Is the Bible Sexist and Racist? Part 4 – Sexism


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We have been exploring the answer to the question: whether the Bible is sexist and racist. We opened the discussion in Part 1, tackled sexism in Part 2 by looking at the sweeping theme of the Bible dealing with men and woman, and we considered the sweeping theme of the Bible dealing with racism in Part 3. We did this by looking at the beginning and the end, Genesis and Revelation, among other things.

Genesis describes how God created the world and people in it and provides a window to peer into God’s motivations, intentions and purposes. We find that God created an idyllic habitation for men and women to live in harmony with Him and nature, but He allowed people to have free will.

Free will introduced the possibility that people would choose their own values over God’s values and go their own ways. We are told Adam and Eve, the first people (or representative people) did choose their own way, and that choice introduced sin into the world.

Sin means “to miss the mark”. The “mark” would include, among other things, God’s values. People have chosen their own values over God’s values, and the result is that we live in a world in which God’s values are distorted from what He intended. But what are God’s values?

We see that men and women were created as counterparts who, together, reflect the image of God. Neither one is valued higher than the other. We see that God intended them to be fruitful and multiply, to diversify, and not to hunker down in one place with one language in a homogeneous civilization. God wanted diversity. These are the overarching themes of the Bible.

The Old Testament is largely the story of how God chose one people through whom He intended to bless all the nations of the world, but His chosen people continually chose to go their own way. They largely did not reflect God’s values in the way they lived. The Church, today, often does not reflect God’s values as revealed in the Bible. Paul says, though every man may be a liar, still God is true. (Romans 3:4)  We can’t judge God’s values by what we see people doing – even church people.

In fact, only one person in history, we are told, truly reflected all that God is – Jesus. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and the “exact representation of His nature”. (Hebrews 1:3) Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  In this segment, therefore, we will look at what Jesus said and did that can be applied to the subject of sexism.

Of the way Jesus treated women, there is much material – too much to address well in this short blog. So I will summarize and link to other resources. But, first, we need to understand 1st Century Palestinian culture.

Women were second class citizens in the 1st Century, and Palestinian Hebrew women were among the poorest in the world.[1] They could not divorce their husbands, but could be divorced for very little reason, and divorce left women impoverished in that patriarchal society.

First Century Palestine was also governed by the Romans who did not regard women as equal to men either.[2] Roman women received only basic education and were under the authority of their fathers, and then their husbands, not even having authority over their own children. Wealthy women attained some degree of independence, but they still could not vote and had no role in public life.

In this environment, Jesus treated women differently than the culture. He treated women with honor, value, dignity and respect.[3] We see this in the way he addressed the Samaritan women at the well (John 4:1-43) and the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11) He treated them with tenderness and forgiveness while the world around them was harsh and condemning.

But, Jesus was much more of a radical in his day than that. Jesus spent time talking with women to the surprise of His own followers. (John 4:27) He healed women who were ritually unclean (Mk. 5:25-34), who were Gentiles (Mk. 7:24-30) and who were sinners (Lk. 7:36-50). Jesus befriended women, like Mary and Martha, and welcomed them to spend time with him rather than doing chores. (Luke 10:38-42) Not insignificantly, Jesus had followers who were women, and those women accompanied him as disciples. (Luke 8:1-3)

This just scratches the surface. There is much more to be said.[4] [Take some time to read some of the linked material to begin to get an idea just how radical Jesus was in His treatment of women, and how “far ahead of his time” he was.]

Though Paul is often accused of being misogynistic, we find that he carried over a similar view of women from Jesus:

“Remarkably Paul designates a number of women as ‘co-workers,’ ‘ministers,’ and ‘apostles.’ Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Apphia, Priscilla (= Prisca), and Junia exercise leadership locally and serve as traveling missionaries.  These women assist Paul in a variety of ways. The more affluent serve as benefactors, providing lodging, hospitality, and opening their homes to gatherings of the local churches.  Women gifted otherwise are involved in ministries of preaching and teaching.”[5]

Paul is unfairly accused of perpetuating sexist views of women, when he was actually as counter-cultural in his time as Jesus. Paul is the one who said, in no uncertain terms, “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The way Jesus treated women was counter-cultural, radical and revolutionary in the 1st Century, but it was really just a demonstration of the way God always intended women to be treated and valued for their intrinsic worth dating back to Genesis, which we explored in Part 2 of this series. God’s image is reflected in the combination of men and woman, but, ultimately, there is neither male nor female in Christ. We are all one, made in the image of God, loved and valued by Him equally.

Having addressed sexism from the perspective of Jesus, we will, finally, look at how Jesus viewed race in Part 5, the final segment of this series on whether the Bible is sexist and racist.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] From Women in Palestinian Judaism published at FutureChurch.org.

[2] From Women published in The Roman Empire in the First Century at PBS.org.

[3] See Jesus Gives Women Honor, Value, Dignity and Respect published in emmanuelni.org Nov. 2, 2014

[4] See for instance, Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women, by Sue Bohlin published by Probe Ministries at bible.org March 16, 2010; How Jesus Viewed and Valued Women by James A. Borland, published at Crossway.org March 8, 2017; Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus by Kevin DeYoung, published at gospelcoalition.org February 15, 2016; and Women and the Resurrection Story.

[5] From Paul’s Co-Workers published in A Word in Edgewise: Thoughts on Faith and Culture by David B. Capes. (See also Paul’s Helpers by Mary Elizabeth Baxter published at blueletterbible.org mentioning also Phebe, Priscilla & Aquilla, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Julia, Nereus and others.)

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