that have been enlightened to the biblical ideal. Even in the enlightened western culture, men still abuse and oppress women in interpersonal relationships and other ways.
This is sin and misses the mark. It 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 true 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 (constant), people fail.
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 announcement 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 strongly indicates 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.
 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 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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